Which Confederate Victory in the West Would Have had the Greatest Consequences?

Lubliner

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It's worth pointing out that the Confederacy is the weaker power and the one which needs to manoeuvre for advantage. Launching an all-up assault on the main strength of the enemy is not to be done, but manouevering them out of position or attacking at advantage as a result of manoeuvre is perfectly feasible - look at what Lee does in June-August 1862. That period starts with Union armies on the Rappahannock/Rapidan and within miles of Richmond, and by the end of the period the Union armies have retreated largely north of the Potomac.

Of course Lee concentrates superior fighting power to do it, but he does it. That's triage on a continental scale.

I would argue however that if Confederate movements resulted in the Union "abandoning" an area and moving on, then they have functionally retaken it - they've just done it by presenting a threat to something more important (including "the army there"). The Confederates are not obligated to launch mass attacks on the enemy armies holding a position for it to count.
The problem with control is the threat to the civilian population, and all the territory between the Rapidan and the Potomac, and out into the Shenandoah or Martinsburg was hugely confederate. The government of the confederacy could not protect their citizens with the continual flip-flop, such as at Winchester. No wonder the confederates called foul more often than the north.
Lubliner.
 

trice

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It's worth pointing out that the Confederacy is the weaker power and the one which needs to manoeuvre for advantage. Launching an all-up assault on the main strength of the enemy is not to be done, but manouevering them out of position or attacking at advantage as a result of manoeuvre is perfectly feasible - look at what Lee does in June-August 1862. That period starts with Union armies on the Rappahannock/Rapidan and within miles of Richmond, and by the end of the period the Union armies have retreated largely north of the Potomac.

Of course Lee concentrates superior fighting power to do it, but he does it. That's triage on a continental scale.

I would argue however that if Confederate movements resulted in the Union "abandoning" an area and moving on, then they have functionally retaken it - they've just done it by presenting a threat to something more important (including "the army there"). The Confederates are not obligated to launch mass attacks on the enemy armies holding a position for it to count.
So which areas do you think the Confederacy recovered?
 

Saphroneth

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So which areas do you think the Confederacy recovered?
There are obviously no areas which the Confederacy recovered permanently, because that's tantamount to saying "the Confederacy lost the war" but that's not really a helpful claim- one could make the same claim of WW2 Germany after all. However, I would hold that the areas of:

- Eastern Henrico County and down to the mouth of the Pamunkey etc.
- The space between the Orange-Spotsylvania line and the Centreville-Leesburg line
- The Valley north of Port Republic up to at least Winchester

Were all areas which the Confederacy controlled (winter 1861), lost (up to June 1862) and then regained control of subsequently. In some cases this was by directly defeating a Union army, while in other cases this was by presenting a threat that pulled the Union army defending the area elsewhere.
 

trice

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There are obviously no areas which the Confederacy recovered permanently, because that's tantamount to saying "the Confederacy lost the war" but that's not really a helpful claim- one could make the same claim of WW2 Germany after all. However, I would hold that the areas of:

- Eastern Henrico County and down to the mouth of the Pamunkey etc.
- The space between the Orange-Spotsylvania line and the Centreville-Leesburg line
- The Valley north of Port Republic up to at least Winchester

Were all areas which the Confederacy controlled (winter 1861), lost (up to June 1862) and then regained control of subsequently. In some cases this was by directly defeating a Union army, while in other cases this was by presenting a threat that pulled the Union army defending the area elsewhere.

Hmm. I must not have been clear enough in my statement. I meant areas where the Union was able to take the area and hold it under their authority for a period of time. I did not mean areas they passed through in the course of a campaign, were turned back, and never really established control.

On "Eastern Henrico County and down to the mouth of the Pamunkey etc.", this is all part of the "On to Richmond!" Peninsula Campaign. For a brief time, there were indeed Union forces in the area (McClellan's army). They advanced into it, threatened Richmond, fought a bunch of battles, they were thrown out again without ever making it their own.

On "The space between the Orange-Spotsylvania line and the Centreville-Leesburg line", there were certainly Union troops there at various times who were gone at other times. There were skirmishes and raids galore there as well as battles small and large (1st Manassas, Cedar Mountain, 2nd Manassas, Chantilly, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Brandy Station, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House) in and around that area throughout the war. Some guy named Mosby used to ride around there too. I don't think the Union ever really had control of the area you are talking about here -- and I don't think the Confederates did either. I see it more as campaign ground and no-man's land from the point where Joe Johnston pulled back to Richmond and the Peninsula in April of 1862 until Grant's army in the Overland Campaign shook the dust of the place from their feet in May of 1864 on their way to Cold Harbor, Richmond and Petersburg.

