What kind of peace could the Confederates have negotiated in 1864/65?

The main goal of the Confederates was similar to that of the Americans in the Revolution; they wanted to hang on long enough that their opponent, while stronger overall, would get tired of the fighting and would be willing to negotiate.

They were coming close in the Summer of 1864. The American public was growing weary of the casualty lists which never seemed to produce a victory. Lincoln privately told people that he expected he would lost the upcoming election. The Democrats had made a negotiated end to the war part of their party platform.

As it turned out, this was the low point. By November, the United States had won several important victories and Lincoln was re-elected. The United States would go on to win the war in April 1865.

But suppose things hadn’t gone that way and the war had dragged on until November without any major American victories and the public voted for the Democrats and their plan to end the war. And for the sake of argument, let’s assume there were also no major changes between November and March when Lincoln’s term ran out.

At this point, what kinds of terms could the Confederates have expected? The incoming Democrats had stated their willingness to negotiate but I don’t feel they were willing to agree to any terms as a price for peace. The United States was still stronger than the Confederacy overall and American troops held a lot of southern territory.

For example, American forces had held New Orleans and the entire length of the Mississippi River since the summer of 1863. This transportation route was seen as vital to the American economy. I don’t see any way that the United States would have been willing to hand it back to Confederate control.

Tennessee was also pretty much completely occupied by late 1864 and I feel the Americans wouldn’t have been willing to give it back.

There were other areas that would have been disputed. American forces occupied a good portion of northeastern Virginia and a number of southern ports. Was there anything, other than an offer to stop fighting, that the Confederates could have offered to get some of this territory back?

Would the Confederates have been willing to keep fighting if the United States wasn’t willing to give back the disputed territory? Or would they have had to settle for forming a country within the borders that existed on the ground at that time? (It would be ironic if the Confederates started the war over a disputed claim to two forts and ended up agreeing to the loss of a much larger amount of disputed territory.)

Would Texas have ending up seeking a separate nationhood being as it was physically separated from the rest of the Confederacy? What would have been the Confederate and American response to a Texan declaration of independence from the CSA?

How would the United States have treated the territory it occupied in the south if there had been a peace treaty? Would these areas have remained under military rule? I’ll assume a civilian government would have been restored in Tennessee. But that doesn’t seem like a viable option for the smaller pieces of occupied territory.

That’s a pretty big change from history; it requires something like four major campaigns to simply not have happened.

It’s also pretty much un-answerable as a hypothetical. You’re changing so much that there’s no real way to predict what else might change, and, well, basically is impossible. The Confederacy can’t just “hold on” at Atlanta for nine months. They have to win a battle where mediocre generals attack veteran troops defending strong fortifications - and win so convincingly that Sherman retreats (to which I say good luck) or Sherman, I dunno, just gets bored and goes home? I mean, the scenario is strategically impossible. There is no situation in which Sherman just stops. And even a marginal Confederate victory is so unlikely that it’s basically impossible. By summer, Sherman was already encircling Atlanta; it took time to cut off the city, but the Confederate supply lines were as vulnerable as his own, and he ha way more resources.

It’s possible that the Battle of Mobile bay could have gone wrong, but the Navy wasn’t beaten by a long shot. It was cutting off Confederate access to the sea strongly by 1864.

And Lincoln wasn’t just barely re-elected; he won convincingly. Additionally, American politics are often viewed as being mercurial, there are usually some pretty big fundamental reasons for election results. Lincoln only lost two states, and had a 10% margin. It would take a very large swing away from him personally (which is possible) and the war policy (more difficult).

But assume all that happens - it still doesn’t mean Congress is going to switch control, which would require its own massive shift. But assume that ALSO happens (we’re getting into more or less complete improbability many times over now): the Copperheads probably still can’t end the war, and the Confederates would still be crippled and on their last legs by this point. Remember that Gen. Grant is only a month away from victory at Petersburg and forcing the Confederates to abandon Richmond, and, functionally, all of Virginia even under the best circumstances. The Union has no reason to retreat at this point.

