Making Sense of the American Civil War
Troops & Battles

54th Massachusetts

City Point, Virginia. Negro soldier guarding 12-pdr. Napoleon The 54th Massachusetts, under the command of Bostonian Robert Gould Shaw, attempted to take Fort Wagner, South Carolina on July 18, 1863. The 54th was a regiment of free, northern black volunteers, and its assault on Fort Wagner, though unsuccessful, laid to rest any doubts about the combat courage of African-American soldiers.

During the charge, Sgt. William H. Carney of New Bedford, Massachusetts rescued the national colors when the standard bearer fell, returning the flag to the rear as the 54th retreated. Although wounded himself, he kept the colors aloft, telling his men, "Boys, the old flag never touched the ground." In 1900, Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallant actions at Fort Wagner. (More)

"Commentary on Charge at Fort Wagner—54th Massachusetts." The African-American Experience. Woodbridge, CT: Primary Source Media, 1999. American Journey. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 27 Oct. 2011.

Twentieth Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. View of Little Round Top Once the Twentieth Maine arrived at Little Round Top, Chamberlain rushed to arrange the 350 men under his command behind trees and boulders. Ten minutes later, Confederate troops came charging up the hill in a furious attack. Chamberlain's troops pushed back the first assault, only to be hit with another one a few minutes later. The fight for possession of the hill became vicious and desperate, as Chamberlain's men pushed back wave after wave of attack, despite being badly outnumbered. "The edge of the conflict swayed to and fro, with wild whirlpools and eddies," Chamberlain recalled. "At times I saw around me more of the enemy than of my own men; gaps opening, swallowing, closing again. . . .All around, a strange, mingled roar."

Chamberlain's brave and daring stand at Little Round Top enabled the Union Army to withstand the Confederate offensive. A day later, Lee mounted one final attempt to break the Union Army. When it failed, however, he was forced to retreat to Virginia. The South never invaded the North again. Chamberlain, meanwhile, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his exploits. He and the other members of the Twentieth Maine were praised throughout the North for their bravery and fighting spirit. (More)

"Joshua L. Chamberlain." American Civil War Reference Library. Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom. Ed. Lawrence W. Baker. Vol. 1: Biographies. Detroit: UXL, 2000. 71-80. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 27 Oct. 2011.

Black Troops

District of Columbia. Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln Approximately 186,000 blacks, about 130,000 of them escaped slaves, served as Union soldiers during the Civil War. However, at the beginning of the Civil War, the Union did not particularly want black soldiers. Most of the blacks who enlisted were assigned to drive wagons or act as domestic servants for officers, and the few who joined white fighting units often faced discrimination. Therefore some blacks formed their own, all-black volunteer regiments, despite the fact that until the middle of 1862 the U.S. government refused to send them into combat.

Fredrick Douglas pushed Lincoln to allow blacks, who weren’t allowed to serve at the onset of the conflict, to enlist in the Union Army. On July 17, 1862, the U.S. Congress approved the use of “soldiers of African descent,” and on August 25, 1862, the U.S. War Department authorized the creation of five black regiments on the South Carolina Sea Islands. The first of these regiments to officially become part of the U.S. Army was the First Regiment of the Louisiana Native Guards (although it was not the first to be formed). (More)

"black troops." The Civil War. Patricia D. Netzley. Ed. Kenneth W. Osborne. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004. 43-45. The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 27 Oct. 2011.

First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas)

Bull Run, Va. View of the battlefield The First Battle of Bull Run took place on July 21, 1861, near Bull Run Creek at Manassas, Virginia, roughly thirty miles west of Washington, D.C. It was the first major battle of the Civil War and part of a series of Union military maneuvers known as the Bull Run Campaign, which was designed to repel Confederate troops threatening the U.S. capital.

The Union infantry troops at Bull Run, attached to the Army of the Potomac and led by Brigadier General Irvin Mc-Dowell, numbered approximately 18,500. On the Confederate side there were approximately 18,000 infantry and cavalrymen led by Brigadier General Pierre Beauregard and Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston. (More)

"Bull Run, First Battle of (First Manassas)." The Civil War. Patricia D. Netzley. Ed. Kenneth W. Osborne. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004. 58. The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.

Sherman’s March to the Sea

Atlanta, Ga. Gen. William T. Sherman on horseback at Federal Fort No. 7 Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his 62,000 Union troops engaged in a purposeful war of destruction from Atlanta to Savannah and changed tactical warfare forever.