On "The Valley north of Port Republic up to at least Winchester": again, I don't really see where the Union established control over that area and then lost it. Jackson's Valley Campaign is a tremendous operation that ends with him withdrawing from the Valley (granted to a great strategic position that threatens the Union). Fremont pulls back and discovers an order from Lincoln that he should not have advanced beyond Harrisonburg. The Union pulls back and out of the Valley immediately because this was only a side-operation against Jackson, not a serious attempt to occupy the Valley. Most of these troops end up in John Pope's army in and around the "space between the Orange-Spotsylvania line and the Centreville-Leesburg line" -- where Jackson, Lee and the boys will soon whack them hard. By September, Lee and Jackson sweep through, capture Harper's Ferry, abandon Harper's Ferry and retreat out of the area. Union control of Winchester is re-established -- and Ewell sweeps through again on the way to Gettysburg. Lee retreats, the fighting moves back to the "space between the Orange-Spotsylvania line and the Centreville-Leesburg line" with Bristoe and Mine Run campaigns. That gets us to Grant and the Overland Campaign, to include Sigel's disaster at New Market, followed by Hunter's advance to Lynchburg and the Early campaign that went as far as the outskirts of Washington. Then comes Sheridan, Early's defeats including 3rd Winchester and Cedar Creek, and the burning. On his way out of the Valley, Sheridan smashed Early at Waynesboro, crossed the mountain to Charlottesville, and rode straight across central Virginia to rejoin Grant. Yes, there were times in there where the Confederates were unmolested and unthreatened in the southern Shenandoah, but there were also lots of times when they were subject to raids and sweeps by Union forces. I see the Shenandoah as an area for campaigns and battles, always in danger and sometimes seeing armies fighting there -- which the Union never really seemed to want to occupy.

Does that explain my position a bit better?
 

Saphroneth

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Does that explain my position a bit better?
I think the problem with it is that it's defining things increasingly narrowly. It gets to the point that it's almost tautological - the Confederacy never took anywhere the Union wanted to hold to such an extent that they didn't give it up, but if the Union moved troops out of the area because Confederate threat elsewhere compelled them to do so then it doesn't count? Which means manoeuvre doesn't count.

I would argue for example that the Union certainly wanted to control the Valley (specifically they wanted to hold it at least as far south as Front Royal) both to protect the line of the Baltimore and Ohio - something which is a major concern to Lincoln at various times - and as part of the defensive network of Washington more generally.
And the Union established that control of the Valley as far south as Front Royal in March and April 1862, with Banks establishing control of the Valley as far south as Harrisonburg by the end of April 1862, but at points after that date the Confederates instead established control of that section of the Valley. As of October 1862 Longstreet is at Martinsburg and no Union forces are in the Valley except for the perimeter around Harpers Ferry - that is a big swath of terrain which the Union would have rather kept but the Confederates gained control of, cutting a strategic rail line in doing so.


Similarly, as of June to July 1862 the Union's front line was along the Rapidan and they had a significant supply route stretching south from Washington to Culpeper; the area was under Union control and they were planning on using it as a base for further offensive operations. Then, in August and September, Confederate campaigning forced Pope back from that area, and no Union troops return to Culpeper until 1863 (while Longstreet is there November 1862 and his supply line is the one running to Culpeper). We could also include Fredericksburg itself in this categorization, as self-evidently it was under the control of McDowell in June 1862 and was not under Union control later in the year.

If there is any definition of establishing control of an area that is consistent, I think that having a major part of the primary field army based in that area for around a month would have to qualify.
 

Zack

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Stopping Farragut before he got to New Oreans
Echoing this one, especially since it and Pensacola, Florida essentially became the "home bases" for the Gulf Blockading Fleet in all of its subsequent operations until Mobile fell in 1864.

Also - I know this is a "union losses/confederate wins" thread, but I can't even imagine the changes that a Union victory at Vicksburg in July 1862 would have accomplished, splitting the Confederacy and re-opening the Mississippi a year earlier than IRL.
 

Saphroneth

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Looking at things on a continental scale, there are systemic issues behind the Confederate war effort in the west which have everything to do with the relative strategic import of the two theatres.

If the Union concentrates superior fighting power and advances 100 miles in the East from their starting position along a single axis, it's taken Richmond - the Confederate capital, rail junction, single most important industrial site, seat of control for the resources of the populous state of Virginia. It's cleared any possible threat to DC - the Union capital, rail junction, important political site, signifier by itself of the Confederates being able to raise a credible army if they can take it.


If the Union concentrates superior fighting power and advances 100 miles in the West from their starting position along any single axis, it's taken, um... Bowling Green I guess? Memphis is ~130 miles, Corinth is more like 170 miles from Paducah, and Corinth isn't nearly as important as Richmond for all kinds of reasons.


