Featured Where Do You Disagree With the "Conventional Wisdom" on the Civil War?

JeffBrooks

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Where do you disagree with the "conventional wisdom" on the Civil War. In other words, what commonly accepted "truths" about the war do you believe are incorrect?

I'll start.

1. I do not think that Gettysburg and Vicksburg marked the turning point of the war and I believe that the Confederacy had as much of a chance at winning the war at the start of 1864 as it did at the start of 1863, if not better.

2. On a strategic level, I think the performance of Ulysses Grant in 1864 was rather poor.

3. Aside from his logistical abilities, I think that Sherman was a poor general.

4. I think that the Confederacy lost the war more due to its own mistakes than due to the superior numbers and resources of the Union.
 

unicornforge

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If we are to believe John B. Jones, who was a clerk in the Confederate War Office, the war was lost due to greed/speculation,..... and poor leadership that was swayed by personality conflicts and issues rather than rational decision making.

Books, "A Rebel War Clerk's Diary", volumes I and II, by John B. Jones.
 

jgoodguy

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1. I do not think that Gettysburg and Vicksburg marked the turning point of the war and I believe that the Confederacy had as much of a chance at winning the war at the start of 1864 as it did at the start of 1863, if not better.

I've hear speculation that as late as the middle of the overland campaign was a possibility for CSA independence.
September 2, 1864--The fall of Atlanta is a commonly accepted date.

2. On a strategic level, I think the performance of Ulysses Grant in 1864 was rather poor.
Grant won.

3. Aside from his logistical abilities, I think that Sherman was a poor general.
Sherman won

4. I think that the Confederacy lost the war more due to its own mistakes than due to the superior numbers and resources of the Union.

The war was won or lost not so much by military victories but in the hearts of Northern voters. To figure out if the CSA lost the war by error is require showing how that error affected Northern voters. It can be said that the CSA had a narrow margin of error and made too many errors.
 

John Winn

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I'm with the OP on points 1 and 2 totally. I somewhat agree on 4 but I'm pretty much in with the "war of attrition" camp and think if the CSA couldn't achieve decisive victories enough pretty early on they were doomed to lose, good generals or no.

I'll add:

a. the war was fought to end slavery
b. people in the North were abolitionists and had nothing to do with the perpetuation slavery
c. secession was absolutely illegal so there was no way the South could have left the Union
d. everyone in the South supported the Confederacy equally and everyone in the North supported the Union equally
e. Lincoln was a saint
f. Lee was a saint

OK I could probably come up with some more but that'll do for an early-morning stab at it.

Interesting thread. I look forward to what others have to say.
 

brass napoleon

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I've been trying to sort through the multitude of fallacies that come to mind and narrow the list down to something reasonable. I can't. So I'll just pick my top fallacy, and another controversial one for good measure. My top fallacy:

That abolitionists were a bunch of violent fanatics. While there were a handful that were (as in any group of people), the vast majority were reasonable, dedicated people, who played a much greater role in the demise of slavery than people give them credit for. Included in this category are the black abolitionists, who are often overlooked altogether, but were perhaps the most important of all.

My controversial fallacy (it's me against the world on this one):

That Salmon Chase was nothing but a conniving politician. While I agree he was a conniving politician (they all are), I don't see where he was any more conniving than anybody else. He just happened to be particularly inept at it, and he was often up against one of the best. And so he got his *** handed to him more than once. But the more I come across him in my research, the more I'm convinced that he was genuinely sincere in his beliefs and stood by his convictions.
 

jgoodguy

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I've been trying to sort through the multitude of fallacies that come to mind and narrow the list down to something reasonable. I can't. So I'll just pick my top fallacy, and another controversial one for good measure. My top fallacy:

That abolitionists were a bunch of violent fanatics. While there were a handful that were (as in any group of people), the vast majority were reasonable, dedicated people, who played a much greater role in the demise of slavery than people give them credit for. Included in this category are the black abolitionists, who are often overlooked altogether, but were perhaps the most important of all.

