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This article presents an overview of major military and naval operations in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.

Theater of operations Edit

The Eastern Theater included the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and the coastal fortifications and seaports of North Carolina. (Operations in the interior of the Carolinas in 1865 are considered part of the Western Theater.)

The Eastern Theater included the campaigns that are generally most famous in the history of the war, if not for their strategic significance, but for their proximity to the large population centers, the major newspapers, and the capital cities of the opposing parties. The imaginations of both Northerners and Southerners were captured by the epic struggles between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, under Robert E. Lee, and the Union Army of the Potomac, under a series of less successful commanders. The bloodiest battle of the war (Gettysburg) and the bloodiest single day of the war (Antietam) were both fought in this theater. The capitals of Washington, D.C., and Richmond were both attacked or besieged. It has been argued that the Western Theater was more strategically important in defeating the Confederacy, but it is inconceivable that the civilian populations of both sides could have considered the war to be at an end without the resolution of Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.

The theater was bounded by the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. By far, the majority of battles occurred in the 100 miles between the cities of Washington and Richmond. This terrain favored the Confederate defenders because a series of rivers ran primarily west to east, making them obstacles rather than avenues of approach and lines of communication for the Union. This was quite different than the early years of the Western theater, and since the Union Army had to rely solely on the primitive road system of the era for its primary transportation, it limited winter campaigning for both sides. The Union advantage was control of the sea and major rivers, which would allow an army that stayed close to the ocean to be reinforced and supplied.

The campaign classification established by the United States National Park Service[1] is more fine-grained than the one used in this article. Some minor NPS campaigns have been omitted and some have been combined into larger categories. Only a few of the 160 battles the NPS classifies for this theater are described. Boxed text in the right margin show the NPS campaigns associated with each section.

Principal commanders of the Eastern Theater Edit

Early operations (1861) Edit