View Poll Results: Which theater in the American Civil War was the most important?

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  • Eastern Theater

    5 45.45%
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Thread: Eastern vs. Western Theater in the American Civil War?

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    Eastern vs. Western Theater in the American Civil War?

    All the battles cited in basic history about the Civil War revolve around the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Nothern Virginia and the Eastern Theater. I know that Grant was looked down upon as a "western" general when he took command of the Army of the Potomac, but I find it strange that you never hear much about the Western Theater.

    Was the Western Theater inconsequential, or does it get slighted because it didn't involve capturing the enemy's capital, relegating to being a stepchild of history?
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    To be honest with you, I am not well versed in the history of the Civil war, but in my uneducated opinion, that the western theater was every bit important as the Eastern theater because the Union used the western theater to prevent the rebellion from spreading throughout the entire continent and prevented the South from securing new sources of raw materials and an avenue to the South for trade of vital materials and resources.

    My two cents.

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    Banned Defense Professional Bluesman's Avatar
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    I think every serious historian understands the signifigance of the West. But really, it comes down to the ATTRACTION of the big battles of the East. The drama, the personalities, the color and depth of the narrative.

    I think this is just as superficial as the 'maneuver for capital cities' perspective, because if anything, the story of the West was as rich as that in the East. The battles were just as desperate, and the people involved just as fascinating. But the odds against the Confederacy were much, much longer in the West; it didn't have the same sense of a 'fair fight' that could have gone either way. When the game is over almost as soon as it gets started, there's not much point in studying the much more limited 'might-have-been' propositions.

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    IMO, the eastern front was most important politically, and the west was more important strategically. General Winfield Scott recognized the strategic importance of the west in his war plan "the andoconda". But Lee's army of Northern Virginia was a constant threat, and the capture of Richmond would was extremely important politically.

    But, overall, the western theatre won the war. The capture of Vicksburg was as important as Gettysburg as it cut the south in half, gave the north control of the Mississippi, and destroyed an entire Confederate army. The Battle of Chatanooga was a western battle, the Battle of Shiloh was a western battle, the capture of Atlanta (politically, as well as militarily vital for the 1864 elections as it handed Lincoln the presidency) and indeed Sherman's march was only able to be completed because of the western campaigns.

    Little was accomplished in the east. The union invaded, was defeated, and the rebels would then invade the north and the union would defeat them. The Battles of Fredericksburg, Chancelorsville, both bull runs, etc. (terrific union defeats) were fought in the east. Compare those battles with those of the west. The only two important eastern battles (besides the eventual capture of Richmond) were Antietam and Gettysburg. Both for obvious reasons.

    Overall, notwithstanding the fact that both vere vital, I'd say the western campaign was important.
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    ENA,

    Little was accomplished in the east. The union invaded, was defeated, and the rebels would then invade the north and the union would defeat them. The Battles of Fredericksburg, Chancelorsville, both bull runs, etc. (terrific union defeats) were fought in the east. Compare those battles with those of the west. The only two important eastern battles (besides the eventual capture of Richmond) were Antietam and Gettysburg. Both for obvious reasons.
    funny how that works, huh? the union just had to keep from getting defeated too catastrophically in the east, while continuing what it was doing in the west.

    i wonder what would have happened if the union was defeated at the battle of shiloh.
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    Global Moderator Defense Professional JAD_333's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    ENA,



    funny how that works, huh? the union just had to keep from getting defeated too catastrophically in the east, while continuing what it was doing in the west.

    i wonder what would have happened if the union was defeated at the battle of shiloh.
    Well, you know, but I'll mention it again. Losing the Mississippi was a huge blow to the South. Shiloh (a close call) and Vicksburg with its related battles comprised a true campaign with excellent leadership and strategic purpose. But if Grant had lost at Shiloh that day, it would have prolonged the war a year...and if I might add, made life miserable for Lincoln...
    Last edited by JAD_333; 02 Nov 07, at 19:22.
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    Banned Defense Professional Bluesman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JAD_333 View Post
    Well, you know, but I'll mention it again. Losing the Mississippi was a huge blow to the South.
    No question about that. Self-evident. But even that ain't checkmate. The South was hurt, and STILL almost managed to pull out a victory.

