The Contradictions of Shelby Foote

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CanadianCanuck

Sergeant
Joined
Nov 21, 2014
It's a statement that can be read a few different ways, that's for certain.

Foote's right --and he's wrong. He's right in the sense that the Confederacy was outmatched in nearly every material category that mattered in the winning of wars, and, provided the Union stayed committed to reunion, their chances of success were not great.

He's wrong in the sense that the Union's commitment to reunion was in no way a guaranteed, inevitable thing; it only looks inevitable after the fact.
I agree with this. It's very easy to look back in hindsight and conclude that things were destined to go the way they did, and people will often commit the historians fallacy and conclude that is the case. While I personally maintain that some events are very difficult to change, I also maintain that very little is outright impossible to change in history.
 

cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Right here.
And I would reply that the only people who think this are trying to insult the intelligence of those who disagree with them in an attempt to silence them. I don't think it's crazy to think the south had a chance, but I certainly don't think it's crazy to look at it from the beginning and say they didn't have a chance.
Maybe not crazy, but that view does ignore many advantages the confederacy had.

Of course, like I said above, Foote probably did not mean to be taken 100% literally in every sense, but was used to drive home a point. In celebration of March Madness, I will use the following example: A #16 seed has no chance of beating a #1 seed in the first round. Of course they have a very small chance, but so far it has never happened.
But they often cover the spread. :smile:
 

hanna260

Sergeant Major
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Mar 1, 2015
Location
Just Around the Riverbend
I agree with this. It's very easy to look back in hindsight and conclude that things were destined to go the way they did, and people will often commit the historians fallacy and conclude that is the case. While I personally maintain that some events are very difficult to change, I also maintain that very little is outright impossible to change in history.
What I was trying to say but much better. Thank you, CanadianCanuck. :smile:
 
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CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Location
Laurinburg NC
I’ve always liked the late Brian Pohanka explanation:

“The South lost because it had inferior resources in every aspect of military personnel and equipment. That's an old-fashioned answer. Lots of people will be scornful of it. But a ratio of twenty-one million to seven million in population comes out the same any way you look at it.The basic problem was numbers. Give Abraham Lincoln seven million men and give Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee twenty-one million, and cognitive dissonance doesn't matter, European recognition doesn't matter, the Emancipation Proclamation and its ripple effect don't matter. Twenty-one to seven is a very different thing than seven to twenty-one.”
Brian Pohanka
 

Billy Yank

First Sergeant
Joined
May 31, 2013
Location
Putnam County, IL
I must confess there were several lowpoints (with the Copperheads piling-on) that very easily could have brought a depressed Commander-in-Chief to the brink of throwing in the towel...especially when the casualty lists came in from the major battles. I think what kept Lincoln going was his strong belief in what he was doing was the absolute right thing to do.
 

Allie

Captain
Joined
Dec 17, 2014
With all due respect to you and your opinions, I do think it's a little crazy to look at it from the beginning and say they didn't have a chance. That's operating by hindsight- as much as we try, we don't know what could have happened, we don't know the kinds of dominoes that could have occurred because of the smallest of actions, we don't know what kind of weird things could have come up. We can look at the odds and say that the South was unlikely to win but that the South never had a chance is kind of an absolute statement. Absolutes are tricky because we can look at history with our eyes sideways and a stack of books at our sides, and we all know what happened- but ultimately we have no clue about the possibilities.

Dang. Rereading that paragraph, does that make any sense?
I agree with this. It's very easy to look back in hindsight and conclude that things were destined to go the way they did, and people will often commit the historians fallacy and conclude that is the case. While I personally maintain that some events are very difficult to change, I also maintain that very little is outright impossible to change in history.
Hanna, it does make sense but I still disagree with you. :wink: This seems to be an argument about the use of language.

Although nothing is ever certain, if a surly guy at a bar picks a fight with a professional martial artist who also has a holstered gun on his belt, it is reasonable to say after the fact that he "had no chance." Sure, it's possible that the martial artist would slip and hit his head on the coffee table, have a stroke and die, or simply decide that he wasn't willing to fight this idiot. It's possible that the neighborhood surly bully might find out that despite his complete lack of experience or preparation he can take this guy. But neither of those is the way to bet, and it's putting too nice a point on it to say, when people are standing over his unconscious body and shaking their heads, "Well you couldn't know that." In an existential sense no one can really know anything - but most of us accept that and get on with the process of making predictions based on available data.

