Discussion The South's Defensive War

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American87

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In hindsight, the South's defensive strategy seems to have been an error. Either they should have gone on the offensive more, or they should have avoided a war altogether. Yes there were many cases where the South could have won on the defensive, for example, maybe destorying the AoP after Malvern Hill. But here is the point: Was the South really fighting a defensive war? Academic arguments aside, the first guns fired were Confederate against Union. The U.S. government was attacked at Fort Sumter. Perhaps this ruined any chance of a defensive war.

In other words, if the South never fired at Fort Sumter, or anywhere, they would have been purely on the defensive. Lincoln would have had to invade the South. I don't mean resupplying a U.S. garrison in Charleston Harbor, I mean sending in troops to purely Confederate territory and assuming the offensive. In this case, the South would have been perceived as on the defensive. The Democrats in the North might not support the war. European countries might have a better political image if they stepped in. But, by firing on Fort Sumter, the South took the first offensive action of the war and nullified these advantages.

Thoughts?
 

unionblue

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In hindsight, the South's defensive strategy seems to have been an error. Either they should have gone on the offensive more, or they should have avoided a war altogether. Yes there were many cases where the South could have won on the defensive, for example, maybe destorying the AoP after Malvern Hill. But here is the point: Was the South really fighting a defensive war? Academic arguments aside, the first guns fired were Confederate against Union. The U.S. government was attacked at Fort Sumter. Perhaps this ruined any chance of a defensive war.

In other words, if the South never fired at Fort Sumter, or anywhere, they would have been purely on the defensive. Lincoln would have had to invade the South. I don't mean resupplying a U.S. garrison in Charleston Harbor, I mean sending in troops to purely Confederate territory and assuming the offensive. In this case, the South would have been perceived as on the defensive. The Democrats in the North might not support the war. European countries might have a better political image if they stepped in. But, by firing on Fort Sumter, the South took the first offensive action of the war and nullified these advantages.

Thoughts?
Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda.

Sounds more like a "What If?" topic, than actual history.
 

leftyhunter

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In hindsight, the South's defensive strategy seems to have been an error. Either they should have gone on the offensive more, or they should have avoided a war altogether. Yes there were many cases where the South could have won on the defensive, for example, maybe destorying the AoP after Malvern Hill. But here is the point: Was the South really fighting a defensive war? Academic arguments aside, the first guns fired were Confederate against Union. The U.S. government was attacked at Fort Sumter. Perhaps this ruined any chance of a defensive war.

In other words, if the South never fired at Fort Sumter, or anywhere, they would have been purely on the defensive. Lincoln would have had to invade the South. I don't mean resupplying a U.S. garrison in Charleston Harbor, I mean sending in troops to purely Confederate territory and assuming the offensive. In this case, the South would have been perceived as on the defensive. The Democrats in the North might not support the war. European countries might have a better political image if they stepped in. But, by firing on Fort Sumter, the South took the first offensive action of the war and nullified these advantages.

Thoughts?
The Confederacy certainly attempted to conduct an offensive war such as invading Kentucky until the defeat at Perryville. The Confederacy certainly attempted to seize the New Mexico Territory and San Bernardino County in California but there was a bit of a problem at the battle of Glorieta Pass.

Lee certainly tried to liberate Maryland from the blue bellies but the AoP had something to say about that. The Confederacy mounted three offensive battles to seize Missouri but it never quite worked out for the Confederacy.
Not sure that any war was one purely based on defensive tactics. It would be interesting is someone could post examples of that being the case.
Davis and many certainly not all Confederate generals were West Point graduates and had studied military history. They knew wars are won on the offensive not the defensive.
The Confederacy certainly tried to win on the offensive they just couldn't make it work.
Leftyhunter
 
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leftyhunter

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In hindsight, the South's defensive strategy seems to have been an error. Either they should have gone on the offensive more, or they should have avoided a war altogether. Yes there were many cases where the South could have won on the defensive, for example, maybe destorying the AoP after Malvern Hill. But here is the point: Was the South really fighting a defensive war? Academic arguments aside, the first guns fired were Confederate against Union. The U.S. government was attacked at Fort Sumter. Perhaps this ruined any chance of a defensive war.

