The American civil war lasted from 1861 to 1865 and had over 600,000 casualties. All of Americas ethnic groups participated in the war. Historians argue that the major cause of the war was the fight between anti-slave and slave state proponents. Social and economical differences between the north and the south that was worsened by the conflict between state and federal governments did not help the matter. Other reasons would include the northerners becoming fierce with their anti-slavery campaigns through the abolition movement and the election of Abraham Lincoln (1860) as President. His election intimidated the South as they felt he would favour the Northern views and interests especially on anti-slavery. The southern was largely agricultural, and the elite class depended on slave labour for their cotton and tobacco farms to gain and maintain their economic strength (Wolseley, 43).
States seceded from the United States. The states included South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. They formed the Confederates States of America with Jefferson Davis as President. In April of 1861, the Confederates attacked a fleet of supply to Fort Sumter. Major Anderson, Sumters commander, surrendered after two days. He left the fort to Confederate force under Pierre Beauregard. Four additional cities seceded after this. They included Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
From the start, the union had the advantage of an enormous population, arms production and railroad construction. The Confederates had strong military traditions under some of the best commanders and soldiers. It was not until the First Battle of Bull Run that both sides realized that the war would not be short.
The battle at Antietam occurred on September 17th, 1862. This day is described as the single-most bloodiest day in American history (26,000 men dead by midnight). On this day, George B McClellan was able to turn away Robert E Lee's attack on the north (union). Lee had hoped to convince the slave-holding state of Maryland to join the Confederacy (South) as well as be able to recruit soldiers from there. This win was a turning point in three ways.
First and most important, President Lincoln gained enough conviction from this victory to announce his Emancipation Proclamation. This saw slaves become free, and it was a national policy that African Americans could join the unions troops. They helped in preserving the Union army through the war. Secondly, the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation effectively prevented the British and France from recognizing the Confederacy as a legitimate government. The British had very strong anti-slavery beliefs, and this proclamation assured them that their support for the union was for the right cause. This, however, was a setback for the Confederacy who had counted on gaining this support so as to ensure their survival in a lengthy war (it would have favoured them if the war had been shorter). Thirdly, this war marked the beginning to the end of slavery in America. President Lincoln is remembered for this achievement (Wilson, 61).
The battle at Chancellorsville, Virginia took place in the May of 1863. This battle is considered as Lees greatest victory in the civil war. General Hooker was in-charge of the Union army. It is the most successful and legendary military maneuvers in American history. Lee routed the Union army into a huddled defense bundle. Approximately 30,000 soldiers from both parties died. However, Lee's win was costly as his shoulder wounded his best Corps Commander General Thomas Jackson as he carried out night patrols. At first, his wound seemed like they would heal, but with time he got worse and on May 10, 1862, he passed away. His death was a great demotivation to the confederacy's troops. He had been their most successful commanders. His death caused the problem of getting a replacement that could match his leadership skills. This is a turning point in the civil war as it weakened the already disadvantaged South army in-terms of manpower and army equipment. The battle established a pace of the battle at Gettysburg and Lee's second invasion of the North (Hemingway, 103).
The battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania took place in the July of 1863. It is the largest battle ever fought in North America continent. More than 165,000 soldiers from the south and the north fought the three-day battle that left more than 51,000 dead. General Lee was feeling confident after his win in Chancellorsville and planned to stage a second attack on the north. President Lincoln got the news and sent the Union army to cut it off. Ideally, this war was going to occur, but the timing was accidental, as both parties just happened to run into each other. Major General George Meade emerged victorious against General Robert E. Lee although he refused to follow Lee even though there was a good chance he would have caught up with him (Lee had poor leaders who used Picketts charge. This gave the north room to kill around 13,000 southern soldiers in just an hour). The union was armed with good riffles. This puts the Confederacy on the defensive and ended his attempt to invade the North. Its major turning point is the fact that it weakened Lees army so much that they never regained their military strength (Tagg, 40).
This defeat led to a sell-off of the Confederacy bonds. This paralyzed the southern economy and demoralized residents. The Confederacy strategized on weakening the north by inflicting enough losses in an attempt to win in the ballots. If Lincoln lost to a Democrat in the elections, there was a good chance there would be an offer on peace terms. Within a few months after the elections, President Lincoln dedicated the Soldier's National Cemetery to honour the fallen soldiers (Some military historians refer to the aftermath of this battle as A harvest of death). He also redefined the purpose of the war in a speech he had written himself. It is one of Americas historical speeches. He stressed the meaning, value and price of freedom (Wilson, 93). This defeat made Lee and the Southern armies lose their belief that they would win. They lost their sense of invisibility.
