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Old April 10th, 2015, 05:32 PM   #11
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I agree, firing on Fort Sumter was a bad political move on the South's part - it gave Lincoln the moral high ground, and the justification for war. It would have been better to have let the North fire the first shot, because the South could truly claim it was acting in self defense. An intial agression on the part of the Union might have tipped the balance in the European powers recognition of the Confederacy.

As long as the North was determined to regain the South, the South really didn't have much of a chance to win, but the thing is, the South didn't have to defeat the North, it only had to convince the people of the Union it wasn't woth the cost, in money and lives, to force the South back into the Union. There is several ways that could happen

1. Like Washington against the British, and the Russian against Napoleon, the South's strategy was to avoid defeat, and avoid battle when possible unless they could win. The South would have been better off avoiding battle if they could, because evdn when they won, they suffered losses they couldn't afford.

2. By having the North intiate agression, recognition of Europe was more likely (if still remote).

3. If Lincoln had died earlier, say due to disease, or accident, his replacement might not have had the drive to reclaim the South, and the willingness to put up with the horrific losses. By 1864, though, it was too late, too much blood had been spilt for most Northerns to settle for anything less than victory. I think that even if Mclellan had won, I don't think his ego would allow him to accept going down in history has the man reaponsible allowing America to lose half its territory, and he would still have been forced to prosecute the war., By 1864, defeat of the South was inevitable. The West was all but lost, except Texas, and all Lee's defense did was raise the death toll and postpone the inevitable defeat.

Lincoln might have had a hard time launching a war if the South showed they were willing to live peacably with the North. But then again, if they were like that, they wouldn't have seceded in the first place.
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Old April 10th, 2015, 06:21 PM   #12

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Originally Posted by Salah View Post
The fact that the Confederacy did not have the industrial capacity or the white male population of the North does not mean that a victory could not have been achieved.
Agreed, though the odds were strongly against the Confederacy.

Looking at your points.

1) I agree that starting the war was a mistake, but it's a mistake the Confederacy had little chance of avoiding. Confederate Secretary of State Toombs was the only prominent Confederate who stated it was a bad idea. Everyone else seemed to think it would intimidate the Union. There was also the problem of South Carolina hotheads who probably would have fired on Ft. Sumter anyway. If that had happened, Jefferson Davis would have looked ineffective and unable to control his own country, plus they would have had the war anyway.

2) Confederate logistics meant they could not take and hold Union territory. This meant they had to withdraw after any major battle outside the Confederacy and those withdrawals were seen by the public of both sides as Confederate defeats. The only possible exception would have been if the Confederates crushed a Union army or a major portion of it, which was very difficult. That said, it would have been possible for Confederate infantry, not just cavalry to raid Union territory.

Lee's actions both helped and hurt the Confederacy. Without Lee's aggressiveness in the Peninsula Campaign, the Confederacy probably would have fallen two years sooner than it did in history. His victories also strengthened Confederate morale and hurt Union morale. If the Maryland and Gettysburg Campaigns had been conducted as raids instead of seeking pitched battles, they would have gained supplies and made Union commanders look ineffective and incapable of protecting their own territory. Fighting at Antietam was a huge blunder on Lee's part - he had no chance of winning and a large chance of getting his army crushed by the Union. The first day at Gettysburg was a crushing defeat for the Union, thanks largely to Lee's orders being ignored. Had Lee withdrawn after that, it would have been a small, but significant victory on Union territory. Instead, Gettysburg was a series of blunders by Lee, that threw away irreplaceable troops.

3) Better Confederate performance in 1864 might have swung the Union vote to McClellan, but that would have required the Confederacy producing at least one army commander equal or better than Lee or something happening to Grant and/or Sherman. Even the latter might not have been enough. That would still leave Lincoln president for another 4 months after the election, could be enough time to cripple the Confederacy before McClellan took office.

4) One critic of enlisting black men into the Confederate army said that it would just be training and equipping men who would desert to the Union at the first opportunity. He was probably right. Not that there was any chance of the Confederacy raising large amounts black soldiers. It took the Confederate Congress months on the capitol being beseiged, plus direct appeals from Davis and Lee to get them to agree to black enlistment, but even then there was no offer of freedom in return for service.

Point 1 was probably the Confederacy's best chance of success.
Point 3, augmented by point 2, would have given them a small chance.
Point 4 wasn't going to happen.
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Old April 10th, 2015, 07:37 PM   #13

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Originally Posted by Sam-Nary View Post
And historically, the South's best chance to do this came in the wake of First Bull Run. The Union army was routed, there was little to defend Washington, and the forts weren't there yet. There may have been other Federal troops in the region, the Confederacy did have a chance after the battle. A chance which they never took and many commanders would later insist they should have attacked Washington after First Bull Run.
The Confederate Army was nearly as disorganized by its victory as the Union Army was by its defeat. Any Confederate force that reached Washington DC would have been tired and outnumbered. Forts guarding the bridges into Washington had already been constructed and Union ships in the Potomac were also available to provide artillery support.
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Old April 10th, 2015, 07:38 PM   #14

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The South would of required more industry to win.
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Old April 10th, 2015, 07:47 PM   #15

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Originally Posted by Piccolo View Post
The south's best change was to have Stonewall Jackson surive (not so much for the sake of Gvettysburg but because of a more decisive victory at Chancellorsville).
Before his wounding, Jackson had already achieved as much at Chancellorsville as he could have. Jackson was also uneven as a commander; his performance in the Seven Days was dismal.

