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Subject: Jeff Davis as Strategist rss

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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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I have seen a lot disparagement of Jefferson Davis as commander in chief. Criticisms range from his attempts to defend everything, to his partiality to friends (Polk, Holmes), cold nature, and general mistakes.

However, I wonder if anyone else could have done what he did in the South. The Confederacy's political leaders strike me as a petty, prickly, and short-sighted lot. Davis's cast iron will was a rarity, north and south. Most of all I doubt anyone could get the sensitive and honor obsessed Southern elites to actually work together, for bickering seemed to define the entire Confederate war effort outside of the Army of Northern Virginia. Worst of all, Davis could find few winning generals and it seems his talent pool was more limited than Lincoln's.

Was Jefferson Davis the best of a bad lot waging a war that was nigh impossible to win, or was he a deeply flawed man and one of the main reasons the South lost? Or is he something else altogether? The man fascinates me far more than Lincoln, although Honest Abe might be the most eloquent of all American politicians. I know I would not want either man's job. The burden placed upon Lincoln has been discussed over and over, including paeans to his greatness and biographies where he never makes a single error. Yet for all the difficulties that rested upon Lincoln, I'd rather be his shoes than those of Jeff Davis.

Lastly, I heard Gettysburg is not being considered a decisive victory. Anyone have some thoughts on this?
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gittes wrote:
However, I wonder if anyone else could have done what he did in the South.

Was Jefferson Davis the best of a bad lot waging a war that was nigh impossible to win, or was he a deeply flawed man and one of the main reasons the South lost?

I do not see how he could possibly be called one of the main reasons the South lost. He did recognize, at a crucial juncture (before Sherman's Atlanta campaign) that the South would lose in the West unless it could raise more troops in the West. He tried to do that, but was unsuccessful.

The only way for the South to have won, in my view, was for it to have hunkered down in the East -- heavily fortify Richmond and go turtle -- while shifting all available manpower, and the best generalship (ie, Lee) to the West, immediately after Chancellorsville.

Did Davis see this? If he had seen it clearly, would he have had the charisma and leadership ability to have effected the shift of focus? I actually doubt it. I think that, for instance, Lee would have refused to leave Virginia.

There was a fundamental problem faced by the South with regard to efficient and coordinated resource management across the entire theater, and one cannot blame Jefferson Davis for this. The fundamental weakness of the Confederacy was this, in my view: the Union saw itself as legitimate; those who fought for the Union saw themselves as fighting for something, and it would have been unthinkable for a Union general to have challenged the authority of the central government. Lincoln, and Halleck, had the freedom to shift and coordinate the resources at their disposal, at will.

The Confederate states, on the other hand, although they did form a central government, and did fight cooperatively, to a degree, were not part of a 'new nation' fighting for their independence -- the Confederacy was defined more by what it was not -- it was no longer part of a Union -- than by what it was.

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Jefferson Davis was shrewed, lucky and stupid. In other words he did some things well, screwed up others and...well got lucky.

Shrewed. Davis was the former secretary of War. As such he started the war with a better knowledge of the military than Lincoln who came in with little knowledge of military matters. The result was Davis made some very wise early appointments with men like Joe Johnston, Albert Sydney Johnson and Robert E. Lee. His better understanding of military matters combined with clandestine preparedness prior to the war by southern sympathizers in the Federal government (things like John B. Floyd shipping 115.000 muskets south in 1859) gave him an early edge over Lincoln.

Lucky. Joe Johnston was a fine commander but he was no Robert E Lee. Johnston's being wounded on the Peninsula created the opening that was filled by Lee. If Johnston doesn't get wounded and Lee doesn't take command it is possible that McClellan would have slowly (and by that I mean very slowly) have sieged Richmond and eventually strangled it. Mind you it would have been a long Petersburg type siege lasting likely into 1863 if it had happened.

Stupid. Davis' support for Braxton Bragg and his feud with Johnston was stupid and costly. As embarrassing as it was for Lincoln to fire 1,397 commanders of the Army of the Potomac (Ok, maybe a few less than that) at least Lincoln was willing to do what needed to be done in terms of commanders. Lincoln once said that he would hold McClellan's horse if it gave him a victory. Davis would never have said or believed that. Davis was stubborn and that stubbornness cost him dearly in the western theater after the death of Albert Sydney Johnson.

