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Anaconda Plan

The Anaconda Plan was the Union’s strategic plan to defeat the Confederacy at the start of the American Civil War. The goal was to defeat the rebellion by blockading southern ports and controlling the Mississippi river. This would cut off and isolate the south from the outside world. The plan was developed by General Winfield Scott at the beginning of the Civil War following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12th 1861.

General Winfield Scott during the Civil War

General Winfield Scott during the Civil War

The strategic plan would have eventually ended the Civil War, ideally with minimal casualties on both sides. It was a humanitarian way of defeating the rebellion as opposed to invading the south with massive numbers of troops, killing, burning and capturing everything in sight. General Scott’s Anaconda Plan was a very passive way of defeating the Confederacy.

The problem General Scott had with his idea wasn’t the rebels. His problem was convincing fellow Union commanders that this was a good idea. Pretty much all of the Union commanders disliked this plan and referred to it as being too complacent.

They wanted to attack the south and defeat them with the Union’s overwhelming military and industrial might. General Scott’s plan would require patience and time. The other generals wanted to crush the rebellion quickly and permanently as soon as possible.

For an in-depth look at the tactics of the Civil War a great book is the Atlas of the Civil War: A Complete Guide to the Tactics and Terrain of Battle

The Anaconda Plan Was a Good Idea

Complacent or not, the plan, if allowed full implementation and support from Northern military commanders would have saved many lives. Theoretically if the plan was implemented at the start of the war the giant battles fought later in the war may never have happened.

The south would have been slowly deprived of food and supplies by the Union blockade. Union armies would have taken up defensive positions in the North repelling any Confederate attacks. The Union would have slowly and methodically cut the Confederacy in half by taking the Mississippi river and the rebellion would have withered on the vine from a lack of food and supplies and forced to surrender.

Anaconda Plan

The Anaconda Plan drawn in 1861

The Objectives of the Anaconda Plan

The Anaconda Plan consisted of two main objectives. The first objective was to set up a naval blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico ports that were controlled by the Confederacy. This would cut off all trade to and from the rebellious states. The second objective of the plan was to transport roughly 60,000 Union troops in 40 steam transports escorted by upwards of 20 steam gunboats down the Mississippi river. They would capture and hold forts and towns along the way.

They would secure the Mississippi river down to the Gulf of Mexico which would link up with and keep their lines of communication open with the naval blockade. Capturing the Mississippi river would also cut the Confederacy in half. It would not be a quick victory but given enough time it had a chance of being successful. This was a good plan but it was never given the opportunity to be put into action.

General Winfield Scott and Staff Officers

General Winfield Scott and Staff Officers

General Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan was Rejected

Many people did not approve of the plan seeing it as too passive and slow to implement. President Lincoln, the Union generals, and most civilians believed all they needed to do was raise an army in Washington, invade Virginia and capture the Confederate capital of Richmond and the war would be over in a few weeks.

General George McClellan had his own plan. He wanted to raise an army of 80,000 men in Ohio (he was the military commander in Ohio at this time) and send them on an overland campaign through Virginia and capture Richmond. These ideas were rejected by General Scott in favor of the Anaconda Plan.

A book that takes a look at the Civil War using maps is The Civil War: The Story of the War with Maps

General Scott retired at the end of 1861 and his subordinate General George McClellan took over command of the Union army. The Anaconda plan was a good idea in theory however it would have been difficult for it to have actually succeeded in it’s original form. While the Union navy did set up a blockade at the start of the rebellion, it was not strong enough at the beginning of the war to adequately blockade the entire south.

The naval blockade alone would not have defeated the rebellion, even if the Union also controlled the entire Mississippi river. Confederate leaders were also not going to stand by and do nothing as the Union tried to starve them into submission. The Confederacy had a strong army and was more than capable of taking on the Union army especially at the beginning of the war.

The Anaconda Plan Revisited

The Union looked to put an end to the war as quickly and decisively as possible. The tactics that were eventually used were reminiscent of Scott’s plan yet they also involved horrific combat. After a long siege General Ulysses S. Grant captured the city of Vicksburg on July 4th 1863 giving the Union control of the Mississippi river and effectively cutting the Confederacy in two.

Abraham Lincoln with his generals

Abraham Lincoln with his generals

General William Tecumseh Sherman led his army on a rampage through the south during his march to the sea in 1864 depriving the south of vital food and materials as he and his men destroyed or captured anything that stood in their way.

This included the burning of Atlanta Georgia in 1864. These victories coupled with the big battles in the north and the always increasing strength of the Union blockade eventually forced the Confederates to go completely on the defensive. This inevitably resulted in their defeat and the crushing of the rebellion.

Whereas with General Scott’s plan for a more peaceful resolution to the rebellion, General Grant, General Sherman and the other Union commanders accomplished virtually the same things as the Anaconda plan proposed. The main difference being brutal combat and many casualties on both sides.

The original strategic plan was a failure, as it was never given the support it required to succeed. However in the end, the general framework of the plan was a major contributing factor that brought about the surrender of the Confederacy and the end of the American Civil War.

Anaconda Plan2019-11-30T19:39:37-05:00

Civil War Games

Civil War games were common on both sides during the war. Games did a lot to keep the troops entertained and ease the constant boredom of soldier life. While in camp soldiers wanted to socialize with each other, there is no better way to socialize then to play games, especially if you are living in a Civil War tent with one or more men for a long period of time.

Civil War Games in Camp

Civil War Games in Camp

Types Civil War Games

Soldiers played all kinds of Civil War card games, they made distinctive chess pieces, played checkers, backgammon, dominoes, they read newspapers, books and played horseshoes.

