Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Side in the Civil War: Informative Essay

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The Civil War was the deadliest war in our nation's history, and the war began with the signing of the Ordinance of Secession in Charleston on Dec. 20, 1860. The American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 was a battle between the Northern States, led by Abraham Lincoln (Union), and the Southern States, led by Jefferson Davis (Confederates) fought for the moral issues of slavery. The American Civil War has become a point of controversy and argument when discussing key events in shaping America. The biggest question that arises when discussing this war is “Could have the South won the war?” Historians believed during the war; one action led to a particular outcome. But if a different action had been taken it would have led to a different outcome. This Paper will explain and inform you of some theories suggesting ways the Confederates could have won the bloodiest war in American history.

Leadership was a major factor in the events of the war. Three men more than any others determined the outcome of the American Civil War. The confederacy’s president, Jefferson Davis, and two generals, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The most common scenario centers on the actions of General Lee. Lee focused on conducting an offensive war against the armies of the north. Historians believed that Lee didn’t see this as a war but saw it as a struggle between governments. His strategy was to attack and attack forcing the Union to end the war by marching all the way to Washington and disputing peace with a sword. A tactic that was suggested to Lee was guerrilla warfare. Guerrilla warfare was basically abandoning the entire South to Union control and then raiding federal supply lines, depots, and isolated units. This strategy would have also worked with Jackson’s view on fighting the North. Jackson proposed moving against the Northern people’s industries and their way of life. Meaning strikes the North’s undefended factories, farms, and railroads. While doing that, Jackson would be avoiding the Union’s strength and field armies. With guerilla warfare tactics, he would strike at the weakness of the union and against small detached union units. Unfortunately, the South wanted no part in this strategy. Overall these two generals could not do anything unless approved by President Jefferson Davis. Davis opposed offensive action against the North. He wanted to remain defensive in the belief that the major European powers like England or France would intervene on the Confederacy’s side to guarantee cotton for their mills. Unfortunately, this hope for aid was ultimately the beginning of the downfall of the South. The Confederate military leadership was generally superior to Union leadership. This superiority produced a number of Southern successes. But it failed to bring about victory in the end only because the top Confederate political and military leaders failed to understand and thus did not exploit the opportunities offered to them. The most iconic battle was the South had the highest chance of defeating the Union was First Manassas on July 21, 1861, where Thomas Jackson earned his nickname “Stonewall”. On this day, Jackson a military genius was able to defend a position by creating a wall with his brigade. This location known today as Henry House Hill is an expansive plateau of open pasture. The area was sloped downward and behind them was a thicket of young pine trees and a sunken road. With this position, union troops had to charge head-on to make any contact with the Confederates. Confederates had the advantage of the hill as a defense against Union artillery but also his men were able to lay down on the ground and fire at the Union soldiers approaching the hill. With this engagement, Jackson produced a high sense of morale amongst his troops that strengthen them and gave them hope they could win the war. In turn, they won this battle, forcing the Union troops to retreat. Now, here is where an opportunity arose where the South could have possibly won the war. While the Union soldiers are retreating, they are running in chaos and unorganized. if Stonewall pursued the North and captured some enemies, they would have most likely gotten information. But the biggest blow they could have dealt was to march all the way to Washington while there were only five thousand troops defending the nation’s capital. With Stonewall’s brigade and southern reinforcements still coming to aid them in battle, they had the advantage in numbers and leadership at that moment. Some say if Lee was general at this moment, he would have pursued the North and possibly won the war due to Lee’s aggressiveness. In the end, the commander and Chief Davis denied any action against the North. It was the fundamentally different views of warfare of these three men that settled the fate of the South. Failure to recognize the realities facing the South and disagreements over strategies are what doomed the Confederacy.

Transportation was essential in the years of the Civil War. Northern states created significant rail networks to connect manufacturing centers in major cities while the South's cotton-based economy mainly relied on connecting plantations to major ports for export elsewhere. Railroad development was minimal in the South and large shipments were primarily made from inland areas by the river to ports like New Orleans and Charleston – rivers that would get patrolled by the Union Navy. Rivers and railroads emphasized and heighten the outcome of certain battles. For example, if the Confederates stayed in control of the Mississippi River, even though Ulysses S. Grant captured it on July 4, 1863, they would have forced the Union to fight on two fronts. By not having southern states split in half, warfare on the river would have been a bonus, but also easier for spies to infiltrate and return safely back home. But in this case, Grant’s strategic control of the river made it easier to divide and conquer. Railroads were another asset that could have possibly changed the outcome of the war. Railroad systems, David Thomas of the Cleveland Civil War Table, suggested that provisions, ammunition, and men would have decimated the union. Meaning starvation would slowly spread throughout and dwindle the Union force's numbers. Lack of transportation also suggested less of a worry about reinforcements and firepower entering southern borders. Unfortunately, with the union's access to the railroad systems, they were able to focus their entire efforts on the East.

