Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

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Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by David Thompson » 16 May 2010 02:13

From A. Mahan, A Critical History of the Late American War, London: 1887, pp. 118-125.

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CHAPTER VII.

GENERAL PLAN OF THE UNION AND CONFEDERATE AUTHORITIES FOR THE CONDUCT OF THE WAR.


THE immutable condition of understanding a campaign is a comprehension of the idea in which the plan of the campaign had its origin. The aim of the Confederate authorities was to protect their territory against the invasions of the Unionists. The aim of the Union authorities was to restore the unity of all our States by suppressing the Rebellion in the States which constituted the Confederacy. In respect to the end proposed, each party had its idea in regard to the plan by which that end should be accomplished. We have now arrived at a stage in our discussions where we can understand and appreciate the original plan of the Confederate, on the one hand, and that of Union authorities on the other. To a consideration of these plans, their merits and demerits included, very special attention is invited.

Original plan of the Confederates.

The original plan of the Confederates is quite manifest, and may be very readily comprehended. It was to make the border slave States, such as Maryland, Northern and Western Virginia, Kentucky, Northern Arkansas, and Missouri, the battle-ground of the war. The fundamental element of the original idea was the capture of Washington, and making it the centre of operations east of the Alleghanies. Failing in this, their plan was to keep all military operations as far north and west of Richmond is possible. The original plan in regard to Washington as manifest in the early attempts of the Confederates, and in

[118]

GENERAL PLAN FOR THE CONDUCT OF THE WAR. 119

the successive invasions of Pennsylvania and Maryland by General Lee. In view of the above suggestions, we can understand the principles on which the invasion of Kentucky was made, together with the movements of General Price and his associates in Arkansas and Missouri. This plan had but two features worthy of commendation the rendering the army of General Lee the central force of the Confederacy, and the securing the command of the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi rivers, by means of the fortifications of Donelson, Henry, Columbus, and Island No. 10. Had the army which invaded Kentucky expended all its strength in rendering Cumberland Gap impassable to our armies, and thus secured Eastern Tennessee from invasion, and in rendering Forts Donelson and Henry and the other fortifications impregnable, most essential service would have been done to the Confederate cause As it was, that invasion turned out to be a great calamity to that cause. The entire Confederate plan was, in such particulars as the following, fundamentally defective.

Fundamental defects in the Confederate plan.

1. It rendered their line so extended that it could not but have been weak at every point, and strong nowhere, and thus always liable to be broken at essential points, leaving their armies to be destroyed in detail. Think of an army broken up into parts, and those parts located at unsupporting distances on a line extending from the sea board, through Virginia, Kentucky, Northern Arkansas, and Western Missouri as far north as the Missouri river ; and think of such dispositions made as the best means of defending the Confederacy from the invasions of the Union armies. Had it been the object of the Confederate authorities to have ensured the collapse of the Rebellion at the earliest period possible, they could not have adopted a plan better adapted to this end than the one under consideration.

2. This plan located the main Confederate forces at the greatest distances from their own proper centres, and brought them into immediate proximity to the Union armies, which always outnumbered their antagonists as two to one at least. Thus, when on a line so extended

120 THE AMERICAN REBELLION.

that they could be strong nowhere, the Confederates were always exposed to be broken up, and destroyed in detail, by the least possible efforts on the part of the Union forces, on the simple condition that our armies were skilfully and energetically employed.

3. In respect to life and treasure, this plan was the most expensive, for the conduct of the war, that could have been adopted by the Confederate authorities. For the reasons here indicated, armies should always be kept as near as possible to their bases of supply. The Confederates, in the worst form conceivable, reversed this principle, and that to the fatal injury of their cause. The defects of this plan are too palpable to require further elucidation.

The plan which the Confederates should have adopted.

The plan which the Confederate authorities should have adopted, the one the like of which they would have adopted had the highest wisdom determined their counsels, may be stated in few words. It embraces, among others, the following elements :

1. Having rendered their seaboard at most essential points perfectly secure, points such as Willmington, Charlestown, Savannah, and New Orleans, they should have rendered their fortresses at Donelson, Henry, Columbus, Island No. 10, and other points on the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi, as nearly impregnable as possible ; rendering by such means their exterior and interior secure from invasion by means of water communications.