In 1861 the available data said that the South would be at a serious disadvantage in a fight. It's not armchair generalship nor historian's fallacy to point that out. People with sense said so at the time.
 
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hanna260

Sergeant Major
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Hanna, it does make sense but I still disagree with you. :wink: This seems to be an argument about the use of language.

Although nothing is ever certain, if a surly guy at a bar picks a fight with a professional martial artist who also has a holstered gun on his belt, it is reasonable to say after the fact that he "had no chance." Sure, it's possible that the martial artist would slip and hit his head on the coffee table, have a stroke and die, or simply decide that he wasn't willing to fight this idiot. It's possible that the neighborhood surly bully might find out that despite his complete lack of experience or preparation he can take this guy. But neither of those is the way to bet, and it's putting too nice a point on it to say, when people are standing over his unconscious body and shaking their heads, "Well you couldn't know that." In an existential sense no one can really know anything - but most of us accept that and get on with the process of making predictions based on available data.

In 1861 the available data said that the South would be at a serious disadvantage in a fight. It's not armchair generalship nor historian's fallacy to point that out. People with sense said so at the time.
Nice to know it makes sense. :smile: And sure the South had dis-advantages- though that does lead to questions about who thought it was a great idea to secede and who thought that it was a great idea to try to secede for four years after those disadvantages started coming into starker focus. But saying that the odds were against the south is still something far different then saying they had no chance. They had a chance. Though unlikely, there was foreign aid, the North getting tired, etc. Saying that they had no chance seems to be a bit of a cop-out- yes that's why we lost, it had nothing to do with anything the North was doing, we can't be blamed, as some posters were saying earlier in the thread far better than me. Saying that they had some disadvantages is just historical fact.

So, yes it does seem to be an argument about language. I have no problem with saying "disadvantages" or "odds were against them", though I know that some people (edit: see cash below) would debate that. I do have a problem with "no chance to win the war" and "it's perfectly fine for people 150 years later to look back and say there was no chance to win the war", as I think the person I was originally replying to said.
 
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cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Right here.
I’ve always liked the late Brian Pohanka explanation:

“The South lost because it had inferior resources in every aspect of military personnel and equipment. That's an old-fashioned answer. Lots of people will be scornful of it. But a ratio of twenty-one million to seven million in population comes out the same any way you look at it.The basic problem was numbers. Give Abraham Lincoln seven million men and give Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee twenty-one million, and cognitive dissonance doesn't matter, European recognition doesn't matter, the Emancipation Proclamation and its ripple effect don't matter. Twenty-one to seven is a very different thing than seven to twenty-one.”
Brian Pohanka
Brian Pohanka didn't say that. Robert K. Krick said it. Krick has said a lot of things that are right, and he's said a lot of things that don't hold up.
 

cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Right here.
Hanna, it does make sense but I still disagree with you. :wink: This seems to be an argument about the use of language.

Although nothing is ever certain, if a surly guy at a bar picks a fight with a professional martial artist who also has a holstered gun on his belt, it is reasonable to say after the fact that he "had no chance." Sure, it's possible that the martial artist would slip and hit his head on the coffee table, have a stroke and die, or simply decide that he wasn't willing to fight this idiot. It's possible that the neighborhood surly bully might find out that despite his complete lack of experience or preparation he can take this guy. But neither of those is the way to bet, and it's putting too nice a point on it to say, when people are standing over his unconscious body and shaking their heads, "Well you couldn't know that." In an existential sense no one can really know anything - but most of us accept that and get on with the process of making predictions based on available data.

In 1861 the available data said that the South would be at a serious disadvantage in a fight. It's not armchair generalship nor historian's fallacy to point that out. People with sense said so at the time.
The problem is that it would take time to bring those resources the Union had to bear. Even with the population advantage, even with the industrial advantage, even with the advantage of having the savvy Abraham Lincoln at the helm the Union almost lost. The confederacy had its own advantages that have to be taken into account. Operating on interior lines, operating mostly on the defensive, and having a large territory that had to be conquered were formidable advantages. Add to that they were fortunate in that their best generals were concentrated in the East, where they could win the war, while the best Union generals were mostly in the West. In the East, where they could win the war, geography favored them as well. The rivers were obstacles for Union forces and the Shenandoah Valley was an invasion route toward Washington for the confederates and a route to nowhere for the Union. The institution of slavery allowed the confederates to mobilize an unprecedented percentage of their white male population of military age.
 
