We’ve been talking about the Battle of Fredericksburg a lot recently…so let’s give the Western Theater and campaigns in the deep South some attention.
In your opinion, which winter battle/campaign in those regions was most important? Why?
Combatants going into Winter Camp tended to be the norm, until the American Civil War (think Valley Forge during the Revolution.) Therefore, much was the surprise when General George Thomas positioned his force, in January, to drive his Confederate enemy south (resulting in Battle of Mill Springs on 19 JAN 1862.)
Stones River. Lincoln said it himself: “had it been a defeat instead, the nation could have scarcely lived over.”
I respectfully suggest that the question reflects an Eastern Theater mindset. The AoP & AoNV fought disconnected battles charastically seperated by a hiatus. The entire operating area of their movements is a thumb print on a map of the Weestern Theater. In the Weatern Theater during 1862, battles were like cogs in a gear that never stopped moving. Confederate & Union troops marched from Ft Donelson to Shiloh to Perryville to Stones River. By the time the AoC & AoT ground to a halt after Stones River, they had moved by foot, train & boat for thousands of miles. Fort Donelson & Stones River are the winter time battles that mark the beginning & end of a year long series of interlocked battles, not individual incidents one more important than the other.
As Tim Smith has recently written, Fort Henry. Resulted in the loss of all of West Tennessee, front line going from Columbus, KY to Corinth, MS.
For the Western Theater, what Chris said. Coming on the heels of Fredericksburg, Stones River was essential – even as a bit of a “mixed bag”.
Chickamauga Campaign. Bragg had several opportunities before the battle itself to severely damage if not eliminate segments of the Army of the Cumberland, particularly at McLemore’s Cove. In every instance command dysfunction prevented it. The battle itself gave him a golden opportunity to crush it in its entirety. The inability to coordinate the two wings,after the breakthrough, and Longstreet’s unfamiliarity with the terrain prevented this. Grant would conceivably spent 1864 trying to recapture Chattanooga, he doesn’t go East, then no Lincoln reelection?
I’m gonna go with the Chattanooga campaign. Though it might be more of a “late Fall” vice “Winter” timeframe, reports of the weather there state that it was quite cold. The fact remains that it set in motion everything that would follow pertaining to Sherman’s successful Atlanta endeavor and subsequent ‘March to the Sea’. The Chattanooga campaign reversed the gains, and hopes, that the Confederates had gleaned from Chickamauga just a few months before.
Even a defeat at Murfreesboro allows the Army of the Cumberland to withdraw into the fortified camp of Nashville. Lincoln tended to be a weak sister at times of defeat; witness his reaction at Chancellorsville; or even victory, as his harassment of Meade after Gettysburg reveals. Both the northern people and army soldiers were more resilient than he realized at times.
I would lean towards either Fort Henry or Stones River as others have mentioned. Also important to remember is Samuel Curtis’ campaign into the Ozarks in early 1862. It removed any Confederate/Missouri State Guard threat to St. Louis, which was extremely important to the Union moves into the Mississippi/Tennessee/Cumberland river valleys.
As I mentioned in a previous Question of the Week, I think the non campaign/ campaign that Grant conducted in the Winter of 1862-1863 toward the final capture of Vicksburg was very significant. It had the effect of deceiving Pemberton plus keeping his troops active during this time period
I agree with Ted. Grant began his winter maneuvers – with considerable help from the navy – against Vicksburg shortly after he arrived on the scene in January 1863. Although the winter moves were all failures, they kept his troops busy and caused Pemberton to hesitate when Grant’s troops made their final successful thrust south and east of the city in the spring.
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