If there is one point in the Civil War to be considered the turning point, it is the Battle of Gettysburg. Before Gettysburg, the confederacy was winning in the eastern theatre, but Gettysburg was a major victory for the union both on and off of the battlefield. One way the battle was a turning point was in resources. Before the battle, the confederacy was low on supplies and went into Gettysburg with hopes of winning and resupplying. The battle was the last plan for resupplying the already extremely weak army, so the loss was the final blow. Without proper supplies the confederacy could not continue to fight. Gettysburg also affected confederate resources in terms of troops. As shown in the charts below, the confederates and the union suffered similar casualties. However, at that point the size of the union army and the pool of eligible men were about five times those of the confederate army. This means it had a much greater effect on the confederacy than on the union.
Gettysburg also had an effect on morale for both sides. The conditions the confederate army was facing without adequate supplies and yet another loss were very demoralizing for the south. Many people did not believe Robert E Lee would win another battle again. Since the south lost the will to fight, it sped up the end of the war. The union received a morale boost from the battle and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. His address changes the reason for the war to fighting for the freedom of all people and it gives the army a reason to fight. The morale boost and sense of purpose the union receives helps them win the war. All of these occurrences of the battle of Gettysburg are reasons why it was the turning point of the Civil War.
Important victories like Gettysburg alone would not end the war immediately and the union hoped to speed up the end of the war. They developed a new tactic called “total war”. The idea of total war was, as the union progressed through the south, to destroy everything in their path including civilian property. The theory was that if they totally destroyed the South’s ability to wage war, they would lose morale and be more likely to surrender. Sherman, who practiced this tactic said “War is cruelty, There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” The whole purpose of total war was to end the war quicker by using all means necessary to force the confederacy to surrender. This tactic brought up a moral and ethical dilemma because it attacked civilian property and sometimes endangered civilians. One example was Grant’s Siege of Vicksburg. He constantly shelled the city and forced the inhabitants to move into nearby caves to escape the danger. The caves were very unpleasant places to live as described by one person who experienced it:
- "Our new habitation was an excavation made in the earth, and branching six feet from the entrance, forming a cave in the shape of a T. In one of the wings my bed fitted; the other I used as a kind of dressing room; in this the earth had been cut down a foot or two below the floor of the main cave; I could stand erect here; and when tired of sitting in other portions of my residence, I bowed myself into it, and stood impassively resting at full height one of the variations in the still shellexpectant life… we were safe at least from the fragments of shell and they were flying in all directions though no one seemed to think our cave any protection should a mortar shell happen to fall directly on top of the ground above us.”- Mary Ann Loughborough
While total war did have a serious and negative impact on civilians, its use was justified. Total war sped up the southern surrender and ended the Civil War quicker than it probably would have ended without total war. While some civilians suffered and possibly died, the overall casualties were much less than those from the months or even years of battles the campaign likely avoided. Total war was a brutal but effective strategy to end the Civil War more quickly.
Once the Civil War finally ended, the reactions of the people were not as one may have expected especially from the victors. The soldiers were relieved that the war had finally ended, but were mournful of the many fellow countrymen killed on both sides. They were exhausted both physically and emotionally. Grant accepted Lee’s surrender without excitement, but with respect for the man who once fought alongside him. In Washington, there were great celebrations, but Lincoln was exhausted and somber. Throughout the country, people were ready to rebuild the country. Overall most people were just glad to be able to finally move on. However, some southerners were not willing to accept that they had lost and decided to keep fighting. One of these men, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln in a last ditch attempt to cripple the union and give the south another opportunity. Across the country, many people were devastated by the loss of Lincoln. He was mourned greatly and remembered as one of our greatest presidents.