To understand and bring proof that the real turning point of the Civil War, I am shortly explaining what happened during those days and then point out that the change of military leadership with the philosophy and principle of the so called “…the key to victory of modern warfare …“(p.422), as well as the taking control of the entire Mississippi River, brought through many battles and events to the end of the bloodiest war in America and the victory to the North.

The battle of July 1-3, 1863 was fought at a small town, Gettysburg, which was the junction of the main roads, in Pennsylvania, while Gen. Lee was headed to Maryland and Pennsylvania through Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The battle was a serial of forth and back of their previous positions between the armies. Army of Gettysburg_General_Armistead_Picketts_ChargePotomac (90,000 men under Gen. George G. Meade) and the Confederate army (75,000 man of Northern Virginia Army under Gen. Robert E. Lee) came together in a three day series of encounters. The third day Lee ordered an attack to the Union’s fortified center known as Pickett’s Charge but it turned out to be suicidal for his army. There were many killed and wounded in this battle (23,000 from Union and 28,000 from Confederate) and Gen. Lee retreated back to Virginia on July 4th. Although the Gen. Meade couldn’t continue towards the Confederate, the greatest victory of this battle is considered the fact that it was the last time the Confederate army occupied the North. At the same day an important victory of the Union in the West was related to the Vicksburg siege. The Unions Army (under Ulysses S. Grant) could seize the Confederacy’s fortress in the Mississippi River dividing the Confederacy and taking control of the entire river.

Proof that this was a turning point of the Civil War in the favor of the North could be considered from different viewpoints: military and emancipation, political and economic ones.

Military point of view: The proof of turning point by the military point of view is related with two traits; the military leadership and the size military advantage—size of Army and Navy. By winning the siege of Vicksburg and giving the Union the control of Mississippi River, affected Lincoln’s decision to the military leadership of the Army—he assigned Grant the commander of The Union Army because of his leading philosophy that proved in those above mentioned battles to be the key to success: “…seek and destroy the enemy’s army and sources of supplies.”(p.422) Ulysses S. Grant had previously proved to be the appropriate military leader by delivering the victory to Union in the Battle of Chattanooga at the end of 1863, also Grant and Gen. Sherman could bring to the Union’s control the most of eastern Tennessee and the Tennessee River, which was already in two parts from the Vicksburg Battle, cutting the Confederacy in three parts. Grant’s philosophy proved to be successful again in 1864 in his two extended attacks to terminate the Confederacy: by using Potomac Army to take Richmond (and seize an important railroad junction at Petersburg) and in the West the Army under Gen. Sherman to invade Atlanta (east from Tennessee). Lincoln’s decision proved to be the right one, even the War department argued the Grant’s values considering he was an alcoholic and not to be assigned a major duty in the Army. What made Lincoln decide was that previously he had not very good experiences with generals with very good resumes and martial skills, as Gen. George B. MCCLELLAN, who had several times delayed the attacks and with arrogant behavior showed disrespect to Lincoln. In August 1862, even being inspired by professionalism and having well trained volunteers McClellan had refused to move towards Confederate Army under Gen. Lee in Richmond pretending lack of proper intelligence, supplies and soldiers. Despite his ineffectiveness McClellan was in the command of all Union Armies in North Virginia, until Lincoln decided that a new trait of military leadership was necessary to lead the North to victory – as Ulysses S. Grant.

The population size of the North at the very beginning of the war and during it became an advantage related to the larger army and navy for the Union, and this increased after the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg in 1863 with the decision of Lincoln to authorize and permit African Americans to serve in the army and directly in battlefield; however, Union had the benefit of a population increased by the immigrants and with it the possibility to have more recruits. The population size and manpower unevenness would not be of a particular importance or a determinant factor in a short period war, but during a four years war it became an important and significant trait related to the final outcome—victory of the Union.

