January 17, 2023

“The Turning Point: The Wilderness and Spotsylvania”

– John C. Fazio


January 17, 2023

The twin battles of The Wilderness and Spotsylvania on May 5-19, 1864, could arguably constitute the true turning point of the Civil War, despite the fact that the first of them was a Confederate victory, because they forever extinguished the possibility that the Confederacy could win the war. That possibility was already remote by virtue of major Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, in July, 1863, but neither of those battles sealed the Confederacy’s fate, as demonstrated by the later Confederate victory at Chickamauga (September, 1863). The fate was sealed when General Grant turned south at the Brock Road-Plank Road intersection, toward Spotsylvania Court House, after his defeat in The Wilderness, rather than northward to re-cross the Rapidan, lick his wounds and regroup, as the long train of mediocrities before him had done. Grant promised Lincoln there would be no retreat, and he meant it. “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer,” he wired Henry Halleck.  And he did. 

John C. Fazio has a B.A. and J.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.  He joined his wife, Mary, in retirement in 2016 after practicing law for 50 years.  He is a student of history, with an emphasis on European and American history and with an even greater emphasis on the most defining event in American history, the Civil War.  He is a member of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable and has been its president.  He is also a member of the Lincoln Forum, the Surratt Society, the Cleveland Grays and the Western Reserve Historical Society. He has taught Civil War history at Chautauqua Institution, frequently speaks on the war and other subjects before Roundtables and other groups and has written and published more than 40 articles on the war and other subjects.  In addition, he has written Decapitating the Union: Jefferson Davis, Judah Benjamin and the Plot to Assassinate Lincoln, after five years of research and writing. 

(Image of Spotsylvania by Thure de Thulstrup.)