Davis simply could not see that Bragg was as much at war with his own commanders as he was with the Federal Army. When he finally does pull Bragg out he makes him his chief adviser. Meanwhile Davis feuds with Johnston. With Bragg in his ear, Hood backstabbing Johnston Davis puts the final nail in the coffin of the western theater by removing Johnston and replacing him with Hood.

So in the end I think Davis is a mixed bag. He started off well and got a bit lucky with Lee in the east but his management of his commanders in the west was very poor.
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bob_santafe wrote:

The Confederate states, on the other hand, although they did form a central government, and did fight cooperatively, to a degree, were not part of a 'new nation' fighting for their independence -- the Confederacy was defined more by what it was not -- it was no longer part of a Union -- than by what it was.


I think this is a super point. An example of this I think happened when Davis ordered the governor of Georgia to send more troops north. I forget when this actually was but the governor told Davis to take a hike and if he didn't like it Georgia could secede from the Confederacy!
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gittes wrote:
Lastly, I heard Gettysburg is not being considered a decisive victory. Anyone have some thoughts on this?

As always, these things are subject to definition. In the popular mind, in the North at least, for a very, very long time, Gettysburg has been thought of as being decisive. Eventually, in my view, historians will come to almost unanimous agreement that, in this case, the public mind is not only correct, but that it has the ability to define decisiveness.

Gettysburg was the first clear victory of the Army of the Potomac (after two years of war!). It came fast on the heels of the most humiliating defeat suffered by that long-suffering army to date. It put an end to any hope the South might have had of an early end to the war -- of putting an end to the war by taking war to the enemy. After Gettysburg, it was clear to all that a 'Napoleonic' style victory was impossible for the South. Crucial for public perception of the war, it showed -- as Bowen Simmons puts it so nicely in the blog on his up-coming game The Guns of Gettysburg -- that Lee, or the Army of Virginia, could not go at will where it wanted to go. Henceforth, the South could win only by hanging on long enough to cause exhaustion to set in.

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Learning from all of your posts, but some questions arise to me that I know little about ACW.

The more I read about it, the more I see the desperate (I would even say ridiculous) position the Confederates where in. They lack manpower, economy, and unity to face the Federal government. And still they managed to survived almost 4 years.

The general vision is (correct me if I am wrong) that the ineptness of the Federal generals at the beginning and the mastermind of Robert E Lee was the reason for such a long struggle (I know I am simplifying things).

But, isn't there some kind of manicheism vision still in the way history is seen? Isn't Robert E Lee the "gentle enemy" that everyone can love (good manners, intelligent, without slaves...). Isn't it true that Little Mac suffers from opposing one the USA's greatest heros? and Davis? Hiding instead of surrendering (a much more noble act), a strong willed slave-owner? Isn't he easy to hate?

My point is that holding the Confederation alive for 4 years was no small feat, and credit should be given were credit is due, and, in my limited knowledge, I think Davis should be given more credit for what he did wrong.

Again, I am more than willing to be schooled by the knowledgeable and brilliant minds around here.
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pete belli wrote:
Quote:
I heard Gettysburg is not being considered a decisive victory. Anyone have some thoughts on this?


Deserves a separate BGG thread.

Heartily agree.

Also, Jeff Davis is a mixed bag. I know some exceptionally stubborn people. If you'll tolerate a brief cross-cultural observation, they're all Americans. Indonesians are capable of being very flexible people, which has strengths and weaknesses, and Americans are capable of being very stubborn people, which also has strengths and weaknesses. May I be so bold as to say you cannot take the strengths without the weaknesses no matter what the situation is?

Jeff Davis' stubbornness contributes to his success as the national leader of a bunch of bickering politicians with little to nothing in common. It allows him to overcome (through stamina alone) obstacles put up by his own legislature and work with incredible commitment. While working "the desk" is without glory, it often makes the difference in the long run.

