The American Civil War (1861 – 1865)
When the United States of America became an independent country in 1783 its economy depended
on slavery which was widespread in the southern ‘slave states’. The economy of the northern states
(the ‘free states’ where slavery did not exist) gradually developed its industry and by the 1860s
there was a clear divide in American society between those who believed that the USA should
abandon slavery and those who wanted it to continue. The new President of the USA, Abraham
Lincoln, was overtly opposed to slavery and the debate turned into open war when most of the
southern states attempted to break away and form their own independent country based on slavery –
The Confederacy, with its own capital in Richmond, Virginia, instead of Washington D.C. The US
Federal government refused to accept this and attacked the Confederate states, to make sure they
remained part of the union.
What followed was a bloody conflict which lasted 4 years and which finally ended in victory for the
larger and richer northern states. The Confederates attempted to put up a determined resistance
against the Federal forces’ attacks in the hope that the North would eventually give up and accept
the South’s independence. However, the Federal government had already resigned itself to waging a
long and drawn out conflict with the south, adopting the ‘Anaconda Plan’ to win the war,
blockading the south with the US navy to cripple the south’s economy, while launching offensives
on the east coast (Washington D.C. and Richmond are actually very close to each other and so both
capitals were under a near-constant threat of being besieged by the enemy throughout the war) and
in the west, which progressively carved up the Confederacy and destroyed its economy.
The Battle of Chancellorsville
The Battle of Chancellorsville was a major battle of the American Civil War, fought from 30th April
to 6th May 1863, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near the village of Chancellorsville and the area
from there to the east at Fredericksburg. The battle pitted Union Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker's
Army of the Potomac against an army half its size, Gen. Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of
Northern Virginia. It is known as Lee's "perfect battle" because of his risky but successful division
of his army in the presence of a much larger enemy force. Lee's audacity and Hooker's timid
performance in combat combined to result in a significant Union defeat. The Confederate victory
was tempered by the mortal wounding of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson to friendly fire, a
loss that Lee likened to "losing my right arm."
In the Eastern Theatre of the American Civil War, the basic offensive plan for the Union had been
to advance and seize the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia. In the first two years of the war,
four major attempts had failed: the first foundered just miles away from Washington, D.C., at the
First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) in July 1861; Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Peninsula
Campaign took an amphibious approach, landing his Army of the Potomac on the Virginia
Peninsula in the spring of 1862 and coming within 6 miles (9.7 km) of Richmond before being
turned back by Gen. Robert E. Lee in the Seven Days Battles; that summer, Maj. Gen. John Pope's
Army of Virginia was defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run; in December 1862, Maj. Gen.
Ambrose Burnside commanded the Army of the Potomac and attempted to reach Richmond by way
of Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he was defeated at the Battle of Fredericksburg. (This string of
Union defeats was interrupted in September 1862 when Lee moved into Maryland and his campaign
was defeated by McClellan at the Battle of Antietam, but this represented no threat to Richmond.)
President Abraham Lincoln became convinced that the appropriate objective for his army was
actually Robert E. Lee's army, not a geographic feature such as a capital city, but he and his
generals knew that the most reliable way to bring Lee to a decisive battle was to threaten his capital.
Lincoln tried a fifth time with a new general in 1863, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, a man with a
pugnacious reputation who had performed well in previous subordinate commands.
Forces and plans
The Chancellorsville campaign was potentially one of the most lopsided clashes of the war. At the
start of the campaign the Union army had an effective fighting force of 133,868 men on the field of
battle; the Confederate army numbered less than half that figure, at 60,892. Furthermore, the Union
forces were much better supplied and were well-rested after several months of inactivity. Lee's
forces, on the other hand, were poorly provisioned and were scattered all over the state of Virginia.
More importantly, the engagement began with a Union battle plan superior to most of the previous
efforts by Army of the Potomac commanders. A complete overhaul of the army's Bureau of
Military Intelligence, which was commanded by Col. G. H. Sharpe, meant that for once the army's
commander had a much more accurate appraisal of the number of troops in Lee's Army of Northern
Virginia, of how they were organized, and where they were stationed. Hooker was able to plan for a
flanking attack that, it was hoped, would avoid the bloodbath of direct frontal attacks, which were
features of the Battles of Antietam and, more recently, Fredericksburg.
The army started from its winter quarters around Fredericksburg, where it faced Lee across the
Rappahannock. Hooker planned a bold double envelopment of Lee's forces, sending four corps on a
stealthy march northwest, turning south to cross the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers, turning east,
and striking Lee in his rear. The remaining corps would strike Lee's front through Fredericksburg.
Meanwhile, some 7,500 cavalry under Maj. Gen. George Stoneman were to raid deep into the
Confederate rear areas, destroying crucial supply depots along the railroad from the Confederate
capital in Richmond to Fredericksburg, which would cut Lee's lines of communication and supply.
This bold, aggressive plan was later known as Stoneman's Raid. On 27-28th April, the four corps of
the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers in several places, most of
them near the confluence of the two rivers and the hamlet of Chancellorsville, which was little more
than a large mansion, owned by the Frances Chancellor family, at the junction of the Orange
Turnpike and Orange Plank Road. In the meantime, the second force of more than 30,000 men,
under Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, crossed the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, and Stoneman's
cavalry began its movement to reach Lee's rear areas. Because the bulk of his cavalry was used in
this way Hooker, who believed that cavalry could not operate efficiently in the heavily wooded
Wilderness south of the Rappahannock, was left with only one cavalry brigade with which to
operate with his main flanking force. The Confederate cavalry forces commanded by Maj. Gen.
J.E.B. Stuart would play a dominant role in the upcoming campaign by providing Lee with a
constant flow of information while denying Hooker similar information from his own cavalry.
By 1st May, Hooker had approximately 70,000 men concentrated in and around Chancellorsville.
From his Fredericksburg headquarters, Lee decided to violate one of the generally accepted
Principles of War and divide his force in the face of a superior enemy, hoping that aggressive action
would allow him to attack and defeat a portion of Hooker's army before it could be fully
concentrated against him. He left behind a brigade under Brig. Gen. William Barksdale on heavily
fortified Marye's Heights and one division, 12,000 men under Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early, on Prospect
Hill to resist any advance by Sedgwick's corps, and he ordered Stonewall Jackson to march west
and link up with Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson, assembling 40,000 men to confront Hooker at
Chancellorsville. Fortunately for the Confederates, heavy fog along the Rappahannock masked
some of these westward movements and Sedgwick chose to wait until he could determine the
1st – 2nd May
Chancellorsville battle on May 1 and 2 Confederate Union
At the same time that General Jackson was marching west to join with Anderson on the morning of
1st May, Hooker ordered an advance to the east to strike Anderson, pushing his men out of the
impenetrable thickets and scrub pine that characterized the area. This was seen by many Union
commanders as a key to victory. If the larger Union army fought in the woods, known as the
Wilderness of Spotsylvania, its huge advantage in artillery would be minimized, since artillery could
not be used to any great effect in the Wilderness. Fighting began between the Confederate division
of Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws and the rightmost division of Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's V
Corps, under Maj. Gen. George Sykes. Sykes began an orderly withdrawal, covered by Maj. Gen.
