Skip to comments.Why the South lost the Civil War
Posted on 10/15/2005 8:38:50 AM PDT by teldon30
SOON AFTER THE end of the Civil War, as the Confederates streamed home after four bitter years of fighting, a Virginia soldier was heard to say, "They never whipped us, Sir, unless they were four to one. If we had anything like a fair chance, or less disparity of numbers, we should have won our Cause and established our independence."
That defiance, along with the question of why they "whipped us," have continued to this day. Two points stand out: The first is that the war lasted as long as it did, and the second is that the South lost.
That long-ago Virginia veteran expressed the feelings of the entire South: With as many assets as the Confederacy possessed, how could the South possibly have lost?
Its advantages were enormous, starting with a gigantic and contiguous land mass that stretched east to west from the Atlantic to the far reaches of Texas; and south to north from the Gulf of Mexico up to the Ohio River. It was all Confederate, the whole 750,000 square miles of it, a land brimming with natural resources.
The South controlled mile after mile of seacoast, perfect as a source of food; as well as dozens of harbors and coves and inlets and bays and riverbanks, ideal for smuggling and evading the Union blockade they knew was coming. The South also had a dedicated and devoted population that believed passionately in the righteousness of their Cause.
They knew they were facing huge odds--but they looked to their own ancestors, their own fathers and grandfathers, who had fought the British, the mightiest power in the world at the time, and had won their freedom. Why not a second time against a similar oppressor? They even thought they could fight the same war--they could fight defensively, as had the Colonists, knowing that the Union, as the British, would have to invade and occupy, and then destroy their will to resist in order to claim victory.
It didn't work out that way--and over the next several columns, we are going to talk about the reasons the South lost the Civil War. Of course, there is a corollary: If we try to find out why the South lost, we can also learn why the North won.
Truth be told, experts seldom agree on a single reason; they generally list about six overall concepts.
1. The fundamental economic superiority of the North.
2. A basic lack of strategy in the way the South fought the war.
3. The inept Southern performance in foreign affairs.
4. The South did not have a dominating civilian leader.
5. The Confederate Constitution put too much emphasis on individual and states rights and did not stress the responsibilities of the individual or the state to the federal government.
6. Abraham Lincoln.
I'll discuss each of these reasons in upcoming columns, but I am interested in what you think. If you have thoughts about why the South did not win its independence, please mail or e-mail your own reasons about why the South lost--or the North won. I'll print as many opinions as I can.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee should have known how to fight a winning war of independence. Both were West Point graduates, and had studied how Gen. George Washington had won the Revolutionary War simply by not losing it. It was the best example of the strategy a weaker enemy is forced to use when he fights a larger, better-armed enemy with incomparably better resources, better finances and an ability to prolong a war indefinitely.
Gen. Washington's Rule No. 1: Husband your resources and avoid losing the war.
No. 2: Avoid head-to-head battles that use up your manpower, your most precious asset.
No. 3. Prolong the war.
No. 4. Hope that the enemy would grow heartily sick of the casualties in a war that never seems to end.
There were some other Gen. Washington rules:
No. 5. The Revolution would continue as long as he had the Continental Army, which was the only real power he had.
No. 6. Thus, do not risk the army except in the most dire emergency or when the odds are heavily in your favor.
No. 7. Do not risk the army to defend territory because it is the army that the British have to subdue, not geography.
No. 8. Remember that most of the fighting will be in your territory in geography you know best. Frustrate the British by raids, continual skirmishing, and capturing their supplies, always staying just beyond their ability to defeat you.
These were the rules for victory, and yet neither Davis nor Gen. Lee adopted this "fight-the-war-not-to-win-it-but-to-avoid-losing-it" strategy, even though they knew it was a tried and true road to independence.
Why? Their own ancestors had shown that it worked. In modern times, we have seen it work, too: In World War II, the Russians traded space for time until they could build up their own war-making capability and then go on the offensive.
In the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh used it all too well. That war lasted from 1954 to 1975. Ho understood that in order to win a war against more powerful enemies (France, the United States), you have to follow certain rules to lead more powerful enemies into giving up the struggle.
