Smallholder Laying the Civil War Smack Down

Over at Volokh Conspiracy, a post on a Floridian’s attmept to stop the display of artwork implying that the Confederate flag is a racist symbol has devolved into an argument over why the Civil War was fought.

I know that folks who deny that the Civil War was about slavery are impervious to reason, but I got my hackles up. You can see Smallholder laying the smack down here.

Lessons I learned watching “The 300″

The 300 is a fun, but stupid movie. It looks great and has practically no plot. Following Frank Millers art so closely probably has fans of the graphic novel drooling, but parts of it just look stupid. The look of Xerxes had people in the theater giggling. And the costume of the Spartans just looked dumb. Going to battle in a red cape and a loin cloth made the Spartans seem, well, absurd. I started wondering if the filmmakers had digitally enhanced the actors abs. In fact, the entire movie seemed like a fighting video game. Fight a bunch of bad guys, then fight the boss. Get a new weapon, then fight another bunch of bad guys. repeat.

Anyway, some things I learned about Thermopylae.

- The History Channel says that the Spartans wore armour. No, they didn’t. They fought in G-strings and bow ties.

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Spartan Warriors before a battle

- The Spartans discovered Anabolic Steroids and Human Growth Hormone. Barry Bonds actually tried out for the Spartan army, but was denied. Though he blamed the lack of an intregrated military, he was rejected because his blood test came back negative.

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Spartan Wannabe

- Historians say “Thermopylae” means “Hot Gateway” or “Hot Gates”. This is not true. It’s actually “Hot Cakes”.

- Xerxes was a great emperor, but few people know he was actually one of the Villiage People early on in his career. He was kicked out of the group for being “too tall and kinky” according to the groups publicist.

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Too tall and kinky

- I tried to come up with a witty way of saying this, but the dudes Scottish accent was distracting. Leonidas in this film sounded more Scottish than Mel Gibson as William Wallace. Gerard Butler looks the part, but maybe they should have James Earl Jones dub in his voice or something. Or maybe, the film should have been entirely in Greek with subtitles. The plot, such as it is, is simple to follow. The audience doesn’t really need to understand the dialogue.
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Your Haggis is Mine

- The Iranians just can’t avoid being bad guys. Maybe it’s just in their blood. Their fearsome troops look like a cheap highschool Samurai mask.

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Please don’t laugh, I’m really scary

Smallholder: Now Less Reflective and More Quizzy
You scored as Sniper Rifle. You like sharpshooting. Stealth, accuracy and range are your best friends. So you need sniper rifle (if you don’t already have one).

Sniper Rifle

94%

Revolver

63%

Shotgun

56%

Assault Rifle

38%

Machinegun

38%

SMG

0%

Pistol

0%

What Firearm Fits You Best?
created with QuizFarm.com

Civil War Reprise

Oooo.

Being back in the blogosphere feels so right that it can’t be wrong.

I love being all out of chewing gum.

After having (obscurely) proclaimed that I am about to kick ass, I offer our esteemed readers a caveat: Your humble Smallholder is not a Civil War specialist. Plus, I don’t feel like doing any research. So all ideas presented here as facts may simply be ephemera swimming around in my tiny little brain. So if you want to go all fact-check on my agrarian ass, please have at it.

Preliminaries aside, I will begin endeavoring to take Mitch H. and Steven den Beste to ye olde woodshed for their responses to the Maximum Leader.

Mitch H. wrote:

Whatever the politicians might have thought, Lee himself had no real hopes for European intervention, and those instances where he mentions the subject he seems to be throwing a bone to Davis’s wishful thinking on the subject. Rather, Lee seems to have aimed at the degredation of Northern morale & the politicial defeat of the Lincoln administration. Freeman pulls out an interesting quote of Lee’s from 1861, before First Manassas, where Lee noted that he expected a war of ten years duration or longer. Lee *expected* a long, bloody war of attrition.

Lee did not set out to fight a war of attrition. He was a bright fellow and could do the basic math to figure how the war would end. He wanted to degrade Union morale through flashy victories. In the face of Lincoln’s superb political ability, this was hopeless. And those flashy victories came at a price: attacking rifle-equipped battle lines is a costly business and it was strategy that would eventually bleed the South dry.

Your reading of Freeman is very likely to have been much more recent than mine, but I am under the impression that Lee did actively hope for European intervention. His invasion of Maryland had two goals: Bring Maryland (my Maryland!) into the Confederacy and to win a “Saratoga” that could convince the European powers to wade into the conflict. After his advance was halted at Antietem, he did not have the logistical ability to continue and had to withdraw. And then Seward and Lincoln used Article II powers to issue the Emancipation Proclamation – effectively ending any hope of European involvement. The fact that Lee could not support a sustained incursion onto Northern soil at the very beginning of the war did not bode well for the Confederacy’s long-term prospects.

Lee, again to this humble farmer’s understanding, didn’t realize that the door had been shut and tried for a “Saratoga” again in 1863. The culminating battle occurred at Gettysburg because Lee’s shoe-gathering foragers triggered a reinforcement frenzy on both sides. Note that the fact that Lee had divided his force in foreign territory out of desperation for footwear is damning commentary on the long-term prospects of the Confederacy. Lee, normally a brilliant tactician but driven to desperation by the third day of the battle, made a major blunder with Pickett’s charge. My understanding is that he gambled all in attempt to win a victory that he could present to Europe. It didn’t work.