Winfield S. Hancock's division.
Despite being in a potentially favourable situation, Hooker halted his brief offensive. His actions
may have demonstrated his lack of confidence in handling the complex actions of such a large
organization for the first time (he had been an effective and aggressive division and corps
commander in previous battles), but he had also decided before beginning the campaign that he
would fight the battle defensively, forcing Lee, with his small army, to attack Hooker's larger one.
At the [First] Battle of Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862), the Union army had done the attacking
and met with a bloody defeat. Hooker knew Lee could not sustain such a defeat and keep an
effective army in the field, so he ordered his men to withdraw back into the Wilderness and take a
defensive position around Chancellorsville, daring Lee to attack him or retreat with superior forces
at his back.
Lee accepted Hooker's gambit and planned an attack for 2nd May. On the night before, Lee and Lt.
Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, came up with a risky plan that would once again split his
already divided army. Jackson would lead his Second Corps of 28,000 men around to attack the
Union right flank. Lee, on the other hand, would exercise personal command of the other 12,000
(the other half of Longstreet's First Corps, commanded directly by Lee during the battle) facing
Hooker's entire 70,000 man force at Chancellorsville.
For this to work, several things had to happen. First, Jackson had to make a 12-mile (19 km) march
via roundabout roads to reach the Union right, and he had to do it undetected. Second, Lee had to
hope that Hooker stayed tamely on the defensive. Third, Early would have to keep Sedgwick
bottled up in Fredericksburg. And when Jackson launched his attack, he had to hope that the Union
forces were unprepared.
All of these conditions were met. Confederate cavalry under Stuart kept the Union forces from
spotting Jackson on his long flank march, which took almost all day. The only sighting came
shortly after Jackson's corps disengaged from Union forces south of Chancellorsville, and this
worked to the Confederates' advantage—Hooker thought that his cavalry under Stoneman had cut
Lee's supply line and that Lee was about to retreat. Therefore, he stayed right where he was and
never contemplated an all-out attack, sending only his III Corps of 13,000 men under Maj. Gen.
Daniel Sickles forward. Sickles captured a handful of Second Corps men and then stopped.
At Fredericksburg, Sedgwick and Hooker were unable to communicate with one another because of
a failure of telegraph lines. When Hooker finally got an order to Sedgwick late on the evening of 2nd
May ordering him to attack Early, Sedgwick failed to do so because he mistakenly believed Early
had more men than he did.
But what led most of all to the impending Union disaster was the incompetent performance of the
commander of the Union XI Corps, Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard. Howard, whose 11,000 men were
posted at the far right of the Union line, failed to make any provision for his defence in case of a
surprise attack, even though Hooker ordered him to do so. The Union right flank was not anchored
on any natural obstacle, and the only defences against a flank attack consisted of two cannons
pointing out into the Wilderness. Also, the XI Corps was a unit with poor morale. Originally
commanded by Brig. Gen. Franz Sigel and composed heavily of German immigrants, they were
resentful when Sigel was replaced by the non-Germanic Howard. Many of the immigrants had poor
English language skills and they were subjected to ethnic friction with the rest of the Army of the
Potomac. The corps' readiness was poor as well—of the 23 regiments, eight had no combat
experience, and the remaining 15 had never fought on the winning side of a battle.
Around 5:30 p.m., Jackson's 26,000 men came running out of the Wilderness and hit Howard's
corps by surprise while most of them were cooking dinner. More than 4,000 of them were taken
prisoner without firing a shot, and most of the remainder were routed. Only one division of the XI
Corps made a stand, and it was soon driven off as well. By nightfall, the Confederate Second Corps
had advanced more than two miles (3 km), to within sight of Chancellorsville, and was separated
from Lee's men only by Sickles's corps, which remained where it had been after attacking that
morning. At the height of the fighting on 3rd May, Hooker suffered an injury when a Confederate
cannonball hit a wooden pillar he was leaning against at his headquarters. He later wrote that half of
the pillar "violently [struck me] ... in an erect position from my head to my feet." He likely received
a concussion, which was sufficiently severe to render him unconscious for over an hour. Although
clearly incapacitated after he arose, Hooker refused to turn over command temporarily to his
second-in-command, Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch, and, with Hooker's chief of staff, Maj. Gen.
Daniel Butterfield, and Sedgwick and out of communication (again due to the failure of the
telegraph lines), there was no one at headquarters with sufficient rank or stature to convince Hooker
otherwise. This failure affected Union performance over the next day and directly contributed to
Hooker's seeming lack of nerve and timid performance throughout the rest of the battle.
Hooker, concerned about Sickles's ability to hold what was now a salient into the Confederate lines,
pulled the III Corps back to Chancellorsville that night. This gave the Confederates two
advantages—it reunited Jackson and Lee's forces, and it gave them control of an elevated clearing
in the woods known as Hazel Grove, one of the few places in which artillery could be used
effectively. (Sickles was quite bitter about giving up this high ground; his insubordinate actions at
the Peach Orchard in the Battle of Gettysburg two months later were probably influenced strongly
by this incident.)
Jackson's mistake came when he was scouting ahead of his corps along the Orange Plank Road that
night. Having won a huge victory that day, Jackson wanted to press his advantage before Hooker
and his army could regain their bearings and plan a counterattack, which might still succeed
because of the sheer disparity in numbers. He rode out on to the plank road that night on horseback
to determine the feasibility of a night attack by the light of the full moon, and, upon his return, he
and his staff were incorrectly identified as Union cavalry by men of the Second Corps, who hit him
with friendly fire. The wound was not life-threatening, but Jackson contracted pneumonia after his
arm was amputated, and he died on 10th May. His death was a devastating loss for the Confederacy.
Some historians and participants attribute the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg two months later to
Chancellorsville battle on 3rd May
On 3rd May, Maj. Gen. A. P. Hill, who had taken command of the Second Corps following
Jackson's injuries, was incapacitated. Hill consulted with Brig. Gen. Robert E. Rodes, the next most
senior general in the corps, and Rodes acquiesced in Hill's decision to summon J. E. B. Stuart to
take command, notifying Lee after the fact. Stuart launched a massive assault all along the front,
aided by Hooker who was withdrawing troops from Hazel Grove, and then set up artillery on the
spot to bombard Union artillerists. Fierce fighting broke out that evening when Stuart launched
another massive assault against the Union lines, which were slowly crumbling from the pressure
and a lack of resupply and reinforcements. By that afternoon, the Confederates had captured
Chancellorsville, and Hooker pulled his battered men back to a line of defense circling United
States Ford, their last remaining open line of retreat.
Still, Lee could not declare victory, and Hooker was not conceding defeat either. During the peak of
the fighting at Chancellorsville on May 3, he again called on Sedgwick to break through and attack
Lee's rear. Again that general delayed until it was too late. That afternoon, he finally did attack
Early's position (after Early at one point abandoned it himself thanks to a misinterpreted order from
Lee), and broke through. But he did it too late in the day to help Hooker. In fact, a single brigade of
Alabama troops led by Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox staged a delaying action along the Orange
Plank Road west of Fredericksburg and slowed Sedgwick's already-sluggish advance.
