Lincoln said it was the key. The Union army needed to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi, to open the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two. After many ideas and many attempts, nothing Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant tried worked and the city was still in Confederate hands. But now he was on the right track.
Famous last words. Some people, soldiers especially, should learn not to tempt fate. On this day in 1864, Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick was personally directing his men when he and his staff came under sporadic fire at the Battle of Spotsylvania. Showing a bold front, the general told his men searching for cover, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” Famous last words.
May 2, 1863, was one of the greatest days of Robert E. Lee’s military career. It was also one of the worst. A little after 5:00 that afternoon a Confederate flank attack led by Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson had slammed into the Union right flank at the Battle of Chancellorsville. It was key to what would be Lee’s greatest victory. But later that night General Jackson, Lee’s “right arm,” was badly wounded in a case of mistaken identity.
The Confederacy was hanging on by a thread and Union forces were approaching. The Confederate commander needed to be notified immediately to prepare the defense. Unfortunately for the Southerners trying to hold the vital crossroads known as Five Forks, their commander was nowhere to be found. And he wouldn’t be found when the attack came, leaving the Confederate force with no one in overall command.
The way west lay open. Confederate forces gained a foothold on the Southwest after winning the Battle of Valverde. Now they looked to secure their hold on the territory that led to the Pacific Ocean. Their goals would come to a head at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, known as the “Gettysburg of the West.”
Both sides knew they were important. The Border States, slave states that did not secede from the Union, could prove essential to victory. Missouri was such a place and early in the war the two sides maneuvered for control. On this day 151 years ago the Union army took a huge step toward securing the Show-Me State.
It was a place he didn’t think he would be. Though things had improved and victory seemed closer in sight, the November election was not a sure win for the incumbent. On this day in 1865, however, Abraham Lincoln stood at the east portico of the Capitol building in Washington to take the presidential oath of office for a second time.
Among the battles of the Civil War, those in the Eastern Theater seem to have gained more fame and notoriety than any other. Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg are names familiar to many who have little or no knowledge of the war. When discussion turns to the Western Theater, most action referred to was in areas now in the middle of the country. There was fighting, however, in what is, even today, considered the west.