In other words, if the South never fired at Fort Sumter, or anywhere, they would have been purely on the defensive. Lincoln would have had to invade the South. I don't mean resupplying a U.S. garrison in Charleston Harbor, I mean sending in troops to purely Confederate territory and assuming the offensive. In this case, the South would have been perceived as on the defensive. The Democrats in the North might not support the war. European countries might have a better political image if they stepped in. But, by firing on Fort Sumter, the South took the first offensive action of the war and nullified these advantages.

Thoughts?
Not seeing how the Confederacy wins based on a purely defensive war. If Confederate troops stay behind the Mason Dixon line how does that prevent the Union from building a massive navy that can greatly curtail Confederate trade?
If the Confederate Army is tied up in defensive positions then that allows a numerically superior foe to concentrate it's forces and bite off Confederate Territory when it pleases.
As far as foreign recognition or sympathy goes nations certainly do intervene in civil wars but only when they have an overriding interest in doing so. Not seeing why any nation had a reason to actively engage their military in the ACW.
Leftyhunter
 

jackt62

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Simply put, the problem with southern war strategy is that it never existed as a consistent, thoughtful plan that was agreed upon by the military and political leadership. Davis' plaintive cry to "just leave us alone" at the war's prelude was blown away by the fire-eaters call to occupy and if need be, attack federal installations. Once war commenced, Davis was forced to adopt a "cordon" strategy of defending the entire land and sea borders of the Confederacy, a foolhardy idea, given the lack of southern manpower to resist all points of federal attack. Meanwhile, Lee and Jackson promulgated an "offensive-defensive" strategy of raiding northern territory in the hopes of diminishing the northern public desire to keep fighting. And of course, other army commanders had almost absolute control in their geographic fiefdoms such as Joe Johnston and Edmund Kirby Smith to follow their own instincts, whether or not they contributed to southern victory. Overall, this stumbling series of "strategies" never coalesced into a responsible military plan and only served to squander whatever advantages the southern confederacy actually started out with.
 
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leftyhunter

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Simply put, the problem with southern war strategy is that it never existed as a consistent, thoughtful plan that was agreed upon by the military and political leadership. Davis' plaintive cry to "just leave us alone" at the war's prelude was blown away by the fire-eaters call to occupy and if need be, attack federal installations. Once war commenced, Davis was forced to adopt a "cordon" strategy of defending the entire land and sea borders of the Confederacy, a foolhardy idea, given the lack of southern manpower to resist all points of federal attack. Meanwhile, Lee and Jackson promulgated an "offensive-defensive" strategy of raiding northern territory in the hopes of diminishing the northern public desire to keep fighting. And of course, other army commanders had almost absolute control in their geographic fiefdoms such as Joe Johnston and Edmund Kirby Smith to follow their own instincts, whether or not they contributed to southern victory. Overall, this stumbling series of "strategies" never coalesced into a responsible military plan and only served to squander whatever advantages the southern confederacy actually started out with.
To be fair to Davis I am not sure there really was a viable strategy for the Confederacy . The Colonial Rebels had a viable strategy called having the French and Spanish militaries fight on their side. Not sure what the Confederate Strategy would be.
Leftyhunter
 