    Quote Originally Posted by JAD_333 View Post
    Shiloh (a close call) and Vicksburg with its related battles comprised a true campaign with excellent leadership and strategic purpose.
    Great battlefield leadership from Grant, but very poor generalship, at least at that one battle.

    Grant suffered a humiliating surprise, and came within a whisker of being annihilated, losing an excellent army, and providing the Confederacy with all they needed to secure the greater half of their territory for who knows how long. The criticism Grant was subjected to (and almost succumbed to) was deserved. Had he not had the fortune to have two outstanding subordinates AND a second army to come and retrieve what he almost lost, the war could've turned on that one day.

    And if Grant's army goes into the bag, with the loss of every man, horse and gun, possibly even Grant himself, trapped as they were against the river and an impenetrable swamp, there's simply NO WAY the North would make any further use of his services, even if he escaped his destroyed army. Without Grant, I seriously doubt Vicksburg goes down, the Father of Waters remains vexed, and the South, buoyed and now superbly equipped in the West, is three times harder to beat.

    He got lucky as hell.

    Quote Originally Posted by JAD_333 View Post
    But if Grant had lost at Shiloh that day, it would have prolonged the war a year...and if I might add, made life miserable for Lincoln...
    I don't think that it would've gone as long as it did, because the subsequent events would've been different, and different in a way that makes it possible for the South to win its independence LONG before Vicksburg and Atlanta are in any danger.

    Remember what it was that saved the election for Lincoln (which even he thought he'd lose): ATLANTA. If Atlanta had not been delivered as a pre-election gift in '64, and even you are admitting that a disaster of the magnitude that almost happened at Shiloh would've made that impossible...Lincoln LOSES, and the Union is dissolved.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluesman View Post
    No question about that. Self-evident. But even that ain't checkmate. The South was hurt, and STILL almost managed to pull out a victory.
    That's the conventional wisdom. Had the South won either battle, it's likely public opinion in the North would have been so alarmed it would have clamored for peace even if it meant legitimizing the CSA. But Lincoln would pressed on regardless. Had the fight gone on after a southern victory in those battles, the South would probably still have lost the war for lack of manpower and supplies. Win or lose they would have suffered huge losses. Their remaining forces would face fresh Union troops. Where would Lee have gotten an equivelent replacement force to continue his momentum?



    Great battlefield leadership from Grant, but very poor generalship, at least at that one battle.[Shiloh]
    He got caught napping, no question about it. That much was poor generalship. But once the battle got underway, he was superlative in his leadership. Had it been any other Union general, the battle would have been lost. The way he improvised, seemed to be everywhere, and acted positive for his troops to see was excellent generalship. Anyway, his rapid fire orders and massed placement of artillery as well as the bravey of the troops at the Hornet's Nest helped dragged out the battle until Buell's troops could join him. He was lucky, as you say, but it wasn't all luck.


    Remember what it was that saved the election for Lincoln (which even he thought he'd lose): ATLANTA. If Atlanta had not been delivered as a pre-election gift in '64, and even you are admitting that a disaster of the magnitude that almost happened at Shiloh would've made that impossible...Lincoln LOSES, and the Union is dissolved.
    Atlanta was a PR dream. Lincoln did think he would lose, but that doesn't mean he would have. Even before Atlanta, McClelland was finding it hard to get support for his candidacy from leaders who mattered. By then they had concluded the war must be won. Atlanta won over the public more than it did Congressional and political leaders.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JAD_333 View Post
    Atlanta was a PR dream. Lincoln did think he would lose, but that doesn't mean he would have. Even before Atlanta, McClelland was finding it hard to get support for his candidacy from leaders who mattered. By then they had concluded the war must be won. Atlanta won over the public more than it did Congressional and political leaders.
    Part of the reason that they had concluded that the war must be won was because by that point they obviously had the South on the ropes, they just had to do the dying to emerge victorious. If the West was a stalemate, and the East was a stalemate, I doubt the American public (already somewhat disenchanted with the war) would have been willing to back Lincoln for four more years of beating their head against the wall.

    And I voted for the eastern theater being more important, because it was the victories there that were going to force one side to give up. Ravage Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama all you want, the Confederates weren't going to give up until the east coast was in Union hands. Sherman's march through Georgia was a major factor, however it wasn't until his armies came east that he managed to truly traumatize the South.