They also played whole team sports such as baseball and a very early often-brutal version of football. Holidays in camp were cause for large celebrations. There were foot races, feasts, horse races, music shows, and all types of different contests that were put on by the troops.

If you like the look of Civil War playing cards the U.S. Games Systems Highlander’s 1864 Cards Replica are about as realistic as you can get.

What Else Did a Civil War Soldier Do?

Both Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers did anything they could to stop the boredom they often had to endure living in camp.

Civil War Games - Playing Cards

Civil War Games – Playing Cards

Some soldiers chose not to participate in Civil War games, these were often the less educated and illiterate men. Instead of playing games they preferred to socialize, smoke or watch others play games.

Then there were the small number of soldiers who did nothing at all. They did not play games, they did not socialize. These were the loners. They kept to themselves, cooked their own meals and ate alone. They even camped alone while on the march. They would often walk off if other men were getting to loud and rowdy around them.

These men just preferred solitude or believed that soldiers should only act in a strict and disciplined manner, and did not approve of playing games or socializing while in camp. These soldiers liked guard duty since it gave them a lot of time to be alone.

Of course all of these activities could never take place when an army was on an active campaign, during a campaign leisure time was relegated to basically writing letters, sleeping and keeping your equipment in working order.

Civil War Games2019-11-30T21:37:25-05:00

Family Tree

I receive a lot of questions from people asking me about their family tree. They want to know if I can help them find any information about their family members that served in the Civil War. I always direct them to Fold3 In my opinion this is the best website to find information on family that served not just in the Civil War but in any war in United States history.

I have found a lot of information about my own relatives who fought in the Civil War. My mother’s family are from West Virginia, many of it’s citizens were Confederate sympathizers, including my great great grandfather and his three brothers who all joined the Confederate army.

They were in the 25th Virginia Infantry Regiment which was part of the Army of Northern Virginia. They were later transferred into the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry Regiment.

My great great grandfather and his brothers fought in most of the major battles of the Civil War. One of his brothers was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg and another was captured there.

All four of them were captured at one point or another during the war. My great great grandfather was captured by Union forces while stealing horses for the Confederate army. He spent the last few months of the war imprisoned at Point Lookout. One of his brothers was captured, swore allegiance to the United States and then joined the Union Army.

The amount of documents available make it easy to find relatives and give you a better understanding of what their lives were like. If you are looking for information about your own family take a look at Fold3

If you are looking to find more about your ancestry and ethnicity here are two great choices

AncestryDNA: Genetic Ethnicity Test

23andMe Ancestry + Traits Service: Personal Genetic DNA Test with 1500+ Geographic Regions, Family Tree, DNA Relative Finder, and Trait Reports

However you choose to learn about your family history I do hope you find what you are looking for.

Family Tree2019-11-30T20:01:47-05:00

Civil War Music

Civil War music was extremely important to every soldier during the war. The Civil War drummer was an especially important person in the infantry.

They announced all sorts of activities on a daily basis.

In the morning the drums began to beat for reveille.

They played for morning roll call, breakfast call and sick call.

As if that wasn’t enough they were also used to announce guard duty, beginning a march and any drills that were taking place.

Drums were not just used in camp however. They were used on the battlefield as well where they played an important role.

Drums were used to signal troops to maneuver and to signal when troops would load their weapons and fire them.

Civil War Drum

Civil War Drum

While drums were very important to the infantry, the cavalry and artillery relied on buglers instead of drums for their orders.

Another type of music during the Civil War was the kind that individual soldiers made. Soldiers on both sides really liked to sing and make music. A wonderful collection of songs from the Civil War is Songs Of The Civil War

Musical instruments were commonplace in both armies. They included flutes, harmonicas, guitars, banjos, fiddles and any other instrument a soldier could either buy or maybe even make if they were creative enough.

Civil War Fife

Civil War Fife

Some of the most favorite songs of the Confederate soldiers were “The Bonnie Blue Flag”, “Lorena”, “Maryland My Maryland”, and “Dixie”.

On the other side of the line the Union troops preferred “The Battle Cry of Freedom”, “Tenting on the Old Campground”, and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”.

Sometimes when the two armies were facing off against one another each sides respective brass band would play some of the favorite songs of the other side.

Despite the war there were still some moments of peace and respect between the armies.

Civil War Music2019-11-30T21:27:02-05:00

Civil War Spies

Civil War Spies were active on both sides during the Civil War. The Union had many more spies and were much better organized then their southern counterparts.

It was difficult for each side to detect spies in the Civil War. This was due to the fact that everyone was an American, they all looked the same and spoke the same language. The ability for a man from a northern state such as Pennsylvania to travel to a southern state and integrate into society and begin receiving information was a relatively easy task to accomplish.

Shortly before the Civil War broke out on January 1st 1861 a man named Charles P. Stone was appointed as Colonel and Inspector General of the forces in Washington D.C. He became the very first officer appointed by the United States government to defend it against secession.

He was also one of the first people to use Civil War spies in order to infiltrate and gather information about rebel groups in Maryland prior to the outbreak of the war.

To learn more about Civil War Spies take a look at Spies and Spymasters of the Civil War

Charles P. Stone

Charles P. Stone

Treachery Within the Union Army

On January 2nd Colonel Stone met with the commander of the National Rifles company Captain Schaeffer, Captain Shaeffer not knowing that Colonel Stone had just been appointed as Inspector General declared that he was going to guard the frontiers of Maryland in order to keep the Yankees from conquering the south.

These words coming from a supposedly loyal United States officer concerned Colonel Stone greatly. He admonished Captain Scheaffer for saying these things but did not pursue it further. Instead Colonel Stone inspected the National Rifles company and discovered that they numbered more than 100 men and their numbers were increasing daily.