American87

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Simply put, the problem with southern war strategy is that it never existed as a consistent, thoughtful plan that was agreed upon by the military and political leadership. Davis' plaintive cry to "just leave us alone" at the war's prelude was blown away by the fire-eaters call to occupy and if need be, attack federal installations. Once war commenced, Davis was forced to adopt a "cordon" strategy of defending the entire land and sea borders of the Confederacy, a foolhardy idea, given the lack of southern manpower to resist all points of federal attack. Meanwhile, Lee and Jackson promulgated an "offensive-defensive" strategy of raiding northern territory in the hopes of diminishing the northern public desire to keep fighting. And of course, other army commanders had almost absolute control in their geographic fiefdoms such as Joe Johnston and Edmund Kirby Smith to follow their own instincts, whether or not they contributed to southern victory. Overall, this stumbling series of "strategies" never coalesced into a responsible military plan and only served to squander whatever advantages the southern confederacy actually started out with.
Exactly. I guess I was thinking more along the lines of Davis' policy, since he was the commander-in-chief. Of course Lee worked on him and got his two offenses approved. The Southern politicians before the war also wanted a defensive posture, for example Steven's Cornerstone Speech, where he says Independence was achieved without a drop of blood. When the war got going, other strategists got involved and did things their way. But had the Davis/pre-war policy played out, I think it would have been to the South's advantage. For example, Northern Democrats wanted to negotiate with the South until Fort Sumter, then they were for war.
 

leftyhunter

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Exactly. I guess I was thinking more along the lines of Davis' policy, since he was the commander-in-chief. Of course Lee worked on him and got his two offenses approved. The Southern politicians before the war also wanted a defensive posture, for example Steven's Cornerstone Speech, where he says Independence was achieved without a drop of blood. When the war got going, other strategists got involved and did things their way. But had the Davis/pre-war policy played out, I think it would have been to the South's advantage. For example, Northern Democrats wanted to negotiate with the South until Fort Sumter, then they were for war.
Not sure how this concept of defensive war plays out. If the Confederacy is truly an independent nation then how can it allow a foreign nation to have a fort in one of it's major ports plus allow a foreign nation to collect revenue from tariffs?
At some point being independent means just that a nation must be free of any foreign military presence with the exception of foreign troops who are in the nation either for mutually agreed training purposes or part of a mutual defense treaty and or military alliance.
At some point being independent has to have some sort of meaning.
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Mark F. Jenkins

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Davis initial war strategy that they had to defend every inch of southern territory worked against them early in, especially in the West. There was no made to prioritize what could and could not be defended due to political concerns.
It also didn't help that A.S. Johnston seems to have been so mesmerized by the threat of Buell that he failed to pay enough attention to Halleck (and Foote and Grant).

A strategically defensive war can work, but there needs to be some influence to cause the enemy to stop attacking. In the American Revolution, it was the intervention of France. In the War of 1812, it was that the British didn't actually have much heart in the war (and they were again overwhelmingly concerned with France). The Confederate leadership had these examples to go by.

If the Union hadn't been deeply committed to the war, and if the Confederacy could have secured foreign intervention, it could have worked. (However, the Union turned out to have a lot more heart in the war than many in the Confederacy expected.)
 

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It also didn't help that A.S. Johnston seems to have been so mesmerized by the threat of Buell that he failed to pay enough attention to Halleck (and Foote and Grant).

A strategically defensive war can work, but there needs to be some influence to cause the enemy to stop attacking. In the American Revolution, it was the intervention of France. In the War of 1812, it was that the British didn't actually have much heart in the war (and they were again overwhelmingly concerned with France). The Confederate leadership had these examples to go by.

If the Union hadn't been deeply committed to the war, and if the Confederacy could have secured foreign intervention, it could have worked. (However, the Union turned out to have a lot more heart in the war than many in the Confederacy expected.)
AS Johnston didn't have enough men to stretch and pay attention to all of them. He made his own decisions about what was and was not feasible with the resources he had to work with. The resources he had were not sufficient for the task he had been given.
 
