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"Alan Farmer explains why the North won the ACW." Topic

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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0108 Sep 2017 12:54 p.m. PST

"On 10 April 1865, General Robert E. Lee, having just surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox, wrote a farewell address to his soldiers. ‘After four years' arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude', declared Lee, ‘the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.' According to Lee, the Confederacy lost the American Civil War not because it fought badly but because the enemy had more men and guns – indeed more everything. Historian Richard Current, reviewing the statistics of Northern (or Union) strength, concluded that ‘surely in view of disparity of resources, it would have taken a miracle … to enable the South to win. As usual, God was on the side of the heaviest battalions'

Yet not all historians would accept that the Union's superior resources were the prime cause of Confederate defeat. Many insist that the Confederacy lost – rather than the Union won – the Civil War. Did the Confederacy defeat itself or was it defeated?…"
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VVV reply09 Sep 2017 4:25 a.m. PST

Its simple, the North had the technology, manpower and resources to win. South might have won early on before the North got itself organised.
I think the North produced 700,000 Springfield muskets during the ACW as an example of its industrial capacity.

Trajanus09 Sep 2017 5:29 a.m. PST

There's some great examples of poor thinking. For example the South not only had far less railroads than the North most were were intended to take cotton to port and not much else, so were of poor strategic value.

Meaning things like Lee's army prior to and after Chancellorsville, was supplied by one single track line and was permanently on the verge of actual starvation.

If that wasn't bad enough the locomotives and rolling stock were made in the North and there were no manufacturing facilities in the South capable of replacing them and supporting the armaments and ammunition industry at the same time!

donlowry Supporting Member of TMP09 Sep 2017 8:45 a.m. PST

Start the popcorn.

Tango0109 Sep 2017 10:45 a.m. PST

Hope not!… (smile)


coopman Supporting Member of TMP09 Sep 2017 7:47 p.m. PST

I don't think that there will be much argument on the above comments. It's kind of hard to argue with the truth.

Charlie 1209 Sep 2017 7:59 p.m. PST

Trajanus hits it on the head. To add some numbers to that, for just the USMRR (US Military Railroad), 400 modern locomotives were built between 1862 and 1865. Plus a very large number were built for the civilian railroads in the North. For the entire war, there were NO (yes, thats NONE, ZERO, NADA) new locomotives added to any of the Southern railroads.

Additionally, the South lacked the capacity to manufacture new rail or the parts needed to maintain the rail system they had. Consequently, as lines and equipment wore out, capacity had to be cutback (often at the worst possible moment). By 1864, the Southern rail system was close to total collapse.

And the Southerners certainly didn't help with some of their policies. It wasn't until 1864 that government rail traffic was given priority over civilian commercial rail traffic. And the Southern railroads repeatedly refuse to cooperate in any form or fashion with the government or each other.

Ottoathome10 Sep 2017 9:13 a.m. PST

October 26, 1825

The article is not bad, just a compendium of the conventional wisdom on the subject.

However for me, the above date is the exact DAY that the South lost the Civil War. That is the date of the completion of the Erie Canal.

How I came to this astounding and unlikely conclusion is one day I was visiting the Canal boat and Canal Museum in Easton PA. There, almost lost among the flashy-splashy exhibits was an almost throw-away-exhibit on the canals. it was set inside a window to a door to a store room, and it was a lighted example of the year by year growth of canal transportation from its beginning in colonial days up to 1880. I watched as it progressed, and the slow extensions of canals throughout the nation with no seeming difference between years till the above year. Then with a speed that was astounding once the Erie Canal was open and reached not only the streams feeding the great lakes but also the Wabasn and Monongehela (a place redolent with history) the canals race across the northwest with lightning speed, aided by the great rivers of the Ohio and Tennessee it is astounding to watch.

I suddenly realized… that was it… that was what almost predestined the North to be the victor.

The Southern canals always remained weak, short, fitful things. But in the North….