They had rifles, howitzers, revolvers, and sabers, they had far too many weapons for a company of soldiers, and had weapons that normal infantry would not normally have. He came to find out the former Secretary of War John B. Floyd allowed Captain Schaeffer to have any weapons he wanted. Secretary of War John B. Floyd was a Confederate sympathizer and resigned from office on December 29, 1860.

Civil War Spies Infiltrate the Rebel Company

Colonel Stone decided to infiltrate a secret service agent into the company in order to determine their true intentions. The agent provided regular reports to Colonel Stone regarding Captain Scheaffer.

The agent discovered that the reason Captain Scheaffer obtained an odd assortment of weapons was because he was attempting to secretly form an independent command consisting of infantry, cavalry, and artillery units.

Colonel Stone ordered Captain Scheaffer to return the two howitzers, sabers and revolvers to the Columbian armory in Washington since an infantry unit should not have those weapons. The Captain reluctantly obeyed his orders and returned the weapons.

At the same time Captain Scheaffer was in line to be promoted to the rank of Major. Before he could be promoted Colonel Stone asked him to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. Captain Scheaffer refused to do so.

Colonel Stone then told him that he could not receive the promotion and since he refused to take the oath he stripped him of command of the National Rifles company. The company was then put under the command of a very loyal officer eliminating the threat they posed under the command of Captain Scheaffer.

Civil War Spies Infiltrate Maryland Secessionist Group

Meanwhile another secessionist group called the National Volunteers met every night in Washington D.C. This group was quickly gaining more members and discussed plans to capture the capital. Colonel Stone had a detective from New York who was able to join this group.

The detective gave Colonel Stone a report on every meeting that the group conducted which gave him a clear understanding of the groups intentions.

These two groups the National Rifles and National Volunteers were working together and planed to seize key areas in Washington D.C.

The group wanted to obtain weapons, in order to do so they had to go through Colonel Stone. The group decided to pretend to form a company of troops loyal to the Union. The leader of the group was elected as their commanding officer.

He met with Colonel Stone and asked to receive weapons. Colonel Stone stated that he would need to have a muster roll of all of the men in the company before he could issue any weapons. The commander of the group returned the following day with the list signed by each man.

Colonel Stone took the list placed it in his desk drawer and locked it. He informed the commander that he was happy to have the list and wished him a good morning. The officer took the hint and left the office promptly heading south to join the Confederacy, his group quickly disbanded without their leader.

Prior to the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in 1861 there were many threats against him. Colonel Stone was responsible for infiltrating spies into the many groups who were plotting to stop the inauguration. His spies were successful in foiling all of the plots against Abraham Lincoln and he safely arrived at his inauguration.

The work of Colonel Stone was just one example of the many instances of espionage and counter intelligence efforts performed both before and during the Civil War.

Union Spies During the Civil War

When the Civil War started there was no official Union espionage organization. Groups operated independently of each other.

The closet thing to any official spy agency in the Union was Allan Pinkerton who founded the Pinkerton Detective Agency.

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton

In 1861 General George McClellan was put in command of the Army of the Potomac. He immediately organized a secret service force under the command of Allan Pinkerton.

To maintain secrecy Pinkerton used the alias E.J. Allen in his correspondence with General McClellan. Pinkerton and his men interrogated Confederate spies, runaway slaves, refugees, deserters, and prisoners of war.

These interrogations procured information about Confederate strength, positions, and troop movements. The information gathered by Pinkerton and his secret service was not always reliable and accurate.

For example in 1862 Pinkerton estimated that the Confederate army facing the Army of the Potomac had 150,000 men. In reality the Confederate army had around half that number.

This was one of the reasons General McClellan was so cautious in attacking the Confederates, he simply believed they were much stronger than they actually were.

Pinkerton also had agents assigned to protect President Lincoln during the war.

Confederate Civil War Spies

Early in the war the Confederates established the Confederate Signal Bureau. The signal bureau consisted of men that traveled with the army and communicated using semaphore flags and torches to convey encoded messages to commanders on the battlefield.

Belle Boyd

Confederate spy Belle Boyd

Since the men of the signal bureau were already trained in sending secret messages, the Confederate government decided to use these skills and form the Confederate Secret Service.

The Confederate Secret Service relied on spies in northern areas especially in Washington D.C. who could send information directly to the Confederate capitol in Richmond, Virginia.

The information was carried along what was known as the secret line.

Many of these Civil War spies were women who were strong supporters of the southern cause, they could also more easily infiltrate Union camps since they would not be as suspicious as a man would be.

Rose Greenhow

Confederate Spy Rose Greenhow with her daughter

They often lived in Union controlled areas, and befriended Union troops, commanders, and even politicians finding out information which was then sent to the Confederates.

Belle Boyd and Rose Greenhow were two of the most successful Confederate spies.

The information they provided to the Confederate government was very valuable.

Even the most notorious man of the Civil War John Wilkes Booth may have been in secret talks with members of the Confederate secret service in Canada, although this has never been confirmed.

John Surratt

John Surratt

The other Lincoln assassination conspirators Mary Surratt and her son John Surratt also gathered information for the Confederate government.

Civil War Spies were everywhere during the Civil War.

It was impossible to tell if someone was pro Union or pro Confederate, which made it easy for spies to infiltrate groups and gather information.

Both sides heavily employed spies and made great use of espionage during the war.

It was critical for both sides to have as much information about the enemy as possible because even the slightest edge could win or lose a battle.

Civil War Spies2019-11-30T21:10:07-05:00

Civil War Technology

Civil War Technology made the American Civil War the first industrial and modern war. Technologies ranged from hot air balloons to submarines. New weapons such as rifles allowed soldiers to fire accurately at long distances. The use of Photography meant that the war was the first conflict to be recorded on a large scale with actual photographs instead of paintings.

