Discussion The Confederacy's Fatal Mistake.

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
Bad Lincoln! Bad Lincoln!

Geez, I get so tired over what Lincoln did or did not do to avoid a Civil War.

@Viper21 , called it. If the Confederacy had NOT fired on Ft. Sumter and just waited, Lincoln would be in a real fix. Either do nothing or do something.

Thankfully, the Confederacy and Jeff Davis made that call for Lincoln and hundreds of thousands of Union volunteers.
 

Piedone

Corporal
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
What Lincoln would do about secession is problematic, because that was subsumed into the large issue of War.

One cannot judge Lincolns words and action without reference to the bombardment and reduction of Ft. sumpter

The attack on Sumpter was a clear act of War, to which Lincoln had to respond or face the very clear danger of impeachment or worse, as evidenced by the Northern publics response to the attack.

The issue of peace or war had been settled by the csa. There was to be war, and Lincolns responsibility as President was to try to get ahead of it and control it as best he could. The Sword was drawn and the scabbard thrown away, by Davis. It is no good for people to cry peace, Peace, when there is no Peace.
On a first look it was indeed anything but a clever idea to bombard Fort Sumter.

But I´d like to emphasize that Virginia most probably wouldn´t have chosen secession without that call for 75000 volunteers (how understandable and justified those call most probably was), and without Virginia seceding the Confederacy most probably wouldn´t have stood a chance at all.

Hence I thought:

If the Confederates had NOT bombed Fort Sumter,
Lincoln (probably) would NOT have called for volunteers,
hence Virginia would NOT have seceded,
and this would have doomed the secession movement.

Hence: To a secessionist protagonist the idea to bomb Fort Sumter could have seemed to be a splendid idea...

Of course in such a heated atmosphere and with so many fire-eating newspapers around nobody could be expected to keep a cool mind. But just think what could have happened if Lincoln wouldn´t have reacted (or just had waited until Virginia chose sides...) - and Virginia wouldn´t have seceded....

But I am playing the old would-have-should-have-could-have-game....

And I do NOT want to denounce Lincoln!
 

Andersonh1

Brigadier General
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Location
South Carolina
If the Confederates had NOT bombed Fort Sumter,
Lincoln (probably) would NOT have called for volunteers,
hence Virginia would NOT have seceded,
and this would have doomed the secession movement.

I tend to think that the longer the Confederacy sat there, in peace, with independence as a de facto reality, the better off they would have been, even without Virginia and the other border States. I don't think they were doomed at all, not in the short term. Long term prosperity probably would have involved greatly increasing industrial capabilities and building a navy. I think firing on Sumter was the fatal mistake, even though I understand why they felt they had to do it.

I do think conflict would have broken out sooner or later. At some point, someone would have attempted to enforce United States law inside the borders of one of the Confederate States, and that would not have gone well. Maybe it wouldn't have been a full scale military action like Sumter, but even if it was a "diplomatic incident" things would likely escalate. The longer things stayed quiet and peaceful, the better off the CS was. They needed to gain all the time they could, and they did not do that.
 
On a first look it was indeed anything but a clever idea to bombard Fort Sumter.

But I´d like to emphasize that Virginia most probably wouldn´t have chosen secession without that call for 75000 volunteers (how understandable and justified those call most probably was), and without Virginia seceding the Confederacy most probably wouldn´t have stood a chance at all.

Hence I thought:

If the Confederates had NOT bombed Fort Sumter,
Lincoln (probably) would NOT have called for volunteers,
hence Virginia would NOT have seceded,
and this would have doomed the secession movement.

Hence: To a secessionist protagonist the idea to bomb Fort Sumter could have seemed to be a splendid idea...

Of course in such a heated atmosphere and with so many fire-eating newspapers around nobody could be expected to keep a cool mind. But just think what could have happened if Lincoln wouldn´t have reacted (or just had waited until Virginia chose sides...) - and Virginia wouldn´t have seceded....

But I am playing the old would-have-should-have-could-have-game....

And I do NOT want to denounce Lincoln!

