xxxxxThe Confederate army won The First Battle of Bull Run in June 1861 (Va), and gained a further victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862. An attempt the following month to seize the Union capital, Washington, ended in a defeat for the Southerners at the Battle of Antietam, but they gained another major victory at the Battle of Fredericksburg before the winter set in. Meanwhile in the west the Union forces proved much more successful under General Ulysses Grant. They seized Confederate strongholds in Tennessee, and won the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. By June, Memphis, Corinth and New Orleans had been taken, and Grant’s victory at the Battle of Vicksburg meant that the Confederation had been split down the middle, north to south. The resumption of fighting in the east in April 1863 led to a Unionist defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, but, as we shall see, the Unionists were to win a decisive victory at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania in July 1863. The War at Sea centred around the Union blockade of southern ports, and this proved generally successful. The major event of the conflict was the battle between the two warships, the Unionist Monitor and the Confederate Virginia, in January 1862. It proved inconclusive, but it was the first naval battle to be fought between ironclads.




Map (Eastern Campaign): from Encounter: lithograph produced by the Boston printing company Louis Prang & Co. in 1886, the work of the American marine artist Julian Oliver Davidson (1853-1894) – Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington. Map (Western Campaign): licensed under Creative Commons – Vicksburg: detail, by the Swedish-born American illustrator Thure de Thulstrop (1848-1930), 1886. Jackson: by the American artist J.W. King, 1864 (active in the 1860s) – National Portrait Gallery, Washington. Burnside: engraving from The Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Rhode Island, 1881, produced by the National Biographical Publishing Company, Baltimore, USA, artist unknown. Homer: Bayonet Charge (engraving) – Art Institute of Chicago; Breezing-up – National Gallery of Art, Washington; Incoming Tide – National Gallery of Art, Washington; Eight Bells – Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts.

xxxxxAs we have seen, the Confederate army won the opening battle of the American Civil War. In June 1861 (Va) it gained a victory over a Union force at the First Battle of Bull Run - a small stream of that name at Manassas Junction in north-east Virginia. Minor skirmishes followed, but fighting on a large scale was not resumed until March 1862, when the Army of the Potomac, having landed at Fort Monroe and Newport News, advanced on Richmond, the Confederate capital, some 70 miles to the north-west. Led by General George McClellan, it reached to within six miles of the city by the end of May, and won a resounding victory at the Battle of Fair Oaks (or Seven Pines). Thexfollowing month, however, General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870), having been given command of the Southern armies, quickly summoned up reinforcements and, going on the offensive, forced the Unionist army to retreat by a series of victories in the so-called Seven Days’ Battles.


xxxxxThen at the end of August the Army of the Potomac, this time led by General John Pope, was again defeated. The Confederate general Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, having weakened Pope’s forces by a series of cavalry attacks, met him head on at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862. At first the Union appeared to have the advantage but, once again, Jackson stood his ground until the arrival of reinforcements under the command of Generals Lee and Longstreet. The following day the Confederates took the offensive and, due in part to Pope’s indecisiveness, quickly gained the upper hand. Out manoeuvred, the Union forces fled the field and made for the safety of Washington, thirty miles to the north, leaving behind some 14,000 dead or wounded.

xxxxxHavingxdriven the Unionists out of Virginia, Lee then moved into Maryland, bent on capturing Washington, the Federal capital. Here, however, his advance was checked at the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg) in September 1862. By this encounter, one of the bloodiest battles of the civil war, Lee was forced to retreat into Virginia, but the Unionist General McClellan did not press home his advantage, and was summarily dismissed. Hisxsuccessor, General Ambrose E. Burnside (1824-1881) did meet up with Lee’s army at Fredericksburg in the December, but, despite a superiority in numbers, suffered a crushing defeat after mounting a series of futile attacks upon well-fortified positions. He lost over 12,000 men and was likewise dismissed by Lincoln. He was succeeded by General “Fighting Joe” Hooker, but by then the bad weather had set in, and both armies were obliged to take up winter quarters near Fredericksburg.

xxxxxThe War at Sea was centred around the Federal blockade of the southern ports from Virginia to Texas. For the most part this blockade was successful, but one incident is worthy of mention. In order to strengthen this stranglehold on the import of war supplies and the export of raw materials, in January 1862 the Union launched its revolutionary warship Monitor. The invention of the Swedish-born engineer John Ericsson - who had developed the screw propeller in 1836 -, it was protected by thick armour plating and had a revolving turret housing two 11 inch cannon. Two months later it went into action against the Confederate ironclad Virginia (formerly known as the Merrimack), an improvised battleship which was proving highly successful against the Union’s wooden vessels. Fought in the estuary of the James River, Virginia, this encounter (illustrated) - the first between ironclad warships - proved inconclusive, but the federal government saw the value of the Monitor and a number of improved versions were built during the war in order to tighten the blockade. The Confederate fleet was eventually destroyed at the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864.

xxxxxAs we have seen, in the opening phase of the war in the East, the Confederate forces had more than held their own. In the West, however, it was a very different story. Havingxsecured the border states of Missouri and Kentucky, a Union army entered Tennessee in February 1862 and, under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), organised the surrender of Fort Henry on the Tennessee - taken some days earlier by a naval force - and seized Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River, together with its garrison of 14,000 men. Thexcapture of these strongholds, and a Federal victory at the bloody Battle of Shiloh (or Battle of Pittsburg Landing) at the beginning of April, opened the way for a successful advance to the south. By June further strongholds had been taken, New Madrid, Corinth and Memphis had been occupied, and New Orleans had been seized by a naval force.


