Question of the Week: 6/27-7/3/22

It’s a classic question, but it’s worth revisiting this time of year…

In your opinion, which is the more significant turning point? Gettysburg. Vicksburg. Both. Or neither.

40 Responses to Question of the Week: 6/27-7/3/22

  1. As much as any of those listed were, I think Chancellorsville is the turning point. With Jackson dying and Early taking over, it was a huge blow to the South. For example, I think Jackson would have pressed on the attack of Washington, especially if he knew Lincoln was visiting the forts near the city.

  2. Hands down…Vicksburg!

    A Real Army surrendered and was taken. off the map as a fighting force.

    And Union commerce opened up along the Mississippi River. This meant that Northern grain and corn could be shipped over-seas to Europe, improving the Union economy.

    The War was won in the West.

    Gettysburg was just a Union victory, which continued the stalemate on the East for another year, before US Grant took control of the AoP. That’s all.

  3. I still think the turning point is at the Wilderness at the intersection of the Orange Plank Road and the Brock Road, when the AoP continues its march to Spotsylvania.

    And so did Ed Bearrs.

  4. Both. Among other reasons for the first time at Gettysburg the Army of the Potomac defeated Lee and instilled a never before confidence in the soldiers and Vicksburg lead to the eventual control of the Mississippi River and division of the territorial Confederacy

  5. Vicksburg. It cut the Confederacy in two and opened the Mississippi River for Union control. It also began the ascendancy of General Grant.

  6. The Seven Days in 1862 was the turning point. When McClellan was stopped, or stopped himself, or however you want to argue it, it meant that abolition would become a Union war aim. “A result more fundamental and astounding”

  7. Vicksburg.
    – The Union campaign to take possession spanned May 1862 – July 1863: Vicksburg was a hard nut to crack;
    – The capture of New Orleans in April 1862 was bitter-sweet: until Vicksburg succumbed, the New Orleans Campaign remained as “unfinished business”
    – One important facet of the Anaconda Plan was the opening of the Mississippi River to Union use (which also split the Confederacy… think “divide and conquer.) As Jefferson Davis stated: “Vicksburg is the bolt that holds the two halves of the Confederacy together.” As President Lincoln said: “Vicksburg is the key…”
    – U.S. Grant used Vicksburg as another opportunity to showcase his talent of Conducting Joint Operations (and the Navy seemed appreciative that Grant shared credit for success, beginning with Belmont, and continuing through Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg…)
    – Grant’s Siege of Vicksburg involved the ever-expanding use of Black men in support roles, primarily as Cooks and Under-cooks (freeing up Duty Soldiers for use on the front line versus in the rear preparing meals.) Immediately after Vicksburg fell, authorization for enlistment of Black men into USCT regiments allowed those regiments to act as occupation forces of Union-held Vicksburg;
    – After Vicksburg fell, Florida assumed importance as producer of salt and supplier of beef cattle to the Rebel armies;
    – From Vicksburg, U.S. Grant moved ever eastward…

  8. Vicksburg. Although Gettysburg have the AOP confidence that they could beat Lee and the ANV.

  9. Both: Gettysburg saw Lee shoved back into Virginia, and Vicksburg resulted in the Union finally controlling the entire Mississippi River (after Port Hudson fell a few days later).

  10. Both. Vicksburg was a major positive development for the Union and Gettysburg prevented a major negative development for the Union. I realize that a Confederate victory at Gettysburg would not, in itself, end the war, but it would have been a disaster on a number of different levels.

  11. Why is it and why does it have to be an either/or? The Confederacy took a triple blow by the end of the first week in July. The event that always seems to be forgotten/ignored is Rosecrans Tullahoma Campaign, which secured Central Tennessee culminated on July 3, 1863. Wouldn’t it be fair to state that the combination of the three events is greater when considered as a whole?
    I honestly think the definitive turning point of the war came when Lincoln handed over the military decisions to Grant. Until then, the South was hanging on militarily and was hoping to stall long enough to get a Peace Democrat into the White House in 1864. Grant’s original plan was to exert pressure on multiple fronts to end the war. While Grant and Sherman did their parts, Butler failed on the Peninsula.
    Here’s a what if: What if a competent general, instead of Butler, was in charge of the Bermuda Hundred campaign and effectively assisted Grant’s Wilderness Campaign? Perhaps Grant’s campaign and the war would have been much shorter.

