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.
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.
The South had 80 years to accomplish the task but instead of abiding by the constitution which allowed the Congress to create a law after 20 years of the signing of the consitution, they screamed state rights on this issue and then continued to build an entire economy based off of it rather than ween themselves off of it. They knew and the North knew that a great battle eventually was to be fought over this, even at the very beginning, it wasnt a matter of if but when.
Futhermore, toss in the negative remarks about her eddyKshun at SMU... yes, I think you may be on to something, no matter how small, it's THERE.
Also, think about this from Wolfstar
It bears repeating:
The reactionaries' favorite short list are all judges President George W. Bush appointed to the appellate bench.
58 posted on 10/15/2005 11:17:57 AM CDT by Wolfstar (The reactionaries' favorite short list are all judges GWB appointed to the appellate bench.)
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"You'd be suprised what you can accomplish when you give a group of pissed off millers and lumberjacks rifles."
Did you see the West Wing episode where they invaded Canada? Frickin hillarious:
Sit Room Commander: "Well, the Mounties are armed with 45's and the hunters are carrying...shotguns?"
General: "And a few 50 cal sniper rifles, some night-vision goggles, and -- "
True, but it was Joshua Chaimberlain that singlehandedly won the war for the Union by issuing one order at Gettysburg..otherwise, the Southern Army would have been in positon to flank the Union Army while holding the high ground. In other words, except for Chaimberlain, we in the South would be paying taxes to Richmond.
There is a wonderful new book, that shows that Lee probably didn't just have "a really bad day" on the final day of Gettysburg, but in fact had sent JEB Stuart to attack from behind the lines to meet up with Pickett from the North's rear, but was beaten back by General Custer.
This battle took place far to the east of the main battlefield and is little known today.
If the theory is correct Custer may have single handedly saved the Union.
A war of attrition - conventional or especially guerilla - was not the kind of war the South could win, would want to fight, would know *how* to fight, and whose economy was singularly unadapted to fighting.
Lee took the long odds time and again because it was expected, and because he knew that elan and initiative could compensate for inferior numbers. And for three years, it did, in fact, work.
Unfortunately, in the Western Theater most of the good commanders were on the Union side. And it was in the West that the South lost the Civil War.
They lost because in the end, their 'cause', ~slavery~, was not worth their sacrifice.
-- 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."
The southern men had independence before the war [but they insisted upon their 'right to own slaves'] and they knew they would have it after. -- And at some point in the war, most southern men privately came to the conclusion that owning slaves was not worth a terrible war..
They lost their 'cause' with that realization, and with it they lost the will to prolong the war.
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?
The South also had a dedicated and devoted population that believed passionately in the righteousness of their Cause.
Initially, of course. But individuals slowly lost their will to fight as they realized the 'lost cause' aspect of their rebellion. The cause of slavery was simply not worth dying for.
The author in a way acknowledges this point in his reason #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.
-- Nor did it stress the principles behind that government. In effect, the CSA was asking men to die for a planters 'right' to own slaves.
And how they solved the problem by threatening to yank their hunting liscenses for the year unless they withdrew. Yeah, those guys were from the west.
Small problem with the Southern soldier's quotation: in the first 12 major battles of the Civil War, the South was usually pretty close to the Union in terms of total troops employed. There were a couple of disparities (can't remember which, but once the Union was up by about 30,000 men; once or twice the South had a slight manpower advantage)---but the key is that in all but ONE of those, the South lost a higher % of men/troops committed than the North. Only at Fredericksburg did the Confederacy come anywhere close to a dominant loss/troops engaged ratio. Most of the time, Confed. losses were in the 13-19% range, while Union losses were in the 10-15% range. NO ARMY, especially George Washington's, has ever lost that kind of ratio game and won a war.
You'd have to explain why most of the Republican national leadership for the last decade has been from the South or the border states.
All of the conservatives in question would have been ecstatic with such sons and daughters of the South as Bill Pryor or Edith Jones. It's about experience and aptitude, not her zip code.
Yeah, Southern slavers held on to the institution long past the point of sense for reasons that I can't fathom from my 21st century perspective. Sharecropping would have been much more profitable, but then I suppose that they would have had to start treating blacks like human beings.
I agree....That's like screaming racism where it doesn't exist....I'm very southern by the way.
In fairness, that was mainly a problem at the end of the war and mainly in the Virginia theater, after Grant had bled down his force to the point that they had to scrape the bottom of the manpower pool to fill the slots.
And given how poorly led they were by junior and even some senior officers in the Army of the Potomac, I wouldn't have felt very inspired to charge Confederate works on their behalf, either.
"Nor did it stress the principles behind that government. In effect, the CSA was asking men to die for a planters 'right' to own slaves."
I thought Slavery wasn't a major issue of the war until midway through when that pesky Moral Majority [Northern Repub Abolistionists?] gained steam? Did I misunderstand that?
Which was Davis and Johnston's utter failure to rally the home guard and stop Sherman on his March to the Sea, what with the rebs interior lines of supply and communication and a narrow front upon which Sherman advanced, mostly unopposed. Sherman destroyed both the future foodstock for Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and the deep South's will to carry on. When Sherman made Savannah and turned left to support Grant, Lee became caught in a vise without support, supply or a way out. With Lee defeated, there was absolutely no standing force left to the South that could, under any conceivable circumstance, oppose the North's juggernaut.
I've read that Lincoln was angry that Meade didn't pursue Lee and allowed him to get away from Gettysburg. As a result, we had two more years of war.