Commanders in the Civil War also made great use of the telegraph on a massive scale. Never before in warfare had communication been made so easy and instantly. The telegraph allowed generals to relay information in real time with each other. The use of railroads on both sides became critically important in transporting troops and supplies.

Civil War Technology – Weapons

Nashville Tennessee Railroad Depot, 1864

Nashville Tennessee Railroad Depot, 1864

Of all of the technological advances made by the time of the Civil War, the rifle made the biggest impact. The rifle was created long before the Civil War. It was used in limited numbers and typically by specialized troops during the Revolutionary War. At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 both sides were still primarily using the old smooth-bore muskets. These muskets were not accurate and did not have a long range. The musket had a smooth barrel which used a round lead ball as ammunition.

Union Soldiers with Rifles

Union Soldiers with Rifles

When fired the lead ball would bounce around inside the barrel. This resulted in very inaccurate results. The reason soldiers lined up shoulder to shoulder in the Revolutionary War was because muskets needed to be used in a massed volley in order to have any chance of actually hitting anything. After the Civil War had begun arsenals began mass producing rifles instead of the old smooth-bore muskets.

Rifles were a far superior weapon in every way. They had groves in the barrel that gripped ammunition tightly which put a spin on the bullet allowing for deadly accurate and long range fire. With the new rifle came a new bullet.

Gone was the round led ball. In it’s place was a bullet that resembles today’s modern bullets. It is called a minie ball, this bullet exited the barrel of a rifle spinning and at a high velocity.

The bottom of the minie ball had little groves in it that helped it grip onto the inside of the rifles barrel. These groves also carried bacteria, when a soldier was shot this bacteria entered the wound and caused infections.

The only way to deal with these infections during the Civil War was to amputate.

The Gatling gun was another piece of Civil War technology invented in 1862. The Gatling gun was essentially the first machine gun, however it was never really used during the Civil War.

The gun required large amounts of ammunition which the Union saw as being wasteful. The United States did not begin using this weapon until after the Civil War.

Civil War Technology – Torpedoes (Landmines and Naval Mines)

During the war the Confederacy was always trying to come up with innovative ways of stopping the Union army. One of these ideas was by using torpedoes, this was just another name for landmines and naval mines. They used torpedoes in land and at sea. They did some damage here and there but it wasn’t something that was going to win the south the war.

Civil War Technology – Ironclads

The Civil War also saw the beginning of modern naval ships. These new ships were clad with iron earning them the nickname “ironclads”. Some ironclads like the monitor class of ships are very similar to today’s warships.

The Union Ironclad monitor Onandaga

The Union Ironclad monitor Onandaga

They sat low in the water and had either one or two rotating gun turrets, which enabled them to fire in any direction without having to turn the ship. After the introduction of ironclads in the Civil War naval warfare never went back to wooden sailing ships. After ironclads came dreadnoughts.

Civil War Technology – Submarines

Civil War technology also saw the first successful use of a submarine. The Confederates created a submarine called the Hunley, named after it’s creator. The Hunley was powered by eight men who sat on a bench and turned a propeller with a hand crank. It was a crude method of propelling a boat but it worked. The Hunley only went on one mission against the Union navy. In February 1864, the Hunley quietly approached and attached a naval mine to the USS Housatonic. When the mine exploded the USS Housatonic became the first ship in history to be destroyed by a submarine. Only minutes after successfully sinking the USS Housatonic the Hunley also sank.

Civil War Technology – Railroads

Railroads proved to be a vitally important Civil War technology. Railroads were essential for keeping the war moving and keeping troops supplied. The Union Railroad Train system was far superior to Confederate Railroads.

Civil War Locomotive J.H. Devereux

Civil War Locomotive J.H. Devereux

The north was a very industrialized society with large cities and massive infrastructure. The south was an agricultural society, with little infrastructure.

Most of the United States railroad system prior to the war was built in the North. The south had railroads as well but they had far fewer tracks and locomotives than the north. This would hinder the south’s ability to wage war, however they used what rail they did have to great effect. One example was the timely reinforcement by rail of Confederate troops during the First Battle of Manassas. These reinforcements helped the Confederates win a devastating victory over the Union. Rail transport was also instrumental for the Confederacy when they captured Harper’s Ferry.

Civil War Technology – Telegraphs

The telegraph was perhaps one of the most effective technologies used during the Civil War.

Telegraph Operators for the Army of the Potomac, August 1863

Telegraph Operators for the Army of the Potomac, August 1863

It allowed commanders to instantly communicate with each other and provide almost real time information about battle results, enemy troop movements, unit locations etc… Abraham Lincoln used the telegraph daily, often spending long nights waiting for news from the front. He wanted to know exactly what was happening on the various battlefields and he could easily issue orders to his commanders.

Union Observation Balloon during the Battle of Fair Oaks, 1862

Union Observation Balloon during the Battle of Fair Oaks, 1862

Telegraph lines were strung up as soon as an army arrived at any location. Civil War soldiers grew adept at putting up telegraph lines since they were doing it so frequently. In conjunction with the telegraph the Union military also employed observation balloons to watch battles and monitor enemy troop movements. These movements were then relayed to ground commanders who could adjust their own troop movements accordingly or telegraph back to headquarters what they had witnessed.

Civil War Technology – Pictures

Civil War pictures showed war in a way that had never been seen before. In prior wars and even during the Civil War painters often accompanied armies on battlefields.

They later sat and painted what they saw. These paintings looked nice with gallant soldiers bravely fighting in a battle, however they failed to capture the brutality of war. They never showed the bloated corpses littered across a battlefield, or the destroyed cities, or the starving prisoners of war.

