The battle of Gettysburg is considered a turning point in the Civil War because for both sides, the outcome of the battle meant either great success or great defeat. Going into battle, the Confederacy knew that a success at Gettysburg would ensure a much-needed boost in southern morale and would also provide their troops with supplies to replace their army’s completely diminished resources. The Union, also having a great stake in the outcome of Gettysburg, knew that for them this success would be an opportunity to change the purpose of the war as a whole, which in turn would alienate the Confederacy from the possibility of gaining any foreign support from countries who already established anti-slave policies. The war proved to be very bloody, killing 3,155 Union soldiers and 2,600-4,500 Confederate soldiers, but it eventually ended in a victory for the Union. Now the Civil War was a war for the emancipation of the slaves.
After their success at Gettysburg, it was in the best interests of the Union army to end the war as quickly as possible so that they could begin to rebuild their torn-apart country. In the words of Sherman, “war is cruelty, the crueler it is the sooner it will be over.” So, the Union army took this to heart and began a policy of total war against the Confederacy. Now everything was made a target of the war, including civilian property, towns, and farm lands; all in order to crush the morale and diminish the resources of their enemy. But, with that being said, Sherman didn’t take this destruction lightly. He did what he had to in the name of strategy, but held back from destroying absolutely everything if he could; like he did on Christmas for the city of Savanna since there was no use in destroying an already abandoned city. But still, as always with the use of total war, the Union’s actions were seen as only partially justifiable by many because although it did considerably shorten the war, they were not directly killing civilian people and they showed mercy in some situations, they still displaced thousands of people from their homes, leaving them without food or resources in the ruins of everything they had ever worked for.
The Union army’s policy of total war had it’s desired effect and brought the Civil War to an end with a victory for the north. Upon hearing this, people all over the country reacted to the news in their own way. Union soldiers, for instance, were excited about their victory, but had to quell their celebration for the sake of moving forward. Similarly, the Confederate troops were very mature about the outcome of the battle. They demonstrated this maturity by showing respect for their general rather than anger about their defeat. And when news of the Confederate defeat reached the civilians, the general reaction was relief: relief that the fighting would be over so that they could begin to rebuild their homes as well as their country. Understandably, many confederates were angry about their defeat, but one group of men took their anger too far. John Wilkes Booth and three other conspirators were so angry at the new state of their country that they set out to assassinate important political leaders. Booth was the only one in the group to be successful; killing president Lincoln just days after he was re-elected.
Beginning at the battle of Gettysburg, the nature of the Civil War changed. The war, now openly about the freeing of slaves, evolved into total war and left a mark on people all across America by it’s end–especially the president.
Brian Williams, Military History Online, 2007.
E.B. Long, The Civil War Day by Day, Double Day and Co., Garden City, NY, 1971.
Pathways to the Present. Chapter 11, Sections 3 and 4. PearsonSuccessNet.com. (Accessed April 3, 2014)