Finally, the Confederacy was never willing to bargain at all, so I am not sure there’s any chance of a negotiated settlement unless the Union just gives up entirely.

I think there’s a danger in looking back at historical events and assuming the people who lived through them were able to foresee upcoming events. We can look back at the summer of 1864, knowing the Confederates were just months from surrender, and assume people back then saw the American victory as inevitable.

This was not the case. The Confederates felt their current position was better than it had been in the summer of 1862 - and they had fully recovered from that. They had full faith in Lee and the Army of North Virginia and expected he would once again defeat the Americans and drive them back into the United States.

And the feelings in the United States matched this. The Democrats weren’t fools; they wouldn’t have put the peace plank in their 1864 platform unless they thought there was widespread public support for negotiations. And Lincoln, who was no fool, agreed. He wouldn’t abandon his principles and seek an negotiated end of the war but he expected to lose the election on this issue.

I also don’t feel the military events that occurred was inevitable. It’s off the topic of the thread (which is about the political aftermath) but it’s easy to imagine how the stalemate that existed in the summer could have dragged on for a few more months. The complete turn around that historically occurred was actually more surprising that events following along the same path would have been.

And I strongly disagree that the Confederacy would not have been willing to bargain. They historically did send negotiators before the war’s end to seek better terms of surrender. If they were willing to do that, I don’t see why they wouldn’t have been willing to negotiate for a armistice that would allowed them to remain independent.

What about this scenario: State XYZ, knowing the situation is hopeless, secedes from the C.S.A. and informs the Union government that, although XYZ is not surrendering, it no longer considers itself to be at war with the Union and has no intention of having anything to do with the C.S.A. XYZ recalls all of its state military forces back to XYZ.
XYZ avoids saying anything about independence one way or the other. If the Union tries to occupy XYZ then XYZ simply says, “Knock yourself out. Good luck with finding anything to eat. We’re in pretty bad shape here.”

Do you think the Union would have imprisoned or hanged some or all of the XYZ government officials and XYZ military for treason or some other crime?

Is there not an equal danger of back-projecting the last 60 years of anti-war sentiment onto an 1860s population? The notion that the war had no clear objective and no end in sight, or was a war of choice, that animated the anti-Vietnam and anti-Iraq movements wouldn’t have applied here. The people opposing the war were people who largely supported slavery or at least were explicit racists who thought dying for the freedom of blacks wasn’t worth it.

The realities of a peace would have been re-creating the conditions that led to war in the first place. Every part of the Union that disagreed with the outcome of an election would secede. Every part of the Confederacy that disagreed with the direction of a country in economic disarray that could not exist without perpetual tension with a massive slave population would want to un-secede like West Virginia did. The escape of slaves to the North would continue as it did throughout the antebellum period - how would a fugitive slave law possibly exist in a scenario where the independent Union was charged with enforcing it?

Why would a Union that had no problem confiscating land from Indians with no moral justification resist just annexing the Confederacy, with far more legal and moral basis, in 1875 after building up the relative strengths of their militaries to the point where it would be a 30-day cakewalk? Why would a Confederacy that existed solely to perpetuate slavery refrain from trying to annex the Golden Circle or interfere in territorial affairs, sparking any number of new wars?

There was no possibility of peaceful coexistence between the US and the CSA. It would have been as tense as the inner German border during the Cold War, but extended over thousands of miles and without any larger powers restraining the belligerents. Once the South started the war, total surrender by one side or the other was the only possible outcome and Lincoln and any other astute politicians must have known this.

I don’t think so. As I’ve said, I’m not basing this on my own opinion. I reporting the opinions of the people who were there in the summer of 1864.

