Question of the Week: 8/17-8/23/20

Since it was an eastern theater question last week, let’s head west…

What do you think was the most decisive event in the western theater of the Civil War?

24 Responses to Question of the Week: 8/17-8/23/20

  1. Sherman convincing Grant not to resign from the army in the summer of 1862. It is difficult to see the North winning the war without Grant. After Grant became General-in-Chief and Sherman took over in the West, this gave the Union high command a level of trust and cooperation that the South never really achieved.

  2. Hi there,

    Thanks for the question.

    While it’s tempting to default to battles, I’d have to say the most impactful event is a rolling one and that’s Jeff Davis’ repeated decision to keep Bragg in command of the Army of the Tennessee and, beyond that, in a position of influence.

    There were lots of opportunities to remove him, but if tying this to one event I’d say the decision to keep him on after Chickamauga was the biggest mistake. Under a new leader supported by officers and men the Confederates could have made it much harder for the Union to build up in Chattanooga and then break out. The road to Atlanta could have been closed well into 1864 and the election of 64 might have had a different outcome.

    1. Richard:

      I like your thinking about Davis’ “repeated decision” on Bragg. I would added another “repeated decision.” Davis’ failure to promote Gen. Pat Cleburne, the “Stonewall” Jackson of the West.Without question, Cleburne was the most capable commander in the Army of Tennessee

      Of course, Cleburne’s recommendation that black slaves be recruited into Southern armies was the final nail in his promotion coffin. He died leading his troops in the slaughter of Franklin..

  3. All great suggestions so far. I’d like to add the Fall of Atlanta, which ensured Lincoln’s reelection and therefore Union victory.

    1. Absolutely. I would then go onto say Chattanooga is a close second as it made it possible for the Atlanta Campaign to begin. In third, I would argue Grant’s initiative to secure Paducah without a direct order.

    1. Right. Kentucky was preserved for the Union and most of middle Tennessee occupied along with crucial economic resources such as iron and pork. Wet highways opened along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers into eastern Tennessee, northern Mississippi, and northern Alabama, exposing Nashville, setting the stage for Shiloh, and leading on finally to Chattanooga. In stark contrast to McClellan’s failure in the Peninsula, Forts Henry and Donelson rank among the deadliest strategic strokes of the war. Note that the Navy’s waterborne mobility and firepower were decisive factors.

  4. After a bit more study since then, I guess I would still have to stick with what my 7th-grade thought: the fall of Vicksburg. As already pointed out, it substantially opened up the Mississippi. Also, it opened the way for Grant to go east and apply himself to the problem of the Army of Northern Virginia.

    A. Roy Bredenberg

  5. Grant’s decision in the spring of 1863 after 7 failed attempts to take Vicksburg. He realized with the political pressure on Lincoln & Halleck to relieve him that he had one shot left. He rejected Sherman’s strong argument that he cut bait & start again overland from Memphis. Despite almost universal opposition he decided to run the gauntlet & cross the river south of Vicksburg which set in motion the most brilliant & decisive maneuver of the war.

  6. Braggs inability to destroy Rosecrans retreating Army of the Cumberland after the Battle of Chickamauga was the beginning of end! It would set in motion events leading to Bennett Place! Confederate Lt General D.H.Hill said it best- “seems to me that the elan of the Southern soldier was never seen after Chickamauga…. He fought stoutly to the last, but, after Chickamauga, with the sullenness of despair and without the enthusiasm of hope. That ‘barren victory’ sealed the fate of the Confederacy.”

  7. I have liked all of the thoughts I have read so far. What about the death of Albert S. Johnston at Shiloh?

    1. I agree. The death of Albert Sidney Johnston stopped Confederate momentum at Shiloh. And an unwell PGT Beauregard was not up to the task of pushing forward to Victory. There was potential to kill the careers of U.S. Grant, W.T. Sherman and James B. McPherson at Shiloh… with serious implications for the outcome of the war.

  8. My head always swims when it comes to ‘theaters’ of the Civil War. There are sources that list 3 main theaters, and others that list 5. I have seen a further few sources that place North Carolina in the ‘Eastern theater’, and others that say it was part of the ‘Western theater’. I find it hard from a common sense perspective to list anything that ‘borders’ the Atlantic Ocean as being ‘western’ in any stretch of the word. I had confusion about that with last week’s question. I listed Sherman’s march to the sea as the most decisive event in the Eastern theater, because he ultimately marches into NC and was poised to either link up with Grant or to ‘pincer’ whatever Confederate forces that remained. So I still insist that Sherman’s actions influenced the outcome in the Eastern theater and the political situation via the election of 1864 regardless of how things are defined geographically.

    That said, I will hence list the SAME event for the West. In taking Atlanta, and then heading EAST, the decisive actions were set in motion. In fact, Sherman it seems was everywhere. He swept eastward from the west while decimating the deep south.

  9. Grierson’s Raid. It pierced the invincibility of the South to its core and set the stage for Vicksburg, Meridian, and Sherman’s March to the Sea.

  10. I’ll combine Henry/Donelson, New Orleans and Vicksburg. All showed how vulnerable the western part of the CSA was with the rivers involved and removed significant turf.

  11. The easy or most common answer is the capture of Vicksburg, but I go much earlier with the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson. This enabled the capture of Nashville, a key communications and supply hub for the Union for the rest of the war. It also enabled the easy traversing of Tennessee south to Shiloh, where that victory enabled the capture/control of the Mississippi River down to and including Memphis. This enabled the Union a staging/supply base for the final push on Vicksburg.

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