If we want to play the “what if game,” imagine that Pickett’s charge succeeds. It would have been a bad day for the Union, but would have been unlikely to drive the Union army from the field. Day four of the battle opens with the exhausted Confederates, short of ammunition and materiale, facing a still-growing Union army receiving reinforcements and supplies from the rail lines.

Even if Lee had forced Meade to withdraw, he was not capable of pursuing him for a deathblow. He would have had to move back South like he did after Antietem. Even if the slavery issue didn’t preclude European aid, another strategic draw was unlikely to have been very persuasive. Northern losses would have been replaced by the draft and the Confederates still would have been enlisted septuagenarians.

Mitch continues:

As such, my favorite “what if” is a fatal or near-fatal wounding of Grant in the Wilderness in 1864. Now, I’m not one of those folks who idolizes Grant in terms of “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer”, but his combination of tenacity and political acumen wasn’t replicated in any of his subordinates or peers, Sherman and Sheridan included. Without the main army on the James, Lee would probably have plunged back across the Potomac in Early’s wake in the late summer.

The war could have easily settled into a sanguinary yearly back-and-forth in the East, with spring Union campaigns frustrated in the killing grounds on the south bank of the Rappahannock & reciprocal Confederate raids up the Valley into Maryland & Pennsylvania in the high summer. It happened in 1862, 1863, and to a lesser extent, again in 1864 with Early’s two raids. A reprise of the Gettysburg campaign in the summer of 1864 could easily have broken the Union Party’s back, no matter what Sherman and Hood got up to in the West.

Grant’s posited death would surely have been a setback. But it also would not have changed the outcome of the war. After Gettysburg, the South was literally incapable of large-scale force projection; they could not supply their armies in their own territory.

Early’s raids were small sideshows of fast moving cavalry. You can surely believe that Lee would not have allowed himself to penned up in the Petersburg earthworks if he had possessed any ability to maneuver his forces. “An 1864 reprise of the Gettysburg campaign” simply wasn’t possible in terms of either manpower or logistics.

Steven Den Beste said:

We don’t seem to disagree strongly on the facts; I think most of our disagreement has to do with calculations of probabilities. I probably overstated the odds of the Southern Strategy being a success (e.g. “it nearly succeeded”), but I don’t think that it was outright impossible — until, that is, the ironclads appeared. After that the strategy of relying on European intervention was hopeless.

This is interesting. I had never heard that the ironclads played a role in England’s deliberations over intervention. If you have a source, I’d love to read up on it. That said, based on my pre-existing knowledge (and once again, I’ll confess I’m no expert), I don’t think it would have mattered. The Royal Navy was already moving towards the steam-powered ironclad model. If the slavery and King Corn weren’t holding them back, they could have dealt with the U.S. Navy.

The Royal Navy could have broken the blockade at some particular port and escorted a convoy of cargo ships into some harbor, such as Charleston. But the RN had no ships capable of crossing the ocean which could have prevented Union ironclads from entering Charleston harbor and devastate most of those cargo ships while they were loading before the convoy was ready to leave again. Under the best of circumstances a large convoy would have taken days to unload and reload, and that would have been plenty of time for a squadron of ironclads to show up and wreck them. So once USS Monitor launched and was a success, the Confederacy was doomed. But it did have one other chance, about which more below.

Within close proximity to fortresses, American ironclads would have had a hard time. British guns, hastily installed in preexisting CSA strongpoints, could have kept any counterattack at bay. This isn’t like running the gauntlet before Vicksburg where one just has to sail past and move out of range; an attack on a convoy in port would have had to remain under accurate land-based artillery fire. Ask the British naval commander at Gallipoli how well admirals like to keep their ships proximate to gun batteries.

Steven continues:

Still, the leaders in the South in 1861 did have reason to believe that there was a non-trivial chance of inducing European intervention, and I don’t believe that they were on drugs.

Confederate leaders counted on King Cotton to force British intervention. But their belief rested on a lack of understanding of economics. Given that there was a huge supply of cotton sitting in London warehouses (the Maximum Leader says two years worth; I thought it was one. You say potato, I say po-tay-toe), even my high school students easily predict that British entrepreneurs would anticipate rising prices and invest capital in creating cotton plantations – all you need is a warm climate and a cheap labor supply. Neither of those things was in particularly short supply in the British Empire. So we agree that Jeff Davis, Judah P. Benjamin, et. al. were not on drugs. They were just economically illiterate.

Steven writes:

Discussing the probabilities of past events is problematic, because strictly speaking the probability of what happened is exactly 1.0 and of all alternatives is exactly 0.0. But looking forward in 1861, I don’t believe that Union victory was assured.

There was another point where it might have changed: the 1864 election. Lincoln certainly didn’t believe that his reelection was a sure thing, and the Democratic Party’s official platform for the 1864 election was to give up the war. (Though their candidate, McClellan, believed that the war should continue to be prosecuted.) As the Army of the Potamac continued to bleed without apparently accomplishing much in Virginia (at least as it was viewed back home), and as Sherman was frustrated by Johnston, who was fighting a brilliant disputed withdrawal, it all seemed like a “quagmire”.