Reinforcements under Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws arrived from Chancellorsville late in the
afternoon and joined Wilcox at Salem Church, four miles (6 km) west of Fredericksburg, and the
combined Confederate force halted Sedgwick's march to Chancellorsville. The fighting on 3rd May
1863, was some of the most furious anywhere in the war and would have ranked among the
bloodiest battles of the Civil War by itself. About 18,000 men, divided equally between the two
armies, fell that day.
Chancellorsville battle on 4th May
On the evening of May 3 and all day May 4, Hooker remained in his defences while Lee and Early
battled Sedgwick. Sedgwick, after breaking Early's defences, foolishly neglected to secure
Fredericksburg. Early simply marched back and reoccupied the heights west of the city, cutting
Sedgwick off. Meanwhile, Lee directed the division of Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson from the
Chancellorsville front and reinforced McLaws before Sedgwick realized just how few men were
opposing him. Sedgwick, as it turned out, was as resolute on the defensive as he was irresolute on
the attack, and he stood his ground that day before withdrawing back across the Rappahannock at
Banks's Ford during the pre-dawn hours of 5th May. This was another miscommunication between
him and Hooker; the commanding general had wanted Sedgwick to hold Banks's Ford, so that
Hooker could withdraw from the Chancellorsville area and re-cross the river at Banks's to fight
again. When he learned that Sedgwick had retreated back over the river, Hooker felt he was out of
options to save the campaign, and on the night of 5th-6th May, he also withdrew back across the
river. The battle had been fought under terrible conditions. Soldiers tended to get lost in the
impenetrable maze of undergrowth, and many fires started during the course of the battle. Reports
of wounded men being burned alive were common.
Lee, despite being outnumbered by a ratio of about five to two, won arguably his greatest victory of
the war. But he paid a terrible price for it. With only 52,000 infantry engaged, he suffered more than
13,000 casualties, losing some 25% of his force - men that the Confederacy, with its limited
manpower, could not replace. Just as seriously, he lost several top generals, most notably Jackson,
his most aggressive field commander. Hooker, who began the campaign believing he had "80
chances in 100 to be successful", lost the battle through miscommunications, the incompetence of
some of his leading generals (most notably Howard and Stoneman, but also Sedgwick), and through
some serious errors of his own. Hooker's errors include abandoning his offensive push on 1st May
and ordering Sickles to give up Hazel Grove and pull back on 2nd May. He also erred in his
disposition of forces; some 40,000 men of the Army of the Potomac scarcely fired a shot. Of the
90,000 Union men who bore the brunt of the fighting, just over 17,000 fell in battle, a casualty rate
much lower than Lee's, and this without taking into account the 4,000 men of the XI Corps who
were captured without a fight in the initial panic on 2nd May. The Union was shocked by the defeat.
President Lincoln was quoted as saying, "My God! My God! What will the country say?" A few
generals were career casualties. Hooker relieved Stoneman for incompetence. Couch was so
disgusted by Hooker's conduct of the battle (and his incessant political maneuvering) that he
resigned and was placed in charge of the Pennsylvania militia. Hooker was relieved of command on
28th June, just before the Battle of Gettysburg.
Robert E Lee
Robert Edward Lee (19th January 1807 – 12th October
1870), was a career United States Army officer, an
engineer, and one of the most celebrated generals in
American history. Lee was the son of Major General
Henry Lee III "Light Horse Harry" (1756–1818),
Governor of Virginia, and his second wife, Anne Hill
Carter (1773–1829). A top graduate of West Point
military academy, Lee distinguished himself as an
exceptional soldier in the U.S. Army for thirty-two
years, including war service in the Mexican War
(1846-48) and being appointed superintendent of West
Point. He is best known for commanding the
Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the
American Civil War.
In early 1861, President Abraham Lincoln invited Lee
to take command of the entire Union Army. Lee
declined because his home state of Virginia was
seceding from the Union, despite Lee's wishes. When
Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861, Lee
chose to follow his home state. Lee's eventual role in the newly established Confederacy was to
serve as a senior military adviser to President Jefferson Davis. Lee's first field command for the
Confederate States came in June 1862 when he took command of the Confederate forces in the East
(which Lee himself renamed the "Army of Northern Virginia").
Lee's greatest victories were the Seven Days Battles, the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of
Fredericksburg, and the Battle of Chancellorsville, but both of his campaigns to invade the North
ended in failure. Barely escaping defeat at the Battle of Antietam in 1862, Lee was forced to return
to the South. In early July 1863, Lee was decisively defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg in
Pennsylvania. However, due to ineffectual pursuit by the commander of Union forces, Major
General George Meade, Lee escaped again to Virginia.
In the spring of 1864, the new Union commander, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, began a
series of campaigns to wear down Lee's army. In the Overland Campaign of 1864 and the Siege of
Petersburg in 1864–1865, Lee inflicted heavy casualties on Grant's larger army, but was unable to
replace his own losses. In early April 1865, Lee's depleted forces were turned from their
entrenchments near the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, and he began a strategic retreat.
Lee's subsequent surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on 9th April 1865 represented the loss of
only one of the remaining Confederate field armies, but it was a psychological blow from which the
South could not recover. By June 1865, all of the remaining Confederate armies had capitulated.
Lee's victories against superior forces won him enduring fame as a crafty and daring battlefield
tactician, but some of his strategic decisions, such as invading the North in 1862 and 1863, have
been criticised by many military historians.
In the final months of the Civil War, as manpower reserves drained away, Lee adopted a plan to
arm willing slaves to fight on behalf of the Confederacy, but this came too late to change the
outcome of the war. After Appomattox, Lee discouraged Southern dissenters from starting a
guerrilla campaign to continue the war, and encouraged reconciliation between the North and the
The Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg (1st-3rd July 1863) was fought in and around the town of Gettysburg,
Pennsylvania, as part of the Gettysburg Campaign, and was the battle with the largest number of
casualties in the American Civil War and is often described as the war's turning point. Union Maj.
Gen. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E.
Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, ending Lee's invasion of the North. After his success at
Chancellorsville in May 1863, Lee led his army through the Shenandoah Valley for his second
invasion of the North, hoping to reach as far as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, or even Philadelphia, and
to influence Northern politicians to give up their prosecution of the war. Prodded by President
Lincoln, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker moved his army in pursuit, but was relieved just three days
before the battle and replaced by Meade.
