1864


In March, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant was named lieutenant general and the commander of the Union Army. Leaving the West under the control of General William Sherman, Grant decided to take control of the Army of the Potomac. With his able lieutenants, George Meade and Philip Sheridan the army crossed the Rapidan and entered the Wilderness.

When Robert E. Lee heard the news he sent in his troops, hoping that the Union’s superior artillery and cavalry would be offset by the heavy underbrush of the Wilderness. Fighting began on the 5th May and two days later smoldering paper cartridges set fire to dry leaves and around 200 wounded men were either suffocated or burned to death. Of the 88,892 men that Grant took into the Wilderness, 14,283 were casualties and 3,383 were reported missing. Lee lost 7,750 men during the fighting.

After the battle Ulysses S. Grant moved south and on May 26th sent Philip Sheridan and his cavalry ahead to capture Cold Harbor from the Confederate Army. Lee was forced to abandon Cold Harbor and his whole army well dug in and by the time the rest of the Union Army arrived. Grant’s ordered a direct assault but afterwards admitted this was a mistake losing 12,000 men “without benefit to compensate”.

Ulysses S. Grant also gave instructions to William Sherman to attack the Army of Tennessee under the control of Joseph E. Johnston. He told Sherman “to move against Johnson’s army, to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources”.

On 7th May, 1864, Sherman and his 100,000 men advanced towards Johnson’s army that was attempting to defend the route to Atlanta, the South’s important manufacturing and communications centre. Joseph E. Johnston and his army retreated and after some brief skirmishes the two sides fought at Resaca (14th May), Adairsvile (17th May), New Hope Church (25th May), Kennesaw Mountain (27th June) and Marietta (2nd July).

After leaving the Wilderness Grant moved his Army of the Potomac towards Richmond hoping he could arrive there before Robert E. Lee. However, Pierre T. Beauregard was able to protect the route to the city before the arrival of Lee’s main army forced Grant to prepare for a siege.

Ambrose Burnside organized a regiment of Pennsylvania coalminers to construct tunnels and place dynamite under the Confederate Army front lines. It was exploded on the 30th June and US Colored troops were sent forward to take control of the craters that had been formed. However, these troops were not given adequate support and the Confederate troops were soon able to recover its positions. Thousands of captured black soldiers were now murdered by angry Southerners.

The Union Army also suffered heavy losses at the end of July, 1864, trying to take the port of Petersburg but was eventually able to cut off Lee’s supplies from the lower South.

President Jefferson Davis was unhappy about withdrawal policy being employed by Joseph E. Johnston and on 17th July replaced him with the more aggressive John Hood. He immediately went on the attack and hit George H. Thomas and his men at Peachtree Creek. Hood was badly beaten and lost 2,500 men. Two days later he took on William Sherman just outside Atlanta and lost another 8,000 men. By 31st August, Confederate forces began to evacuate Atlanta and by early September the city came under the control of the Union Army.

Attempts to clear out the Shenandoah Valley by Major General Franz Sigel in May and Major General David Hunter during the summer of 1864 ended in failure. Major General Jubal Early, who defeated Hunter, was sent north with 14,000 men in an attempt to draw off troops from Grant’s army. Major General Lew Wallace encountered Early by the Monacacy River and although defeated was able to slow his advance to Washington. His attempts to breakthrough the ring forts around the city ended in failure. Abraham Lincoln, who witnessed the attack from Fort Stevens, became the first president in American history to see action while in office.

In August 1864 the Union Army made another attempt to take control of the Shenandoah Valley. General Philip Sheridan and 40,000 soldiers entered the valley and soon encountered troops led by Jubal Early who had just returned from Washington. After a series of minor defeats Sheridan eventually gained the upper hand. His men now burnt and destroyed anything of value in the area and after defeating Early in another large-scale battle on 19th October, the Union Army, for the first time, held the Shenandoah Valley.

With the Union Army now clearly wining the war, a growing number of politicians in the North began to criticize Abraham Lincoln for not negotiating a peace deal with Jefferson Davis. Even former supporters such as Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, accused him of prolonging the war to satisfy his personal ambition. Others on the right, such as Clement Vallandigham, claimed that Lincoln was waging a “wicked war in order to free the slaves”. Fernando Wood, the mayor of New York, even suggested that if Lincoln did not change his policies the city should secede from the Union.

The anti-war section of the Democratic Party nominated General George McClellan as their presidential candidate. In an attempt to obtain unity, Abraham Lincoln named a Southern Democrat, Andrew Johnston of Tennessee, as his running mate. This upset Radical Republications but they had no choice but to support Lincoln in the election.

Leading members of the Republican Party began to suggest that Lincoln should replace Hannibal Hamlin as his running mate in the 1864 presidential election. Hamlin was a Radical Republican and it was felt that Lincoln was already sure to gain the support of this political group. It was argued that what Lincoln needed was the votes of those who had previously supported the Democratic Party in the North.

Lincoln’s original choice as his vice-president was General Benjamin Butler. Butler, a war hero, had been a member of the Democratic Party, but his experiences during the American Civil War had made him increasingly radical. Simon Cameron was sent to talk to Butler at Fort Monroe about joining the campaign. However, Butler rejected the offer, jokingly saying that he would only accept if Lincoln promised “that within three months after his inauguration he would die”.

It was now decided that Andrew Johnson, the governor of Tennessee, would make the best candidate for vice president. By choosing the governor of Tennessee, Lincoln would emphasis that Southern states status were still part of the Union. He would also gain the support of the large War Democrat faction. At a convention of the Republican Party on 8th July, 1864, Johnson received 200 votes to Hamlin’s 150 and became Lincoln’s running mate. This upset Radical Republications as Johnson had previously made it clear that he was a supporter of slavery.

The victories of Ulysses S. Grant, William Sherman, George Meade, Philip Sheridan and George H. Thomas reinforced the idea that the Union Army was close to bringing the war to an end. This helped Lincoln’s presidential campaign and with 2,216,067 votes, comfortably beat General George McClellan (1,808,725) in the election.

John Hood continued to adopt an aggressive policy in Tennessee and despite heavy losses surrounded George H. Thomas at Nashville. On 15th December, 1864, Thomas broke out of Nashville and hammered Hood’s army. Thomas captured 4,462 soldiers and those still left alive fled into Mississippi and Alabama.