Question of the Week: 8/6-8/12/18

Last weekend we discussed and learned about many turning points in the American Civil War at the annual ECW symposium. Now, it’s your turn to share…

What do you think was the most important turning point in the conflict?

10 Responses to Question of the Week: 8/6-8/12/18

  1. Wow. Tough question. There were so many ‘turning points’ real and possible. So many battles that might have turned out differently could have possibly affected the actual outcome of the war itself. Was the failure of Ewell to take Culp’s Hill a turning point? Was RE Lee’s ascension to command one? How about the Union’s success at Perryville? Vicksburg? The list is not a short one.

    That said, what constitutes THE ‘turning point’? That term certainly implies what led to the final resolution of the conflict. I personally believe it all came down to Lincoln’s successful re-election in 1864. By that time, he had Grant in command, and as a lame duck, he didn’t have to cow-tow to others in government to keep ineffective leaders in their positions. Grant and other commanders were now free to put in the commanders they thought were best suited for the jobs, not political hacks placed in such positions because of their connections.

    I hope all had a great time at the ECW Symposium this weekend. We attended last year’s, and really wanted to be at this one, but other commitments intervened. I’m looking forward to C-Span’s broadcast of it..

    1. One of the “biggies” of Ci is War discussion. I agree with Doug. Lincoln’s re-election ended the Confederate of victory st the polls or by the North becoming “war weary.” Union military fortunes were looking good and the solidification of the political determination strong yo fight was the termination of the Confederacy’s last, best hope for victory.

      Now, if someone wants to argue that Sherman’s capture of Atlanta was the turning point because it ensured Lincoln’s re-else toon, I can see that and won’t argue much against such a view.

      1. Richard, Sherman’s march was my other choice. I had to think long and hard about them both.

  2. GRANT. When Ed Bearss came to Fredericksburg the other month I asked him “of the four area battlefields, which is your favorite & why?”. Ed’s answer, “The Wilderness, because that was the TURNING POINT of the war. After the battle, Grant could’ve turned back north like all of his predecessors but instead he kept pressing forward!” Chris Kolankiwski hammered the same point masterfully in his “Grant takes command” lecture on Saturday & absolutely killed it with one arm tied behind his back, without the use of a PowerPoint. Chris went on further to say that Grant accomplished some of Lincoln’s main objectives of the war; The Anaconda Plan & destroy Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He was able to think of the war as a whole, coordinate multiple armies, considered Lincoln’s reelection in his plan, get three Confederate armies to surrender, accomplish things that his predecessors could only dream of, and much, much amazingly more….

  3. I believe this requires a two-part answer…
    First: Grant taking Paducah on 6 SEP 1861 denied Kentucky to the Confederacy; prevented the Rebels from lodging along the natural boundary of the Ohio River; and kept Kentucky (and Tennessee) in play for the Union. Albert Sidney Johnston had wanted to focus his warfighting efforts in Missouri, while holding tight to everything east of the Mississippi River; but U.S. Grant disrupted that strategy, and by taking Paducah, started down the path to eventually winning the war. [Much as I’d like to claim it, this is not my idea: I first encountered it expressed by my friend, Hank Koopman, at Shiloh Discussion Group. And subsequent research has confirmed the above statement as valid.]
    Second: if the War was lost at Paducah, why did the Confederacy keep fighting? Because, winning the war was only one way to achieve “the goal” …gaining international recognition of the Confederate States of America as a viable, soveriegn nation, able to engage in legitimate trade, and negotiate treaties, while in the meantime conducting domestic affairs in the manner it saw fit. THIS was the GOAL, however accomplished. Prolonging the war provided each and every day with “the opportunity” to be THE day that a significant victory on the battlefield, or through diplomatic maneuver, led to international recognition.
    Hope of achieving that potential outcome, unlikely as it had become, was not snuffed out until Joseph Johnston surrendered (second time, in defiance of President Davis’ orders) on 26 APR 1865.

  4. In Tennessee men from Ohio, Michigan & Illinois that had joined up to save the Union came face to human face with the institution of slavery. Journals, letters home & memoirs all reflect the near universal shock & revulsion they felt. The counties surrounding Nashville held 72,000 slaves in 1860. Harnessing that labor pool made the Union victory in the West possible.
    The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply in Nashville & surrounding counties. Slaves were auctioned on the courthouse step to settle debts during the Battle of Nashville. Despite that, it was the Proclomation that brought 200,000 United States Colored Troops into the Union Army. It sparked a surge of recruitment & reenlistments. From that point on, Confederate diplomatic efforts withered. In the swath that ran from West Virginia down to Norther Alabama, the certainty that the war was being fought to preserve the social superiority of the slaveocracy drove whole ounties into open, armed rebellion.
    The issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation was a trip hammer that struck repeated death blows to Confederate social, diplomatic & military structure. It was the driving force that made all the turning points that followed possible. No other event had anything like the profound multifaceted turning point the is the Emancipation Proclamation.

    1. So well put! There are military turning points, political turning points, social turning points–most here discuss the military ones, but I think the point upon which everything turned was Lincoln himself. His election ( thanks, Doug!) and the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s appointment of Grant, even Lincoln’s death–all turned the 1860s in such a way that we are still affected by them.

  5. There are, in my judgment, two really critical turning points (and some minor ones, which I will pass over), namely:
    1. The Union victory, albeit not a conclusive one, at Antietam, assured, most likely, by the loss of Lee’s battle plans before the battle. The plans, as we all know, were found by Union soldiers and eventually made their way into McClellan’s hands, a happenstance that James McPherson refers to as a “one in a million”. After determining their authenticity, McClellan used them, and the results speak for themselves. This enabled Lincoln to issue his Emancipation Proclamation five days later (effective on January 1, 1863), and, critically, prevented Lord Palmerston (PM) and Sir John Russell (FM) from calling a cabinet meeting “in the summer or early fall at the latest” at which an offer of mediation of the American Civil War would be made. Such an offer would have led to British intervention, use of her navy to lift the blockade and, almost certainly, Southern independence, a goal fervently sought by Britain’s ruling class. Further, the EP assured a depletion of Southern manpower (i.e. slaves, the engine that drove the Southern economy) and an increase in Northern manpower, i.e. the South’s loss was the North’s gain.
    2. Consistent with Ed Bearss’s and Chris Kolankiwski’s opinion, above, Grant’s turn southward at the Brock Rd.-Plank Rd. intersection, after his defeat in the Wilderness, to pursue his new objective of destroying the ANV, rather than capturing the Confederate capital, also spelled doom for the Confederate cause. His predecessor’s, after their losses at Lee’s hands, had re-crossed the Rapidan, licked their wounds, regrouped and waited to be re-supplied, or sought the safety of Fredericksburg and the Rappahannock. Grant was effectively saying: “Not this time. Three years is enough. It is time to be done with the whole nasty business”. No one knew that this was a major turning point better than Robert E. Lee, because he could count.

  6. Asl others have suggested, the Emancipation Proclamation. Until then there was still a possibility – or at least the perception of a possibility – that the war could be concluded with a peace that left things as they were. There also was the perception of a possibility that Napoleon and/or the British might exert influence on that end. Both disappeared with the EP. Regardless of its immediate lack of general popularity, it ensured that a northern victory would have meaning beyond restoring the status quo and it signaled to Europe that if they wanted to side with the CSA they had to also swallow the preservation of slavery. It required in excess of two more years to get there but in hindsight it was a game changer.

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