Why was the Battle of Gettysburg a Turning Point in the Civil War

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Why was the Battle of Gettysburg a Turning Point in the Civil War

This essay explores why the Battle of Gettysburg was a pivotal moment in the American Civil War. It will analyze the strategic significance of the battle, its impact on the morale of both the Union and Confederate forces, and its role in shifting the momentum of the war. The piece will also examine President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and its historical significance in redefining the purpose of the war. The overview aims to provide a detailed understanding of Gettysburg’s role in the broader context of the Civil War. You can also find more related free essay samples at PapersOwl about American Civil War.

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Wars Throughout History

Throughout the ages of many, there have been many wars that have graced planet Earth. The Punic wars, a few hundred years before the birth of Christ, saw more than one million people deaths between the Roman Republic and the Carthaginian Empire over a hundred-year span. The French Wars on Religion during the mid-1500s saw more than two million people die for the sake of their religion. And the Seven Years’ War between Great Britain and France, the last war Great Britain would face before the Revolutionary War, saw more than 800,000 people lose their lives.

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But the question that I bring in this essay is not which war was the bloodiest, but when the concept of modern warfare was given birth.

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The answer is quite simple. The first modern war began with the Civil War. But what makes this war different from the rest to be even considered modern warfare? Some of the many reasons why the Civil War is considered to be the first modern war were due to the strategical use of transportation of the railroad system, the bloodiness of the war, the use of a communication system for orders and commands with the telegraph and the concept of, “total war.”

Railroad System: A New Dawn in Military Logistics

When it comes to the modernization of war, the railroad system, which was used to transport supplies and armaments to Union and Confederate troops, was the first step in making the Civil War the first modern war. Before the introduction of the railroad system, many armies used boats and supply wagons to transfer supplies to units across a vast area, but sometimes this could take weeks to deliver. However, with the introduction of the railroad system, the time it took to deliver these supplies was cut down to a few days or even hours. Throughout the duration of the war, the Union army soon became known as the best-fed and best-supplied military force in history, while the Confederate army had the opposite effect, with multiple food shortages and minimal supplies coming their way. The main reason for this was due to the railroad system. Before and during the Civil War, the Union controlled 70% of the railroad track while the Confederacy only controlled 30%. This was a huge advantage for the Union as they were able to transfer large amounts of weaponry and clothing supplies from factories, as well as food supplies such as canned goods and beef from the city of “Porkopolis.” Instead of focusing on the railroad system like the Union, the Confederacy focused more on the production of ammunition and weapons, leaving the upkeep of railroads to the citizens that owned them. Because of this, southern railroads began to fall apart; without constant maintenance from the government, supplies began to stall for Southern troops when trains could not move on suitable tracks. And thanks to the Anaconda Plan, initiated by the Union to stop supply lines up the Mississippi River, the South had no efficient way of transporting goods to their troops. Never before had the world seen such a dramatic influence on the transportation of supplies and the advantage that it gave to Union troops, which is why modern wars that continued after the Civil War relied heavily on railroads.

Bloodiness: The Sheer Scale of Casualties

But as mentioned above, the railroad system was not the only factor in why the Civil War was the first modern war. The biggest factor, in my opinion, was the sheer bloodiness of the war itself. As stated in the introduction paragraph, there have been many wars in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, were killed. However, the one thing that most of the wars in the past share is the fact that they lasted over a long period of time. With the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of people were killed within only a short four-year time span. By the end of the war, more than 750,000 people died. In a letter written by 2nd Lieut. John. D. Damron, it showcased just how many people could die in a single battle during the Civil War. “We have had another great Battle at this place, resulting in a decisive victory for the Confederate Army. Fredericksburg was shelled on Thursday, 11th Dec. On Saturday, the battle opined (sic) early in the morning on the right of our lines…It was said we were attacked by 40,000 Federals at this point. Whilst our force which opposed them did not amount to one 4th of that number…Their loss was estimated at 20,000 in killed and Wounded whilst ours will not exceed 2,500, 500 of which was killed.” The Battle of Gettysburg had more than double that, with 50,000 soldiers dying in what would be known as the bloodiest battle in American history. Now a lot of the bloodiness of the Civil War can be attributed to the advancement in weaponry that the world had never seen before but would continue to see in the future. Some of these include the Miniè ball, a smaller bullet that could be loaded more efficiently than previous bullets and is believed to have contributed to 90% of Civil War deaths, the Gatling machine gun, repeating rifles, grenades, and mines, and the introduction of underwater torpedoes from “primitive” submarines. The Evening Star, a newspaper published from 1854-1972, described one battle in 1862 near Charleston as “bloody with many heavy losses on both sides.” The United States had never been a part of a war in which so many of their own had died so quickly, nor had the world seen the same. Soon this would be the trend for future wars, more deaths within a quicker timeframe.

Total War: A New Warfare Strategy

Along with the sheer amount of bloodiness of the Civil War, the concept of “total war” was another main reason for the first modern war in the Civil War. The idea of total war came from the Union, and the idea was to destroy everything in their path to make the South see the errors of their ways and to make them suffer. Union soldiers showcased the concept of total war when they marched from Georgia to the coastline, destroying everything that they could, including burning the city of Atlanta. “This measure, although it seems almost inhuman, I believe to be an actual military necessity; it is simply one of the horrors of war” (Lieut. Colonel Charles Fessenden Morse). This strategy devasted the South and stalled the renovations of the Reconstruction era since part of the strategy of total war included destroying farms, industrial factories, and anything else that would give the Southern an advantage to prolong the war. Soon, this type of strategy would be used in wars in the near future, such as in World War One and in World War Two, giving rise to the current modern style of war.

Conclusion: The Birth of Modern Warfare

Although the Civil War may not be the bloodiest, the most advanced, or the most strategic war since the birth of the concept of war, it was the birth of what is now commonly known as modern warfare. Everything that the Civil War endured, with massive casualties, new concepts of warfare, and the installation of better transportation of supplies, all have become staples of what is used in modern war today.

Works Cited

  1. Polybius. (2013). The Histories of Polybius. Translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh. Cambridge University Press
  2. Knecht, The French Civil Wars, 1562-1598 (New York, 2000)
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Why Was The Battle of Gettysburg A Turning Point in the Civil War. (2023, Jun 18). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/why-was-the-battle-of-gettysburg-a-turning-point-in-the-civil-war/