Little Known Facts That Changed The Course Of The Civil War

Andy Mateja is a Chicago native who was fascinated by the Civil War. Over the past 40 years, he has amassed an impressive library of hundreds of Civil War Books and trade publications. He is currently using these resources as a basis for the development and writing of an unprecedented analysis of the Battle of Gettysburg, specifically the 2nd day of the conflict. Andy has spent countless hours researching important battles from numerous sources, including widely recognized publications, to gain valuable insight from the authors comparing them to official battle reports filed by the actual field commanders and their post-battle assessments. He looks forward to hearing from other Civil War aficionados and engaging in spirited dialogue regarding the truth about the conflict that changed America.

Unnecessary and Costly Delays at Petersburg

By Andy Mateja

After finally cornering Gen Robt E. Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia in the area surrounding Richmond and Petersburg Virginia May 1864, Union in General  Chief Ulysses S. Grant determined to advance in Union force from the North with Maj Gen George Meade’s Army of the Potomac (120,000 strong) while cutting him Lee from the South with Maj Gen Ben Butler’s Army of the James (36,000 strong).

While Richmond was his primary target to finally end the war, Grant realized that Petersburg was the logistical “key” to making that happen. Therefore he had to first capture Petersburg so as to cut off all the major supply lines feeding into Richmond. Grant realized that Lee would never abandon Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy and would be forced into dividing his deteriorating forces to protect BOTH cities at the same time.

While failing at capturing Petersburg in May, which undoubtedly would have ended Lee’s defensive strategy and probably ended the war almost a YEAR sooner, Butler’s Army of the James was relegated to a secondary position in the strategy while Meade’s much larger Army of the Potomac was given the larger task. However after numerous unsuccessful attempts at to do so in fierce battles outside Richmond including Cold Harbor, both Union armies settled in for besieging Lee’s much smaller army inside the confined breastworks constructed outside  of Richmond AND Petersburg.

General Lee while forced into a defensive position around his nation’s capital would not sit still and accept his military limitations. Even though vastly outnumbered by Grant’s armies,  Lee, the consummate tactician, was able to break away part of his forces right from underneath his Union opponents and virtually change the theatre of operations and  apply direct pressure on Washington City….  as he had done successfully in 1862 after defeating McClellan during the Seven Days Battles.

Before Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia arrived on the scene to defend Richmond and Petersburg, there were failed attempts by Butler and his Union Army of the James to capture Petersburg….. before Grant and the larger Army of the Potomac arrived and the before Lee could arrive to defend it. Butler surmised the strategic importance of Petersburg and, if he planned to run for the Presidency later in the fall, this was the place to be !!!

But lack of cohesive cooperation by Butler’s field generals prevented the effort to succeed, especially against the much smaller hodge-podge forces arranged against him by Confederate General P.G.T Beauregard.

One can only imagine how many lives would have been spared if the war had ended spared if the war had indeed ended in the Spring of 1864 instead of more than a year later……………….

The Woodstock Races

by Andy Mateja

On Oct 8th 1864 immediately after the twin Union victories at Winchester and Fisher’s Hill in the Shenandoah valley, Maj Gen A.T.A. Tolbert, cavalry chief of Maj Gen Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah was ordered to burn and destroy all usable assets to the Confederate forces in that Valley and to soundly defeat their rebel opponents or get whipped first in the process at Toms Brook just south of Strasburg VA.  Sheridan’s direct orders from Lt Gen Ulysses S. Grant were to destroy all crops to prevent the Confederate military forces from returning and bring his own army back to reinforce Grant’s other forces besieging Petersburg Virginia.

Sheridan’s forces preceded up the valley with a Union corps on each side of the Valley Pike and three divisions of Union cavalry following close by. Local residents of the valley had never seen such wanton destruction perpetuated by the Yankees who were destroying everything in their path commencing at Harrisonburg Va. Elements of the local Confederate cavalry cautiously followed them but could do nothing to stop the horrific destruction.

Sheridan’s Northerners devastation included burning 2000 barns,  destroying 70 grist mills and the slaughter of 3000 cattle and 4000 sheep, along with millions of dollars of personal property including some private residences which,  even though they were ordered not to be destroyed, left a trail  from Winchester to Staunton over 92 miles. Embittered Confederate guerrilla forces in the valley periodically captured and executed small parties of Yankees as a direct result of this contemptible devastation.

Jubal Early was trying to rebuild his Rebel army which was now plagued by low morale. It was now being reinforced by Maj Gen Thomas Rosser’s cavalry brigade which turned out not to be enough even though they were highly praised for their fighting prowess. The Confederate cavalry and infantry currently situated in that part of the Shenandoah Valley was ordered to pursue Sheridan northward DOWN the Valley. During the meager pursuit of the Union cavalry down the valley, Custer’s men were continually harassed by fellow West Point classmate Confederate Tom Rosser who captured 20 Union prisoners while ultimately saving a few mills and barns from destruction. Both camped across from each other at a place known as Tom’s Brook during this time.

During the pursuit, fighting was fierce over the next three days. Gen Tolbert was eventually ordered by Sheridan to destroy what was left of Early’s Rebel cavalry and infantry once and for all.

