Question of the Week: 6/12-6/18/23

Confederates had to make a choice invade Pennsylvania or go west and try to save Vicksburg. If it’s your choice, what do you decide and and what’s your reason?

21 Responses to Question of the Week: 6/12-6/18/23

  1. I would have urged going to Vicksburg as, in order to “win” the Civil War, the South simply had to hold their own ~ not necessarily DEFEAT the Unionists. Given the North’s greater industrial; strength and manpower, the South would have been better served utilizing their military prowess to its’ fullest potential. The results may well have been the same anyway.

  2. By that point in the war, the Mississippi was no longer defendable and the Trans-Mississippi was lost. Sending additional resources there wails have made little, if any, difference. While the war remained “winnable” it could no longer was won militarily by the South. Forcing a political end was the only way victory could be attained. I believe that could only come about through taking the war to the North. A decisive win north of the Mason-Dixon Line stood the best chance of further dividing the north and ending the war.

  3. Invade Pennsylvania. Transferring part of Lee’s army to Mississippi would have been logistically difficult and offered no guarantee of saving Vicksburg. It could also result in defeat for a smaller Army of Northern Virginia. The only way the Confederates were going to win the war was to get the Union to quit. The best way to do that would be a Confederate victory in a key Northern state, close to major population centers and the nation’s capital. A Confederate victory at Gettysburg would not have ended the war, but it would have been a catastrophe for the Union.

  4. Why would/how could Confederates have left Virginia undefended? How much of the ANV would have been required for Vicksburg? What mistakes/unanticipated events in the Western theatre influenced the outcome of Vicksburg. A great deal has been written on this.

  5. The Confederacy had no good choice. They had made the inevitable choice to secede to escape exploitation by a section of the Union that sought to centralize power in the general government where its population majority could be leveraged to exploit the Union.

    That choice was was forced on them; a choice made in hopes that a sectional American President would at least honor the thoroughly American founding principle that true liberty is a matter of government by consent of the governed. But a Union formed to benefit all the States equally no longer existed, and it was therefore no longer a Union consented to by the Southern people. Unfortunately for those people, that sectional President would not honor the true American notion of freedom. In a shameless display of tyranny in the land of liberty, he would turn the guns of the federal government on them for seeking to exercise their right to a government of their own consent. The Southern hope for a peaceful secession was a choice made futile by a President who was willing to commit a crime against humanity by provoking a war and then invading the South to “preserve the Union;” a fanciful euphemism for maintaining access to the revenue generated by the South.

    Because of a sectional President, who knew no restraint in maintaining “his revenue,” the South had gambled on him respecting America’s founding principles and lost. The dogs of war were unleashed on a people simply seeking to govern themselves by a section of the Union that had them vastly outnumbered and outgunned. Even though the South made a valiant fight for liberty against all odds, every victory on the battlefield was futile in a war where it was only a matter of time. No battlefield strategy was going to change that. Not even a strategy of a gorilla warfare would have succeeded, because the South faced a sectional President who knew no restraints in turning war on civilians. His own constituency, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, were calling for him to “extend New England to the Gulf,” in a genocidal demand to “repopulate the South” with Northern minded people.” Glory, glory hallelujah.

    1. That’s right. True Liberty is a matter of consent of the governed. A principle so beautiful that its especially obscene to employ it to defend a rebellion to perserve, and God willing, extend slavery. The Confederacy, a banana republic that had long discarded any part of the Constitution or D of I, that might interfere with the ‘sacred institution’ of slavery.

      1. I am going to put something to you here. Specifically, this-

        If you really believe the substance of what you say about condemning the historic existence of slavery and its expansion in 19th Ce. America in the terms you both cite and imply, then do you also condemn just as severely the 1846-48 Mexican American War that was fought for that very principle in the main? If you will put the argument that the Civil War/War Between The States as principally being about slavery, then if you are true to what you say, you are just as willing to condemn the actions of the Union under the Stars and Stripes, by troops in blue.

