American Civil War, Its Main Figures and Events

Henry Hunt

Henry Jackson Hunt, the Chief of Artillery during the Civil War helped shape the results of the war. He recorded several success measures and it is shocking that his success is rarely recognized. Dougherty1 explains that the very first moment of fame for Hunt was during the 1861 Battle of Bull Run. In this battle, Hunt led a four-gun series which oversaw the retreat of an entire union. In addition to this, Hunt trained and organized an artillery reserve of the Army of Potomac. In fact, as Dougherty2 observes, Hunt did more work as an artillery officer than any other officer in the war. He ensured that every soldier had a weapon that suited them and their style of fighting. In addition, he ensured that there were enough weapons to last the force.

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Due to his achievements and hard work, Hunt was promoted in 1862 and then became Brigadier General. This was after his success in the Battle of South Mountain. It is after this battle that he was promoted to be Chief of Artillery after McClellan recognized his skill in arranging, organizing and distributing weaponry. As chief, his first task was to deploy an artillery reserve for the battle of Antietam.

Despite getting very little recognition from history, Hunt was very successful in many other battles that took place in the Civil War. His greatest, and most recognized effort, was during the Battle of Gettysburg where he was not only allowed to organize artillery, but he was also given directing responsibilities. He directed where each weapon would go, and in so doing, he directed the troops. Additionally, his decision to demand a ceasefire during Pickett’s Charge ensured victory for his troops. His decision went against the decision of the then Major General Winfield Hancock who wanted the troops to fire.

Lincoln

Time and again, Lincoln has been identified as one of the most influential presidents of the USA. His leadership style has been analyzed and several arguments made for and against his style. One of the impressive aspects of his leadership was his sense of discipline. He was thus able to focus on his strengths and to many, this, was what was needed during the Civil War.

Lincoln claimed that he had been shaped by the events that happened to him, and not the other way around. Analyzing his strategy, it is right to say that indeed it is the events that occurred that shaped Lincoln and his leadership style. However, as Miller3 argues, Lincoln used his past experiences, his strengths and also personal principles to devise his leadership strategy. In this sense, thus, Lincoln was not a follower of events as he claimed.

His policies on slavery, military leadership and civil liberties show that he used his own principles, among other things to shape the outcome of the events. Miller4 reveals that Lincoln reorganized the function of words in politics. In fact, he even wrote anonymous letters to newspapers criticizing his opponents and colleagues. Additionally, his policies on slavery helped end slavery. There is no way one can justify the act of slavery and claim that it is this particular act that made Lincoln passionate about human right. He was already passionate about human rights, and that is why he fought for the end of slavery. It is difficult to wholly reject the idea that events might have shaped the principles held by Lincoln. It is common to find people learning from past events and using these experiences to shape their current ideas.

Duel of the Ironclads

There was a lot of fanfare during the Dual of Ironclads. Symonds5 attributes this to the fact that the duel was the first meeting of ironclad warships. The world was eager to see how the ships would fair in order to make decisions on whether to build similar warships or to stick to the type they already built. Despite the inability to destroy each other, both The Monitor and The Merrimack encountered several challenges.

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Many scholars argue that the Monitor won the war between the two ships. Due to this assumption, many warships were built to resemble The Monitor. However, the Monitor did encounter several problems due to its make. The first major problem was the weight of the sip. Due to the heavy weaponry that had been installed, it was much heavier than the Merrimack.6 In addition to this, the warship was also described as suicidal. The soldiers and staff that were inside had no way of getting out safely if the ship was damaged. Symonds7 observes that any person who would try jump out of the ship would have been killed by the massive turbines that were underneath the ship. Similarly, the ship had very weak undercover that started seeping in water during the battle.

The Merrimack, although nicely designed, also encountered several problems. The first problem was its wooden hulls. The wooden hulls were easy to penetrate. It suffices to mention that the ship had started inserting rams to help support the hulls. However, this was not enough. In addition to this, the warship was too slow. It was heavily built in attempt make it indestructible. Lastly, the ship was also a death trap as it had only one way out.

Command for the modern war

Lincoln introduced the modern system of command for the modern war in 1864. He detailed three top positions that would affect how the war and the country was to be lead. These positions were the commander in chief, the general in chief and the chief of staff. Being the president, it was only obvious that Lincoln would be the commander in chief of the armed forces. Ulysses S. Grant was picked as the general in chief. On the other hand, Henry Halleck was the first chief of staff.

Lincoln had not embraced this type of command because there was no clear distinction of the jobs ad tasks of the three positions.8 However, upon the detailing of the positions, Lincoln embraced the position and took time to pick up the best candidates to take the positions. Grant had been the main man in many of the battles that were held against the Confederation. This might be the reason why he was put in charge of the army. He was not only an experienced soldier, but he was also a very good strategists. On the other hand, Halleck was the best candidate for chief of staff due to his mastery of military strategy and his skills as a lawyer.

