Much has been made of the surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865. Historians note that myth surrounds those final bedraggled days of the Army of Northern Virginia, the magnanimity with which Union soldiers welcomed their fellow Americans back into a nation at peace, and the causes won and lost in the subsequent years. Though it took months for the rest of the remaining Confederate forces to surrender their arms, no moment stands more clearly in historical memory as marking the end of the United States’ most costly war than the meeting in which Robert E. Lee surrendered his forces to Ulysses Grant. While myth may obscure some of the more concrete realities of that day – what was with Wilmer McClean anyway? – the peace wrought by those two great generals was nothing short of remarkable both for what it ended and what it began.Read More
In the waning days of March 1865, as the armies in both blue and gray languished in the muddy trenches of Petersburg, Ulysses S. Grant still searched for a final, climatic battle. However, since 1861 the Civil War had transformed into a type of warfare very different than lines of soldiers advancing across open, rolling fields. As both armies settled into miles of intricately built trenches and stalemate ensued, that Clausewitzian final battle of apocalyptic proportions seemed increasingly unlikely. The end of the war would come, but in ways not even the premier military leaders of the time expected.
As winter turned to spring in 1865, Robert E. Lee’s confederate Army of Northern Virginia was suffering from a chronic lack of supplies, rising casualty figures, and heavy desertion. However, the Virginian had created an extremely strong line of defenses around Petersburg that the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that was the Army of the Potomac had been unable to breach. Grant knew that if a weakness on this line could be found and exploited properly, it could not only mean the fall of Petersburg and subsequently Richmond, but eventually the surrender of Lee’s Army and the end of the war.
This opportunity came on Petersburg’s Western Front 150 years ago, on April 1, 1865, at a place where five roads converged. It became not only a battle of strategic importance, but also a captivating study in leadership and reputation. The Battle of Five Forks was brief, but its significance unquestionable.Read More
The American Civil War has left behind layers. When modern Americans visit battlefields, we see not only scars left between the years 1861 and 1865, but also select remnants of eras before and after. We see historic structures, which were the homes and businesses of people who occupied these now hallowed spaces long before the soldiers in blue and gray. Monuments, placed by veterans, heritage groups, and state and federal governments dot the landscape. Fortified earthworks, rebuilt fences, even trees and parking lots all tell complex stories of various attempts at remembering.
Which leads us to question, what has the 150th left behind?Read More
Dr. James A. Mowris surveyed the scene around him and could not help but be struck by its terrible grandeur. The forty year-old surgeon, under whose care were the veteran soldiers of the 117th New York Infantry, watched enraptured as thousands of Union troops disembarked onto the North Carolina coast. As the “downy web footed infantry” splashed ashore, a United States Navy fleet provided cover fire, bombarding Confederate-held Fort Fisher nearby. Fort Fisher protected the port of Wilmington, North Carolina, where for four years sleek Confederate blockade runners had slipped past Union warships and returned laden with much needed provisions, war materials, medicine, and more. By 1865, Wilmington was the Confederacy’s last remaining open port, a thin golden lifeline the connected the beleaguered South to the outside world and all its riches. Yet James A. Mowris and the nearly 9,000 other Union soldiers accompanying him had arrived to cut that invaluable lifeline. It was Friday the 13th, January, 1865, and the last great coastal campaign of the Civil War was underway.Read More