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Defining the battles of Civil War

The American civil war was the bloodiest war in American history. During the four years it lasted, over 50 major battles were fought. Below are five of the foremost significant battles, listed in chronological order.

 

First Bull Run (July 21, 1861)

The first Battle of Bull Run was the primary major land battle of the civil war. It is also referred to as the first Battle of Manassas.

The Union Army under General Irvin McDonnell marched from Washington, D.C., to seize the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Approximately 25 miles into the march, their path was blocked by the Confederate Army under the command of General P. G. T. Beauregard.

At first, it seemed as if the Union Army would prevail, but the battle raged throughout the morning, the Confederates held their ground. Once the Confederate Army received reinforcements early that afternoon, their counterattack defeated the Union troops. Union forces then retreated to Washington, D.C. Combined casualties were few in comparison with other battles — around 4,800. However, as a result of the battle, the North first realized it was in for a long, bitter war.

Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862)

By February 1862, the Union Army had achieved victories in central Kentucky and Tennessee. The army planned to move south and capture an important Confederate east-west railway hub in northern Mississippi. To defend the hub, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston fortified the town of Corinth, Mississippi. The Union planned to unite two armies, under Ulysses S. Grant and Don Carlos Buell, and then take Corinth.

Grant's army arrived first and set up camp in the town of Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, near the Shiloh Meeting House. Johnston planned to strike Grant's army before Buell arrived, and at dawn on April 6, his forces attacked. Grant's forces were surprised but remained within the field after each day of fierce fighting. Buell's forces finally arrived overnight, and therefore the combined Union force attacked at dawn. During the fighting, General Johnston was fatally wounded. The defeated Confederate forces — now under the command of Beauregard — withdrew.

The battle resulted in combined casualties of over 23,000.

Antietam (September 17, 1862)

Confederate General Robert E. Lee had decided to require the war to the North. He devised a plan to split his army and take supplies in Maryland, move into Pennsylvania, and threaten Washington, D.C. His plans accidentally fell into Union hands, and therefore the Union Army marched to confront the forces he commanded at Antietam Creek. However, Union General McClellan waited 18 hours before moving his troops. This gave the Confederates time to usher in reinforcements. The day ended in a draw, with 23,000 men killed. However, the battle halted Lee's plans to invade the North for the time being. Nonetheless, President Abraham Lincoln was furious that McClellan had allowed Lee to escape.

Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863)

Although Antietam was a setback to Lee's plans, the Union did not benefit of the situation. Lincoln replaced McClellan, but his new generals lost decisively at Fredericksburg, Virginia (December 13, 1862), and Chancellorsville, Virginia (April 30 – May 4, 1863). These Confederate victories encouraged Lee to renew his attempt to invade the North.

Lee moved the army of Northern Virginia north, and therefore the new Union General George Meade shadowed him to protect Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The forces met at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the morning of July 1. Despite early successes, the Confederate forces weren't able to drive the Union Army off of the heights. The following day, as reinforcements arrived for each side , Lee again failed to defeat the Union Army .

July 3 saw one last push from the Confederates. Lee ordered what has become known as the Pickett's Charge — an assault of some 15,000 Confederate troops — up Cemetery Ridge. Although the charge broke through Union lines, the Confederates were unable to hold on to their gains and retreated. Lee prepared for the counterattack he expected the next day, but it never came. He withdrew his forces on July 4, and therefore the Union Army didn't pursue. While Meade won the battle and stopped the invasion, he failed to destroy Lee's army and put an end to the rebellion.

Union casualties numbered around 23,000, while Confederate casualties numbered around 28,000.

Vicksburg (May 22–July 4, 1863)

Vicksburg, Mississippi, lies on the east bank of the Mississippi River about halfway between Memphis, Tennessee, to the north and New Orleans , Louisiana, to the south. Capturing it would give control of the entire Mississippi to the Union. However, the city, located on a bluff overlooking the river, was heavily defended with trenches, gun batteries, and a Confederate Army led by General John C. Pemberton.

In May, Union General Ulysses S. Grant led an army south on the west side of the Mississippi past Vicksburg, then crossed over and led his troops back north to lay siege to the city. By mid-June, the Confederates were running low on supplies. General Pemberton surrendered on July 4. The victories — a day apart — at Gettysburg and Vicksburg marked the turning point of the civil war.

These are just some of the war's major battles. The Civil War killed hundreds of thousands and scarred the countryside. Today, many battlefield sites contain monuments and plaques and have been set aside as national parks.


 

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