Did the Confederate States Really Have a Chance?

As I've learned and continue to learn more and more about the Confederacy and the Civil War, it always comes off to me that the Confederacy never really was going to succeed, and all the Civil war was was a rebellion which was massive and had it's epic place in time, but was not one that was going to succeed for the rebels. If that's true, how we got to this place where the CSA is viewed as a serious prospect, I'm not sure; maybe it has to do with when the South returned to the Union, their thought of themselves as legitimate and with a chance came with them. Even if the CSA did manage to secede, it seems like it'd be only from the Union letting them leave without fighting or any more fighting, and it seems like the CSA would rather quickly break down and collapse, and its components and states would rejoin the Union or be absorbed up by the Union piece by piece.

So did the Confederacy really have a chance, or was it always a hopeless effort? If it was always just a major but unwinnable rebellion, then I dare say that is a major part of evaluating alternate history scenarios given how much the CSA figures into alternate history.
 
Their only real hope was string of early victories that would cause the north to give up on the war effort before it really got mobilized or a victory that would cause Britain and/or France to get involved.
 
Not really. The CSA lacked the industrial capacity to make war at the same level as the Union. Also the Union had much more manpower. The fact that the CSA did as well as it did was due to their superior officer corps and a lot of luck.
 
Their only real hope was string of early victories that would cause the north to give up on the war effort before it really got mobilized or a victory that would cause Britain and/or France to get involved.
Yeah, but isn't even that all overblown. I've heard it said on her quite a number of times that the pro-Union elements in Britain would not allow the British nation to declare war for the Confederacy.
 
We NEVER had a chance against the likes of Lincoln.

Alas, their one hope was to walk away and not be provoked into attacking Fort Sumpter or a similar bit of bait. Lincoln BRILLIANTLY maneuvered events into getting the Southerners to strike first, putting them in-the-wrong in the eyes of Western Europe.

It is not for nothing that Abe heads the list of Best POTUS awards.

Alas, the Southerners fell for it. The first shot on Fort Sumpter doomed the CSA.

Hero of Canton
Unreconstructed
 
For the Confederacy to have a real chance you basically need the Civil War to happen earlier, the further ahead you go the greater the disparity on all levels between North and South.
 
when the South returned to the Union, their thought of themselves as legitimate and with a chance came with them.
That's pretty much what the "Lost Cause" mythology was and is about, even when its advocates had accepted the forced return to the Union as a fait accompli or were even advocating loyalty to the post-ACW Union.
Even if the CSA did manage to secede, it seems like it'd be only from the Union letting them leave without fighting or any more fighting, and it seems like the CSA would rather quickly break down and collapse, and its components and states would rejoin the Union or be absorbed up by the Union piece by piece.
That's pretty much the impression I've gotten based on my own readings; the CSA had the chance several times for Union political "will" to break enough that the Union government would choose no longer to militarily contest territory, but I doubt that the CSA really had a chance to stay as a unitary political entity, especially if international (i.e. Franco-British) support was always going to be more about messing with the Union than "actual" support of the CSA.
 

Strategos

Banned
For winning the war, it requires they do even more just right, like damn near perfection and even then...


But to keep the slaves? Surrendering at several junctures would have allowed them to do that. In fact, IIRC even the Emancipation Proclamation only Emancipated slaves in rebelling states. Slaves really was issue 1 but highly connected to that was that the states themselves should decide about the slave issue.

Thats where States Rights came in. Because once the CSA recognized that the Federal Govt had full and complete supremacy over the states, then they knew that it was only a matter of time before the slaves were not only set free but made equal. They knew that if Washington had the final say so, then eventually it wouldnt matter if they could keep their Senators in line. There was always a chance that some of the newer Senators of nominally Slave States, especially new states, would "Betray the Cause" and once that was gone, there wouldnt be anything they could do.

However, if if it was up to the States...then the Federal Govt could be defied and mostly reduced into agreed upon mutual trade laws and defence. Essentially what the EU is now.

A horrid mess. Not quite Articles of Confederation, but too close.

However...the Supreme Court is what finally took it outback and shot it. By declaring that slaves were either legal or not, regardless what state they were in. See Frederick Douglas.

Its quite ironic.

So winning the ACW is tremendously difficult but not impossible. Certainly not in WWII Japan League. Not even quite Hitler's War League. More like Napoleon holding to most of Europe League.