That said, I do agree with your assessment of the future relations between the United States and the Confederacy. The Confederates would have seen any lost territory as an ongoing justification for renewing the war (as France did with the German-occupied parts of Alsace and Lorraine around the same period). The United States might not have felt quite the same passion for a second war. But as you note, stronger powers often don’t need a lot of justification to attack a weaker neighbor.

As a general rule, I don’t think this would have worked. The goal of the Lincoln administration was clear; all seceding states had to be brought back into the United States. I don’t feel this would have changed just because a Confederate state seceded from the CSA. West Virginia, for example, wouldn’t have been allowed to be an independent country. Its secession from Virginia was only allowed by the American government because it sought admission as a state.

In regards to the specific setting of this topic, I don’t see why any state would seek such an arrangement. The premise of this thread is that the United States is willing to negotiate a peace treaty with the Confederacy. It would seem like a poor time for any state to withdraw from the Confederacy and try to go it alone.

[quote=“Little_Nemo, post:3, topic:932803, full:true”]
I think there’s a danger in looking back at historical events and assuming the people who lived through them were able to foresee upcoming events.[/quote]

There is such a danger, but I didn’t engage in it. You didn’t actually argue any contrary points based on evidence; you merely engaged in the supposition that I overlooked public feeling. You are incorrect.

McClellan had already rejected the Peace Platform himself, and by the time of his presumed inauguration the Confederacy would have been collapsing regardless. There was no way to stop it by then, and it seems as though you are unclear as to when certain events happened.

I agree that by March 1865, the defeat of the Confederacy was inevitable and everyone recognized that at the time.

And McClellan had no chance of getting elected after events like the capture of Mobile in August, the surrender of Atlanta in September, and the success of the Shenandoah Valley campaign in September and October.

But I don’t feel these successes were inevitable (unless you’re arguing that all history is inevitable and there’s no point in discussing alternate history). I looking to discuss what might have happened if they hadn’t occurred.

North Carolina and Georgia both entertained the idea. North Carolina, whose loyalty to the Confederacy was the shallowest from the beginning and faded first at the end, quite probably would have done so if William Holden had won the governorship mid-war. To stop that possibility, Vance ran one of the muddiest of mud-slinging campaigns in Carolina history and expertly portrayed himself as the “Peace Candidate,” by which he meant peace through victory… but which he intended voters of peace sympathies might take otherwise.

(Holden would go on to be a genuinely honest Governor in the postwar period, which of course meant he was political destroyed by Vance’s racist, KKK-loving faction.)\ Holden probably knew & intended that neutrality would effectively mean rejoining the Union, because N. Carolina didn’t consider this a problem. It was a much tougher pill to swallow in the eastern part of the state, which relied more on slavery. Still, pro-Confederate enthusiasm was more limited there, too, compared to Virginia or South Carolina.)

Georgia grew disenchanted with the Confederate War effort, and Jeff Davis in particular, and felt that the battle lines were coming uncomfortably close to its border - completely accurately. Standing alone was impractical however, and they more or less acknowledged that reality in reality. Both states spent a lot of time pushing back hard against the Davis administration’s policies, and asserted that their governments could and would reject Confederate directives.

Because the strategic pieces were already set in summer 1864 already. The Union didn’t make much obvious headway until the fall, but there was no realistic chance for the Confederacy to win at that point, or even hold out much longer/ Remember that even if McClellan won a peace platform - which he didn’t, actively chose not to use - the public had realized in eagerly 1865 that victory was actually close at hand. Volunteering picked up because it became obvious.

Atlanta could not have held out at the point where you are describing Sherman just “stops”. History is not inevitable, but it is inexorable. This point in time was simply too late to stop the Confederate collapse.

“Alternate history” as normally is conceived is indeed pointless because it hinges on the idea that, e.g., the war could have turned out differently if a horse was shot out from under Grant at some time or the weather was different at Gettysburg. It ignores, in this case, the underlying facts about the dwindling of slave societies, the North’s greater industrial capacity, the infeasibility of what any conceivable peace with the Confederacy would have actually looked like, etc. With those factors in place the outcome of the war was indeed inevitable and only the specific timing and details could change. The only way to posit a world in which the CSA wins the Civil War is to rewrite the whole history of American and world society for decades prior to 1861. In which case, we’re no longer talking about a different outcome for the Civil War that actually happened but about a fictitious conflict entirely.