1. The Canals by their dependence on water meant that the most level grades and ways through the Alleghenies and the Appalachians had to be found.

2. It would be along these canals that the railroads would later be run, using the same grades and the same easy slopes and tunnels needed only in the worst cases as the canal needed locks.

3. It was along the canals that the very stores and supplies, heavy Iron rails, heavy ties , and all equipment would be ported rather than dragging it by mule team and cart. It was easy to leisurely float down river rather thn dragging it up.

4. The canals and later railroads opened up the west to the populations of immigrants coming from the East, guaranteeing that the Midwest would be populated quickly by free farmers and immigrants who had no love for slavery AND up from the Tennessee and north Georgia lands poor farmers who were squeezed out by slavery would find new and better lands and would carry with them, their hatred of slavery though not necessary a love for the slave. It guaranteed that the population of the Midwest and northwest was going to be solidly anti-slavery and a polyglot of people from Europe to whom the stately plantation system of the South was all too much like the deferential and class ridden society they left in Europe. I remember reading how the Republicans came out trying to raise support from these populations for the war. They would take of sacred trusts, and saving the Union and a far off Destiny. Then the local leaders would get up and address the people in their own language. One typical passage went "Well I tell you this brothers, these fine men talk about the war in terms of the Union and the Country and not Slavery, but I tell you this, that when I was back in Germany I WAS a slave! I couldn't own land, couldn't vote, had to tip my cap to every damn nobleman, and was treated like a dog. This war is about slavery…." Repeated in Polish, German, Italian, French, Gaelic and whatever the message got through

5. Where River and Lake and Canal and rail came together would form major metropolis like Cincinnatti, Chicago, and the like all at the center of the net of transportation lines which were the best to move very heavy commodities produced by industry, iron, steel, manufactures, and bulky voluminous commodities like hay, wheat, fodder, from the bounty of the plains.

6.In the south the canals and hence the railroads, never formed a coherent net and all of them were engaged in bringing the products of the interior (mostly cotton) from the plantations and farms to the rivers and out to the sea. rarely bringing cargoes upstream which meant the Southern economy was large a home-built one, make it here, order it from Europe, or the North, or do without.

7. Significantly, while the South had all the military genius' it could wish, the North had men who had gone into the railroad industry and became experts not only in making railroads but in moving vast quantities of heavy, bulky, cargo around.

8. The proof in this is Sherman's March to the Sea.

The South is starving But General Sherman marches to the sea living off the very fat of the land and destroying what they can't stuff themselves with. In fact, as many note, even trying their best they couldn't destroy it all. The South simply could not get that food from the hinterland to where it was needed and so it sat there, waiting for Billy to come and burn it.

donlowry Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2017 9:16 a.m. PST

I don't think that there will be much argument on the above comments.

Well, I disagree. Having material advantages certainly helped, but someone still has to plan a strategy that works, and someone still has to go out and fight the battles. And you need,above all, the will to win.

Look at the Vietnam War -- the U.S. (and its allies) had all the material advantages, but still lost.

Many insist that the Confederacy lost – rather than the Union won

There is much truth in that. Most football coaches will tell you that games are not won, they're lost -- by the side that makes the most, or worst, mistakes. I think the same applies to battles and wars.

I think that without U. S. Grant, the Union would have lost -- fumbled away all its advantages.

Also, the Confederates had one major advantage: They already held most of the territory in dispute. If the Federals wanted it back, they had to come take it. All the Rebels had to do was hold on.

bruntonboy11 Sep 2017 10:32 a.m. PST

A good decent account, but there again Alan Farmer taught me to study history and he always tells a good story.

Tango0111 Sep 2017 10:54 a.m. PST

Glad you enjoyed it too my friend.


Blutarski11 Sep 2017 12:10 p.m. PST

Otto – I suspect that a good deal of the immigrant sentiment you describe accompanied the wave of emigration to the US stirred by the failure of the great socialist-inspired uprisings that had spread across Europe in the late 1840's.