Stubbornness, like most cultural traits, will always include weakness as well. He stubbornly held onto his definition of his roll as Commander-in-Chief. He was in charge, and that meant telling Bragg to send Pemberton troops, and meant that leadership in the west was going to fractured (after the death of A.S. Johnston). With Lee, we see Jeff Davis not grabbing too much control because Lee brings victories. However, in the West, where defeats are the name of the game and conflict in the higher commands are the way things break down, Davis' influence is all mis-used. Stubbornly he holds onto Bragg and Polk despite their conflict. Stubbornly he continues to feud with Joe Johnston despite his key leadership of the Army of Tennessee.

So, that's my rant. Character, and cultural traits has really been brought up to me lately. I would personally choose flexibility...
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abendoso wrote:
Learning from all of your posts, but some questions arise to me that I know little about ACW.

The more I read about it, the more I see the desperate (I would even say ridiculous) position the Confederates where in. They lack manpower, economy, and unity to face the Federal government. And still they managed to survived almost 4 years.

The general vision is (correct me if I am wrong) that the ineptness of the Federal generals at the beginning and the mastermind of Robert E Lee was the reason for such a long struggle (I know I am simplifying things).

I believe another key aspect, was the vastness of the Confederacy. The South is large, quite a bit larger than France, Spain, Italy, and Austria all put together. Marching troops over this terrain takes time, and fighting battles (or losing battles in Virginia) will slow down and stop this progress.

abendoso wrote:

But, isn't there some kind of manicheism vision still in the way history is seen? Isn't Robert E Lee the "gentle enemy" that everyone can love (good manners, intelligent, without slaves...). Isn't it true that Little Mac suffers from opposing one the USA's greatest heros? and Davis? Hiding instead of surrendering (a much more noble act), a strong willed slave-owner? Isn't he easy to hate?

My point is that holding the Confederation alive for 4 years was no small feat, and credit should be given were credit is due, and, in my limited knowledge, I think Davis should be given more credit for what he did wrong.

Again, I am more than willing to be schooled by the knowledgeable and brilliant minds around here.

I think you've hit onto kind of a key here, but not really. No one is going to say Sherman is a gentleman, far from it actually. Yet, his battlefield and strategic success are indisputable. Lee happens to be a "great" guy, but it's not just his shining character that makes historians and Americans love him, it is his successes.

My add on question is...what were the other options the CSA had? When they were first selecting a president (not really an election), who else could they have chosen? Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas hadn't seceded yet (much less Kentucky and Maryland which never did), so politicians from there weren't options. So, what were the possibilities? Would any of those guys be a better choice?
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Great topic.

One big error (not solely Davis' but he was President and thus in charge of this) was in the Confederacy's conduct of diplomacy.

First, they shot themselves in the foot by self-embargoing the export of cotton in 1861. The South badly OVERestimated the world's need for its cotton. Britain, as it turned out, had pretty good stockpiles of cotton - enough to keep the mills running. (France, Belgium not so much but they weren't in a position to intervene without British cooperation.) And of course, as Southern cotton was removed from world markets, prices rose and alternative sources of cotton expanded their output - India, Egypt, even Russian Central Asia. So ultimately, this Southern diplomatic/economic strategy ended up taking the bullets out of what they thought could be a weapon - King Cotton. Not to mention the fact that if they had sold cotton in 1861 before the Union blockade was fully effective, the CSA would have had more cash for things like weapons, and might have helped bolster its pathetic currency and hence the Southern economy.

Second, many agree that obtaining international - read that as "British" - recognition was crucial to the Confederacy's prospects for survival as a state independent of the United States. So diplomacy would be important. Well, the South didn't manage that well. The best thing those political hacks Mason and Slidell did was to be taken prisoner by the Union, and that wasn't enough. The South failed to take advantage of some diplomatic talent, including a prominent South Carolinian whose name I forget who had been a career diplomat for the US - something like the #3 official at the State Department - supported his state and the CSA, had great international contacts, and was available - but never gave him a job. And the Confederacy's State Department at its peak numbered fewer than a dozen people. Gaining international recognition was always going to be tough, but you'd think they might have devoted more resources to it. Instead, the South largely sat back and awaited what they thought was rightly theirs - recognition - instead of more aggressively pursuing it. Though I dunno that Palmerston would have ever given the OK.
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gittes wrote:
However, I wonder if anyone else could have done what he did in the South.