First of all, the election didn’t turn out to be that close – and while Sherman’s gift of Atlanta might have brought in a few more votes, Lincoln probably would have won anyway. And if it seemed close, Lincoln and his boys weren’t playing fair. The biggest electoral manipulation in history was Lincoln’s order that regiments from heavily Republican areas be given leave in November while boys from Democratic areas were kept in the line. In 1864, absentee voting didn’t exist. If things were closer, you can bet that Lincoln would have ordered even more leaves – having already used his powers as Commander-in-Chief to alter the election, he wouldn’t have scrupled at doing more.

But if we are going to play the “what if” game, suppose McClellan did win the election. He had never accepted the peace plank of his party and would have prosecuted the war vigorously, if only to burnish his own deeply cherished military reputation (McClellan was not an abolitionist). The Democrats in congress were a minority. The radical-Republicans who were much more extremist in pressing the war than Lincoln would have found a way to work with McClellan. Remember that in 1864 the union army was still swelling, the Confederacy was putting teenagers and their grandfathers in the line, and the Confederacy’s economy was an absolute wreck. McClellan probably wouldn’t have won the war as quickly as Grant, since he preferred dancing with Lee (a generally bad idea) and though Grant’s bloody clinching was unsportsmanlike. But the outcome would have been the same. I’d even wager that the prolongation wouldn’t have been much – maybe until the summer of ’65. The South just did not have anything left.

Steven writes:

And that’s when Jeffy D threw the war away. He replaced Johnston with Hood and ordered Hood to slug it out. That was what Sherman had been hoping for; he crushed Hood’s force, marched on Atlanta, then made his march to the sea. That was the primary thing that convinced Northern voters that the war was not a lost cause.

Johnston wasn’t doing much to slow Sherman down. Sherman’s band was 100,000 strong and simply outflanked any defensive position the vastly outnumbered Johnston took. Johnston’s ill-fed, ill-armed band was no more than a nusiance. Johnston or Hood – it just didn’t matter. As Napoleon once observed, God is on the side with the bigger battalions. When he heard that Jefferson Davis had prophesized that Sherman would meet the same fate as Napoleon on the steppes of Russia, Grant laconically replied, “and who will supply the snow?”

Steven writes:

Had there not been that victory (and a couple of others) in 1864 before the election, the Democrats might have won, and even though McClellan wanted to continue to prosecute the war, he might not have been able to — and in that case, too, the Confederacy might have survived.

I dealt with this above, but why exactly would McClellan have been unable to prosecute the war? The Democrats did not control Congress, and the war would have been grinding on toward its conclusion in the months before his inauguration.

Steven writes:

Obviously we don’t disagree that the Union won and the Confederacy lost. Equally, I don’t think we disagree that the odds at the beginning of the war massively favored the Union. I just think that it’s overstating the situation to say that in 1861 the Confederacy had no chance at all of survival.

We’ll have to agree to disagree. I’ve seen no “what-if” scenario that can stand the harsh glare of light of day. The “Longstreet as Confederate commander” is intriguing, but it is unlikely he could have survived the political demands for offensive action long enough to sap the Lincoln-stiffened will of the North to fight.

Bert sings Paul

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader got this You Tube clip from the (once again posting here) Air Marshal. What can you say about it but “Oh my.”

If your Maximum Leader knew how enteraining the Miss America Pagent could be he’d have watched more than once…

Separated At Birth?

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Sincerest apologies to Mr. Jeremy. Still, one has to wonder if Mr. Mohammed is comparitively gifted.

Japan

Japan’s defeat was inevitable as soon as the bombs began falling on Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese didn’t understand America. They interpreted America’s previous efforts to compromise as being examples of a democracy’s inability to wage a war. The leadership of Japan truly believed that once they had destroyed the American fleet and established their defensive zone, America would decide that dislodging the Empire of the Rising Sun was too expensive and would meekly acquiese to Japanese domination of the Pacific.

Tellingly, Admiral Yamamoto had studied in America (Chicago, if I am not mistaken), and he pled with his superiors not to send him to Pearl Harbor. He told them that he would sink the American fleet, run rampant in the Pacific for eighteen months, and then the awakened giant would “grind us to dust.” He was prescient except for the eighteen months part - we stopped the advance of the Japanese Empire at the Coral Sea half a year later.

America’s industry dwarfed Japan’s. A statistic I give to my kids is that at the beginning of the war, Japan had six fleet carriers (largely built from American steel) and America had two. After Pearl Harbor, Japan never built another carrier and America built 29 Essex class fleet carriers. Plus hundreds of smaller escort carriers.

When told of Pearl Harbor, Churchill (apocrophally? Maximum Leader?) smiled and said “Now we’ve won.”

Question for the Smallholder (or anyone else)

Interesting points in your post about the Civil War. As I’m reading your post, it occured to me that similar arguments could be made if you replace “the South” with “Japan” and “the North” with “America”. Particularly your arguments about the soldiers. And your argument about Slavery i.e. the inherent racism in Japanese culture. And your argument about Southern Culture in that a similar point could be made about Japanese culture. In addition, FDR served a similar role to Lincoln.

Oh, hell, your whole damn post could apply.

Thoughts?

Anyone?

Anyone?

If Union Victory Was Inevitable Why Did It Take So Long?

The delayed triumph of the Union is not just attributable to leadership (sorry, Maximum Leader).

Soldiers

We ought not to forget the boys at the pointy end of the spear. When the war broke out, many Southerners bragged that “One reb can whip ten Yankees!”

