1. Welcome to the CivilWarTalk, a forum for questions and discussions about the American Civil War! Become a member today for full access to all of our resources, it's fast, simple, and absolutely free!
Dismiss Notice
Join and Become a Patron at CivilWarTalk!
Support this site with a monthly or yearly subscription! Active Patrons get to browse the site Ad free!
START BY JOINING NOW!

Could the South have won the war? If so, how?

Discussion in '"What if..." Discussions' started by veritasbulldog82, Jul 12, 2018.

  1. veritasbulldog82

    veritasbulldog82 Private

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2018
    Messages:
    47
    Based on all the facts, is it possible that the South could have won the war or was their fall inevitable? I'm not talking about things that obviously wouldn't have happened like foreign intervention, but things that might have been different if the opposite decisions had been made than were made. If so, how?
     

  2. (Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
  3. Coonewah Creek

    Coonewah Creek Corporal

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2018
    Messages:
    331
    Location:
    Northern Alabama
    Perhaps. It would have still been a "long shot," but militarily Davis's cordon defensive strategy was a mistake. Politically, it may have been the only option he had, but militarily it was a mistake. With the South's limited resources, you simply can't afford to defend everywhere all the time. Those industrial assets that could be moved, should have been relocated deeper into the Confederate heartland, trading space for time to develop a defense based upon slowing the Federal advance into the heartland with a mobile army capable of delivering a strong counterpunch as the Federals overextended themselves (remember Napoleon's invasion of Russia?). As it was, when Johnston's Western cordon defense cracked, like dominos, the South lost Nashville and Clarksville, TN, its second largest ironworks. Steps could have been taken to relocate much of the material support supplied by those critical assets deeper into the heartland. Entirely too much effort was put into protecting Richmond versus the rapid deterioriation of the situation in the West. Just my opinion, for what it's worth...
     
  4. BlueandGrayl

    BlueandGrayl Sergeant

    Joined:
    May 27, 2018
    Messages:
    539
    Location:
    Corona, California
    To be honest about the South winning based on research when I read various Civil War books yes. Of course if we are talking the standard Confederate Victory scenarios found in almost every CWAH fiction with everything in place for 1861 and nothing else changed like the leaders or certain events then my favorite PODs include the Trent Affair (which is already being covered by CanadianCanuck in Wrapped in Flames: The Great American War and Saphroneth's Trent war) and the Lost Order we could further back by killing off certain Civil War leaders before the Civil War breaks out such as Lincoln getting killed in a duel by James Shields in 1842 or Ulysses S. Grant dying in a drowning incident at White Oak Creek which both happened but both men were lucky to avoid death and this would result in different leaders, different battles, and possibly a different Western Theater but for the default-CWAH well defense of the West the Confederates should have appointed capable leaders like Patrick "Stonewall of the West" Cleburne and Nathan Bedford Forrest to handle operations in the West. This excellent essay by one user named David Atwell on Alternate History Discussion called "How the Confederacy Could Have Survived the War" has a scenario in which Leonidas Polk never invades Kentucky and thus never violates its neutrality meaning that all the precious, valuable resources in the Western part of the Confederacy (Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas) are transported to the Eastern part of the Confederacy (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida) to help sustain Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia it also results in a much more limited Western Theater since cities like Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans never fall to the Federals nor are major battles like Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River, Vicksburg, Chattanooga and Atlanta ever fought nor does Albert Sidney Johnston get killed as well as the Confederates keeping a foothold in the vital border states of Missouri and Kentucky and Grant and Sherman never rise to prominence so the main focus is on the Eastern Theater only as well as the Confederates dragging the war to 1864 long enough to get the Union to give up as a result of George B. McClellan winning the election to seek peace terms with the now independent Confederacy.

    https://www.alternatehistory.com/fo...onfederacy-could-have-survived-the-war.57589/
     
    Coonewah Creek likes this.
  5. Coonewah Creek

    Coonewah Creek Corporal

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2018
    Messages:
    331
    Location:
    Northern Alabama
    I enjoy those "alternative histories" also (Newt Gingrich actually authored a few of my favorites), but I have to keep going back to the basic fact that the South only had to avoid losing to "win" (a bit of a tautology, I know, but it needs to be stated). And to my mind, the best way to avioid losing was the strategy I previously discussed. Perhaps Davis knew this, he was not a stupid man. But I'm not sure politically Davis could have ever abandoned the border states to better protect the Confederate heartland that was necessary to sustain not only the Western armies, but also the Eastern army protecting Richmond.
     
