Turning Points of the American Civil War

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Although each event of the American Civil War may provide valuable sentiment to the outcome of the overall occurrence, there are four critical turning points that define lasting consequences of the war. Ranking in order from least significant to most significant, as well as subtly diverging from Professor McPherson’s interpretations, the four events marking crucial turning points of the Civil War were Antietam and Emancipation; the Battles of Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Chattanooga; Sherman’s capture of Atlanta and his following March to the Sea; and the Presidential Election of 1864. Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation were the fourth most important turning points of the Civil War. Throughout the onset of the Civil War, Union victories were rare in the eastern theatre and pressures were placed upon President Lincoln to do something to change the path of the war. Many became critical of the President for not making quicker decisions and he maintained that the paramount objective of the war was to save the Union, as opposed to focusing on the slavery issue. (DDP Video 8) However, unbeknownst to the public, Lincoln had drafted the Emancipation Proclamation and was simply waiting for the appropriate moment to present the document to the public. In an effort to keep from looking desperate, Seward advised the President to wait for a Union victory to enact the Emancipation Proclamation. (DDP Video 8) The Battle of Antietam in September of 1862, although was not a blatant Union victory, proved to be a worthy enough event to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Emancipation Proclamation not only served as the freedom document to Southern slaves, but served as the President’s formal notification to the nation of the changed intent of the Union’s war effort. In addition, the Emancipation Proclamation acted as a deterrent to the British Empire from aiding the Confederacy and further recognizing it as a legitimate government. By the spring of 1863, the Confederacy was determined to find a way to entice foreign recognition once again. General Lee felt that a victory in the North might be enough to satisfy European interests and advised a plan to attack the Union on its own territory in Pennsylvania, as well as provide an alternative method of obtaining provisions by living off the Pennsylvania land. Furthermore, Lee imagined that Union armies from the western theatre would move to reinforce eastern troops, thus giving reprieve to western Confederate armies. (McPherson 350) Confederate troops started northward and although not planned, the battle near the town of Gettysburg was initiated when a Confederate infantry brigade searching for resources had a run-in with Union cavalry brigades. Neither the Union nor the Confederacy was properly prepared to battle at that time or at that location. Perhaps one of the most important misfortunes that could have predicted the fate of the Confederacy was related to Lee not being ready for the battle when it inadvertently ensued. When Lee reached Gettysburg, he had not heard from Stuart, the man responsible for keeping Lee apprised of the Union’s position, causing Lee to feel somewhat skeptical about rushing into battle. (McPherson 352) Other leaders of the Confederate armies realized the potential consequences of not having Stuart’s information and became enraged. “Marshall was furious with the absent Stuart, was ready to draw up court-martial papers.” (Shaara 78) When Stuart finally does return to Lee, Lee tactfully inquires, “Are you aware, General, that there are officers on my staff who have requested your court-martial? I have not concurred. But it is the opinion of some excellent officers that you have let us all down.” (Shaara 265) It could be due in part to these circumstances that the Confederacy was unable to break the Union holds at Gettysburg during the first two days of the battle. With Confederate morale on the decline and no evidence of a swift victory, the disadvantaged...
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