They may have been right – in 1861.

The South was overwhelming rural and the boys of the South were, on average, a physically tougher lot than the clerks and factory workers of the North. Rural living meant that they had more experience with firearms. The rural lifestyle meant that a much greater percentage of Southerners were skilled horsemen. Most importantly, the institution of slavery had hardened Southerners to violence.

One way that slaveowners justified power over their slaves was to feminize Africans and emphasize the masculinity of the slaveowners. This emphasis on masculinity and the willingness to use violence to reinforce power lead to a violent culture where slights would be resolved by the code duello. As the insightful Mr. Veblen once notes, the lower classes often ape the upper classes, and the willingness to engage in violence trickled down to the poor whites. The only Northern subgroup that displayed the physical courage of the rough-and-ready po’ whites was the Irish. This physical courage would be a major reason why so many Irishmen became sergeants in the early days of the war.

Eventually, and inevitably, the South’s advantage in physical toughness evaporated. Chubby clerks will lose the flab and develop foot callouses after a few road marches. Mental courage in the line of fire will emerge. A warrior ethos can be built by NCOs. Even a greenhorn can learn to shoot a rifle. By late 1862, the caliber of the Civil War infantrymen was roughly equal.

Horsemanship is harder to acquire and the skill gap persisted in the cavalry through most of the war. However, technology can be a great equalizer and the North’s development of breech-loaded seven shot Spencer Carbines overcame that gap.

Defensive War

The North had to occupy and hold Southern territory, which is a more time consuming task than simply defeating the enemy (a lesson we seem to have forgotten when planning for the occupation of Iraq). Even when the outcome of a war is not in doubt, a defender who digs in his heals can prolong the agony. Witness the tenacity of Eastern-front German soldiers in WW II and the quick collapse of the Western front. Even when they knew the war was lost, the South prolonged the agony.

Southern Determination

Even in the face of defeat, the South fought on. Many “what-ifers” who think the war could have ended otherwise don’t seem to be aware that a good proportion of the South knew the war was over by late 1862.

Once it became clear that foreign intervention was not going to happen (the Maximum Leader has given a good summary of why), Southerners knew they were in trouble. You can see this by the way the home guard uses more and more draconian measures to stop desertion. Desertion was a major problem for the South’s armies, a fact that is often minimized by the nostalgic romanticism Sons of the Confederacy. At Appomattox, General Lee bid a tearful farewell to a tiny proportion of stalwarts from the once proud Army of Northern Virginia but many more folks had taken “Shank’s Mare” home.

One can also see evidence of the foreknowledge of doom by the collapse of the Confederate economy. When a government issues unbacked paper currency and bonds, folks will only take that currency or buy those bonds if they have confidence that the government will exist a few years down the road.

Finally, surviving sermons from the era reveal that minister were already preaching about the “sacred lost cause,” in which the Christian South was willingly sacrificing itself to the Godless, heathen North. The reward would be heavenly, not worldly independence. Even if desertion was a problem, a good chunk of the South was willing to fight on in the face of catastrophe.

Religion played a huge role in the South’s resistance. One of the greatest gaps in current understanding of the War Between the States is our ignorance of the central role of religion. We don’t talk about it too much today because conservatives don’t like to talk about fundamentalist religion being a huge pillar in the edifice of slavery. Liberals don’t like to acknowledge that fundamentalism can be a force for great good – Christian fundamentalists were the burning engine of the abolitionist movement that eventually provoked the South into the war.

In the 1820s it had become apparent that slavery was not going to die a natural death. The cotton gin had made slavery profitable for the foreseeable future. Southern theology began to move away from its tolerance of slavery as a necessary evil and towards a model in which slavery was ordained by God. Northerners, alarmed at this “perversion” of religion, began to emphasize the parts of the Bible inimical to the peculiar institution.

This growing religious chasm was the primary reason that a compromise on the issue of slavery was impossible. Our failure to teach about religion’s role in the War makes it harder to understand why all those 1860 last-minute compromises were stillborn. In class, I explain to the kids that the division over slavery is analogous to the modern division over abortion. If I believe that abortion is murder/slavery is ungodly, I am not going to compromise with folks who say “well, if you don’t believe in it, don’t do it, but leave me alone.” While the fundamentalists were a minority in the North (albeit a growing one), Southerners in general were more religious than their more secular brothers North of the Mason-Dixon line.

In 1864, the grey-clad boys in the thinning line had grown up in Churches where slavery was regularly praised and abolitionists routinely denounced as heretics. Folks will fight on against long odds when they are fighting for God.

Finally, Southern determination was also driven by a fear of the social upheaval that defeat would bring.

Plantation owners, deprived of their labor force, would be bankrupt.

Other than the slaves themselves, the greatest victims of the slave system of the South were the poor whites – Hinton Helper’s “Hill Billies” – who were trapped in a generational tarpit of poverty. The plantation families monopolized the good land. The poor white subsistence farms in the hills did not have access to markets and the planter-controlled state governments blocked efforts for internal transportation improvements. You can’t outcompete slaves on a wage basis. In short, life for the poor white farmer sucked.

How can you feel better about your own poor life situation? By feeling superior to someone else. If slavery ended, blacks would become equal to those poor whites. Horrors!