    O' Be Joyful and BlueandGrayl like this.
  6. Karen Lips

    Karen Lips 1st Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2008
    Messages:
    3,581
    Location:
    Waxahachie,Texas
    The North would have had to have had no real desire to win the war.
     
    John Hartwell and leftyhunter like this.
  7. Rusk County Avengers

    Rusk County Avengers Corporal

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2018
    Messages:
    362
    Location:
    Coffeeville, TX
    There are many ways the Confederacy could have avoided losing the War, (which in a way the South took one of the paths, and one could say won the war, by winning Reconstruction, as it did), and foreign intervention wasn't the only way it could have triumphed. I'll list some of the possible ways the Confederacy could have won that ain't addressed all the time:

    1. Davis and his cabinet follows the advice Beauregard claimed to have given, the C.S.A. purchase large numbers of former East India Co. ships and attempt to blockade New England in 1861, a time when the U.S. Navy was at its weakest.

    2. General "Stonewall" Jackson attacks Washington D.C. immediately after 1st Manassas. (It gets brought up, but not as much as others)

    3. Buckner and Forrest follow up they're break-through at Fort Donelson, and route Grant's Army. (It could have happened easily, but Gideon Pillow screwed the thing up, and if done, it could have been a tide turner just on Grant being out of the picture before Shiloh.)

    4. Bragg follows through with his Kentucky Campaign by attacking Cincinnati, when he could have taken it, instead of focusing on Buell, and forming a Confederate State Government for Kentucky.

    5. Never made Braxton Bragg an Army commander.

    6. Never made Earl Van Dorn an Army commander, and left him where he belonged and shined, the Cavalry.

    7. A Confederate victory at Elkhorn Tavern/Pea Ridge, and the Confederate Army pressing the advantage and invading Missouri, (again), and threatening if not taking St. Louis. (A bit far fetched, but a possible tide turner.)

    8. The Army of Tennessee presses the advantage after Chickamauga, and pursues the routed Union Army of the Cumberland and forces their surrender before they could get back into the fortified Chattanooga. (Bragg strikes again! Am I the only one seeing a pattern? I think a whole book could be written on how Bragg did more to sink the Confederacy than any Union General.)

    9. Kirby Smith leaves the far more capable General Richard Taylor alone after Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, and reinforces him, or even just let him keep the troops he had, instead of stripping him of his Army, and leaves Taylor to do what Taylor thought best. There was no doubt in Taylor's mind he could not just defeat Banks over and over again Like "Stonewall" in the Valley, but that he could have possibly retaken not only Baton Rouge, but also New Orleans. Given his opposition, his really unrecognized strategic genius, and the fact 1864 was election year, Taylor could have single handedly won the War in the Trans-Mississippi backwater, while Lee and Johnston were struggling.

    10. Jubal Early does the obvious smart thing and attack Washington D.C. when its proverbial pants are down, regardless of his troops exhaustion level.

    11. Davis ignores Hood, and leaves Johnston in command at Atlanta, rather than replacing him with the biggest opium addict in the whole Confederate States of America, (Hood of course)
    (EDIT: I can help but make a joke about Hood's reputation, after all he got my GGG-uncle sent to Camp Chase after Nashville)

    12. General John Gordon's attack meets its objectives after taking Fort Stedman, during the siege of Petersburg in 1865.

    13. Lee follows E.P. Alexander's advice and disbands the Army of Northern Virginia and goes full Partisan Warfare instead of Appomattox. (I don't hold a lot of hope for this possibility, but given a lot of the circumstances, it might have done something, slimly, just maybe, possibly ended with a Confederate victory.)

    Those are my top thirteen possibilities of a Confederate victory in the War, that ain't foreign intervention related, and had some promise, I suppose the Confederacy shot itself in the foot to much to win the War itself, but hey it won Reconstruction, and got all the State's Rights and other things it wanted till the 1950's. I hope these "What ifs" help you Veritasbulldog82, read the book "Dixie Victorious" its not the best read but it explores some sound possibilities, but at the end of the day, yes the Confederacy could have won the War, and in some ways it did.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2018
  8. Mark Roth

    Mark Roth Private

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2016
    Messages:
    238
    Location:
    Whereve I Am
    That would be interesting to see.

    Considering that his army wasn't that much better trained, an attack on Washington in the Summer of '61 could have ended the rebellion just as easily as winning the war.

    I can't see Lincoln throwing in the towel like that, especially after Vicksburg and Gettysburg. At best it would have kept Grant in the West. 1864 would have played out differently, though.

    Reinforcements would have arrived eventually, Lee would still have been stuck in Petersburg. At best it prolongs the war.

