What happens to the Union capital in a Confederate victory?

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
This is a question I've wondered about and never quite resolved in my mind, so I thought it'd be interesting to throw open.

Hypothesizing for the moment that through some means probably but not certainly involving foreign involvement (either in intervention or a concurrent war) the United States is not in a permission to stop the Confederacy becoming independent... what exactly happens to Washington?

I see roughly these options.

1) The new border is on the Rappahanock or the Occoquan.
This at least means Washington isn't a front line city, but it might not be something the Union can actually enforce.
2) The new border is on the Potomac, and the Delmarva is under Union control.
This makes Washington essentially a front line city, and it'd be far too vulnerable in any future war to really contemplate having as the capital.
3) The new border is on the Potomac, and the Delmarva or lower Delmarva is under Confederate control.
This means Washington is also pretty thoroughly cut off by sea.
4) The new border is around the Mason-Dixon line (i.e. Confederate Maryland and Baltimore), but Washington remains under Union control.
This makes Washington completely untenable as the Union capital. It could not possibly be fortified well enough to avoid capture on the first day of any future war.
5) The new border is around the Mason-Dixon line and Washington is ceded to the Confederates.


For this reason, as far as I can tell there are only two options - either the Union has enough pull in the peace negotiations to retain a border which means the Confederacy doesn't actually get all of even "non-West" Virginia, or there's a different Union capital when the dust settles.
So what city would end up the capital?

Bonus points if you can come up with a capital which the Union would be willing to go for if what actually swung the war was British involvement, because in that case I suspect the Union would quite like a capital that can't be bombarded from the sea...
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
This is a question I've wondered about and never quite resolved in my mind, so I thought it'd be interesting to throw open.

Hypothesizing for the moment that through some means probably but not certainly involving foreign involvement (either in intervention or a concurrent war) the United States is not in a permission to stop the Confederacy becoming independent... what exactly happens to Washington?

I see roughly these options.

1) The new border is on the Rappahanock or the Occoquan.
This at least means Washington isn't a front line city, but it might not be something the Union can actually enforce.
2) The new border is on the Potomac, and the Delmarva is under Union control.
This makes Washington essentially a front line city, and it'd be far too vulnerable in any future war to really contemplate having as the capital.
3) The new border is on the Potomac, and the Delmarva or lower Delmarva is under Confederate control.
This means Washington is also pretty thoroughly cut off by sea.
4) The new border is around the Mason-Dixon line (i.e. Confederate Maryland and Baltimore), but Washington remains under Union control.
This makes Washington completely untenable as the Union capital. It could not possibly be fortified well enough to avoid capture on the first day of any future war.
5) The new border is around the Mason-Dixon line and Washington is ceded to the Confederates.


For this reason, as far as I can tell there are only two options - either the Union has enough pull in the peace negotiations to retain a border which means the Confederacy doesn't actually get all of even "non-West" Virginia, or there's a different Union capital when the dust settles.
So what city would end up the capital?

Bonus points if you can come up with a capital which the Union would be willing to go for if what actually swung the war was British involvement, because in that case I suspect the Union would quite like a capital that can't be bombarded from the sea...
Would think if Union victory meant no CSA at all, a CSA victory if it had outside intervention to make it equally decisive could have resulted in no USA at all.

The better any war goes.....the more marbles they want in the end.

The south wants independence when it's not in a position to guarantee it.....but if the US was on the ropes, why not go for it all?

I could imagine radical Democrats wanting the north to pay for the war...just as there was radical Republicans
 
Last edited:

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
To answer the OP's question, I would thing Philadelphia. The original capital, north of the M/D line, a major city with ocean access but protection for a hundred miles along the shores of the Delaware River. But what do I know.
 

