12 thoughts on “Confederate Defeat Reconsidered

  1. Stefan Papp, Jr. September 27, 2014 / 10:49 pm

    Gary Gallagher redux..

  2. Bert September 28, 2014 / 5:31 am

    I think Donald’s classic “Why the North Won the Civil War” covered it pretty well. And, a lot of historians have made the point that positive public opinion is a big deal in a democracy, and one can’t sustain a war effort without it. Lee may have handled the big picture about as well as one could expect (without the benefit of hindsight).

    The only place the Fabian strategy might have been the better choice was in the ’64 Atlanta campaign when Lincoln’s reelection was in doubt. And even there, not sure it would have made a difference.

  3. Rob Baker September 28, 2014 / 6:37 am

    I disagree with the final comment that the mountains were largely unionist. Most Appalachian historians that have researched this era tend to point out that loyalties were divided and communal.

  4. John Foskett September 28, 2014 / 1:17 pm

    Lots of fundamental issues here – starting with the idea of a “nation”/”confederacy” founded on the notion of an individual state’s “rights”. That undermines the effectiveness of a central government/”national” unity from the git-go – see Vance and Brown. Then there’s the problem that secession initially was instigated by fears that Lincoln, et al. would bar slavery from expanding into territories and ultimately might attack it where it already existed. That had the potential for class/economic divisions down the road if things got tough. And there were extensive pockets of unionists. Rob validly points out that it is too simplistic to characterize “the mountains” as homogeneous on this issue, but the fact remains that there was a substantial population in eastern Tennessee and western NC with pro-union sentiments – not to mention northern Alabama and several western counties in Virginia. And all of these are actual or potential hurdles which existed at the outset. Much else came into play as the war went on – egregious inflation, the absence on military duty of farmers in an agricultural society, etc.i

  5. chancery September 28, 2014 / 7:22 pm

    Lots of historical forgetting in the comments.

    • John Foskett September 29, 2014 / 10:18 am

      I like the one about McClellan not facing off against Joe Johnston other than “the beginning of the Peninsula Campaign” and the trench-fest that would have followed. Well, the Peninsula Campaign actually involved the only aggressive, taking-the-offensive action by Joe during the war. It failed primarily because Joe couldn’t issue clear orders and the command structure allowed his fractious subordinates to run amok.

  6. TF Smith September 28, 2014 / 9:10 pm

    I think the colonel is missing some realities.

    Not to get too deterministic about it, but – assuming willpower for a fight to the finish remained equal on either side, and I have yet to see any evidence that would have changed at any point during the conflict – it is simply the disproportion in resources and population.

    What follows is cribbed largely from Kennedy and Koistenen, but I’ve never seen anyone come up with a “rebel” strategy that can answer any of it … the loyal states had a population of some 20 million whites, the rebel states had only six million, along with (approximately) another three million blacks, mostly slaves. As the war continued, of course, the manpower pool the U.S. forces could draw upon increased with every step south their armies took; this included the recruitment of southern whites who adhered to the Union and, once the decision was made in 1862 to enlist black troops, both northern freemen and escaped slaves.

    In 1860, the whole of what became the Confederacy produced only 36,700 tons of pig iron; Pennsylvania alone produced 580,000 tons. The value of goods manufactured in New York state alone in 1860 amounted to almost $300 million; this was more than four times the value of manufactured goods produced in Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi combined. The South could make few of its own small arms, instead relying heavily upon what was initially captured from the various federal forts and arsenals (roughly 100,000 modern firearms – a mix of rifles and muskets) – in 1861 and then what could be imported from Europe, the U.S. massively expanded weapons manufacturing, producing no less than 111,000 modern rifles in the national armories alone in the first 15 months of the war to add to the 440,000 long-arms already stockpiled. Another 62,000 modern rifles and carbines were purchased from private manufacturers in the North in the same period, and hundreds of thousands more were purchased and shipped from Europe, beginning as soon as hostilities broke out in April of 1861. As another example, the North’s railway system – some 22,000 miles in length, roughly 2.5 times the trackage in the rebel states – could be maintained and was even expanded during the war, as was, in fact, the production of agricultural products, munitions, and shipping.

    Bottom line, the strategic situation the rebels found themselves in was akin to Scotland going to war with the rest of the United Kingdom in 1861, or Ukraine going to war with the Russian Empire the same year; 3 to 1 odds remain 3 to 1 odds.

    It is – somewhat – like the Sun Devils going up against the Bruins; one can admire the spirit, but still … 62 to 27? 🙂



    • guitarmandanga September 30, 2014 / 8:16 am

      As someone above mentioned “Gary Gallagher redux,” I’d rate this one “Shelby Foote” redux, i.e., “bringing the other hand out from behind.” The financial, personal, and material advantages the North possessed were certainly daunting from the perspective of the South (and for us today); no one doubts that. What is of some disagreement is why the South went down under those odds when, in other historical scenarios, the weaker power (often weaker by a far greater margin) DIDN’T. Then, the discussion becomes less about #’s of guns, bullets, men, etc., and more about other factors…which I think is where it ought to stay.

      • TF Smith September 30, 2014 / 11:55 am

        Well, except the first question is which “other” historical scenario(s)?

        The “correlation of forces” issue is always varied by the situation on M-Day, and without an example for a comparison, it is pretty difficult to contrast the US vs. rebels balance in April, 1861, with any other conflict.

        The geographic setting of the American Civil War is the key, really; when the two combatants had umpteen thousand miles of land frontiers with few geographic barriers to invasion (the Appalachians running north-south, as an example) and the US had the ability to use the littoral Atlantic and Gulf and the western rivers as highways, the number of conflicts with anything resembling a similar geography – certainly in the Nineteenth Century or afterwards – are vanishingly small.


        • guitarmandanga October 2, 2014 / 6:33 pm

          …But you’ve just brought up other factors, namely, distance involved and geography considered. That’s my point: it can’t be simply a matter of “numbers and resources”; if it were, then no other factor would matter, and the end result of every contest between a stronger and a weaker power would be the same.

        • guitarmandanga October 2, 2014 / 6:35 pm

          In other words, as McPherson has best expressed it, superior numbers and resources were probably necessary for the Union win, but, by themselves, they don’t explain why they won.

  7. TF Smith October 2, 2014 / 10:05 pm

    Well, you raised the “What is of some disagreement is why the South went down under those odds when, in other historical scenarios, the weaker power (often weaker by a far greater margin) DIDN’T” question – my point is that in a geostrategic situation akin to the US in 1861, I’m not aware of ANY case where the weaker power “won”…

    No oceans to cross, no deserts, no jungles, no mountain ranges acting as barriers – given the geographic and strategic situation of the US, when the rebellion broke out, the rebels were going to be swamped …. and they were, from West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri in 1861 to Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia in 1864-65.

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