Custer himself was known to be a fierce fighter and relished the opportunity to disrupt and destroy the Confederate defense.  His cavalry tried to capture as much of the repel cannons and caissons as possible to further weaken his Confederate opposition. Custer not only captured Gen Rosser’s headquarters wagon, but also their ENTIRE wagon train and six field pieces in the entire 20 mile encounter at his loss of ONLY 57 troopers….”

Never has there been such a rout of Confederate cavalry” mused Custer which prompted him and future historians to call the running battle “The Woodstock Races”…….!!!!

Russia’s Near Involvement in the American Civil War

by Andy Mateja

One of the little known facts of the Civil War……. On September 11th 1863, Russian warships sailed into New York Harbor which at the time was the ONLY major European power who was friendly to the Northern States against the Confederacy. The unexpected arrival of the Russian flotilla seemed to hint that support was forthcoming to President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to defeat the Southern Rebels from Czar Alexander II.

The international tension began in May 1861 when Queen Victoria of England announced publically she would “side” with the newly formed Confederacy. So did France & Spain…….

The Russians wanted to see the newly formed United States succeed and glow in global stature especially after the Czar was defeated by the British & French in the Crimean War a few years earlier.  They felt the United States would balance the European power.

In late 1862 when it looked like the Confederacy was actually winning the war and the cotton crop was becoming scarce in Europe (except from English mills), the Czar began to panic. France’s Napoleon III was also ready to commit his country’s support of the Confederacy and tried to enlist Russia to join them and Britain to “intervene”.  Russia refused and Britain and France were unwilling to submit to a possible war with the Lincoln Administration without Russia’s support. But as fate would have it, war was looming in early 1863 between France, Britain and Russia over Poland with Prussia possibly stepping in to help the Czar.

Russia’s Navy at the time was small so the Czar decided to be ready to attack Franco-British ports around the world in the Spring and Summer of 1863. The Russian Navy needed Atlantic ports so the United States Atlantic Ports became ideal for their strategy. The Czar had already been strengthening his relationship with Lincoln before then and now it was paying off.

New York City had the BEST sea port of all in this area with excellent dry docks for ship repairs and ice free shipping lanes to use. The Russian fleet also expanded their presence in the Pacific Ocean as a counter measure to British and French ships sailing in the Japanese and Chinese waters.  San Francisco became their most likely choice for a U.S. West Coast port of call.

Northern citizens, seeing the Czar’s naval ships on their East and West coasts, felt sure they were going to help the Union cause…..

French authorities were convinced the Czar was intentionally trying to start a war over Poland and England felt further there was a strong possibility of a Russia-American alliance with intentions to possibly attack Britain!!!

While the northern cities of New York City and San Francisco were celebrating the Russian naval visits, Southern politicians were worried that the European nations were no longer paying attention to their plight and were focusing instead to a possible war with the Czar over Poland, Northern politicians perpetuated this false belief partially by hope and, at the very least, to keep the Confederacy “off balance”.

While most they did was to protect San Francisco from Rebel raiders, when the Russian ships left New York City and further moved their flotilla to Washington City in December 1863, they were met by American dignitaries from the Lincoln Administration including Cabinet Secretaries and Supreme Court Justices.

The beliefs continued into 1864 when potential war overland Poland fizzled out and it was time for the Russian ships to head back home.  A few months after the Russian ships departed, Gens Robt E.  Lee and Joseph Johnston surrendered their Southern armies and Confederacy was no more…..

Missed Opportunity

by Andy Mateja

During the Civil war’s final year there was lots of sparring going on outside of Richmond & Petersburg as both sides were angling for advantageous positioning. During the early part of October 1864 while Lt Gen Ulysses S Grant was seeking reinforcements in Washington to advance his grand plan to launch an aggressive assault on Gen Robt E Lee’s ever shrinking defenders outside of Richmond & Petersburg, He had ordered Army of Potomac Commander Maj Gen George Meade to probe the Confederate lines for movement and/or weakness. Grant believed Petersburg was merely the communication center for Richmond the Confederates were planning to move and consolidate their forces in the vicinity of Richmond to launch a counter attack.

Meade did not agree and while ordering his II, V, and IX Corps to advance northwestward from their current positions near the Weldon Railroad, the movement was somewhat slow and cautious almost as if to avoid any type of conflict.  Confederate field commander Lt Gen AP Hill moved to respond almost in the same way. It seemed as though that neither side wanted to fight at this time…..

While the Union troops did their best to disengage the Rebels along the rail line, AP Hill and his forces kept enough pressure in place do delay the Yankee advance and delay their forward progress. Each side took their turn at jabbing the other but did their best to avoid bringing on a major battle while Grant was  “away” ….

The results were that the lines remained as they were and the siege continued for five additional months until the next major conflict occurred in March 1865 at Ft Stedman with Lee trying unsuccessfully to break out of the strangle hold that Grant put on him. Two weeks later Lee had met with Grant at a little village called Appomattox Court House and surrendered the remaining semblance of his Army of Northern Virginia.

One can only wonder if the bloody war could have ended months sooner if Grant had not chosen to head toward Washington to personally seek reinforcements???   Missed opportunities abounded in his absence ………
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