The Vietnam War was a conflict that for us seemed to have no end. Ho's delaying tactics eventually worked: America got sick of a never-ending war that appeared to produce nothing but casualties, and so we made peace with an enemy that had but a fraction of our power. We were the more powerful combatant, yet we gave up the struggle.
The Confederacy never even tried to follow Washington's precepts. Part of the reason is the nature of Southern men. It went counter to the Southern psyche, which was the "attack" strategy for winning any battle. The Confederacy's high command followed their West Point training of "charge" to defeat their enemy. They were convinced that "aggressive attack" was the best and really the only way to win a war.
Could the Washington precepts have worked in the Civil War? We will never know how it would have worked out, but it could not have turned out any worse for the Southern Cause.
Are you referring to the War of Northern Aggression?
Yup. Thats pretty much what "Stillness At Appomattox" taught me. Its the only Civil War "history" I read, and only because its so well-written.
Can I assume its considered "very accurate" by historians.
Oh yeah, the whole "bounty" conscript mess is an embarassment to the North. For all their moral posturing these days, very few wanted to fight for their country back then. The more things change...
My dad (A Southerner) used to tell me the reason the South lost the war was the yankees stole all our ammunition and forced us to fight uphill looking into the sun..:)
Yeah! Damnyankees would have stormed out of Fort Sumpter and conquered the whole South if there hadn't been a pre-emptive attack.
To quote the late, great Lewis Grizzard: "We could have whipped the Yankees with cornstalks. Unfortunately the sonsabitches wouldn't fight that way".
One of my all time favorite reads. There's a line about recruits meeting veterans that goes something like , "When who thought they were bold met men who were bold in fact, it put a permanent scare into them." Kind of 'splaines the difference between Weasly Clark and Tommy Franks.
I'm amazed at the ineptness and cowardice of the Union conscript.
Well, there were the bloody anti-draft riots in New York. Apparent the good citizens were "brave" enough for mob violence and I suppose it's not too far fetched to think that a great-great-grandmother of Cindy the Ditch B*tch was there pimping here 'grief' for a son killed at Bull Run.
The author has a real grasp on human nature as well as historical facts.
Not sure at this point. Maybe Petrouka. But certainly someone who knows the difference between Antonin Scalia and Harriet Miers when it comes to candidates to serve on the Supreme Court.
Slavery can be a humane and correct element of a society, but only in a monarchy, where every one is a servant of the crown. In such a society slavery is just the most extreme form of servitude. And slavery can only be humane in the case where the monarch is the proverbial Philosopher/King.
In the United States of America, founded as a representative democracy, where all people are endowed with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness there is no room for slavery.
No I am referring to the Civil War, no need to sugar coat it.
It is a reasonable question actually: who was the last white conservative southern protestant appointed to SCOTUS?
Could this be the crux of all the angst against Miers?
Agreed. That is why the North "had" to win.
So god makes distinctions like that? ....nevermind...i don't want to change the topic here.
"I believe God caused the South to lose because..."
Well, I'm a native Texan, with Bama in my heart, but...
If the South had won, a de-centralized confederacy [or a split North America] would never have mustered the strength to fight the Nazis or the Soviets. "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers".
In that case I'm:
sending back my fierce defiance and stamping on the cursed alliance!
Lee bought a poor battle at Gettsyburg. He should have followed Longstreet's advise and manuevered to the south and assumed a defensive posture like he took at Fredericksburg. It has been speculated that Lee was ill at the time. He was unsually nervous and may have been suffering from the heart disease that laid him low the next spring and eventually killed him.
Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor was in an ideal position to facilitate the Union blockade of Southern ports. It would also make a good place to launch an invasion of the Deep South.
I have been repeatedly posting that she is a SOUTHERN Christian woman.
Until your research and post, I had not realized how important that factoid is!
Good job, gobucks.
We will never know, of course, but my conclusion is the opposite: the freedom loving and freedom living people of the South and the North would have opposed the Nazis earlier and even more strongly.
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