The Western Theater of the Civil War included the area east of the Mississippi River and west of the Appalachian Mountains. It initially excluded operations against the Gulf Coast and the Eastern Seaboard but as the war progressed the definition of the theater expanded to encompass operations in Georgia and the Carolinas.
General Albert Sidney Johnston commanded many Confederate forces in the Western Theater. He had the problem of defending a broad front with numerically inferior forces but he had an excellent system of lateral communications which permitted him to move troops rapidly where they were needed. He also had two able subordinates: Major Generals William J. Hardee and Leonidas Polk. The Union's key strategist and tactician in the West was Union Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Union control of the Mississippi River began to tighten. On May 18, the Union captured New Orleans, the South's most significant seaport.
Next Part of the Theater Campaign
The next part of the campaign took place from June 1862 to January 1863 in Kentucky, Tennessee, and northern Mississippi . In June, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg took command of 56,000 troops of the Army of Tennessee. Bragg's general plan was to invade Kentucky, cut Union lines of communications, and then turn back to defeat Grant. However, after some small successes, Bragg realized that he was outnumbered and retreated through the Cumberland Gap, returning to Murfreesboro by way of Chattanooga.
The theater’s next phase was the Vicksburg Campaign Figure 2. Abraham Lincoln believed that the river fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, was a key to winning the war. Vicksburg and Port Hudson were the last remaining strongholds that prevented full Union control of the Mississippi River.
Grant's first campaign was a two-pronged movement. William T. Sherman sailed down the Mississippi River while Grant moved parallel to the Mississippi by railroad. Grant, however, was forced to fall back when Confederates cut his supply lines. Sherman reached the Yazoo River just north of the city of Vicksburg but without support from Grant's half of the mission, he was repulsed in bloody assaults against Chickasaw Bayou in late December.
For the rest of the winter, Grant attempted five unsuccessful separate projects to reach the city by moving through or reengineering, rivers, canals, and bayous to the north of Vicksburg.
The second campaign, beginning in the spring of 1863, was successful and is considered Grant's greatest achievement of the war. He knew that he could not attack through Mississippi from the northwest because of the vulnerability of his supply line and river-born approaches that had failed repeatedly. So after movement became possible on dirt roads that were finally drying from the winter rains, Grant moved the bulk of his army down the western bank of the Mississippi. To mask his intentions, Grant employed two strategic diversions which drew out significant Confederate forces and dispersed them around the state.
The Battles for Chattanooga began in earnest on November 24, 1863. By its end, Chattanooga was saved and politically sensitive eastern Tennessee was free of Confederate control. An avenue of invasion pointed directly to Atlanta, the heart of the Confederacy. Bragg was relieved of duty and replaced by General Joseph E. Johnston.
At the Battle of Nashville, facing combined Union forces, Johnston dug in a few miles south of the city and waited; hoping to wreck the coming Union troops on the Confederate fortifications. However, Union troops unleashed an overwhelming assault that sent Confederate Lt. Gen. Hood and his survivors in retreat to Franklin and then to Mississippi, never to recover as a fighting force. By his own request, Hood was relieved of command of the Army of Tennessee.
The next major event, Sherman's Savannah Campaign Figure 3, popularly known as the March to the Sea. He and Grant believed that the Civil War would end only if the Confederacy's strategic, economic, and psychological capacities for warfare were decisively broken. Sherman therefore applied the principles of scorched earth: ordering his troops to burn crops, kill livestock, consume supplies, and destroy civilian infrastructure along their path.
On April 11, Johnston received word that General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. This induced him to send a message to Sherman requesting terms for surrender. On April 18, three days after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Johnston signed an armistice with Sherman. When they received word of Lee and Johnston's surrenders, smaller Confederate regiments also surrendered. A detachment of Wilson's cavalry captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis on May 10. On May 20, Wilson officially took control of Tallahassee, the last Confederate state capital east of the Mississippi to be captured.