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

LetUsHavePeace

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Dec 1, 2018
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.
I think Perryville is the best answer to Old Reliable's question; but my discussion of what the Confederate Army could have done is as stupid as Bragg's choices were. There was no profit in the rebel armies turning west, as they did; and West Point is the last place they should have headed for. Avoiding Buell and reaching the Ohio was the correct strategy; but, having already taken control of Lexington and Frankfort and assured the installation of Richard Hawes as governor, why would Smith and Bragg not continue north to Covington? They had the logistical advantage of the Kentucky Central railroad which could supply them with the food and horses from Kentucky's best farmland. They would have forced Buell to chase them up the Ohio from Louisville without his gunboats along terrain that is as difficult as marching along the Hudson north of Peekskill is (the similarity is my only excuse for thinking of the two West Points).

The news of a Confederate Army standing across the river from Cincinnati in 1862 could have Ft. Sumter in reverse as far as Kentucky and the lower Ohio were concerned. Anyone reading the newspaper in the Ohio Valley would have had to think: do we really want to go to war with these rebels or just sell them hogs and corn as we have been doing?
 

rbasin

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Jan 31, 2013
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Tampa, Fl
In '64?

It definitely would have ruined Thomas if he messed up that softball pitch.
Softball? Sherman took the best troops of the west on a trip to the coast. Left Thomas with bits and pieces of an army. Sherman's excursion could have been done with a sizeable calvary force. Grant's interference was completely uncalled for, given that he was tied down in front of Petersburg.
 

DanSBHawk

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Wisconsin
Softball? Sherman took the best troops of the west on a trip to the coast. Left Thomas with bits and pieces of an army. Sherman's excursion could have been done with a sizeable calvary force. Grant's interference was completely uncalled for, given that he was tied down in front of Petersburg.
I'd say that Schofield did the heavy-lifting of that campaign. Any junior West Pointer could have won Nashville by the time Hood staggered up.
 

Irishtom29

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Kent, Washington
Softball? Sherman took the best troops of the west on a trip to the coast. Left Thomas with bits and pieces of an army.

The 4th Corps was as good as any and the 23rd Corps wasn't chopped liver. And AJ Smith's force was excellent. As events show Thomas's army (think of of it as a kampfgruppe if you want) was easily up to the task; why even old Milroy made a good showing.
 

bayouace

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Louisiana
Tupelo
Here, according to Ed Bearss in Forrest at Brice's Crossroads, 4 of Forrest's 7 Brigades were rendered ineffective thereafter to pursue a raid on Sherman's supply line between Nashville and Chattanooga. The war's result would have been the same, but turmoil would have possibly resulted in the Election of 1864. Just my opinion.
 
Joined
Jun 27, 2017
As an enthusiast of the Army of Tennessee and their battles, I've naturally given some thought to how their performance affected the War of Secession as a whole. As I listed the great battles they fought - Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, the battles for Chattanooga, the battles for Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville, and Bentonville - I found myself wondering which of these, had they won it decisively (or at least as decisively as one could in this war), would have impacted the war the most?

As how the victory is achieved is quite important for determining consequences, I wanted to use the OP to look at the likelihood of a Confederate victory at the following battles.

Pea Ridge (8-9 March 1862)
Yes, this is not a battle of the Army of Tennessee, but I think an argument could be made that a success here would have greatly aided the Army of the Mississippi at Shiloh. One potential change would be having Bragg accept command of the Army of the West. While many terms have used to describe him, one thing he was not was careless. Actually bringing the wagons with the army would be really nice.

Shiloh (6-7 April 1862)
I think I'll take a wager that Shiloh will be the favorite here - the Confederates defeating a significant defeat to one of the major Union field armies in early 1862 is sure to have important consequences.

I'd love to find if the oft-mentioned original attack plan by Johnston would have fared better than the one used historically. Considering the inexperience of the Confederate forces and their commanders, the forces would still have become muddled once they charged into the woods.

Perryville (8 October 1862)
I readily admit I don't have the same degree of familiarity with the Kentucky campaign as I do with Chickamauga or Atlanta, but from what I can tell, the battle does not strike me as unwinnable for Bragg.

Murfreesboro (31 December 1862-2 January 1863)
Rosecrans achieved a tactical draw at Murfreesboro, but a strategic victory. Had the Union failed to stabilize after it had jackknifed on itself in Hardee's attack, or Wheeler and Wharton interdicted the ammunition wagons, I think a victory may be possible. The trouble here is that Bragg's chances of taking Nashville are doubtful.

Chickamauga (19-20 September 1863)
Including Chickamauga may not seem to make sense, while it was certainly a Confederate tactical victory, but it was far from decisive. Rosecrans was able to fall back on Chattanooga, the real prize of the campaign. This could only be achieved by turning the Union left, forcing them away from Chattanooga. I've wondered if this could have been achieved by D. H. Hill's attack occurring on time, or if the Confederate right had promptly attacked as soon as Longstreet achieved his breakthrough.

the Chattanooga battles (23-25 November 1863)
All I can say is: Cracker Line. Once it was opened, I don't really see how Bragg could have pulled a victory out of this.

the Atlanta battles (20-28 July 1864)
This is the last campaign which I think, given the right set of events, could have maybe, just maybe, resulted in a substantially improved Confederate strategic situation. It's arguable whether retaining Johnston as commander of the AoT would have saved Atlanta, and I've heard arguments for both sides.