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The Confederate victory at the Battle of Bull Run was a definite victory for the South and had cost the Union dearly. Later, Antietam had given the Union a small victory and prompted President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation announcing all slaves in the Confederate territory still in rebellion were freed. Unfortunately for the North, this was soon followed by another Confederate victory at the Battle of Fredericksburg. The South was fighting to preserve their way of life and most importantly to protect perceived constitutional rights. Unfortunately, the North was doing the same. Nationalism started to become a huge factor that played an essential part in how the Confederacy built itself. Some historians blamed the Confederate defeat on its strict adherence to states’ rights and failure to develop a strong national identity. Jefferson Davis could have nationalized the railroads and industry. Governors could have cooperated more with Jefferson in Richmond. A powerful central government with a strong national identity could have opened many doors for the Confederates. Allies like Great Britain with a strong naval force or France with much need resources could have changed the tide of the war completely. The South was the supplier of cotton to the two European powers. Britain becoming an ally was inevitable if only, Lee has won the Battle of Antietam. Britain relied heavily on the South’s cotton to power its textile factories. If Great Britain recognized the Confederacy as its own country, Lincoln and the North would be against them to the extreme. Possibly in turn try to invade Canada and hurt British merchant ships. France did consider signing with the Confederacy, but they would not join unless Great Britain did. French wanted cotton but also, had an alternative motive of creating an empire in Mexico. It would be easier to conquer with the help of the Confederates.

During the years of war, the South neglected key points. New Orleans was a major distribution port for the South. Union captured it without firing a single bullet. General Winfield Scott, general-in-chief of the U.S. Army and a veteran of the Mexican War, proposed a military strategy to defeat the Confederacy. It was known as the Anaconda Strategy. The Anaconda plan called for a full blockade of the Southern coastline and control of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River was the South’s major inland waterway and was a valuable transportation and shipping route. In addition, controlling the river meant the Union army could isolate Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana from the other Confederate states and split the Confederacy in two. The Union naval blockade was established in 1861 but was ineffective, allowing around one in three blockade runners to break through. Then, in March of 1862, the Union launched a campaign to seize control of the Mississippi River in the North. The Union’s strategy was highly so successful that it prompted the Confederates to aggressively counterattack in response, particularly in General Lee’s failed Gettysburg campaign in 1863, which caused such devastating losses that it is considered by many historians to be the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. After the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, and Port Hudson in Louisiana on July 9, 1863, the Union won complete control of the Mississippi River. Due to the Confederate army’s small size, Confederate President Jefferson Davis avoided major battles with the Union army to prevent the annihilation of his army and instead planned to only participate in small, limited engagements when the odds were in their favor. This is where they were wrong. Protection of where their main source of revenue was located was not on the minds of the South. This is referred to as a strategy of attrition – a strategy of winning by not losing and simply wearing out the enemy by prolonging the war and making it too costly to continue. The problem with this strategy is the governors, congressmen, and residents of the various border states along the Confederate perimeter requested the presence of small armies in those states to prevent Union invasion. Davis instead could have settled on an “offensive-defensive” strategy in which troops would be moved around to meet military needs instead of trying to defend the border and, if the opportunity presented itself, to go on the offensive and perhaps even invade the North.

Throughout the war the tide constantly shifted, and with that so did the political, economic, and military strength of either side. Although each side had its share of military successes, in the end, the superior Northern economy, centralized government, and overwhelming manpower would eventually lead to victory. In mid-1863, both the Union and the Confederacy could have won the war although; the Confederacy lacked the industry, or manpower to wage a long war with the Union. After reviewing the statistics of the North’s “overwhelming numbers and resources”—two and a half times the South’s population, three times its railroad capacity, nine times its industrial production, and so on—Current concluded that “surely, in view of the disparity of resources, it would have taken a miracle…to enable the South to win. To this day historians blame the head of the Confederacy Jefferson, as the main downfall of the South. Some believe it was just the overwhelming number of the Union. The advantages and disadvantages on either side affected the course of the war but the most dominant argument on why the South lost were leaders not compromising, nationalism as a country, Scott’s brilliant plan, and lack of use of the transportation system. Overall the South just missed way too many opportunities and did not capitalize on the advantages they had.

Works Cited

  1. Alexander, Bevin. 'How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors that Led to Confederate Defeat.' Crown Forum, 2008.
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