Basically, the Confederates can afford to give up space in the West without losing much that's critical for the amount of space they give up. There are pain points there but they're all really far into the interior and none of them is as vital as Richmond. (It's like how in WW1 the Germans had to advance hundreds of miles to inflict significant defeats on the Russians, but the French were a comparatively easy target in distance terms.)


This essentially means that in the West a major Confederate victory is largely dependent on the Union taking risks or screwing up in some way. The move on Corinth offered a chance to do this (Shiloh) and indeed if we start tweaking the arrival dates we can have Grant's army hit well before Buell's force was in range to help out; aside from this what's available is mostly "ordinary victories" where an army is defeated but not destroyed.
 

LetUsHavePeace

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Perryville

Lincoln had won the Presidential nomination by being the candidate who could win over the Know-Nothings in the Midwest. Fremont had lost to Buchanan because he could not appeal to enough of the voters in Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania. If Bragg had made his objective reaching the Ohio River instead of whipping the Yankees, that would have changed the entire political balance in the Midwest. It is 72 miles by road from Perryville to West Point, which gets its name from being the same kind of chokehold loop on the waterway that West Point is on the Hudson. The Democrats picked up 27 seats in the 1862 election and reduced the Republicans' control of the House of Representatives to a plurality; the shock of the news of the Rebel Army's cannon attacking traffic down the Ohio would have been decisive.
 

Saphroneth

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I think drawing on the German way of war is a possible route to strong consequences. The fundamental conceit of the German way of war is a concentric attack and encirclement, ideally by multiple fast moving columns under independent command, and it is this which lets them defeat larger, more powerful states able to produce bigger and better armies long term - they act so as to create an environment where "long term" doesn't apply in that context.

This is not easy, of course - it didn't always work even for the Prussians - but in principle it offers a route in which the Confederate disadvantage in overall strength and manpower does not preclude them winning a significant campaign even in the West (where they did not place their priority).
 

Pete Longstreet

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I would say Donelson and Shiloh.

Donelson was probably the earliest turning point of the war. The loss of Donelson lost all of Kentucky, most of Tennessee, and it was the emergence of Grant, which catapulted him into the spotlight. It's also when the Northern machine began to fire on all cylinders. Shiloh was a desperate attempt to stop the machine, which failed at a great cost. Basically from that point on, the Union continuously advanced, except Chickamauga, which ended up being a fruitless victory.
 
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trice

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I think the problem with it is that it's defining things increasingly narrowly. It gets to the point that it's almost tautological - the Confederacy never took anywhere the Union wanted to hold to such an extent that they didn't give it up, but if the Union moved troops out of the area because Confederate threat elsewhere compelled them to do so then it doesn't count? Which means manoeuvre doesn't count.

I would argue for example that the Union certainly wanted to control the Valley (specifically they wanted to hold it at least as far south as Front Royal) both to protect the line of the Baltimore and Ohio - something which is a major concern to Lincoln at various times - and as part of the defensive network of Washington more generally.
And the Union established that control of the Valley as far south as Front Royal in March and April 1862, with Banks establishing control of the Valley as far south as Harrisonburg by the end of April 1862, but at points after that date the Confederates instead established control of that section of the Valley. As of October 1862 Longstreet is at Martinsburg and no Union forces are in the Valley except for the perimeter around Harpers Ferry - that is a big swath of terrain which the Union would have rather kept but the Confederates gained control of, cutting a strategic rail line in doing so.


Similarly, as of June to July 1862 the Union's front line was along the Rapidan and they had a significant supply route stretching south from Washington to Culpeper; the area was under Union control and they were planning on using it as a base for further offensive operations. Then, in August and September, Confederate campaigning forced Pope back from that area, and no Union troops return to Culpeper until 1863 (while Longstreet is there November 1862 and his supply line is the one running to Culpeper). We could also include Fredericksburg itself in this categorization, as self-evidently it was under the control of McDowell in June 1862 and was not under Union control later in the year.

If there is any definition of establishing control of an area that is consistent, I think that having a major part of the primary field army based in that area for around a month would have to qualify.
No, I don't think that's it.

The Union wasn't trying to occupy the Shenandoah down to the Lynchburg area in 1862. They would not have minded doing it, but the only reason they are making the big effort they did there was to try to smash Jackson. It was a diversion, one that can be laid at the door of Lincoln and Stanton -- but even they thought all along the troops would be withdrawn and sent on to Richmond to McClellan. The operation was unwise, bungled in execution, and should have been avoided -- but it was never a Union effort to occupy the Shenandoah.

