How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat

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Could the South have won the Civil War?

To many, the very question seems absurd. After all, the Confederacy had only a third of the population and one-eleventh of the industry of the North. Wasn’t the South’s defeat inevitable?

Not at all, as acclaimed military historian Bevin Alexander reveals in this provocative and counterintuitive new look at the Civil War. In fact, the South most definitely could have won the war, and Alexander documents exactly how a Confederate victory could have come about—and how close it came to happening.

Moving beyond fanciful theoretical conjectures to explore actual plans that Confederate generals proposed and the tactics ultimately adopted in the war’s key battles, How the South Could Have Won the Civil War offers surprising analysis on topics such as:

•How the Confederacy had its greatest chance to win the war just three months into the fighting—but blew it
•How the Confederacy’s three most important leaders—President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson—clashed over how to fight the war
•How the Civil War’s decisive turning point came in a battle that the Rebel army never needed to fight
•How the Confederate army devised—but never fully exploited—a way to negate the Union’s huge advantages in manpower and weaponry
•How Abraham Lincoln and other Northern leaders understood the Union’s true vulnerability better than the Confederacy’s top leaders did
•How it is a myth that the Union army’s accidental discovery of Lee’s order of battle doomed the South’s 1862 Maryland campaign
•How the South failed to heed the important lessons of its 1863 victory at Chancellorsville

How the South Could Have Won the Civil War shows why there is nothing inevitable about military victory, even for a state with overwhelming strength. Alexander provides a startling account of how a relatively small number of tactical and strategic mistakes cost the South the war—and changed the course of history.
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About the author

BEVIN ALEXANDER is the author of nine books of military history, including How Hitler Could Have Won World War II, How Wars Are Won, How America Got It Right, and Lost Victories, which was named by the Civil War Book Review as one of the seventeen books that have most transformed Civil War scholarship. His battle studies of the Korean War, written during his decorated service as a combat historian, are stored in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. He lives in Bremo Bluff, Virginia.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Crown Forum
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Published on
Nov 25, 2008
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Pages
354
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ISBN
9780307450104
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Military / Strategy
History / Military / United States
History / United States / Civil War Period (1850-1877)
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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For all the literature about Civil War military operations and leadership, precious little has been written about strategy, particularly in what has become known as the eastern theater. Yet it is in this theater where the interaction of geography and logistics, politics and public opinion, battlefront and home front, and the conduct of military operations and civil-military relations can be highlighted in sharp relief.

With opposing capitals barely 100 miles apart and with the Chesapeake Bay/tidewater area offering Union generals the same sorts of opportunities sought by Confederate leaders in the Shenandoah Valley, geography shaped military operations in fundamental ways: the very rivers that obstructed Union overland advances offered them the chance to outflank Confederate-prepared positions. If the proximity of the enemy capital proved too tempting to pass up, generals on each side were aware that a major mishap could lead to an enemy parade down the streets of their own capital city. Presidents, politicians, and the press peeked over the shoulders of military commanders, some of who were not reluctant to engage in their own intrigues as they promoted their own fortunes.

The Civil War in the East does not rest upon new primary sources or an extensive rummaging through the mountains of material already available. Rather, it takes a fresh look at military operations and the assumptions that shaped them, and offers a more integrated interpretation of military operations that shows how politics, public perception, geography, and logistics shaped the course of military operations in the East. The eastern theater was indeed a theater of decision (and indecision), precisely because people believed that it was important. The presence of the capitals raised the stakes of victory and defeat; at a time when people viewed war in terms of decisive battles, the anticipation of victory followed by disappointment and persistent strategic stalemate characterized the course of events in the East.

Acclaimed military historian Bevin Alexander offers a fresh and cogent analysis of Stonewall Jackson’s military genius and reveals how the Civil War might have ended differently if Jackson’s strategies had been adopted.

The Civil War of 1861–65 pitted the industrial North against the agricultural South, and remains the most catastrophic conflict in terms of loss of life in American history. With triple the population and eleven times the industry, the Union had a decided advantage over the Confederacy in terms of direct conflict and conventional warfare. One general had the vision of an alternative approach that could win the War for the South—his name was Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

It was Jackson’s strategy to always strike at the Union’s vulnerabilities, not to challenge its power directly. He won a campaign against the North with a force only a quarter of the size of the Union army, and he was the first commander to recognize the overwhelming defensive power of the new rifles and cannons. With most of its military forces on the offensive in the South, the North was left virtually undefended on its own turf. Jackson believed invading the eastern states along the great industrial corridor from Baltimore to Maine could divide and cripple the Union, forcing surrender. But he failed to convince Confederate president Jefferson Davis or General Robert E. Lee of the viability of his plan.

In Such Troops as These, Bevin Alexander presents a compelling case for Stonewall Jackson as a supreme military strategist and the greatest general in American history. Fiercely dedicated to the cause of Southern independence, Jackson would not live to see the end of the War. But his military legacy lives on and finds fitting tribute in this book.
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