I believe that with the attack on Ft. Sumter, Virginia was going to secede with or without Lincoln's proclamation.
Once the Virginia Convention's Committee on Federal Relations formulated an ultimatum to the Federal Government during March 1861...an ultimatum that most assuredly would meet with Federal disapproval...the secession mode was in full swing at a convention with decreasing Unionist support. Remaining Unionists were being threatened with physical violence if they did not vote for secession and the Richmond newspapers were printing false reports of Blacks securing government jobs in Washington with the warning that the same thing was going to happen to the Southern states under Lincoln. This was all prior to Lincoln's April 15, 1861 call for the militia. On April 16th the Convention went into secret session with knowledge of Lincoln's callup for Virginia troops. Convention delegate Robert Eden Scott pointed out that the border states had all rejected Lincoln's troop request and still remained in the Union while delegate Wiliam Preston went ahead and proposed a vote on secession. Following Preston's proposal, Jubal Early went on record denouncing secession with a warning that "a great crime was about [to be] perpetuated against the cause of liberty and civilization." The session adjourned until the next day with no vote taken on secession. Governor Letcher's rejection letter to Lincoln was read on the following day, the 17th, to the delegates which led to debate over a motion to allow a state-wide referendum which would have allowed the people to vote for immediate secession or join a conference of border states in May. The motion was defeated which led to former Virginia governor Henry Wise, taking the floor. He pulled a revolver out of his coat, denounced the state leader's failure to pull Virginia out of the Union and threatened the assembled delegates. Pulling a watch out of his pocket he told the Convention:
"I know the fact, as well as I can know it without being present at either the time or place, that there is a probability that blood will be flowing at Harper's Ferry before night. I know the fact that the harbor of Norfolk has been obstructed last night by the sinking of vessels. I know the fact that at this moment a force is on its way to Harper's Ferry to prevent the reinforcement of the Federal troops at that point. I am told it is already being reinforced by 1,000 men from the Black Republican ranks. I know the fact that your Governor has ordered reinforcements there to back our own citizens and to protect our lives and our arms. In the midst of a scene like this, when an attempt is made by our troops to capture the navy yard, and seize the Armory at Harper's Ferry, we are here indulging in foolish debates, the only result of which must be delay, and, perhaps, ruins."
Proceedings of the Virginia State Convention of 1861, Vol. 4, pg. 124

Here you have a former governor who's a current delegate to the Convention revealing that Union property has been destroyed and armed militia at the order of the current Virginia governor Letcher, is enroute to seize Federal installations prior to secession by the convention and prior to ratification of the vote by the people. When delegate John B. Baldwin made comment that he would not vote for secession and that he would advise the people to disobey the orders of Governor Letcher, Henry Wise responded that it was too late to recall the force. Following a few delegate comments that the action by Letcher was a declaration of war against the government or that secession would lead to war, many delegates expressed their resolution that a military response from Washington was now imminent but they were Virginians first and they would go with Virginia. Following the comments of the delegates, Wise asked "for the yeas and nays upon the adoption of the ordinance." It was adopted on the evening of April 17th with 88 yeas and 55 nays. My reading of the proceedings of the 17th indicate that among the delegates there was very little discussion about Lincoln's actual proclamation but that it centered around past perceived wrongs of the federal government and Letcher's militia forces enroute to Harper's Ferry and Gosport Navy Yard. As I previously stated, I believe that Virginia's secession had been in the planning stages from at least the earliest days of Sumter if not before, and that Lincoln's proclamation for troops may have been an added catalyst for Wise, the other dis-Unionists and even some former Unionists turned secessionists, to strengthen their resolve but it was not the main ingredient for her reasons in seceding. My humble 2 cents worth.
 

