Major Turning Points of the Civil War
When was the
"Major Turning Point" of the Civil War? When did the major turning point happen? What was the major turning point of
the Civil War? Was there a so-called major turning point in the conflict? Or, were there several major turning points?
Many people, even historians, disagree on when the Civil War turned or experienced its pivotal moment. Was it a
battle, event, date, political moment or another occurrence? Although it is a subject that has been debated through the ages,
let's examine the facts.
The Pen is Mightier than
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, and issued the Emancipation Proclamation
on January 1, 1863. President
to broaden the base of the war and may have prevented England and France from lending support to a Country that engaged in
slavery. See also The Trent Affair, Preventing Diplomatic Recognition of the Confederacy, and American Civil War and International Diplomacy.
Lincoln, however, signed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation just days after the Union victory
at the Battle of Antietam. He was
In practical terms, the
Emancipation Proclamation had little immediate impact; it freed slaves only in the Confederate states, while leaving slavery
intact in the border states. And, moreover, the freedom it promised
depended upon Union military victory. Furthermore, the proclamation allowed the arming of approximately
180,000 blacks for the Union army. Antietam, consequently, was the initial major turning point in the American Civil War. See also "Subsequent Turning Points" below.
Battle of Antietam
The battle transpired on Wednesday, September 17, 1862,
and less than 3 weeks after the costly Confederate victory at the Battle of Second Manassas (aka Battle of Second Bull Run).
the entire course of the Civil War and not only halted Lee's bold invasion of the North (Why Lee Invaded Maryland), but thwarted efforts to force President Lincoln to sue for peace. It further provided
Lincoln with the victory he needed in order to announce the abolition of slavery. The Battle of Sharpsburg
The Battle of Antietam, or Sharpsburg,
, Maryland, was the turning point of the Civil War
and during eleven solid hours of fierce fighting, a man was killed or wounded every two seconds. The casualties were 6 Generals killed, 12 Generals wounded, and approximately
23,000 killed, wounded, and missing (9 times
the number who fell on the beaches of Normandy).
It was the bloodiest single-day battle of the American Civil War.
The First Texas Infantry Regiment lost eighty-two percent of the 226 engaged
at Antietam, and a
t least four female
soldiers (including Sarah Emma Edmundson Seelye) participated at Antietam. Consequently, Antietam produced twenty
Medals of Honor.
"In the time that I am writing, every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was
cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks
a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battlefield." Maj.
Gen. Joseph Hooker, USA, Commander, I Corps, Army of the Potomac (At the Antietam Battle)
Antietam: Ramifications for the South and
South: Defensive War Only
Pro-Unionists and conscription
opponents (present day draft dodgers) of Tennessee fled daily, crossed the Cumberland Mountains, and joined the Federal army in
Kentucky and Ohio. During
the fighting in East Tennessee, additional pro-Unionists and conscription opponents fled into Western North Carolina. During General Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North in September 1862, many vacated their homes while others deserted the army (Robert
E. Lee's wife, Mary Custis, is the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington). They strongly believed in a defensive war only; after all, the South is defending their homeland against Northern Aggression. Some adamantly
declared that "I do not own any slaves" and they viewed it as “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
On June 20, 1863, with strong pro-Unionist sentiment, western Virginia broke from secessionist
Virginia and formed the state of West Virginia.
North: Preservation of the Union
, with the Emancipation Proclamation, Northern soldiers also deserted with many stating, "I am not fighting to
free the blacks or to abolish slavery!" In other words, many Federal soldiers were fighting to preserve the Union. The
Copperhead ranks swelled as a direct result of Lincoln's Proclamation.
The Battle of Antietam led to
issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and reflected that the "pen is mightier than the sword." However
Subsequent Turning Points
Gettysburg was a "tactical victory" while Vicksburg must be considered a "tactical and strategic victory." President Abraham
Lincoln stated that "Vicksburg is the Key!"
The fall of Vicksburg gave more tangible results to the Union than the defeat of Lee's army at Gettysburg.
At Vicksburg, the Union army split the South in two along the line of the Mississippi, making it extremely difficult
for the Confederacy's blockade runners into Texas to supply the Southern armies east of the Mississippi. In general, it made
it extremely difficult for the South to transfer supplies and troops to its Eastern and Western Theaters fulfilling Gen.
Scott's Anaconda Plan.
The Union also gained political objectives at Vicksburg and to a degree at Gettysburg. Lee was turned back at
Gettysburg, and the public perception of Lee's invincibility was tainted. With
the North's victory at Gettysburg, however, the South discontinued its offensive war in the North. For the remainder
of the American Civil War, the South fought a defensive war.