2. In the interior, they should have fortified but a very few, and these fundamental strategic, points, such as Richmond, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville ; and these should have been most strongly fortified, the fortified posts being permanently occupied by as few men as possible, forces always being in readiness to be thrown into any one of them, as exigencies might require.

3. With the exceptions indicated, the entire military power of the Confederacy should have been combined into two central, and ever movable, armies; the one located in Virginia, covering Richmond, and the other in Tennessee, in the vicinity of Nashville. Both of these armies should

GENERAL PLAN FOR THE CONDUCT OF THE WAR. 121

have been rendered exceeding strong in field artillery, and overpoweringly so in cavalry.

4. In every advance of the Union armies, the object should have been to have drawn them as far as possible into the interior, and away from their own proper centres and bases of supply. While their advance should have been embarrassed by every possible means, in breaking up of roads, breaking down of bridges, etc., and while resistance should have been offered at every favourable point, and decisive battles fought but when and where success was most probable, the cavalry should have been omnipresent in front, on the flanks, and in the rear of the invading force, capturing stragglers, cutting off supplies, and breaking up communications.

5. At a point selected and proposed beforehand, and at which all possible forces had been collected, a general battle should have been fought, and that under circumstances in which a defeat of the invading army would have ensured its destruction.

Had the war been carried on upon such principles by the Confederacy, the Union armies being guided by such blank stupidity as did command them, I do not see how the union of the States ever could have been restored.

The plan of the Union authorities.

The plan of the Union authorities, as far as they had any, may now be stated in few words. It embraced, among others, the following items:

1. That the enemy should be everywhere confronted by superior forces, and on a line parallel to, and co-extensive with, his own. As the Confederate main line extended from the seaboard through Virginia, east and west, through Kentucky, Northern Arkansas, and Missouri, as above stated, our forces were to confront theirs over a line of corresponding length.

2. Our advance upon the enemy was to be simultaneous on this whole line. This evidently was the plan agreed upon by Generals McClellan, Buell, and Halleck, prior to their assumption of their respective commands. Hence "all was quiet on the Potomac," and on the whole line, because the time for concerted action had not arrived.

122 THE AMERICAN REBELLION.

The 22nd February, for the reason that it was Washington's birthday, was fixed upon by the President for the grand and simultaneous advance. This idea of a simultaneous advance on a line of immense extent obtained with the Union authorities throughout the war. After General Grant, for example, assumed supreme command, it was, as we shall see hereafter, agreed in a council of war that all our armies should rest during the winter, and on the opening of spring should, on a line some 1,500 miles in extent, move simultaneously upon the enemy. As our line was to be longer than that of the Confederates, our forces were to draw round theirs and crush them all together. This was the "Anaconda Idea" of which so much was everywhere said during the first years of the war, and which had its origin with General Scott.

3. Another element of this plan, the only additional feature of it to which we now refer, was that as far and as fast as the enemy was driven back, the territory acquired should be permanently occupied by our armies, and this with such forces as to render future insurrections and invasions impossible. Hence it was that after we had redeemed Missouri and Kentucky, and taken possession of Tennessee and portions of Louisiana, Virginia east and west, the Carolinas, and Florida, quite two-thirds of the 1,000,000 of men we had in the field were employed in doing nothing else than guarding the immense extent of territory referred to.

Essential defects in this plan.

No plan conceivable is more utterly defective than that above indicated. One of the best known principles of weakness in war is operation upon a widely extended line ; while the known condition of strength is concentration of force so as, in the language of Napoleon, "to be the strongest at the essential point." An army, 100,000 strong distributed on a line like that occupied by the Confederates in Kentucky and Northern Tennessee, would be readily routed by a concentrated and ably commanded force of one-half their number. Nothing, also, can be more absurd than the idea of a simultaneous advance of half a million or a million of men on a line more than a thousand miles

