PDA

View Full Version : If Lee chose to fight a defensive war, does the south win?


crypto
09-03-2011, 12:23 PM
If you look at the American Civil War, there are many important decisions on both sides that helped bring it to a conclusion.

Gettysburg is rightly viewed by most as the battle that pivoted the war in favor of the North for good. The South simply couldn't replace the men it was losing like the North could, and any chance they had to get foreign recognition and aid was gone. It was just a matter of time until the South bled to death.

Which brings me to my question.

If Lee never invaded the North but instead fought a defensive war on his soil, and on his chosen terrain, would the South have won the war, or would the North still win?

When you look at the American Revolution, or even the Vietnam War, two things seem to stand out as vital keys to victory:

1) The victorious army (the american patriots in the revolution, and the north vietnamese in Vietnam) was fighting a superior opponent, but on their own ground.

2) Both victors didn't have to win complete victory... but they did have to keep an army in the field. That's a big difference in strategy. No knockout blow was needed, but instead, they turned to guerrilla warfare to keep the larger force engaged without risking their entire army to do it.

If Lee's Army of NoVa isn't battered at Gettysburg, and he decides to make the Union chase him on his ground, I believe the South wins the Civil War. Lee would have had the ability to pick the ground he fought the Union on, and he knew that time was on his side with the Union elections coming up.

I believe the population of the North would have pushed Lincoln to sue for peace or be pushed out of office. Whoever won, like a George McClellan, would have given the people what they wanted. An end to the Civil War and to let the South go away in peace.

I think Lee could have fielded a great army easily for 3 or maybe 4 more years. I don't think the Union would have ever knocked him out unless, like Gettysburg, he made a huge tactical blunder. The South would have won the war simply by outlasting the North.

Any thoughts on this one way or the other?

The Other Waldo Pepper
09-03-2011, 12:51 PM
If Lee never invaded the North but instead fought a defensive war on his soil, and on his chosen terrain, would the South have won the war, or would the North still win?

In your hypothetical, can they at least step across the border from Virginia into DC if the conditions are ever right?

Bryan Ekers
09-03-2011, 01:03 PM
Well, does the North still blockade the various Southern ports? The Confederacy could gradually be starved into submission, or at least critically deprived of European trade.

RickJay
09-03-2011, 01:58 PM
Total Rebel deaths at Gettysburg were, IIRC, about 15,000 men. I don't mean to sneeze at fifteen thousand lives, but that's a small portion of Confederate losses during the war as a whole.

Great generals do not win battles, they win campaigns. The South was not done in by a single battle, and many of the battles that were the most destructive were the ones where they were on the defensive, anyway. They lost their biggest city in April of 1862 and the Mississippi was conquered by mid 1863, all in Union offensives.

I don't think, in the grand scheme of things, Lee would have changed the course of the war at all had he held back a little more.

The Second Stone
09-03-2011, 02:14 PM
Vicksburg falling was the end of the Confederacy. Gettysburg hurt, but it was hardly a fatal blow defensively. It is hard to imagine that Grant would not have done pretty much the same thing to Lee if Gettysburg hadn't happened.

AK84
09-03-2011, 02:17 PM
Even ignoring indivudual battles, Lee was not the man the south needed to win the war. He concentrated on winning battles and that is what the ANV was set up to do. He really had no idea what to do strategically and the less said about his logistic abilities the better.

Mosier
09-03-2011, 03:07 PM
Even ignoring indivudual battles, Lee was not the man the south needed to win the war. He concentrated on winning battles and that is what the ANV was set up to do. He really had no idea what to do strategically and the less said about his logistic abilities the better.

I think he had the right idea strategically. He realized that the south couldn't win a defensive war, and that a major victory in northern territory was the best chance at foreign recognition and intervention. As long as everybody was fighting and dying "over there" the north could continue to beat the shit out of the south as long as was necessary. Soon as bad shit happens in northern soil, people start thinking "why are we fighting, again?"

Tamerlane
09-03-2011, 03:10 PM
If Lee never invaded the North but instead fought a defensive war on his soil, and on his chosen terrain, would the South have won the war, or would the North still win?

The North still wins. Might be even uglier, but they win.

Lee would have had the ability to pick the ground he fought the Union on, and he knew that time was on his side with the Union elections coming up.

The problem is Lee would have very little ground to pick from as long as he and Davis were obsessed with protecting Richmond. Grant would have known exactly what button to push - threaten Richmond and Lee has very little room to maneuver. I just don't seeing much difference from what happened historically. Grant would use his large material advantage to bludgeon Lee into stasis and Sherman would gut the Confederacy from the underside. In the grand scheme of things, saving the losses at Gettysburg weren't anywhere near enough to make up for the Union superiority in men and material. Forced into a war of attrition, Lee still loses.

As AK84 noted, Lee was probably the wrong man for the job, though obviously pickers can't be choosy. The best strategic mind in the south was probably Stonewall Jackson. His idea ( proposed after 1rst Manassas and again after the Shenandoah campaign ) to sweep across the Union rear threatening multiple targets, cutting communications and taking lightly defended major population centers, all while avoiding strong concentrations of Union forces, was probably in hindsight the best shot at ending the war through internal Union political pressure. Whether he could have pulled it off is an open question ( but given Jackson's performance in the Shenandoah, it seems possible ). But it was a page right out of Sherman's book and a far more imaginative strategic concept than any of those Lee implemented.

By the time Gettysburg rolls around the Confederacy was already well down the road to being truly fucked, barring some serious luck.

crypto
09-03-2011, 07:10 PM
In your hypothetical, can they at least step across the border from Virginia into DC if the conditions are ever right?

of course. Given a chance at checkmate, I don't see why he couldn't take it.

However, under my hypothetical, it's not really his objective. So getting a chance to move on DC would be a surprise.

crypto
09-03-2011, 07:12 PM
Well, does the North still blockade the various Southern ports? The Confederacy could gradually be starved into submission, or at least critically deprived of European trade.