Originally Posted by Piccolo View Post
Giving Lee overall command of the war earlier would help; catch is if the Union does the same with Grant or Meade earlier than that's just another "quarter of an inch" fallacy.
Lee never demonstrated the strategic vision of Grant, Sherman, Scott, or Lincoln. Putting him in overall command earlier will increase the Confederacy's problems of over-aggressiveness and over-emphasis on the Virginia theater, which is more likely to decrease the Confederacy's chance of success.
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Old April 10th, 2015, 08:04 PM   #16

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Originally Posted by Fiver View Post
The Confederate Army was nearly as disorganized by its victory as the Union Army was by its defeat. Any Confederate force that reached Washington DC would have been tired and outnumbered. Forts guarding the bridges into Washington had already been constructed and Union ships in the Potomac were also available to provide artillery support.
Maybe, but Washington's defenses in 1861 were no where near as good as they were later in the war. And since Washington DC citizens were so eager to see the battle that they followed the Army to Mananas Junction and then clogged the roads when the Union army began to rout that had to create a problem. And what men had been left behind are bound to see both the army and/or the civilians come running back...

And for anyone who thought it would be a 90 day war to see their army come running back in complete disorder may not have been able to stem the rout. Particularly if the Confederates had been able to actively peruse the Union troops after the battle.

It may not have been easy or certain... but if the south wanted an outright victory, they would have to take the war to the North and take the Northern people out of the war. By failing to pursue and press what advantages they had gained, they allowed the Federal army to regroup and retrain. The Union army was never routed from the field in the way First Bull Run was after it. They were beaten, but they managed to withdraw in good order when they were forced to do so.

That's why First Bull Run was the best opportunity for the Confederacy had to win outright. After that point and the Union army recovered... they were stuck in a war of attrition that they had few chances of winning, and Lee's strategies of attacking the Union army only made the situation worse.
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Old April 10th, 2015, 11:37 PM   #17
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Yeah, I know, this topic is one of Historum's favorite sado-masochistic dead horses. But its April 9th, 2015, so in the spirit of the sesquicentennial, let's play along.
Speculation history might be a better place for the thread but I like this game so will answer to the best of my ability. What if's that are reasonable enough are fun don't be afraid to start one.

People always say that the defeat of the so-called Confederate States of America was inevitable from the moment the War commenced - and its true, people far more knowledgeable than myself are of that opinion. But I don't see it that way. The American Civil War, like all wars, was determined by political and military actions just as much as it was determined by the respective economic abilities of the combatants. This is a history forum. I'm sure I don't need to lecture you guys about all the underdog victories that have occurred throughout history. The fact that the Confederacy did not have the industrial capacity or the white male population of the North does not mean that a victory could not have been achieved.
Inevitable union victory is just a lost cause myth

Here's a few reasons, for why I think the South theoretically could have won the War of the Rebellion.

1. Fort Sumter. The Confederacy's biggest wartime blunder was...starting the war. The South should have adopted a pacifistic approach to the Federal garrisons within their new 'nation'. If they had ignored these installations, or negotiated for a non-violent means of disposing of them, they could have left Abraham Lincoln squirming in a deliciously awkward spot. He could either let the slave-states go, or he could start what truly would have been a "war of Northern aggression", which would have made him look even more like a tyrant and bully in the eyes of the international community. I'm not necessarily suggesting that the South would have still won the War if they hadn't fired its first shots - but its possible they could have either avoided it altogether, or scored extra brownie points with foreign powers, if they had behaved themselves.
I don't disagree with most of that and find your point interesting and valid; I must point out that it is a bridge too far to call it a military blunder. Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina left the union after the bombardment of Fort Sumter. At first the confederates did try avoiding confrontation but I think Davis correctly determined Lincoln was going to fight against secession and that he would have to present a choice of sides for the states in question to be on.

I do agree however it did unite the North in a way that nothing else could have; it was Pearl Harbor essentially.

2. Grand strategy. Confederate forces never should have left the borders of their own states, barring maybe the occasional terroristic cavalry raid. I've stated on this forum before that I believe Robert E. Lee did almost as much to damage the South's cause in the Eastern Theater as Lincoln or Grant did. His invasions of Maryland and Pennsylvania were unnecessary, throwing away resources and precious lives that could have been used to fortify Virginia. Considering the nature of the opposition he was facing before May of 1864, this could have been enough to prolong the War in the South's favor.
I don't think Richmond would have survived McClellan's campaign had Lee not taken over; but that is besides the point. While well known blunders in practice I doubt you need to learn the value of your army being supplied by out of state. By the time of Gettysburg Virginia was stripped bare by the campaigns; in an almost satirical situation the stores of food that Lee's men defended at Fredericksburg had to be handed out because of that battle. Hindsight is 20/20 and I agree Lee did make mistakes in trying to reverse the usual situation but at least theoretically you would agree; PA large well populated state able to supply two armies better than VA could and lots of angry voters who could vote against Lincoln if the Union can't evict the Army of the Norther Virginia?

