Why can 1863 be considered the turning point of the Civil War?

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The year 1863 was considered a turning point in the Civil War for several reasons. One reason was that the final Emancipation Proclamation was issued. This stated that the slaves were free in the South. While it had no impact on the Southern slaves because the South didn’t recognize orders from President Lincoln, it now made the Civil War for the North a war to save the Union and a war to end slavery. It also showed the European countries that the United States was against slavery. This was significant because many European countries had also ended slavery.

In 1863, two critical battles were fought. The Battle of Vicksburg was an important northern victory. It gave the Union complete control of the Mississippi River. As a result, the Confederacy was now divided, as those Southern states west of the Mississippi River were isolated from the Southern states east of the Mississippi River. This would hurt Southern trade and the Southern economy.

The Battle of Gettysburg was also an important Northern victory. General Lee hoped to find food in the North. He also believed a Confederate victory in the North would hurt the morale of the Northerners. It might lead to calls for a negotiated peace agreement. It also might lead to European countries recognizing the Confederacy as an independent country. However, General Lee was defeated. With this defeat, the South suffered many casualties and had no real chance of winning the Civil War.

For the above reasons, many people point to these events as the turning points of the Civil War.

pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

1863 was a very pivotal year in the Civil War. Staring January 1 of that year, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. This move freed the slaves in the "states in rebellion." Lincoln was able to give the war a higher moral cause and still claim authority over the seceded states at the same time. The North also instituted a draft this year. New York City experienced draft riots in the summer of 1863 which were put down only with the use of soldiers.  

1863 was also very important from a military perspective. In May of that year, Lee's forces defeated the Union army at Chancellorsville but Lee's best general, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, was killed in a friendly fire incident. Lee would later go on to divide his army into three corps and invade the North. At the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee's army was defeated by Union forces under General Meade. Lee would never invade the North again, and most historians see the Battle of Gettysburg as the beginning of the end of Southern independence. In the West, Grant was able to win the siege of Vicksburg which was the Confederacy's last stronghold on the Mississippi River. Grant would later go on to be the overall commander of the Union armies thanks to his determined nature. The military failures combined with the Emancipation Proclamation ruined any hopes that the Confederacy might have had in gaining European support for their cause.  

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The popular version considers the Battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania), which occurred on July 1, 1863, as the turning point of the American Civil War. The Union side was impressed by the Fall of Vicksburg (Mississippi) that occurred around the same period. In both battles, the Confederate Army suffered significant losses. Additional defeats were experienced by Confederate forces in Tennessee and Arkansas. The Confederates were losing the war.

Additionally, Union technology played an important role in serving defeat to Confederate forces. The introduction of the Spencer seven-shot repeating rifle in 1863 played an important role in Union success. The mounted infantry unit on the side of the Union was capable of taking on and defeating numerically superior Confederate units. The improved firepower placed the Confederate forces at a disadvantage because they were still using the muzzle-loading musket, which delivered three rounds per minute against the 14-shot-per-minute Spencer rifle.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

1863 can be seen as the turning point of the Civil War in both military and political terms.

Militarily, this was the year of the battles at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.  Gettysburg broke a Confederate invasion of the North.  Vicksburg gave the North control of the Mississippi River and cut the South in half.  Both were major turning points in the war.

Politically, this was the year the Emancipation Proclamation took effect.   This made it so the war was a war about slavery, not just about keeping the Union together.  This gave the North the moral high ground in international public opinion and helped ensure that European countries would not recognize the Confederacy.