Revolutionarythought
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Sat Mar 08, 2008 9:31 pm

Coffee Sergeant wrote:OK, well Vicksburg was technically an army but it was more like a large corps (33k Confederate) And the force ratio was over 2 to 1 in favor the Union if wikipedia is right (77k Union). Plus, the forces there pretty much allowed themselves to be cut off. I guess I should qualify my statement was that it was pretty optimisiic unless those force ratios were achieved, combined with inaction on part of the opposition. Armies in those periods lacked the mobility in WWII; the victorious army was nearly as tired out a the defeated army (sometimes more so). There weren't anything like armored divisions that could carry out the encirclement faster than the bulk of the opposition forces could react to it (calvary forces were more used for reconnaissance, screening and raids, not for encirclement)

I'm not sure I would really count Appomattox or the rest of the large surrenders. Those were at the end of the war after every nearly Confederate capital was captured and you have to surrender at some point. And again I think the force balance grossly favored the Union side. I was talking about like the Stalingrad type encirclement where the force ratio was roughly equal, but one side had an advantage in mobility, and strategic surprise.

So I don't think that if say Grant was in control of the Army of the Potomac after Gettysburg that he could have done any better than Meade; the number of men the Union could field was only a little more than that of the CSA if I have my numbers right, in any case it was nowhere near 2 to 1, and Lee was retreating and would not allow himself to be cut off.

The rest of the 'near miss' examples merely prove my point about how difficult strategic encirclement was during the period.


Well, of course strategic encirclement as we know of it in modern warfare was not possible during the American Civil War. That goes without saying.

Now having said that it isn't really fair to compare encirclements in the Second World War to anything that occurred during the ACW. While armies during the ACW period were slower, they were also usually concentrated in a way that you would be unlikely to see today.

And a concentrated army on a single battlefield with its back or flanks to a river makes them vulnerable to the kind of "destruction" we're talking about here.

That there were multiple "near misses," as you put it, illustrates the weakness of concentrated armies operating with an extended line of supply and limited lines of retreat.

Perhaps this is just a "glass half full/glass half empty" argument at its core. You see multiple near misses as an illustration of the difficulty in destroying an army during the ACW, and I see it as an illustration of just how easy it could have been were one or two variables different.

As for the surrender of Lee, I disagree. Lee clearly did not want to surrender simply because the war had to end "sometime." He attempted to withdraw in good order from Petersburg, and move his army south towards Joe Johnston in North Carolina. There the armies were to merge and the war continued.

Unfortunately for Lee, his army was trapped at Appomattox trying to secure supplies which had been unable to get to his army in Petersburg by rail.

It was only after his army was completely encircled and a concentrated attempt to break out by general Gordon had failed that Lee famously "went to see General Grant" despite his desire to face a "thousand deaths" rather than surrender his army.

PDH
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Sat Mar 08, 2008 10:02 pm

One thing to recall from a "large victory at Gettysburg" scenario is that even given the loss of 1/3 of the Union army, there were plenty of reserves available - looking at the Washington garrison in 1863 shows this. Lincoln had sequestered a reserve there, in part response to the previous year's problems of the peninsula and Mac desire to denude the capital.

The losses at a hypothetical large scale loss at Gettysburg could have been made up far faster than is assumed by many.

FM WarB
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Sun Mar 09, 2008 4:36 am

This interesting discussion veers into the "Lost Cause" myth. It was not inevitable that the north would win its difficult job of total conquest. Southern sympathithers propound the Lost Cause myth to glorify the glorious battlefield exploits of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The fact is those victories by Robert E. Lee, which never succeeded in destroying a norhtern army bled his army to death. In 1863, Lee refused to send Longstreet's Corps west, fought and lost at Gettysburg, while Vicksburg and Pemberton's army were lost,,,THEN let Longstreet's corps go west.

In 1862, after 2nd Manassas, Lee had so few troops willing to invade the north that he faced destruction at Antietam, only avoided by the sloth of McClellan. In 1863, he fought his worst battle and even any sort of victory, which would have been unlikely to destroy the Army of the Potomac would have been counterbalanced by Vicksburg.

