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Old May 18, 2004, 07:39 PM   #1
Gogf
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The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War

The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War
By Gogf
Contrary to popular belief, the Confederacy actually had many advantages at the beginning of the American Civil War. The chief reason that the North won the war was its massive production advantage over the South. The other main reason that they won the war was a massive man-power advantage over the South. Although these two advantages ultimately led them to win the war, these advantages were not as pronounced at the beginning of the war. Their advantages were disrupted, however, by poor leadership and organization. Early in the Civil War, the South was successful because of confidence, superior organization, leadership, and a more militarist way of life.
In the period leading up to, and during, the American Civil War, the South was more militaristic than the North. Many families in the South hunted for food, which taught the Southerners how to sneak through woods, and shoot well. Most male Southerners learned to shoot at an early age, and who by the time they were old enough to join the army, had impeccable aim. Furthermore, most of America’s prestigious military academies were situated in the South. Because of that, more people from the South went to these academies. When the war started, many of those felt that their loyalty was to their birthplace, the South, and not with the United States’ government.
The South won most of the battles at the beginning of the Civil War, surprising the North, who had thought that they would quickly win the war. The war truly began when the Confederates attacked the Union garrison at Fort Sumter, in South Carolina. They bombarded the fort with cannon, and on April 14th, 1861, the United States forces at Fort Sumter surrendered. The first battle of the war had been won by the Confederates; the only casualty of the battle was a Confederate horse. The news of this stunning victory quickly moved throughout the South, and boosted the already high confidence of those in the South.
The Southerners were confident in their military skill, while they thought of the Northerners as city dwellers who couldn’t hold their own in combat. The militaristic southern way of life helped prompt this, along with the astounding victory at Fort Sumter. Confederate ranks swelled as patriotic Southerners answered Jefferson Davis’ call for 100,000 men to fight against the Union. Confident soldiers usually fight better than demoralized ones. This is evident at the battle of Bull Run.
One early southern victory was the battle of Bull Run, or First Manassas, as the Confederates called it. The battle began when Union General Irvin McDowell moved south toward Richmond, and was stopped by Confederate General Pierre Beauregard. McDowell came up with a good plan: a small group of men would distract the Confederates, making them think that they were the main attack force; while the main attack force outflanked the Confederates. At first, it seemed like this strategy had worked, the Confederates took the bait, and moved to block the decoy force. But they soon discovered that they were being outflanked. The Confederates used railroads to quickly transport their troops to where they were needed; the first time this was ever done in history. The battle ended in a Confederate victory, with the Union retreating to Washing D.C. having about one thousand more casualties than the Confederacy. This was a tremendous morale boost to the South, and was quite demoralizing to the North. Again, the South grew even more confident in its fighting ability.
The army was divided into three main parts, in two of these, the Union had an advantage, but in the third, and perhaps most important, the South held the advantage. The first and largest part of the army was the infantry. It consisted of foot soldiers, and the United States had a production advantage here: they could produce guns, gunpowder, boots, and other equipment faster than the South could. The next part of the military was the artillery. This consisted mostly of “big guns” and cannons. Again, the North had a production advantage here as well. The last part of the army, but perhaps the most important was the cavalry. Mounted horsemen with guns, he cavalry could do scouting missions, could raid supply lines, or could help outflank an enemy in battle. Because of their way of life, most confederates had better aim than their Union counterparts. Many Southerners also rode from town to town, rather than either walking, or taking a train; as people did in the North. This made them quite good riders, as well as making it likely that they would own good horses. The Confederate army could not afford horses, to southern cavalrymen used their own. These horses were far better than those used by the North, bought cheaply by the Union army. Furthermore, the Confederate cavalrymen were used to their mounts, while the Union soldiers were not. This all added up to a far superior confederate cavalry, which had a huge impact on the war. The Confederate cavalry did many scouting missions, disrupted transportation of Union supplies, and attacked communication stations. The latter two caused the North to refocus their troops from attacking the Confederates to defending supplies, and means of communication. This helped to neutralize one of the Union’s advantages, and was a great help to the South.
Although confident, militaristic Southerners filled the ranks of the Confederate army, its greatest advantage lay in its leadership. One of these generals fought in the battle of Bull Run: Thomas J. Jackson. At West Point, he struggled to keep his grades up, but graduated in 1846. He went on to fight bravely in the Mexican War. Around this time, he became a pious Christian, and slightly eccentric. He never again, smoked, drank, or played card. He left the army in 1851 to become a teacher at VMI (the Virginia Military Institute). He later left VMI to join the Confederate army. At the battle of Bull Run, he managed to stop a Union attack to effectively that he was given the nickname “Stonewall” by Bernard Bee. He became one of the Confederacy’s most effective generals, and his leadership proved to be a great advantage over the North. An even greater presence in the Confederate army was General Robert E. Lee. Lee had graduated from West Point in 1829, and received three awards in the Mexican War. Lee was later in charge of West point for a few years. He opposed secession, but his loyalty lay with his home state of Virginia. President Abraham Lincoln asked him to command the Union army, but he turned it because he was a Virginian first.
On the other side of the war, was General George B. McClellan. McClellan graduated from West Point at the top of his class in 1846, the same year as “Stonewall” Jackson. He received three awards in the Mexican War. He was put in charge of the Ohio militia at the beginning of the Civil War. In 1861 he was put in charge of all American armies. Although McClellan was a great general, he suffered from what President Lincoln called the “slows.” His overcautious tactics managed to delay the United States from marching south quickly. It gave the opportunity for Lee, and other generals to push north, and even engage the Union on its own territory.
Considering the large advantages that the South had at the beginning of the civil war, it is interesting as to what would have happened if the South had pushed these advantages just a little farther. If they had, the outcome of the war could have been different. If it had been, the United States would have been much smaller, and would not have been a world leader. The outcome of World War Two could have been different, or, if it had not, the outcome of the cold war certainly would have been. If the confederates had pushed their early advantages just a small bit more, the world would be very different today.