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    We are 100% sympatico. Good post, and you managed to put in many fewer words than I did that if there was no discernable progress in EITHER theater...the Confederates win during the '64 election in the North.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lwarmonger View Post
    Part of the reason that they had concluded that the war must be won was because by that point they obviously had the South on the ropes, they just had to do the dying to emerge victorious.
    I wonder about that. The south was indeed "on the ropes" near the end of the war, but that isn't what motivated the Union to press for total victory. Lincoln had already concluded from day one that the North had to win to preserve the Union. He wanted no part of a peace settlement because that would have left the south either intact as a separate nation or as part of a reconstituted union with the issue of state rights unresolved.


    If the West was a stalemate, and the East was a stalemate, I doubt the American public (already somewhat disenchanted with the war) would have been willing to back Lincoln for four more years of beating their head against the wall.
    The west was not a stalemate. The Union's western campaign, centered on control of the Mississippi, ultimately cut the south's supply routes from the west and left the Union in control of New Orlean and Louisianna. Calling this a stalemate overlooks the fact that this had always been the Union's strategic goal in the west. The Union succeeded and held its position.


    And I voted for the eastern theater being more important, because it was the victories there that were going to force one side to give up.
    That was the prevelent thinking for the most of the war. It's colored in part by latter day thinking, which regards the eastern battles as romantic. But relatively unromantic battles of attrition and interdiction in other quarters are what really made Union victory in the east possible, particularly the battles in the Union's western campaign. They set the stage for the south's defeat in the east.

    There should be no doubt about their importance. We know that in the early stages of the war, the south was receiving a steady stream of supplies overland from Texas and Mexico and through the port of New Orleans. These supply routes were cut by the Union soon after Vicksburg, when the Union won control of the Mississippi and took New Orleans. That left the south with only 2 major manufacturing centers, Atlanta and Selma, both making do with what little made it through the Union blockade and what they could scrounge around the country. Hit Atlanta hard and no southern army east or west can continue fighting for long.

    Ravage Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama all you want, the Confederates weren't going to give up until the east coast was in Union
    hands.
    Sure, with Grant to the north and Sherman to the south closing in, what choice did Lee have? But Lee was in that fix because of chronic shortages of material. So, there's the connection with the western battles you don't consider very important. Lee shortages are traceable to Union successes in the west and Sherman's subsequent destruction of Atlanta.

    Had Lee been properly supplied, he could well have fought the Union to a standstill. Then public opinion in the north would have clamored
    for a settlement and probably gotten one. However, in the end, the north's ample material and the south's lack of it was the reason the south lost the way it did.

    Sherman's march through Georgia was a major factor, however it wasn't until his armies came east that he managed to truly traumatize the South.
    Seems to me the destruction of Atlanta was the trauma. It put the south into turmoil more than any other loss. Here was the flower of the south burned to ashes. But, yes, Sherman's move east was crucial. It opened the final phase of the war.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluesman View Post
    We are 100% sympatico. Good post, and you managed to put in many fewer words than I did that if there was no discernable progress in EITHER theater...the Confederates win during the '64 election in the North.
    I don't recall Jeff Davis running against Lincoln, but no doubt you mean that figuratively. ) Interesting article today on IEDs in USA Today. I'll try to scare it up.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JAD_333 View Post
    I wonder about that. The south was indeed "on the ropes" near the end of the war, but that isn't what motivated the Union to press for total victory. Lincoln had already concluded from day one that the North had to win to preserve the Union. He wanted no part of a peace settlement because that would have left the south either intact as a separate nation or as part of a reconstituted union with the issue of state rights unresolved.
    What Lincoln wanted was irrellevent if he lost the 1864 election. The American public wasn't going to back a war (especially an inconclusive one) that had cost the lives of 400000 of their fellow citizens with no end in sight.

    Lincoln would have lost the 1964 election if the end of the war hadn't been in sight. And that would have been it.

    The west was not a stalemate. The Union's western campaign, centered on control of the Mississippi, ultimately cut the south's supply routes from the west and left the Union in control of New Orlean and Louisianna. Calling this a stalemate overlooks the fact that this had always been the Union's strategic goal in the west. The Union succeeded and held its position.
    That is true. I was pointing out that the North's decision to continue on to victory was contingent upon military success and the end being in sight.