Slightly less difficult than Wilhelm pulling a win straight of his ass in WWI.


But to just keep slaves enslaved? Eventually its done for anyways. Same reason it exploded. Money.
 
one could always wonder what could have happened without fort sumter

i don't think abe could have pulled 75000 volunteers out of his top hat if there wasn't an act of aggression against a Union force. and in the meantime CSA could have tried to gain international recognition. then, if Lincoln tried to send the army without any act of provocation, he would be on the wrong side and this could have led to a more positive international situation for the Confederation. after all, it was a moment of national insurgences all over Europe and, since southeners DID see themselves as a nation into a nation, a separatist movement could have gained some sympathy outside the american continent

militarly speaking, it's almost impossible for the CSA to actually win the war (i.e. conquer the north). yet, some more decisive victories after manassas and/or a better pennsylvania campaign in 1862 could have forced an armistice. after antietam, things were difficult, but not impossible. after gettysburg, there was no chance in hell for the greys
 
one could always wonder what could have happened without fort sumter

i don't think abe could have pulled 75000 volunteers out of his top hat if there wasn't an act of aggression against a Union force. and in the meantime CSA could have tried to gain international recognition. then, if Lincoln tried to send the army without any act of provocation, he would be on the wrong side and this could have led to a more positive international situation for the Confederation. after all, it was a moment of national insurgences all over Europe and, since southeners DID see themselves as a nation into a nation, a separatist movement could have gained some sympathy outside the american continent
Arguably there were acts of provocation beforehand, and the Confederacy would only be recognized if they looked like they could actually exist as a viable independent nation - regardless of sympathies or antipathy.

militarly speaking, it's almost impossible for the CSA to actually win the war (i.e. conquer the north). yet, some more decisive victories after manassas and/or a better pennsylvania campaign in 1862 could have forced an armistice. after antietam, things were difficult, but not impossible. after gettysburg, there was no chance in hell for the greys
How do they need to conquer the north to "actually win"?

Also, what did Gettysburg do that made it impossible more than Vicksburg?
 

amphibulous

Banned
Simplest way:

- A Union defeat and Repub political scandal (there was plenty of potential material) swing the '64 election to the Dems (you'd need only a 6% shift in the popular vote although in OTL the Repubs came way ahead in the electoral college.)

- Little Max caves in to his own party, which is dominated by Copperheads - perhaps after an especially bloody battle. Negotiations start, with Little Mac aiming to persuade the South to return, but it never does, and no one can face re-starting the war.
 

Thande

Donor
Yeah, but isn't even that all overblown. I've heard it said on her quite a number of times that the pro-Union elements in Britain would not allow the British nation to declare war for the Confederacy.
What exactly would they have done? It took Prince Albert working himself to death to stop it in OTL. We were being run by Palmerston at the time, he'd have declared war on the moon if he had a rocket.

It's true the CSA's chances have generally been overstated in media due to an unusual subversion of 'history is written by the victors' and the South effectively defining the postwar narrative for decades.
 

amphibulous

Banned
What exactly would they have done? It took Prince Albert working himself to death to stop it in OTL.
No. Albert died while working on the Affair, but not from typhoid, not overwork! And his contribution was minor.

We were being run by Palmerston at the time, he'd have declared war on the moon if he had a rocket.
This is silly: if Palmerston was that bellicose and that was all that mattered, then he would simply have declared war. He didn't for the reasons usually stated -

- Slavery was abhorred in the UK

- The UK needed US grain

- The UK could not defend Canada

- War would have led to an expensive arms race in sea going ironclads

- The UK would have lost huge profits from selling arms

- The UK could exert sufficient pressure by delaying sales of saltpetre

It's important to remember how limited and carefully legal British complaints were:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trent_Affair

the British Foreign Office requested a judicial opinion from the three Law Officers of the Crown (the queen’s advocate, the attorney general, and the solicitor general) on the legality of capturing the diplomats from a British ship.[59] The written reply dated November 12 declared:

The United States’ man-of-war falling in with the British mail steamer [this was the example used in the hypothetical submitted by the cabinet] beyond the territorial limits of the United Kingdom might cause her to bring-to, might board her, examine her papers, open the general mail bags, and examine the contents thereof, without, however opening any mail bag or packet addressed to any officer or Department of Her Majesty’s Government. The United States’ ship of war may put a prize-crew on board the West India steamer, and carry her off to a port of the United States for adjudication by a Prize Court there; but she would have no right to move Messrs. Mason and Slidell, and carry them off as prisoners, leaving the ship to pursue her voyage.
I.e. HMG wasn't asking for USN ships not to stop British ships, or not to seize them under appropriate circumstances, or even not to seize Confederate diplomats - only to do these things when and how allowed by international law. This is not the attitude of a government looking for a fight but of one trying to avoid one while maintaining respect for its own sovereignty and international law. If such a limited request had led to war, then the US government would have been entirely to blame - it had agreed to these laws and expected other people to keep them. Asking the British to allow the US Navy to commit an act of piracy because it was politically convenient to the Republican Party is pretty unreasonable!
 
Not really. The CSA lacked the industrial capacity to make war at the same level as the Union. Also the Union had much more manpower. The fact that the CSA did as well as it did was due to their superior officer corps and a lot of luck.[/QUOTE]


I read someone say on this site one time (forget who) that people try to write timelines where the Nazi's do better in WWII when the fact is that as well as they did in real life is kind of ASB with all of the things that fell their way early on. I kind of feel this way about a Confederate victory, were there ways that the South could have won their independance? Yes, but there are so many things that have to fall their way for this to happen it's really a stretch, and the south would probably be so damaged that it brings into question whether i could survive if it did gain it's independance. So as long as it lasted probably about the best it could do.
 
For the CSA to win you would need to have leadership that understood the the strengths and weaknesses of the South. They would have to have the patience not to respond militarily to President Lincoln's provocation at Fort Sumter. The slavery issue would have to be kept as far in the background as possible, so no Alexander Stephens! The CSA would need to portray itself as a nation seeking to find it's own destiny, it would have to portray itself as the victim of an all powerful federal government dominated by the northern part of the country. However, such leadership did not exist in the CSA, so without some major PODs, the CSA is doomed.
 
personally i think the best result would have been a draw.

Maybe a case where britain and/or france does support the south in a mood of divide and rule. (a divided us is better than a united one)
 
I.e. HMG wasn't asking for USN ships not to stop British ships, or not to seize them under appropriate circumstances, or even not to seize Confederate diplomats - only to do these things when and how allowed by international law. This is not the attitude of a government looking for a fight but of one trying to avoid one while maintaining respect for its own sovereignty and international law. If such a limited request had led to war, then the US government would have been entirely to blame - it had agreed to these laws and expected other people to keep them. Asking the British to allow the US Navy to commit an act of piracy because it was politically convenient to the Republican Party is pretty unreasonable!
You would have also needed to have someone a bit more incompetent in the White House to get a war over the Trent Affair. Seward might have been an ideal candidate here, which is something Robert Perkins covered in one of his timelines. In that timeline, Lincoln's family moved to Mississippi and Lincoln ended up becoming President of the CSA rather than the USA.

As far as my opinion on whether or not the CSA had a chance? Sure they did. I think it's a bit short sighted to say they had zero chance, but it's equally short sighted to say, "The CSA would have won if they did X instead of Y." The real world doesn't exactly follow the rules of plausibility to the letter because crazy things happen sometimes. What do I think would have increased Confederate chances?

1) Trent Affair War: This should be obvious. It's not a war Britain or the USA wanted.
2) A more successful invasion of the North in 1862: That might have been enough to tip the elections in favor of the Democrats in 1862 and make prosecution of the war more difficult for Lincoln. It may have also brought some foreign recognition. None of that is absolutely certain.
3) Grant gets killed early in the war: As important as Robert E. Lee was to the CSA from 1862-65, Grant was pretty important to the Union. It's not to say someone else could not have did what he accomplished, but the laundry list of what he accomplished in the ACW is enough to give one headaches. A lack of Grant from 1861 onward would have created enough butterflies on both sides of the border that we would have seen an entirely different war. This doesn't guarantee CSA victory, but some imaginative writer could do something with this.
4) The Red River Campaign goes worse for the USA: This is a minor theater, but even minor theaters can drain manpower. A drain in manpower can produce butterflies on other fronts.
5) Sherman doesn't take Atlanta: I'm not sure this would have a massive impact on the chances of the CSA as some believe. It certainly as a propaganda victory, but this by itself probably wouldn't do it. If the Confederates could maintain control of Eastern Tennessee, that's a completely different ball game.
6) Northern Mexico joins the CSA in 1861 or early 1862: It's not exactly a scenario I'm a fan of, but Robert Perkins talked about this. Certainly it would have made it difficult for the USA to enforce the blockade and it would have put the CSA right at the doorstep of California. That would certainly make it easier to raid California. It may have also made the war a complete cluster-you-know-what.
 