GENERAL PLAN FOR THE CONDUCT OF THE WAR. 123

in extent, and especially to determine the time of such movement by the day on which some celebrated man happened to have been born. The time and the form of army movements should always be determined, as all strategists well understand, by the circumstances of each particular case. Circumstances may present themselves absolutely demanding the prompt movement of one army upon an enemy, and as absolutely require another army, 500 or 1,000 miles distant, to defer, for a time, any such movement. The "Anaconda Idea" has place in regard to single armies, and only thus in cases where a vast army moves upon a far inferior one. Nothing is more absurd, however, than the idea of drawing an army round half a continent, and after driving the enemy in upon a common centre, to crush them there. It was one thing, for example, for Napoleon to draw his army around that of General Mack, and coop it up and capture it in Ulm. It would have been quite a different affair had he attempted in a similar manner to encircle the whole kingdom of Prussia, and coop up and crush all its armies at once. When General Scott would make a circle with his hand, thumb, and fingers, and add, " Thus let us encircle the Confederates, and then crush them," suddenly clenching his fist to illustrate the idea, he seemed to those who did not duly consider the facts to have announced a very sublime and practicable conception. Yet, as we stated in the paper read before President Lincoln, our anaconda, when stretched around the whole Confederacy, would be found to be a miserable tapeworm, that would be broken into a thousand fragments the first wrench it should make. It was thus that, from beginning to end, the conduct of this war was under the control of a totally false idea. Extension of line on the part of an invading army has all the elements of weakness and exposure to defeat, by breaking the line and destroying the dissevered parts in detail, that a similar line has for defensive operations. Nor is it possible to conceive of a worse policy in war than that which obtains when armies are divided and scattered for the occupancy of acquired territory, while the main armies of the enemy are in the field. It was for this reason mainly that we were necessitated to bring into the field at least 2,500,000

124 THE AMERICAN REBELLION.

men to put down this Rebellion ; whereas an able General would have accomplished this end in less than one-third the time which we spent in doing it, and with one-fifth of the forces which we employed.

The plan which should have been adopted by our military authorities.

We are now prepared to indicate distinctly the essential elements of the plan for the conduct of the war, the plan which the highest wisdom required that our military authorities should have adopted. War, in all its forms, is, in reality, a conflict of military forces, and always ends when the military force of one enemy succumbs to that of the other. Hence a wise General contemplates and determines all dispositions and movements as a means to one exclusive end the destruction of the military power of his opponent. Fortresses are besieged or passed by, and territory is occupied or not, with exclusive reference to this one end. The Germans, for example, stopped with a great force to besiege Metz, because the central army of France was within those fortifications. Had the French escaped, as they intended to have done, but a very few, if any, men would have been left behind by the invaders to besiege the place. The Crown Prince moved away from Paris when the city lay at his mercy, because the second army of France was concentrated at Sedan. With every wise commander, the locality of the main army of the enemy is his centre. Such commander, also, always distinguishes between what may be called the main and the mere side issues of war. With Wellington and Blucher, for example, the main issue of their campaign, as they well and wisely understood, lay, not at Waver, but at Waterloo. Hence, but very few forces were left at the former place, while all their main ones were concentrated at the latter. Nothing is more unwise than the idea that wherever any forces of the enemy may happen to be located, there he must be sought out and assaulted.

Had either of our Commanders-in-Chief been a great strategist, he would have perceived at once that the soul and strength of the Confederacy lay, not in its seaports or inland fortified places, but in its armies, and that the

GENERAL PLAN FOR THE CONDUCT OF THE WAR. 125

end of all his dispositions and movements should be, not the capture of Willmington, Charlestown, Savannah, Richmond, Vicksburg, Corinth, Chattanooga, or Atlanta, not to take or hold territory, but to crush out the military power of the said Confederacy. He would also have perceived, with equal distinctness, that that war had but two main or central issues the main army commanded by General Lee, the army the mission of which was to defend Virginia and the Carolinas, on the one hand ; and the army commanded by General Johnston and his predecessors, the army whose mission was to defend the Confederate States lying between the Savannah and the Mississippi rivers, on the other. Hence he would have made no raids into North Carolina, Florida, the interior of Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. All his forces, on the other hand, would have been mainly centralized into two great armies for the crushing out of the two Confederate armies referred to. Under such a commander, furnished with an army 500,000 strong, the war would not have continued six months after our forces were put into the field, inasmuch as the entire Confederacy would have collapsed at once as soon as these two armies were destroyed. In the conceptions of our Commanders-in-Chief, the power of the Confederacy lay, not in its armies, but in Richmond, Willmington, Charlestown, Savannah, Vicksburg, Corinth, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and in its vast territories ; and that their great mission was to capture these places, and take piecemeal and hold the Confederate territory. Hence the long continuance of this war, and the unexampled expenditure of life and treasure in bringing it to a close.