Yes. I don't think you can just toss out the north's superiority over the south in this area. The union navy had the ability to put a major dent in the Confederacy's almost endless coastline. Lee's defensive strategy won't change this.

crypto
09-03-2011, 07:38 PM
Total Rebel deaths at Gettysburg were, IIRC, about 15,000 men. I don't mean to sneeze at fifteen thousand lives, but that's a small portion of Confederate losses during the war as a whole.

That was dead. Not casualties or POW's. According to Wikipedia (not THE source, but a quick one to use), the CSA had 75K men and lost 27K. That's over a third of his strength in 3 days. Not to mention the loss of horses, draft animals, cannon, and other stores that weren't easily replaced.


Great generals do not win battles, they win campaigns. The South was not done in by a single battle, and many of the battles that were the most destructive were the ones where they were on the defensive, anyway. They lost their biggest city in April of 1862 and the Mississippi was conquered by mid 1863, all in Union offensives.

True, but if Lee had the ability to move part or all of his army to strategic areas, the outcome of some of those campaigns may have been different.


Vicksburg falling was the end of the Confederacy. Gettysburg hurt, but it was hardly a fatal blow defensively. It is hard to imagine that Grant would not have done pretty much the same thing to Lee if Gettysburg hadn't happened.

you may be right. However, don't forget that Lee would have been in a position to send a large part of his force to try to give relief to Vicksburg without giving up defensive security to Richmond.

Even ignoring indivudual battles, Lee was not the man the south needed to win the war. He concentrated on winning battles and that is what the ANV was set up to do. He really had no idea what to do strategically and the less said about his logistic abilities the better.

Are you saying that Lee could not, if given the ground rules, couldn't fight a defensive campaign? Certainly he proved you correct at Gettysburg, as he didn't hold any of the high ground, his army was made up with about 20K less men and his line was longer than the Unions. So many problems in Gettysburg, I'm amazed he tried the center assault on day 3.

I think he had the right idea strategically. He realized that the south couldn't win a defensive war, and that a major victory in northern territory was the best chance at foreign recognition and intervention. As long as everybody was fighting and dying "over there" the north could continue to beat the shit out of the south as long as was necessary. Soon as bad shit happens in northern soil, people start thinking "why are we fighting, again?"

That's been the conventional wisdom. However, part of me thinks that the drive into the North was driven by ego. Fighting at Gettsburg made no sense at all. It made even less sense to be the aggressor given his terrain.

The North still wins. Might be even uglier, but they win.

The problem is Lee would have very little ground to pick from as long as he and Davis were obsessed with protecting Richmond. Grant would have known exactly what button to push - threaten Richmond and Lee has very little room to maneuver. I just don't seeing much difference from what happened historically. Grant would use his large material advantage to bludgeon Lee into stasis and Sherman would gut the Confederacy from the underside. In the grand scheme of things, saving the losses at Gettysburg weren't anywhere near enough to make up for the Union superiority in men and material. Forced into a war of attrition, Lee still loses.

I'm not convinced that Grant would have been put in charge of the Army of the Potomac if Lee was playing a different game. It's impossible to know for sure, but assuming he is permitted to leave the west is not a slam dunk.

AK84[/b] noted, Lee was probably the wrong man for the job, though obviously pickers can't be choosy. The best strategic mind in the south was probably Stonewall Jackson. His idea ( proposed after 1rst Manassas and again after the Shenandoah campaign ) to sweep across the Union rear threatening multiple targets, cutting communications and taking lightly defended major population centers, all while avoiding strong concentrations of Union forces, was probably in hindsight the best shot at ending the war through internal Union political pressure. Whether he could have pulled it off is an open question ( but given Jackson's performance in the Shenandoah, it seems possible ). But it was a page right out of Sherman's book and a far more imaginative strategic concept than any of those Lee implemented.

By the time Gettysburg rolls around the Confederacy was already well down the road to being truly fucked, barring some serious luck.

I too believe Jackson was the best strategic mind the South had. And in my opinion, losing Jackson was one of the biggest nails in the coffin of the CSA. What he did during the Shenadoah campaign was brilliant, and his ability to beat Union generals consistently would have continued if he was alive throughout the war.

I agree with you that before Gettysburg, the south was well down the road to eventual loss, but if Gettysburg never happened, the war would have lasted much longer than 1865. The North was already tired of the war. Imagine if 1866 rolled around with not an end in sight.

silenus
09-03-2011, 08:05 PM
The South still would have lost. It just would have taken more time. Wars of attrition are messy, but the South didn't have the industry or the population to sustain an extended war. Grant, Sheridan, Sherman and the rest would just slowly grind Lee's forces into mincemeat. As noted, Vicksburg was the key. Even if Lee had shifted forces west, Grant was still going to win eventually. Add in the blockade and the South is a goner.

ElvisL1ves
09-03-2011, 09:52 PM
Victory in that war wasn't decided by military strategy but by politics and simple determination. As long as the Union, with its vastly bigger population and industrial base, was determined to win, it was going to. All the slave regime could hope for was to make the people of the North decide ending slavery wasn't worth the human cost anymore. How could they have accomplished that except by extracting that cost?

Even militarily, a defensive strategy works if you have superior numbers, position, equipment, etc. That describes the Union, not the rebels. All Lee and Davis could have accomplished was to watch their forces crumble into scattered guerrilla bands that would have kept the bloodshed going on for many more years.

pantom
09-03-2011, 11:06 PM
I agree with you that before Gettysburg, the south was well down the road to eventual loss, but if Gettysburg never happened, the war would have lasted much longer than 1865. The North was already tired of the war. Imagine if 1866 rolled around with not an end in sight.

Gettysburg was a desperate attempt to keep Vicksburg from being the fatal blow the South knew it would be. Both were lost on July 4, 1863.
Yes, Lee's losses were heavy in Gettysburg. But he really wouldn't have been able to last any longer than he did. Sherman's march was completely unaffected by what happened there, and if Lee had managed to hold off Grant because he still had his pre-Gettysburg army, Sherman would simply have come up from his rear and sandwiched him in. Sherman was held back, as a matter of fact, so that Grant's army could be the one that defeated Lee. If Gettysburg hadn't happened, Sherman wouldn't have been held back. Same result, at pretty much the same time.

appleciders
09-03-2011, 11:18 PM
Vicksburg falling was the end of the Confederacy. Gettysburg hurt, but it was hardly a fatal blow defensively. It is hard to imagine that Grant would not have done pretty much the same thing to Lee if Gettysburg hadn't happened.