The game system, which makes stunning Napoleonic battlefield victories unlikely is historically accurate. Give me as Rebs command in the west, with Lee dug in in the east, AND Longstreet's corps in the west in 1863 and lets see if Grant takes Vicksburg.

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Revolutionarythought
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Sun Mar 09, 2008 8:49 am

PDH wrote:One thing to recall from a "large victory at Gettysburg" scenario is that even given the loss of 1/3 of the Union army, there were plenty of reserves available - looking at the Washington garrison in 1863 shows this. Lincoln had sequestered a reserve there, in part response to the previous year's problems of the peninsula and Mac desire to denude the capital.

The losses at a hypothetical large scale loss at Gettysburg could have been made up far faster than is assumed by many.


Have I mentioned how much I love speculating about the "what ifs" of history? :niark:

I would guess that a Confederate victory at Gettysburg would have different effects based on the scale of the "victory."

Had Lee simply defeated the Army of the Potomac, like he had a number of times in Virginia, and only force the Federal army to leave him the field, the Confederate victory would have been muted.

At best in this situation he would have been able to finish taking Harrisburg (something he was about to do), captured the supplies there, and destroyed the rail depot. At that point he would have the option (depending on the actions of the Army of the Potomac) of moving on Philadelphia or demonstrating against Washington.

Most likely Lee's army would have been rather bloodied so I would speculate that he might not wish to continue further North, but who knows.

In this situation there would be pretty significant political ramifications given a Confederate victory in Northern territory. It almost certainly would have exacerbated anti-war sentiment brewing in the North.

Lets not forget that the New York riots were a response to a Union victory at Gettysburg. High casualties and the unpopularity of conscription amongst the poor resulted in an outright Irish revolt in New York city after Gettysburg.

A Confederate victory of this sort would have also bolstered Confederate moral, while harming Federal moral (both in the populace and in the armies) and might have had some impact on European relations with the Confederacy (this is more of stretch given the US position on slavery at this point).

And in the short term, damage to the Union rail depot at Harrisburg and the capture of Federal supplies would have had a tangible tactical and strategic effect.

Now had the Confederates achieved a major victory at Gettysburg, capturing or destroying either part or all of the Army of the Potomac the narrative would be completely different.

This is a rather "long shot" scenario as it involves either the success of Picket's assault on the Union center during the 3rd day of the battle (maybe not even then), a highly speculative scenario based on entirely different battle being fought, or an unknowable situation had the Confederates been more successful on the first and/or second day(s) of the battle.

In this situation the strategic and tactical options of Lee would have been numerous. He could realistically consider moving on any number of targets in the immediate area, cut off Washington DC, etc. In this case Lee probably would have been successful in forcing some of the Union armies in the West to abandon their positions to defend the North.

You could also multiply the political ramifications of such a victory by a 100. If this would not have immediately resulted in European recognition and the United States negotiating a settlement, Lee would have still won an incredible strategic victory.

An entire Union army would have been eliminated, you could cause serious damage to Northern rail and supply production. At the very least you extend the war a year, which would probably have lost Lincoln the election of 1864 and resulted in some sort of negotiated settlement that ended in part of the Confederacy (sans West Virginia, Missouri, and Kentucky) gaining its independence.

Now having said all that, this all speculation of the highest order. So who really knows?

-S

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Sun Mar 09, 2008 9:17 am

FM WarB wrote:This interesting discussion veers into the "Lost Cause" myth. It was not inevitable that the north would win its difficult job of total conquest. Southern sympathithers propound the Lost Cause myth to glorify the glorious battlefield exploits of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The fact is those victories by Robert E. Lee, which never succeeded in destroying a norhtern army bled his army to death. In 1863, Lee refused to send Longstreet's Corps west, fought and lost at Gettysburg, while Vicksburg and Pemberton's army were lost,,,THEN let Longstreet's corps go west.

In 1862, after 2nd Manassas, Lee had so few troops willing to invade the north that he faced destruction at Antietam, only avoided by the sloth of McClellan. In 1863, he fought his worst battle and even any sort of victory, which would have been unlikely to destroy the Army of the Potomac would have been counterbalanced by Vicksburg.

The game system, which makes stunning Napoleonic battlefield victories unlikely is historically accurate. Give me as Rebs command in the west, with Lee dug in in the east, AND Longstreet's corps in the west in 1863 and lets see if Grant takes Vicksburg.