The two armies began to collide at Gettysburg on 1st July 1863, as Lee urgently concentrated his
forces there. Low ridges to the northwest of town were defended initially by a Union cavalry
division, which was soon reinforced with two corps of Union infantry. However, two large
Confederate corps assaulted them from the northwest and north, collapsing the hastily developed
Union lines, sending the defenders retreating through the streets of town to the hills just to the
south. On the second day of battle, most of both armies had assembled. The Union line was laid out
in a defensive formation resembling a fishhook. Lee launched a heavy assault on the Union left
flank, and fierce fighting raged at Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Devil's Den, and the Peach
Orchard. On the Union right, demonstrations escalated into full-scale assaults on Culp's Hill and
Cemetery Hill. All across the battlefield, despite significant losses, the Union defenders held their
lines. On the third day of battle, 3rd July, fighting resumed on Culp's Hill, and cavalry battles raged
to the east and south, but the main event was a dramatic infantry assault by 12,500 Confederates
against the centre of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. ‘Pickett's Charge’ was repulsed by Union
rifle and artillery fire, at great losses to the Confederate army. Lee led his army on a torturous
retreat back to Virginia. Between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans were casualties in the three-day
battle. That November, President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National
Cemetery to honour the fallen and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg
Shortly after the Army of Northern Virginia won a major victory over the Army of the Potomac at
the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30 – May 6, 1863), Robert E. Lee decided upon a second
invasion of the North (the first was the unsuccessful Maryland Campaign of September 1862). Such
a move would upset Federal plans for the summer campaigning season and possibly reduce the
pressure on the besieged Confederate garrison at Vicksburg. It would allow the Confederates to live
off the bounty of the rich Northern farms while giving war-ravaged Virginia a much needed rest. In
addition, Lee's 72,000-man army could threaten Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, and
possibly strengthen the growing peace movement in the North.
Thus, on 3rd June, Lee's army began to shift northward from Fredericksburg, Virginia. In order to
attain more efficiency in his command, Lee had reorganized his two large corps into three new
corps. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet retained command of his First Corps. The old corps of deceased
Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was divided into two, with the Second Corps going to Lt. Gen.
Richard S. Ewell and the new Third Corps to Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill. The Cavalry Division was
commanded by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. The Union Army of the Potomac, under Maj. Gen. Joseph
Hooker, consisted of seven infantry corps, a cavalry corps, and an Artillery Reserve, for a combined
strength of about 94,000 men. However, President Lincoln replaced Hooker with Maj. Gen. George
Gordon Meade, a Pennsylvanian, because of Hooker's defeat at Chancellorsville and his timid
response to Lee's second invasion north of the Potomac River.
On 29th June, in a controversial move, Lee allowed J.E.B. Stuart to take a portion of the army's
cavalry and ride around the east flank of the Union army. Lee's orders gave Stuart much latitude,
and both generals share the blame for the long absence of Stuart's cavalry, as well as for the failure
to assign a more active role to the cavalry left with the army. Stuart and his three best brigades were
absent from the army during the crucial phase of the approach to Gettysburg and the first two days
of battle. Lee's army was now strung out in an arc from Chambersburg (28 miles (45 km) northwest
of Gettysburg) to Carlisle (30 miles (48 km) north of Gettysburg) to near Harrisburg and
Wrightsville on the Susquehanna River, while a portion of the Union army under Gen. Buford
First day of battle (1st July 1863)
Buford laid out his defences on three ridges west of
Gettysburg: Herr Ridge, McPherson Ridge, and
Seminary Ridge. These were appropriate terrain for a
delaying action by his small cavalry division against
superior Confederate infantry forces, meant to buy
time awaiting the arrival of Union infantrymen who
could occupy the strong defensive positions south of
town at Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and Culp's
Hill. Buford understood that if the Confederates could
gain control of these heights, Meade's army would
have difficulty dislodging them when they arrived.
Repeated attacks on Buford’s entrenched positions
throughout the day by Confederate forces met with
stiff opposition, but with the arrival of forces under
Gen. Early the Confederates outflanked the initial
Federal defences and gained a clear numerical
superiority of soldiers At Gettysburg that day. As
Federal positions collapsed both north and west of
town, Gen. Howard, who had replaced Buford as
commanding officer on his arrival, ordered a retreat to
the high ground south of town at Cemetery Hill,
where he had left the division of Brig. Gen. Adolph
von Steinwehr as a reserve. Maj. Gen. Winfield S.
Hancock assumed command of the battlefield, sent by Meade when he heard that Reynolds had
been killed. Hancock, commander of the II Corps and his most trusted subordinate, was ordered to
take command of the field and to determine whether Gettysburg was an appropriate place for a
major battle. Hancock told Howard, who was technically superior in rank, "I think this the strongest
position by nature upon which to fight a battle that I ever saw." When Howard agreed, Hancock
concluded the discussion: "Very well, sir, I select this as the battlefield." Hancock's determination
had a morale-boosting effect on the retreating Union soldiers, but he played no direct tactical role
on the first day.
Gen. Lee understood the defensive potential to the Union if they held this high ground. He sent
orders to Ewell that Cemetery Hill be taken "if practicable." Ewell, who had previously served
under Stonewall Jackson, a general well known for issuing peremptory orders, determined such an
assault was not practicable and, thus, did not attempt it. This decision is widely considered to be a
great missed opportunity.
The first day at Gettysburg, more significant than simply a prelude to the bloody second and third
days, ranks as the 23rd biggest battle of the war by number of troops engaged. About one quarter of
Meade's army (22,000 men) and one third of Lee's army (27,000) were engaged.
Second day of battle
Throughout the evening of 1st July and morning of
2nd July, most of the remaining infantry of both
armies arrived on the field. Longstreet's third
division, commanded by George Pickett, had begun
the march from Chambersburg early in the morning;
it did not arrive until late on 2nd July.
The Union line ran from Culp's Hill southeast of the
town, northwest to Cemetery Hill just south of town,
then south for nearly two miles (3 km) along
Cemetery Ridge, ending just north of Little Round
Top. The shape of the Union line is popularly
described as a "fishhook" formation. The Confederate
line paralleled the Union line about a mile (1,600 m)
to the west on Seminary Ridge, ran east through the
town, then curved southeast to a point opposite Culp's
Hill. Thus, the Federal army had the advantages of
internal lines of communication, while the
Confederate line was nearly five miles (8 km) in
Lee's battle plan for 2nd July called for Longstreet's
First Corps to position itself stealthily to attack the
Union left flank, facing northeast astraddle the
Emmitsburg Road, and to roll up the Federal line. The attack would be launched in sequence along
the line to prevent Meade from shifting troops from his centre to bolster his left. At the same time,
Maj. Gen. Edward "Allegheny" Johnson's and Jubal Early's Second Corps divisions were to make a
demonstration against Culp's and Cemetery Hills (again, to prevent the shifting of Federal troops),
and to turn the demonstration into a full-scale attack if a favourable opportunity presented itself.
Lee's plan, however, was based on faulty intelligence, exacerbated by Stuart's continued absence
from the battlefield. Instead of moving beyond the Federals' left and attacking their flank,
Longstreet's left division, under McLaws, would face Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles's III Corps directly
in their path. Longstreet's attack was to be made as early as practicable. However, Longstreet got
permission from Lee to await the arrival of one of his brigades, and while marching to the assigned
position, his men came within sight of a Union signal station on Little Round Top.
Countermarching to avoid detection wasted much time, and several divisions did not launch their
attacks until just after 4 p.m.