FedericoFCavada

Sergeant
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Location
San Antonio, Texas
If the CSA had managed to break away and form a separate nation, it would be with the active connivance and participation of the copper heads and Democrats. So Washington DC would be evacuated, and eastern Maryland would have seceded, even if the rest of the state did not. So the capital would be Philadelphia, particularly because New York City might well have seceded, and if not joining the CSA, opt to become some kind of "free city" or free port like Danzig or Trieste or what-have-you. Eastern Tennessee, portions of Kentucky, and West Virginia continue to flare up and become a sort of proxy-war between the USA and the CSA. Order prevails in the Mississippi Basin until someone decides to restrict commerce along its length. Such a move would result in Civil War II--steam powered boogaloo. Washington DC had only been put south of the Mason Dixon line as a sop to Southern interests in the first place. Otherwise it would have been Philadelphia.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Would think if Union victory meant no CSA at all, a CSA victory if it had outside intervention to make it equally decisive could have resulted in no USA at all.

The better any war goes.....the more marbles they want in the end.

The south wants independence when it's not in a position to guarantee it.....but if the US was on the ropes, why not go for it all?
That's basically not going to happen. The South wanted independence to pursue a course as what they considered to be the better version of the USA with basically the same constitution in terms of voting system (just shorn of all the people they considered to be wrong); if they took the whole USA they'd just end up being the USA again.
 
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Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
That's basically not going to happen. The South wanted independence to pursue a course as what they considered to be the better version of the USA with basically the same constitution in terms of voting system (just shorn of all the people they considered to be wrong); if they took the whole USA they'd just end up being the USA again.
No they'd end up being the CSA. Or the version of the United States they thought right all along.

Don't think one can underestimate how dramatic foreign intervention would have been, not only southern ports would have opened with material flowing in.....northern ports would be closed. the USN made up of primarily converted merchantmen for blockade duty would have been swept aside by real steam ships of the line, and true oceongoing ironclads rather then coastal ones.

If the US was on the ropes, to think they wouldn't go ahead and deliver a knockout blow seems very unlikely, It doesn't make alot of sense to push them to edge of collapse, to then just stop.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
:dance: And that poses the dilemma perfectly. The British intervention makes the Confederacy the dominant power in North America, the US economy is restricted, and the British need to fight the War of 1812 over again to undo 70 years of trying to end the slave trade, and instead make slavery the law of the land in which millions of former British citizens are now living. Which makes this another amusing out of context internet discussion which ignores what happened in real history. :bounce::D
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
No they'd end up being the CSA. Or the version of the United States they thought right all along.
That's not how the CS constitution works? The population wouldn't change, and that means the electoral balance wouldn't change.

Don't think one can underestimate how dramatic foreign intervention would have been, not only southern ports would have opened with material flowing in.....northern ports would be closed. the USN made up of primarily converted merchantmen for blockade duty would have been swept aside by real steam ships of the line, and true oceongoing ironclads rather then coastal ones.
I know exactly how bad it would have been - the USA is out of gunpowder and lead within months!

If the US was on the ropes, to think they wouldn't go ahead and deliver a knockout blow seems very unlikely, It doesn't make alot of sense to push them to edge of collapse, to then just stop.
Of course they'd deliver a knockout blow, or at any rate secure a highly advantageous peace. I just don't think the CSA would want to annex enough land that they were suddenly outnumbered by Northerners all over again!

To my mind the extreme upper end of CS claims would be:

Southern California as a separate state
Chunks of the unsettled west leading to
Kansas
Missouri and southern Illinois
Kentucky
Virginia (including WV)
Maryland
and Delaware

Which is still a huge chunk of real estate, it's just not full of Yankees.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
:dance: And that poses the dilemma perfectly. The British intervention makes the Confederacy the dominant power in North America, the US economy is restricted, and the British need to fight the War of 1812 over again to undo 70 years of trying to end the slave trade, and instead make slavery the law of the land in which millions of former British citizens are now living. Which makes this another amusing out of context internet discussion which ignores what happened in real history. :bounce::D
Er,no, it doesn't make the Confederacy the dominant power and it doesn't make slavery the law of the land in which "millions of former British citizens are now living". It pretty much preserves the pre-ACW status quo in terms of where there's slavery, except for Southern California and Kansas - neither of which are stuffed full of British ex-pats.*
What it does as far as the British are concerned is that it makes the more powerful of the two American sister nations (the USA) thoroughly anti-Slavery and disinclined to protect their Southern sister; this means that the British can now end the Slave Trade by main force and bullying!
(For context: when the British tried boarding US ships to see if they were slave ships in 1858 there was nearly a war - the North essentially used it as a reason to threaten to invade Canada.)


