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Thread: US Civil War: how well could the Confederacy have done?

  1. #1 US Civil War: how well could the Confederacy have done? 
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    I'd thought of asking "Could the Confederacy have won the US Civil War?" but just about everybody seems to think that the Confederacy could not have conquered the Union. The Union was more populous, it did not have to keep much of its population under control, and it was more industrialized. I think that the most favorable outcome for the Confederacy would likely have been the Union losing interest and quitting. That does happen, like with the US in Vietnam and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Is that a fair assessment?


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  3. #2  
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    What else do you think the Confederates wanted than for the Union to lose interest and quit?


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    If the Confederacy had fought more of a guerrilla war and not tried to hold onto areas against superior numbers and weapons, they might have stood a chance. Minimally, they could have extended the war many years. But that is a tough call: to vacate your homeland when an invading army approaches.

    Don't misunderstand me though, I'm glad the South lost. Good and evil are seldom white and black but I believe the North stood on a slightly higher moral ground.
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  5. #4  
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    In some instances (Gettysburg) it was a tactical failure.
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    Military Deaths in American Wars


    The numbers of Civil War dead were not equaled by the combined toll of other American conflicts until the War in Vietnam. Some believe the number is as high as 850,000.

    Source: http://www.civilwar.org/education/ci...asualties.html
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    To OP.
    I think it's a fair assessment. I somewhat disagree that the Union victory was inevitable because of their better logistics. In modern military vernacular it's often said wars are won by going after the enemy's center of gravity; you've correctly identified that as the Union's willingness to continue the fight. Lee, as brilliant as he was as a field commander, thought all he needed was a few overwhelming victories--he got those but that didn't work, yet he continued trying to find them. Davis, perhaps out of a false sense of trying to minimize casualties didn't want to go after the heart of the Union and was holding out for years under the false hope that the European's might help. The result is the Confederacy fighting the worse type of war against a logistically superior force...an attrition war where even clear tactical victories turned out to be strategic losses because the Union could much more easily replace its troops and supporting materials. A few years back Alexander wrote his opinion that if the South had correctly gone after the Union's center of gravity and invaded the Union doing deliberate harm to the North's logistical base (imagine every mill and farmer's field in Pennsylvania and Southern New York state burning), the Union might have changed their minds. The one area where the Confederacy has huge success and where historians often ignore, is they did massive damage to Union's merchant marine fleet via privateers--it would take nearly 30 years to recover.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox View Post
    To OP.
    I think it's a fair assessment. I somewhat disagree that the Union victory was inevitable because of their better logistics. In modern military vernacular it's often said wars are won by going after the enemy's center of gravity; you've correctly identified that as the Union's willingness to continue the fight. Lee, as brilliant as he was as a field commander, thought all he needed was a few overwhelming victories--he got those but that didn't work, yet he continued trying to find them. Davis, perhaps out of a false sense of trying to minimize casualties didn't want to go after the heart of the Union and was holding out for years under the false hope that the European's might help. The result is the Confederacy fighting the worse type of war against a logistically superior force...an attrition war where even clear tactical victories turned out to be strategic losses because the Union could much more easily replace its troops and supporting materials. A few years back Alexander wrote his opinion that if the South had correctly gone after the Union's center of gravity and invaded the Union doing deliberate harm to the North's logistical base (imagine every mill and farmer's field in Pennsylvania and Southern New York state burning), the Union might have changed their minds. The one area where the Confederacy has huge success and where historians often ignore, is they did massive damage to Union's merchant marine fleet via privateers--it would take nearly 30 years to recover.
    Wasn't the Gettysburg campaign an attempt by Lee to do what you are suggesting?
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    Quote Originally Posted by mathman View Post
    Wasn't the Gettysburg campaign an attempt by Lee to do what you are suggesting?
    In a way. But it's also important to understand there was no "Gettysburg campaign," Lee had no intention of fighting a large battle there, it was only a large failure of his scouts that failed to inform of the large Union forces moving to defend the town. He didn't intend to march and destroy towns, industry or farms afterward.... at best he thought he might be able to threaten Washington DC, or draw the Union into a large battle and ultimately a defeat on the ground of his choice and thus persuade the Union to quit.
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  10. #9  
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    Yeah. My understanding has always been that Lee was driving after Washington DC so he could force a quick surrender. In a drawn out war, the South would have virtually no hope at all, because the Union had already blockaded Southern shores with its superior navy, effectively ruining the South's economy (which was based on exporting cotton) and preventing the South from being able to import much needed supplies for their troops.

    When the Southern armies finally did surrender, most of the soldiers looked like emaciated skeletons. Even without Sherman's march, the South would most likely have failed to be able to keep its troops fed. Sherman just made the process go faster.

    The advantage the South had in a difficult war was the apathy of Northerners, most of whom didn't really care all that much. When the draft was put in place in New York, there were riots.

    New York City draft riots - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    A thing that is often ignored in the Civil War narrative is that Northerners were just about as racist as southerners. They just didn't take it quite to the point of owning slaves. And most of the reason they didn't take it that far is that slavery simply wasn't cost effective for their type of businesses and in their type of weather. Slaves make very poor manufacturing workers. It's easier to pay an immigrant a pittance for their hourly labor than it is to feed, clothe, house, and watch over a slave to prevent them from escaping.
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    Although I do not like what the South was doing with slavery they might have done better using the tactics of guerrilla warfare as the enemy did in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq as a few examples. By not having a central area which could be destroyed they used tactics that suited them well and won the wars against superior forces.
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