Turning Points in the Civil War

Topics: Confederate States of America, American Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant Pages: 5 (1876 words) Published: November 20, 2011
Analytical Assignment
Turning points that occur during a conflict such as a civil war may be found in men, as well as forces of events. Turning points are the moments or acts which are thought to have had profound effects which are necessary to drive the war along the course which it took. During the American Civil War in the 1860’s there can be a widespread debate over which actual event was the turning point in the war that led to a Union victory. Most analysts refer to July 4th, 1864 when the Confederacy retreated from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and Vicksburg, Mississippi surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant and the Union as the turning point for the North in the civil war. Historian James McPherson goes examines these events in great detail in Chapter 19 in his book, Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction while James Rawley does the same in his book, Turning Points in the Civil War in Chapter 6.

James McPherson’s writings have been geared towards advancing the arguments that the North was justified in crushing the rebellion in the South. He sees the civil war in the lens of not a war against the North and the South, but a war against slavery and against their emancipation; a war between progressive forces against conservative ideologies in the south. In his writings, he is quick to indicate that the North’s win was inevitable, because of the relatively more polished military organizational capabilities and a vindication by history. McPherson downplays the factual successes that the Confederate forces had on the different war fronts throughout his book as either mere short term lapses in the organization of the Union forces rather than the actual inabilities to withstand the South’s firepower (McPherson, 2009).

Although McPherson appreciates that the northern forces were decisively defeated at Chancellorsville, Virginia, he insinuates that the win by the South at that point was its main undoing in the subsequent advance to Pennsylvania in the north through Gettysburg. He argues that the use of the temporary momentum gained at Chancellorsville by the Confederate forces led by General Robert E. Lee was without doubt the foresight needed in the war, which made the Confederates add more forces to their ranks for the Pennsylvania assignment that was undoubtedly larger and in need of more personnel, weaponry, and resources. As Lee’s men advanced towards Harrisburg, they were intercepted at Gettysburg and the encounter resulted in a three day long warfare. In the Gettysburg battle, McPherson states that even with the momentum going with them, and despite putting up a valiant military offensive, they were unable to make any headway into the Union lines and were actually repulsed up to as far as Potomac. In the battles, McPherson describes the South’s defeat at Gettysburg as having been crippling which is not commensurate with his explanations of what was going on in the Battle of Vicksburg (McPherson, 2009).

At Vicksburg, Mississippi, McPherson says that the Union forces were not able to have direct fire aimed at the Confederates in whole of the Mississippi region. He explains this away by writing that the South’s forces were only saved from the North’s onslaught by hiding in bluffs in the region; he says that the Northerners led by General Ulysses S. Grant were not able to attack the Confederates behind the bluffs but proposed at bringing the region under a Union siege for about a half a year. He propounds that this was a tactical genius move highly justified by the capture of Vicksburg on July 4th, 1863, together with the largest Confederate Army detachment. The Mississippi region was now wholly under the control of Union forces and the abilities of the Confederates was debilitated by the cut off in supplies from the South to their troops along the Mississippi River.

The Union’s victory at Vicksburg turned the tide against the South for the remaining war period. The siege by the Union forces...

References: McPherson, J. (2009). Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction: McGraw-Hill.
Rawley, J. (1989). Turning Points of the Civil War. Nebraska: University Of Nebraska Press
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