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This Hallowed Ground
AN EXCERPT FROM A NEW BOOK WHICH TELLS HOW THE CIVIL WAR CAME TO ITS TERRIBLE, HAUNTING CONCLUSION
October 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 6
“The man who really fought the Civil War, whether he tame from the North or from the South, was pretty largely a sweaty private in a somewhat heterogeneous uniform, a man who could get by on parade when he had to hut who spent most of his time slogging it out in mud. dust, rain, sleet, blistering sunshine, or other uncomfortable conditions. He rarely bothered to strike an attitude, and although artists forever tried to giorify him he mostly was an unglamourous individual who did the best he could, kept his mouth shut, and paid the price lor what lias since become known as a very romantic and picturesque war.
However, there were also the generals: and these could be (and almost always were) shown as highly picturesque individuals who galloped about on blooded horses across scenic battlefields on which no one really got urt very badly. Depining these, artists were often able to reach rare heights ol unreality: among them. Ole Peter Hanseu Hailing, who rendered a famous painting of Grant and His Generals . That all of these individuals were never gathered together in one cavalcade mattered not at all. What mattered was to give the people of the North a solid group picture of the men who had taken the headlines A A and who. presumably, had won the war.”
AMERICAN HERITAGE herewith presents selected portions of the final chapters of This Hallowed Ground , a history of the Civil War from the Northern viewpoint, by Bruce Cation. The book will be published in November by Doubleday and Company, in the “Mainstream of America” series.
The portion here presented picks up the story of the war in the summer of 1863 and carries it to the end in the spring of 1865 when, with the Confederacy crushed and Abraham Lincoln in his grave, the old soldiers prepared to be mustered out and resume their old lives as civilians.
The war began with the firing on Fort Sumter (some months after a number of cotton belt states had announced their secession from the Union); with Lincoln’s call for volunteers to put down what the North considered a rebellion, and with the secession of additional Southern states—like Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee—which had refused to join in what they regarded as the coercion of their sister states.
In the east, there followed a series of bloody but indecisive campaigns—Bull Run, the Seven Days, second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the involved maneuverings between the armies led by Generals George Gordon Meade and Robert E. Lee which resulted in a virtual stalemate by mid-1863. In the west, the North had had better success. The Fort Donelson-Shiloh campaign had opened the way to the South; a Confederate counter-blow, in the fall of 1862, led by General Braxton Bragg, had come to nothing after the indecisive battle of Perryville, Kentucky, and had been followed at the end of the year by the bloody but almost equally indecisive battle of Stone’s River, in mid-Tennessee. In the spring General Ulysses S. Grant—somewhat hampered by the cautious policies enforced by the Union general in chief, Henry Wager Halleck—had launched his campaign against the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi, capturing the place on July 4, 1863—the same day on which Washington learned that Meade had rebuffed Lee in the great battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
With these decisive triumphs, the North had virtually ensured its final victory—except that the Confederates, being very doughty fighters, refused to admit it, and continued to struggle for a victory of their own, which they might very conceivably have won.
The excerpt from This Hallowed Ground here presented picks up the story in the summer of 1863, when the long shadows were rising about the Southern Confederacy but when the war was still fluid and there was yet chance for a final, successful division of the country.
It was believed that the Middle West now was back where it had been in 1860. The Mississippi Valley was open again, and it was an article of faith that this river was the all-important highway to the markets of the world. The West was free; the terrible threat of isolation posed by secession was ended, and the farmers and traders of the continental interior no longer had to see a closed door at the mouth of the great river. They could also (however mistakenly) count themselves relieved from economic bondage to the merchants and bankers of the East.
Yet war is fought in a fog, and men are not always able to understand just what they have done. The Mississippi would never again be what it had been before. The road to the outer world would run east and west now, river or no river, war or no war. Not again would there be the lazy life of drifting downstream with the tide, high-pressure engines swinging paddle wheels in slow, splashing rhythms, corn and wheat and pork and mules and lumber borne away by the Father of Waters to the great ships waiting at the New Orleans levee. The dike which had obstructed the river was broken, but the old flow would never quite be resumed. The West had won the most significant campaign of the war, but it had not brought back the past. That was gone forever. Now the West must face east, not south. And the entire country must look to the future rather than to the past.