Finally, the South’s historical paranoia about slave insurrection played a role. People really believed that blacks, once freed, would go on Nat Turnerish rampages, burning houses, raping women, and butchering children. People will fight against long odds if they believe that a loss will result in their wives and children being victimized. Students of history will recall that the Klan was founded as a Christian organization dedicated to preserving the purity of white women from the “ravening sex-crazed” freemen.

Southern determination was deep. Sherman realized this and the major goal of his drive through the deep south was psychological. He may have shaved years off of the war. Jefferson Davis and his cabinet made plans for a mountain-based guerilla war that could have proved interminable, but in the Spring of 1865, the South, her spirit broken, would not follow her leaders to that particular hell.

Slow Mobilization

On the Northern side of the equation, President Lincoln had a hard time marshalling the full might of the Union. While he was determined to end slavery, and abolitionists became the majority in Congress with the withdrawal of the Southern delegations, there was significant opposition to an abolitionist agenda in the North – particularly in the butternut region of the Midwest and the industrial centers of the Northeast. Even more importantly, several border states crucial to the war effort were wavering about secession.

Lincoln masterfully manipulated South Carolina into firing the first shots at Fort Sumter – he had learned well from President Polk’s war message. Lincoln’s attempt to stand athwart an enraged patriotic public with his “spot resolutions” had cost him his congressional seat in 1848. He knew that even folks who were pro-slavery would become angry when the South fired on union soldiers.

In the initial stages of the War, Lincoln denied that he would end slavery. This was credible because he had been a Constitutional stickler throughout his career (the major reason he had grabbed the Republican nomination away from William “Higher-Law-Than-The-Constitution” Seward. He stayed with his theme that he would only bar slavery from the territories. The South wasn’t fooled because they knew that if no more slave states were admitted to the union, a constitutional amendment would eventually remove the slavery protections crafted in Philadelphia, but moderates who didn’t think long term didn’t understand this (an ignorant electorate? Say it isn’t so!).

In fact, the need to delay the explicit addition of abolition as a war-aim caused Lincoln considerable political grief. He was forced to repudiate General Fremont’s local abolition measures and went head to head with the radicals in Congress who thought him insufficiently committed to the cause.

Of course, it wasn’t that Lincoln wasn’t an enemy of slavery. He just wanted to get his ducks in order first. As soon as he had the border states under firm control (folks who claim that Bush has been the worst civil liberties president in history are just ignorant – Lincoln was quite Machiavellian in his suppression of dissent), he and Seward pushed forward their plan to “Constitutionally” end slavery using the Article II warmaking powers (folks who claim Bush’s expansion of Article II warmaking powers is unprecedented are just ignorant). The Emancipation was phrased as a war measure, freeing no actual slaves. But it did end any hope of Northern intervention.

The Emancipation Proclamation also illustrates the North’s difficulty in mobilizing a complete effort. Anti-black riots broke out all over the urban north: “I ain’t dying to free no slave! Screw the draft!” The Irish in particular were in the grip of schadenfreude: “My life as a factory worker may suck, but at least I’m not black!”

The last element of this slow mobilization was racism. Although a majority of Northerners wanted to end slavery (witness the 1860 vote for Lincoln), that didn’t mean that they believed in equality or even liked blacks.

Frederick Douglass wanted to have blacks fight for their own freedom, but the prospect of blacks with guns was terrifying to most Northerners. It took Lincoln some time to politically prepare the way for black regiments, so a large number of eager volunteers were not used. Eventually, 200,000 blacks joined the colors.

Lincoln

The factors that kept the South on life support for so long also illustrate a major reason why the South was doomed. Lincoln’s political leadership, ability to balance moderates and radicals, and moral force kept the Union in the war. The South could only win if the North gave up. With Lincoln at the helm, the North would accept no substitute for victory.

Once More Unto the Breach

I tread carefully in this post because I have not read the related posts over at Buckethead’s site; he is blocked at my workplace.

However, as a loyal minion, I have the Maximum Leader’s back, even if I disagree about some details.

The Maximum Leader is correct that the Confederacy was stillborn. Once the fire-eaters shelled Fort Sumter, the march to crushing defeat was inevitable.

I too find it interesting to contemplate why it took so long for the vastly superior North to overthrow the South. The Maximum Leader attributes the delayed victory to some proportion of Northern military incompetence mixed with Southern military competence. “Better” Southern generals certainly bloodied the nose of Lincoln’s early political generals, but their skill would also be a contributing factor in the South’s inexorable march to ruin.

Let me ‘splain.

In the early years of the war, there was indeed a competence gap due to culture and experience.

The divergent cultures of the North and South had created a situation that favored the South in 1860. The best and brightest Northerners went into business fields. In the South, planters’ aristocratic mindset, consciously emulating the European nobility, looked down upon “money-grubbing” commerce (and we all know how well a refusal to adjust to capitalism worked out for the European bluebloods). The emulation of Europe also led to a modified system of primogeniture, in which the firstborn son would inherit the vast majority of a family’s land. Second sons would have to make their own way in the world. Socially acceptable avenues were the military, the clergy, medicine, or the law. So a good proportion of the South’s best and brightest went to West Point.

The South also had a huge advantage in military experience. Southerners provided the vast majority of soldiers and officers in the Mexican-American War (Northerners largely opposed the war as a transparent attempt to steal more land for the expansion of slavery).

