Why did the American Civil War last so long?

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,749
Dispargum
This actually is not accurate. There were more bureaucrats in Richmond than DC, and Richmond was a vitally important industrial center and one of the only places the South could manufacture their own artillery and weapons in any quantity. Further, without Richmond, there is no effectively defensible point in Virginia, and the whole state is soon in Union hands. Without Virginia's wealth, resources, and manpower, it's hard to see Richmond's fall as not having a major impact.
Agreed the Union could only take Richmond after occupying most of the state. But I don't consider the loss of Virginia to be tantamount to immediate Southern surrender. Yes, the war would be more difficult, but the South lost Tennessee, much of Arkansas, much of Louisiana without surrendering.

And you're right about the industry in Richmond. Where are your figures for the number of bureaucrats coming from? And anyway, it's less about the number of bureaucrats since they could always move to another city. It's the records and other governmental infrastructure that would be lost if the North lost Washington. I still can't believe the Confederacy had much governmental infrastructure in April '61. The North having an established government was one of their advantages over the South because the North didn't have to build a government from scratch. Since the South was working on a more ad hoc basis, it would have been easier to shift the Confederate government to another city.
 
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Viperlord

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
8,109
VA
Yes, the war would be more difficult, but the South lost Tennessee, much of Arkansas, much of Louisiana without surrendering.
I didn't say anything about immediate surrender. But with Virginia gone, the South wouldn't hold long.

Where are your figures for the number of bureaucrats coming from?
William C. Davis in Look Away, though it's been a while since I read the book.

I still can't believe the Confederacy had much governmental infrastructure in April '61
Interesting goalpost movement.
 
Dec 2017
315
Regnum Teutonicum
I think four years is a rather short civil war. The americans were lucky that no foreign power intervened. Compare for example the Thirty Years War, were involvement by foreign powers and mercenaries prolonged it to - well, 30 years. Or even the Nauruan Civil War, which lasted ten years and resulted in autogenocide.
So in my oppinion, as horrible as the American Civil War was, it was short and the americans got away rather lucky.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,749
Dispargum
This is one of the things I wish was different about the forum. It's too easy to lose track of the beginning of a conversation and start taking things out of context.
In post 63 Emperor said the North should have captured Richmond in '61 or '62 and that would have ended the war.
To which I responded, No, Richmond was not that critical to the South. They could have relocated their capital farther south.
To which Viperlord correctly responded, Richmond was an important industrial center.
To which I agreed about the industry, but I'm still skeptical about the political or administrative importance of Richmond. I think Viperlord and I agree that if Richmond had fallen in '61 the loss of industry meant the war would not have lasted until '65 and may have been over before '64, but the war would not have ended immediately upon the fall of Richmond.

Yes, the loss of Richmond's industry would have made it more difficult for the South to win battles, but in the western theater the South already lost most of the battles and still managed to keep the North out of most of the Deep South. Even as late as March 1865 most of the Deep South had never been permanently occupied by Union forces. The South was just too big. So long as the South could keep armies in the field, the war would continue. Beating the South in individual battles didn't really shorten the war. The South prolonged the war not by winning battles but through their ability to maneuver. After the South lost Shiloh, they invaded Kentucky. After they lost Atlanta, they invaded Tennessee. The opposite was true in the east: winning two battles at Bull Run did not lead to the South recapturing Alexandria. Wins at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville did not lead to the South reoccupying Manassas. Battles like Fort Donnelson that led to the transfer of control of large swaths of territory were rare. Vicksburg was an important battle because it destroyed a Confederate army, not because the Union subsequently occupied the state of Mississippi (they didn't). The South lost the war due to the cumulative effect of many defeats which finally destroyed their armies. The loss of Richmond's industry would have accelerated the process but would not have brought about the instant defeat of the South. The war was won when Confederate armies were destroyed, not when places were occupied.
 
Sep 2013
912
Chattanooga, TN
It doesn't make sense that people who didn't own slaves would want this big war over slavery.
You must have never read a book on this issue or researched it at any depth. The primary reason that non-slaveholding white southerners in the Antebellum Deep South wanted to preserve slavery is to maintain white supremacy. Most antebellum southern newspapers were written by slave owners. The owners of the newspapers wrote all types of propaganda in the newspapers with all types of wild prophesies of what would happen if the slaves were freed. The newspaper said that the former slaves would rape a lot of white women if the slaves were freed. The newspapers said that freed blacks would wage a war of annihilation against the southern whites.
 
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Fiver

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
3,776
And you're right about the industry in Richmond. Where are your figures for the number of bureaucrats coming from? And anyway, it's less about the number of bureaucrats since they could always move to another city. It's the records and other governmental infrastructure that would be lost if the North lost Washington. I still can't believe the Confederacy had much governmental infrastructure in April '61.
In The Confederacy as A Revolutionary Experience, Emory Thomas noted that "...by 1863 Confederate civil servants were 70,000 strong. Ironically the Richmond government employed more civil servants than its counterpart in Washington."
 

Fiver

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
3,776
I would think so.. I wonder what would have happened if Lee had accepted command of the Union Army he was offered.
Lee was offered command on a Union army, not the Union Army. Considering how strongly he opposed fighting other Virginians, I think he would have been sent west. Lee was good on defense, but he would need to go on the offensive. His historical track record on offense was West Virginia (a poorly coordinated failure), Seven Days ( a poorly coordinated, costly success), and Gettysburg (a poorly coordinated, costly failure). I'd expect Lee's first offense as a Union commander to be a failure, with a possible exception if he faces AS Johnston, the most overrated commander of the war. I'd expect Lee to then be sidelined for most or all of the war.
 
Jun 2013
508
Connecticut
If you look at the American Civil War from the viewpoint of American history then it was incredibly short and brutal. Naturally everyone looks at the CW from the American history viewpoint. It's convenient. You have the Seccession Crisis, the CW, Reconstruction. Nicely compartmentalized.

If you look at the CW from a world history viewpoint of what civil wars are, then it was long and convoluted.

Civil wars don't just encompass conventional battles. Victories on battlefields do not bring victory and peace. Where there is no peace, wars still exist. Players can change, conventional changes to unconventional, break-away style of civil wars change to internal civil wars in one nation, factions and groups are born and morph, newspapers and propaganda changes, the struggle can go on in one legislature or one judicial system. THE ULTIMATE AIM OF ANY CW IS THE DESIRE OF THE REBELS TO HAVE CONTROL OVER THEIR OWN DESTINY.

So you can look at the ACW as lasting from 1861 to 1876, 77? 80? --- a long torturous road twisting and changing through time.

Ask yourself who really achieved control of their own destiny, in their own semi-autonomous region, for the next hundred years.