You are right to raise red flags at the thought of the "lost cause." There are very few civil conflicts of this magnitude that are predetermined, and the myth of the "lost cause" has always irked me slightly.

It was true that once the war turned into a war of attrition, if we divorce politics from the equation, that it would be very difficult for the North to lose.

The thing is that nobody at the beginning of the war thought the conflict would last more than a year. It was never on anyone's mind (except Winfield Scott maybe) that the conflict could boil down to a simple equation of population and industrial output.

And even after 1863 when the war began to be distilled down to the "lost cause" equation, it was still possible for the South to win a political victory.

I do not, however agree with you about Lee. Of course there is no man on the face of the earth that can do no wrong, and yes it was incredibly foolish to not send Longstreet to relieve Vicksburg.

However, Lee did consistently win against overwhelming odds with the Army of Northern Virginia. You can make an argument for Lee being weak on strategic offensive generalship, but otherwise he was a brilliant commander.

I could point out to you the tactical success that he had against every Union commander he came up against. In fact, he was successful in almost every engagement fought between himself and General Grant leading up to the siege of Petersburg.

I'd also argue that Sharpsburg was tactically victory for Lee at best and a stalemate at worst. His army could have been very easily destroyed during the battle not just after his withdraw from the field. What is more, I'd also argue that the first and second days at Gettysburg were moderately successful. His "worst" battle was actually only his ill advised assault on the Union center on the third day.

And we could further speculate on the fate of the Confederate army during that battle had Jackson not been killed. The man who replaced him (Ewell) refused to move on Union high ground during the evening of the first day.

This wouldn't be the last time it happened either. Lee eventually replaced Ewell because of similar failures in 1864 (it might have actually been 1865).

-S

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Sun Mar 09, 2008 11:52 am

Antietam / Sharpsburg raises a whole new series of what-ifs.

What if McClellan hadn't dawdled?
What if Hooker's initial attack had been directed at the Nicodemus Farm (seizing the weakly held high-ground on Jackson's left) instead of the Dunker Church?
What if Stuart and Hampton had been unleashed around Hooker's right flank once he committed?
What if Hood had been held back from the corn field / east woods and instead counter-attacked at Bloody Lane? Or his division and D.H. Hill's division had entirely switched places?
What if Sumner had made use of the defilade NW of the middle bridge to flank Bloody Lane?
What if Longstreet and Jackson had switched places?
What if Franklin hadn't dawdled and had held off the reinforcements from Harper's Ferry?
What if Burnside had gone in any direction other than straight at his bridge?
What if Porter's corps had been committed?

Gettysburg is actually less interesting to me. I think Ewell made the right decision there, but his communication with Lee was poor. IMO, the only Confederate chances were in turning the Union left at the Round Tops, or pulling back altogether.
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Revolutionarythought
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Sun Mar 09, 2008 8:51 pm

Jabberwock wrote:Antietam / Sharpsburg raises a whole new series of what-ifs.

What if McClellan hadn't dawdled?
What if Hooker's initial attack had been directed at the Nicodemus Farm (seizing the weakly held high-ground on Jackson's left) instead of the Dunker Church?
What if Stuart and Hampton had been unleashed around Hooker's right flank once he committed?
What if Hood had been held back from the corn field / east woods and instead counter-attacked at Bloody Lane? Or his division and D.H. Hill's division had entirely switched places?
What if Sumner had made use of the defilade NW of the middle bridge to flank Bloody Lane?
What if Longstreet and Jackson had switched places?
What if Franklin hadn't dawdled and had held off the reinforcements from Harper's Ferry?
What if Burnside had gone in any direction other than straight at his bridge?
What if Porter's corps had been committed?

Gettysburg is actually less interesting to me. I think Ewell made the right decision there, but his communication with Lee was poor. IMO, the only Confederate chances were in turning the Union left at the Round Tops, or pulling back altogether.


Yes, I agree with this. Its difficult to second guess Ewell here. In retrospect we could say that if Ewell had moved on the Union high ground on the evening of the first day, that the Confederates may have denied the Federal forces the best terrain, and forced the Union into the position where they were attacking strong Confederate positions.

