Symposium Spotlight—A Year of Transformation: The Army of the Potomac in 1863

Welcome back to our spotlight series, highlighting speakers and topics for our upcoming symposium. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to feature previews of our speaker’s presentations for the 2023 Emerging Civil War Symposium. This week we feature Zachery Fry’s topic.

Lincoln reviews soldiers of the Army of the Potomac, April 1863 (Library of Congress)

The war for the Union faced dire uncertainty in 1863. That year’s beginning brought emancipation as a formal war aim, and soon national conscription brought new means for carrying on the conflict. Across many parts of the North, strong antiwar sentiment flourished and reflected the political dangers continued battlefield reversals in the Virginia theater would pose to the Lincoln administration.

The Army of the Potomac transformed that year as well. Soldiers stepped forth to raise a collective cry against protesters and shirkers at home, celebrating the draft and calling for a stronger national commitment to crushing the rebellion. Mutual contempt between “Copperheads” and soldiers at the front meant that the army emerged from the spring of 1863 as the political and moral conscience of the nation’s loyal citizenry.

But the story was more complicated. The course of 1863 also brought expiring enlistment terms for thousands of volunteers who departed for home after the Battle of Chancellorsville. Losses suffered at Gettysburg–even in victory–further depleted the army’s strength. Then the arrival of the first conscripts in camp later that summer, while boosting numbers at the front, tested the army’s discipline and threatened its unity of purpose. What did the veteran soldiers think of these sweeping changes, and what do their voices tell us about the Union war effort at midstream?

This presentation revisits 1863 as a year of dramatic turbulence for the Army of the Potomac, a period when the army refined its sense of purpose while reflecting wholesale change in national policy.

Find more information and tickets for our 2023 Symposium by clicking here.

2 Responses to Symposium Spotlight—A Year of Transformation: The Army of the Potomac in 1863

  1. As someone who likes to zoom out and see the big picture or greater trends, this talk sounds really interesting. Looking forward to it!

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