As Longstreet's divisions slammed into the Union III Corps, Meade was forced to send 20,000
reinforcements. The Confederate assault deviated from Lee's plan since Hood's division moved
more easterly than intended, losing its alignment with the Emmitsburg Road, attacking Devil's Den
and Little Round Top. McLaws, coming in on Hood's left, drove multiple attacks into the thinly
stretched III Corps in the Wheatfield and overwhelmed them in Sherfy's Peach Orchard. McLaws's
attack eventually reached Plum Run Valley (the "Valley of Death") before being beaten back by the
Pennsylvania Reserves division of the V Corps, moving down from Little Round Top. The III
Corps was virtually destroyed as a combat unit in this battle. Caldwell's division was destroyed
piecemeal in the Wheatfield. Anderson's division assault on McLaws's left, starting around 6 p.m.,
reached the crest of Cemetery Ridge, but they could not hold the position in the face of
counterattacks from the II Corps, including an almost suicidal counterattack by the 1st Minnesota
against a Confederate brigade, ordered in desperation by Hancock.
About 7:00 p.m., the Second Corps' attack by Johnson's division on Culp's Hill got off to a late start.
Most of the hill's defenders, the Union XII Corps, had been sent to the left to defend against
Longstreet's attacks, and the only portion of the corps remaining on the hill was a brigade of New
Yorkers under Brig. Gen. George S. Greene. Because of Greene's insistence on constructing strong
defensive works, and with reinforcements from the I and XI Corps, Greene's men held off the
Confederate attackers, although the Southerners did capture a portion of the abandoned Federal
works on the lower part of Culp's Hill.
At the end of the day, two of Jubal Early's brigades attacked the Union XI Corps positions on East
Cemetery Hill where Col. Andrew L. Harris of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, came under a
withering attack, losing half his men; however, Early failed to support his brigades in their attack,
and Ewell's remaining division, that of Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes, failed to aid Early's attack by
moving against Cemetery Hill from the west. The Union army's interior lines enabled its
commanders to shift troops quickly to critical areas, and with reinforcements from II Corps, the
Federal troops retained possession of East Cemetery Hill, and Early's brigades were forced to
withdraw. Jeb Stuart and his three cavalry brigades arrived in Gettysburg around noon but had no
role in the second day's battle.
Third day of battle
General Lee wished to renew the attack using the
same basic plan as the previous day: Longstreet
would attack the Federal left, while Ewell attacked
Culp's Hill. However, before Longstreet was ready,
Union XII Corps troops started a dawn artillery
bombardment against the Confederates on Culp's
Hill in an effort to regain a portion of their lost
works. The Confederates attacked, and the second
fight for Culp's Hill ended around 11 a.m., after
some seven hours of bitter combat.
Lee was forced to change his plans. Longstreet
would command Pickett's Virginia division of his
own First Corps, plus six brigades from Hill's Corps,
in an attack on the Federal II Corps position at the
centre of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Prior to
the attack, all the artillery the Confederacy could
bring to bear on the Federal positions would
bombard and weaken the enemy's line.
Around 1 p.m., from over 150 Confederate guns
began an artillery bombardment that was probably
the largest of the war. In order to save valuable
ammunition for the infantry attack that they knew
would follow the Army of the Potomac's artillery at
first did not return the enemy's fire. After waiting about 15 minutes, about 80 Federal cannons
added to the din. The Army of Northern Virginia was critically low on artillery ammunition, and the
cannonade did not significantly affect the Union entrenched position. Around 3 p.m., the cannon
fire subsided, and 12,500 Southern soldiers stepped from the ridgeline and advanced the three-
quarters of a mile (1,200 m) to Cemetery Ridge in what is known to history as "Pickett's Charge".
As the Confederates approached, there was fierce flanking artillery fire from Union positions on
Cemetery Hill and north of Little Round Top, and musket and canister fire from Hancock's II
Corps. Nearly one half of the attackers did not return to their own lines. Although the Federal line
wavered and broke temporarily at a point called the "Angle", reinforcements rushed into the breach,
and the Confederate attack was repulsed. The farthest advance of Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead's
brigade of Maj. Gen. George Pickett's division at the Angle is referred to as the "High-water mark
of the Confederacy", arguably representing the closest the South ever came to its goal of achieving
independence from the Union via military victory.
There were two cavalry engagements on 3rd July. Stuart was sent to guard the Confederate left flank
and was to be prepared to exploit any success the infantry might achieve on Cemetery Hill by
flanking the Federal right and hitting their trains and lines of communications. Three miles (5 km)
east of Gettysburg, in what is now called "East Cavalry Field". Stuart's forces collided with Federal
cavalry under: Brig. Gen. David Gregg and George A. Custer. A lengthy mounted battle, including
hand-to-hand sabre combat, ensued. Custer's charge, leading the 1st Michigan Cavalry, blunted the
attack, blocking Stuart from achieving his objectives in the Federal rear. Meanwhile, after hearing
news of the day's victory, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick launched a cavalry attack against the
infantry positions of Longstreet's Corps southwest of Big Round Top, but failed to roll up the
There were no further attacks by the Lee on 4th July and Meade was too cautious to try to launch a
counter-attack and so the next day, in driving rain, the bulk of the Army of Northern Virginia left
Gettysburg on the Hagerstown Road; the Battle of Gettysburg was over, and the Confederates
headed back to Virginia, with the Army of the Potomac initially making no serious attempt to
The news of the Union victory electrified the North. A headline in The Philadelphia Inquirer
proclaimed "VICTORY! WATERLOO ECLIPSED!" New York diarist George Templeton Strong
The results of this victory are priceless. ... The charm of Robert E. Lee's invincibility is broken. The Army of
the Potomac has at last found a general that can handle it, and has stood nobly up to its terrible work in spite
of its long disheartening list of hard-fought failures. ... Copperheads are palsied and dumb for the moment at
least. ... Government is strengthened four-fold at home and abroad.
– George Templeton Strong, Diary.
The Confederates lost politically as well as militarily. Negotiations with the North for peace and
attempts to win foreign support, particularly from Europe, for their cause ceased immediately.
Henry Adams wrote, "The disasters of the rebels are unredeemed by even any hope of success. It is
now conceded that all idea of intervention is at an end." The reverses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg
(the fall of this strategic Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi simultaneously to the battle of
Gettysburg allowed Gen. Grant’s forces in the west to cut the Confederacy in two) in the summer of
1863 made the Confederacy’s eventual defeat appear inevitable to many even though they
continued to resist for another 2 years. Some economic historians have pointed to the fact that after
the loss at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the market for Confederate war bonds dropped precipitously.
"European investors gave Johnny Reb about a 42 percent chance of winning the war in early 1863
prior to the battle of Gettysburg. ... However, news of the severity of costly Confederate defeats at
Gettysburg/Vicksburg led to a sell-off in rebel bonds and the probability of a Southern victory fell
to about 15 percent by the end of 1863."
The two armies had suffered between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties. Union casualties were 23,055
(3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, 5,369 captured or missing). Confederate casualties are more
difficult to estimate. Many authors cite about 28,000 overall casualties, but Busey and Martin's
definitive 2005 work, Regimental Strengths and Losses, documents 23,231 (4,708 killed, 12,693
wounded, 5,830 captured or missing). The casualties for both sides during the entire campaign were
57,225. Nearly 8,000 had been killed outright; these bodies, lying in the hot summer sun, needed to
be buried quickly. Over 3,000 horse carcasses were burned in a series of piles south of town;
townsfolk became violently ill from the stench. The ravages of war would still be evident in
Gettysburg more than four months later when, on 19th November, the Soldiers' National Cemetery
was dedicated. During this ceremony, President Abraham Lincoln with his Gettysburg Address re-
dedicated the Union to the war effort.