What do you think? I think it's only okay, really.

Last edited by Gogf; May 19, 2004 at 07:16 PM.
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Old May 18, 2004, 08:32 PM   #2
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Re: The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War

Good Job! yet the South still lost!
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Old May 18, 2004, 10:19 PM   #3
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Re: The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War

Good effort.

Considering this is a US site, we have precious few articles about the United States...
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Old May 19, 2004, 01:55 AM   #4
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Re: The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War

I've always thought that had Davis given the southern generals the chance the war could well have ended straight after Bull Run when they chased the demoralised union army back to Washington before they could recover.

Having said that it's obvious though the great advantages the south had at the start really, the longer it went on the more the north would improve their army in all respects and outproduce the south in the vital areas. I personally think that the chance to end the war stopped before Gettysburg as by then the situation in the north was much more able to repel the southern invasions providing Meade could leave the field with something like an intact army. Even by Sharpsburg/Antietam their chances were slim to throw the north back to Washington.

Two comments though, firstly about Bull Run, whilst it's accurate to say the South won and were probably better individual fighters with better officers on the day, it's important to note the inexperience in both armies that showed on that day. Many believe that McDowell's plan failed mostly because it was too complicated for his commands to carry out with any accuracy and co-ordination. The inexperience also showed in the ranks of the southern troops as well though and it took the likes of Jackson to take a hand and prevent it from damaging them also.

Secondly, as clarification I would mention that part of McCellan's ability (and I presume why you call him great as in battle he was useless) was his ability to reorganise the Union army and mould it into a force to be reckoned with. (just not under his command!) The army of the Potomac was his design and his training and preparation for campaigns lead to the devotion of the men that made them weep at the end of the Sharpsburg campaign to see him leave. This is kind of part of the interesting situation the Union was in in the first two years, two of their Generals that they fired, McCellan and Hooker were, ironically two men who arguably did the most to form the army of the Potomac into the force capable of engaging Lee on equal terms.

Which neatly brings the issue to Union chances missed in the east. Realistically, the Union army fought many major battles in the east with the chance to end the war afterwards slipping away. McCellan letting his superiority slip in the 7 days and failing to crush Lee at Antietam despite holding a corps in reserve all battle. Hooker falling apart at Chancellorsville and throwing away his numerical superiority, Meade not counter-attacking the southern army after Picketts charge and so on.

Which is perhaps a good point on southern motivation, they knew one major defeat with a capable Union general to exploit it would scupper the south for good, with the exception of Bull Run and maybe one or two other battles, the union army could loose again and again and still hit back soon after.

That reminds me, On Lee, I once did a wargames campaign of the Antietam campaign playing Burnside. Another player, taking Franklin's role ran into the bulk of the southern army, and despite being outnumbered 2-1 attacked them constantly (damn warhammer players!). Sometime in the battle one of his commands broke a southern brigade and overan a southern general, namely Lee! To cut a story short the unit withdrew with it's prisoner and the southern force withdrew to lick it's wounds.

