Behind the lines


During the Civil War, many wounded and sick soldiers were treated on hospitals in Northern and Southern cities. But most received came in temporary facilities.

Such facilities included field hospitals on or near battlegrounds, hospitals ships and barges, and civilian building converted for medical use.

By today’s standards, the medical care was primitive during the Civil War. More than twice as many soldiers died of disease especially of dynasty, malaria, or typhoid as were killed in battle.

Doctors didn’t yet understand the importance of sortation, a balanced diet, and sterile medical equipment and facilities. But medical care within the military made some progress with the introduction of horse-drawn ambulances and a trained ambulance corps.

The first such corps began in 1862, served under Union General McClellan. Women performed a key role in providing medical care.

Mary served as a surgeon with the Union Army. She became the only women ever to receive the Medal of Honor.

Was an American abolitionist, prohibitionist, prisoner of war and surgeon. As of 2017, she is the only woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor.[1]

In 1855, she earned her medical degree at Syracuse Medical College in New York, married and started a medical practice. She volunteered with the Union Army at the outbreak of the American Civil War and served as a surgeon at a temporary hospital in Washington, DC, even though at the time women and sectarian physicians were considered unfit for the Union Army Examining Board.[2] She was captured by Confederate forces after crossing enemy lines to treat wounded civilians and arrested as a spy. She was sent as a prisoner of war to Richmond, Virginia, until released in a prisoner exchange.

After the war, she was approved for the highest United States Armed Forces decoration for bravery, the Medal of Honor, for her efforts during the Civil War.

She is the only woman to receive the medal and one of only eight civilians to receive it. Her name was deleted from the Army Medal of Honor Roll in 1917 (along with over 900 others); however it was restored in 1977. After the war, she was a writer and lecturer supporting the women’s suffrage movement until her death in 1919.

Dorothea Dix was famous for her earlier work in mental institutions, was superintendent of US Amy nurses.

was an American activist on behalf of the indigent insane who, through a vigorous program of lobbying state legislatures and the United States Congress, created the first generation of American mental asylums. During the Civil War, she served as a Superintendent of Army Nurses.

Thousands of volunteer nurses served the Union and Confederate forces. One of the North’s volunteer nurses, Clara Barton, later founded the American Red Cross.

Was a pioneering nurse who founded the American Red Cross. She was a hospital nurse in the American Civil War, a teacher, and patent clerk. Nursing education was not very formalized at that time and Clara did not attend nursing school. So she provided self-taught nursing care.[1] Barton is noteworthy for doing humanitarian work at a time when relatively few women worked outside the home. She had a relationship with John J. Elwell and received three proposals throughout her lifetime, but never married.

Private organization also helped care for ill and wounded soldiers. One organization was the US Sanitary Commission, created in June 1861. It operated hospitals and distributed food, clothing, medicine, and other supplies. The organization cared for both Union and Confederates soldiers.


About 194,000 Union soldiers and about 214,000 Confederate soldiers were held prisoner during the Civil War. The North and the South had about 30 major prison camps each. Both sides also set up temporary prison quarters. Prison conditions were generally miserable because the camps were overcrowded and officials couldn’t provide adequate care. In the South, where such necessities as food and clothing were in short supply for the Confederacy’s own soldiers and civilians, prisoners had on especially difficult time. One of the best-known prisons was Andersonville, a Confederate camp in Georgia, was horribly overcrowded, and prisoners were deliberately abused and neglected. At Andersonville, as many as 33,000 Northern prisoners at a time crowded into a log stockade that enclosed only 16 ½ acres. After the war, the graves of nearly 13,000 Union prisoners were discovered there.

The officer in charge of Andersonville, Henry Wirz, became the only Confederate soldier to be tried and executed for war crimes after the war

At first, no official prisoner exchange took place between North and South. The Union government refused to exited such a degree of recognition to the Confederacy.

A successful prisoner exchange agreement was reached by the middle of 1862. However, the agreement broke down in 1863, chiefly because the Confederacy resented the Union’s use of black soldiers and refused to treat them as prisoners of war.

After the Confederate government itself authorized the use of black soldiers in 1865, large-scale prisoner exchange started again.

Final Year (1864-1865)

All signs pointed to victory for the Union in early 1864. The size of Southern armies had dwindled because of battle losses, war weariness, and Northern occupation of large areas of the Confederacy. Southern railroad had almost stopped running, and supplies were desperately short. But the South, still capable of tough resistance, fought on for over a year before surrendering.

Grant in Command

Since 1862, Lincoln had wanted the Union armies to have a unified command and a coordinated strategy. Lincoln favored a cordon offense a strategy in which the Union armies would advance on all fronts, pitting the vast Northern resources against the South. In General Grant, Lincoln felt that he had finally found the leadership needed to carry out such an offensive. On March 9, 1864, Lincoln promoted Grant to lieutenant and general and gave him command of all Northern armies. Grant planned three main offensives. The Army of the Potomac, under Meade, would try to defeat Lee in Northern Virginia and occupy Richmond. Grant intended to accompany and direct that army. An army under General William T. Sherman would advance from Chattanooga into Georgia and seize Attala. Banks would move his men from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama and later join Sherman. The third offensive never developed because of a crashing defeat suffered by Banks on April 9, in a battle at Pleasant Hill, Louisiana.

Battle of the Wilderness

In May 1864, the Army of the Potomac moved into a desolate area of Northern Virginia called the Wilderness. Grant, with about 118,000 men, planned to march though the Wilderness and force the Confederates into a battle that would have a clear winner. Lee with only about 62,000 troops, met Grant on May 5, and the Battle of the Wilderness raged for two days. Troops stumbled blindly through the forest, where cavalry proved useless and artillery did little good. The underbrush caught fire, and wounded men died screaming in the flames. Both sides suffered heavy losses, and neither could claim it had won.

Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

In spite of his losses, Grant was determined to push onto final victory or defeat. He moved off to his left toward Richmond. Lee marched to meet him, and the great opponents clashed again at Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia on May 8-19 1864. Spotsylvania, lie the Wilderness, brought large losses but no victory for either side.

Battle of Cold Harbor

Grant again moved off to his left toward Richmond, and again Lee marched to meet him. On June 1, 1864, Grant had reached Cold Harbor, a community just north of the Confederate capital. There on June 3, he made another attempt to smash Lee. About 50,000 attackers faced 30,000 defenders in trenches across a 3-mile (5-kilometer) line. Northern troops charged in a frontal assault. Murderous gunfire cut down some 7,000 of them, chiefly in the first minutes of the charge. Grant later said, “I regret this assault more than anyone I have ever order”. Cold Harbor forced Grant to change his strategy. Lee had shown superb defense skill, and Northern losses had been enormous. In a moth of fighting, Grant had lost almost 40,000 men. Newspaper began to call him butcher Grant. Grant felt that if he repeated his moves, Lee would fall back to the Richmond defenses, where the Confederates could hold out against a siege. Grant therefore made one more attempt to force a quick and final win-or-lose battle.

Siege of Petersburg

Concealing his movement from Lee, Grant marched South and crossed the James River. His men built pontoon (floating) bridges across the river. Grant then advanced on Petersburg, a rail center south of Richmond. All railroads supplying Richmond ran through Petersburg. If Grant could seize the railroads, he could force Lee to fight in the open. But a small Confederate force under Beauregard held him off until Lee arrived. Grant then realized that he couldn’t destroy Lee’s army without a siege. His men dug trenches around the city. Lee’s weary troops did the same. The deadly siege of Petersburg began on June 20, 1864. It lasted more than nine months, until the Confederate troops withdrew at the end of the war.

Cavalry Maneuvers

While Grant was moving toward Richmond, he had sent his cavalry ahead under Sheridan to attack the city’s communications. The Confederate cavalry led by JEB Stuart opposed Sheridan. The two forces met at Yellow Tavern, Virginia on May 11 1864. Stuart was fatally wounded in the battle. In June 1864, Lee sent an infantry force under General Jubal A. Early through the Shenandoah Valley to raid Washington DC. He hoped that Grant would send some of his troops to guard the Northern morale. Grant thus put all Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley under Sheridan and ordered him to follow Early to the death. Sheridan’s forces outnumbered the Confederates 2 to 1 and drove them from the Valley in a series of victories. His greatest success came at Cedar creek, Virginia, on October 19, 1864, when Early made a surprise attack while Sheridan was returning from a conference in Washington. Riding to the field from nearby Winchester, Sheridan rallied his men and won the battle. Sheridan then laid waste to the Valley to flush out ambushers and to prevent its resources from being used by any Confederate army that night try again to attack Washington.

Philip Sheridan (1831-1888)

Was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War. His career was noted for his rapid rise to major general and his close association with General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant, who transferred Sheridan from command of an infantry division in the Western Theater to lead the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in the East. In 1864, he defeated Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley and his destruction of the economic infrastructure of the Valley, called “The Burning” by residents, was one of the first uses of scorched earth tactics in the war. In 1865, his cavalry pursued Gen. Robert E. Lee and was instrumental in forcing his surrender at Appomattox.

Sheridan fought in later years in the Indian Wars of the Great Plains. Both as a soldier and private citizen, he was instrumental in the development and protection of Yellowstone National Park. In 1883, Sheridan was appointed general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, and in 1888 he was promoted to the rank of General of the Army during the term of President Grover Cleveland.

Battle of Mobile Bay

The North’s blockade of Southern ports grew more effective. Union forces worked steadily to seize the main ports still open to ships that slipped through the blockade. In August 1864, a naval squadron under Farragut sailed into the bay at Mobile, Alabama which was defended by forts, mines (then called torpedoes), gunboats, and an ironclad, was blown up, Farragut ordered his own wooden commander’s sip the Hartford, into the lead. The Union sailors captured the forts and took control of the bay, though they didn’t occupy Mobile. In February 1865, another main port, Wilmington, North Carolina, fell to Northern ships. But Charleston, South Carolina, still head out.

Closing In

Atlanta Campaign

In May 1864, while Grant drove into the Wilderness, Sherman’s army of about 100,000 men advanced on Atlanta, Georgia, from Chattanooga. General Joseph E. Johnston opposed him with a force of about 62,000. Johnston planned to delay Sherman and draw him away from his base. The Atlanta Campaign developed into a gigantic chess game. Sherman repeatedly moved forward, trying to trap Johnston into battling on open ground. Each time, Johnston and his troops slipped away into prepared trench position. The two armies clashed frequently in small battles. The largest battle occurred on Kun 27, at Kennesaw Mountain, an isolated peak near Atlanta. As Sherman reached the outskirts of Atlanta, President Davis, perhaps more for political than military reasons, decided Johnston fought too cautiously. He replaced him with General John B. Hood. Hood attacked the Union columns as Sherman approached Atlanta. But Hood’s attacks failed, and he took up a position in the city. Sherman first tried Siege operations. But because he didn’t want to be delayed, he wheeled part of his army South of Atlanta and seized its only railroad to cut Hood’s supply line. Hood evacuated the city on September 1, 1864. Sherman occupied it the next day.