The problem is Lee would have very little ground to pick from as long as he and Davis were obsessed with protecting Richmond. Grant would have known exactly what button to push - threaten Richmond and Lee has very little room to maneuver. I just don't seeing much difference from what happened historically. Grant would use his large material advantage to bludgeon Lee into stasis and Sherman would gut the Confederacy from the underside. In the grand scheme of things, saving the losses at Gettysburg weren't anywhere near enough to make up for the Union superiority in men and material. Forced into a war of attrition, Lee still loses.

As AK84 noted, Lee was probably the wrong man for the job, though obviously pickers can't be choosy. The best strategic mind in the south was probably Stonewall Jackson. His idea ( proposed after 1rst Manassas and again after the Shenandoah campaign ) to sweep across the Union rear threatening multiple targets, cutting communications and taking lightly defended major population centers, all while avoiding strong concentrations of Union forces, was probably in hindsight the best shot at ending the war through internal Union political pressure. Whether he could have pulled it off is an open question ( but given Jackson's performance in the Shenandoah, it seems possible ). But it was a page right out of Sherman's book and a far more imaginative strategic concept than any of those Lee implemented.

By the time Gettysburg rolls around the Confederacy was already well down the road to being truly fucked, barring some serious luck.

The above are pretty good analyses. Gettysburg was Lee's big chance to win the war by inflicting major symbolic damage on the Union by capturing (and, let's face it, razing) Washington D.C. It was a last-ditch effort to pull the war back from the brink and had Lee beaten Grant at Gettysburg, I think one can make a case for Southern victory. The Confederacy could still never outproduce the Union and win Grant's war of attrition, but losing Washington might demoralize the North enough to lose Lincoln the election and end the war.

Jackmannii
09-03-2011, 11:38 PM
If Lee chose to fight a defensive war, does the south win?Maybe. If you turn that around and ask whether the North would have won fighting a defensive war along the lines of the Anaconda Plan, yes that could well have worked.

But generals, not to mention politicians and the public are notably intolerant of the idea of continually staying on the defensive. If Lee and his colleagues had stuck to this, they'd arguably have been replaced by more offensive-minded generals (example: Joe Johnston was pretty good at fighting a defensive campaign and frustrating Sherman for quite awhile, but Johnston got sacked in favor of the more aggressive Hood, which worked out nicely for the Union forces).
If Lee's Army of NoVa isn't battered at Gettysburg, and he decides to make the Union chase him on his ground, I believe the South wins the Civil War. Lee would have had the ability to pick the ground he fought the Union on, and he knew that time was on his side with the Union elections coming up.

I believe the population of the North would have pushed Lincoln to sue for peace or be pushed out of office.It's questionable to me whether a less battered Lee could have prevented Union victories at Chattanooga and Atlanta, both of which gave a sizable boost to Lincoln's re-election effort.

Interesting comparison though between the Confederates and the North Vietnamese. The Confederates stage a showy raid into Pennsylvania and are thrown back, with the Union considering that it's victorious and pressing on to final victory. The North Vietnamese stage the Tet offensive and are also thrown back with heavy losses, but it's seen as a Pyrrhic victory for the U.S. :dubious:

RickJay
09-03-2011, 11:44 PM
you may be right. However, don't forget that Lee would have been in a position to send a large part of his force to try to give relief to Vicksburg without giving up defensive security to Richmond.
Vicksburg fell the same day Gettysburg ended. I don't quite understand how not invading Pennsylvania in favour of a defensive stance frees up troops to go to Vicksburg; if Lee were to emphasize defending Richmond, why would be send away his troops to Mississippi?

Aside from the fact that it wouldn't be in Lee's nature to do that anyway, it's doubtful his masters would have let him pare down the Army of Northern Virginia. Vicksburg was lost, and with it the Mississippi, and with it the war.

I too believe Jackson was the best strategic mind the South had.
There is no evidence at all Jackson had any strategic sense of any sort. He may have been something of a tactical and operational genius (it's equally possible he was just an unpredictable nutball, but he inspired his men, so frankly, it worked.) Strategic understanding, however, he showed no promise for and never had the opportunity to.

had Lee beaten Grant at Gettysburg
Nitpick; Grant wasn't at Gettysburg. The Union commander there was George Meade. When Gettysburg was happening, Grant was conquering Vicksburg, in command of the Army of the Tennessee.

Tamerlane
09-04-2011, 12:47 AM
There is no evidence at all Jackson had any strategic sense of any sort. He may have been something of a tactical and operational genius (it's equally possible he was just an unpredictable nutball, but he inspired his men, so frankly, it worked.) Strategic understanding, however, he showed no promise for and never had the opportunity to.


I agree with the rest of your post, but I gotta disagree with this. Jackson's proposed strategy of attacking the North's will to win by invading Maryland and Pennsylvania in the rear of the Army of the Potomac which was largely locked northeast of Richmond, while pretty audacious, also seems sensible to me. At least in hindsight. If McClellan panicked ( or was recalled by a panicked Union government ) and pulled back to defend Washington he would have had Johnston ( or Lee depending on the time frame ) threatening his rear. It would have at least temporarily thrown the Union on the strategic defensive and given McClellan's cautiousness might well have allowed Jackson to implement his plan to raze Baltimore, cut rail lines and burn factories galore. The pressure to negotiate might have become intolerable for Lincoln.

Of course maybe Jackson would have flubbed it and got caught out and annihilated to little purpose. You're right that he never had the opportunity to put his idea into practice due to Lee and Davis' recalcitrance. And maybe in the end he would have proved not up to the task of handling an entire 40,000 man army like requested for his counteroffensive. Let alone the question of whether he could have managed to support himself logistically. But if it was a risky maneuver, it nonetheless had a chance at paying big dividends. And let's face it - the Confederacy probably never had a great shot at winning the war. It may be they needed to take just such a risk if they were going to pull off secession.

appleciders
09-04-2011, 01:05 AM
Nitpick; Grant wasn't at Gettysburg. The Union commander there was George Meade. When Gettysburg was happening, Grant was conquering Vicksburg, in command of the Army of the Tennessee.