I also agree the strongest hope for success at Gettysburg lay in the potential capture of Little Roundtop or the general refusal of Lee to engage the Union army on this particular battlefield.

Its also very astute of you to point out that the "what ifs" at Sharpsburg are far more interesting, and potentially history changing, than Gettysburg. In 1862, before emancipation, a Confederate victory against a Union army in Maryland would have most likely ended the war immediately.

-S

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Mon Mar 10, 2008 1:14 am

In regards to Nashville and Vicksburg, if the entire "army" in the region was wiped out, wouldn't you expect substantial, immediate, territorial gains soon after the victory? Because if the entire army is wiped out, there should be little in the way to stop the invaders. Something like what happened after Stalingrad where the entire German southern flank collapsed and they had to fall back hundreds of miles. I know hats not what happened after Vicksburg. It took the North most of 1864 to conquer Mississipi, even though Vicskburg fell in July 1863. I think Nashville had a greater effect, but again, it took another two years to capture Atlanta.

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Mon Mar 10, 2008 2:31 am

Coffee Sergeant wrote:In regards to Nashville and Vicksburg, if the entire "army" in the region was wiped out, wouldn't you expect substantial, immediate, territorial gains soon after the victory? Because if the entire army is wiped out, there should be little in the way to stop the invaders. Something like what happened after Stalingrad where the entire German southern flank collapsed and they had to fall back hundreds of miles. I know hats not what happened after Vicksburg. It took the North most of 1864 to conquer Mississipi, even though Vicskburg fell in July 1863. I think Nashville had a greater effect, but again, it took another two years to capture Atlanta.


The battle of Nashville was in December 1864, months after Atlanta was taken. After the battle there wasn't really any large scale military operations by the CSA in the West.

The Battle of Nashville on Wikipedia

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Mon Mar 10, 2008 9:34 am

Three points in regards to Vicksburg vis-a-vis Stalingrad:

Joe Johnston, Forrest, & Taylor were all still in the general area.

Look at the civilian loyalties. The Russians had to use comparatively fewer resouces to regain territory, because they didn't have to 'pacify' it, or worry as much about supply line security.

WW2 forces generally had greater mobility, even in Russia.
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FM WarB
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Mon Mar 10, 2008 11:16 pm

Blaming Ewell at Gettysburg is part of the lost cause myth which contends if only Jackson had been there... Meade's original Pipe creak plan envisaged the union army taking up a strong defensive position south of Gettysburg and having Lee attack him. If (and there is debate about this, too) Ewell could have pushed the Federals off of Culp's hill on day one, the union army could have established the Pipe creek position, and Lee might just have attacked them and lost there.
Antietam was probably the one chance for a really decicive battle in the war, thus the what ifs of it are fascinating. Lee's heavily outnumbered army was fighting with a river at its back. Someone should have given little Mac an account of the battle of Friedland. He could have out-Napoleoned Lee!

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Could the South win?

Tue Mar 11, 2008 1:25 am

Well they had one great advantage. Look at it this way. They din't have to win. They just dint have to lose. The fate of the South was really in the hands of the North. The South could just sit there and do nothing and win as long as the North did the same. The North had to decide if they really wanted to make the effort. Politicaly much more dangerous to go to war and lose than to take the safe course and be "for peace".
So I think they had a chance to win. But as we see, The North chose to fight. After it started the Souths only real hope was to hunker down and hope they could take more punishment than the North. Which by the way almost worked. If lincoln lost the election to the democrats, who were running on a peace ticket, it would have likley resulted in the North stopping any offensive action. And a negotiated peace would have resulted.

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Tue Mar 11, 2008 9:53 am

beeper wrote:Well they had one great advantage. Look at it this way. They din't have to win. They just dint have to lose. The fate of the South was really in the hands of the North. The South could just sit there and do nothing and win as long as the North did the same. The North had to decide if they really wanted to make the effort. Politicaly much more dangerous to go to war and lose than to take the safe course and be "for peace".
So I think they had a chance to win. But as we see, The North chose to fight. After it started the Souths only real hope was to hunker down and hope they could take more punishment than the North. Which by the way almost worked. If lincoln lost the election to the democrats, who were running on a peace ticket, it would have likley resulted in the North stopping any offensive action. And a negotiated peace would have resulted.


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