Painting of the Battle of Shiloh, April 6th - 7th 1862

Painting of the Battle of Shiloh, April 6th – 7th 1862

Photographs showed these things. Warfare could never be seen the same way again after the Civil War. The most famous Civil War photographer was Alexander Gardner. Most of the pictures you see today of the Civil War were taken by him. His boss and studio owner Mathew Brady is usually the person who gets credited for most of the photography of the Civil War. It was however, Alexander Gardner and his team who were out in the field taking the pictures.

Civil War Technology – Food

Civil War technology was not very good when it came to food. Food is one of the most important things to any soldier in an army.

Union Soldiers Eating

Union Soldiers Eating

However the only thing technology really had going for it when it came to food was canned food. Napoleon Bonaparte is credited as being the first person to use canned food to feed his army. When the Civil War started cans were commonly being used on both sides. Canning certainly made it easier to transport and store food, however they were also difficult to open and they were heavy.

Civil War Technology – Aftermath

Often during wartime technology advances at a far greater speed than it ever does during peacetime. This is simply because during war there is a great need to get an edge on the enemy. The technology that came out of the American Civil War had long lasting implications.

The Civil War can be seen as a precursor to World War 1.

Union troops in Rifle Pits

Union troops in Rifle Pits

Many technologies from the Civil War such as Gatling guns, mines, ironclads, observation balloons and submarines became much more advanced as the years went on.

Toward the end of the war both the Union and Confederate armies began to dig themselves into trenches just like World War One. The largest example of this was during the Siege of Petersburg in 1865. After the Civil War armies would never again line up in nice formations and stand across from each other firing volley after volley until one side ran away. It took years for the Union and Confederate generals to update their tactics to reflect the new weapons in the hands of their armies.

Civil War Technology2019-11-30T21:07:39-05:00

Civil War Ships

The American Civil War is not generally thought of as a naval war, but Civil War ships of both sides played a significant role in the conflict. The role of the Federal and Confederate Civil War naval ships in the war is all the more remarkable when you consider the scarcity of battle worthy vessels owned by either side at the start of the war.

The Confederacy had no navy at all in 1860 and the Union Navy was in dismal shape. In 1861 Gideon Welles was appointed as Secretary of the Navy and was ordered by Lincoln to quell the rebellion with an enormous naval blockade of the Southern coast and both the blockade and gaining control of the Mississippi would be keys to the Union‘s victory.

The Union’s first truly significant victory, Grant’s capture of Fort Donelson and Fort Henry in 1862 was enabled by Civil War ships and Civil War marines.

Lincoln’s order of a naval blockade struck some of his staff as impractical. Most of the Navy’s vessels were on duty in foreign waters and only three or four ships were available for active duty.

Steam Frigate at Navy Yard during President Abraham Lincoln's visit. January 1863

Steam Frigate at Navy Yard during President Abraham Lincoln’s visit. January 1863

The North also had available the USS Constitution but this ship was wind powered in an age of steam power so it was regulated to training duty.

Yet an effective blockade of the southern coast would have to cover three thousand miles. Legally, other nations were not bound to honor the blockade unless it was effective. The Union Navy Department hastened to buy commercial vessels and adapt them for warfare and commission the building of other vessels. Because the war had seriously hampered northern shipping business, owners of several large steamers pressured the government to buy them, but these ships were too large and unwieldy to patrol the shallow coast.

Also available to the Union Navy were several Civil War ships laid up in dry dock for repair, but most of these would take from two weeks to a month to repair. Fortunately, the North had both the resources and manpower to quickly build ships. With two exceptions, all of the United States Navy shipyards were in the northern states.

Although many of the navy’s Civil War ships were either on duty in foreign waters or awaiting repairs, the U.S. Navy had been improving its fleet with steam powered vessels for nearly two decades. The steam frigates Colorado, Merrimac, Minnesota, Niagara, Roanoke, and Wabash and the steam sloops-of-war Brooklyn, Dacotah, Hartford, Iroquois, Lancaster, Michigan, Narragansett, Pawnee, Pensacola, Seminole and Wyoming were relatively new ships, having been built since 1855.

Of these ships, the Brooklyn was the only one available for active duty when Lincoln first ordered the blockade. The Niagara was far away, on special duty off the coast of Japan and the Dacotah was also in Asian waters. Despite signs of an impending conflict in the months before South Carolina seceded, the Naval department had not sufficiently prepared the fleet. Naval officers who were southerners had been resigning in large numbers since South Carolina’s secession in December 1860 and classes at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland were hampered by this shortage. A newly graduated class was called to active duty to make up for the vacancies.

However, there were still 1457 officers and 7600 seamen in the federal navy; by war’s end this number would increase to 7500 officers and 51,500 seamen. These men would man an extraordinary fleet of ships built up by the Union, including the new ironclads, which would change the face of maritime warfare. By repairing available ships, building new ones, and adapting commercial vessels the Union Navy had 212 seaworthy vessels in January 1862.

The Frigate Constitution

The Frigate Constitution

The Confederate Navy had a far more difficult time in creating Civil War naval ships, for at the beginning of the war it owned no Civil War ships at all.

Norfolk and Pensacola were its only navy shipyards, although several small private firms made vessels suitable for navigating shallow river waters. Although it had no shortage of wood with which to make wooden ships, the South lacked both iron and the facilities to construct efficient steam engines.

Despite these obstacles, the Confederates managed to build up a small fleet of Civil War ships. Like the North’s flotilla, some of their vessels were converted commercial ships, hastily outfitted with guns. A few ships were captured from the North and used in the Confederate Navy. Small shipyards constructed vessels able to patrol the river waters. In May 1861, a representative from the Confederacy sailed to England in an attempt to commission the building of warships. Building warships would violate Britain’s stance as a neutral country, so the South’s representative had the ships built in his own name as merchant vessels and outfitted for war only after they sailed out of British waters. Getting a blockade runner back through the Union blockade was also difficult and grew more difficult as the Union Navy increased in size.

