I traveled for four years through a dozen states touched by the American Civil War. Even before this journey began I suspected that the legacy of the war was still with us.
It seemed to me that the specter of this epic conflict has continued to reverberate through time and even 150 years on the past was somehow still present on the wars’ battlefields.
Sunrise in Chickamuaga, Georgia 2013
I discovered that this was true in more ways than one.
Click the link below to see a summation of the project, what I’ve learned along this journey and how America’s Civil War landscape is still with us today.
In May of 1865 the Federal Government conducted a Grand Review of the Armies in Washington. With the Civil War nearly over the military parade was intended to honor the veterans of the war but also lift the spirits of the country in the wake of the death of President Abraham Lincoln. The one hundred and fifty thousand Union troops that paraded through the nation’s capital were actually just a fraction of the Union armies. In 1865, by the war’s end, more than a million Americans had fought for the Union alone making the Grand Army of the Republic the largest veteran army in the world.
Living historians march up Pennsylvania Avenue commemorating the Grand Review in 2015
The month of April 1865 is arguably the most important month in the history of the United States of America. That month the nation would endure the assassination of the President and face the terrible prospect of the conflict devolving into a guerrilla war. The nation was on a dangerous precipice and miraculously it would be the soldiers themselves that would decide how the war would end.
In May of 2015 reenactors from around the country gathered in Washington DC again to commemorate the Grand Review and the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. Click the link below to see images and read the story about how the Civil War ended and where we are today at the conclusion of the Sesquicentennial.
The End of the Civil War
The month of April 1865 is arguably the most important month in the history of the United States of America. The four-year-long Civil War was coming to a close and President Lincoln was eager for the country to begin to heal itself. But before the healing could begin the last of the Confederate forces around the country would need to be disbanded or destroyed. In Virginia, Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army had Robert E. Lee and what remained of the Rebels surrounded at small village called Appomattox Court House.
Ghostly mirage of Confederate reenactors as they march away from their stacked rifles during the surrender ceremony at Appomattox Court House
On April 9th 1865, Lee would surrender himself and the Confederate Army to Grant at Appomattox ending the Civil War in Virginia. But the signing of the surrender at Appomattox was not the end of the war. In North Carolina, as well as other parts of the south, Union and Confederate troops were still engaged in fighting and it would take another month before the conflict would finally reach its end. During this critical and uncertain time for the country the President would be assassinated and jeopardize the lasting peace Lincoln had hoped for in the wars’ aftermath.
In 2015 the National Park Service hosted a week-long commemoration of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House Historical Park. Inviting descendants of Union and Confederate veterans to march in their own commemorative parade thousands of Americans attended the ceremonies where reenactors in Confederate grey stacked their rifles and folded up their battle flags once again under the respectful eyes of their Union hosts in blue.
Click the link below to see the images and story about the Confederate surrenders at Appomattox, Virginia and Bennett Place in Durham, North Carolina.
The Last Days of the Confederacy
The Union breakthrough at Petersburg on April 2nd. 1865 precipitated the last campaign of the Civil War in Virginia. General Robert E. Lee and what was left of the Confederate Army were retreating west in an attempt to escape the pursuing Federals. The last campaign in Virginia would devolve into a seven-day continuous battle broken only by all-night forced marches and end at a place called – Appomattox Court House.
The old Lynchburg Stage Road leads to Appomattox Court House and the end of the war in Virginia
After gathering supplies Lee hoped to consolidate his army and turn south for a forced march into the Carolinas. There he planned on joining forces with Gen. Joseph Johnston and continuing the fight.
Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had no intention of letting Lee escape. The Confederate Army was at last out in the open and Grant intended on finally crushing the Army of Northern Virginia. Grant would use his superiority in numbers to block Lee’s route south and finally destroy the Confederates or force their surrender.
The resulting campaign would end the Civil War in Virginia, lay the ground work for the future of the United States and would be the beginning of the Long Road Home for the soldiers of the American Civil War.
Click the link below to see the images and story of the Last Campaign:
The Last Campaign
In January of 1865 William Tecumseh Sherman leads an army of sixty thousand across the Savannah River and enters South Carolina for a march intended to lay waste to the Palmetto State. Seen by Sherman’s troops as the great instigator of the war South Carolina would now reap what it had sown four years earlier when it was the first of the southern states to secede from the Union.
Spanish moss laden Live Oaks trees line the drive to the Tomotley Plantation in Beaufort County, SC
The 420 mile journey would be longer and more treacherous than Sherman’s recent March to the Sea. The winter rains would require his armies to bridge every river and corduroy nearly every road they would cross during the march. Like his recent excursion through Georgia the friction match would replace the rifle as the standard infantry weapon.
In fact all across the South Union armies were campaigning and bringing the last vestiges of the Confederacy to heal. In the early spring of 1865 Union and Confederate troops would fight the final battles of the Civil War.
Click the link below to see the images and story of Sherman’s Carolina march:
The Carolina Campaign
At the beginning of 1865 Union and Confederate troops were still facing each other across the no-mans-land outside the City of Petersburg, Virginia. Seven months of siege warfare had gained the Union little else except additions to the casualty lists. Despite this Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant continued his envelopment of the beleaguered City. As the soldiers began to prepare for the inevitable spring offensives a feeling in the air told many that the end of the war was drawing near.
Reenactors storm a reconstructed earthen fort during a commemoration of the Petersburg Campaign in Henrico, Virginia 2014
Union armies were campaigning all across the south and Confederate forces were on the retreat. In the eastern theater of the war Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were suffering from the bloody mathematics of a war of attrition. Grant’s Union armies were steadily surrounding what was left of the Confederacy – squeezing the noose ever tighter.
