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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 01:17 am
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PvtClewell
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Although it's been oppressively hot outside, this thread has gone in interesting directions even if we don't feel much like posting. Good job, everybody. You all made valid and eye-opening points. This is fun.

Let me make a semantic clarification. This thread started off about the significance of Gettysburg relative to other battles, and somehow (by me) got turned into Gettysburg being the decisive battle. I didn't mean for it to go there. Still, I think the battle was decisive enough and to me, certainly a turning point in the war, in nearly the same way Midway was a turning point in World War II. (I think Midway was also decisive, although there were still more than three years of war left to fight).

Having said that, I am somewhat amazed by how many of you tend to downplay Gettysburg's significance in the war. I'm an eastern theater guy, an old-school guy who grew up in the 1950s being taught that Gettysburg was certainly the turning point of the war. Over the years, I have not been persuaded otherwise.

I think the folks of the era knew it's significance, too. Let me give you this quote about the battle of Gettysburg:

"The interest in it will continue to increase, and in the lapse of years, when distance not only lends enchantment to the view, but its great historic event will be mellowed by the dim, uncertain light of the past, it will be visited by thousands. Some will come out of veneration for the dead who lie buried on its fields and upon its hills, others to view the spot where the Great Rebellion culminated, and dashed itself upon a rock; while others again will come from idle curiosity, to cut walking sticks on the battlefield, and to try to find mouldering bullets to carry away as mementoes of the three days in July."

That was written by Col. W.W.H. Davis of the Gettysburg Star and Sentinel on Aug. 13, 1869 and I pulled it from the book "Gettysburg: Memory, Market and an American Shrine" (2003) by Jim Weeks, a history professor at Penn State University. That quote, to me, speaks volumes about how many people of the day apparently looked at the battle.

The Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association was signed into law in 1864, way before Burns, Schaara or even Sickles (Sickles Act of 1895, which gave control of the battlefield as a national possession to the War Department). Local entrepreneurs were giving tours of Little Round Top by December of 1863, and it hasn't stopped since. I don't know of any other Civil War battlefield where interest in the battle and the field was so instantaneous and intense, regardless of its location to population centers.

Anyway, you can get arrested these days if you find a mouldering bullet on the field and decide to keep it.

Good to see you're back to your old self, Ole.

Last edited on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 02:23 am by PvtClewell



 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 01:51 am
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CleburneFan
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I was taking other points of view just to be a "devil's advocate' of sorts. If we all agreed absolutely with the idea that Gettysburg was a great battle, then the thread might die.

For me, who as a kid spent childhood years only miles from Gettysburg, I have tremendous respect for what happened there, who fought there and who sacrificed their lives there. I certainly do not  diminish the importance of a three-day battle that cost so many lives, even those of nearly 5000 horses and mules.  The horrendous human cost of that battle had to mean something.

But that said, I tend to feel every raid, skirmish and battle on land and water contributed in ways large and small to what happened next in a progression that led to the final result.  

 

Last edited on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 01:52 am by CleburneFan



 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 02:42 am
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PvtClewell
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Ah, CF,

Wouldn't it be something if I were playing devil's advocate, too? ;)



 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 02:47 am
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CleburneFan
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PvtClewell wrote: Ah, CF,

Wouldn't it be something if I were playing devil's advocate, too? ;)

Now I hadn't thought about that. Gotta confess.:D



 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 07:49 pm
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HankC
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As you say, 'The only true hope the CSA had left was a defeat for Lincoln in the elections of 1864'.

 

With that in mind, the action at Brown's Ferry is the most significant of the war. Let me explain by working backwards chronologically.

 

Just before the election of 1864, the two main armies of the USA are not accomplishing much.

 

Grant is mired at Petersburg after losing almost 60,000 men in the Overland campaign (many of these men, their wives and parents are voters) and Sherman is slogging his way through Georgia. Home front morale is probably as low as it has ever been. Even Lincoln predicts his defeat and knows it will give the South independence.

 

Then, Eureka!, Sherman takes Atlanta. Lincoln's election is assured and northern victory is secured.

 

Recall that Sherman starts his drive from Chattanooga. The previous fall, Grant, et al, had wrested the initiative from Braxton Bragg in November at Lookout Mountain, Orchard Knob and Missionary Ridge and driven the Army of Tennessee into north Georgia with severe loss of men, material and morale.