The Confederate fleet would never grow as large as the Union Navy, but it was slightly ahead of the North in building the first ironclad. Federal troops had evacuated the Norfolk shipyard when it became apparent that Virginia would secede. Before they left, they set fire to the seven Civil War ships left at the yard, attempting to make them unusable to the enemy. Fire destroyed six ships, but the U.S.S. Merrimac was rescued by the Confederates before it was entirely destroyed. The Confederate Naval department hastened to have it re-outfitted as a Civil War ironclad ship, an armor plated ship and re-christened it the CSS Virginia.

The Union Navy department learned of the Merrimac’s impending resurrection though spies and hastened the building of the USS Monitor, a Union ironclad commissioned at the war’s onset. The Monitor was an entirely new ship, built after a design by John Ericsson. It was technically superior to the Merrimac, being twice as fast and featuring a revolving gun turret. The Merrimac was well armored, but slow and difficult to maneuver. The Federals planned to use the Monitor to attack Merrimac while it was still in dry dock, but the quick construction of the Confederate project changed their plans.

Damage from Confederate shells on the Federal ironclad Galena,1862

Damage from Confederate shells on the Federal ironclad Galena,1862

On March 8, 1862, the newly re-christened Virginia attacked five Union ships in the harbor at Hampton Roads. It ran one aground and destroyed two others.

The next day, the Monitor arrived and the two Civil War ships shelled each other, as the Monitor circled the Virginia. The battle was a draw, but the incident marked the switch to modern naval warfare; ironclads made wooden ship obsolete.

The picture to the left shows battle damage to the USS Galena which was a type of ironclad that proved to be ineffective in combat.

The Union and Confederate Navies had many other important clashes including the first successful submarine attack made by the CSS Hunley.

The Confederate ships however were most successful in attacking Union merchant Civil War ships outside of U.S. waters, in places such as the West Indies. The general procedure was to rescue the merchant crew, but to destroy their ship. In one incident, CSS Alabama, a successful destroyer of merchant ships, clashed with the USS Kearsarge off the coast of France; this time the Union ship won.

Naval forces were essential to the Union’s victory. In April 1862, Union General Benjamin Butler was able to occupy New Orleans only because of the actions of Admiral David Farragut, his fleet and Civil War marines. The occupation of New Orleans for the rest of the war, allowed the Union to control most of the Mississippi. The fall of Vicksburg in July 1863 completed the Union control of the mighty river. The Union victory at Vicksburg was accomplished with the help of Admiral David Porter and his gunboats.

The Naval Mine also played a role during the Civil War, sinking a few ships.

A new type of gunboat, called a “double-ender” allowed the Union to manipulate shallow river waters much easier than more unwieldy Confederate ships. The “double-ender” could go backward as well as forward in the rivers, without having to turn about. The “double-enders” were made of wood, so they could be quickly constructed; however, this advantage was also a disadvantage, since wooden ships could be easily destroyed.

The need for easily manipulated Civil War ships and for ships that could not be easily destroyed prompted much technological growth during the war. The conflict was the last one in which wooden ships would be used. Although the Civil War ironclad ships were unwieldy and flawed, they ushered in the age of the modern steel warship. After the success of the Monitor and the Virginia, navies around the world began to build armored warships. The war also saw the first use of submarines and torpedoes. For a conflict not known for its naval battles, the American Civil War had made an unforgettable impact on future navies. The war was also remembered for one of the greatest maritime disasters in American history, the sinking of the Sultana in 1865.

The sinking of the Sultana was the largest naval disaster during the entire war.

Civil War Ships2019-11-30T21:13:29-05:00

Civil War Medicine

Civil War medicine was nothing like you would expect to see in today’s world. Medical care during the Civil War was rather primitive.

There are many Civil War medicine pictures which show grizzly scenes.

Suppose you’re a Civil War soldier.

It really doesn’t matter much which side, although medically speaking you were a little better off if you were a Union soldier.

Either way the last thing you want is to become sick or become wounded with anything more than a paper cut.

Since sanitation was non-existent during this period of time, any type of open wound could easily become infected leading to severe complications even death.

There were many different Civil War diseases and if you did become sick, and every soldier did at some point there were a lot of interesting techniques Civil war doctors would use to treat your illness.

The Civil War medical instruments used during the Civil War would most likely do you more harm than actually help you.

A great book detailing the brutality of the Civil War is Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War this book goes into great detail describing exactly what a soldier fighting during the Civil War really experienced, it shatters all of the romantic misconceptions about the war and offers a much bleaker version of the war which most people do not generally think about.

Substances such as Mercury were used often as a treatment for all sorts of problems. If you felt sick they gave you mercury, well they gave you something called calomel which was nothing more than honey and chalk with mercury mixed into it.

Needless to say the medical community at the time was not aware of the poisonous substance they were giving their patients, even though the patients were developing tooth loss, digestive problems and even brain damage.

Now the one piece of medical technology during the Civil War that was actually quite beneficial to patients was Chloroform. This was an anesthetic that was invented during the 1840’s.

Chloroform allowed Civil War surgeons to perform their operations without a wild-eyed screaming patient on their table. It really was quite a valuable tool. And even better there were great quantities of it in both the North and the South.

Now if you were injured in battle you didn’t have a whole lot of options especially if the would was severe.

Probably the most recognizable and well known piece of medical equipment during the Civil War was the bone saw. This lovely instrument looks like a hacksaw and had only one purpose.

You know what that purpose is of course. It was used to cut off arms and legs and feet and hands. A full 75% of surgeries in the field were amputations.