This massive uprising/movement seems not to have had much written about it in English. Have you run across any interesting books on this topic?


Ottoathome12 Sep 2017 4:55 a.m. PST

Dear Blutarski

Actually the literature on this part of transhumenance is fairly vast. Unfortunately my library is all packed up for a move to Maine, and I can't get the books out to give you a short bibliography. One I can recall from Memory is Thomas Sowall who authored "Conquest and Culutre" which is only one in a series of I believe 5 all on the same topic, one of which is "Immigration and Culture" which studies these effects globally but draws a huge part from America. It is quite enlightening how Sowall notes the difference in land use between English Immigrants and those from Central Europe. English peoples would farm the land to exhaustion by essentially simply extraction of resources where central Europeans and Italians were noted for buying up land and farms that were "worn out" and useless, and by careful effort turned these worthless spots into garden spots. to where there was literally almost no waste land. Used to sub-standard and poor lands in their homelands, either too sandy, rocky or on a 45 degree slope. They terraced, manured, and irrigated till it was bountiful.

From these and such books as "1848, year of Revolutions," or "The Revolutions of 1848" and others, from the European Base the events showed that the 1840 social revolutions may have been socialist inspired,but the term "socialist" didn't mean much. Many were forced to flee because of the ham-fisted reaction of the governments of Europe who seem to have persecuted a lot of very non-socialist people in Europe casting them to America, to general cooks. What is apparent from this is that the 1840's revolution consisted of many different parts. There was a leadership, primarily of professionals, journalists, writers and intellectuals who endlessly debated the meaning of these things, and argued about theory and constitutions and began the whole madness of internecine debate and backbiting over theory, and then there were people who wanted real political reforms and an amelioration of their lot- sort of the proto-Fabians, and then there were the peasants who just wanted land and to be able to eat the food they made. It was the last two who gave up and came to America, much the better for us, and who spread out over the west.

The other source, and a great one are the Ethno-Historians of the Civil War who publish books like "The XXXXX in the Civil War" Put in Germans, Italians, Poles, French, whatever country you wish and you have lots of them. The best place to go for these are the Bookstores and Visitors center at Gettysburg. I have several of these and again it's a tale that traces the immigration to attitudes imported from Europe and the upheavals of 1848.

What Sowell and others reveal is an 1840's where the revolutionary movements fell apart because the three sectors of the movment simply could not talk to each other. The Professional/Journalist/ INtelligentsia was always talking theory and philosophy and arguing constitutions, while the other two wanted NOT bread, but the by-your leave to make bread. Curiously all these "socialists" thrived fabulously under the more or less semi-protectionist capitalism of America at the time.

In "Radicalism of the American Revolution" Gerald Wood (I believe) says at the end of it in summing up his book says that before the Revolution The great man on the house on the hill could send his servant down to a Poor Turkey farmer and ask him "My master wishes you to send one of your best turkeys to his house this weekend." The Turkey farmer would take off his cap and bow. No talk of payment was made it was just "understood" and the great man in the house on the hill might pay, but more likely he would not and simply carry the turkey as a favor and the turkey farmer might at some point n the future call for a favor or reference from the great man. It was a system of deference and rank that was the same in Europe. After the American Revolution the Turkey farmer would say "If you do not pay me a dollar, then you shall not have one of my turkeys."

THAT was what 1848 wanted, but never got. Chief of which was because the leaders of 1848 did not wish to overthrow the system, only take the place of the great man on the hill.

Ottoathome12 Sep 2017 5:11 a.m. PST

Oh… just remembered.

One great book on this subject is John Mack Farragher's "Sugar Creek: the Populating of the American Midwest." Or something like that. I'm not sure of the subtitle but the title is solid.