As I’ve said, I’m really not interested in arguing the premise.

But as you keep insisting, I’ll point out an obvious way events could have been changed; Sherman falls off his horse and breaks his neck around the end of May. Even if somebody competent like Thomas or McPherson was named as his replacement, they would not have pursued the same campaign that Sherman did. And Grant wouldn’t have trusted them like he did Sherman.

Is history still inexorable?

This is an alternate history thread. If you think the topic is pointless, why are you posting in it?

The Confederates could not offer the Union anything the Union could not, and would not take anyway. They had nothing to negotiate with. The fact they sent a delegation to Lincoln at City Point just shows how very delusional they were.

Even more catastrophic would have been if Grant himself had been killed by a sniper’s bullet or a fall from a horse at the Battle of the Wilderness in May. Every other Union commander, when faced with losses as horrible as at the Wilderness, had stopped or withdrawn back to Washington. (The Wilderness has been assessed as a draw, a tactical victory for Lee, or a strategic victory for Grant.) Grant stopped briefly but then pressed on to the attack again. Without a commander as single-minded and willing to accept casualties as Grant, despite the numerical advantage of the Union the campaign could have stalled as all previous ones had.

People often raise the point that the Union was so much more powerful than the Confederacy that its victory was inevitable. This ignores the fact that inferior forces can sometimes win simply by making the cost greater than the superior power is willing to endure, like the US against Britain in the Revolution or Vietnam against the US. Wars are won not just by troops on the ground but by the relative will to win of the opposing sides.

Leadership matters. The Union could have won in 1862 if McClellan had been more aggressive, or in 1863 if Meade had pursued Lee after Gettysburg.

If the fall of the Confederacy was so inevitable by mid-1864, why did Lincoln consider that he would likely be defeated in the election?

It was the Union victories in the summer and early fall that made the difference, both in his electoral prospects and the ultimate outcome. If those victories had been defeats, the situation would have been much different.

Colibri and Little Nemo are correct about Grant and Sherman. Lincoln’s famous comment about Grant was spot on: “I can’t spare that man. He fights.” No other Union general had demonstrated that willingness to fight on, and Sherman’s march to the sea was audacious, in understanding both the tactical and strategic implications of total war.

If either or both of them had been killed in combat, what other Union generals could have replaced them and carried out their strategic vision?

The idea that an unforeseen setback would have made the North amenable to a negotiated settlement assumes that people would’ve been willing to concede that the previous few years of suffering was for nothing, which I’m far from sure would’ve been the case.

How often has the stronger side in a military conflict simply gotten “tired” of the fight and negotiated an end on terms relatively favorable to the opposition? Vietnam comes to mind, but no such settlement occurred despite years of negotiation.

Japanese leaders in WWII made the mistake of assuming that Americans would tire of mounting casualties and agree to terms allowing Japan to keep at least some of its conquests. We could speculate that an unexpected battlefield defeat or loss of a key strategist/leader might have allowed this to happen, but it still seems unrealistic.

MacKinley Cantor’s If the South Had Won the Civil War postulated Grant being killed at the start of the Vicksburg Campaign in May 1863, and his incompetent successor McClernand losing the campaign and having the Army of the Tennessee destroyed. In July, Lee made some better decisions at Gettysburg and won the day, largely destroying the Army of the Potomac. With nothing between him and Washington DC, he took the city, causing the Federal Government to flee and Lincoln to resign.

These events are not completely far-fetched. Lee had won battles against superior forces several times, and had several opportunities for victory at Gettysburg.

And if Lee had accepted command of the Union army at the outset of war, the conflict might’ve been over by 1863. :smiley: