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Why were cavalry raids so powerful during the American Civil War?

Why were cavalry raids so powerful during the American Civil War?



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In reading McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" he gives several examples of cavalry groups of less than 2000 men causing tremendous damage, seemingly with tremendous leverage.

Why was the North so slow to catch on? Why wasn't this tactic used more frequently during the war? Was this technique used more widely in subsequent wars?


Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest famously said, "I git there first with the most men," often misquoted as "I git there firstest with the mostest." A Union cavalry general, John Buford, reportedly said, "A horse is just a form of transportation."

The main advantage of cavalry is that it could get to places, and at speeds and timetables not available to infantry. The disadvantage was that horsemen had to dismount to fight properly against infantry (in an era of rifles, especially "repeating" rifles introduced late in the war). Every fourth cavalryman held the horses of three others, so the fighting strength of the cavalry unit was effectively reduced by one fourth.

Confederates like Forrest understood that it was better to arrive first at a critical location with say, 2,000 men, of which only 1,500 could fight if it came to that. Especially when they were on a "raiding" mission, "hitting and running" would be much better than arriving with 2,000 infantry "later." The northern generals (other than southern-born Buford), were more concerned about the one-quarter reduction in fighting strength. A difference of philosophies leading to a difference in tactics.

This tactic was used less in subsequent wars as the spread of "repeating" rifles further increased the advantage of infantry over cavalry. Cavalry was most effective during the era of single-shot weapons such as muskets during which "contact" weapons such as lances or sabers were most effective.


While I'm no expert, I believe the following to be the explanation for the "why calvary is so effective" part of the question.

Since ancient times up until WW1, the main goal of almost every battle had been to outmaneuver the enemy army (e.g. flanking them) and forcing them to retreat. When this would happen, the calvary (as it moves faster than infantry) would chase them and mow them down from behind. With no effective way of defending, the fleeing army would usually end up decimated. This also explains why ~80% of deaths in most battles of pre-WW1 era was during retreats and not actual battles. And also why Alexander the Great allegedly lost less than 1000 soldiers during his entire career - his army was never forced to retreat (and even if the number is likely overblown, he did indeed lose a surprisingly low number of soldiers).

As of WW1, heavy artillery came into play, allowing the retreating army to simply stop and bombard the calvary chasing after it, rendering it infinitely less useful.


United States Cavalry

The United States Cavalry, or U.S. Cavalry, was the designation of the mounted force of the United States Army by an act of Congress on 3 August 1861. [1] This act converted the U.S. Army's two regiments of dragoons, one regiment of mounted riflemen, and two regiments of cavalry into one branch of service. [1] The cavalry branch transitioned to the Armored Forces [2] with tanks in 1940, but the term "cavalry", e.g. "armored cavalry", remains in use in the U.S. Army for mounted (ground and aviation) reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA) units based on their parent Combat Arms Regimental System (CARS) regiment. Cavalry is also used in the name of the 1st Cavalry Division for heraldic/lineage/historical purposes. Some combined arms battalions (i.e., consisting of a combination of tank and mechanized infantry companies) are designated as armor formations, while others are designated as infantry organizations. These "branch" designations are again, heraldic/lineage/historical titles derived from the CARS regiments to which the battalions are assigned. [ citation needed ]

The Mexican-American War (1846–1848) "had resulted in adding a vast territory to our national domain, and the government was bound, in the interests of civilization, to open this immense area to settlement. the country between the Missouri River and California. was occupied by powerful and warlike tribes of Indians." To protect new settlers moving into and living in the new territories, soldiers had to patrol it, but the size of the army had remained fixed. In 1855, at the request of General Winfield Scott Congress added the 1st and 2nd Cavalry regiments to the U.S. Army. [3]

Congress originally created the 1st U.S. Dragoons in 1833. The 2nd U.S. Dragoons, and the U.S. Mounted Riflemen followed in 1836 and 1846 respectively. [4] [5] Prior to "1833 mounted troops were raised (in 1808 and 1812) as emergencies presented themselves and were disbanded as soon as these had passed." [4] [6] The newly designated forces were often influenced after American cavalry units employed during the American Revolutionary War. The traditions of the U.S. Cavalry originated with the horse-mounted force which played an important role in extending United States governance into the Western United States, especially after the American Civil War (1861–1865), with the need to cover vast ranges of territory between scattered isolated forts and outposts of the minimal resources given to the stretched thin U.S. Army.

Significant numbers of horse mounted units participated in later foreign conflicts in the Spanish–American War of 1898, and in the Western Front battlefields of Europe in World War I (1917–1918), although numbers and roles declined.

Immediately preceding World War II (1941–1945), the U.S. Cavalry began transitioning to a mechanized, mounted force. During the Second World War, the Army's cavalry units operated as horse-mounted, mechanized, or dismounted forces (infantry). The last horse-mounted cavalry charge by a U.S. Cavalry unit took place on the Bataan Peninsula, in the Philippines in early 1942. The 26th Cavalry Regiment of the allied Philippine Scouts executed the charge against Imperial Japanese Army forces near the village of Morong on 16 January 1942. [7]

"In March 1942 the War Department eliminated the office of Chief of Cavalry. and the horse cavalry was effectively abolished." [8] The cavalry name was absorbed into the Armor branch as part of the Army Reorganization Act of 1950. The Vietnam War saw the introduction of helicopters and operations as a helicopter-borne force with the designation of Air Cavalry, while mechanized cavalry received the designation of Armored Cavalry.

Today, cavalry designations and traditions continue with regiments of both armor and aviation units that perform the cavalry mission. The 1st Cavalry Division is the only active division in the United States Army with a cavalry designation. The division maintains a detachment of horse-mounted cavalry for ceremonial purposes.


Civil War Casualties

Union dead after the Battle of Gettysburg, Gettysburg, Pa., 1863. Photo by Alexander Gardner

The Civil War was America's bloodiest conflict. The unprecedented violence of battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, Stones River, and Gettysburg shocked citizens and international observers alike. Nearly as many men died in captivity during the Civil War as were killed in the whole of the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands died of disease. Roughly 2% of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty. Taken as a percentage of today's population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls.

The human cost of the Civil War was beyond anybody's expectations. The young nation experienced bloodshed of a magnitude that has not been equaled since by any other American conflict.

Military Losses in American Wars

The numbers of Civil War dead were not equaled by the combined toll of other American conflicts until the War in Vietnam. Some believe the number is as high as 850,000. The American Battlefield Trust does not agree with this claim.

Civil War Battle Casualties

More American soldiers became casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg than in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 combined.

New military technology combined with old-fashioned tactical doctrine to produce a scale of battle casualties unprecedented in American history.

Civil War Service by Population

Even with close to total conscription, the South could not match the North's numerical strength. Southerners stood a significantly greater chance of being killed, wounded, or captured.

Even with close to total conscription, the South could not match the North's numerical strength. Southerners also stood a significantly greater chance of being killed, wounded, or captured.

Confederate Military Deaths by State

This chart and the one below are based on research done by Provost Marshal General James Fry in 1866. His estimates were based on Confederate muster rolls--many of which were destroyed before he began his study--and many historians have disputed the results. The estimates for Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas have been updated to reflect more recent scholarship.

This chart and the one below are based on research done by Provost Marshal General James Fry in 1866. His estimates for Southern states were based on Confederate muster rolls--many of which were destroyed before he began his study--and many historians have disputed the results. The estimates for Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas have been updated to reflect more recent scholarship.

Union Military Deaths by State

Given the relatively complete preservation of Northern records, Fry's examination of Union deaths is far more accurate than his work in the South. Note the mortal threat that soldiers faced from disease.

Given the relatively complete preservation of Northern records, Fry's examination of Union deaths is far more accurate than his work in the South. Note the mortal threat that soldiers faced from disease.

There were an estimated 1.5 million casualties reported during the Civil War.

A "casualty" is a military person lost through death, wounds, injury, sickness, internment, capture, or through being missing in action. "Casualty" and "fatality" are not interchangeable terms--death is only one of the ways that a soldier can become a casualty. In practice, officers would usually be responsible for recording casualties that occurred within their commands. If a soldier was unable to perform basic duties due to one of the above conditions, the soldier would be considered a casualty. This means that one soldier could be marked as a casualty several times throughout the course of the war.

Most casualties and deaths in the Civil War were the result of non-combat-related disease. For every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died of disease. The primitive nature of Civil War medicine, both in its intellectual underpinnings and in its practice in the armies, meant that many wounds and illnesses were unnecessarily fatal.

Our modern conception of casualties includes those who have been psychologically damaged by warfare. This distinction did not exist during the Civil War. Soldiers suffering from what we would now recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder were uncatalogued and uncared for.

The Battle of Gettysburg left approximately 7,000 corpses in the fields around the town. Family members had to come to the battlefield to find their loved ones in the carnage. (Library of Congress)

Approximately one in four soldiers that went to war never returned home. At the outset of the war, neither army had mechanisms in place to handle the amount of death that the nation was about to experience. There were no national cemeteries, no burial details, and no messengers of loss. The largest human catastrophe in American history, the Civil War forced the young nation to confront death and destruction in a way that has not been equaled before or since.

Recruitment was highly localized throughout the war. Regiments of approximately one thousand men, the building block of the armies, would often be raised from the population of a few adjacent counties. Soldiers went to war with their neighbors and their kin. The nature of recruitment meant that a battlefield disaster could wreak havoc on the home community.

The 26th North Carolina, hailing from seven counties in the western part of the state, suffered 714 casualties out of 800 men during the Battle of Gettysburg. The 24th Michigan squared off against the 26th North Carolina at Gettysburg and lost 362 out of 496 men. Nearly the entire student body of Ole Miss--135 out 139--enlisted in Company A of the 11th Mississippi. Company A, also known as the "University Greys" suffered 100% casualties in Pickett's Charge. Eighteen members of the Christian family of Christianburg, Virginia were killed during the war. It is estimated that one in three Southern households lost at least one family member.

One in thirteen surviving Civil War soldiers returned home missing one or more limbs. Pre-war jobs on farms or in factories became impossible or nearly so. This led to a rise in awareness of veterans' needs as well as increased responsibility and social power for women. For many, however, there was no solution. Tens of thousands of families slipped into destitution.

Compiling casualty figures for Civil War soldiers is a complex process. Indeed, it is so complex that even 150 years later no one has, and perhaps no one will, assemble a specific, accurate set of numbers, especially on the Confederate side.

A true accounting of the number of men in the armies can be approached through a review of three primary documents: enlistment rolls, muster rolls, and casualty lists. Following any of these investigative methods one will encounter countless flaws and inconsistencies--the records in question are little sheets of paper generated and compiled 150 years ago by human beings in one of the most stressful and confusing environments to ever exist. Enlistment stations were set up in towns and cities across the country, but for the most part only those stations in major northern cities can be relied upon to have preserved records. Confederate enlistment rolls are virtually non-existent.

The average Civil War soldier was 26 years old, weighing 143 pounds and standing 5'8" tall. (Library of Congress)

Muster rolls, generated every few months by commanding officers, list soldiers in their respective units as "present" or "absent." This gives a kind of snapshot of the unit's composition in a specific time and place. Overlooking the common misspelling of names and general lack of specificity concerning the condition of a "present" or "absent" soldier, muster rolls provide a valuable look into the past. Unfortunately, these little pieces of paper were usually transported by mule in the rear of a fighting army. Their preservation was adversely affected by rain, river crossings, clerical errors, and cavalry raids.

Casualty lists gives the number of men in a unit who were killed, wounded, or went missing in an engagement. However, combat threw armies into administrative chaos and the accounting done in the hours or days immediately following a battle often raises as many questions as it answers. For example: Who are the missing? Weren't many of these soldiers killed and not found? What, exactly, qualifies a wound and did armies account for this the same way? What became of wounded soldiers? Did they rejoin their unit did they return home did they die?

A wholly accurate count will almost certainly never be made. The effects of this devastating conflict are still felt today.

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”


Trench Warfare in the American Civil War

When General George McClellan persuaded Lincoln (against the latter’s judgement) to leave only 75 000 men guarding Washington from behind fortresses and land more than 100 000 men on the Yorktown Peninsula on 22nd March 1862 to strike at Richmond by sea, he sowed the seeds of failure by keeping secret from the President the fact that he was leaving only 50 000 to guard the capital. For when Lincoln discovered the deceit, he withheld 25 000 men from McClellan. By then the General was enmeshed in what amounted to almost constant and costly siege warfare against a series of well-entrenched lines of resistance, dug across his predicable line of advance through the ten-mile neck of the peninsula, but guarded by only 60 000 enemy troops under General Joseph Johnston.

The campaign developed a pattern hitherto unknown in warfare. Excepting sieges of fortified cities, combat in the past had been of short duration, major battles rarely lasting for more than a day. The Peninsula campaign, commencing with the Battle of Kernstown on 23rd March as part of General Jackson’s diversionary activities in the Shenandoah Valley, and ending in the withdrawal of Federal forces from the Peninsula in August, consisted of almost ceaseless fighting. Including the siege of Yorktown from 4th April to 4th May, there were no less than six major battles in the Valley and nine in the Peninsula, connected by continual skirmishing and one major raid by a cavalry division. Moreover, the Peninsula fighting coincided with a major campaign in the west, on either side of the Mississippi, where the struggle to control that jugular vein of the Confederacy culminated in the bloody Battle of Shiloh on the 6th and 7th April the capture of New Orleans by a Federal fleet of 17 warships under Admiral David Farragut on 25th April and the fall of Memphis to Federal river gunboats on 6th June. Losses were colossal – 14 000 Federal and 11 000 Confederate troops at Shiloh alone. Exhaustion became endemic, halting operations.

Although these heavy losses could partly be ascribed to errors of raw troops, as well as to poor staff work, the underlying reasons were improved technology which had redoubled firepower, and crippling deficiencies in communication which technology had not yet solved. When McClellan advanced from Yorktown in the direction of Richmond, his progress was slowed by an out-numbered Confederate rearguard which gave ground only grudgingly on a wide front. This was possible because no longer did men need to be packed into tight ranks in order to generate sufficient volume of fire to maintain their position against assault. Reciprocally, the thinning out of ranks made them less vulnerable to incoming fire. Such gams were ameliorated further when men took to lying down to shoot or, better still, made a point of firing from trenches or behind cover instead of standing up in the open, as so recently in the past decade. Not that either army was yet able to apply the full devastating potential of modern weapons. Many old, muzzle-loading rifles were still in service, but a sound of the future ripped forth at the Battle of Fair Oaks when on 31st May, within sight of Richmond, a battery of hand-operated Williams machine-guns chimed in to support the first Confederate counter¬ stroke – a battle which was to save their capital city though it failed, with losses of over 6000 men, to drive McClellan back.

As had been shown in the Crimea and at Solferino, head-on assaults against a well emplaced enemy of equal calibre were no longer profitable operations of war. Even less viable was cavalry against modern artillery and rifle fire. The only chance of making a worthwhile mounted contribution was to ride through gaps in the enemy lines, both for reconnaissance and for raids, into the wide-open spaces of the enemy rear. In a country the size of America, and with relatively small forces engaged, there would always be gaps and nobody was better at exploiting these than General JEB Stuart, as he demonstrated between 12th and 15th June when he rode right round McClellan’s army, creating havoc in the rear and returning to Lee (given command in the field after Fair Oaks) with invaluable information about Federal dispositions.

Trench Warfare – The Lines of Petersburg

When Grant deluded Lee as to his true intentions after the Wilderness Campaign, managing suddenly to appear in mid-June with massed forces at Petersburg instead of further north as expected, the thinly defended city lay at his mercy. But war weariness and a conditioned caution held back the Federal troops who now approached all entrenchments warily as a matter of course. One quick determined rush by a Corps on 15th June 1864 might well have broken through. Three days later an army of 65 000 was insufficient to overcome the 40 000 men Lee had rushed to the spot by rail. Faced at first by an improvised line, the initial Federal assault failed from lack of co-ordination. Detachments advanced independently, inadequately supported by artillery, and were pinned to the ground by fire of only moderate intensity. By the time a set-piece attack could be launched on the 18th, the volume of defensive fire was annihilating, compelling Grant to call a halt and commence probing the city’s southern flank with a view to isolating it. Keeping pace with each Federal sidestep to their left, the Confederates extended their entrenchment to their right, always in time to meet each assault while fiercely contesting Grant’s further attempts to cut the line to Richmond or the one running westward from Petersburg. Assault was usually of the battering-ram sort – a blasting of the selected point of attack by artillery and mortars (the latter, with their plunging fire, being particularly suitable for striking at the deeper enemy emplacements) followed by a massed infantry charge.