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diane

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
Unfortunately for Retreatin' Joe he only understood a part of the equation. They didn't have to win, but they also had to avoid losing.

By retreating he gave up land, he gave up the opportunity to lower Union morale, he allowed Union morale to rise, and worst of all he gave up enslaved people on the plantations and farms that he left in his wake. That represented lost labor to the confederacy and, after January 1, 1863, more recruits for the Federals.
That's all true but if he could tread water until the North either tired of the war, elected a different president or finally recognized the Confederacy, he would regain all that had been lost. But, as you say, he ignored the morale of the Southern people. They wanted to see something concrete, like a big win, and his strategy looked to them a whole lot like losing. Enter Hood!
 

cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
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Location
Right here.
That's all true but if he could tread water until the North either tired of the war, elected a different president or finally recognized the Confederacy, he would regain all that had been lost. But, as you say, he ignored the morale of the Southern people. They wanted to see something concrete, like a big win, and his strategy looked to them a whole lot like losing. Enter Hood!
While Retreatin' Joe was treading water, the Union was gaining the time to bring its advantage in resources to bear.

Joe's strategy looked a whole lot like losing because that was exactly what it was.
 

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Location
Laurinburg NC
That's all true but if he could tread water until the North either tired of the war, elected a different president or finally recognized the Confederacy, he would regain all that had been lost. But, as you say, he ignored the morale of the Southern people. They wanted to see something concrete, like a big win, and his strategy looked to them a whole lot like losing. Enter Hood!
Joseph E. Johnson was the wrong general to defend Atlanta, or any other static location, but a good choice to defend against a march to the sea. Sherman would have had real supply problems as he moved across Georgia, I don’t see Sherman foraging on a forty mile swath with Johnston army in his front and Confederate cavalry in his rear.
 
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Allie

Captain
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The problem is that it would take time to bring those resources the Union had to bear. Even with the population advantage, even with the industrial advantage, even with the advantage of having the savvy Abraham Lincoln at the helm the Union almost lost. The confederacy had its own advantages that have to be taken into account. Operating on interior lines, operating mostly on the defensive, and having a large territory that had to be conquered were formidable advantages. Add to that they were fortunate in that their best generals were concentrated in the East, where they could win the war, while the best Union generals were mostly in the West. In the East, where they could win the war, geography favored them as well. The rivers were obstacles for Union forces and the Shenandoah Valley was an invasion route toward Washington for the confederates and a route to nowhere for the Union. The institution of slavery allowed the confederates to mobilize an unprecedented percentage of their white male population of military age.
Still not enough, though! And no amount of if, if, if can change that it would have taken a miracle to pull it off. Yes Jackson died, boo hoo, it's a war, people die. If the only way you're gonna win is if nobody ever dies, you're gonna lose.

The US is a lot like a train... slow to get up to speed, but a juggernaut once it does. They really were fighting with one hand behind their back, even at the end. It still shocks me to research my father's Yankee ancestors and find dozens of people, whole families of brothers of military age, who were not in the war. In the South if I see a man born between 1820 and 1847 I start looking for his service record, and almost always find one. In the Union, 1847 was too young... My Pennsylvania ancestor born 1847 stayed home. My Tennessee CSA cousin born 1847 died fighting.

And we're not even getting into the fact that every scenario proposed here which leads to a Confederate victory presupposes wisdom on the part of the Confederate leadership which simply did not exist. Wisdom is a resource too, and people who thought that a war fought in their own backyard would protect their economic interests didn't have it.
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
Hanna, it does make sense but I still disagree with you. :wink: This seems to be an argument about the use of language.

Although nothing is ever certain, if a surly guy at a bar picks a fight with a professional martial artist who also has a holstered gun on his belt, it is reasonable to say after the fact that he "had no chance." Sure, it's possible that the martial artist would slip and hit his head on the coffee table, have a stroke and die, or simply decide that he wasn't willing to fight this idiot. It's possible that the neighborhood surly bully might find out that despite his complete lack of experience or preparation he can take this guy. But neither of those is the way to bet, and it's putting too nice a point on it to say, when people are standing over his unconscious body and shaking their heads, "Well you couldn't know that." In an existential sense no one can really know anything - but most of us accept that and get on with the process of making predictions based on available data.