The company-level commanders of 1846 would become brigade and divisional commanders in 1861. Folks like Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet cut their teeth on the plains of Mexico. There were future Northern generals who marched South in 1846 (Grant and Sherman come to mind), but they were in the minority.

The Mexican War experience was not entirely positive for the South’s Civil War chances. Between the 1840s and 1860s, Eli Whitney’s interchangeable parts revolution meant that the cost of rifles fell low enough to allow governments to equip all of their soldiers with rifles. Rifles had been around much longer, but the huge expense of handcrafting these weapons meant that most soldiers were armed with muskets. This situation lasted through the Mexican-American War.

Military history buffs will recall that the “tactics of the musket” require armies to line up and use volley fire to make up for the lack of accuracy in individual shots. This required immense courage and discipline. Muskets were lethal only at short ranges – 50 to 100 yards. In the Mexican War, the poor morale and worse leadership of the Mexicans meant that when an American unit poured a volley into them, they would break and run (would you die for a corrupt caudillo kleptocrat?).

Both the North and the South had better discipline in the Civil War. So battles were going to be bloody. Hearing about the carnage in the firing line, I am reminded of the Duke of Wellington on an earlier battlefield: “Hard pounding, this. Try who can pound the hardest.”

But 1861 was even worse than 1815. Eli Whitney’s cheap rifles threw rounds more accurately, at a higher velocity, and greater range. But Civil War generals, remembering how well the tactics of the musket worked at Vera Cruz, kept using Napoleonic tactics. The experienced Southern generals won many battles – but the musket tactics bled them badly. Southern losses could not be replaced.

The Union just drafted more immigrants – the “Northern scum” decried in Maryland’s state song.

Grant may have been the first union general to purposely engage in attrition, but that attrition began at Bull Run. In any high-casualty conflict, the South was doomed to lose.

(Note that there was one general who realized the military revolution wrought by the universal rifle – James P. Longstreet. He urged Lee to abandon Napoleonic tactics and follow the example of Hannibal’s nemesis Fabian. The best “what if?” scenario I have seen postulates Lee’s death and Longstreet’s ascension. I’m not sure if Longsteet’s defensive mentality could have survived the warrior culture of the Confederate government, but a miserly hoarding of lives and the brutal use of rifles from prepared defensive works from the very beginning might have dulled the North’s will to win. Although the South eventually adopted (by necessity, not choice) a defensive strategy in 1864, Lincoln had had three years to harden the North’s resolve and was able to counteract calls for the removal of “Grant the Butcher.” What if Cold Harbor had happened in 1861? Hmmmmm…)

The South Couldn’t Have Won

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wanted to continue to explore the topic about which he unknowingly started a dialogue last week with his post on George Henry Thomas. That post was commented upon by your Maximum Leader’s friend, Buckethead of the Ministry of Minor Perfidy, as well as by the esteemed Steven Den Beste.

In his post, your Maximum Leader stated that he finds study of the American Civil War mostly uninteresting. It is uninteresting because, from a strategic perspective, the outcome of the war was something of a foregone conclusion. You Maximum Leader doesn’t enjoy the “what if” arguments that always seem to surround modern discussion of the Civil War.

What if Lee hadn’t lost at Antietam? What if Longstreet was more aggressive at Gettysburg? What if Jackson hadn’t been killed at Chancellorsville?

If you have spent even 30 minutes in the company of a true “Civil War Buff” (or even worse a Civil War Re-enactor) you have probably heard a whole battery of rhetorically asked “What if” questions – as well as various answers to the same.

Let you Maximum Leader more clearly expound on his beliefs for you all. He believes that from the first shot fired upon Fort Sumter, the Confederate States of America was doomed to defeat. No single battle victory, nor any long-term successful campaign by the Confederacy would have changed the fact that the Union, the United States of America was going to prevail.

If there is an interesting point to study it is how the Confederacy lasted as long as it did. One can attribute the duration of the war to ineptitude of the Union commanders, or to the skill of the Confederate commanders; or you can split your attribution in equal measure between the two.

In an off-line e-mail, your Maximum Leader and his friend Buckethead seemed to be in some agreement on this matter. Indeed, we are probably closer together than either of us think.

It is your Maximum Leader’s rhetorical certainty in this matter that he thinks rubs people the wrong way. Perhaps it is this certainty that prompted Steven Den Beste to respond to Buckethead’s post. Mr Den Beste’s comments are worth repeating here:

The Civil War wasn’t even remotely a sure thing when it started. The South’s strategy was to try to get the Europeans involved to impose a peace on the Union that permitted the Confederacy to exist.
The problem, for the Europeans, was the Union naval blockade of the south. That cut off all exports from the south, in particular of cotton, which idled cotton mills in Great Britain. The Confederacy hoped that the pain in the UK would be bad enough so that the government there would use the Royal Navy to break the blockade. If that had happened, and if the South was seen as putting up a good fight so that the war itself wouldn’t come to a conclusion rapidly, then the Europeans might have gotten involved and imposed a peace on Lincoln.
That was actually a very realistic strategy, and it nearly worked. There were two big reasons why it did not.
First was that by that point the US Navy was quite large and quite good. And unlike the US Army, naval officers from the south didn’t leave the service after secession, so the Navy continued essentially unchanged. The RN could have broken the blockade but it would have had to keep fighting; it wouldn’t have been one battle, it would have been a battle for every convoy in and out. Though there’s no doubt that the RN could have won against the USN of that era, it would have had to pay a high cost, in men and ships and money. (That’s before the appearance of the ironclads, which drastically changed everything.)
Second was that while southern exports of cotton were important to Europe, especially the UK, northern exports of wheat were even more important. If the RN had broken the blockade to get cotton exports moving again, there was nothing that could prevent the Union from ceasing to ship wheat to Europe. Europe wasn’t self-sufficient in food at that time and you can’t eat cotton. Given a choice between them, wheat won.
Southern diplomats in Europe made an active effort to get the Europeans involved, especially the British, and nearly succeeded. Of course, ultimately it didn’t happen, but when the Confederacy was founded, the strategy of trying to get the Europeans involved didn’t look far-fetched at all.