Throughout the campaign, General Lee seemed to have entertained the belief that his men were
invincible. Most of Lee's experiences with the army had convinced him of this, including the great
victory at Chancellorsville in early May and the rout of the Union troops at Gettysburg on 1st July.
Since high morale plays an important role in military victory when other factors are equal, Lee did
not want to dampen his army's desire to fight. The Army of Northern Virginia's collective blind
faith allowed it to ignore the fact that it had new and inexperienced senior commanders (neither Hill
nor Ewell, for instance, although capable division commanders, had previously commanded a
corps). It had recently lost Stonewall Jackson, one of its most competent offensive generals. Also,
Lee's method of giving generalized orders and leaving it up to his lieutenants to work out the details
contributed to his defeat. Although this method may have worked with Jackson, it proved
inadequate when dealing with corps commanders unused to Lee's style of command.
Lee faced dramatic differences in going from the strategic defence to the strategic offence - long
supply lines, a hostile local population, and an imperative to force the enemy from its position.
Lastly, after 1st July, the Confederates were simply not able to coordinate their attacks. Lee faced a
new and formidable opponent in George Meade, and the Army of the Potomac stood to the task and
fought well on its home territory.
It has also been argued that Lee may have felt that Gettysburg represented a last hope for
Confederate independence, and he, thus, had little choice but to take the kind of grave risks that he
would never have considered before or after. Given that Vicksburg fell to Gen. Grant after a long
siege simultaneously, it is clear that the South’s attempts to frustrate the North’s ability to wage a
successful war of attrition by holding down the considerable manpower of the Army of the Potomac
in the east had not in fact prevented the Union from mounting a full scale, drawn out campaign in
the west involving large land and naval forces. It is fair to say that Lee did indeed have to win a
decisive victory in 1863 if the Confederacy was to have any chance of surviving in the long term.
During the spring of 1863, Lee had been sick with what was then termed "rheumatic fever". Based
on his symptoms, modern physicians believe this may have actually been the first attack of the heart
disease that would eventually kill him in 1870. Given the serious nature of the illness in addition to
the death of Stonewall Jackson, it has been argued that Lee, along with seeing the military realities
facing the Confederacy, may have also been feeling his own mortality in the aftermath of the Battle
Thus, he not only made the case for invading the North, but also, when the battle was joined, he
took great risks in an effort to win what he hoped would be a final, climactic battle in the vein of
Napolean's masterpiece at Austerlitz in 1806. He paid a terrible price when he did not achieve this
ambitious goal. The strategic initiative passed again to the North and Lee faced an even more
capable foe than Meade in Ulysses Grant who was now transferred to command in the east. Grant,
an extremely practical field commander, was not intimidated by Lee’s impressive reputation, but
acknowledged his ability by attempting to defeat Lee through sustained pressure rather than
expecting to be able to deliver a knock-out blow in a single battle. He ensured that the Army of the
Potomac henceforward always had overwhelming numerical superiority over the Army of Northern
Virginia and applied relentless pressure to it throughout 1864, whilst Gen. Sherman, striking for the
deep south from the west, devastated Atlanta – the South’s only significant industrial centre – and
cut through the heart of the Confederacy again by laying waste to the state of Georgia in a campaign
designed to shatter the South’s capacity to resist.
The Development of 19th Century Military Technology:
The American Civil War
Jeb Stuart (cavalry commander to Robert E Lee) with a cavalry sabre
Model 1832 Foot artillery sword
Regulation infantry officer's sword
Artillerymen were issued the Model 1832 Foot artillery sword, based on the Roman gladius.
The Model 1840 Light Artillery Sabre was issued to mounted artillery
Model 1840 Cavalry Sabre and Model 1860 Light Cavalry Sabre were used by Union cavalry.
The M1860 Cutlass was issued to naval boarding parties. Sailors also had access to axes,
harpoons and grappling hooks.
The regulation officer's sword was the Model 1850 Army Staff & Field Officers' Sword though in
practice most officers used cavalry sabres. Southern officers sometimes carried ancestral blades
from the War of 1812 or even the American Revolutionary War.
Mameluke swords were carried by Marine officers.
Confederates would carry Bowie knives instead of bayonets, including the Arkansas toothpick
which could be used as a sword in combat, a hatchet to chop wood, a razor and a paddle in
Native Americans fighting for the Confederacy used traditional weapons like the Tomahawk,
spear or bow.
Early in the war Robert E Lee proposed issuing pikes to the Confederate army to compensate for
the shortage of guns. A few were made and used for training but were never issued for combat.
Colt Army Model 1860
Colt Dragoon and Pocket Revolver
Colt Army Model 1860 - The most popular Colt handgun in the Union Army was a .44
calibre six-shot revolver. Stocks were made that could be screwed onto the butt of the pistol
allowing it to be held at the shoulder, increasing range and accuracy.
The Colt 1851 Navy Revolver was the preferred weapon of the Confederacy and copies
were made all over the South in former cotton mills.
The US Cavalry were issued the .44 calibre Colt Dragoon Revolver: a heavy large-calibre
pistol invented during the Mexican War and designed for killing the mounts of charging
Remington Model 1858
Remington Model 1858 - Colt's chief competitor, Remington Repeating Arms Company,
also made revolvers during the Civil War. The most common was the Remington Model
1858. This pistol was highly favoured by troops. The Remington had a quick cylinder
release catch which made reloading much faster. It was also cheaper than the Colt. It was
used in large quantities during the war.
Springfield Model 1861
Springfield Model 1861 - The Springfield Model 1861 was the most widely-used shoulder arm
during the Civil War. It was favoured for its range, accuracy, and reliability. The barrel was 40
inches long, firing a .58 calibre Minié ball. The Springfield had an effective range of almost 600
paces. The Springfield Rifle cost $20 each from the Springfield Armoury where they were
officially made. Overwhelmed by demand, the armoury released its weapons patterns to private
contractors. The most notable producer of contract Model 1861 Springfields was Colt.
Pattern 1853 Enfield
Pattern 1853 Enfield - The Enfield 1853 rifled musket was used by both the North and the South
in the American Civil War, and was the second most widely used infantry weapon in the war,
surpassed only by the Springfield Model 1861 rifled musket. The Confederates imported more
Enfields during the course of the war than any other small arms, buying from private contractors
and gun runners when the British government refused to sell them arms after it became obvious
that the Confederacy could not win the war. It has been estimated that over 900,000 P53 Enfields
were imported to America and saw service in every major engagement from April 1862
Henry rifle - The Civil War precursor to the Winchester Rifle based on early lever-action rifles
made by Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. These highly-prized weapons were privately purchased by
those who could afford them.
Spencer repeating rifle
Spencer repeating rifle - The Spencer repeating rifle was a manually operated lever-action,
repeating rifle fed from a tube magazine with cartridges. It was adopted by the Union army,
especially by the cavalry, during the American Civil War, but did not replace the standard
issue muzzle-loading rifled muskets in use at the time.