Fair 'nough. Consider that nit picked. My larger point was that the strategy of attrition that Grant pursued at the end of the war would have still have been capable of defeating Lee if and only if the Union retained the political will to fight, something that may not have happened if Lincoln lost the election to McClellan.

Little Nemo
09-04-2011, 01:16 AM
Victory in that war wasn't decided by military strategy but by politics and simple determination. As long as the Union, with its vastly bigger population and industrial base, was determined to win, it was going to. All the slave regime could hope for was to make the people of the North decide ending slavery wasn't worth the human cost anymore. How could they have accomplished that except by extracting that cost?

Even militarily, a defensive strategy works if you have superior numbers, position, equipment, etc. That describes the Union, not the rebels. All Lee and Davis could have accomplished was to watch their forces crumble into scattered guerrilla bands that would have kept the bloodshed going on for many more years.I agree. The Union had all the advantages. The Confederates were never going to win a military victory. So their only hope was to win a political victory.

And it's tough to judge what would have been the best Confederate military strategy for winning a political victory. Hold to the defensive and drag the war on as long as possible and hope the United States got tired of fighting? Head into Union territory and hope a victory in the north scared the American government? As it turned out, Confederate attempts to follow the latter strategy failed - the United States showed it could adequately defend northern territory. Meanwhile, the Confederate government showed it was not able to adequately defend southern territory. Once the northern people knew that the Confederates could be contained and conquered at a reasonable cost, the Confederate cause was lost - the will of the United States wasn't going to break.

Bryan Ekers
09-04-2011, 08:17 AM
Possibly the South's best bet (maybe only bet) would be to send assassins to take out Lincoln himself.

crypto
09-04-2011, 09:20 AM
Possibly the South's best bet (maybe only bet) would be to send assassins to take out Lincoln himself.

I don't think so. We'll never know of course, but I think this would have galvanized people in the North to win the war at all costs.

Some specific act like that can get a heterogeneous population to all agree on a similar goal. Beating the south for assassinating their leader (whether Lincoln was their personal choice or not) would have probably made the resolve of the north much stronger.

Duxmundi
09-04-2011, 09:52 AM
Though it would have been advantageous for the Confederacy to fight a more defensive war, the Confederacy was doomed to fail from the beginning. The Confederacy lacked the ability to trade with foreign nations along with the Anaconda Plan so it had to find other ways to create sustainable cash flow which really it couldn't produce. It also had a much smaller population. The Union on the other hand had a bountiful amount of cash flow to fight a war along with a much larger population. The only thing that truly made the Civil War last so long was the fact that the Union had weak generals compared to Robert E. Lee and 'Stonewall' Jackson.

smiling bandit
09-04-2011, 10:28 AM
OK, various things here:

Purely ont he defrensive, the South would have been ground down. Possibly it would have taken longer, but remember that they usually were on the defensive anyway, and the Union won in the west anyway. The Eastern battles were ultimately a sideshow.

The South's greatest strategist was Johnson or possibly Forrest, not Lee and definitely not Stonewall Jackson. Johnson and Forrest understood that they didn't have to hold territory, but could trade space for time and wear down the Union, then fight battles on their own terms). The problem with this was not military but political - Southern elites were rather schizo in this era, and there was never much respect for Richmond to begin with. And of course, Jeff Davis and many others could not comprehend the possibility that the South might not win and might be forced to abandon some territory.

But Johnson's tactics drained the Union army's time, manpower, and will. He's often not well respected, but in a great many cases he accurately identified the situation, pointed out the problems and possible solutions, and was roundly ignored. Some of the Confederacy's decisions made life extremely hard - for example, making their damn capital Richmond and trying to settle in permanently painted a giant target symbol on the city, when they might have been able to use Richmond as a merely a forward base and leave, if neccessary, while wearing down any Union forces.

Finally, Jackson's supposed strategy was farcical. Southern soldiers moved slower, had poorer intelligence, and made themselves prime targets any time they moved into the North. It was only luck and popor generalship which ever gave them a chance, and the Union had plenty of forces available to stop him. People forget secveral good generals tried this very tactic. They all made bold advances raided some food supplies, captured a garrison or two - and then ran home before they got squished. This "straregy" was nothing more than a plan to raid the southern edge fo the North. (Ironically, these areas had often favored the South pre-war!)

That said, Duxmandi is incorrect. The South wasnot doomed. It actually had a much better shot compared to, say Revolutionary War America. It lost ultimately because there was a lack of will to fight in much fo the South. What is often forgotten is that the Civil War was a test of whether North or South had the stronger will; whose resolve would break first. Yet while the North had sections not overly committed to the war, the South had large regions with no loyalty to the Confederacy. They held purely local loyalties; if their states went to war, they would agree, but held no particular affinity for the Confederate cause. Even by the end fo the war, the Confederacy in theory had vast amounts of manpower available, and no shortage of arms. What it lacked were willing soldiers; desertion was no less deadly to the Confederacy than combat, while whole regions more or less shrugged when put under the Union flag.

Chronos
09-04-2011, 01:24 PM
With what guns would Lee fight his defensive war? Firing what ammunition? Transported in what wagons, or over what rails? The North had a huge industrial advantage over the South, and the South could only hope to balance that out by raiding Northern supplies. That, or try to buy recognition and support from other countries, but it turned out that cotton wasn't nearly as king as they thought.

smiling bandit
09-04-2011, 01:31 PM
With what guns would Lee fight his defensive war? Firing what ammunition? Transported in what wagons, or over what rails? The North had a huge industrial advantage over the South, and the South could only hope to balance that out by raiding Northern supplies. That, or try to buy recognition and support from other countries, but it turned out that cotton wasn't nearly as king as they thought.