Historians accuse those in charge of a succession of failed set-piece attacks with bungling. To some extent they are right, although they tend to overlook that the dimensions and ferocity of modern war had produced a complex problem beyond the knowledge and technology of the day to solve. `In war’, said a Prussian officer called Hindenburg, many years later, `only simple plans work’. In 1864 simplicity could not be adopted. Even if every plan had been perfectly devised, staff work impeccable, communication arrangements fault¬ less and every order executed implicitly, the weather, or the enemy could be expected to disrupt them. But nothing could be perfect in this form of warfare, with masses of men and numerous weapon systems somehow to be coordinated. Humanity failed in all its unpredictability. That way chaos and slaughter were assured.

The attack on the Redoubt at Petersburg on 30th July demonstrated in utter confusion the inability of commanders to make human courage prevail over material factors and human frailty. As a powerful augmentation of the, by now, conventional artillery concentration of fire, a mine containing four tons of black powder was to be exploded beneath the redoubt and its defenders. Placed in a cross shaft at the end of a 511-foot tunnel which a regiment of coal miners secretly dug, it was blown at dawn without warning to the enemy. General Ambrose Burnside, whose four divisions of infantry were to exploit the explosion, seems to have relied too much upon the shock effect of the mine beyond doubt the measures he took to ensure that the troops not only occupied the crater but pressed on rapidly beyond, were ambiguous and unambitious. As for the troops, so staggered were they by the enormity of the explosion, the air pressure of its blast and the scene of carnage which met their eyes when they poured into the crater, that they lost all sense of purpose and stayed there all morning, poking about among the grisly ruins of dismembered men and equipment. On the Federal side leadership came to naught while among the Confederates initial shock was gradually overcome and a counter-stroke launched in the afternoon. Artillery sealed off the flanks of the 500-yard breach in the defences, as infantry rushed to the lip of the crater where they fired volleys into the disorganized mob below. The Federals were flung back with the loss of 3793 men. That day the Confederates lost 1182, including those blown up.

For the rest of the summer and into the fall, Grant strove fitfully to break the deadlock in front of Richmond and Petersburg, creating for the logistic support of his troops a comprehensive conglomeration of base depots, camps and railway spurs leading to within artillery range of the enemy. Facing the Confederate capital the entrenched front was some 37 miles long, manned by 90 000 well-provisioned Federal troops on one side, and 60 000 deprived but fanatically determined Confederates on the other. Try as he would to smash through, Grant was defeated. Likewise, Lee was rebuffed when in March 1865, a last sortie took Fort Stedman but got no further than its ramparts before it was stopped by a Federal counterattack. In a four-hour battle, the attackers lost twice as many men as the defenders – 4000 to 2000.

Had Grant’s exploits comprised the sole Federal effort in 1864 they could well have led to his and President Lincoln’s downfall in an election year. The disgruntled General McClellan was campaigning for the Democratic candidacy with a call for an end to the war. He might have won if General William Sherman, taking advantage of the dram of Confederate strength to the east, had not struck the decisive blow in the west.


Why were cavalry raids so powerful during the American Civil War? - History

Settlers began to move to Florida once it became a United States territory. By the mid 1800s, it was a rural territory with large farms and plantations. In 1845 when Florida became a state, the population was approximately 140,000. Of these, 63,000 were African Americans, most of whom were slaves. The state's economy was based on cattle and crops. Slavery was practiced in Florida but not all African Americans were slaves. Many bought their freedom or were freed by their owners. Some were Creoles, free descendents of Spanish citizens of African ancestry. When Florida became a state, it was considered a slave state. This was an important factor in Florida's part in the Civil War.

Many states in the north did not believe in the practice of owning slaves and began to abolish slavery. By 1860, slavery was only found in the southern states and territories. The Presidential election that year was based on two candidates who debated about slavery. Many southern states were upset because Abraham Lincoln discussed stopping the spread of slavery. He did not want slavery in the west and hoped that it would eventually die out in the south. He was elected President on November 6, 1860. South Carolina decided to secede from the Union on December 20th. That meant that it would not recognize the United States as its government and instead would make its own state laws.

On January 10, 1861, Florida seceded as well. It became a separate state from the Union. By February, Florida and six other southern states had formed a new government, the Confederate States of America. Four other states joined a month later. The Confederate states were South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and Arkansas. Jefferson Davis, from Mississippi, was elected President and Montgomery, Alabama was selected as the capital, though it was soon moved to Richmond, Virginia.Union troops refused to leave Fort Pickens when Florida seceded from the Union.

The Civil War

Decades of growing strife between North and South erupted in civil war on April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The two major issues of the Civil War were slavery and state's rights. Many families lost all or most of the men of the family. Sometimes brother fought against brother or cousin against cousin as families differed in their view on slavery and loyalty to the United States. Not all southerners supported slavery, so they fought for the North, and not all northerners supported the war against the South. The border states between the North and the South had the most difficulties during the war.

The majority of the battles were fought in other states, but two major battles and several smaller skirmishes took place in Florida. The Union sent ships to blockade or occupy Florida ports: St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Key West and Pensacola. This blockade left Floridians unable to participate in their normal sea trade. However, the Union navy was unable to guard Florida's entire long coastline. Smaller ships would slip through the blockade at night and continue to supply goods to the Confederate troops.

People in Florida who worked on farms and plantations raised crops and cattle to send to the troops. They sent beef, pork, fish, fruit and salt. Florida was a large producer of salt. Salt work plants would separate salt from the seawater. Two of the biggest salt works (factories) were at Apalachee Bay and St. Andrews. Salt was an important resource to the army. Because refrigeration had not been introduced yet, it was used to keep the meat from spoiling.

An estimated 16,000 Floridians fought in the war. Most were in the Confederacy, but approximately 2,000 joined the Union army. Some Floridians didn't want to fight for either side, so they hid out in the woods and swamps to avoid being drafted. The Floridian soldiers were organized into eleven regiments of infantry, two cavalry, and numerous small units. Almost 5,000 Floridian soldiers were killed during the war.

With most of the Floridian men fighting, it was up to the women, children, and slaves to keep the farms working. Money was very tight and most families, even in the cities, had to grow their own food and make their own clothes. Clothing was collected to send to the troops and iron was collected to make swords, guns, and other arms.

By 1863, the Confederate Army was in trouble. The bigger Union Army was decreasing the Confederate's numbers. President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the southern states. This angered the Confederacy and the war continued. Many freed slaves joined the Union Army and fought to defeat the south and free their brothers and sisters who were still in bondage.

Battles were fought in the North and the South, but most took place in the South. There were two large battles that that took place in Florida and both were won by Confederate troops. On February 20, 1864, the largest Civil War battle in Florida occurred near Lake City. It was called the Battle of Olustee. It was a victory for the Confederacy, but did not help win the war.

The war continued, but with the Confederacy becoming weaker and weaker and most of the southern capitals captured, supply lines to the confederate troops were cut off. On April 4, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. The war was officially over. Some battles continued for a short period of time, but, once word reached troops who were still fighting, the southern generals surrendered. Florida officially surrendered April 26, 1865. Union troops took over Tallahassee and immediately raised the United States flag. Once again, the states were united.

Civil War Battles and Troops in Florida

Fort Pickens

Early 1861: Some speculate that the Civil War could have begun in Florida instead of Fort Sumter, South Carolina. In early January of 1861 when Florida joined the other Confederate states and seceded from the Union, there were Union (U.S. Army) soldiers stationed at Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, right off Pensacola. Confederate soldiers demanded that the Union soldiers surrender now that Florida was a Confederate state. The Union soldiers refused to leave the fort. The Union quickly moved in more troops to reinforce the number of soldiers in the fort of Pensacola. A battle began and a standoff lasted over several months.

The Confederate army landed 1,000 soldiers on the island on October 9th to raid a small Union army camp outside of the fort. More Union soldiers were sent from the fort to reinforce their camp and they were able to drive the Confederates off the island. Battles continued throughout the early part of 1862. Finally, by May, the Confederate troops withdrew from the area and the yearlong standoff was over. The Union occupied Pensacola for the rest of the war.

The Tampa Incident

June 30, 1862: A small battle took place in the Tampa Bay area over a two-day period early in the Civil War. A Union general sailed into Tampa Bay. Soldiers disembarked, went into town, and demanded Tampa's surrender to the Union. A small Confederate militia group stationed in Tampa called the Osceola Rangers refused to surrender. The Union gunboat then began to open fire. The Union General warned the soldiers that they would fire again beginning at 6 pm in order to get civilians out of the way. The Osceola Rangers remained steadfast in their refusal to surrender. Gunfire began again and shots rang out most of the next day into Tampa. Eventually, in the late afternoon of July 1st, the Union soldiers stopped firing and the gunboat withdrew. Luckily, there were no casualties in this battle.

