Robert A. Woodward
2005-11-12 07:51:29 UTC
established) on the probability of a CSA victory in the American
Civil War, on the chances of a quicker Union victory, and on the
chances of a slower Union victory.
Starting, say, May 1, 1861, there should be a range of possible
results of the American Civil War. At one end of the spectrum, we
find CSA victory; at the other end, we find the CSA collapsing
before the end of 1861 (e.g., Battle of Bull Run is a complete CSA
disaster, a train used in the panic evacuation of Richmond derails
and kills Jefferson Davis and others, etc.). Assuming the results
form a bell curve, with very low probability results on both ends,
and more probable (or perhaps many similar results) forming a bulge
in the middle, where on this curve would we find the transition
between CSA victory and defeat? And where on it would the actual
historical result be?
It is my belief that CSA victory is a low probability. One way that
it could win would be a knock out blow (which means capturing
Lincoln, not just the city of Washington). The most obvious (and
perhaps the only real) chance at a knockout is organizing a
successful pursuit immediately after 1st Bull Run (which probably
means that the battle is a quicker win for CSA than in OTL). A
pursuit that carries all the way into the District of Columbia.
After the fortress ring was built around Washington, the knockout
blow should be impossible. The city would have to be taken by siege
and I don't think the CSA could do it.
The CSA leadership had great hopes of European intervention. I see
this as mostly wishful thinking on their part. While the UK had the
capability to intervene (though mobilizing enough ground troops to
make a difference would be a pain), there would have to be
considerable domestic opposition to helping a bunch of slave
owners. So, to balance the risks, what would it gain? The CSA as a
dedicated market? Those states already were.
On the other hand, the Trent affair had a chance to be dangerous.
However, I will note that even if it wasn't defused and the UK
attacked the USA, that if the UK limited itself to a several months
long spanking of the US Navy, it wouldn't be very useful to the CSA.
Without the knock out blow or a gift from Perfidious Albion, the
CSA must then win a long war. Considering the extensive material
disadvantages they faced without any countervailing advantages
(IMHO, the CSA generals were not better on average than the Union
ones and, because of the better cohesion of the northern rail
net, the CSA didn't enjoy effective interior lines either),
winning a long war straight up looks very unlikely. Thus a CSA
victory would require exhausting the Union's national will (or,
perhaps Lincoln's will) while avoiding final defeat, i.e., running
out the clock. Just how close were they to doing this before Davis
replaced J.E. Johnston with Hood? After the Republican victory in
the November 1864 elections, the clock appears to have at least two
more years on it.
How probable is a quicker Union victory? It did take them four
years to subdue the CSA; a long time compared to a number of
Napoleon's compaigns. OTOH, the physical scale of the conflict was
greater than any of Napoleon's compaigns (except possibly the
invasion of Russia, but he lost that). The only real comparisons
among conflicts before the ACW would be the Alexander's conquest of
the Persian Empire (larger area, but he needed a decade to do it),
the initial conquests of the Islamic caliphate (an ever larger
area, about a century), the Mongol conquests (much larger area, 2-3
generations), the conquistadors versus the Aztecs and Incas (one of
those really weird historical results), and the contemporary T'ai
P'ing rebellion in China (which, IIRC, controlled less area than
the CSA, but took more than a decade to be defeated).
There are ways for the Union to win faster. For example, if
McCellan had the stomach of an army commander, he would have
captured Richmond before J.E. Johnston and, later, Lee would
assemble the forces that would fight the Seven Days. Also, some
commentators believe that Atlanta was more important than complete
control of the Mississippi River; more effort advancing in that
direction would have resulted in an earlier capture of Atlanta.
And there are ways to delay the victory as well. Something as
simple as killing Grant off early for example. Or have someone
better than Bragg in command of the Army of Tennessee.
 For example, there is the saga of Longstreet's Corps
transferring from Virginia to the Chickamuga battlefield. Because
of a lack of direct connections (the one good route was cut off by
Union armies), it turned into a 9 day tour of the deep South. In
addition, the Union had a monopoly on sea movement as well. Rivers
weren't much help to the CSA either .
 Note that the Mississippi River, the Ohio river, and the
tributaries of the Ohio work for the Union since it controls the
choke point at Cairo, Illinois.
Robert Woodward <***@drizzle.com>
Robert Woodward <***@drizzle.com>