In your opinion, what was the most important turning point moment in the Maryland Campaign of 1862?
The Union finding Lee’s orders that he had divided his army. It got McClellan moving. Too slowly, but moving.
McClellan mobilizing the Union forces around Washington DC and marching towards the invading foreign Confederate Army. Lee did not expect McClellan to move that fast.
A close 2nd turning point was the failure of Stuart to warn Lee of the advance of the Union Army.
After the battle of South Mountain Lee is on the defensive.
Robert E. Lee divided his invasion force into too many segments, with disparate objectives.
Most significant was the wasteful campaign of Stonewall Jackson’s segment to take possession of the “low hanging fruit” of Harpers Ferry (a town that would change hands at least thirteen times during the course of the war… Some sources say Harpers Ferry welcomed a new occupying army 19 times.) The capture of 12000 Union troops gave a black eye to the Federal War Effort, mirroring the embarrassment of February 1862 when the 12000 Rebels at Fort Donelson surrendered to U.S. Grant. The spring chicken, Dixon Miles (not the sharpest tool in the shed), was in command of U.S. forces at Harpers Ferry in September 1862: he was killed while effecting the surrender of his garrison. And any political gain (affecting the outcome of Federal mid-term elections) was negated by the subsequent engagement at Antietam. [And unlike the 12000 Rebels taken at Fort Donelson, who languished several months in Northern POW camps, the Federals captured at Harpers Ferry were immediately paroled, and sent to Annapolis Maryland to become the first “inmates” at the Parole Camp established by Edwin Stanton there. They were subsequently exchanged, and returned to the fight within four weeks of capture.]
McClellan not committing his large reserve force in order to finish off Lee who had his back to the river
the speed with which the Army of the Potomac’s chain of command got Lee’s “Lost Order” from Corporal Mitchell to the hands of Major General McClellan … and Little Mac goes on to ” … whip Bobby Lee … ” well, sort of.
The Confederates’ “just in time” (or Walmart inventory approach) responses to various Union potential breakthroughs in all three sectors of the field, culminating with Hill’s arrival on the southern portion of the field.
Plan to take Harpers Ferry.
Stonewall successfully taking Harper’s Ferry. Lee could not remain in Maryland without clearing that threat out.
I have an unusual one to offer. Events that occurred on the evening of Sept. 6, 1862. Lee attended a dinner in Frederick that night which led him to believe secessionists in Maryland would not rise up in rebellion (as he had hoped) because they feared the Army of Northern Virginia would not stay in the state to protect them from or assist them against Federal retaliation. Prior to this point, Lee seems to have planned to take his army into Pennsylvania, but after he learned about the fears of local secessionists he decided that the next fight would need to be in Maryland if he was going to encourage them to rebel. Lee then planned accordingly to reduce the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry and draw the Federals from Washington into a fight in Washington County, likely along Beaver Creek, some 5 miles northwest of Boonsboro. I document all of this in my new book, Their Maryland: The Army of Northern Virginia from the Potomac Crossing to Sharpsburg in September 1862. See the Savas Beatie website for more information. In sum, the change in Lee’s thinking on Sept. 6 proved pivotal because it set in motion the events that culminated in the fights at South Mountain and Antietam.
The “turning point” came after and as a result of the thwarted invation of Maryland at Antietam Creek. The British and French were considering jointly recognizing the Confederacy and planning to mediate a cease fire. That would have halted the armed forces in place, lifted the blocade and begin trading with Europe using “King Cotten” to gain the industrial output that the South so sorely lacked. The failure of the Confederates to capitalize on the Maryland incursion gave Lincoln the opportunity to turn the war from political to moral with the Emancipation Proclamation and seal the fate of the Confederacy.
Nice comment Charles Stanley Martin. I appreciated it!
Great Britain was never going to support a state based entirely upon the institution of slavery, especially after it had abolished slavery and was fighting against the slave trade.. I agree that the Emancipation Proclamation was a deft political mover to take the European powers off the table .
France was going to do what Great Britain did.
And Prime Minister Lord Palmerston was anti-slavery, but more importantly, was anti-American as he recognized that a united United States posed a great economic threat to Great Britain in the future.
I doubt though that the Union would have agreed with a cease-fire, especially after victories in the Western Theater of the War. And breaking the blockade would have been interpreted by the Lincoln administration as an act of War. I realize that Lincoln had said that he could fight only one war at a time, during the Trent Affair, but firing on American war-ships is not the same was stopping a passenger ship.
And Great Britain had much more to lose.
1. Palmerston had been informed that the Canadian forts along the American border had feel into disrepair. If GB had threatened the US, an invasion of Canada was in the offing. And with so many Irish immigrants to the US, they would have readily enlisted and fought against Great Britain., with the belief that they were fighting to free Ireland. And with the American occupation of Canada, a free and independent Irish nation would be on the table.
2. More important than King Cotton, Great Britain in 1860 had to import food to feed its population. In 1860 up to 1/2 of all the food imported , came form the United States. I feel that American corn and wheat was more important to GB, than Southern cotton.
3. Anything Palmerston wanted to do, had to be discussed with Queen Victoria.
4. The St Lawrence River freezes during the winter, so supply of troops is at risk.
5. While both navies did have ironclads, only the Americans had ironclads that could navigate rivers, which again puts supply and logistics for GB at risk.
6. In Parliament, Palmerston had said that GB did have permanent interests but not permanent allies. Now, that comment has been interpreted to mean cotton as an interest. However, in the paragraph before that comment and after that comment, Palmerston addressed the Russin suppression of the Polish Uprising. So, I feel that he was addressing the British foreign power policy of not allowing any European power to become more dominant than Great Britain.
7. While the aristocracy in Great Britain was still smarting because of the American Revolution, the working class soon came to realize that our Civil War was a war between a capitalist free market economy against a slave economy. And they would have sided with the Union cause.
8. Palmerston still would have had to get any intervention in the American Cvil War, through Parliament, and I don’t believe that would have happened.
Pure speculation on my part.
One thing though, it was the American Civil War that was the impetus to give Canada self government. On July 1, 1867, with passage of the British North America Act, the Dominion of Canada was officially established as a self-governing entity within the British Empire.
No longer could the US threaten Great Britain with an invasion of Canada.
The fact that Lee did not simply withdraw to get a better defensive position. He had time to escape and plan a different route of invasion.
The fact that Lee split his forces – some to Harper’s Ferry, some to South Mountain / Antietam. Concentrating his forces at either Antietam or Harper’s Ferry (not both) may have led to a decisive victory at Antietam (rather than staving off defeat at the last minute), or would have allowed him to hold a strong position at Harper’s Ferry. He’d then have been able attack (possibly hitting Pittsburgh or Harrisburg, both potential targets for his strikes into union territory) while better supplied, stronger, and having a better chance at dictating ground of his choosing for the next fight (even making the Federals attack). The strike into MD was bold; this was a step “too bold”.
I believe that the “turning point” of the Maryland campaign was Lee’s decision to stay and concentrate his forces to fight at Sharpsburg. He could have made the decision to withdraw but instead decided to see what McClellan was going to do.
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