This is a work on the immigration into Ohio, Illinois and Indiana What Farragher discovers that a significant part of the immigration from these areas is from the upper South, from the Tennessee, Kentucky and Western Virginia by poor whites who had been marginalized by the plantation system in the deep south. These whites had first been pushed into the extremely marginal uplands and mountains country of the lower south, and as the demand for land increased pushed further and further north. Here they blended with immigration from the east. The significant part of this for Farragher is that these poor whites had, as I said before, a positive hatred of the slave system, but that did not mean they loved the slave.

What Farragher also notes is that in the blending of this element (poor whites displaced) and the immigration from Europe) a particularly anti-elite culture grew. One other thing spawned by the waves of immigration was the con-man and land developer. Neither poor whites nor immigrants had any real idea of how to manipulate the legal system of the time and the land speculator back then was less a developer as we know, but a person who could exploit the faults and ignorance of such things as deeds and claims and boundaries to defraud the original settler of the land which they had taken from howling wilderness to productive farms, evict them as squatters and pay them nothing and then resell the property to richer eastern money who would set up trusts and holding companies to create tenant farmers who paid them rent. This smacked all too much of the plantation system of the South or the Manorial system of Europe for either group and they united in such things as harassing the agents of these trusts (most of the tar-and-feathering incidents were perpetrated against this, or by intimidating them at the auctions where a seized farmers land was being sold off. They called themselves all sorts of high-falutin names but they were essentially vigilantes and a sort of low-grade communal mafia who turned a stony face to the outside, and to government which seemed to be up to its old tricks again. Of course this idea of home-grown local justice is the seed bed on which the later Klan would draw its strength. Not that these are anti-negro or racist, but because these people "looked to themselves" to regulate their own affairs. They didn't give a hoot what went on in Washington but their own county and farms…

huevans01112 Sep 2017 5:43 a.m. PST

The South just chose the wrong way to fight. If they fought a guerilla war, it would have been impossible for the Yankees to control any territory they took.

Throwing this out to provoke discussion…..

Blutarski12 Sep 2017 8:39 a.m. PST

Thanks very much for both posts, Otto. I will take advantage of your recommendations to pursue some reading on the 1840's wave of European social revolutions.

Some observations related to the general thread discussion -

> Cotton cultivation very rapidly depleted soil nutrients, which may have contributed to the South's desire to see new states (hence virgin farmland) accepted into union as slave states.

> As a New Englander recently relocated to the upstate region of South Carolina, there remains to this day a lingering sense of cultural and political differentiation with respect to the coastal "low country" of SC. In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, they were very different societies, political outlooks and featured different economic engines.

> South Caroline recognizes three historical waves of immigration: Scots/Irish, Huguenots and Germans (SC BBQ is said to owe its piquant flavor to the mustard and vinegar favored by the German immigrants).


Ottoathome12 Sep 2017 11:53 a.m. PST

Dear Blutarski

Your points are very true. What is amazing to me when I drive through the South and for that matter up North to England is that in spite of what seems to be the huge preponderance of fast food and chain restaurants the hanging on in a very powerful way the regional aspects of food and culture in the sections.

Your comment on South Carolinian Barbecue is one, but I have recently sworn off the burger chains and when I drive, always seek out the small local diners. Here one realizes very much the difference between the sections, even in such mundane items as corned beef hash, gritz, (ugh) scrapple (double ugh) and the like. Preparation of food, serving of food, style of food, even in the allegedly homogenous "Greek Diner" is anything but. Breakfast in Farmington Maine is wildly different from Kissimee Florida. Apple Sauce is served as one of your two choices of vegetable in Pennsylvania, and even the homefries are made differently.

This is a wonderful treat and it's good to know that our tastebuds have not been homogenized to the point of insipidness.