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Re: Alternative Strategies in the US Civil War

Post by phylo_roadking » 16 May 2010 02:22

David - "A.Mahan" - Asa Mahan....any relative of Alfred Thayer Mahan???
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Re: Alternative Strategies in the US Civil War

Post by David Thompson » 16 May 2010 02:36

phylo -- You asked:
Asa Mahan....any relative of Alfred Thayer Mahan???
I don't know, though they were contemporaries.

I read this book, thought it was interesting, and posted this chapter as a varietal offering so that our readers weren't stuck with the usual "Along came Jones" gizmo threads. If I find more critiques like this, I'll post them.

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Re: Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by phylo_roadking » 16 May 2010 16:13

Mind you - he DOES seem to have been a very strange person to have been writing a critique of the "Late Unpleasantness"!!! 8O http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asa_Mahan
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Re: Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by David Thompson » 16 May 2010 16:57

The book was highly controversial when it was published (Google has links to several contemporary reviews). My copy has a foreword by Lieut. Gen. M. W. Smith, C. B., which says:
It seems to me that his book will prove both interesting and instructive to those who wish to trace out the causes which have led to the success or failure of campaigns, and how battles have been lost and won.

Although the Doctor is not a military man, he seems to have studied carefully the science of strategy as it has been developed at different periods, and applies his knowledge in indicating where established principles have been deviated from.

He compares, plainly and practically, what he conceives might have been done in accordance with such principles, with what was actually done ; the results in the latter case having now become matters of history.

The author appears to have been familiar with the ground and scenes he describes so graphically, and to have been also fully furnished with all details relating to the strength, positions, etc., of the forces engaged.

As to his comments upon and criticism of the conduct and capabilities of those who occupied prominent positions during the years of the last American War, I am not prepared to offer any opinion. Whether the readers of the present work agree with all the views of the author or not, its perusal may lead them to think out the matter for themselves, and to consider at least one phase of military combinations on a large scale; and in these critical and uncertain times this may prove a beneficial exercise of the intellect, with reference to both military men and civilians.
Interested readers can see the whole tome at http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924030914067

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Re: Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by Roddoss72 » 16 May 2010 17:11

If memory serves, i saw a book title some years back called

"They were right", the authors name escapes me, as well as the ISBN but in it, it mentions that the so called "Rebel States" that broke away had the constitutional right to do so, insofaras it goes onto mention that The Confederate States of America was a bone fide nation.


I have been searching for this book for at least two years but it has been a fruitless search, if anyone out there knows about the book can you please inform me of it, thank you.

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Re: Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by phx1138 » 19 Feb 2011 04:20

I recall reading about a proposal to strike through (or along) a mountain range, with the objective of cutting the Confederacy in two. Does anybody know more? Did it have any merit?

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Re: Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 19 Feb 2011 21:06

phx1138 wrote:I recall reading about a proposal to strike through (or along) a mountain range, with the objective of cutting the Confederacy in two. Does anybody know more? Did it have any merit?
Do you remember the context? Which mountain range, what year, who proposed it? the one major mountain range would be the eastern masif dividing the coastal states from the central Mississippi basin regions. That range of low mountians is divided by the various sub ranges or ridge groups, and it had poor river, wagon road, & railroad communications. Armies tended to strike along its edge, or a distance into it, but very seldom through it.

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Re: Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by Markus Becker » 19 Feb 2011 21:22

phx1138 wrote:I recall reading about a proposal to strike through (or along) a mountain range, with the objective of cutting the Confederacy in two. Does anybody know more? Did it have any merit?
That sounds like the Anaconda plan of Gen. Scott, except he proposed an advance up and down the river Mississippi to split the CSA in two.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaconda_Plan

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Re: Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by T. A. Gardner » 20 Feb 2011 01:36

One thing the Confederacy should have done immediately is dump cotton on the world market to the maximum extent possible to gain cash for the war. Historically, they tried to withhold cotton under the belief that a shortage would bring European nations into the war, particularly Britain. Instead, Britain simply shifted their purchases to Egypt and India shutting the Confederates out of the market.