The greatly improved weapon technology coupled with old Napoleonic style battle tactics led to huge amounts of casualties.

Civil War medicine was years behind the technology that caused so many deaths.

And quite frankly the doctors during that time simply did not posses much medical knowledge at all. All these things add up to one conclusion.

A huge death toll.

Civil War Medicine2019-11-30T21:30:58-05:00

Civil War Diseases

There were a whole host of Civil War diseases during the war. The worst disease was Dysentery.

This one disease accounted for around 45,000 deaths in the Union army and around 50,000 deaths in the Confederate army.

The reason Dysentery and so many other diseases were able to spread so rapidly through both armies was primarily because of a lack of sanitation practices and contaminated water.

Sanitation and hygiene were not a big issue when it came to healthcare during this time.

This was not because doctors and nurses were negligent. They just did not know any better.

Civil War Medicine was not yet advanced enough to connect a lack of hygiene with disease.

For example during a typical Civil War surgery cleanliness was a mere afterthought.

Surgeons would often use the same tools continuously on patient after patient never cleaning them.

They might wipe them off on their apron, but that was about as much cleaning as any piece of equipment received.

Surgeons and Stewards at Harewood Hospital, Washington, D.C.

Surgeons and Stewards at Harewood Hospital, Washington, D.C.

Cross contamination was not known, so there was no thought of washing and sanitizing instruments after they had been used.

Unfortunately for people back then they didn’t realize that there was a link between hygiene and health.

Civil War nurses also helped to tend to sick soldiers. Often they put themselves at risk for disease in doing so.

Disease and Contaminated Water

Simple things such as placing a latrine downstream and away from the clean water supply were often overlooked. This foul water would quickly lead to water contamination which made the development and spread of disease much more frequent.

Treating Civil War Diseases at Armory Square Hospital, Washington, D.C.

Patients at Armory Square Hospital, Washington, D.C.

An interesting book that provides a great deal of information about Civil War diseases is Nature’s Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia (Civil War America). It describes what the soldiers really had to endure just to keep themselves healthy in such an unhealthy environment.

There were many diseases during the Civil War. Here is a brief look at some of the major Civil War diseases that people had to contend with:

Civil War Diseases: Typhoid

Typhoid was another major killer. This disease was a result of contaminated water or food. Typhoid killed around 30,000 Confederate and 35,000 Union troops during the war. 1 out of every 3 people who contracted this disease died of it.

Civil War Diseases: Pneumonia

Pneumonia was responsible for the deaths of 20,000 Union and 17,000 Confederate troops. 1 in 6 people who got this disease died from it. Stonewall Jackson died from Pneumonia after being shot during the battle of Chancellorsville by his own men.

Pneumonia was more of an opportunistic type of disease. It looked for weak people to inject itself into. If you became wounded on the battlefield or became sick with something else there was a good chance Pneumonia was going to find you.

Civil War Diseases: Measles

Measles killed a lot of people during the Civil War around 11,000 soldiers in total. Not as many as other diseases did but it had its fair share. With so many people gathered in such small areas this disease was able to spread rapidly. About 1 in 20 people who got this disease died as a result of it.

Civil War Diseases: Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis killed about 14,000 soldiers during the war. There was no known cure for it during the war. Even today there is no real cure, it can be treated but never cured. Once you get this disease you get it for life.

Civil War Diseases: Malaria

Malaria was also prevalent during the war killing roughly 30,000 soldiers. This number is high but considering around 3 million people contracted the disease it was not often fatal. This was due in large part to the readily available supply of quinine, which was used to successfully prevent and treat the disease.

The biggest thing that all of these Civil War diseases had in common was that nobody had any idea how to cure them. With the exception of Malaria.

This spelled bad news if you were one of the unfortunate ones to come down with any of these diseases.

Civil War Diseases2019-11-30T21:46:47-05:00

Civil War Food

Civil War food came in many shapes and sizes. Suppose you’re a Civil War soldier and you’ve marched all day in the grueling heat. You’re exhausted, but you have one more duty before you can retire to your tent to dream of better days; you have to cook your dinner. Civil War soldiers never had the luxury of standing in a mess line waiting for army cooks to dish out the chow.

Civil War food for both Union and Confederate soldiers was provided by their respective Commissary Departments, but the daily rations were given to the soldiers uncooked. Of course, generals and other officers had the luxury of a cook, but the vast majority of soldiers gathered in small groups each evening to prepare their food.

Union Officers Eating Food

Union Officers Eating Food

They called these groups “messes” and referred to others in the group as “messmates”. Messmates took turns watching the meals they cooked. Food in the Civil War was cooked over an open campfire in a cast iron skillet or kettle or occasionally on a spit. If they had the time, soldiers tried to devise ways of making their dull diet a little more varied, occasionally catching wild game or picking wild berries.

Food during the Civil War was not high quality and did not taste good. Confederate soldiers usually didn’t receive much food at all especially as the war dragged on. Union troops were well fed but the food was not that much better than what the Confederates were eating. Soldier life was not pleasant on either side during the Civil War. The old saying that an army marches on it’s stomach is very true.

Cooking Civil War Food

Cooking Civil War Food

Without Civil War food and water an army soon disintegrates into nothing more than a lot of starving people with no energy or will to fight. If a general has no food he has no army. If you are interested in reading about or trying some authentic Civil War food recipes the Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book has the original recipes for a wide variety of food that people actually ate during the time of the Civil War. Of course you might need something to cook all this wonderful food you create. The Lodge Deep Camp Dutch Oven will do that job perfectly.

So What Kind of Civil War Food Was Available To the Average Civil War Soldier?

