Why we failed to win.
Inquiry into the causes of Confederate defeat.
In its leading editorial article, February 1, 1903, the New Orleans Picayune
answers the often-asked question—‘Why it was that the Southern States
were defeated in their struggle for independence?’
It says the people of this generation know that the Southern
soldiers were inferior in numbers, but they likewise know that our armies repeatedly gained victories over greater forces and that our generals were more than equal in skill to those of the enemy's. Then the Picayune
proceeds to give a thoughtful answer to the question propounded, presenting some views that have not occurred to all writers on this subject.
The army rolls show that from the first to the last the forces on the Northern
side were two million, eight hundred and sixty thousand men, while on the Southern
there were about six hundred thousand men, making an odds of more than four to one on the side of the North
But this enormous disparity of numbers did not appall the leaders and soldiers of the South
, because they had astablished a reputation for tremendous and successful fighting that filled them with confidence.
If disproportion in numbers had been all, there are many reasons to hope, if not to believe with confidence, that the result would have been different.
But the most serious features of the situation against the South
and in favor of the North
were in the fact that the Northern Government
possessed all the military establishments, arms and
supplies that belonged to the army, and all the ships and the entire armament and equipment of the navy.
If there had been a fair division of these resources between the two sections, the South
would not have been totally destitute of them in the beginning, and would not have suffered grievously for the most necessary military munitions, equipments, and supplies.
It then became necessary to create from the very beginning establishments not only for the manufacture of arms, ammunition, equipments, war vessels and everything required for military operations, but it was also absolutely requisite to manufacture for all the needs of daily life the ordinary articles of common use that had been cut off from the Southern
people by the naval blockade instituted by the Northern Government
Unfortunately, the Southern
people had devoted themselves to the production of raw material and were therefore dependent on Northern States of the Union
and on foreign countries for the simplest articles of daily use.
Just here comes in the most important question of finances.
A war cannot long be successfully carried on without money.
It is required for the purchase of material and supplies, and for the wages of the soldiers in the field.
The men who have left their wives and children behind while they are standing in the forefront of battle must be able to send home for the support of their dear ones the money they earn in the public defence.
The plans of the Southern
financiers were based on sound principles.
In the four years of the war the South
produced 20,000,000 bales of cotton worth $600,000,000, and many million pounds of tobacco, worth also a great deal of money.
It was proposed that the Confederate Government should purchase these products with bonds, and then ship them to the great European
markets, where they would meet with the ready sale.
This scheme, however, was defeated by the Federal
blockade of Southern ports, which was begun in the summer of 1861.
A belief was cherished in the South
that the great manufacturing European
nations would break the blockade in order to get cotton for their people to spin and wear, but this expectation proved wholly abortive, and the Southern Government
was forced to imitate their adversaries in the North
by issuing paper money.
The value of this paper currency held up very well in the beginning, but it rapidly lost the confidence of the people, and this fact, more than anything else, hurt the Confederate
It is true that the Confederate Government negotiated considerable loans in Europe
, but the money was kept there to pay for warships built and equipped in European
From this brief statement of
facts it is seen that the Confederate
cause was placed at a disadvantage for the lack of material supplies which were necessary for the conduct of the war and the comfort of the people that was vastly more serious than was the disparity in numbers.
Then there was a great disadvantage of geographical position and condition.
The entire Southern section was divided from north to south by a great navigable river, the Mississippi
This enabled the Federal
naval fleets to cut the Confederacy
in two, and divorce its western from its eastern section.
Its northern boundary was made by the Ohio
and Potomac rivers
, navigable for boats and largely used by war vessels and military transports.
The Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the Southern
country were beset by vessels of the blockading fleets.
But so far as the fighting was concerned, it all went well in that part of the Confederacy
east of the Alleghany mountain
Army after army, each time under a new commander, was dispatched by the authorities for the capture of Richmond
, where the Confederate
capital had been set up, and each of those armies in turn had been hurled back, broken, defeated and dreadfully punished.
In the meantime the victorious forces of Lee
had swept the enemy time and again from the celebrated valley of the Shenandoah
, the granary of Virginia
, while thrice they had fought the foe on his own territory in Maryland
When the Confederate army which operated in Virginia
retreated from the northern part of the State
, it was only a strategic movement, for it always went back and occupied its old position.
When the people saw Lee
leaving them for a southward march, they had full confidence that the troops would return as they always did. In some other parts of the Confederacy
this was not the case.
Some of the most noted commanders in the West
retreated, never to revisit the positions which they had abandoned, and the people came to understand that this abandonment was final.
This constant retreating was not always necessitated by attacks and defeat at the hands of a superior force of the enemy, but was in obedience to a fixed plan of strategy named from the Roman
general, Fabius Maximus
, who in his campaigns against Hannibal
made it a rule to avoid battle and always to retreat.
defeated all the troops he ever met, but Fabius
, by eluding battle with the great Carthaginian
, succeeded in a campaign that lasted thirteen years in wearing out his enemy, which could get no recruits or reinforcements from Carthage
across the Mediterranean.
Whether the great Federal armies could have been worn out and
eventually ruined by a systematic course of retreat and evasion on the part of the Confederate forces does not appear, as it was not carried out to a conclusion.
They saw their homes given up to the possession of the enemy, with no hope that the country would ever be recovered.
If the South
had been abundantly supplied with all the necessaries for both peace and war, possibly the strategy of retreat might have been good policy, but in view of the destitute condition of the South
, it would appear that the very greatest and most aggressive activity was necessary to meet the great superiority of force and material.
The object here is not to criticise commanders.
There has never been a great soldier who was not a great strategist; but the greatest strategy in military affairs is that which has been used in gaining advantages in striking a foe rather than in evading him. Of course, rash fighting is all wrong, for it gives the advantage to the other side, but the soldiers who were able to deceive their enemies, and at the same time to deal their sudden and deadly blows when least expected, have been those who have stood highest on the rolls of fame.
Returning, however, to our first inquiry as to the reason for the South
's defeat, it does not seem difficult to understand that it was for the lack of machinery and skill for manufacturing all our products, and for making all that was required for carrying on the war and for the maintenance of the people.
If we had possessed these facilities, the South
could have lived on its own resources and used barter in default of money.
The trouble was that the South
possessed the richest material resources a country could have, but for the lack of the arms and the skill for manufacturing them, these resources, rich as they were, could not be made available for the manifold uses of war and peace.