Southern industry did manage to amply supply arms and munitions to the Confederates - raiding was not required after the first year. It wasn't those relatively compact items they had problesm with. Rather, food and clothing were simply not available with the South's rough transportation system.

slowlearner
09-04-2011, 06:37 PM
ike was the only american general to pursue a defensive strategy when he settled on fortifying the 38th parallel and giving south korea the 30 years it took for it to become a successful if somewhat corrupt democracy. the american army attacks, and marse lee was, after all, an american general.

Dissonance
09-05-2011, 02:34 AM
1) The victorious army (the american patriots in the revolution, and the north vietnamese in Vietnam) was fighting a superior opponent, but on their own ground.Poland and France were fighting a superior enemy but on there own ground in WW2. It didn't work out so well. What marginal advantage there may be to 'fighting for their homes' is largely bunk, and is far outweighed by the facts that fighting on their own ground means they are losing and all of the damage and depredations of war are happening are happening to their own grounds.

MacSpon
09-05-2011, 11:03 PM
Possibly the South's best bet (maybe only bet) would be to send assassins to take out Lincoln himself.

Okay, I have to say, that gives me a mental picture of ninja involvement in the Civil War. Which would just have been cool.

Chronos
09-06-2011, 01:19 AM
What would have been even cooler, would have been if Lincoln had accepted the King of Siam's offer of war elephants.

Alessan
09-06-2011, 01:54 AM
Poland and France were fighting a superior enemy but on there own ground in WW2. It didn't work out so well. What marginal advantage there may be to 'fighting for their homes' is largely bunk, and is far outweighed by the facts that fighting on their own ground means they are losing and all of the damage and depredations of war are happening are happening to their own grounds.

There's also the matter of distance. Britain in America and America in Vietnam were both fighting halfway around the world, with all the associated logistical difficulties. Poland and France, OTOH, were fighting an enemy they shared a border with - just like the Confederacy.

AbloyProtec
09-06-2011, 06:06 AM
Do you think if the South had held out long enough foreign powers might have assisted in order to resume buying southern exports, notably cotton? Not necessarily with ground troops or weapons but sending naval forces with cargo ships to continue trade, if necessary with force, with the South?

Seems to me a purely defensive war would do wonders for the South's foreign image.

smiling bandit
09-06-2011, 08:47 AM
Do you think if the South had held out long enough foreign powers might have assisted in order to resume buying southern exports, notably cotton? Not necessarily with ground troops or weapons but sending naval forces with cargo ships to continue trade, if necessary with force, with the South?

Seems to me a purely defensive war would do wonders for the South's foreign image.

Again, the South did fight a defensive war, and knew they couldn't win it. That's why Lee was trying to attack. In a defensive war (pure one, anyway), their one and only hope was to get a Peace Democrat elected, while handing over the keys to victory to any northern general who cared to take them.

Aside from which, most foreign powers didn't give two cents for the South. Britain and France were pretty much its only possibly friends, and we already saw they weren't willing to risk anything to support it. No point starting a naval war with the North for a largely theoretical gain. Moreover, the Union Navy quickly quelled most Southern shipping and locked up the ports so that only special-built blockade runners could move in and out. It didn't much matter what the South bought abroad; they could move only very limited cargoes.

AbloyProtec
09-06-2011, 10:26 AM
Again, the South did fight a defensive war

I disagree.

Gettysburg marked Lee's 2nd attempt to invade the North in as many years.

smiling bandit
09-06-2011, 11:35 AM
I disagree.

Gettysburg marked Lee's 2nd attempt to invade the North in as many years.

If you don't know the difference between Lee's Army and the South, or for the matter the reasons why he felt forced to launch an invasion, then there's not much to say.

AbloyProtec
09-06-2011, 11:53 AM
If you don't know the difference between Lee's Army and the South, or for the matter the reasons why he felt forced to launch an invasion, then there's not much to say.

Oh, I'm sorry.

Did the Army of Northern Virginia not feature regiments from Georgia, Alabama, and every other state from the Confederacy? We're they not fighting under the Confederate flag, cause, and government? Was Washington D.C. not the intended target had Lee defeated Meade?

What exactly happened, since you know history better than I? Did Lee think he was still in Virginia and simply keeping the Union at bay?

How can you say he was invading the North purely for defense? Lee absolutely intended to threaten northern cities. In fact, Jefferson Davis had already drafted a letter offering peace in lieu of Lee's victory at Gettysburg. It was to be sent to Lincoln had Lee won.

Little Nemo
09-06-2011, 12:38 PM
If you don't know the difference between Lee's Army and the South, or for the matter the reasons why he felt forced to launch an invasion, then there's not much to say.And the United States didn't invade Virginia. It was the Army of the Potomac that did that.

smiling bandit
09-06-2011, 12:57 PM
What exactly happened, since you know history better than I? Did Lee think he was still in Virginia and simply keeping the Union at bay?

Yes, evidently I do know the history better than you.

Because he had no choice, or rather, because his choice was to do nothing, send reinforcements to Vickburg, and pray - or attack. He couldn't defend, because he would simply have been ground down. It was in fact an offensive stance which gave the CSA its biggest victories and extended the war past McClellan's Penninsular campaign. Lee could barely feed his own men, and he desperately needed supplies, and time for farmers to bring in the desperately-needed harvest. He could not just simply sit tight. For all his occaisional strategic blindness, he correctly understood that he must have the offensive.

How can you say he was invading the North purely for defense? Lee absolutely intended to threaten northern cities. In fact, Jefferson Davis had already drafted a letter offering peace in lieu of Lee's victory at Gettysburg. It was to be sent to Lincoln had Lee won.

Given that you don't understand the difference between the tactical and the strategic, there's isn't much to say. The Confederacy had a defensive strategy. Offensive campaigns or battles were sometimes part of that. But it was the slow-burn failure of that strategy which forced Gettysburg. The Confederacy knew that barring a miracle, they had to attack. Their stategic defensive had lost them a huge portion of their territory and dealt the most crushing blows to the cause, leaving them with few choices. But that defensive strategy was exactly that erratic fomulation of Davis, Lee, and the two Johnsons.

AbloyProtec
09-06-2011, 01:13 PM
Yes, evidently I do know the history better than you.

