According to Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Godwin, considering military, political, economic, and cultural factors, what accounted for the changing tides in 1863, leading to ultimate Union victory?
In her 2005 study of Abraham Lincoln’s Administration and the Civil War, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin describes the year 1863 as being the point in which the tide turned in the conduct of the war, and in which the character of the nations was fundamentally transformed. Noting the enormous significance of the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 and the importance of having turned back Robert E. Lee’s attempt at taking the war directly to the Union, Goodwin notes that the events of that summer constituted “. . .a critical transformation in the Union war effort.” The significance of that particular year, however, began the preceding fall, in September of 1862, when President Lincoln presented to his Cabinet a draft of what would become the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863. With this monumental step, Lincoln set the nation on an irreversible path towards the ideals upon which it was founded. While preservation of the union was his highest individual priority, the abolition of slavery was inseparable from that objective. As Goodwin writes in Team of Rivals:
“While its immediate effects were limited, since it applied only to enslaved blacks behind rebel lines, the Emancipation Proclamation changed forever the relationship of the national government to slavery.”
Beyond the political and symbolic importance of the Emancipation Proclamation – execution of which required victory over the South – was the immediate practical benefit for the Union of providing for the exploitation of tens of thousands of black Union soldiers.
Another important development during 1863 on which Goodwin places considerably emphasis involved the military campaigns in Tennessee, especially with respect to the battles in and around Chattanooga and at Knoxville. In relating the significance of these campaigns, Goodwin quotes Lincoln’s secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, who noted the contributions to Union victories in Tennessee of crucial decisions made by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, whose decision to reinforce Union positions at Chattanooga prevented what Ulysses S. Grant later suggested would have been “a terrible disaster”:
“The country does not know how much it owes Edwin M. Stanton for that night’s work.”
Finally, in addition to the enormous significance of the South’s rejection at Gettysburg was the concurrent and also enormously important engagement at Vicksburg, Grant’s success at which was instrumental in blocking the ability of Confederate forces to advance and which gave the Union Army control of the Mississippi River. In noting the importance of Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, and the fact that that victory coincided with the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams deaths, Goodwin quotes Lincoln as stating:
“. . .this is a glorious theme, and the occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the occasion.”
Goodwin’s history of the Civil War and of Lincoln’s efforts at manipulating the political processes necessary to ensure the nation’s survival while contending with military setbacks and eventual victories leaves no doubt as to her acknowledgement of the importance of 1863 to the president’s efforts.