In April 1832, a rider came through New Salem and dropped off handbills from the governor of Illinois calling for volunteer soldiers to suppress an uprising of Sac Indians led by their 67-year-old leader, Black Hawk.
Lincoln’s store was failing, so he volunteered along with some “hard cases” from Sangamon County.
Soldiers then elected their own leaders, and Lincoln was chosen as their captain.
Leading them in close order drill his unit approached a gate requiring them to make a right turn before to pass through.
Having no idea how to do that, he had them fall out, rest two minutes, then re-assemble on the other side of the gate. He served one year in the so-called “Blackhawk War.”
It’s hard to imagine how this “war” prepared him to be Commander in Chief of Union forces in the coming war between the states. But, back then wars were fought by citizen soldiers e.g., volunteers.
When the war began in 1861, the U.S. Army had only 16,000 men. By war’s end in 1865, 2,500,000 men had served for the Union — most of them volunteering for service under President Lincoln.
Strategy of War
Admiral Yamamoto, author and instigator of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, that started WWII, is alleged to have said afterward, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant.”
He didn’t, but it does summarize his correct understanding of Japan’s strategy.
They were a vastly smaller country with a superior navy that could win only a short war but not a protracted war.
The south’s strategy was to increase the costs of the war to the north until the north deemed it cheaper to grant them independence.
The South was almost totally agricultural, but their crops were tobacco and cotton, which had to be shipped to England in British ships.
The South had few ships, which enabled the North to blockade them.
Because the South’s main crops were not edible, northern blockades reduced troops to near starvation by war’s end. (The first thing Union troops did at Appomattox was to share their food with starving southern soldiers, most of whom were also shoeless by then.)
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The south manufactured little and had few miles of rail lines to move war materials.
Union strategy was to deprive the South of supplies from Europe by sea and the South by rail, and river — in a protracted war.
When criticized for his best general, Ulysses C. Grant, over-imbibing, Lincoln quipped that he wanted to find out what kind of whiskey Grant drank so that he could send a barrel to each of his generals!
First Battle of Bull Run
War began in July 1861 on poor Wilmer McClean’s 1,400-acre plantation at Bull Run in Virginia (aka Manassas Junction).
The combatants so thoroughly trashed his place that the McClains sold out and moved down south in Virginia.
As President, Lincoln was Commander in Chief of Union forces. His main role was political with Congress.
He had to appoint able field commanders. Most were inept or timid. Lincoln appointed AND fired General McCleland twice!
Fortunately, what he lacked in picking generals he made up for in firing them. In 1863, he fired five generals!
Only generals Grant and Sherman seemed to wage the current war and not the previous one.
The South typically fought with half as many men as the North, but they won most early battles because of superior generals and verve.
Both sides employed set-piece infantry charges resulting in disastrous body counts. (Civil War casualties exceeded those of all subsequent U.S. engagements combined.)
The North’s used new “Minnie ball” ammunition that fired faster and five times farther.
Victory at Antietam in September 1862 gave Lincoln the political leverage to free the slaves in the CSA.
Slaves were expensive, valuable, and they existed in Union as well as the CSA.
Emancipation, therefore, was politically difficult in the Union also.
There were three million slaves in the South worth $2 billion. They were the South’s major asset, which the Emancipation Proclamation wiped out when it was issued Jan. 1, 1863.
Being in the Constitution, slavery could be ended only by amendment, which reduced Lincoln’s authority to his war powers.
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The proclamation, therefore, did not free a single slave.
Until then, however, the aim of the war was to retain the Union, but afterward it became emancipation.
This moral casus belli ended southern hopes of England and France recognizing the CSA, which ended the possibility of the South being re-supplied by sea.
Union victory at Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863, was the turning point of the war.
Lee lost 28,000 troops killed, wounded, or captured — one-third of his army. His offensive capability inside the Union ended. It had always been a matter of time, only now Lee had a lot less of it.
When Grant took Vicksburg a day later, the South was split east-from-west with supplies from the west and up the Mississippi cut off.
Subsequently, Sherman’s “march to the sea” employing “total war” tactics, severed the South north-from-south, interrupting supply lines and in its path destroying every usable asset of the CSA.
Union troops pulled up railroad tracks, heated and then bent them around trees forming “Sherman’s bow ties.”
Major industry did not come to the South until factory air conditioning following WWII.
Peace came with Lee’s surrender April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House in southern Virginia in the front room of the home of — you guessed it — poor Wilmer.
Tired of war, the McClains moved again. This time they moved far away where war could reach them no more e.g., to a peaceful pineapple farm in Hawaii near a bay named Pearl Harbor.
 E. Emerson and M.M. Miller, ‘The 19th Century,’ Vol.3, NY: P.R. Collier & Son, 1906, pp898-901.