Why did both the North and South believe they would win the war quickly ?

gem

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
Messages
2,691
#1
Why did both the North and South believe they would win the war quickly ?
 

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

Jimklag

Lt. Colonel
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 3, 2017
Messages
9,911
Location
Chicagoland
#3
Why did both the North and South believe they would win the war quickly ?
Both sides underestimated the willpower of their enemy's population, thinking one big battle would end the war which, of course, their side would win. In particular, the south underestimated nothern will for four years all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. The south even planned strategy around their erroneous belief that the northern people would pack it in after the next rebel victory when, in fact, northern morale stiffened after every setback from the loss of Sumter to the Overland campaign.
 

Cavalry Charger

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Jan 24, 2017
Messages
5,547
#6
Why did both the North and South believe they would win the war quickly ?
They underestimated each other big time! You have to know your enemy, and I'm guessing both sides thought they had the other sides mettle until events proved them wrong. It doesn't take long for both sides to become entrenched once the bloodletting begins.
 
Joined
Jul 6, 2016
Messages
952
#7
Was that unique to the Civil War generation? It seems that with nearly every major war the people responsible for taking their nation or faction to war expected a much shorter conflict than the one they got.

We're now in the middle of the hundred-year anniversary for the First World War, and that was another war many people thought would be a short affair. Not many expected their soldiers to still be slugging out in 1918, with millions of Europe's young men already dead, crippled, or driven mad. The Axis Powers in the Second World War also expected quick victories over the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The recent war in Iraq is another example. That war was supposed to be over when Saddam was removed from power, and not many expected a protracted insurgency. Ect., ect.

Maybe politicians in general often do a very poor job of accurately predicting the future, and all too often fall victim to listening only to sycophants who predict positive outcomes to policies they plan to enact.
 

trice

Lt. Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Messages
11,211
#9
Why did both the North and South believe they would win the war quickly ?
I believe this is simply the result of ignorance.

At the society level, most Americans had no direct experience of war. If they did, native-born Americans were usually either veterans of the Mexican War or an Indian war; the British raids of the War of 1812 were almost 50 years gone, so a boy of 12 at the burning of Washington would now be 60. The other major group would be immigrants, particularly those fleeing Europe after the revolutions in the 1830 and 1848.

If you look at individuals, the more they knew about war, the less they expected it to be short (and the more they understood what war meant, the more they understood how grim it would be). In general terms, the soldiers who fought in Mexico and other places were more realistic about what they faced; the Lees and Johnstons and Jacksons understood the North would not be easily beaten, a man like Winfield Scott understood what it took to go about a large war. The Grant's and Sherman's saw the difficulties even if they didn't understand them fully yet -- Sherman's brief 1861 command in Kentucky had people declaring him "crazy" when he began talking aloud about what was needed.

Scott's Anaconda Plan is perfectly sound and not far from what eventually won the war: cut "the South" into separate sections along the river-lines, concentrate a trained, disciplined mass of troops and move it from area to area to crush the rebels in detail. McClellan's follow-up plan to the Peninsula and taking Richmond in 1862 is more of the same: concentrate an overwhelming force under his own hand and move down the coast from port to port (Wilmington-Charleston-Savannah) while the Mississippi Valley was cleared.

Even a Napoleon, with 15 years active experience of warfare, misjudged how difficult it would be to conquer Spain and Portugal in 1807-08, then followed that mess up with the mistake of invading Russia in 1812 while the war down in there still raged. Civilians who'd never seen war, who knew not the terrors and struggles of fighting one, and had no concept of the labor of creating, training and sustaining large armies, were not likely to see in advance what was required.

To further mislead them, the most recent war to them was the 1859 war in Italy between Napoleon III's French and the Austrians. Newspaper accounts of such a far-away struggle reported a glorious victory in a short war with only two major battles. The hot ladies' fashion colors of 1860 were newly-developed dyes named after those, the battles of Magenta and Solferino. French Zouaves and their light-infantry drill were all the rage (so much so that many troops raised at the start of the Civil War adopted their elaborate, colorful uniforms).

