Could the CSA have won?



Ad Honoris
Mar 2009
Could the Confederacy have won? What would they have had to do different?
If it had been a short term war like the North so over-confidently
thought, then yes. But in the long term? No, the CSA could not.
It had the men and the leadership, but not the manpower or
uninterrupted supply line the North enjoyed.
Feb 2013
If by 'win' you mean 'the Union self-destructs' then yes, it might have done so. If by 'win' you mean 'on its own steam' it has only two chances. The Turtledove TL-191 style scenario where the CSA defeats McClellan in Maryland (with a Super-Perryville thanks to the collapse of the Army of the Cumberland's Command structure and the butterfly effect as another prerequisite here), or to somehow ensure the CSA captures the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga. The loss of that much veteran manpower would have overstretched Union manpower, enabling the CSA to win a Pyrrhic victory.

Otherwise, no.
Nov 2012
I dont think the CSA ever had a chance of winning the war alone. If they had been able to get England or France involved somehow with both naval and land forces, they might have been able to get something accomplished.

In addition, the southern states would have had to present a more unified front instead of clinging to the states rights theme-it got in the way politically. Jefferson Davis really needed to be able to make the same sort of moves which Lincoln did.

The CSA never had much of a navy which was even more important for bringing in what they needed to survive, from weapons to everything else which an army needs. The southern states never had near the manufacturing capacity it needed.

Finally, the CSA was never able to fight a war of attrition which the Union under Grant forced them to. They didnt have the manpower nor the firepower. Sherman knew early on that in order to deny what kept the southern armys going was to make war on the civilian population, making the soldiers worry about their homes, and taking away almost everything of value.

Union manpower was never an issue in the war, and there was available more men than the CSA could have ever hoped to have scraped up.


Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
Jefferson Davis really needed to be able to make the same sort of moves which Lincoln did.
For the most part he did; Davis ran a more authoritarian government than Lincoln, which is what caused the governors to oppose him on many issues.

Anyway, political victory and independence for the South in 1864? Certainly feasible under the right circumstances. They just had to outlast the North's political will to fight on while not losing too many vital points or armies. But if they couldn't force Lincoln out of office, they were doomed.


Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
At present SD, USA
In pure theory the South DID have a chance. No victory is ever inevitable...

But, for the South to win, they needed to win it quickly, and to a great extent they needed to win it on Northern soil and bring the war to the Northern people. Any lengthy war, and any war that is predominatly fought on Southern soil would bring in the North's massive population and industrial factors into play that make the war a war of attrition that the South could never win.

But if done quickly, the South could manipulate political factors needed to win. For, while Lincoln had won the 1860, he did not do so with overwhelming national support. He won the electoral college easily, but if you counted the popular vote, and add all of his opponent's totals together, Lincoln would have been behind them. In this, it is clear that what gave Lincoln his victory was the split in the Democratic Party between Breckenridge and Douglass, and the presence of a third "Constitutional-Union Party" in the election.

As such, the Northern population was not THAT firmly behind Lincoln when the South seceded. There were many in the North that didn't want the war and were quite willing to let the South go. Some because they tacitly agreed with the Confederacy and some because they felt the North would be better off without the South. A major Confederate victory and then invasion of the North and bringing the war to the North's population could theoretically increase the political pressures on Lincoln as the people who were not supportive of the war to begin with would begin to put more pressure on him before he could get large enough armies in place to at least their ground or take Confederate territory.

And the Confederacy did gain that opportunity at First Bull Run. It was the first major battle of the war, and while the battle was remarkably close, when the Union army broke, it broke completely. Making matters worse was that there were no reserves guarding Washington DC. Had Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet's requests to pursue the Union army been accepted, they might have occupied Washington DC without a fight and maybe even captured Lincoln... and even if Lincoln and the Union government does escape, with the Union army in the east completely destroyed and shattered, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio would be wide open for the South to rampage through for the better part of a year...

The North's only options would be to raise a new army, which would take time, or recall the Western armies to the East and try to retake the Capitol... or chase the Confederates out... which would open up the states of Missouri and Kentucky to Confederate troops, and might even enable them to move into the breadbasket states of Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, forcing the western Union armies to divide between two targets... Which might convince those who had only been "lukewarm" with regard to the war to pressure Lincoln to make peace at any price...

However, this option was never taken. The Union army was never pursued and would recover and retrain under McClellan. And while McClellan was not the fastest or bravest of generals, he was still an excellent organizer. While the South would win battles, after McClellan's training, the Confederates in the East never got a repeat of the "Great Skeddaddle" at First Bull Run. And as such, the war became more of an attritional conflict the North was bound to win...

However, this theory on how the South could have won will have its questions as well. The Confederates were just as green as the North in 1861 and to expect them to carry out a pursuit and "march" similar to what Sherman's veterans did in 1864-65 would be somewhat problemmatic, unless you're willing to accept some small difficulties with regard to coordination and control of the army. As such, it is likely that Lincoln and his government would escape Washington, and while such a march would put them in a bigger pickle then Bull Run did in history, with control of Congress and the White House, that would mean that the war would go on until 1863 at least (depending on who wins the mid-term elections in 1862). That would mean that the Confederates would need to sustain their offensive for over a year before they could realistically expect results... and such momentum might not be possible...

But, since that never happened, not even on a small scale, the successes or failures of such a move would only be speculation.
Oct 2011
the middle ground
This discussion always boils down to the same thoughts for me.
Confederate leaders were not stupid men and realized the implications of the 1860 census as well as anyone. On choosing war, they assumed two conditions would balance Federal power. Both proved to be incorrect.
Northern will to preserve the Union, a lot more solid after Fort Sumter than previously, was not as weak as Confederate leaders thought it was.
The British did not need Southern cotton quite as much as Confederate leaders thought they did.
Followed early in the war with the grand strategic mistake of allowing Polk to invade Kentucky first.

Only hindsight makes things inevitable in history, so Confederate independence was of course a possibility. But the odds were long and the margin for error very small.

This was interesting:


Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
It was surely possible, but they clearly weren't ready for the war, or nearly as much as the North was.
"You people of the South don't know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don't know what you're talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it… Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth — right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail." - William T Sherman

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