Question of the Week: 2/28-3/6/22

If you could only pick 3 events as turning points of the American Civil War, which do you choose? Why?

26 Responses to Question of the Week: 2/28-3/6/22

  1. The death of Stonewall Jackson was a great loss to Lee. The best military team of history was finished after Chancerosville. Netx, Brandy Station. The yankee cavalry humiliated Jeb Stuart so he pursued his revenge and doing so, blinded Lee in the next batle of Gettysburg. And of course, the first day of Gettysburg. Lee was so polite, and his orders contained the word “IF” and his orders are open ones. Other generals were more agressive and his subordinates has no freedom of election… This politeness of Lee was the first cause of the defeat at Gettysburg. Ther first day, the Confederates could take the heights surronding Gettysburg, and dig in and wait… so the ballte may be very different in her outcome.

  2. 1) Occupation of Annapolis, Maryland on 21 April 1861 by forces under command of Massachusetts Brigadier General Benjamin Butler. Quickly responding to the Northern Troop Embargo that resulted after the Baltimore Riot of 19 April, Butler commandeered a ferry, loaded his troops, and steamed to Annapolis. In spite of orders from Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks, warning, “Do not land,” General Butler occupied the grounds of the Federal-Government owned U.S. Naval Academy, repaired the torn-up tracks, and pressed his men forward by rail to Washington D.C. The isolated, woefully undefended Capital became energized by the arrival of thousands of New York and Massachusetts troops… Benjamin Butler’s “unauthorized” disregard of the Maryland Governor may have saved Washington for the Union.
    2) Federal occupation of Paducah Kentucky, 6 SEP 1861. Forces under command of BGen U.S. Grant responded to Rebel occupation of the heights of Columbus (thus violating Kentucky self-proclaimed neutrality) by unloading steamers full of Union soldiers at Paducah. This prevented – forever – the CSA extending its northern boundary to the natural barrier of the Ohio River; and Paducah acted as beachhead for Federal expeditions up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers… opening the Confederate heartland all the way to Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
    3) Vicksburg surrenders on 4 July 1863. Haphazard efforts had begun in May 1862 to take possession of the heights towering above the Mississippi River; and Major General U.S. Grant had played his own role in the sorry tale from late 1862 until April 1863… when an inspired Landing at Bruinsburg occurred. Bloody fights at Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill and Big Black River resulted in Grant arriving at Vicksburg from the rear; and after two months of entrenching and tunnelling (sapping and mining) conducted in the most hellish conditions, the starving Rebels of Vicksburg were forced to surrender. Union control of the Mississippi River split the Confederacy in two… and Grant continued to rise towards ultimate command of the Union Army.

  3. Battle of Antietam for allowing Lincoln to release the Emancipation Proclamation officially thus effectively stopping the Europeans from siding with the South; Battle of Chancellorsville because the death of Jackson destroyed the initiative of the South since Early was too cautious; the taking of Norfolk since the Merrimack was destroyed

  4. The war had so many twists and turns, it is a tough choice. Chronologically, I’d put these three at the top:

    1. Fall 1862 – repelling of the Confederate invasions of Kentucky and Maryland plus counterattacks elsewhere, fall elections, and the Emancipation Proclamation, culminating in Stones River, which Lincoln called “a . . . victory, had it been a defeat instead, the nation could have scarcely lived over.”

    2. Summer 1863 – Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Tullahoma, and Port Hudson all collectively deal a body blow to the CS from which it will never fully recover.

    3. September-October 1864 – Battlefield victories at Atlanta and in the Shenandoah ensure Lincoln’s re-election for another term.

    1. I agree with Our Leader’s half dozen (dozen?) turning points but I would switch out Failure of England to recognize CSA for all the items in number 1, except the Emancipation Proclamation, which changed the nature of the war.

  5. The end of the battle of the Wilderness when Grant turned South instead of back to DC. From there it was a solid push against the ANV until the end of the war.

  6. 1. Ft. Sumter – Lincoln calls for volunteers and Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia secede. Missouri’s state government disintegrates. Kentucky claims neutrality. Maryland has riots. No going back on civil war.

    2. Fall of Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson. Tennessee and the Western Theater has been breeched for good. One could take back to Polk and Pillow moving into Kentucky and not securing Paducah or even the fortified position above Henry and Donelson.

    3.Securing the Mississippi for good by taking Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Splits the Confederacy in two, and then concentrates the fight against the remaining two large Confederate armies.