Lost in the afterglow of victory was the reporting of the cost:
  • Magenta, June 4, 1859:
    • French about 4,500 casualties of 54,000
    • Austrian about 5,700 casualties, 4,500 captured of 57,000
  • Solferino, June 24, 1859:
    • French/Piedmontese about 15,000 casualties, 2000 missing of 150,000
    • Austrians about 14,000 casualties, 8,000 missing of 120,000
The battlefield butchery in Italy and the chaos of the French trying to mobilize and deploy large forces far away was hidden by the abrupt end of the war. Napoleon III proposed an armistice after the 15-hour bloodbath at Solferino and the Austrian Emperor accepted July 8th (Sardinia-Piedmont was outraged by the quick end of the war). The war had started April 27 when the Austrians invaded Piedmont, so it lasted 73 days in total.

Maybe that is what the American populace, North and South, was thinking in early 1861: the same type of "short, victorious war" idea that led Russia into the disastrous Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, or led the nations of Europe to send their millions off to war in August 1914 with "Home before the leaves fall!"
 
Last edited:
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Messages
7,627
Location
Denver, CO
#10
The United States seriously over estimated its ability to mobilize a military power.
They were starting from below zero and lost a large part of their officer corp.
The Confederate States under estimated the ability of the United State to withstand losses.
They gravely under estimated the ability of Britain to cope with the blockade of cotton, and over estimated the independence of France.
It took the United States about 10 months to organize a victory on land.
The last five months of the war also had no purpose and had no affect on the terms of surrender.
 

trice

Lt. Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Messages
11,211
#11
...
They were starting from below zero and lost a large part of their officer corp.
...
Just on this part:
  • Roughly 14,000 troops were west of the Mississippi River; about 2,000 troops were east of it.
  • At the start of 1861, the US Army had some 16,000 men. Just over 1000 of them officers.
    • Of the officers, just under 30% resigned to "go South"
    • No US troops were moved east of the Mississippi by either Buchanan or Lincoln before Ft. Sumter. (Exception: after the Texas troops were surrounded and Twiggs agreed to withdraw, about 1,100 were shipped from the Texas coast under the terms of that agreement)
    • the other roughly 1,100 troops in Texas were interned (Davis ordered this the same time as the attack on Ft. Sumter, although the troops were continuing to withdraw in accord with the agreement). This included Robert E. Lee, who was headed home on furlough and released. The last of them were exchanged in September of 1863
    • another 380 or so US troops were taken out by Baylor and the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles at Mesilla in New Mexico in late July.
So, by the end of July, 10% of the US Army had already become POWs, and about 30% of the officers had left to join the rebels. Thousands more were in posts as far away as the Pacific coast -- some were ordered back, some had to stay.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Jul 6, 2016
Messages
952
#12
Because if the politicians had said, "You know, that guy Sherman may be right. This may take awhile," the population may have thrown over both governments and held a peace convention.
Unfortunately no one paid Sam Houston any mind either:

“Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you, but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.”

---Sam Houston, April 19, 1861
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
Messages
10,110
#14
At its most basic, the South believed their cause was just and, as, a matter of God's justice, it could not fail and the carefully inculcated secessionist propaganda for 3 decades, there was a universal belief that southerners were jst naturally superior as soldiers and any 3 confederates could easily beat 10 Yankees.

The North was unprepared for war simply because they did not really believe that the majority of southern people, in their heart of hearts, would supported the secessionists policies to the extent of engaging in out right War.
 