  12. Undoubtedly, the Union victory at Vicksburg was strategically much more important in the overall war effort.
    Still, I chafe somewhat at the currently-in vogue supposition that Gettysburg was “just another battle.” It’s certainly true that the war in the East still went on for the better part of another two years, but let’s not dismiss the effect of Meade (someone, at last) defeating Lee and his hitherto “unbeatable” army. The subsequent morale boost for soldiers in the Army of the Potomac and the permanent banishment from the North for the Army of Northern Virginia were pretty big deals.

  13. i am going with NEITHER … ‘turning point” implies a sense of inevitability in the war’s outcome — i.e., after United States victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Confederate surrender at Appomattox was simply a matter of time.

    President Lincoln certainly didn’t think Gettyburg was a turning point as evidenced by his letter (unsent) to General Meade after the ANV got away unmolested.

    ” … I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would … have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.”

    Lincoln was right — the war dragged on, with enormous cost in lives and treasure, for another 20 months … by the following summer, a war-weary the United States was no closer to victory than when the war started three years before … granted, the United States occupied large parts of the Confederacy, but two major rebel armies remained undefeated in the field and Sherman and Grant lost over 90,000 men in four months.

    With no end to the war in sight, Lincoln was convinced his party would lose the presidential election in November … in August ’64 he wrote: ” … for some days past, it seems exceedlingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected … ” If Vicksburg and Gettysburg were turning points, nobody told the President and the northern electorate.

    Vicksburg and Gettysburg were important United States victories … by the summer of ’64, however, they had become distant memories … so, significant yes … turning points no.

  14. Both. To win the war, the North needed to “win” in the West and “not lose” in the East. The Vicksburg victory isolated the Confederate Trans-Mississippi states and included the surrender of a Confederate army. At Gettysburg, Lee’s winning streak was broken; with those losses, he could not he could not regain the initiative and be offensive minded. Both Union successes moved the ball closer to the goal line.

  15. Fort Sumter.
    They started a war that, militarily, they couldn’t win. The aftermath was the natural consequence of starting a war against a much larger opponent–interesting details, to be sure, but with an inevitable end.
    Put another way, there could never be a “turning point” in this war, because the war inevitably headed in only one direction. The questions was not whether the South could win, but when they’d lose.

    1. Bruce Allardice,
      Long ago, I thought the same thing: “Why did the South fight a war they KNEW they were going to lose?” Answer: The South knew that SUCCESS could come from many directions (and military victory was only one of those possibilities.)
      The possibilities:
      1. Success on the Western waters via torpedoes and ironclads. Success everywhere else, knowing “one Southern soldier is worth ten Yankees.”
      2. Vast, penetrating intelligence network involving spies in Washington D.C.; fellow-travellers in Congress; Northern turncoats a.k.a. KGC… revealing Northern plans and squibbing Northern preparations.
      3. International ally. A powerful nation from across the Atlantic “almost” came to the aid of the Confederate States of America on at least two occasions. And it was likely believed, or at least hoped, that in order to get access to Southern cotton, two of those powerful nations (England and France) would compete to become “that ally…” and tip the scale in favor of the South.
      4. Political will. The South believed the North would not fight; and further, if combat was initiated, there was belief that the North would soon sue for Peace. From early on, Peace Commissioners attempted to achieve a negotiated settlement. And the Midterm Elections of 1862, and Presidential Election of 1864 provided opportunities for war-weary Northerners to “pull the pin,” and declare, “ENOUGH.”
      5. Negotiated Peace. There were offers from overseas governments to “act as Arbiter,” and resolve the dispute between North and South via negotiated, binding settlement. Those offers were not taken up.
      If we accept that the GOAL of the Confederate States of America was “International recognition as an independent, sovereign State,” then any of the above means (and perhaps others) could have been applied to achieve that goal. The war did not end until the South stopped fighting, and Jefferson Davis was taken into custody.

      1. The self embargo of cotton at the beginning of the war was an attempt to blackmail Great Britain into coming to the aid of the Rebels. It didn’t work. Plus as I have explained, Great Britain was not in the position to defend Canada from invasion. And in 1864, Great Britain declined to go to war with the US when caught building shops for the Rebels in order to raid Union Commerce.

