Did the "character" of the war change around 1863?

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OldReliable1862

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This is a much more "cerebral" question than I usually ask, one that deals more with our own perception of the continuity of historical events, and the feelings they evoke within us. However, despite this, I still it could be worth airing these thoughts.

I've been reading about the Civil War for about as long as I can remember, and from early on, it seemed the war started to change around 1863. There seems to be a kind of theatrical quality to the first two years of the war. Colorful zouaves marching to the sound of bands, Stuart's ride, Jackson's Valley Campaign. Figures like Beauregard and Van Dorn almost seem to serve as the inevitable comic relief. Even the bloody battles of Shiloh and Sharpsburg seem to have a quality of drama to them.

But with 1863, it seems this leaves the war, and is replaced by horrifyingly bloody fighting, trenches, and the feeling of two forces locked in a death grip. In Virginia, there's no longer an Army of Northern Virginia turning back every incursion, but Lee and Grant engaging in one bloody battle after another, ending in the mud and blood of Petersburg. In Georgia, Johnston and Sherman are in a campaign that looks almost like an alley knife fight, as the two men turn and parry to land a perfect strike. Things finally come to a head as Atlanta burns and then Georgia with it, as Hood and the Army of Tennessee go on a last, futile campaign to Nashville.

This is probably my strangest thread idea yet, but does anyone else feel this way?
 
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jgoodguy

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This is a much more "cerebral" question than I usually ask, one that deals more with our own perception of the continuity of historical events, and the feelings they evoke within us. However, despite this, I still it could be worth airing these thoughts.

I've been reading about the Civil War for about as long as I can remember, and from early on, it seemed the war started to change around 1863. There seems to be a kind of theatrical quality to the first two years of the war. Colorful zouaves marching to the sound of bands, Stuart's ride, Jackson's Valley Campaign. Figures like Beauregard and Van Dorn almost seem to serve as the inevitable comic relief. Even the bloody battles of Shiloh and Sharpsburg seem to have a quality of drama to them.

But with 1863, it seems this leaves the war, and is replaced by horrifyingly bloody fighting, trenches, and the feeling of two forces locked in a death grip. In Virginia, there's no longer an Army of Northern Virginia turning back every incursion, but Lee and Grant engaging in one bloody battle after another, ending in the mud and blood of Petersburg. In Georgia, Johnston and Sherman are in a campaign that looks almost like a alley knife fight, as the two men turn and parry to land a perfect strike. Things finally come to a head as Atlanta burns and then Georgia with it, as Hood and the Army of Tennessee go on a last, futile campaign to Nashville.

This is probably my strangest thread idea yet, but does anyone else feel this way?
Seen stranger. IMHO after Gettysburg In the east, the Union no longer retreated after a battle, but occupied the ground or tried something else.
 

Lubliner

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I believe the whole Washingtonian attitude toward the war changed after Antietam and Perryville. The army leaders, Buell and McClellan who believed in protecting citizenry and property of southern civilians was set aside with the shake down in leadership, about this time. Surely the soldiers were becoming seasoned fighters, but the telling signs I see are in the overall policy used against the south, starting with Stone's River. The lenient commanders I mentioned believed when soldiery abused the rights of southerners, their own morale declined. Sherman and Sheridan, etc.; seems to have had no problem with morale.
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Coonewah Creek

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This is probably my strangest thread idea yet, but does anyone else feel this way?
I know exactly what you are saying, and yet I find it hard to find an exact point where I can say "right here, right here is where it all changed." I think if I were reading the Civil War as a version of some alien planet's history, and did not yet know the outcome, at some point I would come to the realization that there would be a very low probability that the analog to the Confederate side could pull it out of the fire. I've never been able to quite "draw a line in the sand," but it would probably occur about the time of the dual losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg...and the May, 1864 of the openings of the Overland Campaign, and Sherman's Drive on Atlanta would simply "tie a pretty bow" around the assumption of the Confederacy's eventual defeat for me...
 
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major bill

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I think both sides some how hoped for a major victory to win the war without too much death and destruction. Perhaps Europe would step in and end the war before it got too bloody. I think by 1863 both sides realized this would not happen. The South hoped to cause enough deaths and financial difficulties, that the North would end the war. The North began to believe the South had to be pounded until they collapsed.

Sadly, both sides were right. No one big battle in 1863 was going to win the war. In a bloody pounding, the odds favored the North.
 

Andy Cardinal

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For me that is the point in time where 2 things happen that I think change the war

-- last of the all (or nearly all) volunteer armies. The Confederacy used conscription early on, but it did not impact Northern armies all that much until mid to late 1863.

-- the nature of battle changed. In the east Gettysburg was the last major battle to not be dominated by mass entrenchment. Maybe Chickamauga in the West?
 
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gary

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Jackson's Valley Campaign was nothing short of brilliant. He outmarched and outfought everyone.

By 1863, most soldiers were seasoned and hardened and began abandoning the notion of strengthening their position to reduce casualties. Certainly there were still stand up and fight battles as well as reckless charges (Pickett/Pittigrew/Pender, Grant twice at Vicksburg and ditto with Banks at Port Hudson), but both sides came to discard that the naive notion glory of war for the gore of war.
 

