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4: Strategical Aspects

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  1. Advance and Defense
  2. Infrastructure

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1. Advance and Defense

Somehow it may seem that the South should have had the advantage during the war, as her task was just defense. But that's usually an - however understandable - misapprehension[1].

Over the long term, the South left the initiative to the North while simply defending her territory. There had been attempts to do otherwise, to actually gain territory, but the main line had to be defense - while the North could do nothing else but attacking enemy territory. The advancing party thus carries the most risks, especially when moving into little known territory. Yet it also carries all the gains: What is gained, is gained; what isn't, isn't. But there are no true losses - enemy territory is always a bonus, and as long as the home country stays unaffected, the advance can proceed.

War is not about hesitating, it is about striking the enemy. Small raids won't do that, neither more or less unconcerted action. Grant was prepared to actually go to war - he was prepared to break Southern resistance by force. This method may not seem very considerate towards his men, but his aim was clear: To end this war. In finally doing so, he may actually have saved lives.

In the almost stereotypical contrast between Lee and Grant, past and modern styles of leadership can be seen. Grant isn't anymore the gentleman leader, neat and tidy, posing in a shiny uniform, trying to wage war as if he was going to a picknick. Grant is a warrior, prepared to make sacrifices - prepared also to sacrifice his men to end the war. His approach is pragmatic, simple and effective. Lee, the gentleman, may appear more appealing to the non-fighting audience, but he stands for a style of warfare which had already been outdated at that time. Others in the Southern army, like Stonewall Jackson, may not have shared Lee's style, yet it was the final confrontation between Lee and Grant which decided the war[2].

2. Infrastructure

The North furthermore had the naval potential to enact a blockade against the South, which proved effective in disrupting Southern naval activities and restricting Cotton export to Europe. But it was not the North that impeded Southern economy and reinforcements the most - it was the South herself.

The tricky part in a war isn't just attacking, it is holding the occupied territory, fortifying one's positions and organizing reinforcements. The latter can be done either by using the ressources of the vicinity or by actually getting supplies from back home, for which roads and especially the railroad can play a decisive role.

The North excelled in infrastructure in comparison to the South, whose railroad system was in disastrous shape. The South wasn't designed as a battlefield. The defunct economic infrastructure hit back with a vengeance, for its side effects at wartime became visible now. The South had the clear "advantage" in that the fight mostly was fought on her own territory - thus enabling the military to get supplies from friendly neighbors.

But infrastructure also means industry, of which the South had virtually none, again, due to the monocultural economy which was so suitable for slavery, and vice versa. The North waged war almost disinterestedly and hesitantly. She barely used all of her ressources, and if she had done so, the war could've been ended much sooner. The South, however, was on the verge of collapse - and her ressources, both manpower and weaponry, spent.

The South was also isolated politically. No European state would have allied herself with a country owing her existence to the use of slavery, not after slave trade had been banned since 1814 at the latest, the US having banned it in 1808, Britain in 1807 and Denmark already in 1792. The French had emancipated their slaves in 1848, the Dutch in 1863. Thus the international opinion had no choice but to stick with the North.

Internal ruptures in the Southern Confederacy further complicated the scene. The Confederacy was in no way a unified state - it was a loose construction of individual states joined only to defend their common interests. Once secession has been established as a means of solving differences, the occurrence of further secesions is only a matter of time, again due to the wrong understanding of democracy as a kind of anarchy.

Given all that, the Southern cause proved to be an utterly weak one, and its demise unavoidable.

October 26th/27th, 2000

previous: part 3   ·   next: part 5

Endnotes - Part 4

[1] cf. listserv response "Momentum in War"
[2] cf. the chapter on Grant in: John Keegan. The Mask of Command.

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