The battles of Peach Tree Creek, Bald Hill, and Ezra Church, as they were fought historically, do not hold much promise. The first two were overly ambitious, and the third only occurred because S. D. Lee ignored his orders. I'm intrigued by the suggestion, fanciful though it may be, that a similar strategy to that used by Lee at Petersburg could have worked at Atlanta.

Franklin (30 November 1864)
With these last three battles, I don't see how victories at any of them are particularly likely. About the best chance I see for improving Hood's chances in this campaign may be if he actually manages to capture Schofield's wagons at Spring Hill. Other than that, perhaps an early attack at Franklin or Lee's corps being present from the beginning may improve the situation, but I doubt it. Forrest's flank attack, based on reading Stephen Hood's book, seems to have not been the guaranteed success many have claimed it would have been.

Nashville (15-16 December 1864)
Arguably, the battle of Nashville should have never been fought, and Hood's chances for anything like a victory here is very slim.

Bentonville (19-21 March 1865)
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.
You bring up a good list of important battles in the West. Most are important events in the course of the CW. But for the most part the result of a Confederate victory (or a greater success than in actuality) are basically tactical. Only two are truly strategic in nature.

The first is Shiloh. In this discussion there has been discussion of how "total" the victory could have been. Whether because in most CW battles even victory is not "crushing", is Shiloh just another case of an incomplete victory. I would argue to the contrary.

First you have the almost incomprehensible death of AS Johnson (who had he survived might have challenged Lee for the role of the South's greatest general. You remember that had he not been in California at the commencement of hostilities, it is entirely possible that he not Lee might have been offered the command of the Union armies.)

Specifically here at Shiloh had he been able to continue as commander, the South would have been spared the incompetence of Beauregard and Bragg. Is it not reasonable to assume that he would have pressed the attack more firmly, bypassing the "Sunken Lane" (By the way I visited the battlefield a few months after having gone to Antietam. The Ranger was giving us the tour and mentioned the Sunken Lane. I asked him where was it. He laughed and said I was standing in the middle of it. Having just seen the Sunken Lane at Antietam--which could have held London double decker buses--the look of astonishment on my face could well have sent the other visitors to the ER.) and demanding the attack be forcefully continued into the night. Doing so prevents Grant's army from reconstituting itself as well as preventing Buell to reinforce from across the river.

If all of the above had been carried out, there are two things of truly strategic importance. First this battle could have indeed resulted in the destruction of an entire army. The only time such a thing would occur in the CW. Had the attack been forcefully continued, the only avenue for Grant's army would have been headlong flight. Not as in every other defeat of either army in the CW by simply retreating back to where they had come. Rather they would have had to flee northward along the Tenn R on the wrong side of the river. They would have lost all of their artillery. They would have lost all of their supplies Southern cavalry would have harried them constantly as they ran away capturing not thousands but tens of thousands. Even if they found another landing on the Tenn., there would be no guarantee that there would be Union gunboats to help them evacuate and even if they were there Confed artillery could be brought up to disrupt the proceedings. It is easy to conceive that fully half of Grant's AofTenn could have disappeared and well within possibility that the number could swell to 75%.

But the destruction of this army would not have been the most important consequence of the defeat there. The disappearance of US Grant would have had shattering consequences. With Grant out of the picture, who takes Vicksburg? Who reverses the catastrophe of Chickamauga? Who relieves Chattanooga and prevents the surrender of an entire Union army ala Ft Donaldson? Who comes east and directs the Overland Campaign? And finally who makes the move of the war and crosses the James to envelope Petersburg and eventually bring and end to the war.

You mention the Atlanta campaign. I know there has been debate as to whether the fall of Atlanta effected the election of '64. I think quite possibly it did. But not for the reasons that have been offered. Two related incidents made it so. Firstly there was the disastrous command change by Davis, replacing Johnston by Hood. With no fear at all of contradiction, I can state that had Johnston retained command there would have been no headlong attacks against Sherman which by the end of the Atlanta campaign emasculated the Southern army. Indeed with Johnston in charge, the first battle at Peachtree Creek could easily have resulted in a crushing an entire wing of Shermans army with Johnston personally directing the battle that that Hood ordered while not even within hearing distance of the artillery.

But ignoring this hypothesis, accept that Sherman makes his circuit of Atlanta, Johnston evacuates the city and Sherman marches in. Then what. Johnston's army is still intact. Sherman is at the end of a long and tenuous supply line. What can he do? Where can he go?

Certainly not a march to the sea. In the real world Sherman left Atlanta, and marched to the sea totally unopposed. I know there were home guards, but essentially unopposed. By the time he reached the sea and resupply from the Union Navy he was days if not hours from starving to death. What could have been the result had Johnston been in command, directing the cavalry to constantly harry the Union flanks forcing them to concentrate in defense while at the same time preventing them from foraging and living off the countryside. What if every single tiny creek was defended, so that the Union had to concentrate to force a crossing, while simultaneously Johnston's main army pressed against the rear. They would never have reached the coast.

