Would Civil War Have Started if Virginia Didn't Secede

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by jbgusa, Sep 6, 2019.

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Would Civil War Have Started if Virginia Didn't Secede?

  1. The Civil War would have started if Virginia not secede

    97 vote(s)
    72.4%
  2. The Civil War would have ended almost immediately if Virginia not secede

    43 vote(s)
    32.1%
  3. The Civil War would not have started if Virginia not secede

    4 vote(s)
    3.0%
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. jbgusa Member

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    When Lincoln was elected President in 1860 South Carolina seceded almost immediately, followed in rapid sequence by Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana. Texas followed during early 1861, with Governor Sam Houston resisting. Then the waves of secession (then called "disunion") stopped. Lincoln was inaugurated March 4, 1861. Virginia didn't secede till April 17, 1861, after the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, and Lincoln announced a token muster of Virginia troops. It was a very open question whether Virginia, then considered a Border State, would secede. Indeed a chunk of the state now known as West Virginia, and the part on the Delmarva Peninsula did not join the rest of the state in disuniting from the Union.

    I happen to believe that had Virginia (followed shortly by other border states such as North Carolina and Tennessee and yes I know Arkansas also seceded late but different situation) not seceded the crisis may well have gone the way of South Carolina's nullification crisis. Virginia was likely pushed to secede by the reality that the remaining Union might have abolished slavery with the Cotton States out of the Senate. The already seceded states, as of the beginning of April 1861 were South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. All of those states were deeply impoverished. Texas had recently been crippled by massive, independence-era debts. Without the late-seceding states the Confederacy had little ability to fight an actual war. Virginia's going out made them viable for a serious war, though they were likely doomed.
     
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  2. DominusNovus Humbled by Fate

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    You answered your own question: the Civil War had already started. This was not the nullification crisis 2.0, shots had already been fired, and the Confederates had been seizing Federal property (with no small amount of help from a certain treasonous secretary of War). The war had already started, it was just a matter of whether or not Lincoln could respond to it without any other states seceding.
     
  3. Butchpfd Well-Known Member

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    If Virginia, stays in the union, then Winfield Scott's protege, and the man he wanted to serve as Commander of the Federal field army, Robert E. Lee is available. Also, Johnson, Jackson, Hill, Early, and Stuart. With the loss of these officers, and to probability that they would have served in the Federal army, especially, imo Lee's own proteges Jackson and Stuart; it would have been a very different war.
     
  4. jbgusa Member

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    Fort Sumter was probably undefendable. And my phrasing was inartful. That being said, my view is that the "war" would have been a mere skirmish without the help of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Those states had vibrant economies. None of the original "cotton states" did. Without some material help the war would have been very short and bloodless. I'll grant you, Texas may have reverted to republic status but otherwise it would not have gone down in history as among the world's bloodiest wars.
    Quite true. Also the nation's capital would not have literally been on the ten yard line. That dubious honor would have fallen to Wilmington, North Carolina, far less important to the Union. Also, the naval blockade would have been far more effective in sealing the Confederacy from exports and imports. Virginia was the economic powerhouse to be reckoned with.

    Also, for some unaccountable reason neither Buchanan nor Lincoln secured the substantial U.S. Navy fleet at Hampton Roads, Virginia, handing the Confederacy what was, at that time, a modern Navy. And Copperhead general McClelland's Virginia campaign was, at best, ineffectual.
     
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  5. AlexG Well-Known Member

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    If Virginia stays the war is over by Christmas 1862 at the very latest. If Virginia, North Carolina AND Tennessee stay in the union, the end result will be too obvious even to the most fanatic secessionists and by virtue of that there won't be a war.

    If by luck of the devil the southerner's are still convinced to wage war then it'll be a curbstomp that ends in the winter of '61 or early summer of 1862 at the latest.
     
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  6. eltf177 Well-Known Member

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    As mentioned, if VA stays then RE Lee doesn't have to make the decision he had to IOTL and Washington isn't on the front line. And as also mentioned the Confederacy doesn't get Hampton Roads, almost 1000 cannons and several ships including the hull of the Steam Frigate MERRIMACK to convert into the ironclad CSS VIRGINIA (I).

    The problem then is that West VA never secedes and modern VA has a real albatross around it's neck...
     
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  7. Cryostorm Monthly Donor

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    But if the Virginias stay one then what became West Virginia would have the assistance of the rest of the state that is not losing its main industry and therefore might not slump as badly.
     
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  8. eltf177 Well-Known Member

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    I'm not betting the homestead on that...
     
  9. m0585 Well-Known Member

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    As others have stated: the war is going to be much different, and much shorter. Virginia supplied the following to the CSA in the Civil War:

    -155,000 men
    -Talented officers: Lee, Stuart, Jackson......just to name a few
    -Large amounts of industry (to include the very critical Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond)

    Provide those assets to the Union and the war is probably over by late 1862.
     
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  10. BELFAST Irish Confederate

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  11. jbgusa Member

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    There is no way that North Carolina would have seceded unless Virginia went out. They would not have lasted long encircled by loyal states. Tennessee, similarly was reluctant; the last to leave. Virginia, one of the key founding states of the Union was a real linchpin.
     
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  12. AlexG Well-Known Member

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    Agreed. Without the legitimacy from having one of the largest and most prestigious states of the Union secede the rest of the border states would most likely have not seceded either.
     