I think there's a great many people who could have lost the war.

More seriously, Davis started in a bad spot and did fairly well early, but was incapable of enacting change. With the wealth of officers that the CSA had, he appointed some very able generals to lead the fight early in the war, and he listened to them and other military experts when they told him that it was impossible to defend everything everywhere and that concentration would be required to be successful.

Sadly for Mr. Davis, this is just about where the good part ends. He was so enamored of his position as commander-in-chief that he refused to allow the creation of a general in that role who would be responsible for the overall conduct of the war and vetoed bills that created the position. He refused to create a general staff for his military since he also saw this as a threat to his military control. And he left the overall command structure of the army such a mess that his generals often did not know who was in overall command in a theater, how orders "from the top" should be interpreted for joint operations, and what the specific goals and expectations for them and their forces were. One often hears Lee criticized for the quality of the orders he issued during the Gettysburg campaign - that they were too vague or non-specific to result in the outcome he desired (which was unusual for him). This describes Mr. Davis throughout nearly the entire war.

Davis was also not the strategist that he often pictured himself to be (and he suggests that he would take personal command of an army a number of times during the war). Rather than focusing on strong defense, he encouraged aggressive action up to and including invading the Union when this would have done little or nothing to secure independence. As the war progressed, this became a near obsession with the thought that a major victory on Northern soil would somehow magically result in recognition abroad and aid from foreign powers.

Perhaps Davis gets a bit of a bad rap (the situation from the start was not particularly favorable for the South), but I don't think it's heavily so. The structure of the Confederate government called for a president long on ego, willpower, and persuasiveness and I doubt many could have done better than Davis did. But he ultimately resisted the adoption of a strategy that could lead to success and failed to create command structures that helped generals prioritize or coordinate effectively. He was too impressed with his own military abilities and, unlike Lincoln, too unwilling to advance officers to positions of significant power and control to guide their forces in a consistent fashion.
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In my early days of wargaming, a buddy of mine used to insist that the Confederacy would have been better off selecting Breckinridge as president and making Davis a field commander in the west. I don't remember much of the particulars of his argument except that he thought Davis would have been particularly effective in Missouri. I never looked into any of this myself. He had some interesting ideas, including considering Albert Sydney Johnston a better general than Lee.
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Wasn't the Davis selection as President, somewhat unexpected? He seemed like someone who was a little out of his depth as the supreme commander, perhaps better suited to a general's job. Concerning the commencement of hostilities at Ft. Sumter and whether to pursue that course...

"Mr. President, at this time it is suicide, murder, and will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet's nest which extends from mountain to ocean, and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal." ~Robert Toombs

EDIT: Another interesting question relevant to the OP (that I am sure someone has asked before) is how would the two presidents, Lincoln and Davis, performed if they were switched?
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Great topic; thanks for posting.
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pete belli wrote:
Interesting topic.

Quote:
Jeff Davis as Strategist

Don't confuse the ability Davis showed as an iron-willed leader hammering together a rickety Confederate government (Lincoln took control of an existing, although fractured, system) with his flawed performance as commander-in-chief of the military.

Why not? It seems like that iron-will was his main gift as a strategist, because as you said he did create a military almost from scratch. However, as you say below it was not mixed with a flexible mind. This is perhaps the price the South paid for having Davis's iron will: he could cobble together an army, but he could not be flexible.

Davis was also not experienced in the basic rough and tumble of politics. As a Senator, he was considered a lightweight.

Quote:
Davis could not "suffer fools gladly" and his prickly personality (aggravated by poor health and family tragedy) did not make him the type of team player the Confederacy needed. Because Davis tended to micro-manage the war effort he made strategic moves (like shifting forces between Bragg and Permberton) that were a day late and a dollar short, leaving his generals in awkward situations. As others have mentioned, he allowed his personal feelings to cloud his ability to select commanders.