        And speaking of the Constitution, are you just was willing to condemn the 3/5 and Fugitive Slave tenets within it, that the Union went to war to enforce and preserve?

        I ask this in frank manner as one historian to another.

  6. Take out the railroads at Harrisburg! Strike them a blow! With the B&O that will be the second of three East/West Union rail lines cut. Nothing has been pre-determined in June of 1863.

  7. With Joe Johnston in overall charge of the department in the west, it is doubtful that even a significant reinforcement (say, 20,000) force would actually have been used, even if it could have been transported west in a timely fashion. So the CSA still loses Vicksburg. What Lee does with his reduced army is hard to say, except to note that he did give battle at Chancellorsville even with Longstreet away. So perhaps he does so again, with unknowing but probably inconsequential results, since Lee will not have sufficient troops to exploit any victory. In sum, sending troops to Vicksburg has no significant effect on the actual course of history.

  8. The question is based on a false premise. “The Confederacy” faced no such binary question in the spring of 1863. The Army of the Cumberland was about to initiate an attack along a front 50 miles wide, was an existential to the ability of the CSA to continue fighting the war. The Tullahoma / Chattanooga Campaign sealed the fate of the CSA.

    As Joseph Johnston rightly concluded, Vicksburg was going to fall. The Union with command of the river could support & reinforce an army in Mississippi, the CSA could not. Vicksburg was going to fall. The important thing was to save the army.

    With the army intact, Johnston had options. When Pemberton chose to ignore Johnston’s order to evacuate Vicksburg, he sealed the fate of both the fortress & his army.

    Lee’s letters to Davis unambiguously stated that inflicting a strategic defeat of the Army of the Potomac, at least threatening Washington in order shatter Union morale was his reason for the Pennsylvania incursion. Lee’s prescient analysis stated that the CSA had one last chance to muster the forces necessary to inflict a knockout blow. Davis ignored Lee & the meeting engagement in Nowhere, Pennsylvania was the result. A captured letter from Davis to Lee in PA stated that he hadn’t even read Lee’s proposal.

    In September 1863, Grant personally commanded a firm line that ran from Cumberland Gap to New Orleans. On the CSA side of that line Davis’ rigid departmental segmentation meant that individual, often openly hostile, zealously hoarded their resources. Gov’s Brown & Vance behaved as if it was Davis, not Lincoln who was the greatest threat to Southern independence. There simply was no “The Confederacy” capable of creating & implementing a national strategic plan.

    There was another factor that foredoomed CSA war fighting. When you subtract the POW’s & missing from Lee’s battles with the A of the P, the KIA & wounded numbers were almost identical. Chancellorsville, Lee’s greatest victory & Gettysburg, his greatest defeat, tally almost exactly the same number of casualties on each side. From Lee’s personally commanded attempt to destroy the isolated 6th Corps until the investment of Petersburg, not a single one of the attacks he ordered achieved its tactical goal. The simple fact of the matter was that Lee’s tactics could no longer achieve a strategic victory.

    As events would clearly demonstrate, no mechanism of any kind existed that would have enabled the CSA to successfully confront the material & intellectual challenges that existed in the spring of 1863.

  9. Jefferson Davis should have sent Robert E. Lee and at least one corps to Mississippi and given Lee overall command there, with explicit orders to extract Pemberton’s garrison from Vicksburg. Grant would have captured that city, but Lee would have saved a Southern army to fight another day.

    1. How would you transport a corps to Vicksburg in time to have any effect. The regiments that Davis dispatched from the Carolinas arrived after there was anything they could do. Where would the supply base to support 10,0000 A of NV troops & their horses be? Lee’s western depot was Dalton GA. Johnston’s base was Jackson, we know how that worked out.

  10. The Union forces were in disarray after Chancellorsville. Hooker is relieved just days before Gettysburg. The Confederate command situation was a mess out West. Longstreet would eventually have to deal with THAT when his corps was sent there AFTER Gettysburg. Getting a big part of Lee’s army to Vicksburg while that city was already under siege and being able to affect its relief would have been problematic in the best of times for the Confederates.

