Why did the Union win / Confederacy lose?

Why did the Union win / Confederacy lose?

Excerpts from Carl Zebrowski. Why the South Lost the Civil War. American History. June 1997. http://www.jcs-group.com/military/war1861ahouse/warcivil.html

Why did the South lose? When the question is asked that way, it kind of presupposes that the South lost the war all by itself and that it really could have won it. One answer is that the North won it. The South lost because the North outmanned and outclassed it at almost every point, militarily.

Despite the long-held notion that the South had all of the better generals, it really had only one good army commander and that was Lee. The rest were second-raters, at best. The North, on the other hand, had the good fortune of bringing along and nurturing people like Grant, William T. Sherman, Philip Sheridan, George H. Thomas, and others.

The South was way outclassed industrially. There was probably never any chance of it winning without European recognition and military aid. And we can now see in retrospect what some, like Jefferson Davis, even saw at the time, which was that there was never any real hope of Europe intervening. It just never was in England or France’s interests to get involved in a North American war that would inevitably have wound up doing great damage, especially to England’s maritime trade.

Industrially the South couldn’t keep up in output and in manpower. By the end of the war, the South had, more or less, plenty of weaponry still, but it just didn’t have enough men to use the guns. I don’t agree with the theories that say the South lost because it lost its will to win. There’s nothing more willful or stubborn than a groundhog, but whenever one of them runs into a Ford pickup on the highway, it’s the groundhog that always loses, no matter how much willpower it has.

We can’t fault the Southerners for thinking at the time that they could win when we can see in retrospect that there probably never was a time when they could have. The most important things they couldn’t see was the determination of Abraham Lincoln to win, and the incredible staying power of the people of the North, who stuck by Lincoln and stuck by the war in spite of the first two years of almost unrelenting defeat. The only way the South could have won would have been for Lincoln to decide to lose. As long as Lincoln was determined to prosecute the war and as long as the North was behind him, inevitably superior manpower and resources just had to win out.

The miracle is that the South held out as long as it did. That’s an incredible testament to the courage and self-sacrifice of the people of the South — both the men in the armies and the people at home who sustained them, with nothing but continuing and expanding destruction all around them. The South lost the war because the North and Abraham Lincoln were determined to win it.

– William C. Davis

 

 

The South lost because it had inferior resources in every aspect of military personnel and equipment. That’s an old-fashioned answer. Lots of people will be scornful of it. But a ratio of twenty-one million to seven million in population comes out the same any way you look at it.

The basic problem was numbers. Give Abraham Lincoln seven million men and give Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee twenty-one million, and cognitive dissonance doesn’t matter, European recognition doesn’t matter, the Emancipation Proclamation and its ripple effect don’t matter. Twenty-one to seven is a very different thing than seven to twenty-one.

– Robert Krick

 

 

The South certainly did not lose for any lack of idealism, or dedication to its cause or beliefs, or bravery and skill on the battlefield. In those virtues the Confederate soldier was unexcelled, and it’s my belief that man-for-man there was no finer army in the history of America than the Army of Northern Virginia.

But of course the factors that enter into the South’s ultimate defeat are those things that you hear time and time again, and with a great amount of validity: the North’s industrial base; the North’s manpower resources; the fact that foreign recognition was denied the Confederacy. In time these things would tell on the battlefield, certainly on the broader level. The North was able to bring its industry and its manpower to bear in such a way that eventually, through sheer numerical and material advantage, it gained and maintained the upper hand.

That’s when you get into the whole truly tragic sense of the Lost Cause, because those men knew their cause was lost, they knew there was really no way they could possibly win, and yet they fought on with tremendous bravery and dedication. And that’s, I think, one of the reasons why the Civil War was such a poignant and even heart-wrenching time. Whether or not you agree with the Confederacy or with the justness of its cause, there’s no way that you can question the idealism and the courage, the bravery, the dedication, the devotion of its soldiers — that they believed what they were fighting for was right. Even while it was happening, men like Union officer Joshua Chamberlain — who did all that he could to defeat the Confederacy — could not help but admire the dedication of those soldiers.

– Brian Pohanka

One main reason why the South lost (and this may seem offbeat because it flies in the face of the common wisdom) is that the South lacked the moral center that the North had in this conflict. Robert Kirby in his book on Florida’s Edward Kirby Smith and the Trans-Mississippi suggests that the South’s morale began to disintegrate in the Trans-Mississippi in about 1862. The North had a fairly simple message that was binding it together, and that message was that the Union, the idea of Union, was important, and probably after 1863 you could add the crusade against slavery to that.

Ask the question, “What was the South fighting for; what was the Southern way of life that they were trying to protect?” and you will find that Southerners in Arkansas had a very different answer from Southerners in Georgia or Southerners in Virginia. And what you increasingly find as the war continued is that the dialogue got more and more confused. And you actually had state governors such as Joe Brown in Georgia identifying the needs of Georgia as being paramount and starting to withhold resources from the Confederacy and just protecting the basic infrastructure of the Georgia state government over the Confederacy. In the North you certainly had dialogue and debate on the war aims, but losing the Union was never really a part of that discussion. Preserving the Union was always the constant. So, one key reason the South lost is that as time went on and the war got serious, Southerners began losing faith in the cause because it really did not speak to them directly.