        Lincoln was not going to negotiate. If he did, he faced impeachment.

      2. Independence without recognition is the Tibet experience… or the Confederate States of America from 12 April 1861 until 10 May 1865.

      3. The CSA itself was aware of the importance of “recognition,” and perpetually sought it. But during its brief existence, the Confederate States of America was only recognized as sovereign nation by itself; a handful of Native American Tribes; and the Pacific Island nation of Ponape (today known as Pohnpei.)

      4. Wars are not won or lost by “recognition.”
        European military intervention might have made a difference, because it would have changed the balance of forces.
        “Recognition” by France or Belgium would make it easier for the Confederacy to purchase supplies, but the sticking point there was never the lack of willingness of European nations to sell armaments, but the ability of the blockaded Confederacy to finance those purchases and ship the purchased materials to the CSA.
        Basically, “recognition” is irrelevant to the war’s outcome.

      5. European military intervention, would have resulted in the United States declaring war on that country. And let’s face it, the only navy that could have intervened belonged to Great Britain.

        The risk was too big to take. And the fact that Great Britain not only did not intervene, but also stopped building Confederate raiders, just emphasizes their desire to avoid to war with the US at all costs.

        And a good thing too, for Great Britain in the 20th Century.

      6. “Wars are not won or lost ‘by recognition.’”
        Perhaps not, if your unrecognized State is a Roman Empire, able to bully its way to success. But, if yours is an “up and coming” nation, it pays to have friends in high places.
        “Recognition” has substantial and clearly defined meaning within International Law. In layman’s terms, it is “acceptance by the existing nations of the world of the arrival of a bona fide sovereign State upon the world stage.” Without recognition, a self-proclaimed “state” may experience difficulty in negotiating treaties, conducting trade, getting its currency accepted as legitimate, even getting its own territorial claims accepted as legitimate, …in short, a “state” suddenly proclaiming itself as independent is a pariah, until its right to exist is acknowledged by the already-accepted nations of the world.
        Without recognition, a self-proclaimed “independent nation” has no legitimacy; it is little more – perhaps no more – than a den of pirates, or a narco-state.

    1. I think this is the correct answer. We all like the narrative that a four-year conflict “turned” on this or that event, but there was a series of ups and downs throughout.

  16. Neither. The turning point was Grant’s decision at The Wilderness to follow Lee south (fighting at Spottsylvania).

  17. What if the Union lost at Gettysburg? The political impact would have been devastating: Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington at risk, with the AOP shattered. Hooker had no plan for the battle. Lincoln’s appointment of Meade made all the difference as Kent Masterman Brown’s “Meade at Gettysburg” clearly demonstrates.

    As for Vicksburg, Grant’s victory there, while impressive, was much more significant due to the Capture of New Orleans by Admiral Farragut and the successful occupation by General Butler with just 15,000 troops. New Orleans was the commercial center for the South. The Vicksburg victory opened the Mississippi River … to what? An occupied Union port that fueled the economy of the Midwest.

    1. i agree … you could make the point that Gettysburg was the more important of the two in that the United States both needed a big win and absolutely could not afford another loss … and you make an excellent point about V’Burg … the Mississippi stopped being a Confederate river when the United States took New Orleans.

    2. That’s true regarding the Mississippi, but the capture of Vicksburg also served to cut off the western Confederacy. I think Lincoln’s line about it was “hogs and hominy”.

  18. Gettysburg, in summer of 1863, was not that deeply recognized as a turning point. I read a southerner viewpoint that he thought they won Gettysburg and gave several supporting reasons why. Vicksburg, I perceive was moreso recognized in its day as a turning point. If Gettysburg was a 180 degree turn, I’d say Vicksburg was a 0 degree turn, it just continued the direction that the war was going. So how is it a turning point? It’s not a left or right turn, but more like a turn in altitude, when you’re at the top of hill and you turn downwards. But the biggest turning point to me while the war was ongoing was the Spring day of April 14, 1865 which was a frickin’ 720 turn, people’s heads were spinning so much after that. Look at the turn of terms from Lee’s surrender to Sherman’s proposed surrender terms for Johnson. That doesn’t happen as it did, and nothing else thereafter, if April 14th wasn’t in the calendar, imo.