The battle of Vicksburg was fought between the months of December 1862 -July 1863. Ulysses S. Grant was the general in-charge of the Union army. This battle consisted of a series of maneuvers. Vicksburg was important to the Confederates as it holds the south's two halves together. It also blocked any Union navigation down the Mississippi (Fuller, 21).
Confederates controlled Port Hudson and the Red River. This aided them in communicating with the states on the western side of the river. These states were their source of supply and reinforcement. Union army used troop transport boats and guns to take Bruinsburg, Jackson, Vicksburg and Port Hudson in that order. Turning point in this battle was the north gaining complete control of the Mississippi River. This cuts the Confederacy into two and off from its western allies. President Lincoln viewed this win as the key to winning and ending the war (Rawley, 97).
In November of 1863, the Union army under Grant routed the Confederacy army from the hills of Chattanooga. Grant had been sent there by Lincoln after he got word that General Braxton had laid siege on Tennessee City and had managed to cut off their supplies. The Union army had retreated there after they were defeated in Chickamauga. The Union army took the liberty of avenging their defeat in Chickamauga. They stormed up the face of Missionary Ridge without orders. This angered General Grant, but he was satisfied with the results. The Confederates were forced back into Georgia. The attack of the significance of the railroad junction of Chattanooga, which was a turning point, ended, thereof paving the way for the union army to start Atlanta's campaign. This battle had approximately 13,000 casualties. Once again, Grant did not follow the retreating Confederates. This was a big blow to the southern army as East Tennessee had been a major source of food due to its fertile soils. Natural resources such as coal and iron were also available. Tennessee River served as a transportation hub (Temple, 35).
In September of 1864, General William Sherman captured Atlanta city. This victory motivated the northern troops. The Confederates, however, set fire on the city before they evacuated. This fire ruined the city and almost destroyed it. This would deny Sherman's Federal troops a chance to utilize its resources. This would see Sherman abandon the burning city in November and start a march towards Georgia. Atlanta was a gateway to the south, and his decision to leave was a surprise to many. The military result of this siege was crippling in the Confederacy. This war was a turning point as it played a great role in the re-election of President Lincoln during the autumn presidential elections. His victory against his opponent, George B. McClellan was a big blow to the Confederates. George would have sought peace terms with them, unlike Lincoln, who preferred a war. For the Confederates, there was no hope for peace terms or of foreign aid and intervention. They would never have won the war (Eicher, 26).
These turning points in the civil war shaped the history of America in many ways. It was this war that prevented the entry of slavery into the U.S territories. This war also forms the firm foundation of the United States. It proved that unity is a strength. A few more months of war brought the Confederates on their knees, and Lee surrendered in April 1865. A few days later, Lincoln was assassinated. Andrew Johnson, (Lincolns Deputy), took over, and he officially ended the war. The other Confederate Generals surrendered, and Jefferson Davis was captured. The Northern victory was due, especially after the fall of Atlanta and Lincoln re-election. At that point, Lincoln had already achieved many goals of the war.
There were there many leadership flaws in both parties. For the northern army, their Generals refused to aggressively follow the Confederates even when there was a good chance of getting them to surrender. This is one of the reasons the war went on for so long. The death of Stonewall Jackson created a dent in the confederates army. He was tactical, confident and daring. The system of exchange also failed when Confederates refused to exchange black prisoners. So many soldiers died in their camps, regardless of the fact that there was a shortage of soldiers (accounts for 10% of the war's fatalities). A victory parade was in Washington to boost the nations morale.
Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster., 2001.
Fuller, Major. Gen. J. F. C. The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant. 1929: Da Cpo Press, n.d.
Hemingway, Al. America's Civil War Wagazine March 1996.
Rawley, James A. Turning Point of the Civil War. University of Nebraska Press, 1966.
. Turning Points of the Civil War. University of Nesbraska Press, 1966.
Tagg, Larry. The Generals of Gettysburg. Campbell, CA: Savas Publishing, 1998.
Temple, Oliver P. East Tennessee and the Civil War. Cinccinati, Ohio.: The Robert Clarke Company, 1899.
W., Sears Stephen. Gettysburg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Wilson, Henry. The History of the Rise and Fall of Slave Power in America. Boston: J.R Osgood and CO., 1872-1877.
Wolseley, Garnet, Viscount wolseley. The American Civil War. mechanicsburg: stackpole Books, 1964.
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