  7. 1. Antietam. This allowed Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation which effectively destroyed any chance o. great Britain entering the was on the side of the Rebels.

    2. Vicksburg. The surrender of an entire Rebel Army.

    3. The Wilderness. Grant does not retreat but continues the fight against the rebels.

  8. Antietam- Sealed non-intervention by Europe and set the stage for the Emancipation Proclamation. Gettysburg- After defeat, Lee was never able to regain the strategic initiative.
    Vicksburg- Severed the South, set stage for Grant to rise to command.

  9. I agree that The Wilderness was a turning point. It demonstrated Grant’s resolve and told the Confederacy there is a “new sheriff in town.”

  10. 1. First Bull Run, which showed that the war would not be a quick cakewalk for either side, and would require much more blood and treasure than originally thought, or at least hoped.

    2. Antietam. That showed that RE Lee could be defeated. Up to then, the Summer of 1862 had not gone very well for the Union forces in VA.

    3. Lincoln’s re-election. That meant no peace settlement, that the Union’s forces could carry on with the intent of destroying the Confederacy’s ability to wage war. It also meant he could assign commanders and promote/dismiss officers without any real political ramifications.

    I’m gonna throw in an ‘honorable mention’ with the Battle of Vicksburg. Besides splitting the Confederacy, it showed that that US Grant guy was on a winning streak that would not only continue, but was worth taking advantage of elsewhere, specifically the East.

  11. I nominate the Union victory at Gettysburg as the most important non turning point in the war.

    Imagine how the war would have gone had the Union not prevailed?

  12. These are all good choices, but another way of looking at this is the establishment of the first five national military parks in 1890. The government and the veterans went with Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Shiloh, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, and Antietam. Obviously, that is not the be all and end all, but the selection of those battles and campaigns just a quarter century after the war shows their centrality to the veterans and the nation itself.

    1. A good list… but notice what is NOT included: Fort Henry, Island No.10 and the Battle of the Lower Mississippi Forts of Jackson and St. Philip. Primarily Naval victories, few soldiers would demand NMP-status for these; and in the cases of Fort Henry and Island No.10 “where would one establish the commemorative park?”

  13. Shiloh with the death of Albert Sidney Johnston who was the ablest Southern General. Monocacy which caused Early to lose 24 hrs and not capture Washington DC. and Gettysburg/ Vicksburg.

  14. Fort Sumter (the end of peace), Anietam (transition from a political was to a moral war) and Vicksburg (divide and conquer)

  15. I think that the key turning point of the Civil War is the appointment of Grant as the Commanding General, and Lincoln’s decision to invest him with the autonomy to devise a strategic approach that ultimately destroyed Confederate cognitive mechanisms. Grant implemented a multiple pronged offensive that not only overwhelmed Confederate ability to reinforce via interior lines, it ultimately created too many crisis to respond to, and although individual rebel armies retained some ability to resist, there was no path open for the Confederate government to attain any of its goals.

  16. I’m going to yield to Edward Porter Alexander. In his book: Fighting for the Confederacy, his personal recollections lay out the case for three turning points.

    1. First Bull Run, July 1861. “A vigorous pursuit might have led to the abandonment of Washington.
    2. Seven Days Battles, specifically June 30th, 1862. Jackson’s uncharacteristic inaction several times including the decision to not fight on a Sunday. The capture of McClellans’s entire Army of the Potomac was in the grasp of the CSA!
    3. Battle of the Wilderness, specifically June 13th, 1864. Grant’s 3 day attacks against the Petersburg line that were weakly challenged.

    Alexander explains why he chose these three turning points in great detail, and why Gettsyburg was not chosen.

    I hardily recommend this book.

  17. 1. Shiloh high casualties was a wake-up call on how bad it will be.
    2. Antietam, with out victory no EP
    3. The taking of Missionary ridge in Chattanooga, which put the Confederates in the west on their heels, an allowed the Federals under Sherman to decimate the south.

  18. The fall of 62, Confederate offensives into Kentucky and Maryland, as well as Van Dorn’s attempt to retake Corinth, are turned back and Lincoln issues the EP.

    Summer of 63 sees Union victories at Vicksburg, Gettysburg and the Tullahoma campaign.

    Chattanooga; reverses the defeat at Chickamauga, secures Tennessee for the Union, insures the ascendancy of Grant and opens the road to Atlanta and Lincoln’s reelection.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!