 

Only a month earlier the Union Army of the Cumberland had been on quarter rations, virtually surrounded, on the eve of total destruction and losing the advanced position at Chattanooga. For all intents and purposes, the major US western forces would have been thrown back to Nashville.

 

However, on October 27, 1863, union forces won the battle of Brown’s Ferry and opened a secure supply line to the beleaguered city. The rest, as is said, is history.

 

Now, if the supply line is *not* opened, the Union Army of the Cumberland is forced to surrender and Sherman has to start his 1864 offensive from Nashville to take Atlanta by the election. That’s double the territory to march through (much of it already ‘won’ twice before) . He’d have to do it *without* the captured Army of the Cumberland and against a far larger Army of Tennessee than in history. Lincoln loses the election and the North the war.

 

This and $3.48 will get you a coffee at Starbucks ;)

 

 

HankC

 




 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 08:32 pm
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PvtClewell
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Wow, HankC,

There it is. I can't argue with your reasoning, which seems logical and well thought out to me. How could Shelby Foote, et al, have missed all of that? :D Champion Hill my foot. The course of Civil War scholarship is forever changed. And it happened right here on Joe's discussion board.

You need to get up with Cleburne Fan as soon as possible and get this stuff in writing. At least let me supply the title: 'Brown's Ferry, the Real Gettysburg.' Can't miss.

And, of course, the next Civil War Institute I attend will undoubtedly be held at Brown's Ferry.

Good job. :cool:

By the way, we have a small coffee shop here in town that's infinitely better than Starbucks where I can get a coffee for $1.34.



 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 09:52 pm
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HankC
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lol...
 
Gettysburg is "the Brown's Ferry of the east"... ;)
 
It may be even better.
 
IIRC, a couple of soldiers got an abandoned sawmill running
to saw the boards
and build the boats
that carried the men
who won the battle
that wiggled and jiggled and tickled inside her...
 
If Pete Seegar hasn't written this song yet...we'll just have to wait...
 
 
HankC

Last edited on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 10:00 pm by HankC



 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 11:35 pm
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CleburneFan
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How about this--my new (imaginary) book inpsired by Pvt Clewell and Hank C.

The Union's Coastal Blockade: How the Blockade Was the REAL Gettysburg

The thesis of the "book" is that when the Union successfully blockaded Confederate coastal areas and major ports early in the war, the Civil War effectively became a war of attrition. As soon as this blockade began to impact the South, the war's end was only a matter of time because the mostly agrarian South could not fight a long term war without a manufacturing base.  

Even with aggressive blockade running, the South suffered from rampant inflation and scarcity. While set piece battles such as Gettysburg and the fall of Atlanta, for example, definitely hastened the demise of the Confederacy, what really condemned the effort from the start was the inability to import war materiel and export cotton and other agrarian products to finance the cost of the war. Thus the blockade placed a stanglehold on the entire Confederacy.

If the Union blockade had not been imposed it is arguable, even certain, that the Civil War would have lasted much longer because of the reasons mention previously. The contibution of the Union Navy to victory has often been overshadowed by more romantic battles but without the blockade the war would have been much longer at the very least.  



 Posted: Thu Aug 9th, 2007 12:21 am
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As I am sometimes prone to do when my curiosity is piqued, I run to my resource material. I just got done checking my Time-Life series on Brown's Ferry and, holy smokes, it turns out Brown's Ferry really was the Gettysburg of the west. Well, sort of. Do these names sound familiar?

Union commanders under Grant were: O.O. Howard, Jos. Hooker (who was the Union commander at the start of the Gettysburg Campaign before he was replaced by Meade), and John Geary. Also on the field were Carl Schurz and Adolph von Steinwehr.

On the Confederate side were Longstreet, William C. Oates and Evander M. Law.

All those guys were at Gettysburg less than four months earlier. Strange indeed. Same outcome, too, come to think of it.



 Posted: Thu Aug 9th, 2007 02:17 am
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Texas Defender
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Cleburne Fan-

   That is an excellent posting. I'm in total agreement concerning the decisiveness of the blockade. The only modification I would make to it would be to say: "The external blockade in concert with control of the Mississippi River, etc."



 Posted: Mon Aug 13th, 2007 04:33 pm
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David White
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It's Champion Hill and the land should be still owned by the family as it was held by them last time I heard.  What's decisive about it is that the Vicksburg garrison was forced back into the entrenchments of Vicksburg from which there would be no escape.