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  13. Marc reformed polymath... Donor

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    Virginia not seceding is almost ASB given the still strong pro-slavery position in that State. They weren't naive about being able to keep slaves for much longer. This would eventually create a major cognitive dissonance.
    In fact, if somehow Virginia didn't secede, I could see a not inconsequential number of Virginians, including some noted officers, offering their services to the Rebellion.
     
  14. Ivan Lupo Well-Known Member

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    The Confederates would be at a severe strategic geographic situation to say the least. With the Union in nearly complete control of the Tennessee River Valley, they have a superior position to strike deep into the Confederate heartland and split it in half. Chattanooga would be the platform from which Federal forces can march on Atlanta and link up with troops advancing from North Carolina.
     
  15. Anarch King of Dipsodes Overlord of All Thirst

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    Lincoln called on Virginia, along with all other states, to supply 75,000 troops for the suppression of "combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings". No particular quota was assigned to any individual state. Virginia, as one of larger states, would be expected to provide between 5,000 and 10,000 men, which is lot more than a "token muster".

    Kudos for noticing this. Virginia had a long border with the free states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

    The fate of Accomack County (Virginia's "Eastern Shore") is obscure. I have seen a passing mention of a Union division being earmarked for an expedition to "clean out" this area in 1862 (but diverted to some other task, the actual subject of the passage). This would imply that Accomack adhered to the secession government in Richmond. Of course, since Chesapeake Bay was controlled by the Union Navy, Accomack was completely isolated, and could not participate in the Confederate war effort in any way.

    North Carolina and Tennessee are considered Upper South states, not border states, as they had no border contact with any free state.

    Virginia, and the rest of the Upper South, were divided between unconditional Unionists, conditional Unionists, and secessionists. The conditional Unionists opposed secession, provided the slavery-related issues were resolved on terms acceptable to the South (including the Deep South). Even after the Deep South states had declared secession, the conditional Unionists still believed such a "compromise" was possible. Surely the Yankees would come to their senses, and yield to the entirely reasonable Southern position. (And surely their excitable neighbors to the South would accept this and rescind secession.)

    Thus in January to March 1861, there was a majority opposed to secession in the Upper South. The leaders of this faction worked quite hard in places to prevent immediate secession. For instance, US Representative Robert Hatton of Tennessee used his Congressional franking privilege to mail thousands of anti-secession pamphlets to Tennesseeans, to help defeat a referendum on holding a secession convention.

    But their position was built on delusion. Lincoln was not going to concede anything. He had already stated his position that he had no power and therefore no inclination to interfere with slavery in any state. I believe that he felt this should be enough for the South.

    And the Deep South had no intention of rescinding secession, regardless of what the Republicans did (short of resigning en masse, perhaps). The Fire-Eaters had persuaded a dominant plurality of Deep South whites that Republican control of the Federal government was an intolerable threat.

    So the crisis was going to come down to force, eventually. And in that case, the conditional Unionists would turn and support secession. For instance, Rep. Hatton became a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. Virginia had already stated what it would do. In January, the Virginia legislature passed a resolution calling for a peaceful resolution of the slavery issues. The resolution also stated that if the issues were not settled peacefully (and therefore on terms acceptable to the South), Virginia would "join her sister Southern states".

    Hardly. While cotton prices had been depressed in the last year or two, the wealth accumulated in earlier boom years remained, and there was plenty of money to be made in tobacco and sugar. IIRC, there were more millionaires in the South.

    Texas's debts were assumed by the Federal government in the Compromise of 1850.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2019
  16. Raferty Well-Known Member

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    The key would be to provoke SC to go beyond its borders and seize Wilmington. An act of aggressiom completely flips the script. Perhaps removing all property from Sumter and the other forts, up to Wilmington, and doing so publicly and deliberately in February and March, gets it done.

    This happened in Kentucky when Polk seized Columbus, and state opinion turned quite rapidly from ambivalently pro-Confederate to somewhat strongly pro-Union everywhere except the South Central portion.

    The Confederacy needed a tipping point to unite.
     
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  17. jbgusa Member

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    There were large population areas without slaves. And that was the hope that they wouldn't secede.
     
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  18. jbgusa Member

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    Actually I read New York Times issues from the early 1961 period. It referred to Virginia as a "border state."

    The source I read said it "never seceded." I suppose that the same troops that locked down Maryland had some dealings in Accomack County.

    Would not at least some Virginians recognize that by seceding and making Richmond the capital the state itself would be devastated?

    Cotton would not have yielded enough income to fight a war, particularly surrounded by a snug naval blockade preventing its export?
     
  19. Marc reformed polymath... Donor

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    No doubt, but a third of Southern households owned slaves (typically between 1-50), and they constituted most of the smallish middle class and nearly all of the upper classes - the political and economic elite of society. Besides the great damage to their losing their slaves, one way or another, there is the cultural issue of chattel black slavery as being deeply woven into daily life and part of the identity and values of that society, regardless of whether they owned slaves themselves.
    Why I find very difficult, as in impossible, to envision Virginia staying in the Union without guarantees about continuing the peculiar institution which they never will get.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2019
  20. Anarch King of Dipsodes Overlord of All Thirst

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    It is interesting to note that...

    Most of the unionists in the Virginia convention were from west of the Alleghenies.

    Unionist constituencies in the east were scattered.

    Except a group of four or five along the Potomac west of Washington. It may be that voters there were worried about being on the front line.
     
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