* as I've already noted, if the CSA expanded to include large chunks of the northern USA then they'd just end up in basically the pre-war situation by the next election, because of, um, democracy. The CSA believed itself to be honestly different from the USA.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
:dance: And that poses the dilemma perfectly. The British intervention makes the Confederacy the dominant power in North America, the US economy is restricted, and the British need to fight the War of 1812 over again to undo 70 years of trying to end the slave trade, and instead make slavery the law of the land in which millions of former British citizens are now living. Which makes this another amusing out of context internet discussion which ignores what happened in real history. :bounce::D
Doesn't have to have been the british, though they seem the more sympathetic, however the French navy could have brushed aside the USN as well. That could have been a more effective power play then increased presence in Mexico.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
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Location
Denver, CO
Very fun. The southerners lost in California in 1850. They lost in Kansas. The war opened, the southerners lost the entire west by July 1862. The US conquered the Mississippi River all the way to Vicksburg and most of Virginia and No. Carolina coasts. And the list goes on.
The Republican party, despite its corruption, won almost all the Presidential elections from 1860-1912. So it seems it represented some pretty important issues, even after Jim Crow settled on the nation.
There was a lot more backing the Republicans in 1860 than restricting slavery.
 

steve59p

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 21, 2016
This is a question I've wondered about and never quite resolved in my mind, so I thought it'd be interesting to throw open.

Hypothesizing for the moment that through some means probably but not certainly involving foreign involvement (either in intervention or a concurrent war) the United States is not in a permission to stop the Confederacy becoming independent... what exactly happens to Washington?

I see roughly these options.

1) The new border is on the Rappahanock or the Occoquan.
This at least means Washington isn't a front line city, but it might not be something the Union can actually enforce.
2) The new border is on the Potomac, and the Delmarva is under Union control.
This makes Washington essentially a front line city, and it'd be far too vulnerable in any future war to really contemplate having as the capital.
3) The new border is on the Potomac, and the Delmarva or lower Delmarva is under Confederate control.
This means Washington is also pretty thoroughly cut off by sea.
4) The new border is around the Mason-Dixon line (i.e. Confederate Maryland and Baltimore), but Washington remains under Union control.
This makes Washington completely untenable as the Union capital. It could not possibly be fortified well enough to avoid capture on the first day of any future war.
5) The new border is around the Mason-Dixon line and Washington is ceded to the Confederates.


For this reason, as far as I can tell there are only two options - either the Union has enough pull in the peace negotiations to retain a border which means the Confederacy doesn't actually get all of even "non-West" Virginia, or there's a different Union capital when the dust settles.
So what city would end up the capital?

Bonus points if you can come up with a capital which the Union would be willing to go for if what actually swung the war was British involvement, because in that case I suspect the Union would quite like a capital that can't be bombarded from the sea...

On the last point, of where a new capital might be that could depend on how the war goes and how big the gains the south makes. Hostility with Britain and the costs that would bring would given an incentive to avoid a coastal capital, although Philadelphia with heavily fortified approaches might do, especially given its historical significance. Alternatively how might say Pittsburgh be as an option? Economically important and on main rail links, but reasonably far from the southern border even if the south gets Kentucky. Possibly even a bit further west in Ohio although I doubt it would go further west at this stage. Plus if the south were to get Kentucky the neck of land between the Ohio river and the Great Lakes is both vital for linking up the population centres of the east coast with the vast territories of the west and also potentially vulnerable in a new war with the south.