The Central Virginia area is useful as a route to advance on Richmond -- but if you can do that, you no longer need to hold it. If the Union had sent McDowell down to join McClellan by that route, it would probably have shifted to a base on the York River when it got close enough, abandoning the vulnerable overland LOC as Grant did. Again, no real Union plan to control and occupy central Virginia, just to move through it.

The Union certainly would have used control of the area around Virginia to further their plan of smashing the Confederacy at Richmond -- but the truth is they never did take Richmond or smash the Confederates. They can never really control that area without taking Richmond or penning the Confederate army up (like Grant did). If they had, then they would have established control of that area and kept it. They never did win the battle. They lost the campaign and so retreated. They never really controlled that area in 1862; the Confederates never really lost it, and that is what was being decided in the battles.
 

Lubliner

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In 1862 those Union forces were necessary for controlling the rails and canal along the Upper Potomac River. That was the territory that they moved into and battled over with guerillas and partisan rangers, continually. (West Virginia).
Lubliner.
 

Saphroneth

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The Union wasn't trying to occupy the Shenandoah down to the Lynchburg area in 1862. They would not have minded doing it, but the only reason they are making the big effort they did there was to try to smash Jackson. It was a diversion, one that can be laid at the door of Lincoln and Stanton -- but even they thought all along the troops would be withdrawn and sent on to Richmond to McClellan. The operation was unwise, bungled in execution, and should have been avoided -- but it was never a Union effort to occupy the Shenandoah.
But the plan at the time was certainly to occupy the Shenandoah down to the Front Royal area on a permanent basis, and that included keeping the Baltimore and Ohio safe.

The Central Virginia area is useful as a route to advance on Richmond -- but if you can do that, you no longer need to hold it. If the Union had sent McDowell down to join McClellan by that route, it would probably have shifted to a base on the York River when it got close enough, abandoning the vulnerable overland LOC as Grant did. Again, no real Union plan to control and occupy central Virginia, just to move through it.
I think this is missing the fact that, as of July 1862, the Union was occupying the Culpeper area so as to use it as a launch point for an offensive (and Lincoln at least was likely not thinking in terms of the army being based on the York - if he was then he wouldn't have wanted the army withdrawn all the way back to Richmond before starting again.) But when the Union left that area it was not because they'd moved on to Richmond, it was because Lee had launched an offensive which Pope retreated from rather than get defeated.

In both of these cases, the Union lost control of an area as a result of Confederate manoeuvres. If it only "counts" if the Union at all times wanted to control that area on a permanent basis with no interruptions for any reason, then it gets to the point where it devolves on saying "the Confederacy lost the war".
 

OldReliable1862

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I would say Donelson and Shiloh.

Donelson was probably the earliest turning point of the war. The loss of Donelson lost all of Kentucky, most of Tennessee, and it was the emergence of Grant, which catapulted him into the spotlight. It's also when the Northern machine began to fire on all cylinders. Shiloh was a desperate attempt to stop the machine, which failed at a great cost. Basically from that point on, the Union continuously advanced, except Chickamauga, which ended up being a fruitless victory.
I did not include Donelson as I was uncertain if it could be considered large enough in numbers of men engaged, though it was certainly of massive importance.

This raises an interesting question: what was the Union plan in the West if they failed to gain the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers?
 

Saphroneth

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This raises an interesting question: what was the Union plan in the West if they failed to gain the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers?
I believe that at the time the federal movement up those rivers was envisaged it was in the understanding that either they would gain those rivers or (so as to stop them) the Confederates would deploy forces there which would not be available for a campaign around Richmond. At the time of Fort Donelson the planned offensive in the East was still Urbana.
 

RoadDog

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I don't believe it will come as a shock that I don't see how a decisive victory for the Confederates in 1865 is even possible, let alone how such an improbable victory could materially improve the strategic situation. I really don't have anything to contribute here, and it has been included for completeness. Of course, I'm willing to hear a case for it, but I doubt there is a particularly good one.
I agree, by then it was way too late to even think about a victory that would turn everything around.

But, I am always struck by how even Union forces remarked that it was sad to see how close the regimental flags were to each other during Confederate movements. Regiments commanded by captains?

There just wasn't much left.

RoadDog
 

Saphroneth

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But, I am always struck by how even Union forces remarked that it was sad to see how close the regimental flags were to each other during Confederate movements. Regiments commanded by captains?
I make it about 100 men per original regimental organization (ca. 200 regiments and ca. 20,000 men), though a lot of those had undergone consolidation. Some Union divisions in the past had been temporarily down even lower due to battlefield disruption, though... (one US division at Antietam was mustering a bit less than 30 men per regiment on the afternoon of the 17th.)
 
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