    1. And while I”m on the subject, how did the United States lose the Civil War? The country lost Abraham Lincoln.

  19. I think the main turning point of the war was the shooting of Joe Johnston and the appointment of Robert E Lee to command. This marks a fundamental shift in the attitude of the eastern Confederate armies.

  20. For the strategics, Vicksburg, cutting the Confederacy in two. For the Newspapers & the public opinion in the United States and other countries, Gettysburg.

  21. I’m inclined to think that Gettysburg was operationally decisive in that it ended Lee’s incursion into the North, but that the fall campaigns showed that Lee was not deterred from resuming the offensive when he saw the opportunity.

    Vicksburg was strategically decisive in severing Southern communications with its western states, and (after Port Hudson) opened the Missisippi for the North.

    But I’m inclined to think that the truly pivotal moment was the November victory at Chattanooga, which neutralized Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee, and made possible the next year’s Georgia campaigns which would once again divide the Confederacy.

  22. Perhaps Antietam deserves consideration. It enabled Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation which in the eyes of many, took the war from the suppression of a rebellion to a cause for freedom. No small matter.

  23. At first glance, Vicksburg seems to be the victory with greater strategic importance to the overall war effort. An entire Confederate army was taken off the field, the Mississippi was secured, and the Confederacy was effectively split in two. Gettysburg, on the other hand, probably had a greater effect on public opinion in the North, greatly reducing pressure on Lincoln to settle a negotiated peace, which would have resulted in a Union loss of the entire war. In addition, it greatly improved the morale and, therefore, the fighting power of the Army of the Potomac, without which it may not have been able to achieve Grant’s objectives when he came East to command it against the Army of Northern Virginia.

    Both victories contributed substantially to the eventual Union victory. Does debating about which one constitutes a “turning point” lead to a better understanding of history? Is there even a generally agreed-upon definition of the phrase “turning point” to which we’re all referencing? (Some people seem to think a “turning point” is the point after which a Union victory is inevitable; others seem to believe it’s the point after which things start going better for the Union side, generally.)

    1. Tournier un Fortification. The French influence on military language during the 19th Century was profound; common words derived from French include picket, battalion, bayonet, sortie, guerrilla, and the ranks recruit, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant and colonel. There were also idioms which defy simple translation, such as “tournier un Fortification” (to turn a fort.) It is my suggestion that “turning point” (which the French call “tournant”) has a similar difficult-to-define meaning; and “what it means” depends on the situation, and the person making use of the term.
      For my normal application of “turning point,” I first envision a trend line leading endlessly, uninterrupted, towards a recognized destination, for example, “the United States at Peace.” A turning point interrupts that straight path (perhaps, “the Rebels firing on Fort Sumter.”) Without ANY reaction from Northern political/ military forces, the new trend-line may now lead towards “Southern Independence.” However, by the North refusing to recognize Southern Independence (and claiming the now-existent state of unrest is simply “rebellion”) and taking measures to combat that rebellion – such as calling upon the Loyal States to provide armed troops to put down the rebellion – a “counter-turning point” (which I call “reversal”) is established. Now, there are several possible “gates” through which the trend line may pass in order to reach “the United States at Peace” and these are 1) Southern Victory ( and Peace on their terms); 2) Northern Victory (and Peace on USA terms); 3) stalemate (via negotiated settlement; military standoff, resulting in armistice; third-party involvement resulting in maintenance of the new state of affairs, with two nations sharing a common border, but different destinies.)
      In the recent discussion of the New Orleans Campaign of April/ May 1862, the Union goal was “opening the Mississippi River to Northern use” and the “turning point” that would have made that happen was “Union occupation of the heights of Vicksburg.” However, Southern military leaders initiated a successful ruse that bluffed United States Navy commanders into believing the Rebel force at Vicksburg was stronger than it was in actuality. A reversal was implemented by the Rebels, whereby ALL of the gains realized by the Union in conduct of the New Orleans campaign, to that point, were nullified.
      It is my assertion that identification of Turning Points and Reversals is important for complete understanding of HOW and WHY an operation or campaign succeeded or failed – a learning experience – to benefit Historians, and forewarn military/ political leaders who may attempt similar operations in the Future.

      1. Thanks Mike for this excellent points!

        Once the Rebels refused to export cotton in an attempt to black-mail Great Britain into breaking the blockade, the importance of New Orleans to the Rebels became moot.

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