jackt62

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Location
New York City
But I´d like to emphasize that Virginia most probably wouldn´t have chosen secession without that call for 75000 volunteers (how understandable and justified those call most probably was), and without Virginia seceding the Confederacy most probably wouldn´t have stood a chance at all.
For sure Virginia's location, population, and infrastructure made it a desirable partner for the Confederacy. And the bombardment of Ft. Sumter with Lincoln's immediate call for volunteers provided the trigger that brought Virginia and other states in the upper South into the Confederacy. But regardless of that particular trigger event, Virginia had important reasons for ultimately siding with the Confederacy. To begin with, by the 1850's, a key component of Virginia's investment in slavery had to do with the fact that Virginia saw a profitable business in selling its slaves to slaveholders who were expanding production in the cotton and sugar belt of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. This trade would have been all but wiped out had Virginia remained with the Union. Furthermore, staying in the Union would have imposed new pressure on Virginia slaveholders who would no longer be part of a major bloc of slave owning states that had heretofore had tremendous power over the institutions of the federal government. Even though Unionist sentiment was strong in Virginia (and which had defeated the original move to secede), the economic and cultural power of Virginia's tidewater elite was such that secession was probably inevitable.
 

Piedone

Corporal
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
I tend to think that the longer the Confederacy sat there, in peace, with independence as a de facto reality, the better off they would have been, even without Virginia and the other border States. I don't think they were doomed at all, not in the short term. Long term prosperity probably would have involved greatly increasing industrial capabilities and building a navy. I think firing on Sumter was the fatal mistake, even though I understand why they felt they had to do it.

I do think conflict would have broken out sooner or later. At some point, someone would have attempted to enforce United States law inside the borders of one of the Confederate States, and that would not have gone well. Maybe it wouldn't have been a full scale military action like Sumter, but even if it was a "diplomatic incident" things would likely escalate. The longer things stayed quiet and peaceful, the better off the CS was. They needed to gain all the time they could, and they did not do that.
Yes, this might have been the most promising course to the CS - especially as I recall a thread of @wausabob in which he said that the states of the Confederacy weren't not anymore that relevant to the economy of the US and that the North could do surprisingly well without the South.

But IF a peaceful solution was not to be...well...then the CS most probably needed the manpower and (probably more than that) the industrial capacity of Virginia...

Somehow - when reading sources - I've often got (somehow strange) the impression that the Confederates-to be acted not so much calculated but very much emotionally, they seem to have felt real bitterness and resentment and saw themselves as outrageously mistreated (whatever WE may think about that stance...and it's motivations).
If that impression should be correct....well....then it would have been extremely difficult to them to stay quiet and peaceful.

But I deem it somehow difficult to expect cool and calculated acting from anybody in such an overheated atmosphere -
it's maybe not correct to detect character deficits or dumbness or recklessness in individuals that didn't maintain a peaceful attitude under such conditions. Maybe the train was just running down the tracks fast already...
 

Piedone

Corporal
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
For sure Virginia's location, population, and infrastructure made it a desirable partner for the Confederacy. And the bombardment of Ft. Sumter with Lincoln's immediate call for volunteers provided the trigger that brought Virginia and other states in the upper South into the Confederacy. But regardless of that particular trigger event, Virginia had important reasons for ultimately siding with the Confederacy. To begin with, by the 1850's, a key component of Virginia's investment in slavery had to do with the fact that Virginia saw a profitable business in selling its slaves to slaveholders who were expanding production in the cotton and sugar belt of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. This trade would have been all but wiped out had Virginia remained with the Union. Furthermore, staying in the Union would have imposed new pressure on Virginia slaveholders who would no longer be part of a major bloc of slave owning states that had heretofore had tremendous power over the institutions of the federal government. Even though Unionist sentiment was strong in Virginia (and which had defeated the original move to secede), the economic and cultural power of Virginia's tidewater elite was such that secession was probably inevitable.
Your and @Copperhead-mi ´s post are extremely informative. Thank you very much. As far as I know I always thought a first convention rejected the idea of secession - if that's correct: do one of you know what motivations led to that first rejection?
 

