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Poll: Could the South have won the Civil War?

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Poll: Poll: Could the South have won the Civil War? (11 member(s) have cast votes)

Could the South have won the Civil War?

  1. Yes (3 votes [27.27%])

    Percentage of vote: 27.27%

  2. No (8 votes [72.73%])

    Percentage of vote: 72.73%

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#1
Carrie Mathison

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Oldie but a goodie. I'm pretty sure no one left on this forum likes talking about history except maybe Chalup, but just in case, I started the thread. Only serious responses will be considered, please no Dixie-nationalist RevRoswell style hick sh-t.


There are a couple schools of thought on this in regards to a "yes" answer, and most of them have to do with demoralizing the North. I don't think there's a single good argument that the South could have outright "won" the war (in the sense of conquering the North), but there are arguments about their ability to at least end the war with some type of peace with the North- which again, usually requires some type of demoralization. I think the ability of the North to lose morale and the will to continue the war, and for Lincoln to even possibly lose in 1864 may theoretically be possible, but for this to happen, the South almost certainly has to have a decisive victory in the North before 1864. The argument I've heard here usually goes along the lines of Lee taking the Army of Northern Virginia and somehow reaching DC or Baltimore in 1863. The idea is that until Gettysburg, the threat of Lee in the North was enough to keep the war's outcome in question. I think that if Lee had reached DC or Baltimore then that would certainly change the dynamic of the war, so in that sense, I agree with these arguments. The problem with them is that I don't know that Lee ever had a serious shot of getting there. Every time Lee invaded the North he got crushed, and this was true even before Gettysburg- say, Antietam in 1862, which no matter how the South likes to mis-interpret it, was not a victory for them. So I think arguing the finer points of say, how Gettysburg turned out, sorta misses the point. At some point Gettysburg was going to have to be fought whether it was actually at Gettysburg or somewhere else- Lee had to decisively defeat the Army of the Potomac, and that's true whether Lee turned back to DC earlier, or whether he sought better terrain, or whatever. Lost Cause people particularly love arguing minutia about Gettysburg, but I think most of it is pretty irrelevant because I don't think Lee ever really had a chance of winning a battle in North, no matter what you think of what Longstreet did or Hill or whatever.

Then there's sorta the counter-argument to this, that the South didn't really need a decisive early victory in the North to demoralize them, but just had to entrench themselves into a defensive war and basically wait it out. I think this is generally a worse argument than the above one for several reasons. First off, the South's navy was absolutely pathetic and the South never had any serious challenge to the US naval blockade. Second, while a lot of people like to focus on the eastern battles, the western campaign is many times ignored. And the truth about the west is that the South never in a million years had a chance to hold it. A lot of people arguing for the South like to argue that they had better generals, but that's a bit of a half-truth- it's only really true for a few people in the east. In the West, the South's generals were pretty much awful and routinely got crushed by the North. The South only had one victory in the west during the entire war, at Chickamauga, which ended up having little effect. So one could say that if Lee didn't score a victory in the east early, then it was probably inevitable that Vicksburg and Sherman's march to the sea happens. You combine that with the blockade and it's really hard to see how the South would ever win a defensive war.



Then there's the flip-side to the above- that the answer to the question has to be "no." Quite honestly, there are strong arguments in favor of this. It is really hard to exaggerate the degree to which the US dwarfed the Confederacy. The US had 3 times the population and also 3 times as many railroad miles. The US had about 9 times as many factories. In fact, there were large areas of the South that had no factories at all, for example, I don't think Mississippi had a single factory. The US also had a staggering 30 times the arms production. By the war's beginning the US had already went a long way down the road of industrialization, while the CSA was a largely agrarian society with a more feudalistic style economy that was almost entirely dependent on one export. Which, it's worth mentioning, that the South had an extremely misguided view that Europe was dependent on cotton, a view that ended up being completely false, but that view being prevalent in the South led to hubris, a hubris that may have caused them to make inevitable strategic miscalculations. There are some other points to consider too, such that Jefferson Davis was absurdly incompetent and that there is no evidence that Britain and France would have ever entered the war on the South's side. I know that's a popular point for Southern apologists but the unfortunate truth for them here is that there isn't any historical evidence to support that theory. Another thing Southern apologists like to bring up is that they had better generals, and as already discussed, while they did have some good generals in the east, this point often ignores that in the West they sucked. Also, I'm not sure it would've mattered. After all, in WW2 Germany probably had the best generals out of any country, but as soon as they began a two front war it was unquestionably inevitable that they would lose.