Davis meddled most in the west after Sidney Johnston's death. It seems that he simply did not trust his generals out there and he was right not to. The answer was to make Joe Johnston supreme commander, but soon Johnston was shunning authority. This caused Davis to meddle further.

Lincoln meddled a lot in the east for the same reasons Davis meddled in the west. In both cases their meddling only made things worse. I also don't think either man found a real winning combination in either theater. Not that Grant and Meade were fools, but they had to deal with Sigel, Butler, Burnside, Warren, Hunter, and others. These men ruined Grant's best chance to win the war out east in 1864. Also, the west was more important and once it was gutted the collapse in the east became inevitable. By 1865 Grant and Meade had also cleaned out most of the trash while the army had recovered from the slaughter of the Overland Campaign.

Quote:
His final grade? C, for a mixed performance. Devotion to the Lost Cause and long hours spent at his desk could not compensate for the lack of strategic vision shown by Davis.

So what would be a more proper strategic vision?
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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mrbeankc wrote:
Stupid. Davis' support for Braxton Bragg and his feud with Johnston was stupid and costly. As embarrassing as it was for Lincoln to fire 1,397 commanders of the Army of the Potomac (Ok, maybe a few less than that) at least Lincoln was willing to do what needed to be done in terms of commanders. Lincoln once said that he would hold McClellan's horse if it gave him a victory. Davis would never have said or believed that. Davis was stubborn and that stubbornness cost him dearly in the western theater after the death of Albert Sydney Johnson.

Davis simply could not see that Bragg was as much at war with his own commanders as he was with the Federal Army. When he finally does pull Bragg out he makes him his chief adviser. Meanwhile Davis feuds with Johnston. With Bragg in his ear, Hood backstabbing Johnston Davis puts the final nail in the coffin of the western theater by removing Johnston and replacing him with Hood.

Great reply Brian as always, but I have to disagree with you on this point. Davis did not really support Bragg. He wanted him replaced after Stones River for the reasons you listed. As always a suitable replacement was not easy to find. Joesph E. Johnston, the overall commander in the west, was told to take charge if he felt Bragg was not up to the task. Bragg though managed to win over Johnston with his obedience and by doing what he did best: whipping the army into shape. Gideon J. Pillow managed to round up some 10,000 deserters and the army's discipline and organization were re-instituted. Johnston not only told Davis to keep Bragg, he even reinforced Bragg with fresh cavalry regiments.

Davis had made Johnston commander in chief and told him in a personal letter to exercise his authority. He refused because he was incapable of taking responsibility, unless thoroughly coddled. Davis then wanted to replace Bragg with Hardee after Chattanooga. Hardee refused. So when Davis faced a crisis before Atlanta, he replaced Johnston for not telling him his plans, being generally pessimistic, and because Johnston had bungled the campaign in northern Georgia. Johnston made no indication that he would fight for Atlanta. So, I actually agree with Davis replacing Johnston, and he might have chosen Hardee. "Old Reliable" though had snubbed him in 1863. So he chose Hood. I think either way, Atlanta was going to fall because both Hood and Johnston were incompetent, although for very different reasons.

The problem I see out west is that Davis had no one to trust after Shiloh. He tried to find someone, and maybe he should have fired men more readily. Then the old question returns. Who will take their place? Davis tried to send Lee out west. He might have promoted Longstreet if not for his failed coup against Bragg, which came after a victory and during a siege. I do fault Davis for not making more use of Beauregard although I understand why he did not. As for Bragg, he was good at a desk job, so I don't count that against Davis.
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abendoso wrote:
The general vision is (correct me if I am wrong) that the ineptness of the Federal generals at the beginning and the mastermind of Robert E Lee was the reason for such a long struggle (I know I am simplifying things).

I think you are correct in that that is the general conception of the early war. The truth of the matter is that the war quickly escalated to a scale never seen before on the American continent and totally out of the realm of experience of American generals. Consider that McDowell went to 1st Bull Run with over 30,000 men. That's nearly 4 times what Winfield Scott had at the battle of Mexico City and McDowell had been a major only a few months earlier when the war started!