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jackt62

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To be fair to Davis I am not sure there really was a viable strategy for the Confederacy . The Colonial Rebels had a viable strategy called having the French and Spanish militaries fight on their side. Not sure what the Confederate Strategy would be.
Leftyhunter
I do agree that the Confederacy and Davis himself were cornered in a box from the start. The fast acting secession movement meant that deliberate and rationale discussions about what a Confederacy would actually look like and how it would defend itself never had the chance to take place.
 

leftyhunter

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I do agree that the Confederacy and Davis himself were cornered in a box from the start. The fast acting secession movement meant that deliberate and rationale discussions about what a Confederacy would actually look like and how it would defend itself never had the chance to take place. Please forgive my overly long post has it is Thanksgiving and it is raining heavily outside.
The whole strategy has envisioned by the fire-eater's was that the Union would quickly be demoralized and the border states would quickly join the Confederacy. Also that the major West European nations would quickly recognize the Confederacy.
When the above didn't happen then the Confederacy really couldn't come up with a viable military strategy.
The Confederacy simply had to many inherent weakness's such has;
1. Forty percent of its population is oppressed and angry.
2. The Confederacy forgot that in1775 Lord Dunsmore had successfully recruited said male members of that population into the British Army in exchange for freedom. Somehow the Confederacy never realized Lincoln could do the same.
3. The fire-eater's overestimated popular white support in the border states and even the Confederate States.
4. The fire-eater's overestimated potential foreign support and the fact that Britain and France were recovering from the Crimean War and it's public was not enthusiastic about finding a new war to fight.
5. The importance of being self sufficient and building and maintaining railroads.
6. The critical ability to build and staff a large blue water Navy.
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Old_Glory

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Thoughts?
The South's only chance to come out in a positive light was if Europe sided with them in the war and/or the Northern Democrats were able to gain power in the North. The Democrats in the North hated the Republicans, and many liked the Confederates better. Being passive and defensive would help those causes no doubt. Ft. Sumter was their biggest mistake in the War as it made them appear to be the aggressors. Overall, the South did fight a defensive War. That fact is overshadowed by the firing at Sumter though.
 
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leftyhunter

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The South's only chance to come out in a positive light was if Europe sided with them in the war and/or the Northern Democrats were able to gain power in the North. The Democrats in the North hated the Republicans, and many liked the Confederates better. Being passive and defensive would help those causes no doubt. Ft. Sumter was their biggest mistake in the War as it made them appear to be the aggressors. Overall, the South did fight a defensive War. That fact is overshadowed by the firing at Sumter though.
The Confederacy not the South fought on the offensive but failed. Having failed to win on the offensive the Confederacy had no choice but to fight a defensive war. Forty percent of the South's population is African American and no way was the Confederate Army composed of a high percentage of black soldiers maybe sixty or so at Painsville at best.
Out of up to a million Confederate soldiers one hundred and four thousand Southern white men per "Lincoln's Loyalists Union Soldiers from the South" Richard Current North East University Press fought for the Union. Do it wasn't the South vs the North it is those who believed in a slave republic vs the Union.
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Old_Glory

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The Confederacy not the South fought on the offensive but failed. Having failed to win on the offensive the Confederacy had no choice but to fight a defensive war.
Leftyhunter
What was their big offensive? Ft. Sumter?
 
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leftyhunter

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What was their big offensive? Ft. Sumter?
How about the Confederate invasion of Kentucky that was finally stopped at the battle of Perryville. What about Sibley's invasion of the New Mexico Territory with plans to invade San Bernardino County in California.
Didn't Lee try to liberate Maryland from the fanatical Abolitionists? Wasn't there a minor dust up in a certain small town in Pennsylvania? Didn't the Confederacy mount three failed offensive's to liberate Missouri from the blue bellies ? Wouldn't that be Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove and Prices Invasion of September 1864?
It's not the Union Armies fault that the Confederate. Army can seize and hold Territory.
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leftyhunter

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Interesting, didn't know that.
One would think the leadership of the secessionists would of remembered Lord Dunsmore. Certainly the secessionists should of remembered that ex slaves in Hatti defeated the French Army then considered the finest army in the world.
Definitely an argument can be made that the secessionists lived somewhat in a fantasy world.
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