Bloody Battles In East And West
Most of the navy, at the war's beginning, was in Union hands, but it was scattered and weak. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles took prompt measures to strengthen it. Lincoln then proclaimed a blockade of the southern coasts. Although the effect of the blockade was negligible at first, 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 conducted two remarkable operations. In one, he took a Union fleet into the mouth of the Mississippi, where he forced the surrender of the largest city in the south, New Orleans. In another, he made his way past the fortified entrance of Mobile Bay, captured a Confederate ironclad vessel, and sealed up the port.
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 320 kilometers into the heart of the Confederacy. With the tenacious General Ulysses S. Grant in command, Union forces made a sudden attack at Shiloh, on the bluffs overlooking the Tennessee River, and held stubbornly until reinforcements helped repulse the Confederates. Grant then pushed slowly but steadily southward, with the paramount object of gaining complete control of the Mississippi, the lower reaches of which had been cleared of Confederates by Farragut's capture of New Orleans.
For a time, Grant was blocked at Vicksburg, where the Confederates had strongly fortified themselves on bluffs too high for naval attack. Then, in 1863, he began to move below and around Vicksburg, subjecting the position to a six-week 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 Texas and Arkansas.
In Virginia, on the other hand, Union troops had met one defeat after another. In a succession of bloody attempts to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital, Union forces were repeatedly thrown back. The Confederates had two great advantages: strong defense positions afforded by numerous streams cutting the road between Washington and Richmond; and two generals, Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson, both of whom far surpassed the early Union commanders. One Union general, George McClellan, made a desperate attempt to seize Richmond. 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.