Accepting this concept, a truly strategic victory was that of Tupelo. One of the purposes of the Smith's incursion into Miss was to bring Forrest to battle and eliminate him as a factor of disrupting Union supply lines through Tenn to Atlanta (and Sherman). While not completely eliminating him from the equation the defeat at Tupelo reduced his ability to operate as he had been.

What would have been the effect of Sherman essentially trapped in Atlanta, unable to advance and even possibly having to relinquish the city taken at such great loss and returning to Tennessee?
 

Zack

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Los Angeles, California
I know this isn’t the topic of the thread but it seems relevant - aside from Jefferson Davis endorsing him on what grounds was Albert Sidney Johnston a brilliant general?

Didn’t he somewhat botch his own plan at Shiloh? The idea was to drive the Union into the swamps around owl creek but instead they drove the Union back towards Pittsburgh Landing where they could be reinforced. He mistakenly believed he had turned the Union left and consequently fed more troops into the wrong part of the line.

I mean this question 100% sincerely.
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
I know this isn’t the topic of the thread but it seems relevant - aside from Jefferson Davis endorsing him on what grounds was Albert Sidney Johnston a brilliant general?
It's a pretty similar basis to some Union generals who didn't do much and nobly died, though there's a bit more in ASJ's case.

To evaluate his performance at Shiloh:

The actual plan was very good. ASJ managed a strategic concentration which meant that he had a larger force in theatre than the Union force in the same area, and then formulated a plan which allowed him to gain tactical surprise on a force which was not set up for the defence (i.e. he didn't alert them ahead of time, though this is partly due to failings by the Union commanders; either way however ASJ pounced on a vulnerability).

His initial plan (to drive the Union into the swamps) was also cunningly conceived.

However, the problems he had were mostly organizational.

Firstly he was unable to successfully train his men to keep them disciplined (they ate all their rations the first day which meant they were hungry for the actual battle, for example).
Secondly he didn't pay enough attention to the way Beauregard was implementing his plan, which led to issues (the column of lines with each corps deploying in a wide line, instead of a line of columns with each corps having a sector as that would have been superior; the lack of weight on the crucial right wing; the uneven weights of the corps at the battle).
And thirdly he led from the front instead of remaining somewhere he could influence the course of the whole battle. This contributed to the disorganization of command during the battle, and also probably (along with the discipline issue) led to his death.


ASJ thus comes across (to me) as a talented amateur who could have become quite a lot better if he'd managed to get a handle on the organizational problems mentioned above. In particular he had a good grasp of operational and strategic concentration, and that's something very important for the Confederates given their numerical disadvantage in the West.
 

jackt62

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New York City
I know this isn’t the topic of the thread but it seems relevant - aside from Jefferson Davis endorsing him on what grounds was Albert Sidney Johnston a brilliant general?

Didn’t he somewhat botch his own plan at Shiloh? The idea was to drive the Union into the swamps around owl creek but instead they drove the Union back towards Pittsburgh Landing where they could be reinforced. He mistakenly believed he had turned the Union left and consequently fed more troops into the wrong part of the line.

I mean this question 100% sincerely.
In fact, the southern press castigated AS Johnston at the time for his loss of Fts. Henry and Donelson, Bowling Green, and Nashville. But Davis remained true to him (in keeping with Davis' character trait of extreme loyalty to his friends), and Johnston's last action in planning and concentrating disparate Confederate forces at Corinth was brilliant. That, and his untimely passing, locked his historical legacy in place, but we can never really know what kind of commander he would have evolved into had he lived.
 

American87

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PENNSYLVANIA
Shiloh. If Johnston or Beauregard drives Grant into the Tennessee River, it sets Union operations back much. Halleck probably orders Buell to take a safe position, and we see what happens.

I was going to say Perryville, but it took place after the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. But if Bragg routed Buell's army, it would at least have forced Grant, possibly, back into Kentucky, resetting the whole Union advance of 1862.
 

Zack

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Los Angeles, California
Would a Union loss at Shiloh have affected the concurrent Mississippi River campaign(s). Shiloh was at roughly the same time as Island Number 10 and New Orleans. The former was probably too far along to be affected and the latter - well Farragut had begun moving ships into the river in Mid-March but the attack wouldn’t come until April 24. It seems like it was too far south to have been called off, but would the advances up and down the Mississippi that followed have been delayed?
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
Would a Union loss at Shiloh have affected the concurrent Mississippi River campaign(s). Shiloh was at roughly the same time as Island Number 10 and New Orleans. The former was probably too far along to be affected and the latter - well Farragut had begun moving ships into the river in Mid-March but the attack wouldn’t come until April 24. It seems like it was too far south to have been called off, but would the advances up and down the Mississippi that followed have been delayed?
I believe it wouldn't have affected New Orleans unless the troops moved up for Shiloh could get back down there in time. If they can however I understand that basically invalidates the New Orleans operation?
 
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