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Encyclopedia > United States Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War

The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was a United States Congressional investigating committee created to handle issues surrounding the American Civil War. It was established on December 9, 1861, following the embarrassing Union defeat at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, at the instigation of Senator Zachariah T. Chandler of Michigan, and continued until May 1865. Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio served as chairman. Its purpose was to investigate such matters as illicit trade with the Confederate states, medical treatment of wounded soldiers, military contracts, and the causes of Union battle losses. The Committee was also involved in supporting the war effort through various means, including endorsing emancipation, the use of black soldiers, and the appointment of generals who were known to be aggressive fighters. It was chaired in 1861-62 by Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, and became identified with the Radical Republicans who wanted more aggressive was policies than those of Abraham Lincoln. Congress in Joint Session. ... Combatants United States of America Union Confederate States of America Commanders Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee Strength 2,200,000 1,064,000 Casualties Killed in action: 110,000 Total dead: 360,000 Wounded: 275,200 Killed in action: 93,000 Total dead: 258,000... December 9 is the 343rd day (344th in leap years) of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ... 1861 is a common year starting on Tuesday. ... The 21st Michigan Infantry, a company of Shermans veterans. ... The Battle of Balls Bluff, also known as the Battle of Harrison’s Landing or the Battle of Leesburg, took place on October 21, 1861, in Loudoun County, Virginia, as part of Major General George B. McClellans operations in northern Virginia during the American Civil War. ... Seal of the Senate The United States Senate is one of the two chambers of the Congress of the United States, the other being the House of Representatives. ... Zachariah T. Chandler (December 10, 1813 – November 1, 1879) was Mayor of Detroit (1851–52), a four-term U.S. Senator from the state of Michigan (1857–75, 1879), and Secretary of the Interior under U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant (1875–77). ... Official language(s) None (English, de-facto) Capital Lansing Largest city Detroit Area  Ranked 11th  - Total 265,172 km² / 102,384 sq. ... 1865 (MDCCCLXV) is a common year starting on Sunday. ... Benjamin Franklin Wade (October 27, 1800–March 2, 1878) was a U.S. lawyer. ... Motto: Deo Vindice (Latin: With God As Our Vindicator) Anthem: God Save the South (unofficial) Dixie (popular) The Bonnie Blue Flag (popular) Capital Montgomery, Alabama February 4, 1861–May 29, 1861 Richmond, Virginia May 29, 1861–April 9, 1865 Danville, Virginia April 3–April 10, 1865 Largest city New Orleans... Map of the division of the states during the Civil War. ... This French poster depicting the horrific conditions on slave ships was influential in mobilizing public opinion against slavery. ... A General is an officer of high military rank. ... Benjamin Franklin Wade (October 27, 1800–March 2, 1878) was a U.S. lawyer. ... The Radical Republicans were an influential faction of American politicians in the Republican party during the American Civil War and Reconstruction eras, 1860-1876. ... Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865), sometimes called Abe Lincoln and nicknamed the Rail Splitter, Honest Abe and the Great Emancipator, was the 16th President of the United States (1861 to 1865), and the first president from the Republican Party. ...

Union officers often found themselves in an uncomfortable position before the Committee. Since this was a civil war, pitting neighbor against neighbor (and sometimes brother against brother), the loyalty of a soldier to the Union was simple to question. And since Union forces had very poor luck against their Confederate counterparts early in the war, particularly in the Eastern Theater battles that held the attention of the newspapers and Washington politicians, it was easy to accuse an officer of being a traitor after he lost a battle or was slow to engage or pursue the enemy. This politically charged atmosphere was very difficult and distracting for career military officers. Officers who were not known Republicans felt the most pressure before the Committee. A civil war is a war in which parties within the same culture, society or nationality fight for political power or control of an area. ... In law, treason is the crime of disloyalty to ones nation. ... The Republican Party, often called the GOP (for Grand Old Party, although one early citation described it as the Gallant Old Party) [1], is one of the two major political parties in the United States. ...