My controversial fallacy (it's me against the world on this one):

That Salmon Chase was nothing but a conniving politician. While I agree he was a conniving politician (they all are), I don't see where he was any more conniving than anybody else. He just happened to be particularly inept at it, and he was often up against one of the best. And so he got his *** handed to him more than once. But the more I come across him in my research, the more I'm convinced that he was genuinely sincere in his beliefs and stood by his convictions.

I like Chase, myself. He was also the SCOTUS chief justice and wrote the opinion in Texas v White.

One unpopular fellow I like is Benjamin Butler, whose decision about contrabands cut the legal knot of how to legally free the slaves which led to the Emancipation Proclamation and from there to the 13th amendment.
 

leftyhunter

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I'm with the OP on points 1 and 2 totally. I somewhat agree on 4 but I'm pretty much in with the "war of attrition" camp and think if the CSA couldn't achieve decisive victories enough pretty early on they were doomed to lose, good generals or no.

I'll add:

a. the war was fought to end slavery
b. people in the North were abolitionists and had nothing to do with the perpetuation slavery
c. secession was absolutely illegal so there was no way the South could have left the Union
d. everyone in the South supported the Confederacy equally and everyone in the North supported the Union equally
e. Lincoln was a saint
f. Lee was a saint

OK I could probably come up with some more but that'll do for an early-morning stab at it.

Interesting thread. I look forward to what others have to say.
I will agree with all of your points but 'c'. Has I believe Danf mentioned the Supreme Court has ruled before the CW that secession was not legal and there is no frame work in the constitution for a state to secede.
Leftyhunter
 

jgoodguy

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I will agree with all of your points but 'c'. Has I believe Danf mentioned the Supreme Court has ruled before the CW that secession was not legal and there is no frame work in the constitution for a state to secede.
Leftyhunter

I have to disagree that the SCOTUS ruled on secession before the CW. There are ruling that suggest the federal government was supreme, but no out and out ruling about secession before Texas v White. When I get a chance I will go through the Texas v White transcript and see if there are precedents quoted.
 
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I will agree with all of your points but 'c'. Has I believe Danf mentioned the Supreme Court has ruled before the CW that secession was not legal and there is no frame work in the constitution for a state to secede.
Leftyhunter
John, Lefty:

More inclined to venerate Saint Abraham rather than Saint Robert. But even Saint Augustine was not a saint all his life; "Oh Lord, make me chaste. But not yet."
 

Lincoln65

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I've been trying to sort through the multitude of fallacies that come to mind and narrow the list down to something reasonable. I can't. So I'll just pick my top fallacy, and another controversial one for good measure. My top fallacy:

That abolitionists were a bunch of violent fanatics. While there were a handful that were (as in any group of people), the vast majority were reasonable, dedicated people, who played a much greater role in the demise of slavery than people give them credit for. Included in this category are the black abolitionists, who are often overlooked altogether, but were perhaps the most important of all.

My controversial fallacy (it's me against the world on this one):

That Salmon Chase was nothing but a conniving politician. While I agree he was a conniving politician (they all are), I don't see where he was any more conniving than anybody else. He just happened to be particularly inept at it, and he was often up against one of the best. And so he got his *** handed to him more than once. But the more I come across him in my research, the more I'm convinced that he was genuinely sincere in his beliefs and stood by his convictions.

I agree with you on Chase. While he did try to under cut Lincoln and was somewhat arrogant, (like Seward), he was a great secretary of the treasury, and he was sincere in his abolitionist beliefs. Once, in Cincinnati (It was in Ohio, I know that for sure) he faced down a mob of people who were trying to capture a fugitive slave and return him to his owner. If that doesn't demonstrate his sincerity, I don't know what would.
 

Drew

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One unpopular fellow I like is Benjamin Butler, whose decision about contrabands cut the legal knot of how to legally free the slaves which led to the Emancipation Proclamation and from there to the 13th amendment.

This confirms my chuckling reaction to the thread title. "Conventional Wisdom," I suspect, has a lot to do with where we sat, in a latitudinal sense, when "Convention" was presented.