    The Confederates only real hope in June 1863 still lay in a political solution. But, as I see it, the ONLY way that could be attained was by threatening Washington, DC itself. And I think they would have had to actually capture the city. Maybe then the Confederacy would gain an alliance with one or more European powers that had so far refused to assist them. The window for changing things in the West was already pretty much closed come May of 1863. Maybe if Longstreet had been sent there in early 1863, as he requested, things might have worked out differently. But, that obviously didn’t happen, so who knows?

  11. The entire situation was a no win outcome for the CSA. Cutting the losses by an earlier surrender would have saved many lives but the south would then lose their precious slaves. Too bad is my feeling about that.

  12. Pennsylvania.

    Losing Vicksburg would represent a fearsome bodyblow to the Confederacy, but only success in the Eastern Theatre of Operations could win the war.

    1. On an 8 1/2 X 11” map of the Western Theater, the entire operating area of the Armies of the Potomac & Northern Virginia is literally the size of a postage stamp. That is a graphic depiction of the relative importance of the two theaters.

      When Grant came over the mountains, it took 52 days to drive Lee into the Petersburg defenses. At that point, Lee wrote that defeat was only a matter of time. The idea that a few counties in Virginia were of ultimate importance over Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, Atlanta, New Orleans, Savannah, etc is just the usual Eastern Theater blinders. The war was not declared over until a year after Lee surrendered. The surrender of the A of NV was just one of many mopping up operations in 1865-66.

      1. Incorrect.

        The comparative size of the Eastern and Western Theatres is not the key indicator of importance, exactly as how, though tiny compared to the rest of the Irish nation, the 1919-21 Anglo-Irish War between the British and Irish forces was a struggle for Dublin City; those who control Dublin control Ireland, or at minimum, all territory outside of the six counties.

        When Vicksburg fell, the war raged for two more years. When Atlanta fell, the chief importance of this was the psychological boost of morale it gave the Union government/armed forces/civilian population to ‘steady the course’ and the war would be won.

        How? By repeating this outcome in Virginia.

        The East would decide the winner of the war and the chief importance of all other Theatres is that they would in some way contribute to victory in the East.

        When John Mason explained the Duncan F. Kenner Mission to the British in the winter of 1865, he was told that even if the South abolished slavery at that point, it would still not make Britain recognise and intervene on the South’s behalf.

        He was told the offer, though it was perceived as sincere, came too late. The offer he was told ought to have been made at the peak of Confederate strength at what time and place in the British view?

        Gettysburg in 1863.

        The East was the key Theatre of Operations, not the West. The West has been pushed in recent times as the Union had more success there, to its credit, but this has been in an effort to make the Confederacy look as militarily inept as possible.

      2. I realize to the Virginia-centric view the Mississippi River is but a creek compared to the James. For those of us who can read a map, that point of view simply doesn’t hold water.

      3. If you base your analysis on the size of the water, that is to blind oneself to the reality that the war proceeded for another two years after the fall of Vicksburg. Even before the fall, there had been little attempt to truly coordinate between the two ‘halves’ of the Confederacy and the loss of the Miss. River did not fatally hamper the blockade running in the East to obtain supplies from Britain and France at the time.

        Anyone can see that by control of the Shenandoah Valley, the Confederates not only controlled one of its most important foodstuffs areas, but by travelling to the north through it, the Confederates had a ‘highway’ to critically important areas of the North, such as Washington DC and the gateway into Pennsylvania and other northern cities. For the Union to control this area critically ‘bottled up’ the Confederacy and negated the threat posed to northern cities and areas.

        To have destroyed the Army of the Potomac, or at least defeated it in dominating fashion as the Confederacy had achieved so far from veritably the 7 Days onwards, put the north into the position where it would have panicked and sued for peace by public pressure if nothing else.

        As well, the East was the area that Britain and France looked to towards gauging the Confederacy’s strength that would determine recognition and intervention or not.

        The East was the key.

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