Why did the American Civil War last so long?

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
12,997
SoCal
#1
Why did the American Civil War last so long--specifically for a whopping four years?

Given the advantages that the North had over the South, it's interesting that it took the Union a whopping four years to defeat the Confederacy--even after taking into account the fact that the Confederacy probably had better generals than the Union had:



Why exactly couldn't the Union achieve a quick victory in the ACW? Or could it--with it simply wasting its chance to do this?

Any thoughts on this?
 

Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,433
Australia
#2
I think initially the Union believed it would win a quick victory and the Rebels would be brought into line. Events showed this was flawed thinking and it took time for the Union to bring its industrial weight to bear and find the commanders who could use its military forces effectively.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
12,997
SoCal
#3
I think initially the Union believed it would win a quick victory and the Rebels would be brought into line. Events showed this was flawed thinking and it took time for the Union to bring its industrial weight to bear and find the commanders who could use its military forces effectively.
Was an earlier Union victory realistic with better Union generals?
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,061
Dispargum
#4
Defense was starting to emerge as the stronger form of combat, and for most of the war the South was on defense. For instance, the South never had to garrison occupied Northern territory, but the North did have to garrison occupied Southern territory.

Many of the keys to Union victory took time to take effect: for instance the strangling effect of the Union blockade, or the exhaustion of Southern manpower, or the collapse of the Southern economy under the weight of hyper inflation, or the development of new strategies like Sherman's march to the sea that destroyed huge swaths of Southern infrastructure.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
6,650
#5
Was an earlier Union victory realistic with better Union generals?
I would think so.. I wonder what would have happened if Lee had accepted command of the Union Army he was offered.

As noted, the South was fighting mostly on the defensive, on their own territories. The 2 times Lee tried to invade the North, he lost. The fighting and weapons of the time favored the defense.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
12,997
SoCal
#6
Defense was starting to emerge as the stronger form of combat, and for most of the war the South was on defense. For instance, the South never had to garrison occupied Northern territory, but the North did have to garrison occupied Southern territory.
That's true, but Prussia was able to quickly defeat France just several years later in spite of the fact that it also had to occupy a lot of the enemy's territory.

Many of the keys to Union victory took time to take effect: for instance the strangling effect of the Union blockade, or the exhaustion of Southern manpower, or the collapse of the Southern economy under the weight of hyper inflation, or the development of new strategies like Sherman's march to the sea that destroyed huge swaths of Southern infrastructure.
You forgot to mention the Anaconda Plan here. :)
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
12,997
SoCal
#7
I would think so.. I wonder what would have happened if Lee had accepted command of the Union Army he was offered.
What about without Lee?

Also, why did Virginia secede when no other U.S. state north of North Carolina and Tennessee did?

As noted, the South was fighting mostly on the defensive, on their own territories. The 2 times Lee tried to invade the North, he lost. The fighting and weapons of the time favored the defense.
Why was Prussia able to quickly win a war against France just several years later, though?
 
Jun 2017
2,380
Connecticut
#8
Why did the American Civil War last so long--specifically for a whopping four years?

Given the advantages that the North had over the South, it's interesting that it took the Union a whopping four years to defeat the Confederacy--even after taking into account the fact that the Confederacy probably had better generals than the Union had:



Why exactly couldn't the Union achieve a quick victory in the ACW? Or could it--with it simply wasting its chance to do this?

Any thoughts on this?
1861-1862 McCllelan
1862-1865 Lee

I know that's a simple answer but I really do think this is the truth. In the east McClellan took forever to move his army after he was given the promotion post 1st Bull Run then let Lee's army escape at Sharpsburg during his second tenure. Lee's genius was mostly responsible for the war lasting post Sharpsburg(a battle where total victory was something that was entirely within McClellan's grasp). On the Western front the Union was mostly dominant from start to finish with the Western Front becoming for all geographic purposes the Southeastern front by late 1863, early 1864 and when people talk about Lee potentially forcing the Union to the negotiating table something that is forgotten is to the West the Union had recovered quite a bit of their territory and in the case of New Orleans major ports.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
12,997
SoCal
#9
1861-1862 McCllelan
1862-1865 Lee

I know that's a simple answer but I really do think this is the truth. In the east McClellan took forever to move his army after he was given the promotion post 1st Bull Run then let Lee's army escape at Sharpsburg during his second tenure. Lee's genius was mostly responsible for the war lasting post Sharpsburg(a battle where total victory was something that was entirely within McClellan's grasp). On the Western front the Union was mostly dominant from start to finish with the Western Front becoming for all geographic purposes the Southeastern front by late 1863, early 1864 and when people talk about Lee potentially forcing the Union to the negotiating table something that is forgotten is to the West the Union had recovered quite a bit of their territory and in the case of New Orleans major ports.
Were the Union's successes in the West due to it having better generals there?
 
Jun 2017
2,380
Connecticut
#10
Were the Union's successes in the West due to it having better generals there?
Grant winning at Vicksburg was pretty tough geographically and the CSA was unlucky to not win at Shiloh early on but generally the Union just had the numbers advantage after that(where the South was about to win and a second Union army came and intervened at the last second) and there was no Lee or Jackson etc to make up for that. Keep in mind Sherman is most famous for not actually fighting because his numerical superiority(which was as overwhelming as it was in large part due to the incompetence of Confederate general Hood) gave him the luxury of his opponent being unable to do anything else except watch him from a distance. Generally if the CSA or Union had better generals in the West it was an advantage that I don't really see having a profound influence aside from the Union's generals actually invading the South in 1862(and successfully controlling most of Tennessee by the end of the year) without having to be pushed and prodded like McCllelan had to be to attack Richmond.

That being said the South did have a far more obscure Gettysburg moment in the West where Kentucky was invaded in 1862 but again the story was the same, just didn't have the numbers. The difference Lee's, Jackson's and Longstreet's made in the East can't really be overstated and ironically by refusing the Union commission to defend his state's honor Robert E Lee almost singlehandidly caused a lionshare of that state's death and destruction. McClellan gets some too for the war not being over by the time Johnston got hurt and basically coming as close to saying "no thanks" to a victory as you can get at Sharpsburg(the weird thing is, I wonder if McClellan had destroyed Lee's army at Sharpsburg if he'd be remembered as one of the most influential people in US history, just the thought is really bizarre).