[Sherman] found himself chasing Hood back toward Chattanooga over the same ground he and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston had contested during the recently completed campaign. Frustrated, Sherman reached back to a lifetime of civilian and military experiences and decided to undertake something different. Instead of continuing to try to protect his railroad supply line by chasing Hood all over Georgia, he would send Gens. George H. Thomas and John M. Schofield with some 60,000 troops to Tennessee to handle Hood, while he cut loose from his supply line with approximately 62,000 of his best troops and marched across Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean. (More)

"March to the Sea, Sherman's." Encyclopedia of the Confederacy. Ed. Richard Nelson Current. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.


Gettysburg, Pa. Four dead soldiers in the woods near Little Round Top Instigated by Robert E. Lee in an attempt to bring the Civil War to northern soil, the Battle of Gettysburg, from July 1 to 3, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was a major defeat for the Confederacy. The Union lost 23,000 men and the Confederacy 28,000.

In addition, the defeat seriously impacted both Southern and Northern morale. Roughly forty Northern reporters had been present at Gettysburg during the fighting, and they made much of the South's loss in subsequent newspaper articles and editorials, thereby increasing support for the war effort in the North while demoralizing the South. (More)

"Gettysburg, Battle of." The Civil War. Patricia D. Netzley. Ed. Kenneth W. Osborne. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004. 141-143. The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.

Pickett’s Charge

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Confederate soldiers who had evidently been shelled by our batteries on Round Top Named after Confederate major general George E. Pickett, Pickett's Charge was a rushing attack undertaken by the Confederates during the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania on July 3, 1863.

This attack involved not only three brigades from Pickett's division but other Confederate forces as well. In fact, Pickett's brigades made up less than one-half of the force of the charge, and General Robert E. Lee, not Pickett, ordered the attack.

Nonetheless, Pickett's name was associated with the charge because it was his brigades that suffered the most serious losses: Approximately two-thirds of his forty-three hundred men were killed, and all of his thirteen colonels were either killed or seriously injured. However, other brigades participating in the charge also suffered heavy casualties, with most soldiers dying before ever reaching the Union line. (More)

"Pickett's Charge." The Civil War. Patricia D. Netzley. Ed. Kenneth W. Osborne. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004. 222-224. The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.

Antietam (Battle of Sharpsburg)

View on Battle-field of Antietam The Battle of Antietam took place on 17 September 1862. With an estimated 23,100 total casualties, it was the bloodiest single-day battle of the American Civil War. As a result of the high number of casualties on each side, the battle was a tactical draw, although a strategic victory for the Union. The battle was a result of the Confederate army's first attempt to wage war in the North.

News of the carnage spread throughout the country after newspapers published photographer Alexander Gardner's vivid and disturbing photographs of the battlefield.

As a strategic Northern victory, Antietam provided the positive news President Abraham Lincoln thought a prerequisite for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. The victory also gave the impression that the North was doing better in the war, which may have helped elections for the Republican Party in 1862. (More)

Sachs, Honor, and Oliver Lyman Spaulding. "Antietam, Battle of." Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. 199-200. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.

Battle of Chancellorsville (1-4 May 1863)

Removing wounded across Rappahannock River after battle of Chancellorsville - under flag of truce In April 1863 Gen. Joseph Hooker, with almost 130,000 men, faced Gen. Robert E. Lee's army of 60,000 that was entrenched near Fredericksburg, Virginia. Despite an overwhelming number of troops, Hooker was unable to gain the advantage and was outmaneuvered by Lee.

The army corps on Hooker's extreme right were unprepared when Jackson, late on 2 May, fell upon them furiously. Gen. O. O. Howard's corps was routed, and only a serious injury to Jackson inflicted by fire from his own troops halted the Confederate attack. On 3 May, a cannonball struck a pillar against which Hooker was leaning. Hooker quickly withdrew his troops to the banks of the river. Lee, meanwhile, turned back to deal with Sedgwick's corps, which had routed the force under Early and was rapidly approaching Chancellorsville. On 4 and 5 May, Lee's veterans forced both Sedgwick and Hooker to withdraw their forces north of the river. Hooker lost 17,287 men and Lee 12,764. But Lee suffered the irreparable loss of Jackson, who after days of intense suffering died of his wounds. (More)

James, Alfred P. "Chancellorsville, Battle of." Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. 104. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.

Photographs from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

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Last modified on Wednesday, November 16, 2011