The Four Most Important Battles of the Civil War

As enemy artillery fire hammered down upon a small garrison fort, Union soldiers in the fort scrambled up ladders, ran over dead comrades, they even fell down flights of stairs, all because one confederate soldier had grabbed a cannon and was firing to keep the unions from spotting the rest of his regiment coming from behind.  This story written above was one of the many battles during the Civil War, but just like the one above, not all were tide changing. This essay will cover the major hair raising, spine tingling, skin of the teeth, turning point battles. But first, the beginning statistics:  


United States population: 18.5 mil.                     First shot: April 12, 1861

                        Estimated casualties: 1,500,000

Confederate population:

2.5 mil. + 3.5 mil. Slaves


US: 2.67 million

CS: 1 million


US: 101,000 factories

 1.1 million workers

20,000 miles of railroad

CS: 21,000 factories

111,000 workers

9,000 miles of railroad


US: 21 states

CS: 11 states

Now, that is a lot of large numbers, but in a war, all but the casualties were pretty small during that era. But enough with the boring numbers, time for the cool part.

            The first battle of Bull Run was the first battle in which Confederate or Union soldiers would spill one another’s blood. (the first true shots never killed anybody, but two Union soldiers blew themselves up.). The Union walked into this battle thinking they were going to crush the rebellion before lunch that day, and they had a good plan too, they would lay a large portion of the troops next to a bridge so that when the enemy crossed the bridge they would have to either fall back to the end of the bridge, or charge and take heavy casualties. The Union knew they would fall back, so they sent 20,000 soldiers through the woods so that they could come from behind. Now this would have been perfect if not for the most infamous unit in the war, the First Louisiana Special Battalion. They were on the confederate side, and recruited from seedy prisons, wharfs, and docks of New Orleans. They all were equipped with 12 in. bowie knives, all under command of Major General Chatham Roberdeau Wheat, this man was so tall, if you went to a dictionary and looked up giant, you would see this man. The hulking six-foot-four, 275-pound behemoth is the reason the unit was called Wheats Tigers. The first group of 5,500 Unions was under the command of Ambrose Burnside, Burnside ordered his men to charge Matthews Hill, Wheat then ordered his men to the opposite, bottom of the hill and to take cover. Gunfire was exchanged for one hour until the Confederates formed into defensive positions on Henry House Hill, the neighbor hill to Matthews Hill. But the Tigers were in a bad way, the Unions now had all their artillery in position and were devastating the Tigers. Then, a large chunk of shrapnel hit Major Wheat in his chest, tearing into his lungs. He lived until being mortally wounded in a later battle. The Tigers now joined forces with the rest of the army, under the command of Stonewall Jackson. Jackson then ordered a charge, the charge caused the Unions to fall back, they then retreated because all of their artillery was now the Confederates.

            As you can tell, the Union was definitely wrong in their assumption of thinking that the battle was going to be over anytime soon

            The next large battle was Shiloh, this battle was named such because of the nearby church, named Shiloh Church (this ironically is the Hebrew word for place of peace). The main leader on the side of the Confederates was Albert Sidney Johnston, the leader for the Union Ulysses S. Grant. At this point Grant had just crossed the Tennessee River, he set camp at a place called Pittsburg Landing so that he could meet up with another commander. Johnston then took his men through the nearby forest for the element of surprise, this part was crucial because Grant’s force was much larger than his. The Confederates went completely unnoticed and they dealt heavy casualties on the Union forces. The Unions fell back to Shiloh church where they held the line for several hours. Johnston, realizing that the battle hung on this position, rode out and lead his men, he was then grazed in the leg by a bullet, unbeknownst by Johnston this bullet hit his major artery, killing him in minutes. His successor finished pushing back the Union forces, but he didn’t capture or kill them. This was his downfall, that night, that other Union commander named Don Carlos Buell arrived with 20,000 men. In the morning, the Confederates were in full retreat.

            The next and deadliest battle is the Battle of Antietam, this battle was one of the only fights fought on Union soil. Robert E. Lee had now taken over the Confederate army, his opposer was George McClellan, this man was extremely cautious. He was so cautious that when he received the battle plans for the attack, he proceeded with such caution, it cost him the battle. The Unions aimed to split Lees army and then decimate each group separately. One division under the lead of D.H. Hill set fort in a place called Turners Gap. When he saw the sea of blue soldiers charging towards him, he said “I don’t remember to ever have experienced such loneliness. “

            Hill held the position for nearly all day, but the lines eventually broke, and he told his men run for their lives. At this point, Lee figured out his plans had been discovered, and he pulled everyone back to Sharpsburg. He then positioned Stonewall Jackson in a cornfield to hopefully rush the Union, but the Union shredded the units with artillery fire. The division fell back to a church where Jackson called for help, he was heard by John Bell Hoods Texas brigade, the men ran out, broke the lines of the Union, fell back, so Jackson could breath, and then the remaining soldiers went back to camp to have their first hot meal in three days. But elsewhere the line broke and left a gaping hole to Sharpsburg, but the Unions didn’t use this golden opportunity because McClellan was too cautious to go through with it, even though he had over 10,000 men in reserve a mile away. This infuriated Lincoln and he stripped McClellan of his position immediately. The Union lost their chance to crush the Rebels, they would, of course seize one eventually. But this was also a blow to the Confederacy, because they didn’t win the battle the countries that were interested in helping the Confederacy pulled out.

Everybody has heard of the battle of Gettysburg, but most people don’t know a whole lot about it. Gettysburg was actually and accidental battle, the division of A.P. Hill went into Gettysburg and ran into Union soldiers the Unions fell back to a group of hills and then stayed there and brought more soldiers. The rebels then led a charge known as Pickett’s Charge. The Union grouped all their soldiers in the direct path of the charge, not expecting the Confederacy to be leading a separate charge on the mostly unoccupied hill. But the rebels ran into a problem, the charge had pulled back and now they were surrounded. The Confederacy did indeed push the Unions back, but their losses were to great to be replaced. This is where the Confederacy began its fall.

            In conclusion, I would like to say that the Confederacy had a large disadvantage, they just didn’t have the numbers that the union had. If they had greater numbers, we would probably be learning about the Confederate States of America in Geography as well as history.

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