The Turning Point of the American Civil War: Battle of Gettysburg or Siege of Vicksburg?

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The Turning Point of the American Civil War: Battle of Gettysburg or Siege of Vicksburg?

The American Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, was a brutal onslaught between the Union (the North) and the Confederacy (the South) originating in the fractious issue of slavery. The ruthlessness of this war, mostly fought in the South, lasted from 1861 through 1865, where the Confederacy was ultimately defeated, slavery was abolished, and the extremely difficult process of the reconstruction of the United States and its unity began.

There were many battles fought during the American Civil War including the Battle of Fort Sumter, the Battle of Yorktown, and the Battle of Hanover, however, the most known confrontation is the Battle of Gettysburg. The Battle of Gettysburg took place in Pennsylvania from July 1st through July 3rd of 1863. General Robert E. Lee (commanding the Confederate army) concentrated his full strength against Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac (Union) at the crossroads county seat of Gettysburg.

On July 1st, Confederate and Union forces collided at Gettysburg, with General Lee’s intention being to engage the Union army and to destroy it. Initially, the Union defended low ridges to the northwest of town. Unfortunately for the two corps of Union infantry and the Union cavalry division that was defending the region; two large corps of Confederate infantry assaulted them from the north and northwest. This collapsed the hastily developed Union lines of defense and sent the defenders retreating south through the streets of town and to the hills close by.

On the second day of battle, July 2nd, most of the Union and Confederate armies had been assembled. Fierce fighting raged this day, figuratively and literally staining the ground crimson with blood. Despite the onslaught of the Confederacy, the Union managed to hold their lines even with the significant losses that they suffered.

On July 3rd, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union army repulsed the attack with artillery fire, at great losses to the Confederate army. General Lee led his army on a torturous retreat back to Virginia, making the Union the victor of the battle.

But was the Battle of Gettysburg really the turning point of the Civil War? All that the Battle of Gettysburg accomplished was prohibiting the Confederacy from further travel into Union territory. This is where the Siege of Vicksburg comes into play.

Believed to be one of the most remarkable campaigns of the American Civil War, the Siege of Vicksburg is also arguably the turning point of the Civil War militarily. General Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign on Vicksburg secured John Pemberton’s army’s surrender on July 4th, 1863 as well as the Mississippi River firmly in Union hands. With that, the Confederacy’s fate was all but sealed.

Also known as the Battle of Vicksburg, this confrontation was a culmination of a long land and naval campaign by Union forces to capture this strategic position. Abraham Lincoln (the president at the time) recognized the significance of Vicksburg. He said, “Vicksburg is the key, the war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.”

There were many attempts at securing Vicksburg, the first being in the summer of 1862. It included a prolonged bombardment by Union naval vessels, but unfortunately after the ships withdrew the attempt failed. General Grant was moving his troops on land towards the town from the rear. However, his advance ended when General Nathan Bedford Forrest of the Confederacy destroyed Grant’s rail supply line, and General Earl Van Dorn of the Confederacy captured the Union supply base at Holly Springs. General Grant tried again that December, but again was met with failure. Another Union General, General William T. Sherman, led an assault against the high ground of the Chickasaw Bluffs north of Vicksburg. To the Union’s dismay this resulted in nearly...
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