First: Whether or not the CSA can accomplish anything after it is independent, or whether it can even avoid disintegrating within a few years/months of its independence, is besides the point. If the US recognizes the CS as independent, then the south has "won" in the strict sense of the word.

As for getting that to happen, it is simple enough! Come on people - yes the south has to be lucky, but not implausibly so. In fact, my preferred TL for this remains one with a BP *after* Gettysburg/Vicksburg. But in general, just let the Confederacy hold onto Atlanta, and for good measure, the Shenandoah Valley and Mobile, going into the 1864 elections, and McClellan wins on a peace platform. If they can then hold Atlanta, at least, until McClellan is actually inaugurated, they are strong enough to get a brokered peace.

Getting this to happen is simple enough:

Bragg gets sick in August 1863. With no other viable replacement, Lee is sent west and takes over the Army of Tennessee. Chickamauga is an even bigger Confederate victory, with them capturing >10,000 Union troops including then-division commander Sheridan. Lee follows up by leaving just enough of his army in place at Chattanooga to hold the Union there, then sends ~3x OTL strength to Knoxville to re-open the railroad, upon which most of the force returns to Chattanooga in time to face Grant. Due in part to well-placed entrenchments, and in part to Lee keeping a division in reserve, he holds the line on Missionary Ridge, counterattacks, and captures Sherman and ~20,000 men of the Army of Tennessee in a virtual peninsula on the Tennessee River. Now significantly outnumbering northern forces, Lee sends a corps west and then north along the railroads in Grant's rear, threatening to cut his only supply line, and forcing his retreat back through Middle Tennessee - one more battle near the old Stone's River battlefield lets Grant get away cleanly, but the Union army is bottled back up in Nashville.

In 1864, Lee travels back to Virginia, facing newly-promoted Lieutenant General Thomas (the only person in the west who consistently did a credible job) - with Grant elevated to Sherman's OTL position, but all the way back in Nashville, and facing Johnson. Thomas tries a slow, methodical, campaign of maneuvre in Virginia. Lee defends expertly but is slowly forced back - both sides avoid pitched battle, at least where there are earthworks, so casualties are low. In Tennessee, Grant half-wrecks his army attacking Johnson's entrenchments, but ultimately he wises up and begins flanking maneuvres as well. Johnson falls back a bit faster than Lee does, but by the 1864 elections is still holding Chattanooga. With no appreciable gains anywhere else (no Sheridan = no Valley), Lincoln loses in a close election. McClellan, seeing that there are no victories anywhere, is persuaded to stick to the peace wing of the Democratic Party. *Maybe* over the winter, Grant takes Chattanooga, but Johnson then has the mountains to defend Atlanta, which he still holds on March 4th. Thomas tries one pitched battle in front of Richmond, and after the bloodbath (for both sides) concludes, it is close, but Lee still holds the Confederate capitol. McClellan immediately engages Davis in peace negotations.

Of course, if you want a victory even earlier than this, then starting with TL-191 as a base may be helpful, if you do it smartly. Yes, there is no Antietam and Lee keeps moving north, but you need something more than that - as in, get rid of Bragg as fast as possible. Hardee, say, or even Smith, vs. Buell in Tennessee leads to a Confederate victory over a *wing* of the Army of the Ohio. Said army is too large to take off the map, but having a strong Confederate presence in Kentucky at the same time that Lee consolidates his forces in central Maryland/southern Pennsylvania may even be enough to get Britain to intervene.

Or, another option: let Bragg be lucky for once, and at Stone's River, Breckenridge is smart/not-feud-ful and sends most of his division west of the river in time to support Hardee's attack. He cuts Rosecrans' supply lines back to Nashville, and ultimately outflanks him. Even if Bragg cannot destroy the Army of the Cumberland, he can force it to retreat back to Nashville. *That*. coming on top of Fredericksburg, Grant's retreat, and Chickasaw Bayou, (and on the same day as the E.P.) leads to huge riots all over the north, way bigger than OTL draft riots. Copperheads even get the moral high ground in places - I'm sure all of your creative minds can butterfly this into a Confederate victory.
 
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