How and Why Did the North Win the American Civil War Term Paper

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¶ … North win the Civil War

How and Why did the North Win the Civil War

The Civil War (Apr. 1861-Apr. 1865) was a conflict between the Northern and Southern sections of the United States, but it was, even more importantly, a conflict between the Romantic and the modern. Both sides entered the war with Romantic ideas of how war ought to be fought and slowly became disabused of these ideas by the terrible reality of slaughter on the Civil War battlefield. This process by itself, however, was not decisive because its lessons could not be applied equally to the situations of the North and South. Once the reality of war was understood, the North enjoyed two distinct advantages: it eventually possessed a corps of leaders who were able to adapt to the new conditions of warfare, especially Ulysses S. Grant, perhaps the first truly modern general, and superior material and industrial resources which are ultimately what determine victory in modern war. These two factors made the eventual victory of the North inevitable. The remarkable thing is that the South was able to last as long as it did and was able to press as close to victory as it did on many occasions.

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American consciousness prior to the Civil war was dominated by medieval concepts of honor and chivalry. Gentlemen fought duels over slights to their 'honor' (sense of machismo) in order to establish their place in society. Figures as prominent as Andrew Jackson made their reputation by fighting duels and even Lincoln was able to avoid the necessity of doing so only by the exercise of his sublimely caustic wit. The ethos of dueling implied that the cathartic violence of the duel was able to restore the balance of human relations through the essentially judicial nature and origin of dueling. If one of the duelists died, then god had rendered his verdict. if, as frequently happened, however, both survived, the path was open for the two men to re-establish or establish their friendship because the past transgression had been washed away.

Term Paper on How and Why Did the North Win the American Civil War Assignment

This was the concept by which most Americans approached the Civil War in 1861. Young men joined because it satisfied their honor and they might have been open to charges of cowardice if they did not. Many people believed that one brief engagement would somehow settle the matter. This is the reason that the First Battle of Bull Run was attended by spectators, including women and children, bearing picnic baskets. This is the reason that Elmer Ellsworth, Lincoln's bodyguard and a colonel in the Federal army, rushed into a tavern in Alexandria, Virginia and valiantly tried to tear down a Confederate flag that had been displayed there: he intended to act heroically to remove a stain on the national honor. Instead the bartender killed him with a shotgun, and all his hopes of gaining and honor glory were brought to end by superior firepower. This was only the first of many similar lessons that would be taught during the war.

Even among military thinkers, antiquated concepts of honor as well as of strategy were predominant. The professional officers trained at West Point, who formed the backbone of both the Federal and Confederate officer corps, principally studied the Napoleonic wars. They believed that Napoleon's method of fighting, engaging an enemy force that possessed superior manpower and logistical capability, and defeating it through superior tactical maneuvers, constituted the preferred means of warfare. Time and again early in the war, generals on both sides sought out a single decisive battle of the kind Napoleon won at Austerlitz or Jena-Auerstadt, complete with complicated maneuvers-sur-la-derrierre. This frequently ended in disasters such as McClellan's Peninsular Campaign. The reason is not hard to see. Napoleon's armies had been armed with smooth-bore muskets. Soldiers bearing such arms were able to be attacked, especially by mounted cavalry, with a fair chance of success. Napoleon was able to force victories by making all-out attacks. But Civil War armies were armed with rifled muskets that could fire five times faster and at a range many times greater than the weapons of the Napoleonic war. Making a concerted attack against such troops was nearly suicidal. Longstreet, one of Lee's ablest lieutenants, pointed out as much to his commander minutes before unleashing Picket's disastrous charge at Gettysburg:

the column would have to march a mile under concentrating battery fire, and a thousand yards under long-range musketry;... The conditions were different from those in the days of Napoleon, when field batteries had a range of six hundred yards and musketry about sixty yards.

The South won battles because it was so often on the defensive and the defender had become the much stronger side. Usually Union forces, rebuffed in their attack, would obligingly act like a Napoleonic army and withdraw after not being able to quickly defeat a Confederate force. When the South launched offensives, it too was usually defeated, as at Sharpsburg/Antietam and Gettysburg, because of the same tactical realities.

Obviously the wrong lesson had been drawn from history. But if Northern and Southern officers alike had not been dazzled by the mystique of Napoleon's victories, they could have learned another lesson from Napoleon. The Emperor himself had this to say about his arch-enemy Wellington:

There's a man for you! He is forced to flee from an army that he dares not fight, but he puts eighty leagues of devastation between himself and his pursuers. He slows down the march of the pursuing army, he weakens it by all kinds of privation-he knows how to ruin it without fighting it. In all of Europe, only Wellington and I are capable of carrying out such measures. But there is a difference between him and myself: In France...I would be criticized, whereas England will praise him.

Napoleon had understood that a far more effective means of making warfare was to wear the enemy down by attrition, to cut him off from his base (or to capture or destroy his base), but he was unable to fight like that because of political considerations. Battle is a gamble, but an enemy army will quickly melt away if it is denied the means to sustain itself. Because of the immense advantages in population and industrial production enjoyed by the North, the only hope of winning the war the Confederate States had was to win showy victories and hope the North would agree to let them go rather than risk further defeat. The North eventually had to realize that battlefield victories were irrelevant to its natural strategy of winning the war.

Indeed, some military leaders in the Civil War realized the true character of the conflict and attempted to wage war accordingly. None other than Winfield Scott, the 75-year-old Commander-in-Chief of the Federal army at the outbreak of the War, hero of the War with Mexico, developed a plan of campaign that de-emphasized battle and relied on the Union's logistical superiority to win the war.

In the earliest days of the war, General Scott recognized any hope the South had of winning was dependent upon its access to foreign markets. Quite simply, the Confederacy did not have the economic or industrial self-sufficiency to conduct the war. Scott reasoned that any means of hindering external resupply of the Confederacy would shorten the war. His plan, dubbed the Anaconda, was to strangle the South with a naval blockade and simultaneous military pressure from the north, the Mississippi River (a priority), and the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

From the beginning, the execution of this plan was drowned out by shouts of 'On to Richmond!' And a series of Commanders of the Army of the Potomac sought to annihilate Lee in a decisive battle.

These actions (the Peninsula, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, etc.) at least seemed to be the main Federal effort to win the war, though perhaps they might better be described as desperate efforts on the part of the Confederacy to avoid losing. The real strategy that won the war was in fact the Anaconda plan, however haltingly it was at first carried out. No victory of Lee could change the fact that the Union occupied the Confederate ports one by one in a methodical manner, and the South was powerless to prevent this. Grant's capture of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, splitting the Confederacy in two along the Mississippi, made Confederate victory impossible even had Lee not been forced to retreat from Gettysburg the day before. In the last years of the war, Sherman and Sheridan transformed the nature of their campaign into vast raids meant to devastate the agricultural and industrial base of the Confederacy, a goal for which the mere defeat of the inferior Confederate troops became only a means to an end. The industrial nature of the war made glorious victory in the Napoleonic sense irrelevant. Union troops given a bloody a nose by Lee were just as able to fight the day after being hit as the day before because they had all the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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