Easterners always get offended but nothing decisive happened at Gettysburg other than to get a lot good men killed.  A better case is made for Ft. Donelson, Brown's Ferry, Atlanta, Champion Hill, Vicksburg, Franklin, Nashville and a host of other Western Battles.  Bagging Lee was the only way to get a decisive victory in the east or him generating a victory that politically demoralized the north, otherwise all decisiveness happened in the west.



 Posted: Mon Aug 13th, 2007 11:49 pm
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Wow, a thousand apologies to everyone, especially PVTClewell, I had no idea this thread even existed. I inadvertantly "inspire" a post and take no part in the discussion untill now! I have to say this is what comes from working and going to school. I do not own a computer myself, and so the only times I can post is when I come back home to visit or visit the university computer lab between work and class to do homework.

Decisive is relative in some respects, decisive in its political or overall military consequences, or perhaps just in the battle itself? If it is just the battle itself, without other considerations, then Richmond Ky. could be considered the most decisive battle of the war. None other than the peerless Shelby Foote called Confederate General Kirby Smith's victory at Richmond the "closest thing to a Cannae" any civil war General accomplished North or South. As for my comment about Antietam, I didn't express the reasons behind my choice of decisive battles because I was merely expressing my ignorance for all the intricacies of the Battle of Gettysburg when compared to other battles/events of the war. I do believe I have stated some of the logic I used to come to that conclussion in other posts, but I don't believe there had been a thread where one could talk about this in depth.

Antietam had so many consequences politically and militarily that I know I will leave a few out, but here it goes...Politically, it was the last real oppurtunity for the south to gain foriegn recognition. Afterwards, it became for the south entirely a struggle to drain the willpower of the north to wage war. This was because it more or less destroyed the momentum the Confederacy had built to this point, and the Emancipation Proclamation, perhaps the most ingenous stroke of the war, was a direct result of the Confederate "check" at Antietam. Now, the political reasoning for assisting the south for european powers were dwarfed when compared to the ending of the institution of slavery. The political situation in the North improved as well...

Also, though the force Lee led into Maryland was materially in poor shape, and smaller in size than in prior or future battle, Lee would never lead a better fighting force. The loss of so many tough veteran soldiers from all ranks, including the officer corps, could never be replaced. It is quite astounding that the army fought so effectively afterwards (or even Jacksons corps fought well at all at Antietam following the losses of Second Manasas). The tactics change, though subtle in some respects, must also be taken into account.

Well, those are a few of the reasons behind my assertion that Antietam was more decisive. If I can give this thread new life it would be great, as more friendly debate and depth on the subject would be enjoyable. 

 



 Posted: Tue Aug 14th, 2007 12:22 am
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Good and interesting thoughts, Orphan. I just feel that Antietam took place too early in the war to be THE decisve battle. Why? Because the war lasted nearly two and a half more years. That it was one of the decisive battles is true based on the reasons you lay out. However, if it were the most decisive battle, the war should have been substantially shortened as a result, but it wasn't.  Antietam still required the assistance of other important Union wins in order for its true impact to be felt.

I also tend to agree with General P.G.T. Beauregard who came to believe that politics would play a significant part in ending the war, not just military action alone. For example, a vital political event that did not take place for the Confederacy was that European nations never came to the South's assistance in any notable way, nor did they declare alliances with the South.  That they never did may have been a major factor in the South's not being able to continue to fight.  This was a political defeat that did as much harm as losing battles such as Gettysburg and Petersburg.

Last edited on Tue Aug 14th, 2007 12:24 am by CleburneFan



 Posted: Tue Aug 14th, 2007 01:01 am
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PvtClewell
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David,

I'm an eastern theater guy. I'm offended (not really, but I threw that in to illustrate your point about easterners).

I will suggest that it's too simplistic to say nothing decisive happened at Gettysburg except to get a lot of good men killed. Lee lost a third of his effectives at Gettysburg and could never mount a serious offense afterwards. That is significant. Bruce Catton writes in "Glory Road:" '(Gettysburg) might be less than a victory than Mr. Lincoln had hoped for, but it was nevertheless a victory - and, because of it, it was no longer possible for the Confederacy to win the war. The North might still lose it, to be sure, if the soldiers or the people should lose heart, but outright defeat was no longer in the cards. Both the army and the country were in shape to win at last, and from now on it would be a question of courage and endurance.'