Butler was just this side of Great Men where I sat. So, I question this "Conventional Wisdom." He was a bumbling general in the field (relieved finally at Grant's urging). The evidence of his corruption and nepotism in this regard as Military Governor of New Orleans is pretty solid. Old Spoons earned his moniker.

And I don't think for a minute his "decision" about contrabands "led to the Emancipation Proclamation," let alone the 13th Amendment. The former was baked in the cake, the latter assured in part because he was out of the way as a military commander. My two cents on Beast.
 

thomas aagaard

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The civil war was not the first modern war.
(depending on how you defined "modern" the result is that you can find earlier wars where modern. Or the civil war was not modern)

The use of rifled small arms was not the reason for the huge number of killed.
(lack of competence on both sides, lack of proper cavalry and terrain that makes wining a decisive battle harder... have more to do with it.
And The Franco-Prussian War was way shorter, it was very decisive and the cost way lower... despite both sides using breach loaded guns.)
 

John Winn

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I'd like to see the alleged SCOTUS pre-war ruling regarding secession too. I don't recall one (but then I'm old and might have forgotten).

As to White, I don't believe that case actually ruled that secession per se is illegal but, rather, that Texas didn't follow the (undefined) legal process necessary to secede. It was a case about bonds, not secession. Chase's verbiage leaves a lot of holes for the possibility that Texas could have seceded.

Even if White is accepted as being a ruling forbidding secession outright, the "ruling" hadn't been made in 1861 and at that time it was definitely debatable if secession was legal. My personal feeling is that it could have been done peacefully and been constitutional although the process wasn't defined. However, secession as it actually occurred I think was definitely not legal.
 

jgoodguy

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I'd like to see the alleged SCOTUS pre-war ruling regarding secession too. I don't recall one (but then I'm old and might have forgotten).

As to White, I don't believe that case actually ruled that secession per se is illegal but, rather, that Texas didn't follow the (undefined) legal process necessary to secede. It was a case about bonds, not secession. Chase's verbiage leaves a lot of holes for the possibility that Texas could have seceded.

Even if White is accepted as being a ruling forbidding secession outright, the "ruling" hadn't been made in 1861 and at that time it was definitely debatable if secession was legal. My personal feeling is that it could have been done peacefully and been constitutional although the process wasn't defined. However, secession as it actually occurred I think was definitely not legal.

TvW has been used as precedent for the question of secession in many many cases even as late as 2006 Kohlhaas v. State

wiki says

In accepting original jurisdiction, the court ruled that Texas had remained a state ever since it first joined the Union, despite its joining the Confederate States of America and its being under military rule at the time of the decision in the case. In deciding the merits of the bond issue, the court further held that the Constitution did not permit states to unilaterally secede from the United States, and that the ordinances of secession, and all the acts of the legislatures within seceding states intended to give effect to such ordinances, were "absolutely null".[2]

Generally the status of unilateral secession was not discussed academically-it was just assumed. Unconditional and by permission secession had been discussed and written about. The best that can be said about the 1860-61 secession is that it was not illegal, but the acts undertaken to implement it were illegal.
 

leftyhunter

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I'd like to see the alleged SCOTUS pre-war ruling regarding secession too. I don't recall one (but then I'm old and might have forgotten).

As to White, I don't believe that case actually ruled that secession per se is illegal but, rather, that Texas didn't follow the (undefined) legal process necessary to secede. It was a case about bonds, not secession. Chase's verbiage leaves a lot of holes for the possibility that Texas could have seceded.

Even if White is accepted as being a ruling forbidding secession outright, the "ruling" hadn't been made in 1861 and at that time it was definitely debatable if secession was legal. My personal feeling is that it could have been done peacefully and been constitutional although the process wasn't defined. However, secession as it actually occurred I think was definitely not legal.
I will have to ask DanF (if I am correct that he wrote the post about pre CW SCOTUS decisions against secession. My main point is that if secession was legal why is there not a clear cut protocol for doing so?
Leftyhunter
 

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