It can be argued that Henry Halleck was the unsung hero. As Goodwin9 observes, Halleck was referred to as “Old Brains” due to his high level education. However, people associated him with books, but no one ever associated him with strategies. He was very prominent as Lincoln’s advisor. Being a lawyer, Lincoln relied on him to ensure that all his dealings were legally right.

Union Blockade

The Union Blockade was meant to prevent the Confederacy from trading. Scholars have debated on the benefits and disadvantages that this blockage experienced. The blockade monitored and controlled approximately 3,500 miles of the Atlantic and Gulf coastline, and twelve ports. Despite many ships passing through the blockade, it is arguably correct to say that the blockade was successful.

The main reason why the blockade was successful is that many of the ships that got through the blockade carried through very few commodities. In addition to this, the Union caught approximately 500 ships10, which had approximately 1,500 people during the whole war. Stoker11 argues that even the blockade was successful because it eventually destroyed the economy of the South, which was the aim of the whole project. In addition to this, very few lives were lost. Similarly, there were very many other ships that did not try to cross the borders. They were too afraid of being caught, or being destroyed that they refused to use any route within the route mentioned. Due to the successful blockade, the cotton industry in the South suffered and this crushed the Confederation as it depended heavily on cotton production. The blockade also reduced the training of war materials to the South, luxury products, food and other manufactured goods.

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The Confederation, due to pressure and the negative impacts of the blockade, decided to use smaller, faster ships to penetrate the region. Some of the smaller ships were used to attack the blockade. However, no attack was successful as the confederation lost more men and resources during the attacks.

Conscription Laws

The conscription Laws were introduced to get more people to volunteer as soldiers. Initially, the volunteers signed up due to loyalty to their families, country and tradition. However, since the war took longer than expected, more young men refused to sign up as soldiers. The South and the North reacted in similar, yet different, ways to ensure they always had soldiers for the war.

The South was the first to notice the depletion of soldiers. It was, therefore the first side to initiate the conscription laws. However, the South decided to put a limit to the number of years a volunteer could become a soldier. The contract suggested that the volunteer soldiers would work for one year before they were given the opportunity to either drop out or sign a new contract. The North, on the other hand, decided to sign a contract with the volunteer soldiers that would expire after every three months. However, the war lasted three years, and both sides suffered due to the period indicated in their contracts with their volunteers.

It is interesting to note that despite the shorter period of the contract, the North received more manpower than the South. The three month contract wetted the appetite of the young soldiers. The fact that they were had significantly lost the first Bull Run did not sit well with them either as they did not want to be remembered as losers. Thus, more soldiers enrolled after the first three months. On the contrary, by the time one year was over, the volunteer of the South that had survived the war were jaded and refused to renew the contracts, they also advised other young people not to sign the contracts. Dorit12 argues that the lack of soldiers is one of the reasons why the South lost the war.

Lee’s Plan in Gettysburg

The book by Tom Carhart about Lee’s plan on Gettysburg argues that Lee wanted to divide the defender’s troops and achieve a divide and conquer win. Carhart relies on the fact that Lee was a very good confederate strategist and he would not have taken his army to the slaughter without an elaborate plan on how to win.

However, this argument does not hold water. It is true that Lee had an elaborate plan. But he thought that it would be easy to take out the troops that were [perched on top of the hills. This would push the other troops towards Cemetery Hill and Culp Hill. They would be trapped and since Lee had more soldier’s it would be easier to finish the troops.13

On day 3 in the East Cavalry Field, Lee has anticipated fewer soldiers and so, he sent out fewer numbers. It is interesting to note that despite having fewer soldiers, Lee’s troops caused more damage. They killed more than 8000 soldiers, and lost approximately 6000 soldiers. This just goes to show that Lee had a good plan on attacking the opponents.

In addition to this, the book claims that Lee wanted Pickett and Stuart from the northeast side. However, this would have been an impossible and bad strategy. The two troops would have been lying out in the field waiting for the other troops to push the opponents towards Culp and Cemetery Hills. However, the assumption that the other troops would have been successful caused the Confederation more lives than they anticipated. There is absolutely no argument in regard to the prowess of Lee. However, in this particular war, his strategy failed completely.

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Diseases during the Civil war

Dorwat14 reveals that 620,000 soldiers died during the course of the Civil war. However, three thirds of this number died of disease and not of wounds or battle. There are several reasons as to why diseases took the lives of more soldiers than the war.

The first reason is poor hygiene. The soldiers rarely took showers since there was no time. In addition to this, there was no need since they would sleep in the burrows on the ground anyway. Many of them were also tired by the time they got to their barracks, which taking a shower seemed too tedious. This encouraged the accumulation of bacteria in the barracks.