The Kentucky rifle is an example of a hunting weapon adapted for military use by Confederate
Early in the war Confederates would use civilian arms including shotguns and hunting rifles
like the Kentucky or Hawken due to the shortage of military weapons. These remained in
service as late as 1863.
Old smoothbore muskets converted from flintlock to Caplock mechanism were also used,
especially by the South, and had calibres as large as .74.
The Civil War did have
There were crude hand grenades equipped with a plunger that would detonate upon impact. The
North relied on experimental Ketchum Grenades, with a tail to ensure the nose would strike the
target and start the fuse. The Confederacy used spherical hand grenades that weighed about six
pounds, sometimes with a paper fuse. They also used Rains and Adams grenades, which were
similar to the Ketchum in appearance and mechanism.
The Gatling gun was a multi-barrelled, .58 calibre rapid-fire repeating gun that was capable of
firing 300 rounds per minute that was created by Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling. As the crank was
turned, a barrel revolved into place before the breech, a cartridge was inserted and fitted, and the
empty shell was extracted in a continuous cycle. As there were multiple barrels, a Gatling gun could
be fired for long periods of time without overheating. It was not as popular as common rifles, and
saw very little action in the Civil War.
Similar weapons included J.D. Mill's Coffee Mill Gun. Like the Gatling Gun, the cartridges of
Mill's invention were fed by a hand crank, and this is why some people believe that President
Lincoln called it "the coffee grinder gun". Other infantry support weapons included the .58 calibre
Agar gun with a hopper on top and steel guard, and the Billinghurst Requa Battery which had eight
banks of cartridge chambers that were rotated into alignment behind the row of 25 barrels.
Chief of Ordnance, General James Wolfe Ripley was against issuing repeating rifles and machine
guns to the Union army as he believed it would waste ammunition. Nevertheless several generals
including Butler and George B McClellan purchased Gatling Guns. Some were captured by the
Confederates after they seized Harper's Ferry arsenal.
The Confederates also used the the hand-cranked single barrel Williams Gun and the Vandenburgh
Volley Gun, a volley gun similar to the French Mitrailleuse.
There were two general types of artillery weapons used during the Civil War: smoothbores and
rifles. Smoothbores included howitzers and guns.
Smoothbore artillery refers to weapons that are not rifled. At the time of the Civil War, metallurgy
and other supporting technologies had just recently evolved to a point allowing the large scale
production of rifled field artillery. As such, many smoothbore weapons were still in use and
production even at the end of the war. Smoothbore field artillery of the day fit into two role-based
categories: guns and howitzers.
Smoothbore guns were designed to fire solid shot projectiles at high velocity, over low trajectories
at targets in the open, although shot and canister were acceptable for use. The barrels of the guns
were longer than corresponding howitzers, and called for higher powder charges to achieve the
desired performance. Field guns were produced in 6-pounder (3.67 inch bore), 9-pounder (4.2 inch
bore), and 12-pounder (4.62 inch bore) versions. Although some older iron weapons were pressed
into service, and the Confederacy produced some new iron field guns, most of those used on the
battlefields were of bronze construction.
Howitzers were short-barrelled guns for firing explosive shells in a high trajectory, but also for
spherical case shot and canister, over a shorter range than the guns. Howitzers were considered the
weapon of choice if the opposing forces were concealed behind terrain features or fortifications.
The weight and size of siege artillery prevented it from regularly travelling with the armies. When
needed, siege artillery and other material needed for siege operations were assembled into what was
called a siege train and transported to the army. In the American Civil War, the siege train was
always transported to the area of the siege by water.
The siege trains of the Civil War consisted almost exclusively of guns and mortars. Guns fired
projectiles on horizontal trajectory and could batter heavy construction with solid shot or shell at
long or short range, destroy fort parapets, and dismount cannon. Mortars fired shells in a high
arcing trajectory to reach targets behind obstructions, destroying constructions and personnel.
The Civil War was the first major war to see the use of rifled artillery. Rifling gave the guns greater
velocity, range, accuracy and penetrating power, making smoothbore siege guns obsolete. The
range of these guns is somewhat problematic. The 6.4 inch (100-pounder) Parrott rifle had a
maximum range of 8,845 yards (5 miles). However, the absence of suitable sights and a good
system of directing fire on targets that could not be seen from the gun, limited the effective range of
the rifled guns.
The bombardment of Fort Pulaski demonstrated that rifled guns were extremely effective against
masonry fortifications. Later experiences at the campaign against Charleston Harbor and the siege
of Petersburg showed that rifled guns are much less effective against earthen field works.
4.5-inch siege rifle
The navy traditionally provided siege artillery to the army when needed. The Civil War was no
exception to this rule. Seamen from the USS Wabash manned the Whitworth rifles and two 8-inch
Parrott rifles during the campaign against Charleston harbour. Seamen also manned 5 navy XI-inch
Dahlgren guns emplaced on Morris Island in 1864. In the siege of Vicksburg, the Federal Army of
the Tennessee had no siege artillery, so the U.S. Navy placed at least two of their 8-inch guns into
While guns were intended to batter down the walls of a fortification, mortars were designed to fire
explosive shells over the walls of the fortification, killing the garrison, forcing the garrison to stay
in bombproof shelters, preventing the garrison from serving their guns and repairing damage caused
by the bombardment. Mortars could also destroy structures inside the fortification such as barracks
and kitchens. Heavier mortar shells could penetrate magazines and many bombproof shelters.
The 8-inch and 10-inch siege mortars had a maximum ranges of 2,225 and 2,064 yards, respectively
and the 13-inch seacoast mortar had a maximum range of 4,300 yards, but their effective ranges
were much shorter. For the 8-inch siege mortar at a range of 800 yards, about 50% of the shells
would fall within a 50-yard radius of the target. With the 10-inch siege mortars at 875 yards, about
60% of the shells would fall within a 40-yard radius of the targetCoehorn mortars were lighter
mortars, designed to be brought well forward in the trenches. With the replacement of masonry
fortifications with earthen works, mortars became more important. Works that could resist the
horizontal fire of guns were still vulnerable to the vertical fire of mortars.
Developments in Naval Technology: The Ironclads
At the beginning of the 19th Century naval military technology was in many ways far more
sophisticated than that for land war. Huge wooden warships, such as HMS Victory (see above) were
effectively used as great floating gun platforms (HMS Victory carried 100 guns) from which to
bombard the enemy and troop transports from which marines (sea soldiers) could board and capture
other vessels. Therefore the use and importance of artillery in sea battles was considerably greater
than in land battles, in which the limitations of heavy guns were more apparent. However as
artillery improved throughout the 19th Century, warship design had to change with it, leading to the
development of the ‘Ironclads’ (wooden ships with metal plating) and later all metal ships. These
developments were seen first in the Crimean and American Civil Wars.
