Why did the American Civil War last so long?

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,393
#51
The premise is flawed in that the American Civil War was not a particularly long civil war. Consider for example the Ragamuffin War, the Uruguayan Civil War, or the Taiping Rebellion. All were 19th Century civil wars that lasted a decade or more.

If the question were rephrased to ask why the American Civil War wasn't shorter than it was historically...

1. The vastness of the Confederacy, which was as large as several European countries combined. The Confederacy spent the great majority of the war losing campaigns and territory in the Western theater, yet Union troops wouldn't march into Atlanta until September of 1864 and Columbia, South Carolina in February of 1865. It was a lot of territory to occupy.
2. The tiny size of the U.S. military at the start of the conflict
3. The terrain of Northern Virginia and it's rivers favoring the defender
4. Robert E. Lee being superior to McClellan, Burnside, Pope, and Hooker
5. The Union not being able to find a peer for Lee in the East until 1864, when Grant was promoted to Lt. General. Lee's surrender came just a little over one year after Grant was promoted & came East.
6. The Confederacy not surrendering several months prior to the Appomattox Campaign. The capture of Atlanta, Grant getting across the James, and Lincoln's reelection all made a federal victory in the conflict a question of when, not if.
 
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Fiver

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
3,639
#52
Not whatever agenda you are implying. My agenda is to find the clear and compelling argument that demonstrates four years is a "whopping" period of time to conquer a country the size of the CSA, the premise of the opening post.
The Confederacy was about the size of modern Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and Poland combined. Napoleon spent 10 years failing to conquer than much territory.
 

Code Blue

Ad Honorem
Feb 2015
3,593
Caribbean
#53
The Confederacy was about the size of modern Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and Poland combined. Napoleon spent 10 years failing to conquer than much territory.
Good point. Also, given the Hundred Years' War, the Thirty Years' War, the Nine Years's War, the Seven Years' War, the US in Afghanistan for 17 years (though the government only claims it was a war part fo that time), or the US "failing" to defeat North Korea with troops still stationed after almost 70 years - I wondered how the the number 4 could ever be modified by the adjective "whopping."

In addition to all the salient points made in the thread,another factor that bore greatly on the length of the war was the secession of Virginia.
 
Jun 2017
2,394
Connecticut
#54
The Confederacy was about the size of modern Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and Poland combined. Napoleon spent 10 years failing to conquer than much territory.
The CSA had less than 6 million free people, barely over a quarter of the remaining Union's population. The territories you've described had about 80 million people at the time of the Napoleonic Wars.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,069
Dispargum
#55
The CSA had less than 6 million free people, barely over a quarter of the remaining Union's population. The territories you've described had about 80 million people at the time of the Napoleonic Wars.
Yes, but the ability to control a region is more about space than population. One policeman can just as easily police one person or twenty if the twenty are close enough together that the policeman can see all of them at the same time. It's the defender's ability to hide and to maneuver to avoid battle in unfavorable circumstances that makes it so difficult for an invader to control territory, not the size of the enemy's population. If anything, a small population can more easily hide and avoid final defeat in a large space than can a large populaton hide in the same space.
 
Jun 2017
2,394
Connecticut
#56
Yes, but the ability to control a region is more about space than population. One policeman can just as easily police one person or twenty if the twenty are close enough together that the policeman can see all of them at the same time. It's the defender's ability to hide and to maneuver to avoid battle in unfavorable circumstances that makes it so difficult for an invader to control territory, not the size of the enemy's population. If anything, a small population can more easily hide and avoid final defeat in a large space than can a large populaton hide in the same space.
But with more people you can fill more space. The CS might have also been sparsely populated but that is a double edged sword in terms of control. The Union didn't have a population all that smaller than Napoleonic France and were trying to conquer an area with a very tiny population and the whole slave issue(since a very sizeable minority of the people were enslaved). Also remember that the CS capital Richmond was very close to Washington and that the CS was looking for the punch that secured their independence as much as the Union was looking to quickly end the rebellion. Sherman also exposed the flaw of hiding and avoiding final defeat as if the CS weren't to engage the Union could just keep moving. Territory doesn't fight back especially in this context.
 
Jun 2018
117
Philadelphia, PA
#57
I would say, like most conflicts, it has everything to do with both sides underestimating their opponent. Significantly, President Lincoln assumed that General Lee would be at the helm of the Union’a armies; Lee was widely considered to be the best America as a whole had to offer at the time. However, he neglected to account for Lee’s home and the location of his family which played a leading role in his decision to serve President Davis. This is just one of the few key things that the Union thought would be a foregone conclusion before they actually had all the facts of the matter at hand.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,069
Dispargum
#58
But with more people you can fill more space. The CS might have also been sparsely populated but that is a double edged sword in terms of control. The Union didn't have a population all that smaller than Napoleonic France and were trying to conquer an area with a very tiny population and the whole slave issue(since a very sizeable minority of the people were enslaved). Also remember that the CS capital Richmond was very close to Washington and that the CS was looking for the punch that secured their independence as much as the Union was looking to quickly end the rebellion. Sherman also exposed the flaw of hiding and avoiding final defeat as if the CS weren't to engage the Union could just keep moving. Territory doesn't fight back especially in this context.
I agree about Sherman, but as I said in an earlier post, it took a few years for the North to develop that strategy. For the first two or three years the North applied more traditional strategies like occupying and controlling territory which didn't work because there was too much territory and too few Union troops. The North also tried destroying Confederate armies but that didn't work because the South only agreed to fight battles when they thought they could win. Otherwise they used all of that maneuvering room to avoid battle or even invade the North.

I'm not sure which side of the argument you're on. Are you saying the North should have won more quickly than they did, or are you saying the South should have lasted longer? I agree with most of the posters in this thread that considering the obstacles the North had to overcome they did a good job to win in four years.
 

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,393
#59
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. .
Sherman and his foes were evenly matched at the Battle of Atlanta. In fact the Confederate forces had a slightly superiority in manpower. (40,438 to 34,863)

Battle of Atlanta Facts & Summary

The Confederates also had enough manpower on hand *after* Atlanta to oppose the March to the Sea. They failed to do so because Davis and Hood decided that sending the Army of Tennessee off on the Franklin-Nashville campaign was a brilliant plan.

The Confederates did what they usually did when facing federal armies in Western campaigns...they lost at Franklin, lost at third Murfreesboro, and lost at Nashville, just as they had at Atlanta and nearly every other major battle except Chickamauga. This time however the damage done was catastrophic and it left Sherman free to impose his will on the Confederacy.

Sherman was content to see the Army of Tennessee go as it played right into his hands. IIRC when warned that Hood might strike for Tennessee Sherman said something along the lines of being happy to provide him with the rations to get there as his (Sherman's) business was down south.
 
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Jun 2018
117
Philadelphia, PA
#60
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.
This is the closest to what was probably the answer as my research suggests.

President Lincoln tried commanding the “insurrection” at Fort Sumter be suppressed, which was an indication of how seriously this was being taken by the Union in the beginning.

A Brief Overview of the American Civil War