Question of the Week: 7/29-8/4/19

Here’s a “what if” scenario…

In your opinion, how would the Civil War have unfolded strategically if Montgomery, Alabama had remained the capital of the Confederacy (instead moving to Richmond, Virginia)?

14 Responses to Question of the Week: 7/29-8/4/19

  1. Very interesting question, and one I have pondered myself. Here’s a few quick thoughts:

    – Virginia still would have been a major theater of war, if only because of the industrial importance of Richmond (and Norfolk, with the Navy Yard), and the need to protect Washington.

    – Grant always wanted to capture Mobile and cut into the underbelly of the Confederacy. That strategy finally was undertaken 1864-65; it is likely it would have gone earlier. The Gulf Coast would have featured larger battles.

    – Both sides would have committed more resources to the West, and the campaigns would have been larger with larger forces. The Anaconda Strategy would still have been valid, but would have needed more force because the Confederates would have concentrated more resources in Alabama and Mississippi.

    – Kentucky neutrality would have been an even bigger thing that it was, becuase the state would have been a neutral belt that protected direct overland route to Montgomery (today’s I-65 corridor) through most of 1861. That would still put the first battles East and Trans-Miss, but once the West got going (with KY’s neutrality broken) that would probably have become the main theater.

    – The war in Tennessee would probably have progressed largely as it did through the late summer or fall of 1863, at which point the Federal armies may have diverted to Alabama for 1864.

  2. The siting of Confederate Capital at Montgomery in the deep South at first appears more secure, but only if Mobile remained in Rebel hands (which happened), as well as Pensacola Florida (which did not happen.) Federal conquest of the Mississippi River would have remained a priority; capture of Mobile would have become a Federal priority; and Braxton Bragg would likely have remained in vicinity of Pensacola and taken responsibility for defending both Pensacola and Mobile.

  3. I can only offer a few questions. How would the command structure of the Confederate army been affected by such an action? Would RE Lee and the others from there have had their opportunity to ‘shine’ and rise within the ranks? Richmond would still be vital to the CSA war efforts due to its industry and transportation facilities, as well as its proximity to the breadbasket that was the Shenandoah Valley. Union efforts always appeared to view Richmond the Capital of the Confederacy as the proverbial ‘head of the snake’, if that head could be severed, the war hopefully would end or at least be shortened. So with that said it makes sense the Union efforts would have been concentrated on seizing Montgomery, AL. Jeff Davis would be placed among the elected and appointed officials of Alabama’s state government, so he no doubt would be influenced to some degree by what they counseled to him, and that could very well have affected his military appointments.

    1. That should read “Would RE Lee and the others from VIRGINIA have had their opportunity to ‘shine’ and rise within the ranks?

      1. I suspect yes. You would have still needed a sizeable army in Virginia to protect the state and threaten DC – both of which would still be key Confederate objectives. In fact, I suspect the Confederate leaders in the East might have had greater freedom of action had they not had their capital usually 50-100 miles to their rear during operations.

        RE Lee is a special case to your question, as his rise to army command was dependent on very specific circumstances resulting from a Federal campaign to capture the Confederate capital. He probably would have risen anyway, but not as fast without Joe Johnston’s wounding.

      2. Possibly. Would Lee have still been at Davis side in an advisory role if they were located in Montgomery? If he’s not then he wouldn’t be able to make such a direct and personal impression on him as happened during g the Peninsular Campaign. Of course, in this alternate history we don’t know if there would have been a Peninsular Campaign, but as you pointed out, there would have no doubt still been major and intense military operations by both sides in VA because of its importance and proximity to Washington, DC. Also, if Davis did have Lee at his side in Montgomery, I wonder of he would have been appointed to a command ‘down there’? I would appreciate your thoughts along that line Chris…

  4. Regarding the Capitol in Montgomery, and Braxton Bragg, does that mean J Davis and his pet General (Bragg) would have spent more of their time trying to defend Montgomery, Mobile, and Pensacola, thus leaving Lee to take care of the Virginia theatre with less interference? With Bragg in charge would he lose Mobile and Pensacola instead of losing Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge? If so, Atlanta would presumably be attacked from the SW instead of the NW. Quite possibly Atlanta would have been defended by someone other than Johnston. In any event it is lot farther from Mobile to Atlanta than Chattanooga to Atlanta making logistics and supply for the Federal Army very difficult. Would this delay mean that Lincoln loses the 1864 Election because Atlanta still stood.

    I love these “what if” scenarios!.

    1. And if Jefferson Davis remains installed in his Capital at Montgomery, and the Battle of First Manassas still takes place, it would likely mean President Davis has no opportunity to meddle in the final day of “running the Federals back to Washington.” Result: no likelihood of Davis developing a personality conflict with PGT Beauregard, the most successful Rebel General through the end of 1861… who possibly goes from strength to strength.

  5. I’m not sure that it would have changed Union strategy all that much. Virginia was still more significant in terms of location and for economic reasons than was Alabama, in addition to the proximity to Washington which others have noted. Moreover, control of the Mississippi/New Orleans/Vicksburg/Memphis still was critical, as was Tennessee..Even with the capital in Richmond the Union made a substantial commitment from early on to the River and to Tennessee. From the CSA’s perspective I think that the move to Richmond made a great deal of sense. That might moot the discussion or make it pretty much a “chicken/egg” question. While the “On to Richmond” mentality reflected on the surface the concept of where the capital was located, I think winning the war in Virginia would have been a priority nonetheless. IIRC Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee were the most significant states in terms of manpower, etc.I can’t buy into the Montgomery location materially altering where or how the war was fought. All speculation on my part, of course.

  6. More Confederate troops would have been stationed deeper into the Confederacy. It would have been tougher for Grant to take Vicksburg, since more troops would have been in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama. Gettysburg may not have been a battle, or at least it would have been a smaller battle, since more troops would have been kept near Montgomery to combat General Grant and Sherman. I think disease would have been worse, because of the filthy water and rain from the tropics would been a more serious concern. There might have been an invasion of Florida by Union forces. The fighting would have been more swampy.

  7. Some other considerations here. Virginia was not automatically in the Confederates ‘fold’. Alexander H. Stephens was sent there by Jeff Davis to help facilitate changing that. After a contentious and often bitter process, VA did secede, Not long after VA seceded, they ‘offered’ Richmond to be the Confederate capital, and the Confederate Congress voted to accept. So with that said, it is fair to wonder if VA would have indeed seceded without such back room dealings and other maneuverings? Did Davis make that offer to THEM to have Richmond be the capital? Here is an excerpt from Stephens speech to the VA Secession Convention: “This can best be done by having your military operations under the common head at Montgomery—or it may be at Richmond. For, while I have no authority to speak on that subject, I feel at perfect liberty to say; that it is quite within the range of probability that, if such an alliance is made as seems to me ought to be made, the seat of our Government will, within a few weeks, be moved to this place. There is no permanent location at Montgomery —and should Virginia become, as it probably will, the theatre of the war, the whole may be transferred here—then all your military operations with ours will be under a common head. Your distinguished commander-in-chief, [General Lee], will, doubtless, have such a position as his great military talents and merits deserve.” Seems that there is considerable ’cause and effect’ there. But imagine THAT scenario where VA stayed within the Union? I think the switching of Montgomery for Richmond was HUGE. It was also logical and made the most sense. And Lee’s stature appears to have loomed quite large regardless of which city became the capital.

  8. The political behind the scenes sounds plausible to me. Seems like nothing ever really changes. Perhaps General Lee, CIC of all VA forces said: I would love to have the job, but the wife and kids said there was no way they were moving to Alabama!

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