Recommended Reading: Fields of
Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War, by Edwin C. Bearss (Author), James McPherson (Introduction). Description: Bearss, a former chief historian of the
National Parks Service and internationally recognized American Civil War historian, chronicles 14 crucial battles, including
Fort Sumter, Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Sherman's march through the Carolinas, and Appomattox--the
battles ranging between 1861 and 1865; included is an introductory chapter describing John Brown's raid in October 1859. Continued
Bearss describes the terrain, tactics, strategies, personalities, the soldiers and the commanders.
(He personalizes the generals and politicians, sergeants and privates.) The text is augmented by 80 black-and-white photographs
and 19 maps. It is like touring the battlefields without leaving home. A must for every
one of America's countless Civil War buffs, this major work will stand as an important
reference and enduring legacy of a great historian for generations to come. Also available in hardcover: Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War.
Recommended Reading: Crossroads
of Freedom: Antietam (Pivotal Moments in American History) (Hardcover). Description: The bloodiest day in United States history was September
17, 1862, when, during the Civil War battle at Antietam, approximately 6,500 soldiers were
killed or mortally wounded, while more than 15,000 were seriously wounded. James M. McPherson states in Crossroads
of Freedom the concise chronicle of America’s bloodiest day and that it may well have been the pivotal moment of
the war, as well as the young republic itself. Continued below...
The South, after a series
of setbacks in the spring of 1862, had reversed the war's momentum during the summer, and was on the "brink of military victory"
and about to achieve diplomatic recognition by European nations, most notably England and France.
Though the bulk of his book concerns itself with the details--and incredible carnage--of the battle, McPherson raises it above
typical military histories by placing it in its socio-political context: The victory prodded Abraham Lincoln to announce his
"preliminary" Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves. England and France deferred their economic alliance with the battered
secessionists. Most importantly, it kept Lincoln's party,
the Republicans, in control of Congress. McPherson's account is accessible, elegant, and economical. Also available
in paperback: Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam (Pivotal Moments in American
Recommended Reading: The Antietam Campaign
(Military Campaigns of the Civil War). Description: The Maryland campaign
of September 1862 ranks among the most important military operations of the American Civil War. Crucial political, diplomatic,
and military issues were at stake as Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan maneuvered and fought in the western part of the
state. The climactic clash came on September 17 at the battle of Antietam, where more than 23,000 men fell in the single bloodiest
day of the war. Continued below...
topics related to Lee's and McClellan's operations from a variety of perspectives, numerous contributors to this volume explore
questions regarding military leadership, strategy, and tactics, the impact of the fighting on officers and soldiers in both
armies, and the ways in which participants and people behind the lines interpreted and remembered the campaign. They also
discuss the performance of untried military units and offer a look at how the United States Army used the Antietam battlefield
as an outdoor classroom for its officers in the early twentieth century. Also available in paperback: The Antietam Campaign (Military Campaigns of the Civil War)
Recommended Reading: The Civil War Battlefield Guide: The Definitive Guide,
Completely Revised, with New Maps and More Than 300 Additional Battles (Second Edition) (Hardcover). Description: This new edition of the definitive guide to Civil War battlefields is really a completely new book. While
the first edition covered 60 major battlefields, from Fort Sumter to Appomattox, the second covers all of the 384 designated as the "principal battlefields" in the American Civil War Sites Advisory Commission
Report. Continued below...
As in the first edition, the essays are authoritative and concise, written by such leading Civil War
historians as James M. McPherson, Stephen W. Sears, Edwin C. Bearss, James I. Robinson, Jr., and Gary W. Gallager. The second
edition also features 83 new four-color maps covering the most important battles. The Civil War Battlefield Guide is an essential
reference for anyone interested in the Civil War. "Reading this book is like being at the bloodiest battles of the
Recommended Viewing: The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns. Review: The
Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns is the most successful public-television miniseries in American history. The 11-hour Civil War didn't just captivate a nation,
reteaching to us our history in narrative terms; it actually also invented a new film language taken from its creator. When
people describe documentaries using the "Ken Burns approach," its style is understood: voice-over narrators reading letters
and documents dramatically and stating the writer's name at their conclusion, fresh live footage of places juxtaposed with
still images (photographs, paintings, maps, prints), anecdotal interviews, and romantic musical scores taken from the era
he depicts. Continued below...
The Civil War uses all of these devices to evoke atmosphere and resurrect an event that many knew
only from stale history books. While Burns is a historian, a researcher, and a documentarian, he's above all a gifted storyteller,
and it's his narrative powers that give this chronicle its beauty, overwhelming emotion, and devastating horror. Using the
words of old letters, eloquently read by a variety of celebrities, the stories of historians like Shelby Foote and rare, stained
photos, Burns allows us not only to relearn and finally understand our history, but also to feel and experience it. "Hailed
as a film masterpiece and landmark in historical storytelling." "[S]hould be a requirement for every