    I am not objecting to this, necessarily, but I am asking this: could any Confederate victory in 1865 have done more than drag out the war for a few more months?

    Lee himself recognized the second biggest problem with this theory: if the CS Army turned itself into the Viet Cong, the South would suffer and then lose. There would be no outside supply. there would be a dwindling amount of local supplies. The U.S. Army would be there and happily arming slaves and unionists. In Arkansas, I believe, a federal officer developed a network of fortified unionist farming communities. If the plantations and the food producing areas are being farmed by men in blue suits, a guerilla campaign is going to be ****ed hard.

    And that ignores the first problem with the disbanding the army theory: most, probably a great majority, of the soldiers would have simply gone home.


    My two cents: if the South wanted to win the war on its own, or come so close to winning that foreign intervention just finalizes the deal its best options were:
    • Take Washington in the Spring of '61, if it could
    • Win a battle in Maryland or Pennsylvania during the 1862 invasion
    • Complete the trifecta of not letting Sherman getting into the interior (winning harder at Chickamauaga and keeping Grant in Tennessee throughout 1864 would help), keeping Lee with a well equipped and mobile force throughout 1864, and bleeding the will to fight out of the electorate.
     
  9. Coonewah Creek

    Coonewah Creek Corporal

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2018
    Messages:
    331
    Location:
    Northern Alabama
    Actually there were two. Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat (Volume 1) by Dr. Grady McWhiney and Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat (Volume II) by his protégé, Dr. Judith Lee Hallock.
     
  10. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail 1st Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2015
    Messages:
    3,557
    Hindsight is always 20/20.

    The only path to victory for the CSA was a short bloody war that destroyed that Northern will to fight. That would have required a bold offensive strategy and lots of good luck. Raiding into the North that targeted cities for destruction -- I'm thinking Pittsburgh...Cincinnati...St. Louis -- leads to a huge Republican defeat in the 1862 midterm elections. Lincoln is then forced by Northern public opinion to end the war by granting independence to the South.

    The CSA would have also had to exacerbate East-West political tensions in the North by doing something bold politically -- like announcing gradual partial emancipation...or inviting Northern free states to join the Confederacy on vary advantageous terms.

    Speculative and unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No.
     
  11. Joshism

    Joshism First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2012
    Messages:
    1,740
    Location:
    Jupiter, FL
    Please elaborate on how the breakout attempt at Donelson could have routed Grant's army?

    Certainly most of the Confederates could have escaped if done right and that would have greatly diminished the first big feather in his cap and probably Shiloh doesn't happen as it did because Grant's subsequent movements change.

    How would he get his army across the Mississippi in 1864 to retake those cities?

    You're still a believer that Hood is a colossal opium addict?

    No way. Lee's army was too small and Grant's army was too big by that point. Not to mention Sherman was already in NC by this point and Lincoln had been reelected.

    Other than dispersing into a guerrilla war there is nothing the CSA could do to have any chance of winning in 1865.
     
  12. Irishtom29

    Irishtom29 First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2008
    Messages:
    1,256
    Location:
    San Antonio
    In a word, no.
     
    FZ11 likes this.
  13. Carronade

    Carronade 1st Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2011
    Messages:
    3,931
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I'm surprised the phrase "interior lines" hasn't shown up in this discussion. That was one of the Confederates' key advantages. It gave them their only big victory outside the Virginia theater - Chickamauga - and almost gave them a win at Shiloh, early enough to profoundly impact the course of the war. The ability to rapidly shift troops between theaters was the one thing that could compensate for their overall numerical inferiority.
     