Because he had no choice, or rather, because his choice was to do nothing, send reinforcements to Vickburg, and pray - or attack. He couldn't defend, because he would simply have been ground down. It was in fact an offensive stance which gave the CSA its biggest victories and extended the war past McClellan's Penninsular campaign. Lee could barely feed his own men, and he desperately needed supplies, and time for farmers to bring in the desperately-needed harvest. He could not just simply sit tight. For all his occaisional strategic blindness, he correctly understood that he must have the offensive.

Given that you don't understand the difference between the tactical and the strategic, there's isn't much to say. The Confederacy had a defensive strategy. Offensive campaigns or battles were sometimes part of that. But it was the slow-burn failure of that strategy which forced Gettysburg. The Confederacy knew that barring a miracle, they had to attack. Their stategic defensive had lost them a huge portion of their territory and dealt the most crushing blows to the cause, leaving them with few choices. But that defensive strategy was exactly that erratic fomulation of Davis, Lee, and the two Johnsons.

Please re-read OP's post, specifically point 1 and the part where he/she says:

If Lee never invaded the North but instead fought a defensive war on his soil, and on his chosen terrain, would the South have won the war, or would the North still win?

or

If Lee's Army of NoVa isn't battered at Gettysburg, and he decides to make the Union chase him on his ground

Emphasis mine.

RTFirefly
09-06-2011, 01:23 PM
It's questionable to me whether a less battered Lee could have prevented Union victories at Chattanooga and Atlanta, both of which gave a sizable boost to Lincoln's re-election effort. This. It's hard to see how no Antietam or Gettysburg would have changed the outcomes at Vicksburg, Chattanooga, or Atlanta, or prevented Sherman's march to the sea.

Re Lee and Vicksburg: if Lee thought he could have sent enough troops to lift the siege of Vicksburg without putting Richmond at risk, it's hard for me to believe he would not have done so, rather than invade Pennsylvania. I'm not the world's biggest Civil War buff, but I've never read that Lee even considered such a move.

smiling bandit
09-06-2011, 01:28 PM
Please re-read OP's post, specifically point 1 and the part where he/she says:

I did read. Neither of you seem to be aware that Lee discarded the idea because it was inevitably lethal to his war. That's exactly what happened when Grant took over the Army of the Potomac: even with every advantage he could muster and subordinate Union commanders making every possible mistake, Lee was boxed into a corner.

Lee knew he could not win with defensive tactics. He knew he could not win with defensive strategy. Johnson might have done so in Georgia, but not Lee in Virginia.

Little Nemo
09-06-2011, 04:36 PM
I did read. Neither of you seem to be aware that Lee discarded the idea because it was inevitably lethal to his war. That's exactly what happened when Grant took over the Army of the Potomac: even with every advantage he could muster and subordinate Union commanders making every possible mistake, Lee was boxed into a corner.

Lee knew he could not win with defensive tactics. He knew he could not win with defensive strategy. Johnson might have done so in Georgia, but not Lee in Virginia.Lee took over command of the eastern front on June 1, 1862. And he launched his first major offensive into United States territory on September 4, 1862. For all practical purposes, Lee never tried a defensive strategy.

And Grant never directly commanded the Army of the Potomac. Grant was appointed to command all of the American armies (including the Army of the Potomac, which remained under the direct command of George Meade) on March 9, 1864.

Little Nemo
09-06-2011, 04:53 PM
Re Lee and Vicksburg: if Lee thought he could have sent enough troops to lift the siege of Vicksburg without putting Richmond at risk, it's hard for me to believe he would not have done so, rather than invade Pennsylvania. I'm not the world's biggest Civil War buff, but I've never read that Lee even considered such a move.A lot of the blame for that falls on Davis. He insisted on acting as overall commander of the Confederate military. Lee was wearing two hats in 1863: he was the principal military adviser (a de facto Chief of Staff) to Davis and he was the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.

As an adviser, Lee may have seen some merit in transferring troops from Virginia to Mississippi. But as an Army commander, he saw his main responsibility as the Eastern Theatre and felt that the defense of Vicksburg was the responsibility of John Pemberton, who commanded the Army of Mississippi. It was Davis, who had no direct command, who should have been weighing the needs of the various theatres.

Problems like this would eventually result in the Confederate Congress taking the matter out of Davis' hands and naming Lee as commander of all Confederate forces in January 1865. But by then it was too late. And even then Lee retained direct command of the Army of Northern Virginia (unlike Grant, who had Meade commanding the Army of the Potomac).

Ibn Warraq
09-06-2011, 06:40 PM
Possibly the South's best bet (maybe only bet) would be to send assassins to take out Lincoln himself.

Hell no. That would have made Lincoln into a martyr and would have made the Union fight harder.

DSYoungEsq
09-06-2011, 09:02 PM
Lee took over command of the eastern front on June 1, 1862. And he launched his first major offensive into United States territory on September 4, 1862. For all practical purposes, Lee never tried a defensive strategy.

And Grant never directly commanded the Army of the Potomac. Grant was appointed to command all of the American armies (including the Army of the Potomac, which remained under the direct command of George Meade) on March 9, 1864.

Both attempts to "invade" the North were defensive tactics in support of a defensive strategy. Neither attempt was made with the purpose of grabbing and holding Union territory, nor was either attempt made with the serious belief that it would result in capture of Washington, D.C. Both attempts were made in large measure to draw significant Union forces away from Richmond and its approaches, prolonging the time that that city could prevent its fall. A less important, though still important reason for the 1863 invasion was to provision the army off Union land, allowing Confederate farmers to recover from the demands of the war.

I perceive that the OP is not actually asking whether or not Lee should have tried a defensive strategy, but rather whether or not Lee should have avoided any invasive tactics, and simply dug in around Richmond, meeting the thrusts of the Union armies when and how he could. This set of tactics would have been equally disastrous for the Confederacy; all the same losses in the West and in Tennessee would have occurred, splitting the CSA and resulting in the eventual capture of Atlanta and march across Georgia. Indeed, absent some significantly different outcome on the Western front, or some reason for the blockade to have become ineffective, the South was never going to win the war.