I suspect that the north would be very reluctant to give up Washington as the capital as it is such a big admission of defeat, even if its very exposed. On the other hand there might be a reaction against southern influence, including the fact it was a compromise capital between north and south and hence a desire for a 'true' American capital somewhat further from southern influence. [Although doubt this would go as far as rejecting Washington the leader as a Virginian]. However many of the options you mention leave it so exposed that it would be impractical as a fully functioning capital, especially if there is continued tension with the south.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Very fun. The southerners lost in California in 1850. They lost in Kansas. The war opened, the southerners lost the entire west by July 1862. The US conquered the Mississippi River all the way to Vicksburg and most of Virginia and No. Carolina coasts. And the list goes on.
The Republican party, despite its corruption, won almost all the Presidential elections from 1860-1912. So it seems it represented some pretty important issues, even after Jim Crow settled on the nation.
There was a lot more backing the Republicans in 1860 than restricting slavery.
Yes? That's actually sort of my point, at least in terms of all the Republican victories. Take a look at those electoral maps - after Reconstruction is over (which is to say, once the black vote is suppressed - which is a more accurate representation of the Southern vote in the case of the CSA being victorious) there's always a massive blue splodge in the South, which is to say that the South is voting for a different person to the rest of the country.
So even if slavery was impossible to eradicate and the South had annexed the rest of the US, you'd still have the South wanting one person and the North wanting another.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
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Location
Denver, CO
Yes? That's actually sort of my point, at least in terms of all the Republican victories. Take a look at those electoral maps - after Reconstruction is over (which is to say, once the black vote is suppressed - which is a more accurate representation of the Southern vote in the case of the CSA being victorious) there's always a massive blue splodge in the South, which is to say that the South is voting for a different person to the rest of the country.
So even if slavery was impossible to eradicate and the South had annexed the rest of the US, you'd still have the South wanting one person and the North wanting another.
Anything other than a total victory by one side or the other would have been merely an armistice. To me, it looks like the Republican administration was aware of that and was building a US that would survive an armistice. You would no better than I would, but I think McClellan spent a considerable time and money fortifying Washington, D.C. anticipating that it might have to be the capital during an armistice interlude.
 

wausaubob

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Location
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I think that if the Confederacy wins in the way you suggest, the Republican party in the west becomes much more powerful.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Anything other than a total victory by one side or the other would have been merely an armistice. To me, it looks like the Republican administration was aware of that and was building a US that would survive an armistice. You would no better than I would, but I think McClellan spent a considerable time and money fortifying Washington, D.C. anticipating that it might have to be the capital during an armistice interlude.
Not really, no. McClellan spent a considerable amount of time and money fortifying Washington D.C. so that it would be possible to go and invade the South without leaving Washington open to capture.

As for "anything other than a total victory", what would a total CS victory look like then? The US is still going to exist even in a CS victory scenario. (And I beg leave to differ on the idea that there would be a second war fought with the goal of re-annexing the Confederacy. After a successful war of independence the idea of reannexing the previously seceded territory quickly recedes - just look at the British attitude to the US...)
 

wausaubob

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Location
Denver, CO
Not really, no. McClellan spent a considerable amount of time and money fortifying Washington D.C. so that it would be possible to go and invade the South without leaving Washington open to capture.

As for "anything other than a total victory", what would a total CS victory look like then? The US is still going to exist even in a CS victory scenario. (And I beg leave to differ on the idea that there would be a second war fought with the goal of re-annexing the Confederacy. After a successful war of independence the idea of reannexing the previously seceded territory quickly recedes - just look at the British attitude to the US...)
That's where disagree. If the US was going to tolerate a Confederacy I think they could have let it live at some point in 1862 or 1863.
The Confederacy looked a lot like Napoleonic France to people in the US, and I think they were going to renew their war until they had eliminated the Confederacy as international competitor.
 

wausaubob

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Denver, CO
Once the US had Missouri and West Virginia under control, and a wire out to Sacramento, I think they could have created an armistice. The railroad connections were strong enough.
The Confederacy won some very bloody battles and that only made them look more threatening.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
That's where disagree. If the US was going to tolerate a Confederacy I think they could have let it live at some point in 1862 or 1863.
The Confederacy looked a lot like Napoleonic France to people in the US, and I think they were going to renew their war until they had eliminated the Confederacy as international competitor.
Of course a view that would be expected to change after a successful war wouldn't change while the war is still going on. That's not how it works.
One may as well have said that if the British were going to tolerate a United States they could have let it leave in 1778.
 
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