atlantis

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 12, 2016
For sure Virginia's location, population, and infrastructure made it a desirable partner for the Confederacy. And the bombardment of Ft. Sumter with Lincoln's immediate call for volunteers provided the trigger that brought Virginia and other states in the upper South into the Confederacy. But regardless of that particular trigger event, Virginia had important reasons for ultimately siding with the Confederacy. To begin with, by the 1850's, a key component of Virginia's investment in slavery had to do with the fact that Virginia saw a profitable business in selling its slaves to slaveholders who were expanding production in the cotton and sugar belt of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. This trade would have been all but wiped out had Virginia remained with the Union. Furthermore, staying in the Union would have imposed new pressure on Virginia slaveholders who would no longer be part of a major bloc of slave owning states that had heretofore had tremendous power over the institutions of the federal government. Even though Unionist sentiment was strong in Virginia (and which had defeated the original move to secede), the economic and cultural power of Virginia's tidewater elite was such that secession was probably inevitable.
To secede without Kentucky seceding and to do so before north Carolina or Tennessee was reckless. Not only was western Virginia connected economically to the mid-west but tidewater was connected economically to Baltimore. Secession in Virginia was little more than a coup by pro slavery democrats.
 

atlantis

Sergeant Major
Joined
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Your and @Copperhead-mi ´s post are extremely informative. Thank you very much. As far as I know I always thought a first convention rejected the idea of secession - if that's correct: do one of you know what motivations led to that first rejection?
Pro slavery democrats at least enough of them during the first convention still believed they could protect slavery and their political power in the union.
 

Piedone

Corporal
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Pro slavery democrats at least enough of them during the first convention still believed they could protect slavery and their political power in the union.
But...if they wouldn't have chosen secession....they would have done so - wouldn't they?

I deem Jubal Early´s political stance in the Virginia convention at that time quite revealing - but seemingly I was a bit misguided as I thought that it was more common / typical than it seems to have been.
 

Mike Griffith

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Joined
Jun 22, 2014
The Confederacy's Fatal Mistake
March is the month that Lincoln was inaugurated for the first time. It is also the month that marks the manifestation of the Confederacy's fatal mistake. The South Carolina hot heads had tried on the secession thing on Andrew Jackson... he threatened to start hanging traitors as he crossed the border & keep at it until his horse stepped into salt water. Not even the South Carolina hot heads were out to lunch enough to not take Jackson at his word. President James Buchanan, on the other hand, was the perfect victim of their bully boy tactics. Look at it from their perspective, Buchanan was an empty suit & Lincoln was just a country lawyer from Illinois. It was a perfect opportunity.

Step one was to shower media outlets with lies about what an extremist Lincoln was. Then, having created the straw man, they went on to create a myth of victimhood. Lincoln's going to free your slaves! Lincoln wants our daughters are going to date black boys! The god given right of white men to hold black human beings as property is going to be taken away by Lincoln! I will not quote the extreme & obscene characterizations of Lincoln that filled the pages of Southern newspapers. Having created a ten foot tall ape like bug-a-boo, South Carolina & many other states used that straw man as their excuse for seceding. After all, what had they to fear from a country bumpkin lawyer who had never held office for more than a single term years ago.

Who can argue with their logic? The poor man was going to be sworn in with secession an accomplished fact. The Yankees couldn't fight & surely would not rally to a goof like Lincoln's call to arms. Everybody knew that the slaves were loyal, loved their masters & in any case were constitutionally incapable of independent thought or action. During the brief time it would take for superior Southern manhood to dispatch the Yankee shopkeepers, the loyal slaves would gladly hold down the fort at home. Neighbors who did not own slaves would be honor bound to fight to the last ditch to protect the property rights of their more fortunate neighbors. Everybody knew all this to be true.

On the face of it in March 1861, who would bet on Lincoln being able to cope with the fire hot drive for secession? There was absolutely nothing in his background to indicate that he was anything but a run of the mill Western deal making politician. The exhalation amongst the South Carolina hot heads & secessionists was one long hosanna to the highest. Their time had come at last & this ape like bumpkin was not going to get in their way. Of course, we know differently.

