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How the South Could Have Won the Civil War

  1. Jul 19, 2008 #1
    I've heard and read novice Civil War buffs assert that the South's defeat in the ACW was strictly preordained because of their imbalance in resources and manpower with the North. This assertion does not stand up to scrutiny. There were no Gallup polls back then, but most historians who specialize in the time period believe that McClellan, with his platform of peace without victory if necessary, was a more popular Presidential candidate than Lincoln in the summer of 1864.

    There are any number of military, economic, diplomatic, and political mistakes that the South made that contributed to their defeat. Resources were a factor in limiting the South's margin of error, rather than a final determinant. With the benefit of hindsight, here's how I believe that the South could have won the war (The first five numbered statements are what I believe were most important. After that, they are in no particular order.):

    #1 Don't elect Jeff Davis President because he selects and promotes and demotes his military commanders based on personal loyalty/personal animosity rather than merit

    #2 All military forces needed to be under the same command structure and deployable wherever needed. Don't do a strictly static defense.

    #3 Use a flexible defense where you only focus on defending Island Number Ten, Vicksburg, New Orleans, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Nashville in the western theater of the war.

    #4 Fight using defensive tactics and using fortifications as much as possible

    #5 The only time you should ever do an offensive charge over open ground is if the enemy is on ground that is strategically valuable to you

    #6 Buy as many warships as you can from Britain, particularly from money raised from selling bonds to British aristocrats

    #7 Buy the steamboats and other large merchant ships within the Confederacy and convert them into ironclads and mount cannons on them

    #8 Use said ironclads and other warships to protect New Orleans and other CSA interests on the rivers

    #9 Don't violate Kentucky neutrality

    #10 Don't fire on Fort Sumter. Make Lincoln start the ACW for the less politically popular cause of preserving the Union.

    #11 Build Fort Henry on the east riverbank of the Tennessee River in a place that is not in a flood plain

    #12 Instead of putting most of the soldiers and artillery in the Western Department in Columbia, KY and Bowling Green, KY in winter 1862, put them in Fort Henry and Fort Donelson

    #13 Build Fort Henry and Fort Donelson bigger than the 10 and 15 acres that they were respectively so that they are big enough to hold an adequate number of supplies and troops

    #14 Stock Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Vicksburg with at least a year's provisions of non-perishable foods such as peanuts and hardtack(?)

    #15 Never send a major army onto northern territory except if you need to strictly for foraging purposes and to give CSA farms a respith

    #16 Use the Confederate munitions factories in Macon, Georgia- They had needed artillery and ammunition supplies in Macon. They just didn't use them.

    #17 Don't make the Army of the TransMississippi- The CSA shouldn't have wasted valuable resources and manpower defending the western territories.

    #18 Don't put Braxton Bragg in charge of anything

    I've heard and read people argue that not defending every inch of territory goes directly against the CSA's cause relating to slavery, but I disagree. Allowing northern armies to freely travel throughout the CSA would give many slaves a chance to escape, but the South's cause in the ACW was to prevent the slaves being freed AND ALLOWED TO STAY IN THE SOUTH. If the northern armies freed large numbers of slaves in the Confederacy, and the ex-slaves migrated north to protect their freedom, that would be acceptable to the Confederates as the ex-slaves would not be in the South.

    There would need to be armies and garrisons at many points around the periphery of the Confederacy, but they should still be components of a unified war effort. Flexibility and taking advantage of operating on interior lines was essential. The ANV ended up consuming a disproportionate share of the Confederacy's military capital, its best troops and commanders; while stabilizing the front in Virginia, they progressively lost the rest of their nation. I think it significant that the only substantial setback to the Union armies outside Virginia came when the Confederates did use strategic mobility to deploy Longstreet's corps to Chickamaugua; this should have been their primary mode of operation rather than an isolated incident.

    Fortifications, either field fortifications or fixed strongpoints, are an important force multiplier, particularly for the side which is overall weaker and on the strategic defensive; but I will add the caveat that they are a complement to the field forces. Stocking a fortress for a siege is only minimally useful if the Union is able to besiege it indefinitely without interference. The ultimate problem at Donelson and Vicksburg was that the Confederates could/did not defeat Grant's armies in the field. There were Confederate troops available outside Vicksburg and Donelson to attack Grant's army in time, but the CSA just didn't use them. The Confederacy should have sent a corps from the ANV and used it to attack Grant's army besieging Vicksburg in May 1863. After the AoP setback at Chancellorsville, the AoP wasn't going to move for at least a month.
  2. jcsd
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