The much more interesting question one could hypothesize is: suppose that the army of the CSA had managed to motivate itself to attack across the Potomac in 1861, with the goal of "liberating" Maryland and Delaware, and threatening Philadelphia and New York City, not to mention capturing the District of Columbia. Did they have an opportunity to do so, especially in that murky period after the original 90-day recruits disbanded and went home?

Spavined Gelding
09-06-2011, 09:50 PM
If we are just talking about the Eastern Theater, the Lee v. McClellan, Pope, McClellan again, Burnside, Hooker, Meade and Meade&Grant, aspect of the war, it may be helpful to regard the Maryland Campaign of 1862 and the Gettysburg Campaign as raids, not invasions. In neither case was the Army of Northern Virginia in a position to stage a long tern occupation of big hunks of Western Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania. Rather they seem to be attempts to throw a pending Union offensive off stride and to draw Union forces away from Virginia (which was getting pretty chewed up by the end of the summer of 1862) and to blunt Union offenses in the West.

Neither Antietam or Gettysburg, or even Shiloh and Perryville, Chickamauga and Atlanta and Nashville, convert an essentially defensive strategy into an offensive war. Each of those campaigns can be fairly argued to be nothing more that attempts to pre-empt Union offensives, spoiling attacks necessary to preserve a viable defensive posture and Southern territorial integrety.

With regard to Gettysburg in particular, having stumbled into a meeting engagement on the first day with his army scattered across Southern Pennsylvania and with his grand offensive thwarted on the second day and with no viable source of re-supply and unable to subsist his army of some 75,000 for more than two or three days in a fixed position, Leeís options were pretty limited. He could either try to withdraw back into Virginia in the face of a strong and relatively undamaged enemy or he could gather his strength and attack again. That he chose to attack -- precisely what any competent commander would have done in like circumstances -- does not change the raid into an invasion and certainly does not create an offensive war plan.

While we are at it, while Grand was the commander in chief of all the Union armies, he recognized that containing the Army of Northern Virginia was the key to the war and he made his headquarters with the principle armies confronting the ANV. Meade may have been the commanding general of the Army of the Potomac but Grant was at his elbow from March of 1864 until the Spring of 1865, and Meade was for all practical purposes Grantís executive officer.

Randvek
09-06-2011, 10:01 PM
When you look at the American Revolution, or even the Vietnam War, two things seem to stand out as vital keys to victory:

I think I disagree with your premise. The Americans only fought defensively because they had to; they tried to invade Canada, but the vast majority of the rebels fought for their state, not for their country, and had little interest in traveling far. A defensive Revolution wasn't a strategy but a necessity.

And Vietnam? The Tet Offensive was the worst moment for America in the entire war. The North Vietnamese had the superior army because they were superior in the only attribute that really mattered in the jungle: mobility.

RickJay
09-06-2011, 10:20 PM
I think I disagree with your premise. The Americans only fought defensively because they had to; they tried to invade Canada, but the vast majority of the rebels fought for their state, not for their country, and had little interest in traveling far.
I am sure Washington would happily have taken such strategic mobility as he could have.

But the Americans during the Revolutionary War had no physical means of moving troops on a large scale. The Thirteen Colonies had effectively no inter-colonial road network of any sort. All rivers in the Colonies flow, more or less, eastwards into the Atlantic. There were no railroads. The Royal Navy commanded the seas and could have stopped a large scale troop movement.

Moving troops around in 1776 wasn't undesirable; it was usually impossible. As Bill Bryson once wryly noted, prior to the Continental Congress, more of the delegates had been to London than to Philadelphia, and that at a time when Philadelphia was at that time the second largest city in the English-speaking world. To get from a major city to another - say, to travel from New York City to Philadelphia - people hired guides. Moving around in the colonies was HARD.

And Vietnam? The Tet Offensive was the worst moment for America in the entire war. The North Vietnamese had the superior army because they were superior in the only attribute that really mattered in the jungle: mobility.
The Communists were horribly massacred in the Tet Offensive, and indeed were consistently beaten by the Americans at every turn. They lost almost every single pitched battle they fought against the United States - maybe all of them, actually. They were not more mobile; they were LESS mobile. They won the war for the simple reason that they were willing to continue fighting it, not because they were more skilled warriors... a fact they were quite aware of.

Little Nemo
09-06-2011, 10:49 PM
Both attempts to "invade" the North were defensive tactics in support of a defensive strategy.It was an invasion not an "invasion" - you don't take 75,000 soldiers into a foreign country and call it a recon patrol. And invading a country is kind of a strange definition of a defensive strategy (it wasn't a tactic at all).

DSYoungEsq
09-07-2011, 05:31 AM
It was an invasion not an "invasion" - you don't take 75,000 soldiers into a foreign country and call it a recon patrol. And invading a country is kind of a strange definition of a defensive strategy (it wasn't a tactic at all).

A "tactic" is any move taken to support an underlying "strategy". The tactic of entering Union territory cannot truly be called an invasion unless the purpose was to grab and hold Union territory. As someone between our posts has noted, the two crossings of the Potomac can more properly be thoght of as raids, not invasions.

smiling bandit
09-07-2011, 07:13 AM
A "tactic" is any move taken to support an underlying "strategy". The tactic of entering Union territory cannot truly be called an invasion unless the purpose was to grab and hold Union territory. As someone between our posts has noted, the two crossings of the Potomac can more properly be thoght of as raids, not invasions.

Exactly so. Lee knew he couldn't make a permanent advance. All he could hope to do was buy time, gather resources, and maybe defeat the Union troops before they could call up enough force to crush him.

And of course, historically raids quite often were carried out with considerable forces.

RTFirefly
09-07-2011, 08:24 AM
An invasion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion) is a military offensive consisting of all, or large parts of the armed forces of one geopolitical entity aggressively entering territory controlled by another such entity, generally with the objective of either conquering, liberating or re-establishing control or authority over a territory, forcing the partition of a country, altering the established government or gaining concessions from said government, or a combination thereof. An invasion can be the cause of a war, be a part of a larger strategy to end a war, or it can constitute an entire war in itself.
"large parts of the armed forces of one geopolitical entity aggressively entering territory controlled by another such entity" - check.