Language and customs follow suit. In NJ we would say "take the second right off the circle. In New England it's "Hang a right around the rotary." First time I heard that I spent an hour looking for the Rotary Club Building going around and through the traffic circle many times. Around here in North Western NJ people give directions quite often by where something USED to be. For example around here it's quite often heard that to get somewhere you "make a right where Phil Harden's USED to be." Phil Hardin's barn was burned down shortly before the Civil War. No one alive today has SEEN Phil Harden's Barn. But everyone knows where Phil Harden's Farm is (it's still in the Harden's family, and he has TWO new barns, but there's only one turn on Phil's place so everyone knows THAT's where the barn was at, and so…. In New England sometimes they don't even give you the helpful "used to be."

In the Amish area of Pennsylvania quite often you are amazed by some Amish using that run-together backward "Yoda-speak" we know from the movies I know when I was in the service I practically (I mean REALLY practically) had to have an interpreter from George translate what another guy from Coastal Mississippi was saying to me.

The influx of immigrants today from India, Pakistan, and China is going the same route. Cautious adaptation by both sides, matched with a passionate desire to hold on to ones heritabe. Once saw an Indian wedding where the groom rode to the wedding on an Elephant. The cloth coverings for the Elephant were confederate flags. The path is not the melting pot of homogenization, but a blending pot where some customs are adopted by both sides, some elements are lost, and most important, This leads to the development not of a mass culture, but of a new independent and indigent culture that seems just to want to be different for difference's sake.

Ottoathome12 Sep 2017 3:12 p.m. PST

Dear Heuvans011

That was not an option for the South -- ever--- even at the end of the war. This problem cannot be approached in a purely military matter. To dispose of that quickly the problem with the Guerilla war approach is that even in the strongest "sesech" counties there were always strong unionist minorities who would have informed and battled the local sesech guerillas and stripped them of the anonymity they needed.

But more than that that simply was not the way the "Myths" of the old south went. When I say "myths" I am not talking about lies or untruths or made up cynical stories, I mean the image the South had of itself. This "image" was not one at all conducive to a bushwhacking Guerilla movement. The "myth" is best expressed by Margaret Mitchell in her epic story "Gone with the Wind." At the very start she epitomizes the south as "a Society that only asked to be beautiful." Dashing cavaliers, Southern Bells with their bosoms all aflutter, stately white plantation mansions, obsequious darkies eatin' watermelon and lovin da massa, and looking down their long noses at the money grubbing Yankees, and "grubby mechanics and mudsills of the north" was in every way the image that the south held of itself, WANTED to hold of itself, and was not only the way the elites saw themselves, but the way those who wanted to be in the elites saw the style of life to which they would like to become accustomed to. Even the very dirt poor aspired to that life. This view of life is completely foreign to the guerilla warfare idea. The South wanted to fight the war by "code Duello" not a big bushwhacking war.

Second the South's unchanging mantra from the mid 1850's on was constant as "We only ask to be left alone." Left alone meant able to live in the plantation among their relatives, slaves, horses, poor relations and portray themselves in the Grand Manner. If you want an excellent picture of the society (with a little of the gilding scuffed off, see the movie "Jezebel" with Betty Davis.) The history of the lead up to the war is of course the protection of the "peculiar institution" which had become intertwined with almost EVERY issue in America, building of railroads, tariffs, foreign trade, the admission of new states, immigration, socialization of labor, free labor, even fashion and dress that it was impossible to touch one issue without touching Slavery. The South had pretty much bottled up the power of the anti-slavery in the Congress, and could look forward to security for slavery till the next century, but saw the election of Lincoln as a clarion call that he would destroy slavery by government action. That is also a reason the guerilla warfare was not going to be chosen. Guerillas can't have slaves, and there is no way for even them to keep the slaves on the plantation and enjoy the usufruct of their labors when they've all run off on their own will to "da Linkum soldiers and gunboats." Guerillas can have no posessions, but the "posessions" of the South, be it gorgeous plantations, Belle's bosoms all a fluttere, slaves, carriages and sixes, Debutante's ball, stately and courtly manners and the gentility of society. Guerilla warfare is nasty, brutal, remorseless, cruel and bitter and has no part in the myth of a society that only wanted to be beautiful.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 8:14 p.m. PST

The Union could only loose if they defeated themselves. Otherwise the CSA stood no chance.

