Bloody battles in east and west
In the war, there were three main theaters of action - the sea, the Mississippi Valley, and the eastern seaboard states. At the beginning of the conflict, practically the whole navy was in Union hands, but it was scattered and weak. An able Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, quickly reorganized and strengthened it. Lincoln proclaimed a blockade of the southern coast. Although its effect was at first negligible, by 1863 it was almost completely preventing shipments of cotton to Europe and the importation of munitions, clothing, and the medical supplies the south sorely needed. Meanwhile, a brilliant naval commander, David Farragut, had emerged and conducted two remarkable operations. In one, he took a Union fleet into the mouth of the Mississippi and forced the surrender of the largest southern city, New Orleans. In another engagement, he made his way past the fortified entrance of Mobile Bay, captured a Confederate ironclad vessel, and sealed up the port. Altogether the navy served the Union well in defeating the south.
In the Mississippi Valley, the Union forces won an almost uninterrupted series of victories. They began by breaking a long Confederate line in Tennessee, thus making it possible to occupy almost all the western part of the state. When the important port of Memphis on the Mississippi was taken, Union troops could advance some two hundred miles into the heart of the Confederacy. Ulysses S. Grant , a dogged, tenacious general, with a clear grasp of the main principles of strategy, was in command. Suddenly attacked at Shiloh, on the bluffs overlooking the Tennessee River, he stubbornly held his position until the arrival of reinforcements enabled him to drive the enemy back. Then his forces advanced slowly but steadily southward, with the great object of gaining complete control of the Mississippi, the lower reaches of which had been cleared of Confederates by Farragut's capture to New Orleans. For a time, Grant was blocked at Vicksburg where the Confederates had strongly fortified themselves on bluffs too high for naval attack. But by a brilliant campaign in 1863, he moved below and.around Vicksburg, subjecting the position to a six week's siege. On July 4, he captured the town together with the strongest Confederate army in the west. The river was now entirely in Union hands. The Confederacy was broken in two and it became almost impossible to bring supplies from the rich Texas and Arkansas country east across the water.
In Virginia, on the other hand, the Union troops had, in the meantime, met one defeat after another. There was a long succession of bloody campaigns in which the Union armies, trying to capture Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital, and destroy the Confederate forces, were again and again thrown back. The distance between Washington and Richmond is only a hundred miles, but the country is intersected by numerous streams which furnished strong defensive positions. Moreover, the Confederates had two generals, Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson, who both far surpassed the early Union commanders in brilliant leadership. The Union general, McClellan, made a desperate attempt to seize Richmond. At one time his troops could hear the clocks striking in the steeples of the Confederate capital. But in the Seven Days' Battles of June 25 to July 1, 1862, the Union troops were driven steadily backward, both sides suffering terrible losses.