During the committee's existence, it held 272 meetings and received testimony in Washington and at other locations, often from military officers. Though the committee met and held hearings in secrecy, the testimony and related exhibits were published at irregular intervals in the numerous committee reports of its investigations. The records include the original manuscripts of certain postwar reports that the committee received from general officers. There are also transcripts of testimony and accounting records regarding the military administration of Alexandria, Virginia. Nickname the District Motto Justitia Omnibus (Justice for All) Location Location of Washington, D.C., with regard to the surrounding states of Maryland and Virginia. ... In military organizations, a commissioned officer is a member of the service who derives authority directly from a sovereign power, and as such holds a commission from that power. ... General is a military rank, in most nations the highest rank, although some nations have the higher rank of Field Marshal. ... Map Political Statistics Founded 1718 County Independent city Mayor William D. Euille Geographic Statistics Area  - Total  - Land  - Water 39. ...

One of the most colorful series of committee hearings followed the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, where Union Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles, a former congressman, accused Maj. Gen. George G. Meade of mismanaging the battle, planning to retreat from Gettysburg prior to his victory there, and failing to pursue and defeat Robert E. Lee's army as it retreated. This was mostly a self-serving effort on Sickles's part because he was trying to deflect criticism from his own disastrous role in the battle. Combatants United States of America Confederate States of America Commanders George G. Meade Robert E. Lee Strength 83,289 75,054 Casualties 23,049 (3,155 killed, 14,529 wounded, 5,365 captured/missing) 28,000 (3,500 killed, 18,000 wounded, 6,500 captured/missing) The Battle of Gettysburg... 1863 (MDCCCLXIII) is a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Saturday of the Julian calendar). ... Portrait of Daniel Sickles during the Civil War Daniel Edgar Sickles (October 20, 1819 – May 3, 1914) was a colorful and controversial American politician, Union general in the American Civil War, and diplomat. ... George Gordon Meade (December 31, 1815 - November 6, 1872) was an American military officer during the American Civil War. ... Robert E. Lee, 1863 Portrait by Julian Vannerson Robert Edward Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870) was a career army officer and the most successful general of the Confederate forces during the American Civil War. ...

The Committee on the Conduct of the War is considered to be the toughest congressional investigating committee in history.

Bruce Tap finds the committee members "were principled reformers, opponents of slavery, and genuine patriots." While "there were several instances where the committee's activities did have a substantial negative impact on the northern war effort," it "did not stem from the members' devotion to fanatical principles .... but from a lack of firm understanding of military science" (p. x). Tap concludes the Committee's investigations of military failures and defeats were designed to ascertain the reasons for these debacles, to sort out the general officer corps, and to invigorate the timid Lincoln administration. Tap finds it preferred aggressive leaders of the armed forces who sought abolition and punishment of the Confederates. The result, concludes Tap, were that "it often recommended generals, such as Fremont, who were subpart from a military standpoint" and "it contributed to (although it did not create) an unhealthy practice in Washington of allowing political considerations to influence military appointments" (Tap p. 165).

Tap finds, "the committee's investigations, its leaks to the press, and its use of secret testimony to discredit generals such as McClellan certainly were instrumental in creating hostility between the army's West Point officers and the nation's civilian leaders." Finally, because of its collective ignorance of military science and preference for the heroic saber charge, "the committee tended to reinforce the unrealistic and simplistic notions of warfare that prevailed in the popular mind," writes Tap (pp. 165-66).

Tap does praise the Committee for its investigation of the Fort Pillow massacre, in which black troops were not allowed to surrender, and for its expose of the harsh condition of Union prisoners. The revelations served to rally a war-weary populace. Fort Pillow is a fort in Henning, Tennessee on the Mississippi River that was used by both sides in the American Civil War. ...

See also

The Joint Committee on Reconstruction was a United States Congressional joint committee created to inquire into the condition of the States which formed the so-called Confederate States of America, and report whether they, or any of them, are entitled to be represented in either house of Congress. ...


  • T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and the Radicals (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1941).
  • Brian Holden Reid, "Historians and the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War," Civil War History 38 (1992): 319–41.
  • Bruce Tap, Over Lincoln's Shoulder: The Committee on the Conduct of the War (1998).
  • Bruce Tap, "Amateurs at War: Abraham Lincoln and the Committee on the Conduct of the War" in Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association v 23#2 (2002), online
  • Hans L. Trefousse, The Radical Republicans: Lincoln's Vanguard for Racial Justice (1969)
  • Hans L. Trefousse, "The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War: A Reappraisal," Civil War History 10 (1964): 5–19.

Primary sources

  • National Archives Records of Congress
  • U.S. Senate
  • Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1863 at Making of America, University of Michigan
  • Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1864 at Making of America, University of Michigan
  • Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1865 at Making of America, University of Michigan
  • Supplemental Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1866 at Making of America, University of Michigan



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