Bill N13 Sep 2017 9:43 a.m. PST

I will stick with Pickett's famous line "I've always thought the Yankees had something to do with it". I don't buy the idea that the outcome of battles or wars is predestined based on the conditions existing in the countries when they start. Certainly the U.S. had a number of advantages which stacked the deck heavily in their favor. Those advantages were not so great though that they could not be overcome by Confederate brilliance or U.S. ineptitude on the battlefield. We can argue whether the U.S. or Confederacy fought the war better. Regardless the Confederacy did not fight it sufficiently better to win.

I don't agree with Otto's logic but I do agree with his conclusion. Fighting a guerilla war by itself wasn't an option for the Confederacy. It wasn't enough that the Confederacy won the war and establish its independence. It had to win the war with most of its infrastructure intact, or it risked becoming an economic colony of some power. A guerilla war would most likely result in severe disruption of the southern infrastructure.

huevans01129 Oct 2017 8:06 a.m. PST

My apologies. Having thrown out a comment to which 2 members courteously responded, I lost track of the thread.

My throwback at Otto would be to say that Mosby and Forrest were pretty good at guerilla-ing and that suggests that Massa could have lived without the slaves, plantations and even Scarlett's heaving white bosom for a few months or years if he thought the stakes were high enough.

And the Daughters of the Confederacy "lost plantation myth" was a creation of the post bellum period.

It strikes me though that the South may have felt it could win the peace more easily than the War and that made capitulation palatable. And that is of course what happened. Reconstruction lasted little over a decade. The South regained its political clout in Congress. Jim Crow kept African-Americans in their place.

The only enduring loss was the capital loss sustained by wealthy Southerners when they lost their slaves. And guerilla war would have been more costly than that.

Again, tossing it out for comments.

Bill N29 Oct 2017 5:07 p.m. PST

The only enduring loss was the capital loss sustained by wealthy Southerners when they lost their slaves.

The South was bankrupted by the war. Liquid capital gone. Livestock gone. Transportation infrastructure destroyed. Industrial capacity destroyed or worn out. Artisans dead or maimed.

catavar30 Oct 2017 11:32 a.m. PST

I've read that on the way to Antietam a large number of Confederates fell out by the roadside and became stragglers who couldn't, or wouldn't, keep up with the army. It's my understanding that this (taking themselves a walk) was an ongoing problem for the South. I believe the North had the same issues, but as it's been mentioned, they had the numbers.

The huge losses the South incurred in the east were a big factor as well (see previous sentence above).

As for the railroads, take the Atlanta campaign. I don't think supplying the Southern Army was the problem. It was keeping the railroads open; in the east it was using the few tracks efficiently.

I think the biggest difference was that towards the end the North had a more coherent strategy for winning, that was applied everywhere, and directed by one man. My two cents.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP30 Oct 2017 12:00 p.m. PST

Lee and other Southern Generals were offensive minded. R.E Lee always fought aggressively. Even at Antietam during the battle and the day after, he was trying to find a way to flank the Union Army. To go on the attack. All this aggressive offensive attitude cost the South dearly. But I think Southerners expected their generals to take the fight to the enemy.

huevans01130 Oct 2017 8:07 p.m. PST

Lee and other Southern Generals were offensive minded. R.E Lee always fought aggressively. Even at Antietam during the battle and the day after, he was trying to find a way to flank the Union Army. To go on the attack. All this aggressive offensive attitude cost the South dearly. But I think Southerners expected their generals to take the fight to the enemy.

The early strategy was to try and inflict shocking defeats on the AoP and the only way REL could do that with a smaller army was to take risks – move fast, hit flanks, go all in.