You add all that up and I think there's a point to be made that, no, the South could never have won the war, or even 'tied' the North to a draw- they were inevitably going to lose. I think the best argument for the South is a quick victory by 1863 in the east, but I have yet to hear a good argument for why we think Lee would have ever reached DC.
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#2
Driver

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Was there ever an option for any sort of armistice where the war would ended and we came out of it as two separate countries?
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#3
Carrie Mathison

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Well that's something that's been debated for over a century and I could write pages on. I cover a lot of it above in the most concise way I can- I think there's a possibility, but the South has to win a quick, decisive victory early, before 1864 and most likely that victory has to include taking DC.

Outside of that, no, for the reasons given, I think the South was essentially destined to lose and not only lose, but be conquered by the North.
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#4
Pong Messiah

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Realistically, no.

 

Regarding Lee: lotsa regular people in the North didn't care about (or even opposed) the Civil War. IMO, if Lee had somehow managed to raise true havoc in the North, instead of demoralizing, it would galvanize the fence-sitters and effectively silence the Copperheads and other anti-war folk. This would not end well for the South.



#5
Good God a Bear

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No the South couldn't have. Mainly for the reasons you stated. The South didn't have the industrial strength to support a war. Trade with other countries was cut off. So it was only a matter of time before they lost.



#6
Carrie Mathison

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Realistically, no.
 
Regarding Lee: lotsa regular people in the North didn't care about (or even opposed) the Civil War. IMO, if Lee had somehow managed to raise true havoc in the North, instead of demoralizing, it would galvanize the fence-sitters and effectively silence the Copperheads and other anti-war folk. This would not end well for the South.


Even if Lee had taken DC?

For the reasons I already gave, I obviously think that was a long shot, almost impossible. But what if it happened?

#7
Pong Messiah

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Realistically, no.
 
Regarding Lee: lotsa regular people in the North didn't care about (or even opposed) the Civil War. IMO, if Lee had somehow managed to raise true havoc in the North, instead of demoralizing, it would galvanize the fence-sitters and effectively silence the Copperheads and other anti-war folk. This would not end well for the South.


Even if Lee had taken DC?

For the reasons I already gave, I obviously think that was a long shot, almost impossible. But what if it happened?

 

ALL OPINION OF COURSE

 

Exactly what I said. In the case of that long shot occurring, think a lot of the people who didn't care about the war would suddenly become a lot more, for lack of a better word, "patriotic," as the threat of the South (which was not considered terribly threatening) would suddenly seem a lot more real. A lot of people who were not angry with the South for seceding -- even sympathetic -- would be outraged. For the North, unless you were in the government, military, black, or Irish, the Civil War probably wasn't that real to you... Lee manages to take DC, it is suddenly very real.

 

So I think the war effort would have become a lot more urgent in the North, and people opposed to the war would shut their traps for the time being. Definitely no draft riots (assuming there would even need to be a draft).

 

The advantage of manpower and industrial strength in the North was already just way, way too much. Actively piss the Northern people off, and it's over. The South's best hope, IMO would have been to try and run out the clock. But of course for that to work, it would require Lincoln to not change generals, so....

 

Doomed.



#8
monkeygirl

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Does anybody have a theory as to which specific battles won instead of lost or vice versa would have turned it around?

And was there as much dissent then as now as to what the dang whole war was about?

#9
Pong Messiah

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I keep thinking of UCLA in the late 1960s, where the only way other teams had a chance of beating them was to keep from pissing off Lew Alcindor. Get a small lead, run out the clock, you might have a shot. Get him angry, and he's gonna go for 30/20 and you're dead.

 

Using a sports analogy kinda cheapens wars and lives lost, etc. blah blah blah but I think it's fairly apt with the Civil War. The South had Lee, some good soldiers, and the home turf, but it was so far from a fair contest. Never say never, but without foreign military intervention and/or employing some serious guerrilla warfare tactics, their only real shot was to try and hold the fort and hope the North falls asleep and/or gets distracted by something else before it overwhelms them. Actively antagonizing the North -- taking cities and such, even important ones -- while a common and accepted practice, is prolly not the smartest move.

 

:eek:



#10
Pong Messiah

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Does anybody have a theory as to which specific battles won instead of lost or vice versa would have turned it around?

And was there as much dissent then as now as to what the dang whole war was about?

I'd say there was a lot more dissent right before and during the war than there is today. There was plenty of antiwar sentiment in the North, and the Democratic party (North), despite being the party of peace, had some particularly brutal fights in its ranks.

 

The level and pitch of antiwar sentiment did indeed change from battle to battle, but I could not point to any one battle and say "That woulda done it!" Remember: where I'm coming from, "turning the war around" for the South = getting the North to stop fighting, and much of this hinges more on the battlefields of political and public opinion than on, well, battlefields. I do not believe the South could have won any conventional war, no matter how many battles they won.

 

:)



#11
El Chalupacabra

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Realistically, no.
 