In the same breadth, poor sanitation did not help the situation. Dorwat15 argues that latrines were put very close to where the soldiers lived. This allowed easier transmission of diseases from the human wastes to the food, and the soldiers themselves. The second problem relates closely with the third problem of contaminated water.

Diseases like dysentery and cholera took the lives of very many soldiers of both sides of the war. Such diseases were a result of consumption of contaminated water. The building of latrines, near to where the men lived and close to their water sources made the situation worse.

Also, the doctors were not well skilled. They could not relate the contaminated water to the diseases that the soldiers were suffering. Lastly, the bad living conditions also encouraged disease. The soldiers lived in burrows and would often sleep in the cold. The mosquitoes would also feast on them and several died of Malaria due to this. The evolution of medicine that occurred during and after the war ensured that more soldiers were saved from disease.

Military Organization

The First Bull Run started with a seemingly positive result for the Union. However, things took a sharp turn when the Confederates pushed harder than the Union expected. The success experienced by Confederates can be attributed to their intelligence gathering system. Communication was top notch during the First Bull Run and this is what made this side stronger.

The Union attacked the Confederates in a surprise ambush. Their tactic would have worked wasn’t it for the poor communication between inexperienced and naïve soldiers. They had the numbers, they had the element of surprise and they also were in the same league as the defense soldiers. The main reason why they lost the battle was the quick communication between Confederate leaders and their soldiers. The Confederate realized that the ambush was a fake, and the Union was buying time to attack them from another side. On hearing this, their commander took 900 naïve soldiers into the woods and they waited for the Union soldiers to march through. Their counter surprise attack shook the foundation of the Union soldiers who were too scared to fight that they ran back to Washington DC.16

It is crucial to mention that other military organization prowess exhibited by the Union also helped them win the battle. For instance, they were faster, had more passion and had already sent for reinforcements.

Lees VS Davis

Lee and Davis have been described as the best leaders of the Confederate side. The two were, however, very different in terms of strategy and deployment. Whereas Lee was calculating and liked open communication, Davis has been described as dictatorial.17 Hessler18 argues that Lee would often take time to understand his opponents, the field and at the same time analyze their strengths and weaknesses. This made Lee very good in planned battles but very poor in surprise attacks. On the contrary, the dictatorial nature of Davis allowed him to be good at surprise attacks as compared to planned attacks.

The difference in views would at time prove disastrous in the barracks as the soldiers did not know which strategy to follow. Hessler19 analyzes the two different views of the war that Lee and Davis expressed. Through his argument, one can denote that there is one personality who has been described as superior than the other. Hessler20 reveals that Lee was a more strategic leader, thus, many of his techniques were better than those of Davis. Additionally, Davis suffered more loses than Lee, even though he also took on more battles.

Gangrene

Gangrene is a condition that encourages the death of tissue cells. The most affected tissues are usually o the feet and arms. During the Civil War, Gangrene was very common due to poor treatment, thus, infection of battle wounds. Schroeder-Lein21 explains that hygiene was not given much concern during the Civil war. Doctors did not stress the importance of cleanliness and they themselves did not embrace hygiene practices. Due to this, many of the wounded soldiers developed infections, which later developed Gangrene.

Biologically, Gangrene occurs when a part of the body received minimal blood supply, resulting in the death of cells. During the Civil War, the doctors did not have much information on how to treat Gangrene. In fact, many advised their patients to have that part of the body amputated. However, due to science and development, treatment of Gangrene has evolved. Doctors are now able to restore circulation to the affected part. The body will then naturally generate new cells that will replace the dead ones. Schroeder-Lein22 adds, however, that in severe cases, the part that is affected can be amputated. The decision to either amputate or restore depends on several issues. For instance, the location and the severity of the infection can be used to determine whether a part of the body will be removed. If the infection is severe and located in the arm, then the likelihood of the arm being amputated are high. However, if the infection is on the chest, and it is severe, the doctors will just have to do everything possible to restore the cells in that part.

Lincoln as a leader

Lincoln is arguably the most popular president of the United States of America. Distinti23 describes Lincoln as influential and charismatic. There are other presidents that had more power, more skill and more experience in leadership who still do not come close to the influential Lincoln.

One of the reasons why Lincoln gained the respect of many citizens and scholars is his prowess in communication. Distinti24 reveals that Lincoln used words to make the people feel empowered. In addition to this, Lincoln wrote letters to newspapers to criticize his opponents. Seeing that he was already good with words, he depicted his opponents as greedy and bad leaders.