Your Maximum Leader will respectfully disagree with general thrust of Mr. Den Beste on these points; without disagreeing entirely with what he is saying. He will concur with the first point; which is to say that the Confederate strategy was to get European intervention which would lead to an imposed peace. This strategy did make a lot of sense to the Confederates; but your Maximum Leader wouldn’t go so far as to say that it nearly succeeded.

Your Maximum Leader generally agrees with the points made about cotton and wheat imports to Europe. He feels that a little more explanation might be required on these related topics. It should be noted that 1859 and 1860 were bumper crop years for cotton in the American South. It should also be noted that the last cotton crops of the bumper years successfully were transported to Europe before the war and blockade. This meant that the cotton warehouses were full (brimming in fact) with cotton at the beginning of the war. European (particularly British) industry was in no danger of immediately running out of cotton so great was the supply. The supply of cotton was great enough to last about two years. This time gave market forces a chance to work. Entrepreneurial Brits discovered that Egypt and India were equally good regions in which to raise cotton. The excess supply in Britain kept the mills going, gave the market time to develop new suppliers, allowed the government to leave the Confederacy hanging and introduced the world to the wonders of Egyptian cotton. (Of which are made the 800 thread count sheet on your Maximum Leader’s bed right now…)

While the years immediately preceding the Civil War were banner years for the cotton crop, they were not banner years for the wheat crop. There was not a surplus of food in Britain which meant that the British were more dependent on Union wheat exports than they were Confederate cotton exports. The food situation was one of which the British government was acutely aware.

Your Maximum Leader will further agree that the United States Navy was not decimated for good commanders at the beginning of the war, as was the army. He will further agree with Mr. Den Beste that the Royal Navy would have paid a price, but ultimately prevailed over the US Navy – had the British determined to intervene. Again, a little more exposition might be required here. Your Maximum Leader is not sure what the British would have gained from this perspective by intervention. They would have gained cheap cotton, but lost men, money, ships, and potentially a steady supply of wheat. How does this calculation favor intervention? The British had undisputed control of the seas. Undisputed control is as much perception of invincibility as proof. A series of bloody and costly battles at sea to break the US blockade of the CSA certainly wouldn’t have helped the British maintain their control of the seas. How would it have tipped the balance of power in Europe? The British, while still the victors, would appear weaker. And once the appearance of weakness is shown there is no telling how the French would react.

Towards the end of his comment Steven Den Beste writes that Confederate diplomats were close to succeeding in convincing the British to intervene. Your Maximum Leader will beg to differ on this point. It is his understanding that the key diplomat in this part of the equation is Charles Francis Adams, Ambassador of the United States to Great Britain. Adams was a major force in persuading the British that President Lincoln had no intention of any conclusion to the war other than the defeat of the Confederacy and the union being preserved. That is a pretty powerful idea to keep laying out before the British. And look how the facts supported what Adams was saying. Early in the war there was defeat after defeat for the US, but Lincoln fought on.

Your Maximum Leader also thinks it is important to mention the role of Abolitionists and slavery in the whole European intervention issue. It was no secret that the government of Britain (along with the upper classes) was openly sympathetic to the Confederate cause. Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, even mentioned possible support of the Confederacy on the floor of the House of Commons once. (A move that was interpreted as nearly being official recognition of the Confederacy.)

Your Maximum Leader thinks that too much is made of this. While the upper classes might have supported (intellectually) the supposed pursuit of liberty the Confederacy claimed to be founded upon; the middle and lower classes in Britain were firmly on the side of the Union. The upper classes, like many Americans today, convinced themselves that the war – and secession – was about more than slavery. The middle and lower classes were not laboring under any such delusion.

The Abolitionists of America were very well connected to their co-religionists (among Presbyterians and Methodists among others) in Britain. Abolitionists frequently wrote letters to be read to British congregations or traveled to give sermons. Support for the Union was very high among the great majority of the British population. So much so that various minister in the British government wondered privately if support of the Confederacy would result in civil unrest in Britain. Remember that the various revolutions of 1848 weren’t a distant memory in 1861.

By now, if you are still reading this post, you are probably asking yourself, “Self, my Maximum Leader has been agreeing with his detractors a lot. What was this argument all about actually?” Well, if you are saying that you are on the right track.

Your Maximum Leader thinks that this whole discussion is really about interpreting facts. Your Maximum Leader, and Buckethead, and Steven Den Beste, see the same group of facts and come to differing conclusions about them.

