Most of our “turning points” have focused on a single event, but if we widen the lens and look at the broader pendulum swings of the Civil War, certainly fewer periods of the conflict had more at stake than the fall of 1862.
In the summer of that year, Robert E. Lee had reversed the fortunes of the war in Virginia, shifting the front from the gates of Richmond to the doorstep of Washington. At the same time Lee eyed a stab northward, Southern forces had stabbed into Kentucky in an attempt to bring the Border State fully into the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis ordered additional attacks in Mississippi, South Carolina, and Louisiana as a way to turn up the pressure all across the board.
“The Confederate resurgence demoralized the United States,” says ECW’s Chief Historian, Chris Kolakowski, in his ECW Digital Short The Union’s Great Crisis: The Fall of 1862.
In those autumn months, major battles at Antietam, Perryville, Fredericksburg, and Stones River—along with smaller clashes at Iuka, Baton Rouge, Charleston, and Chickasaw Bluffs—would raise serious questions about the war effort and the North’s ability to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. The fall elections of 1862 and a crisis in Lincoln’s own cabinet created additional layers of political complexity on top of the already-difficult military situation.
“Hindsight has diminished perspective on the trials and tribulations of the period September 1 to December 31, 1862,” Kolakowski writes. “These four months witnessed important political and military engagements that both thwarted a Confederate resurgence and recast the war’s scope and conduct. The Civil War in January 1863 was a fundamentally different conflict than in August 1862, and the events of 1862’s last quarter changed it forever.”
The Union’s Great Crisis: The Fall of 1862 by Chris Kolakowski is available as an ECW Digital Short from Amazon for only $2.95 (click here). It’s well worth the read.