In 1861 the available data said that the South would be at a serious disadvantage in a fight. It's not armchair generalship nor historian's fallacy to point that out. People with sense said so at the time.
With all due respect, I think this is an inapt and inappropriate analogy. There were certainly political miscalculations made but calling this thing "inevitable" is simply wrong. There were way too many unknowns and unpredictable circumstances that would play out. Hindsight is a gift they didn't have in 1861.
 

Bryan_C

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 21, 2012
Location
North of Fort Stevens, DC
I think Gary Gallagher sums it up best and I have heard him make this point repeatedly. The only people that don't think the South had a chance to win are people that start at the end of the war and work backwards, because that makes you work from the assumption that the north won.
And another important point Gallagher makes, which I think is a very good one, is that they key to victory in war is the civilian population. When the civilians decide the war just isn't worth fighting anymore, they will stop supporting the military. Once that happens, there's a good chance that side won't win the war. Perhaps this is what happened to the Confederacy.
 
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Rebel from Finland

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Tampere Finland
One of the CS generals, or was it the vice president, thought that south`s best chance for gaining their independence was during Seven Days Battles, and to be more specific, during New Market Road/Glendale and White Oak Swamp engagements. There was a real chance that Lee could have inflicted much more casualties if the retreating federals would have been cut off from James river. That just might have turned the northern opinion even more against war..
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
And another important point Gallagher makes, which I think is a very good one, is that they key to victory in war is the civilian population. When the civilians decide the war just isn't worth fighting anymore, they will stop supporting the military. Once that happens, there's a good chance that side won't win the war. Perhaps this is what happened to the Confederacy.
Gallagher is a product of the Vietnam war era. That doesn't make him wrong, but the (white) South fought about to the last man during the war. The Confederate Armies, especially in the East, were simply ground down. I really don't think "home front" support (or a lack thereof) had much to do with capitulation. Rather, the specter of annihilation recognized by Confederate Army commanders is what ended it.
 

diane

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
Joseph E. Johnson was the wrong general to defend Atlanta, or any other static location, but a good choice to defend against a march to the sea. Sherman would have had real supply problems as he moved across Georgia, I don’t see Sherman foraging on a forty mile swath with Johnston army in his front and Confederate cavalry in his rear.
Considering how Johnston retreated across Mississippi, Sherman would indeed have had a hard time feeding his army. We'll never really know if he had a plan to defend Atlanta - he did start something and Hood was obliged to finish it as best he could - but his presence, as you say, slowed Sherman. Sherman's plan depended on speed, which is why he didn't linger long anywhere, and after finishing at Savannah, he wanted to make his way through the Carolinas to combine with Grant - if he had not disposed of Lee by then. The really interesting thing, to me, is that if Davis had given up Richmond before Lee was trapped at Petersburg, Lee would have had the mobility that Johnston maintained with his army. That was, in fact, a recurring nightmare for Sherman - waking up to Lee pouncing on his army.
 
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Bryan_C

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Gallagher is a product of the Vietnam war era. That doesn't make him wrong, but the (white) South fought about to the last man during the war. The Confederate Armies, especially in the East, were simply ground down. I really don't think "home front" support (or a lack thereof) had much to do with capitulation. Rather, the specter of annihilation recognized by Confederate Army commanders is what ended it.
I thought a lot of Confederate soldiers had deserted by March-April 1865. Many were called home by their wives, who believed the war was lost and wanted them home before they died for nothing.
 
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cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Right here.
Gallagher is a product of the Vietnam war era. That doesn't make him wrong, but the (white) South fought about to the last man during the war. The Confederate Armies, especially in the East, were simply ground down. I really don't think "home front" support (or a lack thereof) had much to do with capitulation. Rather, the specter of annihilation recognized by Confederate Army commanders is what ended it.
The desertion rate shows conclusively the confederates absolutely did not fight to the last man. The letters from Georgia and South Carolina did much to increase that desertion among Lee's soldiers.
 
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