The Battle of Olustee

February 20, 1864: One year after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the largest Civil War battle in Florida occurred near Lake City. The Battle of Olustee lasted for six hours in the woods close to Olustee station. The Union army launched an expedition inward from the coastline in order to cut off supply lines to the Confederates. They also were searching for African Americans to join their side. Brigadier General Truman Seymour marched 5,000 men toward Lake City. Confederate General Joseph Finegan set up 5,200 men at Olustee to block their advance. Three regiments of African American troops fought in this battle on the Union's side and many of these men were lost. The Confederate troops defeated the Union Army and sent them back toward Jacksonville. The Battle of Olustee has been described as one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War. Almost 3,000 men out of the 11,000 who fought were killed.

The Battle of Natural Bridge

March 4, 1865: Another large battle in Florida took place near Tallahassee. Major General John Newton landed U.S. Navy ships at the mouth of St. Marks River. They had trouble getting up the river, so the soldiers marched northeast to Tallahassee. A small Confederate militia group burned a bridge in their path so that the Union soldiers could not cross the river. The Union soldiers pressed on and the two groups met at the Natural Bridge, a place where the river goes underground for a short distance. The Confederates were able to protect the natural crossing and push the Union soldiers back. The Union soldiers quickly retreated to their ships. Once again, the Confederates were victorious in Florida. Because of this victory, Tallahassee was the only Confederate state capital east of the Mississippi River that was not seized during the war.

The "Cow Cavalry"

Small militia groups were formed to protect the inner part of Florida. These units were mostly made up of ranchers and cowhands. They were called the "Cow Cavalry." Small numbers of Union soldiers would hold cavalry raids in south Florida to capture cattle. The Union Navy would also conduct raids along the coast trying to destroy the salt work plants. It was the mission of the cow cavalry to protect the cattle ranches, salt works, and small towns of south Florida. Numerous small battles occurred as the groups met, but most battles were never documented. Florida's greatest contribution to the war, besides the 5,000 Floridian men who fought, was food supplies. Florida sent beef, pork, fish, and fruit to the Confederate troops. A vital part of the Confederate strategy was to keep Florida's inland roads and rivers protected so that the supplies could get safely northward. The soldiers of the "Cow Calvary" helped keep the Confederate army supplied with food from Florida.


Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign

In the spring of 1862, Jackson spearheaded the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, firmly establishing himself as a strong and independent commander. The Confederate army’s high command had charged him with the task of defending western Virginia from an invasion by Union troops. With an army of some 15,000 to 18,000 troops, Jackson repeatedly outmaneuvered a superior Union force of more than 60,000 men. Jackson’s army moved so quickly during the campaign that they dubbed themselves 𠇏oot cavalry.” President Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) had split the Union army into three parts, and Jackson used his mobility to attack and confuse the divided forces over the course of the campaign. He won several key victories over armies of larger size. By the campaign’s end in June, he had earned the admiration of Union generals. Jackson had prevented the Northerners from taking the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, and had done so in the face of unfavorable odds.


America’s Civil War: Union Soldiers Hanged in North Carolina

It was a chilling sight. Thirteen men in sullied Union Army uniforms lined up on a scaffold, rough corn sacks over their heads, a noose around each one’s neck. A young lieutenant produced the execution order and read it as loudly as he could to the brigades of Confederate infantrymen formed in a huge square around the gallows. After that attempt to justify the impending doom of the condemned, a signal was given. The flooring of the gallows collapsed, simultaneously dropping the entire long row of faceless figures. The hooded victims dangled, jerked and died, their lifeless bodies suspended in midair. A captain of the 8th Georgia Cavalry remembered that it ‘was an awful cold, bad day and the sight was an awful one to behold.’

Many of the townspeople of Kinston, N.C., had left their usual activities that day, February 15, 1864, to observe the proceedings. Such grim military rituals had almost become a routine part of their existence. Two Federal soldiers had already been hanged at the same location by troops under Confederate Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett, the flamboyant Virginian who led the climactic charge against Cemetery Ridge on the third day at Gettysburg. Seven more would follow in a few days, but this was the largest group to be dispatched at one time.

All of the hanged Union soldiers and those still to climb the gallows steps had been captured by the Rebels during an abortive Confederate operation against New Berne, 32 miles to the southeast. The Federals had held the town since March 1862, when Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside had captured New Berne as part of his operations along the North Carolina coast. The loss of any of its ports hurt the Confederacy, and Pickett hoped to recapture the town by a three-pronged attack of about 13,000 men.

Brigadier General Seth Barton’s column of artillery, cavalry and infantry was to move on New Berne from the southwest, while Colonel James Dearing, with a smaller number of cavalrymen, infantrymen and guns, drove on the city from the northeast. Pickett accompanied the division of Brig. Gen. Robert F. Hoke as it pushed on New Berne from the northwest. The elaborate plan also called for Confederate warships to sail up the Neuse River, which flowed north of the town, in support of the attacks. The complex operation started well, but ultimately failed due to the strong Yankee forts and earthworks that surrounded New Berne. Pickett was irate. He had already been involved in one failed assault, and now his name was associated with another.

Although the Confederates had not recaptured New Berne, their assaults had snagged between 300 and 500 Northern prisoners, many taken by Hoke’s soldiers when they overran a blockhouse. For some of the captives ‘Northern’ had several connotations, for they were natives of the Old North State. In fact, many North Carolinians fought for the Union. Three Federal regiments composed of Tar Heels were raised during the war, while more than 10,000 North Carolinians fought for the Union in units raised by other states. Being a blue-coated North Carolinian captured by fellow Tar Heels in gray was not akin to an automatic death sentence. But the prisoners taken by Pickett’s men at New Berne had an additional twist to their story, for they were accused of switching sides — serving in the Confederate Army, then deserting and fighting for the Northern cause.

The Confederate authorities’ contempt for the soldiers who had left their army’s ranks was demonstrated from the moment of their capture. When the failed expedition against New Berne returned to Kinston, the prisoners were initially herded into the Lenoir County Court House and later transferred to the nearby Old Kinston Jail, where most were forced into a large, barren dungeon.

Elizabeth Jones, whose husband Stephen was one of the prisoners, said, ‘I carried bedding to him myself to keep him from lying on the floor.’ The men had to subsist on one cracker a day until relatives brought them additional food.

Some of the prisoners had formerly served in the 10th North Carolina Artillery and were recognized by one of their former officers. They were pointed out to Pickett, who berated them. ‘What are you doing here? Where have you been?’ he questioned, continuing: ‘God damn you, I reckon you will hardly ever go back there again, you damned rascals. I’ll have you shot, and all other damned rascals who desert.’

Fifty-seven of the other prisoners had served the Confederacy in the 8th Battalion Partisan Rangers, also known as Lt. Col. John H. Nethercutt’s battalion. Formed in the spring of 1863, the home guard unit rode patrols, conducted guard duty in the New Berne region and received its orders from authorities in the Neuse River town. When the battalion was incorporated into the 66th North Carolina Infantry Regiment in October, several hundred of Nethercutt’s men, unwilling to be placed under control of the Confederate government, deserted. The Federals who had once served with Nethercutt were mostly poor, illiterate farmers with no political or economic interest in the war that had disrupted their lives.

Those accused of serving the North faced certain execution. No official records of courts-martial of the prisoners have been found, but contemporary newspaper reports claimed that their fates were sealed in hastily convened military courts. At least some of the men evidently did go through a trial process, but it was more of a kangaroo court that a formal court-martial. It is also possible that some of the men were executed without any type of trial. To make their crime appear even more heinous, the decision was made to hang the turncoats, rather than have them face a firing squad, which was the normal punishment for deserters.

One man among the group, had he been granted the opportunity to summon witnesses and not been forced to sit before a kangaroo court, was in a position to present far stronger justification for his actions. Twenty-five-year-old Charles Cuthrell of Broad Grove, N.C., had resisted serving in the Confederate Army and was hanged apparently for simply maintaining his loyalty to the U.S. government. After the war, three of Cuthrell’s neighbors attested that in January 1862 Confederate authorities had notified men fit for military duty that if they did not come forward and enlist they would be conscripted into the Rebel army. Cuthrell was one of those who was drafted and, in fact, had to be taken by force from his home.

