There was much uncertainty in both North and South regarding the war effort. Many northerners doubted that the Union could be restored, and many southerners doubted that they could maintain their independence. People on both sides were losing their romantic sentiments toward war as soldiers huddled in cold, muddy winter camps.
The Confederate defensive line through Kentucky had been broken, and Federal forces were preparing to advance on the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers. Federals were also readying offensives on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Southern concerns intensified as Confederate armies had been depleted by soldiers returning home for the winter.
Confederate hopes for independence were fading following their worst month of the war to date. Conversely, optimism was rising in the North as Federal armies were threatening northern Virginia at Harpers Ferry; Richmond and Norfolk at Fort Monroe; Savannah and Charleston at Port Royal, South Carolina; New Orleans and Mobile on the Gulf Coast; in northwestern Arkansas; and on the Mississippi, Cumberland, and Tennessee Rivers.
Federal armies were advancing on several fronts as massive efforts were underway to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond and split the Confederacy in the West. Southerners were watching the advances with apprehension because they knew that hard fighting would be needed if they were to maintain their independence. Northerners were complaining that the Federal forces were still not moving fast enough.
Federal forces were still on the offensive, and hopes were dimming for Confederate independence. Few southerners openly acknowledged the possibility of defeat, but the possibility was apparent nonetheless. Northerners who had called for more action were now seeing it, but they were not yet satisfied.
The Confederacy was still reeling from recent defeats, but the Federal momentum was beginning to slow. Henry Halleck was using extreme caution in the West, and George McClellan was stalling in the East. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s recent Confederate victories in the Shenandoah Valley helped brighten southern spirits, and the deadly struggle for the Confederate capital had begun.
The war’s momentum was shifting from the North to the South. The Federals had gone from nearly capturing Richmond to trying to avoid destruction on the Virginia Peninsula. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee were emerging as southern heroes, but Confederate fortunes in the West were still precarious.
The respite after the Seven Days’ campaign was coming to an end. The Federals had two major armies in Virginia: one on the Peninsula between the York and James Rivers, and another in northern Virginia. After stopping the threat on the Peninsula, Robert E. Lee was shifting his Confederate army to the north to stop the new threat.
The war’s momentum had clearly shifted to the South. Northerners were alarmed by the turnaround after having been so close to total victory just three months ago. Washington officials were scrambling to accommodate wounded Federal troops after the terrible defeat at Second Bull Run. The U.S. Army Surgeon General requested that women and children scrape lint for bandages.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had become the top issue of the war. Southerners were arguing that the decree exposed the North’s true war aim: to free the slaves. Northerners were voicing resentment about changing the war’s scope from preserving the Union to ending slavery. Abolitionists were arguing that it was too little.
The three major Confederate offensives had been stopped: Robert E. Lee’s Confederates were back in Virginia after a failed invasion of Maryland, Braxton Bragg’s Confederates were back in Tennessee after a failed invasion of Kentucky, and Earl Van Dorn’s Confederates had failed to reclaim Corinth, Mississippi. Meanwhile, the Federals were planning offensives of their own.
Fighting was generally subsiding after months of intense military activity, command changes, and preparations for future offensives. Despite successful campaigns in the spring and summer, the Confederates were gradually being pushed back into defensive positions.
Last Updated: 12/10/2022