Regarding Lee: lotsa regular people in the North didn't care about (or even opposed) the Civil War. IMO, if Lee had somehow managed to raise true havoc in the North, instead of demoralizing, it would galvanize the fence-sitters and effectively silence the Copperheads and other anti-war folk. This would not end well for the South.


Even if Lee had taken DC?

For the reasons I already gave, I obviously think that was a long shot, almost impossible. But what if it happened?

 

In addition to what Pong said, even if Lee took DC, he wouldn't have been able to hold it long.   Think of it this way, the majority of the battles fought in the Eastern Theater (indeed, by extension, the whole Civil War) were fought in Virginia.  The South was constantly defending Richmond, its capital, and VA as a whole (losing almost half of it when West Virginia seceded from VA to join the Union) but never seemed to be able to take DC, which was almost a stone's throw away.  There was just too heavy of a Union presence in the DC/MD/VA area because the North was defending its capital, too.  So, if the South somehow got lucky (IE after the Second Battle of Bull Run) and pressed on to DC and captured it, I don't think they had the resources to hold it very long.  The Union would have mobilized everything they had to take DC back. 



#12
Carrie Mathison

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Does anybody have a theory as to which specific battles won instead of lost or vice versa would have turned it around?


Hard to say (pong has a good point here), but the commonly accepted ones are some combination of either Antietam or Gettysburg. I'd possibly throw Vicksburg in there, but there is an argument that the outcome of Vicksburg was perhaps inevitable.


Pong and Chalup- great posts. I'll have some more thoughts on your posts later when I have a little more time.
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#13
El Chalupacabra

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Thanks, CM.  As to an answer if I think the South could have won the war, I'd reiterate the North just had too much industrial might and manpower to overcome.  Industrialized societies trump agrarian societies every time. The North had over twice as many people and the political leadership in the North was more organized IMHO, and Davis played a part in hindering the Confederacy, in that he didn't really have a plan to win the war for his generals.  I think when you compare Lincoln to Davis, Lincoln was just a smarter and better leader, with more guile and political acumen, all around.  He was able to do what was necessary, even when unpopular, and despite being unpopular when elected,  I think it is a fair statement that his stick-to-it-ness won people over, and actually inspired them.  That's not to say Davis didn't inspire people in the South or was any less committed to his cause, but as a matter of opinion, I think Lincoln just outclassed him. 

 

When it comes to the Congressional leadership, similarly, I think the Union had a more sophisticated political structure: it was already in place, whereas the South's government was literally being build from the ground up.  Many of the CSA's representatives and senators may have served in the US Congress, sure, but they were in unprecedented territory: I mean this was the first time they were starting a new nation from scratch, and they had a lot less economically with which to make do.  In fact, you can argue the CSA over-printed money to fund the war and bankrupted themselves.

 

I would say militarily (equipment, money, infrastructure, training) the north had the advantage in every column.  The North simply had more of EVERYTHING. Military leadership, it seems people believe the South had all the good commanders, but really, I think Lee was the only one that could be said was a "Superior" general to the North's leadership, but even Lee wasn't infallible.   I think if Lee had resorted to more a straight up guerrilla campaign, he would have done a lot better.  He was just obsessed with invading the North, and fighting the war conventionally to do it, which was really a bad idea (Gettysburg proved that).

 

People focus on the Eastern Theater because that is where much of the action was, but the Western theater was just as important, and the South simply got it's ass kicked.  The South failed to take the then New Mexico/Arizona Territory for very long, which meant they failed to link up with the West Coast.  So the North basically had the South contained from the North and the West, and blockaded from the East coast and Gulf of Mexico.  Once the North captured the Mississippi and split the Confederacy in two, it was over. 

 

The ONLY way I see the South winning the war, and this was a long shot, was if both the UK and France jumped in on the side of the South and declared war on the US.  At that time the UK still had the most powerful Navy, so if the UK destroyed the US Navy that blockaded the entire South's coastline from VA to Texas, that would have done a lot to alleviate the South for imports.  If France and the UK provided money, supplies, and troops to the South, the UK invading the North via Canada, and Lee shifted from a conventional offensive/defensive war  to a purely guerrilla war,  I could see a different outcome. 

 

But I don't think it was  in either country's best interest to actively support the Confederacy.  The Crimean War was still in both the UK's And France's recent memory, for the UK they just concluded the Second Opium War, France was otherwise occupied in Mexico, and the Prussians (of particular concern for Austria AND France), during the 1860s were starting their movement towards one that would ultimately lead to the creation of Germany after the Franco-Prussian War. 



#14
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Judging by how obstructionist Republicans (the current party of the south) have been in Congress over the past odd number of years, I sort of assumed that the south had won?