    That was the prevelent thinking for the most of the war. It's colored in part by latter day thinking, which regards the eastern battles as romantic. But relatively unromantic battles of attrition and interdiction in other quarters are what really made Union victory in the east possible, particularly the battles in the Union's western campaign. They set the stage for the south's defeat in the east.
    Hang in long enough and the Union was going to win. Sheer numbers and industrial strength were going to ensure that. East or west, the union was going to attrit the South's armies down to nothing. The South had to inflict severe enough defeats on the North to force them (meaning the legislature and public) to acknowledge that they weren't going to emerge victorious which would force Lincoln to ask for terms. The only place that this could be accomplished was in the east. In the west they only needed to hang on.

    There should be no doubt about their importance. We know that in the early stages of the war, the south was receiving a steady stream of supplies overland from Texas and Mexico and through the port of New Orleans. These supply routes were cut by the Union soon after Vicksburg, when the Union won control of the Mississippi and took New Orleans. That left the south with only 2 major manufacturing centers, Atlanta and Selma, both making do with what little made it through the Union blockade and what they could scrounge around the country. Hit Atlanta hard and no southern army east or west can continue fighting for long.
    By that time the South's armies were already incapable of winning the war. They were being ground down slowly because they had failed to destroy the AoP, nor hold them out of Virginia.


    Sure, with Grant to the north and Sherman to the south closing in, what choice did Lee have? But Lee was in that fix because of chronic shortages of material. So, there's the connection with the western battles you don't consider very important. Lee shortages are traceable to Union successes in the west and Sherman's subsequent destruction of Atlanta.

    Had Lee been properly supplied, he could well have fought the Union to a standstill. Then public opinion in the north would have clamored
    for a settlement and probably gotten one. However, in the end, the north's ample material and the south's lack of it was the reason the south lost the way it did.
    You are partly right. But the war in the west wasn't the cause of those shortages, it merely made them worse (and only after the war in the east was largely decided). The fact that the South had a third of the population and was far less industrialized was the cause.

    The North's win was automatic unless the South could force a political solution by either achieving decisive victory that would cause the northern public to force Lincoln to sue for peace, or dramatically rebuff the union every time it invaded Virginia causing Lincoln to lose the election. The west was crucial for a military victory... something the South wasn't going to achieve. Hence the west wasn't important to the outcome. What happened in the east would determine whether the South would win or lose.

    Seems to me the destruction of Atlanta was the trauma. It put the south into turmoil more than any other loss. Here was the flower of the south burned to ashes. But, yes, Sherman's move east was crucial. It opened the final phase of the war.
    True enough, although having some 60000 men burning their way through Georgia wasn't particularly good for the country either.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lwarmonger View Post
    What Lincoln wanted was irrellevent if he lost the 1864 election.
    But it was relevent until he lost.

    Lincoln would have lost the 1964 election if the end of the war hadn't been in sight. And that would have been it.
    There's a new reality program on TV for phychics. Maybe you ought to try out. )

    Who knows? Thomas Nast's cartoon in Harper's Weekly lambasting the Democratic party's peace platform after McClelland's nomination by the party might have done more to rally the nation behind Lincoln than the fall of Atlanta. More than a million Americans weekly read Harpers, and in those days a million was a bigger percentage than it is today. Of course, this is pure speculation. Fremont's withdrawal from the race after Atlanta makes Atlanta a key event. Interesting times.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JAD_333 View Post
    But it was relevent until he lost.
    True, but the South just had to stalemate him for that to happen. They lost because they didn't manage to do that.


    There's a new reality program on TV for phychics. Maybe you ought to try out. )

    Who knows? Thomas Nast's cartoon in Harper's Weekly lambasting the Democratic party's peace platform after McClelland's nomination by the party might have done more to rally the nation behind Lincoln than the fall of Atlanta. More than a million Americans weekly read Harpers, and in those days a million was a bigger percentage than it is today. Of course, this is pure speculation. Fremont's withdrawal from the race after Atlanta makes Atlanta a key event. Interesting times.
    When you lose 400000 dead and thousands more incapacitated out of a population of 21 million against a country that can't conquer you and has no interest in conquering you with no end in sight.... at that point it would be time to call it quits. No democracy in the world is (or was) going to vote to keep fighting under those circumstances. The only reason Lincoln got re-elected was because the end of the war was clearly in the near future... and even there it seemed like he might very well lose the election.

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