Sunday, December 9, 2012

Civil War Strategy and Tactics Research Proposal

Title:  Gettysburg versus Atlanta: Which is the True Turning Point of the War?
Preliminary Thesis:  The Battle of Atlanta was the decisive turning point of the Civil War.
Discussion:  Conventional wisdom counts the Battle of Gettysburg as the turning point of the American Civil War.  And if one considers the winning and losing of significant, individual battles, it may well have been.  After all, prior to Gettysburg, the Union had been out-maneuvered, out-generaled, and entirely out-classed by aggressive, tactically gifted Confederate Generals.
The Union had been given a harsh dose of reality at the first encounter at Manassas Junction.  They had been caught woefully unprepared by Johnston at Shiloh, and only the grit and fighting spirit of Grant had managed to drive him back, at great cost, on the second day.  They had managed to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory at Antietam, had been embarrassed at Chancellorsville, and had been crushed at Fredericksburg.  Gettysburg did indeed mark a turning point in the perception of Lee’s seeming invincibility.
Despite the defeat at Gettysburg, and the surrender and capture of Pemberton’s army at Vicksburg in July 1863, the South was nowhere near defeated, and the Union far from conquerors.  One must remember that Lincoln’s objective was complete and absolute victory; a forcible reunification of the rebel southern states to the Union; while the Confederacy merely had to make the continuation of the war untenable to the North’s populace.
As many historians have pointed out, the last year of the war from the Spring of 1864 to Spring of 1865, was the single most bloody of the entire War.  Grant did not win overwhelming victories in the Overland Campaign.  Instead, matched at every turning movement by the tactically proficient Lee, Grant’s Army suffered tremendous casualties at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Cold Harbor.  In the time span of under 45 days, the Union Army had been bleed by approximately 65,000.
During this Overland Campaign, the carnage produced across the fields of Northern Virginia earned Grant the nickname of “The Butcher” in many war-weary circles in the Northern States.  Confident of their chances in November, the Democrat Party in the North nominated George B. McClellan for President.  Lincoln privately doubted his chances in the coming election.  He knew that if he lost reelection, his vision of reunification would not be realized.  Imagine if George W. Bush had had to run for reelection in 2006.  The North needed something to buttress the tiring populace.  They needed a morale boost.
That came at Atlanta in September 1864.  Not only did the withdrawal of Hood’s Army from Atlanta capture an important logistics hub of the Confederate supply chain, but it provided the Lincoln administration with a vital propaganda boost needed to win reelection.  The Northern populace saw the fact that though Grant had not captured Richmond or forced the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee was otherwise occupied and slowly being bleed dry, and Sherman was free to roam the South, striking at the heart of the Confederacy.
If Sherman had taken a beating attempting to directly assault first Johnston’s Army and then Hood’s Army in his drive to Atlanta, it is doubtful Atlanta would have been taken when it was, resulting in the victory of McClellan over Lincoln and probably leading to a brokered peace between the South and the North.

UPDATE:  Here is the finished essay.

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