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An interesting question! And like others I cannot put my finger on a single battle or event that nails this precise point in the conflict.
Perhaps for both sides the early stages were somewhat blinkered by a jingoistic ‘it’ll all be over by Christmas’ mindset but as the brutal and unforgiving nature of the war took hold, so attitudes began to harden and resolve became intensified as each death, each misery and each outrage compounded one upon another. I think that both sides reached a point of 'no return'.
 
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Carronade

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I think Grimsleys _Hard Hand of War_ tackles this subject pretty well. He sees 1861-1862 as the “soft” war. 1862 - 1863 with the Second Confiscation Act the Emancipation Proclamation as the transition to the hard war of 1864-65. A good read, focused more on the Federal side.
Good analysis. I was thinking the same thing as I read my way down the thread, that the war transitioned in 1862 with bloodbaths like Shiloh and Antietam and the realization that it would be neither short nor painless.
 
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Lee was a big Napoleon fan. At the beginning of the Civil War things were very much thought of in a Napoleonic Way. Both sides were well studied and trained in the Napoleonic way of warfare. Line up thousands of men beautifully dressed and perfect lines, have them march almost mesmerizingly across open ground while maintaining momentum and sweep the defending army off the field. These tactics were carried through all the way until the famous "Pickett's Charge", which by many is considered the last Napoleonic charge ever attempted, and we saw the results. Evidence of this can be found all the way up until Gettysburg. In "Men of Battle" there is a civil war soldier that writes home, and I'm paraphrasing here "I saw the most amazing thing today. The union come at us in this beautiful line. After the battle we was out looking at things and I saw 37 men, toes lined up on a perfect row, all dead."

After the casualties suffered at Gettysburg, and the loss of Vicksburg the day after, the idea of an offensive campaign for the South became almost non-existent. Losing Vicksburg not only cut off their supplies, it cut the south almost in half. From Gettysburg on they played out a war very much in line with what James Longstreet wanted to do in the first place. Put yourself between the AOP and Richmond, find great ground, dig in, and wait for them to hit you. Longstreet didn't want to win the war with sweeping and glorious victories like Lee. He knew that if they could just fend off the Federals for long enough they would lose their appetite for war. So, personally, I believe there was a great tactical switch in the way the South, and particular, Lee felt about the war after Gettysburg. The South went from trying to win in a blaze of glory and prove their existence to holding on and trying desperately to preserve it.

Stay Civil

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Doc Smith

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Do we all agree that Gettysburg/Vicksburg was the turning of the war.. just like Stalingrad was for the Eastern Front of WW2 and Battle of Midway was for the Pacific in WW2?
 
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Carronade

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Do we all agree that Gettysburg/Vicksburg was the turning of the war.. just like Stalingrad was for the Eastern Front of WW2 and Battle of Midway was for the Pacific in WW2?
Vicksburg maybe, but the significance of Gettysburg was that it wasn't a turning point for the side that needed one - the Confederacy.
 

Ole Miss

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I believe the "character" of the War changed after the devastation of Shiloh when everyone realized that War was a deadly serious business. The idea of one Confederate could defeat 10 Yankees went by the side and the Union realized the South was going to fight to the death. The so called Glory of War was proven to be nothing but hokum.
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Saint Jude

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I've been reading Allen Guelzo's book Fateful Lighting, and just this morning I read," "The naive war, the glory-to God war, the war of the thousand uniforms, was over. The war in war in earnest had now begun." He says this happened after First Bull Run.
 
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jackt62

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The war changed dramatically in many ways from 1861 to 1865. In terms of tactics, the character of the war evolved from classic opposing line of battle formations to one in which fighting from or with the benefit of entrenchments became the norm. From a national policy point of view, the Union enlarged its war aims from simple reunification to the abolition of slavery, and the means to carry this out evolved from limiting hostilities to armed combatants to eventually encompassing civilians and civic infrastructure as legitimate targets.
 

leftyhunter

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This is a much more "cerebral" question than I usually ask, one that deals more with our own perception of the continuity of historical events, and the feelings they evoke within us. However, despite this, I still it could be worth airing these thoughts.

I've been reading about the Civil War for about as long as I can remember, and from early on, it seemed the war started to change around 1863. There seems to be a kind of theatrical quality to the first two years of the war. Colorful zouaves marching to the sound of bands, Stuart's ride, Jackson's Valley Campaign. Figures like Beauregard and Van Dorn almost seem to serve as the inevitable comic relief. Even the bloody battles of Shiloh and Sharpsburg seem to have a quality of drama to them.

But with 1863, it seems this leaves the war, and is replaced by horrifyingly bloody fighting, trenches, and the feeling of two forces locked in a death grip. In Virginia, there's no longer an Army of Northern Virginia turning back every incursion, but Lee and Grant engaging in one bloody battle after another, ending in the mud and blood of Petersburg. In Georgia, Johnston and Sherman are in a campaign that looks almost like an alley knife fight, as the two men turn and parry to land a perfect strike. Things finally come to a head as Atlanta burns and then Georgia with it, as Hood and the Army of Tennessee go on a last, futile campaign to Nashville.

This is probably my strangest thread idea yet, but does anyone else feel this way?
I am surprised no one has mentioned the end of exchanging prisoners. That policy benefited the Confederacy at the expense of the Union.
Ft. Pillow was definitely a turning point for the USCT as demonstrated at the battle of Ft.Blakely.
Leftyhunter
 
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