Cuthrell ended up at a ‘Camp of Instruction’ at New Berne and was placed in Captain Alexander C. Latham’s Battery, 3rd North Carolina Artillery. A family friend recalled that Charles insisted, as did his father and four brothers, that they were Union men and ‘that if compelled to go into the Rebel service against his will, he would be of no service to the Confederacy, from the fact that he would not fire upon the flag of his Country, or any of its defenders.’

Cuthrell remained in Confederate service only two months. During the March 1862 Battle of New Berne, the only engagement in which he was present, his neighbors remembered that Cuthrell ‘made good his previous intentions as before stated publicly, in refusing to fire upon his country’s flag’ and ’embraced the first opportunity offered for escape & entered the Union lines.’

During the subsequent Union occupation of the town, the 2nd North Carolina (U.S.) was formed. Cuthrell stepped forward and made his mark on an enlistment form on December 22, 1863, and swore that he would ‘bear truew faith and allegiance to the United States of America and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whomsoever….’ Less than two months later he would be captured by Pickett’s men, tried and executed for his Unionist stand in a seceded state.

After Cuthrell and the other men hanged on February 15 were cut down from the gallows, they were stripped of their blue uniforms, which were given to the civilian hangman — a strange, cross-eyed, nameless man from Raleigh — as he had demanded the garments as part of his pay for accomplishing the feat of mass execution. Georgia Corporal Sidney J. Richardson wrote his folks: ‘Oh! I fergotton to tell you I saw…Yankees hung to day, they deserted our army and jyned the Yankey army and our men taken them prisoners they was North Carolinians. I did not maned [mind] to see them hung.’

The bodies, some totally naked, were left lying by the scaffold until claimed by relatives, who had to provide their own transportation to carry their men back to their family burial plots. The army would not provide any of its wagons. Those not claimed by kin were simply interred in the sandy field by the gallows. It is likely that Charles Cuthrell was one of those buried in that fashion because he lived more than 30 miles away, and it is doubtful his 19-year-old wife, Celia Serle Cuthrell, could have traveled that distance to recover his remains even if she was aware of his hanging. The couple had also recently suffered the loss of an infant.

A few days after the 13 were put to death, another set of hangings took place in Kinston, as well as a number of shootings of Confederate deserters who had been rounded up in the area but who had not gone over to the Federals. So many executions were taking place, in fact, that one Confederate officer would later write in disgust: ‘Sherman had correctly said that war is hell, and it really looked it, with all those men being hung and shot, as if hell had broke loose in North Carolina.’

The Rev. John Paris, chaplain of the 54th North Carolina Infantry, was also struck by the enormity of the executions. He had attended the men before they took their final steps to the gallows and recalled: ‘The scene beggars all description. Some of them were comparatively young men but they had made the fatal mistake they had only 24 hours to live, and but little preparation had been made for death. Here was a wife to say farewell to a husband forever. Here a mother to take a last look at her ruined son and then a sister who had come to embrace, for the last time, the brother who had brought disgrace upon the very name she bore by his treason to his country.’

Word of the executions spread throughout the North by way of newspaper accounts. The New York Times considered the hangings ‘Cold Blooded Murder.’ The outraged Union officers who had enlisted the executed Southerners vociferously called for action against those responsible. The protests of one Union general actually may have unwittingly helped the Confederates carry out the hangings.

Before the executions had begun, Maj. Gen. John Peck, the Union commander of the District of North Carolina, wrote Pickett to demand that the soldiers captured from the 2nd North Carolina (U.S.) be treated properly, and included a list of their names. Pickett wrote back a sneering letter thanking Peck for providing the list that would help in ferreting out those who might have previously served the Confederacy.

A thorough investigation of the entire affair, however, could not be conducted by the North until the war ended the following year. In October 1865, Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Ruger, commander of the Department of North Carolina, ordered the establishment of a board of inquiry to investigate the matter. From October to November the officers on the board questioned 28 witnesses about the hangings, including numerous townspeople, widows of the deceased and ex-Confederate officers in Kinston and New Berne.

The board of inquiry concluded that Pickett, who ordered the courts-martial of the men and approved the sentences, and Hoke, who was responsible for carrying out the executions, had ‘violated the rules of war and every principle of humanity, and are guilty of crimes too heinous to be excused by the United States government and, therefore, that there should be a military commission immediately appointed for the trial of these men, and to inflict upon the perpetrators of such crimes their just punishment.’

As a preliminary step to those punishments, Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt recommended to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on December 30, 1865, that ‘Pickett be at once arrested and held to await trial.’ But even if they had wanted to take Pickett into custody for his actions against the North Carolinians, there was no way of getting their hands on the West Point-trained former U.S. Army captain. Having been tipped off by some old army friends of what was contemplated against him, Pickett had fled Virginia to Montreal, Canada, where he was living in a rooming house with his wife and baby under the assumed surname of Edwards. He had even taken the precaution of having his distinctive long, curly hair shorn short to avoid recognition.

There Pickett remained until Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the commanding general of the Army and an old friend of Pickett’s from prewar days in the Regular Army, provided him with a special pass protecting him from arrest. Pickett had written his former opponent asking for the favor. Later Grant would intercede with President Andrew Johnson to extend Pickett a full pardon for his Kinston actions. In his appeal to Johnson, Grant stated that ‘General Pickett I know personally to be an honorable man, but in this case his judgment prompted him to do what cannot well be sustained.’ He added, however, ‘I do not see how good, either to the friends of the deceased, or by fixing an example for the future, can be secured by his trial now.’

Doing so, Grant argued, would open up the question of whether the government was disregarding its contract entered into in order to secure the surrender of an armed enemy. After all, the terms Grant offered General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox said nothing about bringing George Pickett to trial as a war criminal. On Christmas Day 1868, outgoing President Johnson issued a general amnesty that got Pickett off the hook permanently for the Kinston hangings.

After the war, Charles Cuthrell’s destitute wife, Celia, sought compensation for her loss and found herself having to establish the validity of Charles’ Union Army service and the circumstances of his brief Confederate Army association to qualify for a widow’s pension from the U.S. government.

The adjutant general’s office in Washington provided her with a document attesting to the fact that Cuthrell was reported ‘murdered by order rebel Genl’s Pickett & Hoke at Kinston, N.C., in the Spring of 1864.’ Five different Craven County neighbors provided her with sworn affidavits attesting to Cuthrell’s outspoken Union sentiments and his conscription into Confederate service. Eventually she became eligible for Widow’s Pension No. 151963.

Two other widows, those of Lewis Freeman and Jesse Summerlin, also were able to make a case for an $8-a-month pension by establishing that their men had been coerced into joining the Confederate ranks. Both men had deserted their Rebel home guard unit. ‘My husband was a Union man and kept out of the war as long as he could with safety to himself but he finally enlisted in a company of Confederate troops,’ stated Freeman’s widow, who was left with six children to raise. ‘I think he was induced to enlist from fear of bodily harm.’

The pittances extended to the poor widows brought only further resentment from pro-Confederates within politically divided North Carolina. For those who remained loyal to the Southern cause, serving in the Union Army, no matter under what circumstances, amounted to disloyalty. The motivation of the men executed had varied from fear to patriotism. For Charles Cuthrell of Broad Grove, N.C., following his conviction to remain loyal to the United States cost him his life — not from disease or on the battlefield like most Northern soldiers, but from the hard bite of the hangman’s noose.

This article was written by Gerard A. Patterson and originally appeared in the November 2002 issue of America’s Civil War magazine.

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Rifles in the American Civil War

During the American Civil War, an assortment of small arms found their way onto the battlefield. Though the muzzle-loading percussion cap rifle was the most numerous weapon, being standard issue for the Union and Confederate armies, many other firearms, ranging from the single-shot breech-loading Sharps and Burnside rifles to the Spencer and the Henry rifles, two of the world's first repeating rifles, were issued by the hundreds of thousands, mostly by the Union. The Civil War brought many advances in firearms technology, most notably the widespread use of rifled barrels.

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, numerous advances had been made in small arms technology. The flintlock, which had been in use for over two hundred years, had been replaced by the caplock in the 1840s. Muzzle-loading rifles had been in use for many years, but prior to the Civil War were issued only to specialist troops. The black powder of the time quickly fouled the barrel, making reloading slower and more difficult since the balls had to be patched and matched closely to the bore size for rifles. Loads used for smoothbore muskets did not need to fit as tightly or be pushed past rifling grooves in the barrel and accordingly did not suffer from the slow loading problem common to rifles.