The first two years of the war was a practicum for both sides in learning how to train, equip, and lead large bodies of troops into conflict. The South had an early advantage in audacity that nearly overcame their logistical difficulties. However, by the time the generals had finished their schooling, no amount of audacity could overcome the logistics, and it was only the complicated logistics of supporting northern armies that gave the South room to contest the war beyond 1863.
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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The Grinch wrote:
In my early days of wargaming, a buddy of mine used to insist that the Confederacy would have been better off selecting Breckinridge as president and making Davis a field commander in the west. I don't remember much of the particulars of his argument except that he thought Davis would have been particularly effective in Missouri. I never looked into any of this myself. He had some interesting ideas, including considering Albert Sydney Johnston a better general than Lee.

I have a friend who is writing an alternative history where this takes place. Breckinridge was a better politician. He had more charisma. Yet he had some telling defects. He was an alcoholic and a poor administrator. He did not think the south had much of chance at victory. he was also very young by the standards of political leadership. In short, he was the anti-Davis. If he failed, it would be for lacking all the things we credit as Davis's strengths.
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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bob_santafe wrote:
I do not see how he could possibly be called one of the main reasons the South lost. He did recognize, at a crucial juncture (before Sherman's Atlanta campaign) that the South would lose in the West unless it could raise more troops in the West. He tried to do that, but was unsuccessful.

The only way for the South to have won, in my view, was for it to have hunkered down in the East -- heavily fortify Richmond and go turtle -- while shifting all available manpower, and the best generalship (ie, Lee) to the West, immediately after Chancellorsville.

Did Davis see this? If he had seen it clearly, would he have had the charisma and leadership ability to have effected the shift of focus? I actually doubt it. I think that, for instance, Lee would have refused to leave Virginia.

Davis's relation to the western theater is interesting to say the least. He kept it stocked with troops. The western armies were rarely as out-numbered as Lee's army, which usually faced 2:1 odds. Davis had to keep a lot of troops in Virginia for a very obvious reason too. The North concentrated massive armies out east. Over half of the union corps formations were in Virginia. The Army of the Potomac usually exceeded 100,000 men. The armies in the west only approached that number when they were combined at Corinth and Chattanooga. In Virginia, the loss of territory had more severe industrial and political repercussions. Richmond was a factory center. The Shenandoah Valley was a key farmland. Virginia itself was the most populous state in the CSA. Davis could not afford to lose Virginia. In terms of manpower, Davis did not ignore the west. Did he ignore it in terms of leadership?

Davis also considered sending Stonewall Jackson out west. Lee prevented this. Lee also turned down command of the Army of Tennessee on two occasions, although Davis was probably just feeling Lee out. Davis was not merely sending the "trash" out west either. Sidney Johnston, Bragg, and Hardee all had impeccable pre-war careers. The idea that sending more eastern commanders would fix the situation is proven false by Longsteet and Hood, neither of whom found much success outside of the east.

The trouble with events after Chancellorsville is that Vicksburg was besieged. Davis sent thousands of troops under Johnston who, unsurprisingly, did nothing. Davis decided to send Lee north because Lee had won most of his battles. He showed Davis the respect he deserved and worked with him. It was a remarkable and understudied partnership. It failed, but without it I don't see the South surviving after the summer of 1862. I'm not saying the invasion of the north was a good idea. I think Davis should have sent Lee west with 2-3 division and kept Longstreet in Virginia. That is hindsight for you.
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pete belli wrote:
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I heard Gettysburg is not being considered a decisive victory. Anyone have some thoughts on this?


Deserves a separate BGG thread.

I'm just not interested enough in the topic, since it strikes me as one of those "cute" ideas historians come up with to have something to sell books or debate. Just wanted to throw it out there. I certainly think it was the decisive battle in the east.

So far this discussion has been great. I think you pointed out the most crucial of Davis's failures, beyond his prickly personality. He had too many departments. It created a muddle. He then failed to appoint a general in chief, while his attempts at posting grand theater commanders (such as Joe Johnston in the west) failed and soured him on what was a good idea.
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pete belli wrote:
Develop a rational command structure in the western theater.

He tried with both Johnstons. One died and the other failed. So who replaces Joe Johnston? I agree it was a good idea, but it comes back to a lack of talent.