#15
Evolence

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In all seriousness, maybe the better question is:  Should America have LET the south "win" the war or just outright secede?


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#16
Ms. Spam

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Nope. Industry won over clever Southern Strategists.

 

For the record, I enjoy history. It started as my college major. Then I quickly realized that such a degree will only earn me a useless BA with not much for job prospects. I studied at Kennesaw State University. I lived five minutes from a major battle ground that still has the trenches and 30 minutes from a Sherman burned Southern Capital. Every kid at this school in the history program wanted to base some part of their thesis on the Civil War. It was wretched.

 

That said...

 

The NE had money, industry and population. The Deep South had history, hicks and good orators. There was industry in the South but it was really centered on one particular specific industry and was stymied by the fact that they had to turn the crops into something. Because of the South's location on the Gulf they were pretty limited by both shipping lanes as well as their ****ty ****ty swamp land and Great Pine forests. They had to import labor for a reason and cheap labor at that. If the Civil War had not broken out the South would have gone slowly under.



#17
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Judging by how obstructionist Republicans (the current party of the south) have been in Congress over the past odd number of years, I sort of assumed that the south had won?

One wonders as most of Romney's electoral votes were won in the South...



#18
Pong Messiah

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Who's Romney?

 

:confused:



#19
Ms. Spam

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I was making a terrible current-times joke. :(



#20
Ryn

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please no Dixie-nationalist RevRoswell style hick sh-t.


Literally, tears. :lol:

#21
Good God a Bear

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Judging by how obstructionist Republicans (the current party of the south) have been in Congress over the past odd number of years, I sort of assumed that the south had won?

 

Sort of reminds you how the Democrats seem to be obstructionists when Republicans are in power, don't you think? Whenever one is in power the other does everything they can to rally against them, regardless. It's kind of what is wrong with our party system today. But to act like the Democrats don't do the same when it is the reverse is ignorant.


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#22
Evolence

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No, you bring a relevant point to the table GGAB.  You are certainly correct that both parties will obstruct the agenda of the other on some level.  However, taking this BEYOND a mere Republican/Democrat critique, a recent PEW study showed that hyper-partisanship is at the HIGHEST level since the Civil War.  That is sort of scary, no matter what side of the fence you are on.  (Though the same study concluded that liberals were more likely to compromise than conservatives...Or maybe it was a similar study, I forget to be honest.  I just remember reading some similar research that showed liberal-oriented people were more willing to compromise than conservatives.)



#23
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The American Civil War. I can't help but think there's a way to prove (in the mathematical sense) that the South didn't stand much of a chance of succeeding in establishing themselves as an independent nation. On the one hand, the North had the manpower and industrial base that the South didn't - as pointed out upthread. On the other hand, low probability events will occur occasionally. If only there were a way to demonstrate in a convincing manner that a Federal victory was the most probable outcome!  We'd have to "replay" the events multiple times, perhaps hundreds or thousands of times, to show that the Feds were very likely to win given the initial conditions. Then it'd be an interesting exercise in tweaking the initial conditions to determine what it would take for the Confederates to achieve any kind of victory (say,establishing an independent nation with slaves or perhaps even just remaining in the Union but with their slaves). 

 

Economically, it seems that slavery was a losing proposition in the long run. Even had the rednecks won, they'd have probably needed to abolish slavery within a few decades. Of course, there's slavery, and then there's "slavery"; it's not as if Jim Crow laws weren't an extension of oppression in the long run.....



#24
El Chalupacabra

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Hey CM, here's an interesting read...

 

http://www.americanc...uld_sth_win.pdf



#25
The Kurgan

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Nope. Industry won over clever Southern Strategists.
 
For the record, I enjoy history. It started as my college major. Then I quickly realized that such a degree will only earn me a useless BA with not much for job prospects. I studied at Kennesaw State University. I lived five minutes from a major battle ground that still has the trenches and 30 minutes from a Sherman burned Southern Capital. Every kid at this school in the history program wanted to base some part of their thesis on the Civil War. It was wretched.


Ditto that. My brother majored in history in college, and the only thing he can do with it is teach history in college. But I do love the subject. Bring on the history, Carrie! In fact, I might do some of my own later.
  

The NE had money, industry and population. The Deep South had history, hicks and good orators. There was industry in the South but it was really centered on one particular specific industry and was stymied by the fact that they had to turn the crops into something. Because of the South's location on the Gulf they were pretty limited by both shipping lanes as well as their ****ty ****ty swamp land and Great Pine forests. They had to import labor for a reason and cheap labor at that. If the Civil War had not broken out the South would have gone slowly under.


The U.S Civil war is not not my forte, but my understanding is in line with the consensus here. The North had advantages in industry, finance and man power that were simply insurmountable.



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