Every April I reflect on the events of 1865. I’ve always been interested in this transitional period as the war ends and Reconstruction begins. Having worked at Appomattox Court House and researched the surrender in North Carolina, it is only natural that I am reminded of those events every spring.
I’ve also been pondering the other April’s of the war. Reviewing the events of each April from 1861 to 1865 reveals the progression of the war.
April, 1861 was a time of great uncertainty. Eight southern states had seceded and more might join them. What would the federal governments’ response be? What would newly inaugurated President Lincoln do? Then on April 12, Confederate forces fired on Ft Sumter, SC. Lincoln called for volunteers, and the war was underway. Enthusiasm knew no bounds on both sides. It was an April tense with anticipation, and then consumed with excitement.
April, 1862 saw the war’s first large battle, at Shiloh, TN. There had been smaller actions elsewhere, but Shiloh was unprecedented in its scale and destruction. The losses were staggering, the combat was grueling. It would be the largest battle up to that point in American History, and it was only a sign of things to come. After Shiloh the war will escalate in so many ways: larger armies, new weapons, new tactics, shifting political strategies, and new economic policies. April 1862 saw the widening of the conflict in every possible way.
By April, 1863, both sides had settled in for a long conflict. War was an accepted reality, it was ongoing, with no end in sight. Conscription, public relief, price controls, new taxes, and a host of other new government regulations were in place by both sides. In Virginia the armies were gearing up for the campaign that culminated at Chancellorsville, while in the west, Union land and naval forces were moving against Vicksburg. Determination sums up April, 1863.
In April, 1864, both sides were preparing for major campaigns with a new sense of urgency. Desperation was the common denominator, with war weariness setting in on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line. In the west, Sherman set his sights on Atlanta and the Confederate army under Johnston. In Virginia, Grant, now overall Union commander, was going to oversee another drive on Richmond. Weariness and cautious optimism summarize April, 1864.
Which brings us to April, 1865. It was a fast-paced month. Richmond and Petersburg fell. Mobile fell. There were surrenders at Appomattox and Bennett Place. The Confederate government collapsed. Lincoln was assassinated. It was a whirlwind of change for those who experienced it. Soldiers suddenly became civilians. Slaves were suddenly free. Civilians suddenly faced a host of social challenges. Any one of those events would have been earth-shattering alone. Yet they all happened within the course of a few weeks. April, 1865 was overwhelming, but with a larger sense of hope.
April is also the month of the start of Spring, and as we read or research from inside our homes, be sure to glance outside at the growing flowers, new leaves, and lovely pollen. Spring was a time of change during the war, and each April reflects that.