3. The big year - 1864. People talk about Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Antietam as the great decisive battles of the War. Vicksburg, I can see to a point, and maybe even Antietam to a lesser extent. But in my opinion, the outcome of the War was still completely up in the air until the middle months of 1864. From my perspective, it was only the Overland Campaign, Atlanta, and the marches through Georgia and the Shenandoah that truly made Northern victory inevitable. Lincoln's election to a second term was riding on the performance of his generals in this critical year; if Grant or Sherman had stumbled (perhaps while facing a better entrenched Confederacy?), he likely would have lost. Perhaps McClellan would be capable of prosecuting the War to its historical conclusion, but I doubt it. More time certainly would have been involved.
Few historians think McClellan could have been anything but good news; although I would agree the Overland Campaign and March Through Georgia did decide the war for the Union; so did Gettysburg and Antietam; if those battles had been lost who knows how events could have changed?

4. The issue of slavery. There's a lot of ways you can look at this. The Civil War was about slavery. It was a rebellion of slave-owners, who managed to win the support of many lower-class Southerners thanks to a combination of ignorance, prejudice, and misguided regionalistic 'patriotism'. If the South had freed the slaves, it would have won an ironic moral high ground over the North and it would have very possibly won European support - but considering the nature of the men who had instigated the War and were now overseeing it, contemplating such a scenario is rather redundant. But perhaps that changes when we get to 1863 or 1864, when the manpower crisis had become acute. As we know, by 1865 the Confederate government in Virginia had begun a (largely abortive) program to recruit slave-regiments, motivating these men with promises of freedom. Earlier in the war, several figures, such as Pat Cleburne and Judah Benjamin, had suggested a similar course, only to be shot down. Still, if such a recruiting strategy had been adopted earlier in the war, it could have provided the South with many thousands of extra soldiers, who would have literally been fighting for freedom. Howe well these slave-soldiers might have cooperated and been treated in the CS army, might be another story. But its a thought.
The problem with that is the Tsar. The Western Europeans sympathetic to the confederacy did not account for all of Europe and Lincoln did find a sympathetic ally in their autocratic rival Russia; while it wasn't always an alliance it was a warm relationship with Russia that lasted till the Bolsheviks overthrew Karensky. The morale high ground counted for very little.

Even if Jefferson Davis had offered to abolish slavery in return for intervention on the first instead of last day of the war I don't think Western European governments would have gone for it. It was widely debated; the French wouldn't intervene unless the British also intervened; and the British Press on the anti-interventionist side very effectively laid out cool down to earth drawbacks while the pro-Southern press really never developed effective counter-arguments.

As far as pro-confederates in Europe the German states could not have exerted anywhere near enough effective force to consider intervention.
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Old April 11th, 2015, 07:38 AM   #18

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Historians say a Southern defeat was never inevitable. Everything hung in the balance almost up to the end (Feb., 1865). In retrospect Ft. Sumter happened so how come the South lost?

I found an interesting essay in McPherson’s book Drawn With the Sword (1996). Entitled “Why Did the Confederacy Lose?”, He looks at various reasons. Among them are the “overwhelming numbers and resources” theme, states’ rights as a disunity factor, alienation of the common folk, slavery, a sense of nationalism, the “lack of will”, etc.

McPherson summarizes it in two factors: leadership and contingency.

---MILITARY leadership. The North developed generals able to victoriously carry out strategic campaigns. They understood a coordinated effort was needed in all theaters.

---Leadership in the MANAGEMENT OF WAR. They were better attuned to the synchronization of the economy, industry, society and the military. They could easily have squandered their resources.

---EXECUTIVE leadership. Flexible, pragmatic, having a sense of humor, a team player, ability to mostly pick able admins, able to delegate authority, etc.

Contingency = the ability to grasp the uncertainty of political, military and social events; to adapt and use it to their advantage. This was due to the above points of leadership. The South lacked the leadership and were in a perpetual “holding pattern”. A wait-and-see mindset in order to react to what the North would do.

Looking at this from the so called “40,000 foot” view, in my opinion it does seem to make a lot of sense.
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Old April 11th, 2015, 08:19 AM   #19
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I enjoyed this article on the topic: NYT Opinionated - Could the South have Won the War?
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Old April 11th, 2015, 08:54 AM   #20

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Ive hear that after First Bull Run Washington D.C was virtually defenseless and if the confederates had marched on it they could have forced a settlement. There was no way they were ever going to win a war of attrition and even a decisive victory would have nigh unreachable for the confederacy.
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