Black powder also quickly obscured the battlefield, which led military leaders of the time to conclude that the greater range of rifles was of little value on the battlefield. Military leaders therefore preferred the faster loading smoothbore weapons over the more accurate rifles.

The Minié ball solved both of these issues because it was smaller than the bore but expanded on firing. The bores were partially cleaned by the loading process.

The invention of the Minié ball solved the slow loading problem, allowing smoothbore muskets to be replaced by rifled muskets in the decades just before the Civil War. In addition, most existing military doctrine was based on the smoothbore musket. Since the 17th century, infantry normally fought in a tight shoulder to shoulder line and fired volleys at each other. When one side gained the upper hand, it would finish off the attack with a bayonet charge. These tactics developed because smoothbore muskets were accurate only at short ranges. Rifled muskets made this type of fighting obsolete because of their much greater range. In Civil War battles, infantry typically fought using linear formations (in two rank company formation), but also took advantage of trees, rocks, buildings, etc. for cover. Infantry units also began to entrench by using their bayonets and cups to dig out shallow trenches. Linear formations were thus rarely seen in late war battles, as evidenced by the extensive use of trenches and dugouts in the Siege of Petersburg.

However, most American army officers in 1861 had been schooled in obsolete Napoleonic tactics, especially since many of them had served in the Mexican War, which was still fought in the old way with smoothbore muskets and linear formations. Accordingly, officers typically failed to realize the power of rifles and continued to launch massed attacks against fortified enemies, which invariably resulted in heavy losses. For years, one of the standard manuals used in the US Army had been an 1835 translation by General Winfield Scott of a French work. Shortly before the Civil War, William J. Hardee (later to become a Confederate lieutenant general) updated it to include information on rifles, but he still assumed the use of linear formations in the book. Nonetheless, Hardee's book was produced in a huge variety of editions during the war, often for different types of infantry. For instance, one was produced specially for African-American troops, and another for Zouave units. There were many Southern editions, and at least one Northern edition that omitted Hardee's name from the title page.

Historians such as Allen C. Guelzo reject this historical criticism of Civil War infantry tactics. Casualty estimates compared with expended ammunition from battles indicate one casualty for every 250 to 300 shots discharged, not a dramatic improvement over Napoleonic casualty rates. To cite one example, the Battle of Shiloh produced astounding carnage that shocked both the North and South. Over 22,000 men were killed or wounded in the battle, despite its being early in the war and featuring a high proportion of smoothbore muskets. The Battle of Seven Pines a month and a half later produced some 12,000 casualties in an engagement where numerous smoothbore muskets were in use.

To explain this seeming contradiction between technology and tactical reality, Guelzo points out that even when laboratory tests indicates accuracy with a rifled musket from 600 yards, in an actual battlefield situation, the lack of smokeless powder quickly would obscure visibility. The gunpowder of the time produced a great deal of smoke when fired. Thus, in larger battles, battles began with artillery firing for some time, and skirmishers had been firing at each other for some time. By the time the main lines of infantry began approaching each other, visibility was severely obscured. Once the infantry began the main engagement, visibility was quickly reduced to almost nil. With the lack of visibility, only massed infantry fire was effective, and this reality is reflected in the tactics of the time. Guelzo argues that rifling truly benefited only the sharpshooters on the skirmish line, who fought before their visibility was obscured, and that the main line of infantry could not take advantage of the benefits of rifling.

In addition, owing to the rapid expansion of the armies and lack of experienced commissioned and non-commissioned officers, most American volunteer soldiers received inadequate firearms training compared to the smaller professional European armies. Live-fire drills were seldom performed, owing to the cost of powder and bullets, and many soldiers never properly learned how to use their sights for aiming.

In his book Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, [1] Guelzo also points out the technical difficulty of aiming a rifled musket. While rifling improved overall accuracy of muskets, the rifling also formed a trajectory that caused the bullet to quickly "drop" from where it was aimed (in contrast to the flat trajectory of smoothbore muskets). Thus to hit a target at distances beyond 40–50 yards, the rifleman would require knowledge of trajectory and distance, aiming the rifle at a precise angle above the target. In actual battlefield situations, such precise aiming was virtually impossible. Under the stress of battle, virtually every infantryman asked about aiming on the battlefield replied that in practice, the best one could do was "simply raise his rifle to the horizontal, and fire without aiming." [1]

Thus Guelzo doubts that contemporary military leaders wilfully ignored technological advances. Rather, Guelzo argues that in actual battlefield conditions, until the development of smokeless powder, the benefits of rifling were largely nullified. Thus, generals did not neglect to alter their tactics out of ignorance, but because the battlefield had not changed substantially from the Napoleonic era.

Even worse was the state of cavalry tactics. Historically, mounted soldiers carried a lance, sword, or pistol and could sweep enemy infantry weakened by artillery or musket fire. Napoleon normally tried to rout opposing armies from the field after softening their line with massed artillery barrages. The Napoleonic cavalry charge was made both obsolete and suicidal by rifled muskets. At least two major battles in the Civil War, Gaines Mill and Gettysburg, saw such attempts, both with predictable results. As a result, cavalry came to be used mainly for raiding and scouting, and seldom participated in major battles. Mounted charges gave way to dismounted combat where men would hand their horses off to horse holders and fight on foot.

When the American Civil War broke out in April 1861, neither the North (about 360,000 small arms) nor the South (about 240,000) had enough weapons to fight a major war. [2] Stockpiles of rifles and handguns carried by individual soldiers were limited. As the war escalated those arms stockpiles were quickly diminished. [3] Soldiers were often forced to use older smoothbore and flintlock muskets, which had been considered to be obsolete, simply because the newer rifles were not available in sufficient quantities. Many soldiers were forced to use their own personal hunting rifles, which were typically Kentucky or Pennsylvania type rifles. These rifles, while more accurate than smoothbore muskets, had been designed for hunting, and fired less deadly smaller caliber ammunition.

In April 1861, Virginia militia commanded by Stonewall Jackson occupied the town of Harper's Ferry, Virginia (later West Virginia) and seized the Federal arsenal there. The arsenal boasted state of the art machine tools for manufacturing firearms and the Confederates managed to dismantle all of the equipment and transport it by rail to Richmond, Virginia and Fayetteville, North Carolina, where it became central to the Confederate war effort.

At the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, US Regular Army regiments had Model 1855 Springfield rifles and some companies also had Model 1841 "Mississippi" rifles however, most soldiers in both armies carried smoothbore muskets, primarily the Model 1842 musket or percussion converted Model 1816/1822 musket (as well as some muskets still using the original flintlock mechanism). The only soldiers at First Bull Run who may have had foreign muskets were Wade Hampton's Hampton Legion, as he had ordered Enfield rifles from England to arm it with. However, it is unclear whether any reached his troops in time for the battle. Late in the year, the first shipments of European muskets began arriving, including a wide assortment of weapons ranging from the modern (Pattern 1853 Enfield rifles) to antiquated ones from the Napoleonic Wars (Model 1809 Potsdam muskets). By early 1862, the first substantial deliveries of Model 1861 Springfields began. The regular army received first pick of weapons, followed by the Army of the Potomac. Other Union armies were considered lower priority for receiving the latest and best equipment.

At the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, the Union armies were fairly well equipped with .58 caliber rifles, though smoothbores were still common along with assorted European muskets such as the M1854 Austrian Lorenz rifle and Belgian Liege rifles. The Confederates were much worse off, being armed with mostly smoothbore muskets, including some flintlocks, and even shotguns and hunting rifles. Approximately 5400 Confederates at Shiloh had Enfield rifles, and it is recorded that the soldiers of the Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade replaced their flintlock muskets with Enfields dropped by Union troops during the fighting at the Hornet's Nest.

During the Peninsula Campaign, the Army of the Potomac was more than 50% armed with Enfield and Springfield rifles, while the Army of Northern Virginia may have been using close to 40% smoothbore muskets. This may account for the lopsided casualty figures in the Seven Days Battles (15,000 Union casualties versus 20,000 Confederate). By the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, the Army of the Potomac had mostly phased out smoothbore muskets aside from the Irish Brigade, which by choice continued using Model 1842 muskets into 1864. However, ordnance reports show that 40 regiments in the Army of the Potomac still carried .69 caliber muskets at Gettysburg and some as late as the Overland Campaign.