John S. Carter

First Sergeant
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
Messages
1,249
#15
Both sides underestimated the willpower of their enemy's population, thinking one big battle would end the war which, of course, their side would win. In particular, the south underestimated nothern will for four years all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. The south even planned strategy around their erroneous belief that the northern people would pack it in after the next rebel victory when, in fact, northern morale stiffened after every setback from the loss of Sumter to the Overland campaign.
Well Stated !
 

civilken

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 25, 2013
Messages
3,525
#17
because that's how you get all the young men to sign up. you cant tell them it's going to take years and be a bloodbath they might stop and think about it and that is one thing you don't want people thinking how brutal war can be.there is really no such thing as a fast war or a bloodless war as Sherman said war is hell and it should be when people think it's going to be fun that's when the killing starts..
 

Karen Lips

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jun 24, 2008
Messages
3,810
Location
Waxahachie,Texas
#18
,
Unfortunately no one paid Sam Houston any mind either:

“Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you, but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.”

---Sam Houston, April 19, 1861
I always thought it was too bad that the South did not listen to Sam Houston's prophetic words of wisdom. I wonder why Texans, at least, did not take him at his word and stay in the Union.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Apr 15, 2016
Messages
427
#19
There's the political posturing and propaganda fed to the poor unfortunates that have to fight the wars, then there's the outlook of the men ordering them to the field of battle.

In the South's case, I have to wonder how much of the belief in the success of secession had to do with the actions of President Buchanon's cabinet.

Buchanon was paralyzed during the crisis, though he too would have fought to save Sumter.

But how much of that was the whispers of his cabinet? And what else were they orchestrating?

John B Floyd, Buchanon's Secretary of War, and future brigadier general of the Confederacy. He was in charge of troop dispositions and the arsenals leading up to the war, and was brought on charges for aiding and abetting the Confederacy by moving 115K small arms, and ordering significant artillery resources to the South where they were easily seized. He was acquited, as much by an obscure law stating that you couldn't charge someone with a crime if they had testified to congress on the matter, but both Lincoln and Grant blamed him for the horrible condition of the US army at the start of the war. It was scattered throughout the country, and almost no US resources were in the East. It's quite likely that was intentional.

And of course he had been preceded in that position (Secy of War) by none other than Jefferson Davis.

Then there's Howell Cobb, a Georgia politician and Secretary of the Treasury. Who later became the President of the Provisional Confederate Congress and a Major General. US finances were in shambles at the beginning of the war, due to a variety of factors, including the crash of 1857 and the dirth of tariff collection as the Southern states moved toward rebellion. But one aspect was Cobb bought back treasury bonds in earnest in his initial years, emptying the coffers. He claimed this would spur growth. He lobbied for increased tariffs, which failed in Congress in the late 1850s. But certainly he knew that dire straights that Lincoln would find the federal finances in - it's possible he even helped engineer that.

Cobb is also notable for arguing against arming the slaves to save the Confederacy, stating that if they made good soldiers the Confederacy whole outlook was wrong.

Jacob Thompson was Secretary of Interior under Buchanon. He was pro-secession, to the point he was appointed by the state of Mississippi to get preach rebellion to the North Carolina legislature while actively working in the Buchannon administration! AG Edwin Stanton formerly accused Thompson of being a traitor, saying in an open meeting that he only remained in the administration in order to pass on information to the secessionists. In this regard he was certainly correct - Thompson sent a telegram to SC telling them of the Star of the West's relief effort. That was stopped by the messenger when he realized it meant treason. Thompson then sent a second telegram, and the canons were moved into position to fire on the Star as it entered the harbor. This from:
Traitors: The Secession Period, November 1860-July 1861, p44

Thompsonthen resigned. He joined the rebellion, and became Inspector General for the Confederacy. He was also chief of their Secret Service in Canada, where he launched several plots including trying to get the Northwest territories to rebel. He was accused of being John Wilkes Booth's handler, but that was never proven, and he denied it to his last day.

I think it's very likely that the belief that the Confederacy was a valid opportunity came from treason at the highest levels of the Buchanon administration. Certainly the actions of Floyd gave them significant military advantage in the opening days of the war.
 
Last edited:



(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Top