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Show willingness to shift forces to the western theater through Knoxville... for a frequently overlooked example, trying something bold instead of wasting time with the Suffolk campaign.

This is a good idea, as shown by the failure at Suffolk and the victory at Chickamauga. Lincoln was also susceptible to supporting military farragoes. Just look at the Red River campaign. Yet, when Davis was bold, such as approving strategic offensives into the North, the confederates either came up a little short (Kentucky) or met disaster, such as Gettysburg and Franklin. Perhaps Davis did not concentrate enough troops on these occasions, but it seems that pulling off a successful offensive in the Civil War is a daunting task.

I'm not settled either way, but I mostly think you are right about this one.

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Be capable of putting aside personal feelings to support his generals... Lincoln knew that McClellan despised him and he knew that Hooker called for a dictatorship, but he used these officers when they were needed.

Davis gave Joe Johnston two important military assignments after he recovered from his wounds. He posted Beauregard to the defense of Richmond at a critical time. So he could set aside his personal feelings, at least when it came to assigning commands. Where I fault Davis is in how he handled them. I read his letters to Johnston. I side with Davis. Johnston was posturing, touchy, jealous, and lacked the will to fight (which does not just mean the will to attack). Davis failed by pointing these things out to Johnston, which only worsened relations. Yet he did set aside his differences because unlike Lincoln his pool of talent was more shallow. McClellan, Buell, McDowell, and Pope disappeared after 1862. Johnston, Bragg, and Polk did not. It is arguable that Davis should have been as ruthless as Lincoln when he fired commanders.

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As a previous contributor mentioned, grasp the BIG picture... diplomacy, economics, and military strategy. Lincoln did that; Davis could not pull all of the puppet strings himself so he dropped a few while a few of the others got into a tangle.

Yet how did he fail in regards in each? What could he do in diplomacy and economics that he did not do? Furthermore, he meddled less with economic and diplomatic affairs. Did he need to meddle further?

Lincoln had some built in advantages here. The North had a stronger economy and France and Britain were not looking for an excuse to fight but rather an excuse to avoid fighting.

That being said, Davis's failure to me seems more political than anything else, which was coincidentally Lincoln's best strength. Davis failed to rally the people. He did not make a good effort at propaganda. He upset as many men as he won over. What I wonder is if anyone in the South could have held together such a cantankerous lot. Bickering always occurs at this level, but rarely to the depths achieved by the CSA. I think it had more to do with the South's pseudo-aristocratic leadership then anything else.
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If I recall correctly from Shelby Foote's trilogy of the war, one of the acute problems Davis ran into in the course of the war was that some of the very measures needed for nationalsurvival were some of the same issues that had led to secession in the first place. Particularly in regards to the ability of federal authority to make demands on member states and enforce compliance even in the face of reluctance, resistance, and/or refusal by those member states.

Case in point: Georgia's refusal to let militia out of the state.
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Meisterchow wrote:
If I recall correctly from Shelby Foote's trilogy of the war, one of the acute problems Davis ran into in the course of the war was that some of the very measures needed for nationalsurvival were some of the same issues that had led to secession in the first place. Particularly in regards to the ability of federal authority to make demands on member states and enforce compliance even in the face of reluctance, resistance, and/or refusal by those member states.

Case in point: Georgia's refusal to let militia out of the state.

Another was that Davis refused to turn slaves into soldiers because well, that is what they are fighting to defend. Patrick Cleburne famously suggested this policy in early 1864. He was always more into states' rights and Souther Nationalism than slavery. He had the support of Hardee, Cheatham, and some brigade commanders. It was denounced by several generals, including Johnston, Bate, and J. Patton Anderson. A.P. Stewart said it was "at war with my social, moral and political principles...” W. H. T. Walker brought the plan to Davis's attention. Davis was not happy and had the whole thing kept secret because it was to him, a political and social embarrassment.

Here is Cleburne's proposal. It makes for a good read: http://www.sewanee.edu/faculty/Willis/Civil_War/documents/Cl...
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gittes wrote:
He tried with both Johnstons. One died and the other failed. So who replaces Joe Johnston? I agree it was a good idea, but it comes back to a lack of talent.