Beginning in the spring of 1863, the War Department required regiments to submit monthly ordnance returns. Information on the weapons that Union regiments carried prior to that time is inferred from various other official documents, letters, regimental histories, and personal recollections of veterans.

The Army of Northern Virginia steadily acquired modern weapons through battlefield pickups, however its chief of ordnance Edward Porter Alexander reported that the Battle of Gettysburg was the first engagement in which the army had no smoothbore muskets. Enfield and Springfield rifles were the primary infantry arms in the Army of Northern Virginia during the second half of the war, along with some Confederate clones of the Springfield such as the Richmond rifle.

In the Western theater, Union armies still carried many smoothbore muskets into 1863, during the Vicksburg campaign, Ulysses Grant's Army of the Tennessee had numerous "mule guns" and "pumpkin slingers" (nicknames for inferior shoulder arms). These included a high percentage of Liege rifles and M1809 Potsdam muskets, as well as M1822 and M1842 muskets converted for percussion and often rifling in addition to the "first class" weapons such as the M1861 Springfield. The Army of the Cumberland had a similar situation, and not until the second half of 1863 did the Western armies become uniformly equipped with .58 caliber rifles.

The Confederate armies in the West were much worse off almost half the Army of Tennessee still carried smoothbore muskets at the Battle of Stones River at the end of 1862. By the start of the Atlanta campaign in spring 1864, the Army of the Tennessee mostly had rifles, although perhaps 15% of its soldiers continued using smoothbore muskets and a few regiments still had them as late as the Battle of Franklin. The Vicksburg garrison by comparison was well equipped with Enfield rifles at a time when Grant's army still had a high percentage of second-class muskets. After the fall of the city in July 1863, Grant's troops were able to rearm themselves with captured rifles.

Late in the war, repeating five and seven shot Spencer and Henry rifles became available to Union troops, mostly cavalry regiments by the start of the Overland Campaign, the Army of the Potomac's cavalry had virtually standardized on Spencer rifles. The first regiment in the Army of the Potomac to receive Spencer rifles was the 13th Pennsylvania Reserve Regiment, which received them in May 1863 and carried them at Gettysburg. They were used by the Army of the Cumberland at Chickamauga two and a half months later and were more common in the Western armies than the Army of the Potomac. A few repeater rifles were acquired by the Confederates through battlefield pickups, but lack of ammunition made them largely useless. The US government did not purchase Henry rifles, so any soldiers equipped with them would have bought them from private sellers.

To combat the arms shortage, the Union and Confederacy both had imported large quantities of rifles from Europe, with each side buying whatever it could get. The relatively poor South only bought 50,000 by August 1862, while the North bought 726,000. [2] Accordingly, during the first two years of the war soldiers from both sides used a wide variety of rifles, including many that were over 50 years old and were considered obsolete. At the same time, Northern rifle and gun manufacturers such as Sharps, Colt, Remington, and the United States armory at Springfield, Massachusetts quickly increased their production of rifles [3] Springfield alone increased its annual output from 20,000 to 200,000. The North was thus able to supply its own small arms needs, while the South had to continue to rely on foreign sources, eventually purchasing 580,000 rifles. [2]

Various modifications were made to standard rifle and musket ammunition in the Civil War. One such practice with Minié balls was to carve an X in them so the round would expand more when it hit the target. In addition, exploding bullets were occasionally made by drilling a hole in a rifle bullet, filling it with powder, and attaching a percussion cap to the tip of the bullet. Exploding rifle bullets had been used in European armies for at least 20 years and were designed primarily to target artillery caissons. Smoothbore muskets were occasionally used with glass balls rather than the normal lead ball. Glass musket balls would shatter on impact and fill a wound with pieces of glass that were extremely difficult to remove.

Soldiers who used modified ammunition were putting themselves at considerable risk if taken prisoner, as anyone found with glass musket balls or other such ammunition was liable to be hanged or shot on sight. During the Siege of Vicksburg, the 4th Iowa Regiment sent a note over to the Confederate lines informing them that no prisoners would be taken if they were caught with glass balls. The regimental history of the 15th Iowa recalls an incident in which a Confederate drummer boy was captured and nearly executed for having glass balls on him, but someone quickly pointed out that they were marbles and the boy also had no gunpowder with him.


Guerrilla Warfare

Guerrilla's raid a Missouri town. Library of Congress

Throughout the American Civil War, as vast armies in blue and gray clashed on conventional battlefields, a drastically different kind of conflict was raging as well: a bloody guerrilla war that erupted in the South in response to Federal invasion. Characterized by ambushes, surprise raids, and irregular styles of combat, this guerrilla war became savage, chaotic, and often disorganized. The guerrilla war, as waged by both Confederate guerrillas and Unionists in the South, gathered in intensity between 1861 and 1865 and had a profound impact on the outcome of the war.

As soon as the Civil War broke out in April 1861, guerrilla warfare emerged as a popular alternative to enlistment in the Confederate army. Fearful of the imminent Federal invasion, secessionist civilians throughout the Midwest, upper South, and Deep South wasted no time organizing themselves into guerrilla bands to independently resist Yankee occupation. Fighting as a guerrilla was attractive: it would allow men more freedom than they would enjoy in the regular army, and most importantly, would allow them to remain at home to defend their families and communities.

"Bloody Bill" Anderson, a notorious Missouri bushwhacker. Wikimedia Commons

Several different kinds of guerrillas emerged during the Civil War. The majority of Civil War guerrillas were called bushwhackers, so named because of their tendency to hide behind foliage and forest lines, what Union soldiers referred to as "the bush," and attack their foes. Bushwhackers were un-uniformed civilian resisters, who had no affiliation with the Confederate army, and were a source of constant confusion for the Union army who had no way of distinguishing a peaceful Southern civilian from one who would attack them later. Partisan rangers arose as a more legitimate kind of guerrilla in 1862 when they were sanctioned by the Confederate Congress’ passage of the Partisan Ranger Act, an act which allowed men to enlist for service in a partisan corps rather than the regular army. Partisans were groups of men who, like the bushwhackers, operated independently and with irregular tactics, yet they wore Confederate uniforms, had leaders who held Confederate commissions, and were responsible for reporting to a superior in the Confederate army.

Owing to the large difference between bushwhackers and partisan rangers, the Union Army was initially unsure of how they should deal with guerrillas. In 1862, Gen. Henry Halleck issued the Lieber Code, which was written by philosopher Dr. Francis Lieber and issued to Union commanders as General Orders No. 100. The Lieber Code detailed the differences between bushwhackers and partisans, and stated that bushwhackers were illegal combatants, and could be shot if captured. Since partisans belonged, however loosely, to the Confederate Army, they had to be treated as prisoners of war.

Famous Jayhawker James Lane, leader of "Lane's Brigade." Library of Congress

The Civil War has often been characterized as a brother’s war in which neighbor fought against neighbor, and this interpretation certainly applies to the war’s guerrilla element. Throughout the South, Unionist sympathizers organized in small numbers as guerrillas to defend themselves against secessionist members of their communities. Typically referred to as Jayhawkers in the Midwest and Buffaloes in the East, these Unionist guerillas took up arms against the bushwhackers. Although they would play a relatively minor role throughout the war, their Confederate guerrilla counterparts would significantly impact the Civil War in nearly every Southern state.

In every section of the Confederacy, the guerrilla war took on its own shade and character. It emerged early on at its most intense in the Midwest, exploding in early 1861 in Missouri. It immediately became savage and barbaric, fought mainly by bushwhackers who behaved more like outlaws. Men such as William Clarke Quantrill and William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson carried out raids which amounted to little more than murder sprees. In 1863, Quantrill killed 200 men and boys in the Unionist town of Lawrence, Kansas, and in 1864, Anderson led the famous Centralia Massacre, in which his men – including a young Jesse James – pulled 24 unarmed Union soldiers off a train and executed them. Unionist Jayhawkers would post an equal threat to Midwestern society as they preyed on secessionist families and attempted to wipe out the Confederate bushwhackers.