The campaign pretty much ended there, the umpire said "well, without Lee there would be no picketts charge" The reply he got though was "Without Lee the south probably wouldn't have ever reached picketts charge.
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Old May 19, 2004, 08:39 AM   #5
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Re: The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War

you guys. Nice to see you know so much about the Civil War .
I have studied much on the war and you both make very good points .
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Old May 19, 2004, 02:00 PM   #6
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Re: The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War

The South may have had some advantages, but it was nearly impossible for them to defeat the North.

Industrial societies are incredibly more efficient in warfare then rural societies. When you add the fact that the North was more populous then the South, you have a winner.
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Old May 20, 2004, 05:31 AM   #7
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Re: The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gogf
The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War
By Gogf
The chief reason that the North won the war was its massive production advantage over the South. The other main reason that they won the war was a massive man-power advantage over the South.
You seem to be missing the North's superior generalship and troop training (at least by 1863) and Lincoln's leadership, which was vastly better then Jefferson Davis'.

Quote:
Many families in the South hunted for food, which taught the Southerners how to sneak through woods, and shoot well. Most male Southerners learned to shoot at an early age, and who by the time they were old enough to join the army, had impeccable aim.
The same applied to Northerners from the frontier states, who performed very well in the Union's consistantly excelent western Armies.

Quote:
Confederate ranks swelled as patriotic Southerners answered Jefferson Davis’ call for 100,000 men to fight against the Union. Confident soldiers usually fight better than demoralized ones. This is evident at the battle of Bull Run.
I think that you'll find that Lincoln also had no problem attracting volunteers, and his early appeals for volunteers were hugely over-subscribed.

Quote:
The last part of the army, but perhaps the most important was the cavalry. Mounted horsemen with guns, he cavalry could do scouting missions, could raid supply lines, or could help outflank an enemy in battle.
While cavalry was undoutably a vital part of military forces of the era, I'd argue that it was actually much less important then infantry or artillery. Cavalry was more commonly used for reconanisannce and economy-of-force tasks then in (the mostly infectual) raids. I can't think of one instance where cavalry played a critical role in a significant battle. The only instances that spring to mind are the Union Cavalry's covering action at Gettysburg and the raids by Forrest which briefly delayed Sherman's offensives.

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An even greater presence in the Confederate army was General Robert E. Lee
Sure. However, Lee didn't recieve a significant command until late in 1862. In the early part of the war you're focusing on he performed badly in West Virginia before serving as one of Davis' aides.

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It gave the opportunity for Lee, and other generals to push north, and even engage the Union on its own territory.
...which resulted in two of the biggest Union victories of the war at Antidem and Gettysburg
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Last edited by Case; May 20, 2004 at 05:56 AM.
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Old May 20, 2004, 08:14 AM   #8
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Re: The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War

Case:

I disagree that Antietam was a major Union victory. Whilst it did indeed force the Army of Northern Virginia back from the North, in reality it was just about the biggest wasted chance of the war for the North. Lee left his army in a perilous position, backs to a river, heavily outnumbered and due to the problems in regards the general orders his army was divided and weak. McCellan’s forces on the other hand were numerous, well equipped in the main and in a good position to inflict a final victory against Lee.

Given the above, the result of the Antietam battle was little short of farcical, instead of driving Lee into the river and finishing his army once and for all, McCellan time and again failed to co-ordinate his commands and thrusts at the enemy, therefore making it much easier for Lee to repel each in turn than it could have been. He held back vital commands throughout the battle which if committed earlier (or in on of the corps case if committed at all!) could have overwhelmed the southern forces. He further failed to pursue Lee after the battle allowing him time to rest and reform again.

No, whilst I appreciate that the aim of the campaign was reached in that Lee’s men were forced to withdraw, the truth is Antietam remains one of the biggest chances to end the war in the east quickly. McCellan failed, and for that alone I rate the battle as a draw. I’d also rate some of the western victories higher than Antietam in importance. Lee’s army was too small to have had any great affect on the North in terms of forcing them into peace terms. If the battle has any importance it’s in enabling Lincoln to proclaim emancipation earlier.

On the comparisons of Generals, one thing that has always struck me is that at least in the east, the southern army relied on a blend of personalities that worked well together more than individually brilliant commanders who would fit in anywhere. Lee was able to command so efficiently because of the ability of his subordinates to understand his often vague orders and translate them into an efficient battle plan. Lee has always struck me as more of a strategic genius who allowed the likes of Longstreet and Jackson to determine tactics on the field of battle. This style of warfare and command though failed to adapt quickly to the loss of Jackson as evidenced at Gettysburg.

It’s true though that the Union army produced some equally capable commanders such as Hancock and Reynolds. Meade to me was never a overly good commander, but a predictable, dependable one, but he did at least possess the sense to take advice from his subordinates.

