Was Gettysburg Really a Major Defeat for the South?

arkteia

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
4,386
Seattle
#41
Who cares if Gettysburg was a win/loss for the Confederacy? Think of what happened in the Southerners' homes when the news came.

A couple of numbers

On the homefront, the Union had $234,000,000 in bank deposit and coined money or specie while the Confederacy had $74,000,000 and the Border States had $29,000,000.

Populations
The population of the Union was 18.5 million. In the Confederacy, the population was listed as 5.5 million free and 3.5 million enslaved. In the Border States there were 2.5 million free inhabitants and 500,000 enslaved people.

Casualties at Gettysburg totaled 23,049 for the Union (3,155 dead, 14,529 wounded, 5,365 missing). Confederate casualties were 28,063 (3,903 dead, 18,735 injured, and 5,425 missing), more than a third of Lee's army.

When you start the war at such an obvious financial/economic disadvantage, you probably are doomed to lose. Whether Gettysburg was a loss/not a loss for the Confederacy, the human losses in it were irreplaceable.

(I specifically quoted the whole population versus the armies, because depopulation might be the bigger loss than the war itself).
 
Oct 2018
19
Virginia
#42
Who cares if Gettysburg was a win/loss for the Confederacy? Think of what happened in the Southerners' homes when the news came.

A couple of numbers

On the homefront, the Union had $234,000,000 in bank deposit and coined money or specie while the Confederacy had $74,000,000 and the Border States had $29,000,000.

Populations
The population of the Union was 18.5 million. In the Confederacy, the population was listed as 5.5 million free and 3.5 million enslaved. In the Border States there were 2.5 million free inhabitants and 500,000 enslaved people.

Casualties at Gettysburg totaled 23,049 for the Union (3,155 dead, 14,529 wounded, 5,365 missing). Confederate casualties were 28,063 (3,903 dead, 18,735 injured, and 5,425 missing), more than a third of Lee's army.

When you start the war at such an obvious financial/economic disadvantage, you probably are doomed to lose. Whether Gettysburg was a loss/not a loss for the Confederacy, the human losses in it were irreplaceable.

(I specifically quoted the whole population versus the armies, because depopulation might be the bigger loss than the war itself).


I would suggest their was more than causalities alone that mattered in the campaign. Such as morale effects, how did the army take the battle? how did the press and civilians take the battle? what advantages were gained during the campaign? etc

further you are calculating as if the south had to destroy northern armies to win the war. No they had to keep killing enough so that northern voters would turn against the war. No single battle did this more than Gettysburg. How is it the south could not replace the losses, and yet send their top corp commander and two divisions west to attack? how is it Lee did enough in the east with a smaller army in 64 to move northern opinions towards peace, but Joe J and Hood could not hold on to Atlanta that cost them the war? we try and make it very simple, the reality is much more complex.


Further the causalities at vicksburg were far more uneven, why is that not the biggest battle? and how is it that the peninsula campaign was a southern victory? when they lost close to Gettysburg losses around 21,000 and yet only inflicted around 15-16,000? losses are not everything as Grant showed in 64.
 
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Sam-Nary

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
6,706
At present SD, USA
#43
They called him Old Slow Trot, too. Never was known for tactical or strategic aggressiveness.
But by the time that the Battle of Chickamauga began to break down, being a fast attacker was irrelevant. The line was breaking and something needed to be done to either stall the Confederate advance or stop it outright. And that is where Thomas succeeded in that battle...

In much the same way that a series of union officers managed to recover and regroup the Union army on Cemetery Hill and ridge by the end of the first day at Gettysburg. There are times when a command HAS to just hold its ground, even if it's only to buy time for either escape or recovery.
 
#44
Random thoughts.

Joe Johnston and Atlanta. I have seen historians posit that he was luring Sherman in for a Frederick the Great-style envelopment and decisive action; Kennesaw Mountain was intended to force Sherman to commit.

"Fast attacker" misses the point. Bedford Forrest said war means fighting, and fighting means killing. The "old slow trot" nickname implies a disposition to avoid decisive action.

It bears mention, too, that Nathan Bedford Forrest lost one battle in his military career, Selma. Davis could have done far worse than making The Wizard of the Saddle the head of the Army of Tennessee.