xxxxxSeptember saw Lincoln’s momentous proclamation abolishing slavery in the Confederate  States - prompted by the Union’s victories in the west - and by then much of northern Mississippi and Alabama was in Union hands. Toxgain control of the Mississippi River, General Grant then launched an attack upon the stronghold of Vicksburg. It was captured in July 1863 after a six-week siege and was followed soon afterwards by the taking of Port Hudson in Louisiana. This, together with the earlier capture of New Orleans, not only denied the South its most important waterway, but also split the Confederacy down the middle on a line north to south. The two sides were never to be reunited.

xxxxxInxthe meantime the war had resumed in the east. The newly appointed Union commander, General Hooker, took the offensive in April 1863. Having crossed the Rappahannock River early in May, he attempted to encircle the Confederate army at Chancellorsville, Virginia, but, unaware of General Lee’s movements, he was himself outmanoeuvred and forced to retreat with heavy loses, estimated at over 17,000. In comparison, the Southerners lost only 12,000 men, but amongst them was General “Stonewall” Jackson, one of the Confederate’s most able commanders (illustrated). While visiting his troops he was accidentally shot by one of his own camp guards, and died a week later.


xxxxxThe defeat at Chancellorsville was a serious blow to the Unionists, but they were to reap their revenge in a matter of weeks. In order to draw the Federal forces out of Virginia, in June General Lee again crossed the Potomac and invaded Maryland. As we shall see, at the beginning of July 1863 he met up with the enemy at Gettysburg, a town in Pennsylvania just north of the Maryland border. The battle that ensued, one of the bloodiest engagements of the civil war, was to prove a decisive turning point in the conflict.

xxxxxIncidentally, the Union commander Ambrose Everett Burnside did not distinguish himself during the war, but his distinctive side whiskers were much admired, and many men adopted these “burnsides” or “sideburns”. ……


xxxxx……  In the South the First and Second Battles of Bull Run were known as the First and Second Battles of Manassas. ……

xxxxx……  After its famous encounter with the ironclad Virginia in March 1862, the Union warship Monitor - never a seaworthy vessel - was lost with all hands during a gale off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on the last day of the year. Its wreck was located in 1973. Its inventor, John Ericsson, went on to develop a torpedo.


The War at Sea

and Winslow Homer

xxxxxSoon after the Civil War broke out, the American printmaker and painter Winslow Homer (1836-1910) was sent to the front as a war artist. Among the prints he made was The Bayonet Charge, published in Harper’s Weekly in July 1962. After the war, based in New York, he began to paint in oil and watercolour, depicting idyllic  scenes of family life, such as Country School, The Morning Bell, Snap-the-Whip (an outdoor boys’ game), and Crossing the Pasture. In the early1880s, however, a stay in a small fishing village in the north of England reawakened his love of the sea. On returning to America he moved to Prout’s Neck, Maine, a few yards from the Atlantic Ocean, and began painting the series of marine paintings by which he is best known today. Among these scenes - many depicting man’s struggle against the elements - were Undertow, Mending Nets, Incoming Tide, Cannon Rock, Northeaster, Eight Bells, and The Gulf Stream. His 600 or so works, especially his watercolours, were noted for their realism, based on direct observation, and marked him out as one of the foremost American artists of the 19th century.

xxxxxThe Bayonet Charge, published in Harper’s Weekly in July 1962 (here illustrated), was the work of the American printmaker and painter Winslow Homer (1836-1910). He produced a number of prints, recording not only the fighting, but also the rigours of camp life during the Civil War. These included The Sharpshooter, Home Sweet Home, and Prisoners from the Front. Largely self-taught, he began his career as a lithographer, creating line art drawings from photographs, but started producing his own illustrations when he was sent to the front soon after the outbreak of war.


xxxxxIn 1867, based in New York, Homer turned to painting in oil and watercolour. To master these new techniques he produced a series of works depicting everyday scenes - many focused on children -, and spent a year in Paris, producing images of city life. On his return he continued to paint idyllic scenes of family life - such as Country School, The Morning Bell and Dad’s Coming - and achieved his first public success with Snap-the-Whip. Like another work of this time, Crossing the Pasture, this scene, showing of a group of boys at play, was a nostalgic reminder of the simple rural life enjoyed before the coming of the Civil War. Painted in 1872, it was displayed four years later at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, together with another popular work entitled Breezing Up (illustrated below).

xxxxxIn the early 1880s Homer visited England and spent close on two years at the small fishing village of Cullercoats in the north of the country. This reawakened his love of the sea and, on his return, he settled at Prout’s Neck, Maine, just a few yards from the Atlantic Ocean. Here he produced the marine subjects - the seascapes, the boats and the rugged shorelines - by which he is best known today, many of which  portray man’s struggle against the elements. The works of this period include Undertow, Banks Fishermen, Mending Nets, Cannon Rock, Northeaster and The Gulf Stream.

xxxxxTowards the end of his career Homer spent some time abroad, travelling to the Caribbean and Canada during the winter, or painting and fishing in the Adirondacks Mountains, New York State, over the summer months. There, as at Prout’s Neck, he proved a remarkable exponent of realism, based on direct observation and achieved by a close regard to composition and the handling of light and shade. During his career he produced some 600 works. His watercolours, in particular - begun in earnest in 1873 - marked him out as one of America’s foremost painters of the 19th century. He was elected a full member of the National Academy in 1865, and was awarded gold medals for his entries at the Chicago World Fair in 1894 and at the Paris Exposition six years later.