They had made a fatal strategic mistake of the first order. Even before he assumed power, Lincoln was writing letters & gathering his supporters. A mob of men surrounded Lincoln who were absolutely convinced that they could do a better job than Lincoln any day & only sought to make him their puppet. Generals with delusions of grandeur like MacClellan treated him with sneering disrespect. How & from where Lincoln gathered the intellectual & moral strength to reign them all in is unknowable. From what inner wellspring he gathered the spirit to grow exponentially as a Commander & Chief is unknowable.

The one thing that is knowable is that the secessionists made a profound, fatal strategic mistake when they underestimated Lincoln. The one thing they though they knew for sure turned out to be the one thing that guaranteed they would fail... history is an amazing thing, don't you know?

That's a pretty biased version of the events that led to secession and the war. You said nothing about the actions of the Radical Republicans and their sabotaging of the compromise efforts, efforts that had widespread support in both sections.

And McClellan had no "delusions of grandeur," and he had every reason to be frustrated with Lincoln's bungling micromanagement--which micromanagement was, to be fair to Lincoln, foisted on him by Stanton and other Radicals.
 

atlantis

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 12, 2016
That's a pretty biased version of the events that led to secession and the war. You said nothing about the actions of the Radical Republicans and their sabotaging of the compromise efforts, efforts that had widespread support in both sections.

And McClellan had no "delusions of grandeur," and he had every reason to be frustrated with Lincoln's bungling micromanagement--which micromanagement was, to be fair to Lincoln, foisted on him by Stanton and other Radicals.
No compromise would have been acceptable to the fire eaters either the US was going to be a white republic or a African despotism . The fire eaters loved their negro slaves more than their fellow whites. The US construct of 1 political system 2 economies wasn't going to work anymore.
 

atlantis

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Joined
Nov 12, 2016
It was a fatal mistake to focus on size of army instead of quality of army. The population simply didn't exist to conscript their way to victory. They did not have the resources to waste so careful management of resources should have been a must, yet time after time we see material abandoned or destroyed that should have been removed.
 

Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
That's a pretty biased version of the events that led to secession and the war. You said nothing about the actions of the Radical Republicans and their sabotaging of the compromise efforts, efforts that had widespread support in both sections.

And McClellan had no "delusions of grandeur," and he had every reason to be frustrated with Lincoln's bungling micromanagement--which micromanagement was, to be fair to Lincoln, foisted on him by Stanton and other Radicals.
I wasn’t writing a textbook, merely framing the context for a conversation. Why don’t you post a thread about the pre-war Radical Republicans?

Call it what you will, the letter to his wife that peolple wanted him to become dictator fits my definition of delusional thinking. What word would you use to describe McClellan’s self aggrandizement?
 

shooter too

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Mar 4, 2021
And McClellan had no "delusions of grandeur," and he had every reason to be frustrated with Lincoln's bungling micromanagement--which micromanagement was, to be fair to Lincoln, foisted on him by Stanton and other Radicals.


McClellan and micro-management is a misnomer similar too the old saw about military intelligence, and the ultimate end-game.

Little Nap my ***.
 

Piedone

Corporal
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
I wasn’t writing a textbook, merely framing the context for a conversation. Why don’t you post a thread about the pre-war Radical Republicans?

Call it what you will, the letter to his wife that peolple wanted him to become dictator fits my definition of delusional thinking. What word would you use to describe McClellan’s self aggrandizement?
I am quite convinced that self-aggrandizement was an endemic problem with victorians in charge. You can experience it everywhere in that age - and it led to some of the most impressive blunders in the chronicles of human history.
A lot of them seem to have believed that impressing whiskers and steely eyes are just everything somebody needed to succeed.
Maybe the award for perfecting that attitude goes to the french emperor Napoleon III. ...
 

Piedone

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Oct 8, 2020
No compromise would have been acceptable to the fire eaters either the US was going to be a white republic or a African despotism . The fire eaters loved their negro slaves more than their fellow whites. The US construct of 1 political system 2 economies wasn't going to work anymore.
I am not so sure how much in reality the people of the South loved their slaves.
There seems to have been always an undercurrent of fear in that society that could develop to real hysteria when things happened that were (even in the least) evocative to the slave uprising in Haiti.
 
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