Civil War Soldiers Eating Food

Civil War Soldiers Eating Food

The Civil War food supplied to the soldiers of both sides was plain and monotonous. Since rations had to be transported long distances, the commissary departments relied on foods that could be preserved, so the primary ingredients available to soldiers were salted meat and canned goods.

Union soldiers also received a hard, unsavory cracker-like biscuit that the soldiers dubbed hardtack while Confederate soldiers were lucky if they received a good supply of cornmeal. During battles and when food was scarce a Union soldier’s primary source of substance often came from hardtack. Hardtack is basically bread, it’s three inches long and half an inch thick. Soldiers would often soften hardtack up by soaking it in water or coffee in order to make it easier to bite into. Hardtack is probably the most well known Civil War food. Anybody who knows even a little about the Civil War has most likely heard of hardtack.

Civil War Camp Kitchen

Civil War Camp Kitchen

There were plenty of other Civil War food options a soldier typically had.

Salt pork was given to soldiers during the war. It was a stinky kind of blue extra salty meat, with hair, skin, dirt, and other junk left on it. It was however, a soldiers main supply of protein. Letters from Civil War soldiers contain numerous references to bacon, but historians believe that the term bacon was used for all salt and smoked pork, not just the strips of meat that we now call “bacon”. Salted beef and jerky were also given to the soldiers. Many ate salt beef only out of necessity. This was especially true for the Confederates. Salt beef was basically all of the very worst parts of a cow that you could think of. Parts included organs, neck and shanks, but the basic meat was pork. Naturally soldiers grew tired of this monotony. In Union camps, sutlers (civilian merchants) sold items like canned fruit, sugar, tobacco, and coffee, but Confederate soldiers did not usually have sutlers stores, and relied on the generosity of local farmers for occasional treats such as fruit.

Civil War Sutlers Tent

Civil War Sutlers Tent

Civil War Food: Foraging

Civil War soldiers did occasionally have fresh meat to eat. They did this by taking cattle, pigs, and sheep. Armies would have entire herds following them while they were on campaign. When in enemy territory, soldiers frequently helped themselves to chickens, fruit, vegetables, and other items from local farms and households, considering these the spoils of war. Commanders might reprimand soldiers for such acts, but this seldom stopped a hungry man from seeking extra food. During Sherman’s march from Atlanta to the sea, Union soldiers feasted on cattle, hogs, vegetables and fruit and destroyed what they could not carry.

Civil War Meat Hanging in Tent

Civil War Meat Hanging in Tent

When times were thin soldiers sometimes resorted to eating their horses and mules. In extreme desperation, rats were consumed. In the Confederacy things became so bad for civilians that it led to food riots throughout many southern cities. Civil War soldiers were also given rice, potatoes, onions, molasses, and other non-perishable or slow to perish items, but hardtack (or cornmeal) and salt meat were favored because they were both easy to ship and easy to carry on a march or into battle. Soldiers were given rations in three-day allotments; before a march or battle, they cooked their raw food so that they could carry it with them. A canvas haversack with a removal lining was used to carry Civil War food on the move. Although soldiers removed the lining and washed it when they had a chance, the haversacks soon smelled of old meat. Sometimes the salted meat given to the soldiers was past its prime, so they nicknamed it “salt horse”.

Civil War Food: Fruits and Vegetables 

Corn was really only available when things were going well for a particular side. The same goes for beans, as they could not be consumed uncooked or improperly cooked. This would result in very bad stomach situations. Peas were plentiful in supply and could be eaten as a meal in times of desperation. When there were no peas around, potatoes and rice would suffice. Fresh fruits were really important to have in good supply. Lack of fresh fruits could cause sickness and disease. One example is Scurvy which is a horrible disease that resulted in tooth loss, receding gums, night blindness, rotting lips, jaws, and cheeks, and even internal hemorrhaging.

Civil War medicine was not very advanced during the Civil War, however Scurvy was easily prevented by simply eating oranges. Volunteer nurses and the volunteers who collected supplies back home for the soldiers tried to alleviate their monotonous diet by collecting fresh fruits and vegetables for them; although these items were not easy to send into the field, they were supplied in abundance to sick and wounded soldiers in northern hospitals and southern hospital workers also did there best to get fresh food for their patients, despite wartime food shortages. Fruit was a favorite treat for ill soldiers; Abraham Lincoln often brought gifts of fresh fruit to the soldiers at the Washington army hospital, as did poet Walt Whitman who volunteered at the hospital. Baked goods were another treat for sick soldiers. It was not uncommon for volunteer nurses to stay up late at night baking for their charges. Gingerbread was considered nourishing and easy to digest; it was often given as a comfort Civil War food to hospital patients.

Civil War Food: Coffee

The men in the war also loved their coffee, and drank it whenever possible. Coffee was a treasured beverage during the war, for soldiers soon recognized its properties to keep them awake after many hours of weary duty.

Civil War Soldiers Drinking Beverages

Civil War Soldiers Drinking Beverages

Raw, green coffee beans were given to Union soldiers, who roasted them in a pan over the open fire and then crushed them, often with the butts of their rifles. Confederates frequently had to use coffee substitutes, such as chicory or roasted acorns.

Confederate and Union soldiers would often trade items with each other. The Confederates usually traded tobacco with Union soldiers who give them coffee beans in return. Of course these trade deals had to be made in secret since fraternizing with the enemy was punishable on both sides. Civil war food was far from a balanced diet. Not surprisingly, a poor diet along with unsanitary conditions contributed to a high disease rate among soldiers on both sides. If we went back in time to the Civil War, we would enjoy some of the still familiar foods, like gingerbread, that the soldiers enjoyed, but we would also find some of the food, like hardtack, rather unappetizing.

Civil War Food2019-11-30T21:42:40-05:00