I truly understand the value of the western theater toward the final outcome of the war. The fact that Vicksburg and Gettysburg were concurrent still does not convince me one theater was more important than the other. But Gettysburg is pretty darn significant in that it halts apparently unending Confederate momentum in the east. Granted, Lee might not have been able to do much afterwards if he had won at Gettysburg, but another Yankee loss probably throws the North into despair - the people and the soldiers "would lose heart." At least, I think so. And then anything is possible. It almost happened anyway in 1864 where even Lincoln thinks he'll lose the election.

KO,

Whew. I thought you were ignoring this thread.

Anyway, I might disagree that Lee never had a better fighting force after Antietam. Even with the loss of Jackson at Chancellorsville, he marched north proclaiming that his army, "if properly led, could do anything." The 'properly led' part, ironically, seemed to be his undoing.



 Posted: Tue Aug 14th, 2007 01:27 am
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Cleburnefan-the fact that the South did not recieve european recognition is a direct result of Antietam. As for the length of the war following antietam? 2 or 3 years, take your pick (Gettysburg or Antietam). The time it took for the south to capitulate following Antietam is the one, greatest argument for it not being the most decisive battle it is true-but when drawn up in the 2 or 3 year manner it does not seem as significant. As for Gettysburg ending the offensive capabilities of the ANV, I honestly believe this is overstated. Remember, Lee had a larger force following Gettysburg (going into the overland campaign) with which to fight than he had when he invaded Maryland before Antietam. Rather than Gettysburg,it was Grant siezing the initiative and utilizing the vastly superior forces at his disposal to an extent no other Federal commander had done before.

PVTClewell-Not at all, your posts are always well-reasoned and interesting and often challenge me to think differently. As to the strength of the ANV, we will have to agreee to disagree. Of course there is no way to really measure this, I base my assertion that this was the height of the ANV power because of the quality of the officer corps at all levels, and the capabilities and quality of every fighting man in it-proven by the fact it survived the battle of Antietam at all.



 Posted: Tue Aug 14th, 2007 03:30 am
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PvtClewell
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KO,

Could be the ANV survived Antietam because the quality of the Union officer command at the time was so bad. The winning combination of Union officers didn't click until...umm, let me think now...ummm...Gettysburg!

Also, Lee may have had a larger army for the Overland Campaign (about 65,000 according to author Gordon Rhea) than he did at Antietam (about 40,000), but the Federals were also considerably larger (about 122,000) going into the Wilderness than at Antietam (75,000).

An army can be either offensive or defensive. If it's offensive, it usually has momentum and can choose its ground. If it's defensive, it most likely lost its mobility (or is less mobile, anyway). If it's defensive it's because it's protecting something and by definition loses its capability to be a threat. Lee's army was never the same after Gettysburg and that is significant.

Lee subsequently became a defensive wizard. Had to. And that put the onus on Grant to attack. Most offensive armies prefer to attack at odds of at least 3 to 1 (at the point of contact) to guarantee success, which is why the Overland Campaign became such a battle of attrition — one that Lee could not win.

I love this concept of agreeing to disagree. My wife invented it, you know.



 Posted: Tue Aug 14th, 2007 04:09 am
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Personally, I don't believe the quality of the federal officer command was bad at all...with the exception of the man at top that is.

Really, your wife invented it huh? Well, that is news, though it seems as though every girlfriend I have had has perfected this technique. Thank her for the both of us, won't you?

I'll have to look up those numbers on troop strength as well, it seems that authors differ on the force sizes in many campaigns including Antietam (36,000  I believe is one statistic, and one must remember that includes A.P. Hills division which did not arrive on the scene till the very end of the battle). Quite an achievement to fight an army to a draw with those odds, considering the fact the Conf. position was not all that great defensively, especially on the confederate left flank.



 Posted: Tue Aug 14th, 2007 03:05 pm
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David White
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Pvt. Clewell:

I'd argue that Lee did not lose offensive capability at Gettysburg at all.  That didn't occur until he became trapped/joined at the hip to Richmond/Petersburg, which would be my decisive moment for the unimportant but bloody eastern theater.  Think about it, the Wilderness was defending Virginia but Lee launched the attack there and very effectively too.  He launched another one with Ewell at Spotsylvania but the latter screwed that one up.  That summer, for the third year in a row Confederate troops traipsed indecisively ;)  through Maryland.  This time they came closer to a coup de grace by nearly capturing the Yankee capital and almost killing its commander in chief (at least until JWB got in on the act, pardon the pun, but by then it was too late to be effective).  Heck I might even be wrong about when Lee lost his offensive capability because Lee was still attacking at Ft. Stedman just a few weeks before he surrendered.  I'm sorry; Gettysburg is just a very interesting bloody event that didn't resolve a thing.  But then it was in the unimportant theater.