"generally with the objective of either...forcing the partition of a country, altering the established government or gaining concessions from said government" - check.

"An invasion can be...part of a larger strategy to end a war" - check.

While I think it's conceptually useful to think of the ANV campaigns that culminated at Antietam and Gettysburg as exceedingly large-scale, well-organized raids, they were invasions per Wikipedia's definition and by the standards of colloquial use.

Now that the semantic issue is resolved, back to the debate!

Little Nemo
09-07-2011, 12:39 PM
A conquest is a type of invasion which is intended to take and keep territory.

When the United States invaded Germany in WWII, we didn't have any intent of keeping it. But while it wasn't a conquest, it was still an invasion.

And an argument over the semantics is avoiding the main issue being discussed here. Even if you call the Antietam and Gettysburg campaigns raids rather than invasions, they were still offensive campaigns not defensive ones.

Sailboat
09-07-2011, 02:37 PM
But Johnson's tactics drained the Union army's time, manpower, and will. He's often not well respected, but in a great many cases he accurately identified the situation, pointed out the problems and possible solutions, and was roundly ignored.

It's a sad commentary on the lack of respect Johnston (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_E._Johnston) gets even today that people forget the "t" in his name. ;)

Again, the South did fight a defensive war

Yes, Jefferson Davis explicitly committed the South to a standing defensive strategy at the start of the war (possibly for political reasons -- so as not to appear to be the aggressor while hoping for foreign assistance). Lee did think offensively, and was able to persuade Davis to permit the two great invasions in the East (Antietam and Gettysburg campaigns), but they were generally the exceptions to the South's defensive stance.

Speaking of Lee's aggression, he almost immediately began to attack as soon as he was given command after Johnston was wounded. Most of the battles of the Seven Days cost the Confederates more men than their enemy -- Lee's approach was costly. Historians have written that the magnificent charge of Hood's Texans at Boatswain Swamp indeed broke Porter's line, but the men who fell in droves making the attempt would be missed down the years. Gettysburg was not where the losses started; it was just where the cumulative effect became inescapable.

Lee's aggression might have been the only way to turn disadvantage into victory (which is what Lee himself thought), but from the very beginning it was expensive in lives, and thus not suited to a long war. Lee didn't just have to win against the odds, he had to win big, and soon.

The_Peyote_Coyote
09-07-2011, 02:39 PM
Re Lee and Vicksburg: if Lee thought he could have sent enough troops to lift the siege of Vicksburg without putting Richmond at risk, it's hard for me to believe he would not have done so, rather than invade Pennsylvania. I'm not the world's biggest Civil War buff, but I've never read that Lee even considered such a move.

If I recall McPherson's The Battle of Cry of Freedom correctly, RTFirefly, Davis did ask Lee to go out west, but Lee preferred to stay in dear ol' Virginny. One of the reasons for invading Pennsylvania was to take pressure off Vicksburg and maybe get Grant to move northeast, but that didn't work. I have read the theory that after Chancellorsville, Lee became convinced his army was invincible which was why he decided to go north.

smiling bandit
09-07-2011, 02:48 PM
It's a sad commentary on the lack of respect Johnston (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_E._Johnston) gets even today that people forget the "t" in his name. ;)

Drat. I always get his anme wrong. Poor guy.

[quote]Yes, Jefferson Davis explicitly committed the South to a standing defensive strategy at the start of the war (possibly for political reasons -- so as not to appear to be the aggressor while hoping for foreign assistance).

And of course, the South simply wasn't able to sustain an attack past its own soil. The logisics of the situation were not in their favor, so to speak.

Lee's aggression might have been the only way to turn disadvantage into victory (which is what Lee himself thought), but from the very beginning it was expensive in lives, and thus not suited to a long war. Lee didn't just have to win against the odds, he had to win big, and soon.

True all around, but what I consider important is that Lee had no choice. He could either let McClellan slowly squeeze him, or attack. So he attacked. Then he could either wait for Pope to slam the door shut on him or attack. So he attacked. Then he coudl either let Hooker smash him, or attack. So he attacked. Then he could either sit and starve, or sttack. So he attacked. In short, Lee's back was against the wall. He made risky and dangerous attacks because he had good reason to think the alternative was worst.

Trepa Mayfield
09-08-2011, 03:44 PM
So basically, the South was fighting a losing battle from the start, and really needed foreign support (which was shut down by superior diplomating from the North) to even have a chance.

Makes you wonder why so many Alt-history stories have the South winning.

smiling bandit
09-09-2011, 09:14 AM
So basically, the South was fighting a losing battle from the start, and really needed foreign support (which was shut down by superior diplomating from the North) to even have a chance.

Makes you wonder why so many Alt-history stories have the South winning.

Same reason alt-hist has alternative WW 2 scenarios. It's fun.

That said, the South was hardly doomed. As McPherson pointed out, it had a lot of advantages, and successful rebellions have won on worse. The American Revolution alone much more in Britain's favor in men, materials, and money than the Civil War was in the Union's favor.

But the Civil War was won not by tactics (as in the Napleonic era) but by strategy, and that strategy was often political as well as military. It was a war of peoples first and foremost, and there the South had a critical flaw. Militarily, it could possibly hold out. But it was not nearly so unified as the elite classes thought. Large sections of the "nation" wouldn't give a cent for it; they happily ignored anything beyond their doorstep. Other areas actively rebelled against the Confederacy. Pro-Union sentiment, though not a fiery passion, contributed over time to a slow decline in what people were willing to do for the South. Not for nothing did the grand Confedercy vanish, except as a romantic myth, after the war.

We can also see how this affected the wartime experience. Southerners were hit hard, and early. The government managed arms and powder, but began running short of troops a full year before the Union, with its far larger armies and no convenient slave class to grow food. Most people simply had no desire to fight for the Confederacy, and weren't about to do so until forced to it. Union conscription was ultimately a response to Confedrate conscription, and more successful. Even after conscription, a Union soldier was likely to desert very quickly (as a bounty jumper) or not at all. The Confederate might well leave the moment he had a choice.