Distinti25 also suggests that Lincoln was very popular because he related to all generations. Lincoln did not just talk to the voters, but he also took time to talk to the young people. Similarly, his influence on the black community when he saw through the abolition of slavery made him more popular than other presidents. He had moved the black community to his corner, while at the same time, moved the military into his corner.

Furthermore, Lincoln made history by encouraging the community to vote. In fact, in 1864, his campaign theme was free elections. He had predicted that he would lose the elections as it was right in the middle of the Civil War. However, he won by a landslide, making him the only US president to hold an election during times of war. He also ensured a legacy by being the second president of the US to get a second term in office.

Mary Surratt

Mary Jenkins Surratt was a boarding house owner who was convicted and hanged for being part of the conspiracy against Abraham Lincoln. Surratt went down in history as the first white woman in the US to be executed by the United States federal government. Surratt was a confederate sympathizer during the Civil War. In fact, Surratt’s board house was used as hide out for Confederate spies. Surratt was found guilty of allowing conspiracy meetings to take place in hr board house. In the same vein, Surratt’s husband was one of the soldiers that enlisted for the Confederation army. When John Surratt dies, he left his family in major financial issues, and Larson26 argues that this is the reason Mary Surratt agreed to host conspiracy spies. She was also involved in part of the planning of the assassination. Evidence showed that she had received money from the conspirators in order to keep mum about the meetings that were going on in her board house.

The suggestion to hang Mary Surratt can be justified according to the law. Despite her reasons, assisting in the killing of the president, and anyone for that matter, is wrong. The issue of whether the death penalty really helps in solving and punishing murder has been argued over decades. Surratt argued that she did what she had to do to put food in the table for her family. However, the implications of her actions might have ripped her family apart instead of caring for them.

Additionally, the money that she got from the confederates would not have lasted her family very long. Mary Surratt did not think through her plan and because of this, a man was killed, she was hanged and her family was shamed.

Bibliography

Distinti Meg. Leadership Lessons of Abraham Lincoln. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing House, 2011.

Dorit Gera. Conscription, Family and the Modern State: A Comprehensive Study of France and the USA. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Dorwat Bonnie Brice. Death is in the Breeze: Disease during the American Civil War. New York, NY: NMCWM Press, 2009.

Dougherty, Kevin. Civil War Leadership and Mexican War Experience. University of Mississippi, 2007.

Goodwin, Kearns Doris. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2005.

Hessler, James A. Sickles at Gettysburg. New York, NY: Casemate Publishers, 2010.

Hewitt, Lee Lawrence, and Bergeron Arthur W Jr. Confederate Generals in the Western Theater: Classic Essays on America’s Civil War. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2010.

Larson, Kate Clifford. The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2011.

Miller, Randall M. Lincoln and Leadership: Military, Political and Religious Decision Making. Philadelphia, PA: Fordham University Press, 2012

Schroeder-Lein Glenna R. The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine. New York, NY: Routledge, 2015.

Spruilli, Mat. Decisions at Gettysburg: The Nineteen Critical Decisions that Defined the Campaign. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2011.

Stoker, Donald. The Grand Design: Strategy and the US Civil War. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Symonds, Craig. Lincoln and his Admirals. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Footnotes

  1. Kevin, Dougherty, Civil War Leadership and Mexican War Experience (University of Mississippi, 2007), p. 105.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Randall Miller M, Lincoln and Leadership: Military, Political and Religious Decision Making (Philadelphia, PA: Fordham University Press, 2012), p. 17.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Craig Symonds, Lincoln and his Admirals (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 148.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Doris, Goodwin Kearns Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 16.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Donald Stoker, The Grand Design: Strategy and the US Civil War (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 103.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Gera, Dorit Conscription, Family and the Modern State: A Comprehensive Study of France and the USA (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 255.
  13. Mat Spruilli, Decisions at Gettysburg: The Nineteen Critical Decisions that Defined the Campaign. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2011), p. 83.
  14. Brice, Dorwat Bonnie, Death is in the Breeze: Disease during the American Civil War (New York, NY: NMCWM Press, 2009), p. 130.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Lawrence Hewitt, Lee and Bergeron Arthur W Jr. Confederate Generals in the Western Theater: Classic Essays on America’s Civil War (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2010), p. 12.
  17. James Hessler A, Sickles at Gettysburg (New York, NY: Casemate Publishers, 2010), p. 141.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Glenna Schroeder-Lein R, The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine (New York, NY: Routledge, 2015), p. 115.
  22. Glenna Schroeder-Lein R, The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine (New York, NY: Routledge, 2015), p. 115.
  23. Meg Distinti, Leadership Lessons of Abraham Lincoln (New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing House, 2011), p. 13.
  24. Meg Distinti, Leadership Lessons of Abraham Lincoln (New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing House, 2011), p. 13.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Clifford Larson Kate, The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2011), p. 14.
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