The Confederates would attempt one more offensive at Petersburg designed to keep the Federals off-balance long enough to allow them to escape. The Battle of Fort Stedman would be General Lee’s last offensive in the Civil War and would precipitate the Five Forks Campaign – and the Union Breakthrough at Petersburg.
Click the link below to the see the images and story of the final days at Petersburg:
Andersonville was the notorious Confederate prison built in February of 1864 to accommodate the increasing number of Union soldiers captured in various theaters of the Civil War. In the fourteen months the prison was operational forty-five thousand Union prisoners-of-war would walk through the stockade gates at Andersonville – over thirteen thousand would find their final resting place there.
The horrendous mortality rate at the prison, due mainly to starvation and neglect, made Andersonville as deadly as any battlefield of the war.
Union escapees run down by bloodhounds in 1864
When the war ended testimony of what the Union prisoners had endured was heard in the halls of Congress. The hearings led to the arrest and eventual execution of the commandant of the prison, Capt. Henry Wirz. It’s important to note and a testament to the horrendous war crimes at Andersonville that Wirz was the only Confederate executed after the war.
Although there were over one hundred and fifty military prisons built both north and south during the Civil War Andersonville stands out for the sheer size of the atrocity that occurred there. Within a few months of the end of the war the thirteen thousand soldiers ingloriously buried in mass graves at Andersonville were carefully disinterred and ceremoniously reburied in a new National Cemetery. Widely publicized at the time the location of the prison grounds were also preserved and together with the cemetery would later become a National Historic Site.
Andersonville POWs fired on by the camp commandant of Stockade Florence
The story of what happened at Andersonville in 1864 still resonates today. In 1996 the hollywood film, Andersonville, visualized the story of the notorious prison for modern audiences and in 1999 part of the grounds at Andersonville were chosen as the location of the new National Prisoner of War Museum. Books on the subject of Civil War era military prisons continue to be published today and is a subject that remains contentious.
Case and point – along the road to Andersonville there is still an old Georgia State plaque dedicated to Capt. Henry Wirz – praising him as a hero of the Confederacy.
Click the link below to see archive and present day images of Andersonville:
On Christmas eve 1864 William Tecumseh Sherman sent a telegram to Abraham Lincoln offering the southern City of Savannah as a yuletide gift.
In five weeks Sherman had led an army of 60,000 Union soldiers across a huge swath of Georgia and captured the coastal city giving the Union commander and the Federals their first permanent link to the sea in the South. Declaring, “I will make Georgia Howl”, Atlanta was still burning when Sherman turned his armies east and began an expedition designed to demoralize the rebellious Southerners, to demonstrate the overwhelming strength of the Union armies and the desperate condition of the Southern Cause.
150 year old evidence of Sherman’s March to the Sea. Chimney and hearth in Bostwick, Ga -2014
After four years of Civil War the Confederacy was running out of resources and would have no real army to oppose Sherman’s March to the Sea. Confederate cavalry and State Militia troops could only nip at the heals of Sherman’s force as they live off the land and burned their way through the state utterly destroying the railroads and ultimately isolating Georgia from the rest of the Confederacy.
The three hundred mile March to the Sea would come to a climax just south of Savannah in the Union assault on Fort McAllister. Protecting the mouth of the Ogeechee River Fort McAllister had resisted numerous Union Naval bombardments throughout the war and Sherman would find that it was the key to Savannah.
Follow the trail of Sherman’s troops 150 years after these events and see what remains of the march and what this region of Georgia looks like today.
Click the link below to see the story and images following Sherman’s March to the Sea:
The March to the Sea
The Savannah Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina – 2014
“The Union and the Confederacy battled over the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia for three years. Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Valley and Ridge Appalachians to the west, the valley served as granary for General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia , providing bread and beef to feed this shield of the Confederacy, and fodder and remounts for its cavalry.” **
Above the clouds in Shenandoah National Park
In the summer of 1864 Ulysses S. Grant appoints Gen. Phil Sheridan the head of a new Army of the Shenandoah ordering him to pursue the Confederate Army of the Valley to the death.
Sheridan’s expedition would also include the wholesale destruction of anything of use to the Confederacy in the valley. Known as the Burning, Union forces in 1864 lay waste to this rich region of Virginia denying its use as a Confederate supply center for the rest of the Civil War.
The Shenandoah Valley Campaign would make Phil Sheridan famous and his opposing Confederate commander Jubal Early infamous in 1864. Sheridan’s victories at Winchester, Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek effectively ended the war in the Shenandoah Valley and “forged a tide of Union success that could not be stayed by a beleaguered Confederacy.” *
Click the link below to see the story and images of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Shenandoah Valley 1864
The battle and eventual siege of the City of Petersburg,Virginia was the longest single battle in American history. Lasting from June 1864 to April 1865 the two armies, Union and Confederate, faced each other across a no-mans-land of trenches at Petersburg that would come to resemble the battlefield of the Europe some fifty years later.
During the ten month siege there would be six major battles, eleven engagements, fifty skirmishes, six assaults and four expeditions before the Union were able to break the defenses around Petersburg.
US Grant’s modest headquarters at City Point,Va. It was from here in 1864 and 1865 that Grant would issue the orders the would end the Civil War.
Culminating in the Battle of Five Forks, Union troops finally break the defenses around the City in April 1865 – the Confederacy was collapsing…
Click the link below to see the story and images from the first five months of the siege. Together with the battlefield images will be coverage of the reenactment of the Battle of New Market Heights in Henrico County Virginia commemorating the fighting around Petersburg in 1864. In late 2014 and early 2015 I’ll be returning with additional posts on this drawn out battle and further explorations of the Petersburg/Richmond area battlefields.
The Siege of Petersburg