In this paper I shall discuss four points concerning the civil war in detail. The first issue addressed will be Professor McPherson?s arguments in the text Ordeal by Fire and whether Antietam and Emancipation, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga, represent the three critical turning points in the Civil War. Second, I will rank the three points from greatest to least in terms of their importance on the Civil War. Third, I will add a fourth event I feel was significant to the turning of the war.
Antietam and Emancipation
The Union and Confederate Armies met at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862, in the bloodiest single day of the war: more than 4,000 died on both sides and 18,000 were wounded. McClellan failed to break Lee’s lines or press the attack, and Lee was able to retreat across the Potomac with his army intact. The professor suggests that this may have been the major turning point in the Civil War. I would have to agree, had the confederates been successful in this battle it is quite possible the European nation would have become involved in the war. The European nations had a special interest in the war from a financial point, since Most of the European nation and the south where dependent on the trade of cotton. Mediation would have been a most plausible interceding by Great Britain or France. The Confederates where hoping for financial or military support, but I do not think that Great Britain was willing to come back to North America and fight another war.
Lee had suffered his first defeat, this would not have been so important if it where not for the numbers of casualties the South suffered in this battle. Had they been able to fall back with minimal losses, they may have been able to regroup into a more offensive position and continue the quest to Washington. McClellan, being the eternal idiot, failed to literally win the war on this day. By his choosing to hold back three quarters of his men he was unable to give a decisive defeat to Lee?s army and prolonged the war to see more bloody days. Had McClellan attacked with his entire army, it is quit possible he may have driven Lee?s army back to Richmond and ended the war. However, the fact that he was able to fight the rebels to a draw, kept the European nation from becoming involved with the war. The South?s only real hope in this war was the movement into Union territory in an effort to gain realistic consideration from the European nations. Lee?s inability to take Antietam may have been the actual defeat of the Confederate army.
President Lincoln needed a strong showing by the Union troops to shift the focus of the war to a cause higher than man himself. Lincoln was a calculating individual. He knew that with the casualties being suffered in this war, therefore, the American people would not let it continue for the sake of land and principal. This battle enabled him to issue the proclamation, which abolished slavery. While this proclamation did not free slaves in any of the Confederate States, it did create a new hope to the war. Once again the American people where fighting for freedom, something they understood and valued above all else. While the proclamation in it legality was inconsequential in its affect on the Confederate states, it carried great power in the Union. The people needed a will to fight, they had previously been given a reason. The professor alludes to this same point by quoting, ? A poor document, but a mighty act? . Emancipation may have very well been another reason why the European nations stayed out of the war. Great Britain, being an anti-slavery country, in all likelihood felt it prudent to wait and see if it could resume normal relation with an anti-slavery country. Should the Confederacy prevail, they would deal with the two parties as independent nations.
The emancipation had another unique aspect. It created over 100,000 new troops in the Union army, granted many of them never saw battle, but the unites which did see action and the support given by the remaining units was invaluable.
Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga
Believing that the North’s crushing defeat at Chancellorsville gave him his chance, Lee struck northward into Pennsylvania in July 1863, almost reaching the state capital at Harrisburg. A strong Union force intercepted Lee’s march at Gettysburg, where in a titanic three-day battle the Confederates made a valiant effort to break the Union lines. They failed and Lee’s veterans, after crippling losses, fell back to the Potomac. On the Mississippi, Union control was blocked at Vicksburg, where the Confederates had strongly fortified themselves on bluffs too high for naval attack. By early 1863 Grant began to move below and around Vicksburg, subjecting the position to a six-week siege. On July 4, he captured the town together with the strongest Confederate Army in the West. The river was now entirely in Union hands. The Confederacy was broken in two, and it became almost impossible to bring supplies from Texas and Arkansas.