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Sam-Nary

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
6,706
At present SD, USA
#45
Joe Johnston and Atlanta. I have seen historians posit that he was luring Sherman in for a Frederick the Great-style envelopment and decisive action; Kennesaw Mountain was intended to force Sherman to commit.
But the only comparison to Gettysburg here is in the nature of the fact that an army was lured into attacking...

With what I know on Joe Johnston's operations in the Atlanta campaign, is that he recognized that even with the Army of the Potomac under Meade (with Grant supervising in 1864-65) likely getting most of the troops available, Sherman's army was larger and better equipped to fight a battle on open ground. In this, to save his men, Johnston had to lure Sherman into directly assaulting fortified positions in the hopes that Sherman would incur such losses that his numerical advantage would be offset to the point where Johnston could hold on. And on the surface, Kennesaw Mountain did present the opportunity for it, as Sherman was forced back... However, Sherman didn't repeat that sort of frontal charge and turned to flanking maneuvers that forced Johnston to continually pull back until he was at the gates of Atlanta and where Davis would decide to remove Johnston and replace him with Hood, who lost Atlanta and then decided to invade Tennessee in the hopes of Sherman abandoning Atlanta and chasing him... Neither ultimately worked, as Sherman didn't commit hard enough to be slaughtered by Johnston's attempts at luring him into assaults while Hood's attack into Tennessee was largely ignored by Sherman... aside from assigning Thomas's army to catch and rout Hood's men at Franklin and Nashville.

At Gettysburg, it was Meade who was essentially the "lure." Yes, he got messages to throw Lee out of Pennsylvania, but he was also the defending general in the campaign, and that was where his mindset was. When informed that the Union Army was on "good ground" running from Cemetery and Culp's Hill to the base of Little Round Top on the night of July 1, he made the decision to stay there. Some stories try to argue that men like Hancock begged Meade into staying at Gettysburg... but it should be noted that the orders to withdraw that Meade had were with a clear defensive intent and were to move to ground that Meade knew and felt to be better ground than what he knew about Gettysburg, as he didn't arrive until late in the evening if not after dark... But that's quite likely exaggerated to try make Meade come off poorly, as he was never able to repeat the sort of victory that he had at Gettysburg. In this, the decision to stay was ultimately Meade's, and the army stayed. And after the second day's fighting, Meade was quite content to let Lee play the role of attacker, and even stopped his own guns toward the end of gun duel before Pickett's charge with the idea that it would lure Lee into committing to the attack on Cemetery Ridge, which Lee did.

And this is where you see the differences between Sherman and Lee. Sherman at Kennesaw Mountain launched a front assault that accomplished little. Lee at Gettysburg rushed to the full attack on the first day, with many of his units coming in piecemeal and only doing well because most of his units were closer to Gettysburg at the time the two armies collided. But unlike Sherman, who didn't repeat the mistake made at Kennesaw Mountain, Lee continued to attack on Day 2 and again an Day 3 at Gettysburg. In this, Meade did roughly the same thing that Joe Johnston did, held his ground and dug in and let his enemy attack him. But despite urgings from Longstreet, Lee did not do what Sherman did and disengage, and swing to a better position.

"Fast attacker" misses the point. Bedford Forrest said war means fighting, and fighting means killing. The "old slow trot" nickname implies a disposition to avoid decisive action.
A trained army with rifled muskets and cannon can do a lot of killing, even in defensive positions. As the Union Army of the Potomac did during the Battle of the Seven Days, as the Army of Northern Virginia did at Fredericksburg, as the Army of the Potomac did at Gettysburg, and as the Army of Northern Virginia would do at Cold Harbor... And as Thomas's army would do at Nashville and Franklin later in the war, AFTER Chickamauga. Even in the Civil War there was the perception that to carry a position an attacking force would need a numerical advantage on the battlefield in order to win. By how much would be determined by the nature of the battlefield... is it level or sloped. Is the defending force dug in. Is it in a natural bottleneck where the attacking force can't make full use of his numbers, and so on. In this, a defending army can do an awful lot of killing and doesn't HAVE to be on the offensive.

