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The Civil War Western Army

When an American today thinks of the West, it is Montana, Colorado or perhaps California, but those areas were remote from Civil War activity. Just as World War II had an Asian, European and African Theater of action, Civil War armies operated in three arenas: the Eastern Theater consisting of action east of the Appalachian Mountains, the Western Theater, west of the Appalachians and east of the Mississippi River and Trans Mississippi, any action west of the Mississippi.

J.F. McCartney was part of the Union Western army, first under General Grant in the Vicksburg campaign and later under General William T. Sherman.

Eastern armies operated over a confined area. Union armies attempted to capture Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate Capitol and Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee made two incursions into Maryland to threaten Washington. Because the major national newspapers, New York Times, Harper’s Weekly and others, were located in New York or other Eastern cities, the actions of the Eastern armies were well covered. Much less newsprint was devoted to the actions of the Western armies although they moved into Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia, fought several major battles and many smaller engagements. By the end of 1864, the Confederate Western states were largely under Union control.

When the 11th and 12th Corps of the eastern Army of the Potomac were transferred to Georgia, different expectations on drill and dress led Western soldiers to ridicule their new comrades.

As 1865 began, the Western armies had moved into the eastern area as they pushed north from Savannah, Georgia into South Carolina. The war was nearly over.

After the surrender of Lee and Johnston, Sherman’s army marched across Virginia, toward Washington, D.C. They passed Lee’s defense line in Petersburg, and J.F. wrote of that day, “The defences of which so much has been said was very little compared with what I had seen before. We have charged and taken works of which but little has been said far superior to any I saw here. Had we got there Lee would not have been a mouthful for us and he knew it.”

Diaries and letters of other soldiers in the Western armies express similar frustration that their accomplishments had been slighted by the Eastern press.

Armies of the East and West met in Washington, D.C. in late May, 1865, preparing for the Grand Review to celebrate the end of the war. The mixing was like oil and water, and more than a few fights resulted. As a rough veteran of the 105th Illinois saw it, “Sherman’s Mules” were not about to give any ground to these “Feather Bed Soldiers” from the eastern states. “The Eastern people think we are a rabble,” Lt. Matthew Jamison of the 10th Illinois concluded.

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