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The most decisive battle in the Civil War

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by matthew mckeon, Jun 27, 2017.

  1. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    I've been listening to Gary Gallagher. He dismisses both Gettysburg and Vicksburg as battles that were not decisive in the CW. His candidate for most decisive: The Seven Days.
     
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  3. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    The CSA was losing the war in 1862. Union armies had advanced in the West, while McClellan was grinding his way almost to Richmond.
    Then Lee takes command, fights the Seven Days and turns the war in the East around.

    If Lee hadn't assumed command, the CSA would have probably lost in Aug/Sept of 1862, and we get both slavery for decades and decades and mostly likely a President McClellan(savior of the Union).

    After the Seven Days, Lincoln will embark on the revolutionary policy of emancipation.
     
  4. BrianB

    BrianB Private

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    I think there was no single decisive battle. Each side had several missed opportunities to win a decisive battle, but ultimately each failed to exploit key opportunities.
     
  5. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    I've listened to a digitalized version of him supporting that opinion, but I disagree.
    McClellan was not going to take Richmond. He did not have the testosterone for that, at that point.
    Nothing was decided, except that the war would continue.
    Lots of people died in the Eastern Theater, but nothing was decided until Lee gave up Richmond, way too late to make an escape, at least with Sheridan driving the pursuit.
     
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  6. James N.

    James N. Major Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    A few months back I read a truly old book (1931) that I subsequently reviewed here called The Story of the Confederacy by Robert Selph Henry https://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-story-of-the-confederacy-by-robert-selph-henry.135430/ in which the author makes a good case for the failure of Bragg's invasion of Kentucky as decisively preventing the Confederacy from winning the war. (As opposed to losing it, which is a different thing.) Although that might make Perryville the decisive battle, he was really referring to the battle between Bragg's force and Buell's scattered army as it regrouped near Louisville that didn't happen because Bragg turned aside and dallied in Frankfort to inaugurate the Confederate Governor of Kentucky instead.
     
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  7. Jimklag

    Jimklag Major Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    I guess it depends on your idea of 'decisive'. All battles decide something. Very few decide everything.
     
  8. Carronade

    Carronade 1st Lieutenant

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    Intriguing idea. One normally thinks of a decisive battle as one won by the eventual victor of the war, like Stalingrad or D-Day in WWII (not to start that argument).

    If we consider that there was a chance of the Peninsula campaign ending in a decisive victory for the Union, then preventing that had a profound on the war and on subsequent history.

    I agree it's hard to nail down one most decisive victory, but let me toss in my contender: Fort Donelson. The first serious Union offensive resulted in the total surrender of the opposing army, starting the Confederates on the long downward slope that would end three years later. And it brought Grant to the forefront for the Union.
     
  9. jackt62

    jackt62 Sergeant Major

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    Adding my agreement to Carronade's post, I nominate Ft. Donelson as the most decisive battle. It effectively busted the confederate defense line across Kentucky and Tennessee wide open, and paved the path for a long string of federal victories in the west, which in my mind, was the decisive theater of war.
     
  10. jackt62

    jackt62 Sergeant Major

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    I recently read Stanley Horn's, "Battle of Nashville" in which the author asserts that the 1864 defeat of the AOT was decisive because it ended the confederacy's hope of threatening the union midwest thus drawing federal resources away from the Petersburg lines.
     
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  11. Greywolf

    Greywolf Corporal

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    Eastern-I consider Grant's Overland campaign and his movement after Cold Harbor, crossing the James to be the Eastern turning point. Grant kept coming and was not retreating like other Union commanders. His move over the James caught Bobby by surprise and once it became a siege, that was it.

    Western-I consider the Chattanooga campaign the turning point in the west. Bumbling Bragg after the first major western victory for the AOT argues with subordinates, sends Longstreet away weakening his lines, poor defensive positioning on Missionary and Lookout Mtn. He gets his butt handed to him opening the way into the deep south.
     
  12. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail 2nd Lieutenant

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    This is an interesting perspective that I had never heard before. I'm guessing Gallagher has a specific definition for "decisive" that's different from the way many of us would use it.

    Is Gallagher saying that the Confederate victory at Seven Days prompted the Emancipation Proclamation? And that by making the war explicitly about slavery, Lincoln doomed the Confederacy to ultimate defeat?

    In other words, it was decisive in a strategic sense even though it was a defeat in the military sense. Sort of like the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam war.
     
  13. Irishtom29

    Irishtom29 First Sergeant

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    I like the Fort Donelson notion. In addition I'll put Chattanooga forward. It brought the two Great Armies of the West together and opened a new line for them to work on together and with great success.
    It also made Grant the Big Kahuna, that was of some importance, yes?
     
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  14. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    My understanding is that the Union came very close to winning the war, and an early Union victory would have profoundly different results than the actual victory in 1865. This is especially true in the Union policy towards "hard war" meaning emancipation.By winning the Seven Days, then Second Bull Run, Lee ensured that it was going to be a longer and most extreme war.
     
  15. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    He considers it decisive because it leads to Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.
     
  16. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    I may be an idiot, but I would think that a decisive victory is the sine qua non of the final outcome of the war.
     
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  17. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    I may be an idiot, too, because I don't know what sine qua non means. But I really want to!
     
  18. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    I learned it as meaning "that without which" but the disctionary says "something absolutely indispensable or essential."

    If the final outcome we are looking at is Union victory, then if Little Mac captured Richmond in 1862 and ended the war that would have been a decisive victory. Mac's failure was not decisive in winning the war.
     
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  19. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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  20. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    We can all imagine everthing going exactly as they did up until the summer of 1864, but Sherman failing to take Atlanta and Sheridan performing as badly as his predecessors in the Valley. This might have led to Lincoln losing the election in Nov. This would have been a decisive defeat.
     
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  21. Patrick H

    Patrick H Major

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    Well, far be it from me to try to argue with Gary Gallagher. He's definitely more schooled on this topic than I am. But my opinion is still my opinion. As such, it's still one valid opinion. And my opinion is that the fall of Vicksburg drove the ultimate nail into the coffin of the Confederacy. The CSA just didn't yet know that Grant had buried it. Nor did anyone else for a little more than a year. But it still happened.
     

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