Following the demonstration of the power of explosive shells against wooden ships at the Battle of
Sinope, and fearing that his own ships would be vulnerable to the Paixhans guns of Russian
fortifications in the Crimean War, Emperor Napoleon III ordered the development of light-draft
floating batteries, equipped with heavy guns and protected by heavy armour. Experiments made
during the first half of 1854 proved highly satisfactory, and on 17 July 1854, the French
communicated to the British Government that a solution had been found to make gun-proof vessels
and that plans would be communicated. After tests in September 1854, the British Admiralty agreed
to build five armoured floating batteries on the French plans. The French floating batteries were
deployed in 1855 as a supplement to the wooden steam battlefleet in the Crimean War. The role of
the battery was to assist unarmoured mortar and gunboats bombarding shore fortifications. The
French used three of their ironclad batteries (Lave, Tonnante and Dévastation) in 1855 against the
defences at the Battle of Kinburn (1855) on the Black Sea, where they were effective against
Russian shore defences. The British plan to use their floating armoured batteries in the Baltic Sea
against Kronstadt was influential in causing the Russians to sue for peace.
The batteries have a claim to the title of the first ironclad warships but they were capable of only 4
knots (7 km/h) under their own power: they operated under their own power at the Battle of
Kinburn, but had to be towed for longer distances. They were also arguably marginal to the work of
the navy. The brief success of the floating ironclad batteries convinced France to begin work on
armoured warships for their battlefleet.
Early ironclad warships
Model of the French La Gloire (1858), the first ocean-going ironclad
By the end of the 1850s it was clear that France was unable to match British building of steam
warships, and to regain the strategic initiative a dramatic change was required. The result was the
first ocean-going ironclad, the La Gloire, begun in 1857 and launched in 1859. La Gloire's wooden
hull was modelled on that of a steam ship of the line, reduced to one deck, sheathed in iron plates
4.5 inches (110 mm) thick. She was propelled by a steam engine, driving a single screw propeller
for a speed of 13 knots (24 km/h). She was armed with thirty-six 6.4-inch (160 mm) rifled guns.
France proceeded to construct 16 ironclad warships, including two more sister ships to La Gloire,
and the only two-decked broadside ironclads ever built, Magenta and Solferino.
HMS Warrior (1860), Britain's first all iron warship
The Royal Navy had not been keen to sacrifice their advantage in steam ships of the line, but was
determined that the first British iron ship would outmatch the French ships in every respect,
particularly speed. A fast ship would have the advantage of being able to choose a range of
engagement which could make her invulnerable to enemy fire. The British specification was more a
large, powerful frigate than a ship-of-the-line. The requirement for speed meant a very long vessel,
which had to be built from iron. The resulting vessel was Warrior, built and launched in 1860.
Warrior was a successful design; her weapons and armour were more effective than that of La
Gloire, and with the largest set of steam engines yet fitted to a ship she could steam at 14.3 knots
The American Civil War Ironclad – The USS Monitor
USS Monitor was the first ironclad warship commissioned by the United States Navy. She is most
famous for her participation in the first-ever naval battle between two ironclad warships, the Battle
of Hampton Roads on 9th March 1862, during the American Civil War, in which Monitor fought the
ironclad CSS Virginia of the Confederate States Navy. ‘‘Monitor’’ was the first in a long line of
Monitor-class U.S. warships and the term "monitor" has come to describe a broad class of European
harbour defence craft.
Designed by the Swedish engineer John Ericsson, Monitor was described as a "cheesebox on a
raft," consisting of a heavy round revolving iron gun turret on the deck, housing two 11-inch
(28 cm) Dahlgren guns, paired side by side. The original design used a system of heavy metal
shutters to protect the gun ports while reloading. However, the operation of the shutters proved so
cumbersome, the gun crews simply rotated the turret away from potential hostile fire to reload.
Further, the momentum of the rotating turret proved to be so great that a system for stopping the
turret to fire the guns was implemented on later models of ships in the Monitor class. The crew of
Monitor solved the turret momentum problem by firing the guns on the fly while the turret rotated
past the target. While this procedure resulted in a substantial loss of accuracy, given the close range
at which Monitor operated, the loss of accuracy was not critical.
The armoured deck was barely above the waterline. Aside from a small pilothouse, a detachable
smokestack and a few fittings, the bulk of the ship was below the waterline to prevent damage from
cannon fire. The turret comprised 8 layers of 1-inch (2.5 cm) plate, bolted together, with a ninth
plate inside to act as a sound shield. A steam donkey engine turned the turret. The heavily armoured
deck extended beyond the waterproof hull, only 5⁄8 inches (15.88 mm) thick. The vulnerable parts of
the ship were completely protected. Monitor's hull was built at the Continental Iron Works in the
Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, New York, and the ship was launched there on 30th January 1862.
Monitor was innovative in construction technique as well as design. Parts were forged in nine
foundries and brought together to build the ship; the whole process took less than 120 days.
Portions of the heavy iron armor plating for the vessel were made at a forge in Clintonville, New
York. In addition to the "cheesebox", its rotating turret, Monitor was also fitted with Ericsson's
novel marine screw, whose efficiency and reliability allowed the warship to be one of the first to
rely exclusively upon steam propulsion. Ericsson anticipated some aspects of modern submarine
design by placing all of Monitor's features except the turret and pilothouse underwater, making it
the first semi-submersible ship. In contrast, Virginia was a conventional wooden vessel covered
with iron plates and bearing fixed weapons.
The Battle of Hampton Roads (1862)
Officers of the original USS Monitor in front of its rotating gun turret.
At the Battle of Hampton Roads CSS Virginia attacked the Union blockading squadron in Hampton
Roads, Virginia, on March 8, 1862, destroying USS Cumberland and Congress and forcing
Minnesota aground before withdrawing. That night, Monitor arrived under tow from Brooklyn.
When Virginia returned the next day, 9th March, to finish off Minnesota and the rest of the
blockaders, Monitor sortied to stop her. The ironclads fought for about four hours, neither one
sinking or seriously damaging the other. Tactically, the battle between these two ships was a draw -
neither ironclad did significant damage to the other. However, it was a strategic victory for Monitor:
Virginia's mission was to break the Union blockade; that mission failed. Monitor's mission was to
defend the U.S. fleet, but she arrived too late to save Cumberland, Congress, or Minnesota,
resulting in heavy losses for the Federal Navy. Virginia continued to occupy the 'battlefield'
following the retreat of Monitor, after the captain of the Monitor was hit in the eyes with
gunpowder. The two ironclads never again fought each other, although Virginia occasionally
steamed out to Hampton Roads in a challenge to Monitor. Monitor stood by as eventually the
Confederate Navy sent the CSS Jamestown, along with Virginia and five other ships in full view of
the Union squadron, enticing them to fight, but Monitor refused to engage. When it became clear
the U.S. Navy ships were unwilling to fight, the Confederate squadron moved in and captured three
merchant ships, the brigs Marcus and Sabout and the schooner Catherine T. Dix. Their flags were
then hoisted "Union-side down" to further taunt Monitor into a fight, as they were towed back to
Norfolk, with the help of the CSS Raleigh. In all, two ships were destroyed, one wrecked, and three
seized, and Monitor never engaged in combat again.
Monitor became the prototype for the monitor class of warship. Many more were built, including
river monitors and deep-sea monitors, and they played key roles in Civil War battles on the
Mississippi and James rivers. Some had two or even three turrets, and later monitors had improved