The ANV was better led and more confident pretty much through the war and bold maneuvers played into those strengths.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP31 Oct 2017 7:52 a.m. PST

One of the grievances the South had with the North was the Government support for canal and railroad development in the North, but not the South. Industry dominated the Government spending, partly because

1. The South didn't have industry and wasn't developing it
2. Was more concerned about foreign trade, so their
legislative efforts center on that, trading foreign
policy for bills supporting Northern Industry.
3. The North dominated the House of Representatives, who
generated bills like the Transcontinental railway,
again not benefiting the South at all.
4, There was simply far more money in the North than the

The agrarian South was never going to beat the Industrial North in a protracted war… both sides knew that, and it did impact the South's strategies.

The early strategy was to try and inflict shocking defeats on the AoP and the only way REL could do that with a smaller army was to take risks – move fast, hit flanks, go all in.

Yep. Slow and methodical wasn't going to win the war for the South.

catavar31 Oct 2017 9:18 a.m. PST

I dunno. Wasn't Lincoln worried he was going to lose the election in 1864? I've read the taking of Atlanta may have saved his presidency. If he had lost then what? Maybe just surviving and grounding the North down might have worked.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP31 Oct 2017 11:14 a.m. PST

Maybe just surviving and grounding the North down might have worked.

You mean convincing the Northern voting populous that they couldn't win without a lot more blood and treasure than they were willing to spend. That is what the South had to do. Obviously, surviving was part of that equation.

Ryan T31 Oct 2017 2:00 p.m. PST

Several years ago I bought Steven Newton's Lost for the Cause: The Confederate Army in 1864. It definitely made for a very interesting read. Newton not only provides a complete order of battle for the Confederate army for April 1864, but also examines a number of issues dealing with the last year of the war.

Newton's first chapter is an extension of the order of battle he has constructed. He concludes that the Confederacy was able to mobilize an additional 75,000 men in the course of the winter of 1863-64. In a comparison of the ratio of Confederate troops to Union strength it is demonstrated that the ratio did not fall from the mid-1863 levels until the latter half of 1864. Building on this, Newton concludes that to say the South was inevitably overwhelmed by the greater numbers and/or economic might of the North is untenable. The South lost not by a lack of troops but by the mismanagement of the forces it raised.

Comparing troop strength ratios and losses in eastern Virginia the Army of Northern Virginia never fell below 57% of the Army of the Potomac.

Date – US Present for Duty – CS PFD

30 June 64 – 110,262 – 63,234 (57%)
31 August – 60,167 – 50,029 (83%)
31 October – 90,043 – 51,729 (57%)
30 November – 111,919 – 71,514 (64%)

From this Newton claims, with good reason, that Lee successfully held Grant to a stalemate in front of Petersburg. The idea that the fighting in first the Overland Campaign and then the Petersburg Campaign successfully attrited down the Army of Northern Virginia cannot be sustained.

In the Valley Early was also initially successful in tying down a much larger Union force. By the time the last major battle was fought at Cedar Creek in early October Union forces in the Shenandoah were 35,610 strong whereas Confederates had only 14,000 men. This strength ratio of 40% was considerably lower than the strength ratio Lee enjoyed because of the heavy detachment of Federal forces to the Shenandoah. Here Newton observes that why "Lee failed to make use of Grant's diversion of force … is a question of strategic and operations decisions rather than one of resources."

It was in Georgia that the war was lost for the South. Looking at the ratios of infantry strength one can see a steady decline in Confederate strength.

Date – US PFD – CS PFD

31 May 64 – 94,310 – 54,263 (57%)
31 August – 88,086 – 48,081 (54%)
31 October – 75.659 – 38,263 (51%)
30 November – 67,674 – 34,818 (51%)

Newton looks further into losses in the Atlanta Campaign and observes that under Johnson the Rebels maintained a favourable ratio of losses compared to the Union army. Where the Confederates fell short was their comparative inability to successfully return convalescents from their hospitals back to the front line. At the point Johnston was relieved from duty the Confederates had lost 7,700 fewer battlefield casualties than the Federals, but the Army of Tennessee had lost a much larger ratio of strength once losses from disease is factored in.