On Cavalry I have a slight issue on. Whilst on a battlefield their use was limited, on the strategy of the war, their effect was vital. The effectiveness of some of Lee’s greatest victories hinged almost directly on his freedom of movement offered by knowing where the union army was and what it would do. It can be argued that Gettysburg was such a disaster for the south because of the changes in command and the failiure of Stuart to accurately scout the union army’s position before and during the battle. I wouldn’t put them on the higher level than the other two, but their role in the success or otherwise of the war was quite important.
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Old May 20, 2004, 09:22 AM   #9
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Re: The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War

private, I agree with your points!

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Old May 21, 2004, 06:01 AM   #10
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Re: The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War

Quote:
Originally Posted by privatehudson
I disagree that Antietam was a major Union victory. Whilst it did indeed force the Army of Northern Virginia back from the North, in reality it was just about the biggest wasted chance of the war for the North.
True. However, Antietam was the worst beating the Union had given the Confederate ANV at the time, and as you point out could have been a truely decisive victory if McCellan hadn't blown it. Lee would have been a lot better off if he had never crossed the Potomac.

Quote:
If the battle has any importance it’s in enabling Lincoln to proclaim emancipation earlier.
Given the vital moral effects of that proclaimation, it could be argued that that gives the battle a very great importance indeed.

Quote:
On the comparisons of Generals, one thing that has always struck me is that at least in the east, the southern army relied on a blend of personalities that worked well together more than individually brilliant commanders who would fit in anywhere.
True. When he and his corps were detached to Tenessee Longstreet's performance left a lot to be desired. While he was badly served by the Confederate commanders in the region, he failed to show much agression, and missed a good opportunity to destroy a Union Army at Knoxville.

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Meade to me was never a overly good commander, but a predictable, dependable one, but he did at least possess the sense to take advice from his subordinates.
The best that can be said for Meade was that he was competant as commander of the Army of the Potomac, something none of his predessesors could boast. However, like McClarren he threw away a great chance to destroy the ANV north of the Potomoc after Gettysburg. However, once Grant took over he was an excelent deputy, simulataneously taking the load of managing the Army off Grant's shoulders while being able to translate Grants orders into decisive action.

Quote:
On Cavalry I have a slight issue on. Whilst on a battlefield their use was limited, on the strategy of the war, their effect was vital. The effectiveness of some of Lee’s greatest victories hinged almost directly on his freedom of movement offered by knowing where the union army was and what it would do.
That's certainly true, and the correlation between the improvement in the Army of the Potomac's fortunes and the improvement in its cavalry force is no coincidence. However, the point Gogf was making was that Cavalry was the most important arm on the battlefield. This certainly wasn't the case.
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Old May 21, 2004, 07:52 AM   #11
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Re: The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War

one major confederate disadvantage not cover was govt. at least the union govt. did not actively try to destroy it's self like the south ( yes there was corruption and copperheads) but the south's problem was simple--if you left the union because you believed the govt. had no right to order states around, how could the new confederate govt. order the suceding states around? they coulding, and states like georgia withheld 90,000 troops, supplies, weapons,ect from the fighting to "protect" georgia ( in reality to piss off davis) this were not troops to guard harbors from federal attacks.
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Old May 21, 2004, 08:22 AM   #12
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Re: The Confederate Advantages at the Beginning of the Civil War

To be fair Lee’s invasion may have had considerable success against the north had they plans not been discovered. The invasion was essentially a raid in force designed to inflict maximum damage, not to occupy. Lee could never have forseen the loss of the general orders, and whilst perhaps fighting at Antietam was unwise, the invasion itself was not totally so. After all, the south needed a break from armies living off it’s land Also Antietam may have been the biggest southern loss numerically to that date, but militarily the battle and campaign was a draw or even minor defeat for the north. The proclamation did come as a result of it, but Lincoln was desperate for anything that wasn’t a defeat to issue it, Antietam as a battle was the best the Union had in terms of victories at that stage, and it wasn’t much. Whilst the battle is important, it is not a great victory.

As for Meade being the first competent commander, I would suggest Hooker was as competent a general as Meade, indeed in planning (if not execution) Chancellorsville was one of the best thought out battles yet seen from the northern viewpoint. Meade was the first to win competently, but in style he matched McCellan almost in timidity when not guided by Grant. Hooker failed to win, but his ability was there if not the courage of his convictions. Hooker was the man after all responsible for the preliminary stages of the Gettysburg campaign and the North’s swift reaction to Lee moving north.

As for Longstreet, hand off my favourite US civil war general damnit!
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