Now to give the east some props, the geography of the Confederacy probably was such that the east was where the south had to strike some sort of decisive blow.  The Shenandoah was the perfect launching pad for invasion, the rivers in the tidewater helped protect the vital RR junctions of Richmond and Petersburg when Lee was not strong enough to attack.  I think Lee knew this and that is why he blew off the west where the rivers tended to not favor the defensive but allowed dagger strikes deep into the heart of the decisive theater of operations.  The south never had the manpower to defend it.  The south's greatest chance for success was to have all the four CS offensives in the summer and fall of 1862 to result in victories, none did, so to me those Union victories or avoidance of defeat were the decisive period of the CW starting with Lee's failure in the first Maryland Campaign at Antietam on September 17, Van Dorn's at Corinth, Bragg's in Kentucky and ending technically with Confederate defeat at Prairie Grove on December 7, 1862.

Last edited on Tue Aug 14th, 2007 03:06 pm by David White



 Posted: Tue Aug 14th, 2007 08:23 pm
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David,

Well played. Strong arguments to support your premise. So let me see how I counterattack.

I might have to define what I consider to be Lee's 'offensive cabability' after Gettysburg. By that, I mean he could never put together another offensive campaign designed to penetrate the north. He could launch localized attacks, certainly, as you described (a good offense is the best defense scenario) but he personally never left Virginia again. He couldn't. Not with Grant and 120,000 Yankees on the other side of the Rapidan.

Technicality: I'm sure you're referring to Early's Washington Raid into Maryland in June/ July, but really, what was Early going to do with 14,000 men besides send a cavalry detachment to burn down Chambersburg? Early burped against a small delaying force at Monocacy Creek when approaching Washington DC (then defended by militia and wounded), and when he finally closed within two miles of the capital, he pulls back when the 6th and 19th Corps arrived. To me, Early's raid wasn't much more than a diversion to take some of the heat off Lee at Richmond-Petersburg. It certainly wasn't a campaign.

Lincoln unwisely put himself in jeopardy by visiting the front lines to view the battle. Apparantly, the Confederate sharpshooter who nailed Sedgwick in Spotsylvania didn't make this particular trip. Not sure the rebels even knew Lincoln was standing there. Would be interesting to know.

By 1864, Lee simply couldn't defend his capital and mount an offensive campaign at the same time. His mobility was gone.

I will concede that the war was strategically won in the western theater, but you will never, never, never get me to say the eastern theater was unimportant. The two contending capitals were just 100 miles apart, and that in itself is probably enough to define the importance of the eastern theater. And if the east wasn't stategically important (which I'm not convinced it wasn't), it certainly was psychologically, and for both sides. The Confederacy might still linger on if Richmond falls anytime in 1861-64, but that might not be the case if DC falls. How does the federal government justify itself, and the war, if it's in exile? Who takes it seriously then? Is Lincoln impeached? If any of that that happens, then the war in the east takes on a whole different tone. And because that possibility always exists, the war in the east is therefore important.

Nobody ever said, "On to Brown's Ferry." At least, I don't think so.

So I still declare that Gettysburg is significant because Lee is never again strong enough offensively; it's important because now all the pressure is on Richmond; it's important because Gettysburg — the North's first true victory in the east — validates the Emancipation Proclamation that, while it never frees a single slave, elevates the moral climate of the war; and it's important because of the Gettysburg Address, which reminds us that these honored dead should not have died in vain, even in the 'unimportant' theater.

Excuse me. I just fell off my soapbox.



 Posted: Tue Aug 14th, 2007 08:33 pm
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David White
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Just a quick reply to counter two points (becasue that is all I have time for right now), if Early's invasion is a mere raid,  than every Confederate offensive was a raid with no staying power, including the Gettysburg Campaign.  With that point and using what seems to be your criteria of offensive capability, than Lee's and every other Confederate army never had that capability, only the Union armies had it. 

I believe either side could have weathered the psychological loss of their capitals early in the war, the governments would just have to quickly relocate and assertively take charge again from Philadelphia or Raliegh or wherever.  Political damage, yes but not necessarily fatal damage.  I do believe Lincoln could have pulled that off better than Davis might have.



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