The Future of the United States in the Summer of 1862

The beginning of this blog post from The Weekly Standard by Thomas Donnelly serves as a reminder that something is missing in the way we tend to think about the events in Virginia in the spring and summer of 1862:

…but the fights that brought Confederate General Robert E. Lee to the fore also marked the beginning of a period where the future of the United States was increasingly in doubt. From the moment George McClellan retreated from the gates of Richmond until the repulse of Lee’s final attack at Gettysburg on July 3 a year later, the course of the war, the fate of the American continent, and the prospects for human liberty hung by a thread.

We get caught up in a narrative that pits a blundering George McClellan at the gates of Richmond against a bright new star in Robert E. Lee, who fundamentally altered the landscape of war by September 1862.  Don’t get me wrong, we need to understand the strategic and tactical decisions made by commanders on the ground and we may even feel a little pleasure in watching Lee set out on a road that will lead to some impressive battlefield victories, but we should never lose sight of the fact that the future of the United States of America hung in the balance.

2 comments… add one

  • Will Hickox Jul 3, 2012

    Count me among those, including James McPherson, who believe that the fate of the Union hung in the balance for a long time after Gettysburg–until the late summer or fall of 1864. But elections, even presidential ones, aren’t as dramatic as bloody battles, so this notion hasn’t and probably never will penetrate popular understanding.

  • Greg Taylor Jul 9, 2012

    In retrospect everything seems so clear. As things unfold, especially in war, confusion reigns and little is clear.

Leave a Comment