Hello, and thanks for stopping by. My name is James Sullivan. I’m a proud native of Missouri (sadly the Civil War’s “most divided state”). I’ve had a long career in the military, and have been lucky enough to see some of the world courtesy of Uncle Sam.
This Blog is about the American Civil War in the Western Theater.
Most people who know anything about the American Civil War know mainly about the war in the East, and about the two main armies which fought there, the Federal Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Most of the battles that people have heard of, Bull Run (Manassas), Antietam (Sharpsburg), Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, are Eastern Theater battles. And most people think of the American Civil War as….mainly….. a long stalemate as Federal forces repeatedly failed to traverse the 100 miles between Washington and Richmond. This stalemate was punctuated by a few bold but ultimately unsuccessful Confederate counter-offensives. This narrative usually views ultimate Federal victory as the result of a ponderous attrition campaign under Grant, ending in a final grinding siege at Petersburg, Virginia.
The reality is that the American Civil War was won…and lost….in the Western and Trans-Mississippi Theaters. In contrast to the claustrophobic battlespace in the East (where armies clashed repeatedly in the bloody ground around the two capitals) the War in the West is fought over a thousand-mile battle front. Rather than the static front of the East, the West features huge, sweeping movement. In contrast to the Federal failures in the East, the Western Federal armies experience an almost unbroken, if occasionally slow, string of victories. Moving on the great western rivers, and aided by a powerful ironclad fleet of Navy gunboats, the Western Federal armies broke the Confederate defense line in Tennessee and Mississippi, cut the CSA in half by seizing the Mississippi River, and drove deep into the Confederate heartland. The Western Confederates fought courageously, even though often under-supported by Richmond. But after February 1862, except for temporary counter-attacks, they were always fighting on the retreat.
Eventually, in early 1864, Lincoln reached into the West, and transfered the commander there, Ulysses S. Grant, east as General-in-Chief and on-site commander of the Eastern forces. After that the two main Federal forces finally worked in concert, with Grant’s former deputy, William Tecumseh Sherman commanding the three armies in the vast western “Military Division of the Mississippi.”
With the two theaters synchronized for the first time, Grant ordered the Eastern forces to attack the Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, never letting up as it was pushed back on Richmond.
Simultaneously, the Western Federals began a long, relentless, 800 mile offensive. Sherman’s armies broke into north Georgia, captured Atlanta, Marched to the Sea (in the Eastern Theater), and then turned left, north into the Carolinas. They marched all the way to Raleigh, finally meet up with the Grant’s Army of the Potomac in Virgina for the final victory.
In this blog we will explore this all; the roots of the war; the unique character of western forces; personages great and small; the vital riverine battlefront; politics; and events small, grand and terrible. To understand the War in the West is to understand the war itself. It is in the West where it started……with the debates over the possible extension of slavery into the western territories, and the first shocking fighting in “Bleeding Kansas”. Both Presidents were “western men”, born in Kentucky, and grown to prominence in Mississippi and Illinois. And it is in the West where the Federals learn how to win, and grow the commanders who will bring the war to its conclusion.
Thanks for your time. I hope the material here is of interest, and look forward to learning from all of you. “We all get smart together.”
I welcome your comments and views, and invite them here or by email at 2ndMOCav on gmail dot com