There are several reasons why these three battles are so significant to the Civil War. First, let us start with the obvious. Grants advance on Vicksburg was a major blow to the Confederate supply line. As any student of war knows, the best way to kill the enemy is to cut his supply line, thereby rendering him unable to fight. Grants actions had two consequences for the confederate army. Not only were they now unable to get supplies across the Mississippi river, but they where now fighting the war on two fronts. Already weakened by previous battles, the Confederate Army could ill afford to both fight the war on two fronts and continue with limited supplies. The battle of Chattanooga, and Lookout Mountain, gave the Confederates what I believe was the decisive moral turn to the war. The Lookout Mountains was a strategic point which General Bragg stated ?Was impregnable? . When the a Union division marched up the face of this mountain, sending the rebels turned coat running, the war was unwinable for the Confederate army. This battle opened the door for Sherman, who marched through the Confederate states, leaving havoc in his wake. The famous battle of Gettysburg was Lee?s last attempt at a push North. These three bloody days of fighting crippled Lee?s army, which allowed Grant to pursue him all the way to Richmond where the Confederate capital was taken only a month before Lee?s Surrender to Grant. While these three battles did lead to the actual end of the war, their importance only comes as decisive battles. Which were made available by a careless Confederate officer, who gave McClellan some southern tobacco and Lee?s plans for Antietam. For had those plans never been found, I believe the Civil War would have ended on Union soil, and the State of Maryland would now be part of the Confederate Republic.
Election of 1864
The re-election of Lincoln had several effects upon the nation. First, it guaranteed that the war would continue until the Confederate States conceded to the Union terms. Second, it allowed Lincoln to put his plans for reconstructing the union into effect before his assassination. Had McClellan been elected to the presidency, there is a high degree of likelihood that the fighting would have decreased in its intensity, prolonging the war. McClellan and his advisers had decided that union interest had to come before peace interest, however, this does not instill in me the confirmation that McClellan would have fought to end the war. His agenda was that of tentative action, and complacency. Lincoln?s win in the election insured that the war would put an end to slavery, and the Union would be restored.
While every moment in history is important to the coming moments, none were more important than the moments discussed supra. I believe that I have discussed them in the order of importance, however, I am sure that many historians would challenge my stance and denote the Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga battles as the main turning point in the war. I believe that they are significant only in their magnitude of destruction of the Confederate Army. More important is Lee being stopped cold in his march South, had he been victorious, he would have walked to the nations capital and placed the Confederate flag on the White House. The war may not have been over at that point, but it would have taken many years to push the Confederates back into the South.
In addition to the turning points I have listed, I would add the march to the water by Sherman. One thing which made the Confederate so tough in battle, was the fight for their new country and their willingness to endure. When Sherman began his mighty march, a pace almost to incredible to believe, with it he took the South?s ability to endure. War is easy for the civilian when it does not reach them, Sherman brought it to them in a very personal way. As Sherman?s war machine moved through the South, a literal hell was left in his tracks. ?This was Potter?s raid. Sherman only took our horses. Potter?s raid which was after Johnson?s surrender ruined us finally, burning our mills, and gins and a hundred bails of cotton. Indeed nothing is left now but the bare land and debts?? . The demoralization of the Southern citizen, and the effect on the rebel solder as he tried to fight, knowing his family to be in peril, was more of a killing machine than Grants entire Army of the Potomac. History has shown us that psychological warfare is an invaluable tool, Sherman knew this as a key to victory. In addition to the devastation it caused, it allowed his troops to move continuously, living off the world around them, vacating the need for re-supply and creating a self sustained war machine. I do not believe this to be the cause to the defeat of the Confederate Army, but it did hasten the conclusion of the war by countless months.
In conclusion, while these four issues have had a major impact on the Civil War, I must add that it is the men who fought and died in horrific confrontations, which preserved our present way of life. Honor must be additionally given to the brave men of the Confederacy who fought equally for their country in the face of insurmountable odds. Realizing and understanding the importance of this conflict in American history, enables use to understand the American people for the next century. Bravery and honor are the foundation of the American spirit, never was it more evident than in the American Civil War.