Political point of view: The chances for Lincoln’s success to reelection in 1864 had been previously jeopardized during the campaign because the prolonged bloody war and poor performance in the battlefield, the popular disapproval raised (including here the Conscription Act in March 1863 for drafting in the army or “commutation fee”) and Copperheads (Peace Democrats) had denounced Lincoln as tyrant who was suppressing the right of the free trial and free speech to the opposition newspapers and people being hostile to the Union’s War and fondness to Confederate. Copperheads had many followers among farmers in the West and laborers and immigrants in the industrialized areas because the tax tariff raised by republicans and the racist fear that the emancipation would bring be competition to their job possibilities. The victory of Battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, as well as the other events after them (like the capture of Atlanta in September 1864 under Gen. Sherman army – while Grant was the commander of all Union armies), in the advantage of the North and punishing the Confederate had boosted the moral of the North and gave Lincoln the victory, defeating the republican candidate McClellan (except for Kentucky, New Jersey, and Delaware) Battle-of-Gettysburgand introducing the importance of military achievement to political accomplishment.

Economic point of view: Loosing too many people in the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg and having no control over the Mississippi River made the South diffident and Confederate leaders worry. The economic weakness became more evident; the blockade of the Union to the Confederate ships (first in 1862) became more effective by stopping one out of three ships trying to pass in 1864, and 50% of them in 1865. The South dependence on imports of industrial goods as food, clothing, equipment, increased the ruinous impact of the blockade. The embargo of cotton exports, which was set by Davis administrate since 1861 with the hope that British or French will intervene, appeared to be a failure because Britain had an overstock of cotton and later on Egypt and India were an alternative source of cotton; furthermore English laborers that lost their jobs because of missing cotton had sympathy for the North. The economic situation of Confederate was a threat to the chances to success; they were missing ammunitions, weapons and different supplies for the war, many investors were having a payment in cotton, even though not providing enough for the Confederate treasury. The labor force in South was missing because after the Emancipation Proclamation thousands of slaves had left and headed to Union, so the agriculture was weakening in the Confederate. Later on, in 1864 we will see that the Union Army traversing about 285miles in Georgia (Sherman’s march to the Sea) destroyed Southern infrastructure, railroad, bridges and telegraph lines in order to shorten the ability to move, get provisions, move soldiers and information; while in South Carolina soldiers put to fire the half of the capital as a revenge for this state representing the one who leaded to war because of Southern nationalism and secession.

Emancipation point of view: Finding new recruits was a challenge for the Union Army (enlistments of whites dropped), but by lobbing of black leaders and abolitionists African American regiments were formed, of which the most famous was the 54th Massachusetts. Considering the Lincoln’s   positioning to this matter – when first North mobilized, thousands of free African Americans were turned away and not accepted in the army (he wanted to sidestep the issues of slavery and race because he feared to provoke seceding of the slaveholding states that were in the Union; Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and Missouri)—this was a proof of turning point. While in the Confederacy, when captured, African Americans soldiers were subject of brutal treatment – tortured or murdered as escaped slaves. At the very beginning of involvement in the Union army troops, they just did simple duties as guards and laborers, with a lower payment than white soldiers, but besides racist notions of whites about the African Americans courage to fight, they passed the test on July 18, 1863 when 54th regiment of Massachusetts attacked the Fort Wagner, a fortress of Confederate to Charleston harbor (when 100 of them lost their life and 160 were wounded). One of the issues that aggravated the situations in the Confederate was the protest of poor whites against of a draft of 1862 according to which, the wealthy whites with 20 or more slaves were exempt from drafting. The gain of territory from the Union Army contributed to the increase of desertions up to 100,000 in 1864. In March 1865, even Confederate Congress authorized a draft to enlist up to 300,000 slaves, organized in two regiments, but they never made it to at a battlefield. As an emancipation point of view proof, I would mention that 198,000 African Americans, of which 144,000 served in the Union Army and Navy, being 10% of the total of listed men even they were only 1% of the population in the North and participated in 449 engagements of Union Army making their contribution essential to the victory.

  • Keene, Jenifer D.; Saul Cornell; Edward D. O’Donnell. Visions of America: A History of the United States, 2nd Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., 2013 (p. 398-427)

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