Was it lack of talent? Or lack of talent that Davis found politically acceptable? When it became obvious that Johnston was not pulling his weight, a strong leader would have tried new generals. Maybe they don't work out, but why not give a Pemberton a shot? Why not try out Hood sooner rather than later?

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Yet how did he fail in regards in each? What could he do in diplomacy and economics that he did not do? Furthermore, he meddled less with economic and diplomatic affairs. Did he need to meddle further?

The diplomatic front was a loser from the start, but where it drove Davis was the belief that "one more victory" was all that was required to gain foreign recognition. Rather than finding experienced diplomats who could help him and the South build a meaningful relationship abroad, he mistook military success (particularly on Northern soil) for diplomatic leverage. And this drove a number of critical strategic decisions for the CSA that turned out very badly.
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perfalbion wrote:
Was it lack of talent? Or lack of talent that Davis found politically acceptable? When it became obvious that Johnston was not pulling his weight, a strong leader would have tried new generals. Maybe they don't work out, but why not give a Pemberton a shot? Why not try out Hood sooner rather than later?

So Johnston has failed. Who do we appoint? Recall that by the time it is obvious that Johnston has failed, Pemberton is being pressed at Vicksburg. Hood is a fair idea for corps command, but recall too that Davis had decided to send D.H. Hill west, so he is trying new things. Like Hood, Hill was a great division commander and a disaster out west.

We have to consider who he has to work with. I do think he should have taken Bragg's advice and had Richard Taylor sent to the Army of Tennessee. Also, I'd say Beauregard was a better commander than Johnston and a worthy replacement. However "Old Bory" did not have the support of Lee and Seddon, both of whom Davis trusted. So Johnston got more chances than he deserved.

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The diplomatic front was a loser from the start, but where it drove Davis was the belief that "one more victory" was all that was required to gain foreign recognition. Rather than finding experienced diplomats who could help him and the South build a meaningful relationship abroad, he mistook military success (particularly on Northern soil) for diplomatic leverage. And this drove a number of critical strategic decisions for the CSA that turned out very badly.

I need to read more on the diplomacy, but I think the whole "one more victory" thing is an outgrowth of Lee's victories. Davis's choice of diplomats were pretty bad though and none of them made much of a positive impression.

Davis had two albatrosses around his neck: slavery and Europe's indifference general towards America. In 1776 the French and Spanish were looking for payback. There is no such situation in 1861. How does he get the British and French to commit? I'm not sure, but if Seward had been president it would have happened. His scheme was to invade Canada, thinking that war with Britain would reunite the nation. I like Seward, but he reminds me of the old saying "too clever by half."
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abendoso wrote:

The more I read about it, the more I see the desperate ... position the Confederates where in. They lack manpower, economy, and unity to face the Federal government. And still they managed to survived almost 4 years.

The general vision is (correct me if I am wrong) that the ineptness of the Federal generals at the beginning and the mastermind of Robert E Lee was the reason for such a long struggle (I know I am simplifying things).

My point is that holding the Confederation alive for 4 years was no small feat, and credit should be given were credit is due, and, in my limited knowledge, I think Davis should be given more credit for what he did wrong.


While I think there's some truth in your observations, one factor to consider in why the war took so long was the vast scale of it -- in both the number of troops involved and, more especially, the distances involved. Not unlike what happened with the Eastern Front and the Pacific War in World War II, the logistical challenges posed by the immense distances involved probably necessitated a fairly long war barring an unexpected collapse in morale.

Exacerbating this was the fact that neither side had a large military establishments and had to spend a considerable amount of time building up the forces needed to match the huge theater of operations.

Don't forget that by European standards we are talking about long marches and lengthy supply lines. Sherman's famous "March to the Sea" was about 250 miles or so, which is the same distance as Aachen to Paris. The entire active ran from the Atlantic Ocean to western Missouri. more than 1,000 miles, comparable to the entire Russian front in World War II.

While Lee's superior generalship held the federal forces to less-than-acceptable progress in the East, the western armies made more or less steady progress throughout the war carving into Rebel-held territory.
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