The battles subsequently fought under Hood resulted in the Rebels losing 2000 more men than the Federals. Had Hood prevailed in his attacks the cost to the South would have been worth it, but, as it was, his operations severely cost the Army of Tennessee. And as Newton points out, it was the heavy losses sustained by the Army of Tennessee that crippled the Confederate war effort.

But was the Confederate loss of the war inevitable? On 23 August 1864 Lincoln wrote in a memo "it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected…." At this time Grant was stalled in the trenches in front of Petersburg. In the Valley, Sheridan was mustering his forces at Harpers Ferry, but Early still was holding him at bay. In Georgia, although Hood had been unable to defeat Sherman in battle, the Army of Tennessee still held Atlanta in a siege that looked to end up as another Petersburg stalemate. If, as Lincoln saw it, the upcoming November election would reflect northern opinion on the course of the war, the war was still not a clear Northern victory.

Events proved Lincoln's fears to be unfounded, the fall of Atlanta and the defeat of Early gave Lincoln the support he needed to continue the war to the end. But how close was the outcome and was it only a matter of greater resources on the side of the Union?

Early lost both the Third Battle of Winchester and the Battle of Fisher's Hill. His defeat at Cedar Creek, however, came only when Sheridan successfully rallied his defeated army and launched a counter-attack. Had Early been a bit more fortunate he might have been able to keep victory within his grasp. Indeed, if "for the want of a nail" Sheridan's horse had stumbled and fell on his 12 mile ride to Cedar Creek….

A re-examination of Hood's first two battles in front of Atlanta also shows how events could have changed. In the Battle of Peach Tree Creek had Hood been able to attack one day sooner the Army of the Cumberland would have been caught astride Peach Tree Creek and far less prepared to defend itself. In the actual battle, timing again proved to be critical as the attack was delayed for two hours. It should be noted, however, much of this delay was due to poor co-ordination between the Confederate forces, and command and control issues had long been a problem in the Army of Tennessee.

Similar problems occurred in Hood's second attack on the 20th of July, the Battle of Atlanta. Piecemeal Confederate attacks, the miss-deployment of Hardee's Corps, and the lucky deployment of a Union division covering the rear of the Army of the Tennessee resulted in a second Confederate defeat.

But all three of these events could not be necessarily attributed to the superior resources of the North. Instead it was better generalship and the roll-of-the-dice in battle that gave the Union its victories.

Therefore it could be argued that if the South had been successful in its defense of Atlanta and the Valley Lincoln may have lost the election and the Republican the loss of the Senate and/or the House. Although Lincoln may well have pressed the war as a lame-duck President the South would not have been a much stronger position in the fall of 1864 in comparison to what actually happened. Remember, no fall of Atlanta means no March to the Sea or disastrous battle in front of Nashville.

As an aside, it is interesting to take note of several recent revisionist examinations of the struggle for Atlanta. Stephan Davis was one of the first to attempt to defend Hood and point out how close to success his sorties from Atlanta were. In 2013 Stephan Hood's John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General was published. Although written by a descendent of Hood, the book argues that Hood is very much misrepresented in history. While the book has its faults, more importantly the author has uncovered Hood's collection of papers which were previously thought to be lost. The impending publication of these papers should be of considerable interest to historians of the western theatre.

The historiography of the Confederate loss of the war is changing. Newton's study clearly illustrates that some of the old conclusions cannot be sustained. He has shifted the focus away from the argument that the Union's resources made its victory inevitable and refocused back on the importance of strategic and operational decisions. Although he only marginally addresses the format of these decisions, he does point out that the Federals were often more successful in the development of managerial structures in their prosecution of the war.

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