Quantrill and his men raid Lawrence, Kansas. Library of Congress

Guerrillas and partisan rangers in the east, however, focused their attention on harassing the Yankee invaders, and soon emerged as a real and constant threat to the Union army. These irregulars attacked Union pickets and small, vulnerable groups of Union men. They intercepted Union supplies, cut communication lines, destroyed rail cars and railroad track, carried out surprise raids, and often donned blue uniforms to invade Yankee camps. These tactics frightened and demoralized Union soldiers, a phenomenon which came to a head in 1863 with the formation of Col. John Singleton Mosby’s 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry, a partisan ranger band. Known as the Gray Ghost, Mosby defied Union troops stationed in Virginia for two years. So incapable were the Federals at putting a stop to Mosby’s activities that by the end of 1863 Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley became known as “Mosby’s Confederacy.”

Mosby's Rangers on a raid in the Shenandoah Valley James E. Taylor

The efforts of guerrillas to antagonize the Union army were undeniably successful. In response, Union commanders tried sending out scouting parties to capture the guerrillas. These attempts, however, accomplished little. Guerrillas, who had the advantage of surprise and knowledge of the territory, were nearly impossible to catch and efforts to capture them only distracted soldiers from fighting the Confederate army. Their inability to stop the guerrillas who continued to destroy Union supplies and kill Union men encouraged a growing dislike among Northern soldiers for the Southern population from which the guerrillas came. By late 1862, the Union Army, overwhelmed by fighting a conventional army in their front and a guerrilla threat from all sides, began to meet guerrilla action with “hard war” policies. Union commanders began to hold civilians responsible for the actions of guerrillas, often by burning homes and communities, arresting civilian non-combatants, and in some cases evacuating entire counties. By 1865, the guerrilla war throughout the South had become confused, bloody, and disorganized. The Union Army had ceased to tolerate guerrillas, and met their attacks unhesitatingly with retaliation. Civilians, exhausted by the violence in their communities and hopeful of preventing Federal retaliation against their homes, lost their support for the guerrilla movement and it soon began to die out.

Despite the significant role that guerrillas played during the war, academically they have received very little attention. Early Civil War historians characterized guerrillas as interesting yet irrelevant, and as a result the importance of guerrillas during the Civil War has been largely understated. Today, however, historians are beginning to recognize the role that guerrillas played in shaping both the outcome of the war and wartime society. Guerrillas, whether they fought as bushwhackers, jayhawkers, or partisan rangers, influenced both the Confederate home front and Union military policy, and proved to be important, if slightly overlooked, figures in the American Civil War.

Ash, Stephen V. When the Yankees Came: Conflict and Chaos in the Occupied South, 1861-1865. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Grimsley, Mark. The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Mackey, Robert R. The UnCivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865. Norman: The University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.

Sutherland, Daniel E. A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.


Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln
February 12 1809 - April 15 1865

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States and the first Republican elected to that office. Lincoln was president during the Civil War, with his election being cited by southern states as one of the reasons for their succession. Lincoln's two terms in office saw the Union defeat the Confederacy and the abolition of slavery in the United States. Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, the first American President to die in that manner.


Civil War Army Organization

The contending armies in the Civil War were organized with the intent of establishing smooth command and control in the warzone. The structures employed changed drastically over the course of the struggle in response to new currents in strategic thought and the demands of specific circumstances. The operational deployment of organized armies, as opposed to loosely ordered battlefield rabbles, has gone through periods of use and disuse throughout human history. The Civil War codified several elements of army structure that are still used today.

The chart above represents a typical late-war Union army structure.

The regiment was the basic maneuver unit of the Civil War. They were recruited from among the eligible citizenry of one or more nearby counties and usually consisted of 1,000 men when first organized. The attrition of disease, combat, and desertion would rapidly reduce this number. Replacements were exceedingly rare for both sides--it was more typical for an entirely new regiment to be raised instead. Regiments were usually led by colonels.

Two or more regiments would be organized into a brigade. Note that it was uncommon for the branches of the army--infantry, cavalry, and artillery--to be mixed within a brigade. A typical brigade would consist of between three and five regiments and be led by a brigadier general.

Two or more brigades would be organized into a division. Divisions tended to be slightly smaller in the Union army--usually two or three brigades. Confederate divisions could include as many as five or six brigades. Divisions were led by major generals.

Two or more divisions would be organized into a corps. A corps typically included infantry, cavalry, and artillery units, the idea being that a corps was a formation that could conduct independent operations.

Two or more corps would be organized into an army. It is commonly assumed that there was only one army per nation, but in fact both nations had multiple armies in the field. The most well-known Confederate armies are the Army of Northern Virginia, led by Robert E. Lee for most of the war, and the Army of Tennessee, which had a string of different commanders. The Union Army of the Potomac was Lee's primary opponent, while the Army of the Cumberland and Army of the Ohio operated out west, among others. At the corps and army level, leadership would usually be determined by seniority among the available major generals, or by intervention from Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis.

When the war began, neither side knew exactly which army structure would be most effective. Additionally, neither side thought the war would last very long, so there was a certain amount of lee-way granted to those who recruited units, however they were organized, and brought them to the front. Both sides explored a variety of structures throughout the war.

One of the most significant themes in the evolution of Civil War armies was the gradual division of the three branches. At the outset of hostilities, it was not uncommon to see a brigade that consisted of infantry regiments, cavalry regiments, and artillery batteries, as seen in this example from the 1861 Battle of Wilson's Creek.

The Union army at Wilson's Creek.

Over time, leaders on both sides realized that this jumble of responsibilities led to issues on the battlefield. The effectiveness of artillery, it was determined, could be expanded by organizing them into larger and more independent units. Thus, by 1863, we begin to see unified artillery brigades in place of individual batteries attached to infantry units. No longer diluted by haphazard deployment across the battlefield according to the needs of low-level commanders, artillery could be centrally directed to maximize its firepower at key points on the line. The 150-gun bombardment that preceded Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg in 1863 would not have been organizationally possible a year before.

Similarly, cavalry began the war attached to brigades or divisions. Usually equipped with weapons of shorter range and lighter caliber than foot soldiers, cavalry could not be expected to go toe-to-toe with infantry. They still retained a huge mobility advantage, but this was rarely exploited by the commanders in charge, who did not have formal education in cavalry tactics and instead made more frequent use of horsemen as couriers or scouts. Sparked by the innovations of cavalrymen such as J.E.B. Stuart and Alfred Pleasonton, an organizational shift towards a unified cavalry force offered the potential for more damaging raids, more effective intelligence-gathering, and, later in the war, huge formations of horsemen equipped with brand-new rapid-firing weaponry that had no equal in the world at the time.

The two Confederate armies at Wilson's Creek.

The problem of the chain of command also shaped the war. The chart above follows a pyramid structure, with authority flowing down from a single chief executive. At the beginning of the war, however, there was a greater tendency for authority on a battlefield to flow more horizontally, with more units operating autonomously, as was the case at Bull Run or Wilson's Creek. In both of those battles the Confederate forces on the field were actually divided into two small armies with neither having a legitimate claim to command the other. In both battles this friction slowed or disrupted maneuvers and cost lives. As the war continued, both sides took care to firmly establish the chain of command.

This was not always possible on a battlefield, because commanders frequently became casualties. When an officer went down, his replacement was supposed to come from the most senior of his subordinates--a brigadier general replaced by the senior colonel in his brigade, the colonel replaced by the major, and so on. Thus an officer's death or wounding would result in a grand theoretical shuffling of responsibility as every man beneath him took one step up in the chain of command. Of course, a colonel lost in a cloud of gun smoke a mile away from his brigade commander would not immediately know of his de facto promotion. Only in unusual circumstances would an officer's fall lead to a somewhat smooth transition of authority--it was far more common for the chain to break down, for the battle to be lost, and for the questions of seniority to be worked out afterwards. One division's assault at Fredericksburg collapsed after two of its brigade commanders got trapped under falling horses and could not be immediately found.

Several features of today's military structure can be tied directly to Civil War innovations.

Heavy artillery is still typically deployed by headquarters. While there are a number of weapons systems available to modern-day infantry units that weren't around during the Civil War, such as man-portable mortars, it is more common to see heavy artillery formations directed by an autonomous commander.

The maintenance of a large, unified, and well-equipped cavalry wing has proved essential to recent American wars. With the main advantage of horses--mobility-- replaced by technology such as airplanes, tanks, and helicopters, the essential effectiveness of wedding mobility with firepower has multiplied.

The Civil War led to the establishment of the first American staff school in order to train officers in the art of order transmission and execution.

One of the most significant changes in military structure was the introduction of the United States Colored Troops in 1863, the first official military integration policy. In just more than a year over 10% of the Union army was made up of black soldiers.

The long grind of the Civil War forced the development of a more rigorous, efficient military than had previously existed on the American continent.