    Si Klegg and BlueandGrayl like this.
  14. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2017
    Messages:
    6,092
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    No. The south could not have won.
    If the big land battles determine the course of the war, then the South won enough of them to have won the war.
    In reality, in 10,000 small engagements to re-establish law and order in the border states, and in western Virginia, the four to one advantage in military age men in the United States relative to Confederacy was going to matter. West of the Alleghanies, the mismatch in population was enormous.
    East of the Alleghanies, almost the entire maritime economy, and the naval power, was concentrated in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn, and Boston, and few other New England cities. That naval power was decisive, and within 14 months of fighting, the United States had established enclaves on the Confederate coast. They blocked the Mississippi as far south as Cairo, and then recaptured it as far south as Memphis. Meanwhile an ocean going fleet based the bars of the Mississippi delta, and bypassed two forts and retook the City of New Orleans.
    The United States had enough manpower to grow the economy, re-establish order in the border states, man a navy, and man armies that were incredibly resilient.
    The United States railroad network grew during the Civil War. Equipment was shipped as away as Sacramento.
    The United States exported food, in a large amount during the Civil War.
    The Confederacy could have had the military power to invade and hold US territory, but it never demonstrated that power.
    Therefore that power has to be projected.
    The Confederacy won some land battles. They were capable fighters. But the choices already made by the United States:
    1. Permitting and encouraging immigration, 2. Abolishing slavery in the northern states, 3. Developing a national naval tradition, 4. Building a domestic railroad industry, made the outcome of the Civil War inevitable. The only contingencies were how many people would die and and how long would it take.
    Would it happen quickly, or after a long war? Or would there be an armistice, and further militarization of the continent?
    Would the United States win with the weapons it had, or would it perfect indirect fire methods for artillery, make repeating rifles standard equipment, and begin to mount semi-automatic weapons like Gatlings device?
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2018
    Carronade likes this.
  15. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2017
    Messages:
    6,092
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    The United States could have allowed the border states to divide themselves as Virginia divided. It could have pushed the railroad far out into Nebraska and pushed it from Sacramento to Nevada. It could have converted Pennsylvania iron production to steel production. The population would have increased, and preparations for war materially progressed. By 1868 the United States could have won the war in combined arms operations in six months.
     
  16. Viper21

    Viper21 First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2016
    Messages:
    1,669
    Location:
    Rockbridge County, Virginia
    Might sound silly but, a quick thought I had....

    Had Davis not ordered the firing on Sumter. Meaning, if the CSA could've waited it out long enough to force either, a compromise, or force the first shots to be from Union cannons/muskets.

    The firing on Sumter, & the propaganda following, did much to sway opinion for war. Had the Union Army been universally thought of as firing the first shots, & "attacking the South", public opinion, & support may have been dramatically different.

    The best scenario for the CSA would've been a completely defensive posture, politically speaking. The effect of this may have even garnered foreign intervention in favor of the CSA, right from the beginning.
     
    Podad, Rebforever, Andersonh1 and 5 others like this.
  17. Carronade

    Carronade 1st Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2011
    Messages:
    3,931
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Agree. Without some provocation like Sumter, what options did Lincoln have? Any serious action would be likely to drive some of the eight border slave states to join the rebels, or at least to defy the administration. Interfering with commerce at southern ports, whether called blockade, customs enforcement, or whatever, could mean confrontation with foreign powers, especially Britain. And the longer the situation went on without resolution, the more Confederate independence would become a fait accompli.
     
    Andersonh1 and Viper21 like this.
  18. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2017
    Messages:
    6,092
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    The option for the United States was to grow the economy. Pull in more immigrants. Allow the process which is drawing whites from the south to the west to continue. Get rid of all the limitations on having a standing army and a professional navy.
    By the time it became clear that many people participating in the Confederate plan wanted to re-instate a Monarchy in the Confederacy, the coalition would have crumbled.
    Without Fort Sumter, the middle eight states never secede.
     
    BlueNGrey likes this.
  19. Carronade

    Carronade 1st Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2011
    Messages:
    3,931
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    You make a lot of good points, but I have to disagree with:

    The problem was, all but one of those wins were in one little corner of the Confederacy. They needed a few victories in the rest of their country. They needed to turn every Union incursion into a Chancellorsville or Second Manassas.
     
  20. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2017
    Messages:
    6,092
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    It was Richard Current, in a chapter in a book about why the North won, that first used the phrase the north won with hand behind its back. Shelby Foote picked up on that and expanded on it. The truth is that agriculture and railroads expanded in the United States during the Civil War. The frontier communities in Nebraska, Colorado and Nevada, were all Union strongholds.
    Business at the port of New York increased during the Civil War. The 17 contiguous paid labor states had enough early manpower to carve off the 5 border areas and hold them. Thus by the end of August 1861 the paid labor state area was expanding and the coerced labor area was contracting. The naval victories by the United States accelerated the process.
     
  21. archieclement

    archieclement Sergeant Major

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2011
    Messages:
    2,242
    Location:
    mo
    2. General "Stonewall" Jackson attacks Washington D.C. immediately after 1st Manassas. (It gets brought up, but not as much as others)
    Considering that his army wasn't that much better trained, an attack on Washington in the Summer of '61 could have ended the rebellion just as easily as winning the war.

    Reckon anything is possible in a what if, training was equal. however the fact his army isn't the one that just routed and left the field., would be a considerable advantage I'd think. It would have seemed to have the morale advantage.

    How significantly taking Washington early would have impacted the war is certainly debatable, but has always seemed one of larger lost opportunities what-ifs to me.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2018

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

Share This Page


(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)