And it should be remembered that much of the action at Chickamauga had the Confederates on the attack, and that the Union army didn't begin to break until AFTER Rosecrans moved to close a whole that wasn't there and opened a real one in the process. Thomas's actions helped to stem the tide there and delayed any Confederate pursuit of the rest of Rosecrans' army. Being aggressive is irrelevant to the situation at the time. By that point, the situation was not one where Thomas could afford to try and attack the Confederate army. With so many that were leaving the field following Rosecrans, attacking would only see his men swamped. Thomas HAD to hold a defendable line to buy time for the rest of the army to get away and recover and his men wouldn't truly withdraw until ordered to do so. Whatever nicknames that he may have had prior to that point in the battle are irrelevant to his position IN that battle.

It bears mention, too, that Nathan Bedford Forrest lost one battle in his military career, Selma. Davis could have done far worse than making The Wizard of the Saddle the head of the Army of Tennessee.
Wizardry in the saddle counts for little if it does little to stop or alter enemy operations. And at the same time, given Forrest's own post war political activities, I would tend to think that Forrest is very much one of those sorts of officers that would gladly lie or exaggerate if it helped his case.
 

Viperlord

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
8,062
VA
#46
It bears mention, too, that Nathan Bedford Forrest lost one battle in his military career, Selma. Davis could have done far worse than making The Wizard of the Saddle the head of the Army of Tennessee.
Put bluntly, this is silly. Forrest never commanded more than a few thousand mounted irregulars; that is not qualification for leading a full army. Able officers often failed to make the transition from division to corps commander or corps to army commander successfully, let alone a jump like that. On those occasions where Forrest was tied to an army and had to function in a more regular cavalry role, such as the Chickamauga campaign, he actually did not perform well in screening or reconnaissance for the Rebel army, see Dave Powell's work on the Confederate cavalry in that campaign. Granted that Forrest was still notably better than Joe Wheeler but that's not a high bar to clear.
 
#47
Couple thoughts.

Forrest excelled in every position he was given. Lytle, Wyeth, and Jordan and Phillips agree. Never mind John Morton, who was actually THERE.

How could he be worse than either Bragg or Hood?

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Viperlord

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
8,062
VA
#48
You're mistaking Braxton Bragg for a competent army commander. Old Bedford, arguably the best combat leader in the Army of Tennessee, wondered aloud why Bragg bothered fighting battles. With Nathan Bedford Forrest at the head of the Army of Tennessee, it's not difficult to see a scenario where a good deal of the Army of the Cumberland is cut off and surrendered. Unlike Bragg, who inexplicably ALLOWED the yanks to retreat, Old Bedford would have 'put the skeer on them' and KEPT it on them, like he did to virtually every enemy force he ever fought.
This is completely unfounded. Regardless of what Bragg wanted to do, his army (which lost notably more men than the Union in this engagement that you keep pretending was one-sided) was severely limited by logistics at the time and lacked the transportation capacity or food stores to mount any immediate major offensive operation. Longstreet's men still did not have their wagons or a good deal of their animals, and the same was true of other reinforcements Bragg had received before the engagement and the sole railroad Bragg's army depended on was strained past capacity. Bragg's army was on the verge of logistical collapse even before this situation, so while their combat power had increased, Bragg still simply did not have the mobility to run anyone down or perform an immediate major offensive manuever as Longstreet suggested. This is discussed further in the link below. As for Bedford Forrest, he attempted to chase down the Union army, got beaten off by numerically inferior Union cavalry, and snuck close enough to the city to take a look... And then gave Bragg a completely fictional report that the Union was evacuating. Some wizard. He also never ran down and eliminated any Union force other than Abel Streight's which was deep in Confederate territory and isolated.

Bragg vs. Longstreet
 

Viperlord

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
8,062
VA
#49
Couple thoughts.

Forrest excelled in every position he was given. Lytle, Wyeth, and Jordan and Phillips agree. Never mind John Morton, who was actually THERE.

How could he be worse than either Bragg or Hood?

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Forrest did not consistently excel in any role other than as an irregular raider. He certainly ran up an impressive W-L record tactically against third-string Union garrisons and commanders in the rear-echelon, but again, this offers little basis to believe he could have commanded an army. Bragg's greatest fault as a commander was not his grasp of tactics, logistics, or strategy, it was his inability to work with his fellow officers and forge a workable command structure and effective command team; based on how Forrest often interacted with his superiors and peers, there is reason to think he would have had similar faults.
 
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