Question of the Week for April 14, 2014

At the outset of the spring 1864 campaigns, do you believe that the Confederacy still had a fighting chance to win the war, or do you believe victory was a forlorn hope?

Confederate Dead at the Alsop House, May 1864.

Confederate Dead at the Alsop House, May 1864.

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9 Responses to Question of the Week for April 14, 2014

  1. Amanda Warren says:

    I believe that the Confederacy definitely had a fighting chance at the beginning of the 1864 campaign season. It was when Atlanta fell in early September that their hopes became forlorn.

  2. joe truglio says:

    I agree with the ‘fighting chance’, but I believe that the Union juggernaut with Grant at the front, it was just a matter of time. The South’s best chance was that the Northern population would no longer support the War. Atlanta sealed the deal.

  3. Charles Martin says:

    The Confederate mindset was its own worst enemy. Patrick Cleburne suggested allowing slaves to serve in its armies in return for their freedom, and was, as a result, denied any advancement to corps or army command. When Lee was given permission to do so in 1865 it was too late. If both happened in 1864, Sherman would have been facing a superbly led Army of Tennessee and the numbers in both the AoT and the ANV would have been increased to be on par with the Northern armies facing them. The result would have been a stalemate in both the Eastern and Western Theaters, and McClellan would have been elected. The meeting of the peace commissioners at Hampton Roads Conference would have produced a peace treaty granting the South its independence.

  4. The “what ifs” of history will drive you mad. If the question is “Did the rebels believe they had a fighting chance?” then the answer is “yes,” at least for those who were still fighting. Otherwise they would have gone home, as quite a few had started to do.

  5. Meg Thompson says:

    The idea that slaves would fight for their own enslavement is disconcerting, at the very least. I do not think “superb” would describe the Army of Tennessee. I think slaves would desert en masse to the Union army if given half a chance.

    The Confederacy was deluded from Vicksburg onward if they truly felt they had a chance to win th

    • Meg Thompson says:

      Comment sort of cut off–”to win the war” is what was supposed to be there.

    • Phil Leigh says:

      1. “The idea that slaves would fight for their own enslavement is disconcerting..”

      Jefferson Davis agreed with you. That is why by executive order he stipulated that any African-American accepted into a combat role in the Confederate army *must* be accompanied by manumission papers from his former master. Davis thereby circumvented the Confederate Congress failed to provide manumission for black Rebel soldiers.*

      2 “I think slaves would desert en masse to the Union army if given half a chance.”

      Perhaps so, but there is also evidence that they would have stayed with the Rebels.

      First, according to British observer Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur there were over 4,000 slaves serving Lee’s army as non-combatants at Gettysburg (20 – 30 per regiment.)** Even though the Rebels were beaten, few of the slaves failed to stay loyal to the Army of Northern Virginia although they could have escaped to the Northern lines after the battle and during the retreat.

      Second, Fremantle added “From what I have seen of the Southern Negroes, I am of the opinion that the Confederates could…convert a great number into soldiers…and I think they would prove more efficient than black troops under any other circumstance.***

      Third, In his “Rebel War Clerk’s Diary” on March 17, 1865 John Jones writes, “We shall have a negro army. Letters are pouring into the department from men of military skill and character, asking authority to raise companies, battalions, and regiments.”****

      Fourth, while Edwin Tuttle’s letter to his parents after the battle of Olustee is often cited as evidence that Rebel troops murdered wounded Union black soldiers, his letter also states that black cooks from the Confederate Georgia regiments went around after the battle clubbing wounded Union black solders with pine wood clubs.*****

      * Davis, William C., “Jefferson Davis” p. 599 (New York: HarperCollins, 1991)

      ** Fremantle, Arthur J. L., “Three Months in the Southern States”, p. 234 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991) – Reprint

      *** Ibid, p. 282

      **** Jones, John Beauchamp, “A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary”

      ***** Nulty, William H., “Confederate Florida”, p. 211 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990)

  6. RonElFran says:

    In 1864 the Confederacy had not so much a “fighting” chance as an “exhausting” chance. 1864 was their best and final opportunity to succeed in what their real strategy was: exhausting the Union’s will to pay the price of continuing the fight. Lee believed that if the Confederates could just achieve military stalemate in that campaign season, the North would give up. And they came close. If Sherman hadn’t taken Atlanta right on time, would Lincoln have been defeated in November? With McClellan in the White House, Confederate independence would have inevitably followed.

  7. Phil Leigh says:

    Looking at 1864 in isolation, the first four months were not too bad from the Confederate viewpoint. Consider the following 150 years ago this month:

    First, was the defeat of the Union Florida invasion at Olustee on February 20th where Federal casualties as a percent of troops engaged were among the highest of the war at 34%.

    Second, General Nathaniel Banks and his Army of the Gulf was forced to abandon the Red River Campaign in early April. Toward the end of April it also looked like Admiral Porter’s Mississippi Flotilla might have to be abandoned at Alexandria because of low water.

    Third, General Fredrick Steele’s Union army at Camden, Arkansas was threatened with starvation and capture after his two supply trains were destroyed at Poison Springs and Marks Mills during the second half of April. He may not have escaped if Rebel cavalry had been on the lookout across the Ouchita River.

    Of course, the major Virginia and Georgia campaigns came next. I share the view of others that if Atlanta remained in Rebel hands in November, Lincoln would probably have lost the election to McClellan….especially if General Early had been able to hold onto his morning victory at Cedar Creek. There was a trend against two-term presidents. No president since Andrew Jackson in 1832 had been re-elected for a second term.

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