An interesting theory I read years ago, was that it was due to the differences in breeds of horses used by each side. The North used a smaller, more sturdy Morgan horse type which required less fuel, the South used taller English thoroughbred types which required higher fuel intake and more easily broke down.
Slavery was not the cause of the war. Lincoln himself said as much. The Emancipation Proclamation was a tactic employed deep into the war by Lincoln to rally support for the war.
Tariffs that enriched Northern merchants at the expense of Southerners galvanized opposition to the Union much more than the right of rich plantation owners to hold slaves.
Tom Scott was the most valuable man in the North's Army. His railroad was the dominant factor is trucking supplies and troops quickly to meet the Armies of the South wherever they popped up. Following the War, Tom Scott leveraged his position as the most valuable man to create the first modern American corporation, which led directly to the present dominance of America in the world of commerce and statecraft.
The secession movement really gained steam with Lincoln's election, which was seen in the South as the final rejection by the rest of the country to the idea of incorporating more states out west where slavery would be legal. Realizing this, and that the days of slavery were numbered, South Carolina started the move toward secession and was shortly thereafter joined by the rest of the Confederate states.
THE CONFEDERACY WITHOUT AN ARMY, NAVY, OR GOVERNMENT, 600,000 VOLUNTEERS SUSTAINED THE ASSAULT OF 2,778,304 MEN, SUPPORTED BY THE STRONGEST GEVERNMENT IN THE WORLD FOR FOUR YEARS. ITS DESTRUCTION RENDERED NECESSARY A PUBLIC DEBT OF $2,708.393,885, THE SACRIFICE OF 349,944 LIVES AND OF 1,366,443 PRISONERS.
(Note: bad comma splices are as they appear in my source)
Incidentally, I'm sitting about a mile from this monument as I type this.
If state rights and other issues were in the cauldron over the fire, slavery was the fuel that kept it warm.
Why didn't Abe let the South go? Breakaway states are getting independence all over the Earth. What about Taiwan? We have an agreement to help Taiwan. What if Abe were the leader of China. Would he let Taiwan go?
It was during the reign of imperator Woodrow Wilson that the US got dragged into foreign conflicts that were none of our business. The entry of the USA in WWI prolonged that conflict by seveal years, and brought about the collapse of the Ottoman, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian empires, followd by the rise of national and international (German and Russian) socialism. Wilson's reign also saw the percentage of the national GNP confiscated by the central/"federal" government rise from 8% (less than God requires) to 20% (double the tithe).
While president at Princeton U, at the age of 50, Wilson indulged in an extramarital affair -- and from that point on was never able to make a mistake. In his own eyes, at least. It was at some point after this event that he conceived the notion of outperforming Jesus, Who could only speak of the desirablity of peace on earth, while He, the great Wilson, had a scheme (his word) to make peace happen.
Given the correlation of forces in 1861, the wonder is that the South lasted as long as it did or came as close to victory as it did.
If the war had happened 20 years earlier (especially) or 20 years later, the South have been much more advantageously placed to win its independence. The 1860's presented all the benefits of industrialization to the North while denying the defensive firepower of repeating rifles and rifled artilery in any real quantity to the South.
Thread title alone guarantees 500 replies...
WE have many "Snow Birds" in our area. It's an honorable position to take and I (and others) enjoy them very much.Most of them maintain their status because of family and homes they don't want to let go of. It's understandable. I would reccommend the Hill Country, however. It's a bit further, but NC is lots colder than Texas. Besides that we have better BBQ than anyone anywhere.
"I have been repeatedly posting that she is a SOUTHERN Christian woman. "
I was listening to NPR Diva Diane Reims during her interview w/ Tony Blankley she said that she's get the feelings no one can handle the hearings and that the earliest they are going to happen is after the new year.
I have heard her voice. It is a nice, crisp, SOUTHERN voice.
You are welcome. Sheesh this was so obvious all along...
If the South had tried an insurgency style of warfare, wouldn't Lincoln's freeing of the slaves have created a counter insurgency in the South?
For one thing, the country would have almost certainly split into several pieces once the precedent had been established.
There was serious talk in the Pacific West about splitting off in the firts months of the war. The Mormons would have been happy to go their own way as well.
I've read that General Lee was suffering from dysentery during the Battle of Gettysburg - not good in July heat. He was probably dehydrated )(which can manifest itself into heart problems).
One other very very interesting point to make: Robert Bork was born and raised a .....drum roll .... Presbryterian, before he converted to Opus Dei type catholicism...
The war is still being fought on other fronts. Nothing can justify the killing of over 600,000 American Citizens on both sides of the battle. That is why I will continue to call it the war between the federal government and the states -- both northern and southern.
"The people who live in the "Old Union"--the one that won the Civil War--think they are the natural rulers of the country/"
I've been doing homework on this tidbit. I'm finding it to be a very very interesting topic, especially the religious affiliation of the major players. The patterns that surface are fascinating....
Sure take a gentlemanly good thought thread and toss it up into what is sure to be an angry name calling thread by declaring your BBQ is better! How dare you sir, KC is much better anyways! :-)
"Get real. "
Why don't you review the SCOTUS roster again ... and tell me again about how Southern Leadership is in play?
We could rank them in various categories: foreign policy foolishness, domestic policy foolishness, post-presidential stupidity.
A "quien es mas macho?" format would be suitable.
One word: Grits.