If the Confederates did dump cotton it would have gained them more immediate cash and arms from Europe before the US could effectively blockade their efforts. This would have given the Confederacy a much better initial position in terms of equipment than they originally had. It would also have driven cotton prices down resulting in a major problem later in the market when their supply dried up. This likely would have had more effect on Europe than their original choice would have. It certainly would have allowed Britain to horde cotton and possibly kept Egypt and India out of the market later for that reason.

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Re: Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by phx1138 » 20 Feb 2011 03:28

Markus Becker wrote:That sounds like the Anaconda plan of Gen. Scott, except he proposed an advance up and down the river Mississippi to split the CSA in two.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaconda_Plan
That one I remember. This never actually got put in practise. It was suggested where I read it (& can't recall where... :cry: ) it could have ended the war in a matter of months, by (IIRC) separating the agricultural part of CSA from the rest.

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Re: Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by Takao » 20 Feb 2011 04:36

Ahh, with that information it becomes clearer.

phx1138, Your talking about the Shenandoah Valley aka "the Confederate Breadbasket." The purpose of the campaign was not to "cut the Confederacy in two"(the valley is not near that long), but to deprive it, and the Army of Northern Virginia, of valuable food supplies. The Shenandoah Valley was the site of two major campaigns, "Stonewall" Jackson's in 1862 and Phil Sheridan's in 1864, as well as, several minor ones. A good overview of the campaigns can be found here. http://www.angelfire.com/va3/valleywar/ ... aigns.html

The Union tried several times to take and hold the Shenandoah Valley, but failed on several different occasions. It was not until late in the war, that the Union general, Philip Sheridan, was able to effectively "burn out" the Valley. A summation can be found here of Sheridan's campaign, http://www.almc.army.mil/alog/issues/MarApr01/MS581.htm


If the Shenandoah Valley had been cleaned out earlier in the war, it is very likely that the Army of Northern Virginia would not have been able to stave of the repeated Union invasions of Virginia for as long as it did. However, the political and military focus, much to the detriment of the Union cause, was and remained on Richmond.

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Re: Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by phx1138 » 22 Feb 2011 00:18

Obviously I'm not expert. :D And I only happened on it, & not recently, so recall not perfect. :( Thx for clearing it up, & for the links.

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Re: Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by Hanny » 12 Dec 2018 17:08

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/08733 ... bl_vppi_i3

Perhaps the best modern accounting, and the follow up book https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/16063 ... _vppi_i2of how the CS strategy evolved. Mahan account is fatally flawed in many respects ( facts as well as opinion based on incorrect facts as he wrote from the UK withouit access to most primary sources, and being an a fanatical abolishonist coloured his perspective) and will mislead a reader. Shame that J Harsh passed before completting his next book.

Re Shenandoah Valley, pre war 90% of USA exports of grain to ROTW came from it, its value cannot ( control of its output, which was more productive than anywhere else in the USA by a wide margin) be overestimated.

As for plans, USA won in 64 by using with Little Mac plan for winning the war, only to be told by Lincoln, no i know better do, this instead John Pope, hows that for irony.
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Re: Alternative Strategies for the US Civil War

Post by Hanny » 12 Dec 2018 18:45

Roddoss72 wrote:
16 May 2010 17:11
If memory serves, i saw a book title some years back called

"They were right", the authors name escapes me, as well as the ISBN but in it, it mentions that the so called "Rebel States" that broke away had the constitutional right to do so, insofaras it goes onto mention that The Confederate States of America was a bone fide nation.


I have been searching for this book for at least two years but it has been a fruitless search, if anyone out there knows about the book can you please inform me of it, thank you.
If your still looking....

Your after the chuckle brothers, kennedy, its a very light weight book better avoided.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/South-Was-Righ ... +was+right

Try the following instead, ( very poor on military matters tho)nwritten by the lawyer who won the quebec session case in Canada.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Constitutional ... +Secession

Or https://www.amazon.co.uk/constitutional ... the+States

Try google books for both first before purchase.
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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