Your Maximum Leader, specifically, thinks that the vast majority of facts support his claim that the Confederacy could not have won the Civil War. From the point of view of men and material (points not discussed here), the Confederacy was woefully outmanned by the Union. Buckethead mentioned in his post that the Confederates were well aware of classical history and the stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae. Buckethead also mentions other great battles of Salamis and Marathon. Sure the Confederates knew their history. Sure they might have thought that winning lots of victories – though outnumbered and outgunned – would lead to victory. It had in the past. But unlike the Persians, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t going to be beat. Xerxes was, essentially, a quitter. Lincoln was not.

Further, your Maximum Leader believes the preponderance of facts support his view that Europe, specifically Britain (the nation most able, via the Royal Navy to make a difference in the Civil War), would not intervene on behalf of the Confederacy. If you had to choose between food and cotton – who wouldn’t choose food? If you had to choose between putting your naval supremacy on the line and weakening your greatest military asset or just sitting on the sidelines – why choose risk? If you had to choose between supporting an institution (slavery) that was abhorred by the majority of your population or not supporting the institution – why upset the people?

Sure the Confederacy had a plan to get Britain involved and force a peace on Lincoln. But the plan wasn’t a very realistic one. It relied on one element, cotton, and ignored the many other factors that would impact any decision to intervene militarily.

It may be fun to argue the “what ifs” of the Civil War - and to some it is. But in the end your Maximum Leader thinks that review of the facts show that the Confederacy was doomed from the start.

Carry on.

Unoriginality on TV…

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that NBC is going to be starting some program called “Raines.” In the show, star Jeff Goldblum will play a detective who sees dead people and uses the information the dead can give him to solve crimes and put their spirits to rest.

Hello? McFly? Hello?

Riddle your Maximum Leader this. Isn’t this program already on TV? Isn’t it “The Ghost Whisperer” starring the dreamy Jennifer Love Hewitt?

Really now. Why would you watch Jeff Goldblum?

jeff goldblum

When you could watch the dreamy Jennifer Love Hewitt?

The Dreamy Jennifer Love Hewitt

Your Maximum Leader rests his case.

Carry on.

Power comes…

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was chatting today with some associates around town about guns. The focus of the conversation was about the recent federal court decision overturning the District of Columbia’s gun ban. Most of the people in the conversation didn’t think that theis case would contribute to DC becoming a safer place any time soon.

There was one member of the conversation who was shocked at the decision. She also believes that the Second Amendment should be amended out of existance and guns should be confiscated. In the middle of her diatribe your Maximum Leader turned to her and mentioned that Chairman Mao was quoted as saying that “Power comes from the barrel of a gun.” She agreed that it did. Your Maximum Leader suggested then that the court decision should allow the people of DC to “empower” themselves a little against criminals.

The group thought that would be a nifty little saying: Power comes from the barrel of a gun. Buy a gun. Empower yourself.

Anyhoo…

Did your Maximum Leader mention that he has been itching to buy a shotgun?

He has been. He really needs to start a little slush fund or something to save up for a nice one…

Carry on.

Hitler’s Citizenship

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader reads on the news wires that the Social Democrats of Germany are looking to strip (posthumously to be sure) Adolf Hitler of his German Citizenship.

According to the piece the leadership of the SDP in Brunswick is looking to undo that which was done in 1932. According to the piece:

The Austrian-born Hitler gave up his Austrian citizenship in 1925 and only obtained German nationality when Nazi officials in Braunschweig (Brunswick) secured a position for him as a civil servant in the local administration in late February 1932.

As a civil servant, Hitler was automatically granted German citizenship, which allowed him to stand for election as president of the German Reich the following month.

You know, your Maximum Leader seems to remember reading this in Joachim Fest’s biography of Hitler. (That book is, by the way, a fine biography of Hitler if you are looking for one. In all honesty however, it is the only biography your Maximum Leader has ever read about Hitler.)

Apprently the people of Brunswick are stigmatized by their actions, and feel this is an important step towards eliminating this stigma. Your Maximum Leader says if it makes the people of Brunswick feel better, well then by all means go ahead and strip Hitler of his German citizenship. Your Maximum Leader is sure that in the deepest, darkest pits of hell Satan will deliver the message to the evil man himself.

Frankly… Your Maximum Leader has never been sure why these sorts of moves are required. It is not like there is anyone who was involved in the decision to make Hitler a civil servant is alive today. Those people, it could be argued, might be reasonably asked for an apology. But in this case it is sort of like asking for an apology for something you didn’t do… Like asking your state legislature to apologize for slavery. Although no person alive in your state was a slave or slave owner. One shouldn’t feel guilt for something one didn’t do.

Carry on.

Marmite Question

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader knows that there are a good number of his readers out there who are excellent cooks. That being said, this will be a wonderful opportunity to test out the comments…

Your Maximum Leader just bought his esteemed mother-in-law some Marmite. At first your Maximum Leader didn’t ask questions. But eventually he just had to know, why did she want Marmite?

Your Maximum Leader was told that it was an ingredient in an “English gravy.” Now, your Maximum Leader will likely find out tomorrow or Thursday what the exact ingredient list is for this “English gravy.” But, right now he is in the dark. He’s searched a few cookbooks he owns, and even checked a cooking web site or two looking for a Marmite gravy recipe. No luck.

Now he asks his loyal readers… Have any of you heard of a gravy made using Marmite in any quantity? Feel free to comment.

Carry on.

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