– Noah Andre Trudeau

 

 

Historians have offered several explanations for the Confederate defeat in the Civil War. First, the North had a superiority in numbers and resources — but superiority did not bring victory to the British Empire in its war against the American colonies that were fighting for their independence in 1776, nor did it bring victory to the United States in its war against North Vietnam in the 1960s and ’70s. While Northern superiority in numbers and resources was a necessary condition for Union victory, it is not a sufficient explanation for that victory. Neither are the internal divisions within the Confederacy sufficient explanation for its defeat, because the North also suffered sharp internal divisions between those who supported a war for the abolition of slavery and those who resisted it, between Republicans and Democrats, between Unionists and Copperheads. And, in fact, the North probably suffered from greater internal disunity than the Confederacy.

Superior leadership is a possible explanation for Union victory. Abraham Lincoln was probably a better war president than Jefferson Davis and certainly offered a better explanation to his own people of what they were fighting for than Davis was able to offer. By the latter half of the war, Northern military leadership had evolved a coherent strategy for victory which involved the destruction of Confederate armies but went beyond that to the destruction of Confederate resources to wage war, including the resource of slavery, the South’s labor power. By the time Grant had become general-in-chief and Sherman his chief subordinate and Sheridan one of his hardest-hitting field commanders, the North had evolved a strategy that in the end completely destroyed the Confederacy’s ability to wage war. And that combination of strategic leadership — both at the political level with Lincoln and the military level with Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan — is what in the end explains Northern victory.

– James M. McPherson

 

 

The principal cause of Confederate failure was the fact that the South’s armies did not win enough victories in the field — especially enough victories in a row in the field — to both sustain Confederate morale behind the lines and depress Union morale behind the lines. In the end there was a waning of the will to resist on the part of Southern white people, but that was tied directly to the performance of the Confederate armies in the field; more than once they seemed to be on the brink of putting together enough successes to make Northern people behind the lines unwilling to pay the necessary price to subjugate the Confederacy.

The primary reason the Confederates did not have more success on the battlefield is that they developed only one really talented army commander, and that, of course, was Robert E. Lee. There never was a commander in the West who was fully competent to command an army — and I include Joseph E. Johnston and Albert Sidney Johnston and Braxton Bragg and the rest in that company. The almost unbroken string of failures in the West depressed Confederate morale. Lee’s successes in the East were able to compensate for that for a good part of the war, but in the end there simply was too much bad news from the battlefield. And that bad news, together with Union advances into the South, the destruction of the Confederate infrastructure, and the problems of the Confederate economy that worked hardships on so many people, all came together to bring about Confederate defeat.

– Gary Gallagher

 

 

If I had to pin the South’s defeat down to one sentence, I would have to say it was due to very bad military commanders: Albert Sidney Johnston, P. G. T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, John C. Pemberton, Joseph E. Johnston, and John Bell Hood (and if you want to go down a notch or two in the command structure, Leonidas Polk, William J. Hardee, and Joseph Wheeler).

With people like Polk and Hardee you’ve got ranking generals in an army who deliberately sought to undermine their commanding general Braxton Bragg. With Wheeler you’ve got a subordinate general who on at least two occasions — in the fall of 1863 and the fall of 1864 — went off joy-riding when he should have been obeying his orders from his army commander. With Beauregard and Johnston you had two generals who were unwilling to work with their government. With Hood and Bragg you had two generals who were basically incompetent as army commanders. And with Albert Sidney Johnston you had a general who underwent some kind of confidence crisis after Fort Donelson.

Let me point out that every one of those generals was in the West. Any explanation that does not account for the West is irrelevant to your question. The war was lost by the Confederates in the West and won by the Federals in the West. I don’t see how you could even question that. In the crucial theater of the war, the Confederacy did not have a competent commanding general.

– Richard McMurry

 

 

The South lost the Civil War because of a number of factors. First, it was inherently weaker in the various essentials to win a military victory than the North. The North had a population of more than twenty-two million people to the South’s nine-and-a-half million, of whom three-and-a-half million were slaves. While the slaves could be used to support the war effort through work on the plantations and in industries and as teamsters and pioneers with the army, they were not used as a combat arm in the war to any extent.

So if the South were to win, it had to win a short war by striking swiftly — in modern parlance, by an offensive blitzkrieg strategy. But the Confederates had established their military goals as fighting in defense of their homeland. In 1861, when enthusiasm was high in the South, it lacked the wherewithal and the resolution to follow up on its early victories, such as First Manassas in the East and at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington in the West.

– Edwin C. Bearss

 

 

My collaborators and I, in our book Why the South Lost the Civil War, laid out our theory, which is that the South lost the Civil War because it didn’t really want to win badly enough. Defeat was ultimately due to a loss of collective will. But in other discussions with various learned groups, I’ve been induced to admit that in order for the Southern people to have a sufficient degree of will to win the war, they would have had to be a different people than they were. And so, in that sense, victory for the South was ultimately an impossibility.

Now certainly the course of the war, the military events, had a lot to do with the loss of will. The Southerners hoped that they would win spectacular victories on Northern soil, and they didn’t. They hoped that they would be able to exhaust the will of the Northern people, and they didn’t. And I don’t know that all of the Southern people put a great deal of stock in their hopes that Abraham Lincoln would not be reelected, but certainly the key Southern leaders did, and this was their great hope and great strategy toward the end.

With regard to military turning points, I’m not a fan of those, and I certainly don’t think that Gettysburg and Vicksburg dictated the inevitable outcome of the war. We tend … to imply that there was really still hope until March of 1865, but really I think the outcome of the war became inevitable in November 1864 with the reelection of Lincoln and that utter determination to see the thing through, and, of course, the finding of U.S. Grant by Lincoln and company. Grant was certainly the man to provide the leadership that the North needed.

– Herman Hattaway

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