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How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat Paperback – November 25, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Forum; Reprint edition (November 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307346005
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307346001
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #674,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Military historian Alexander (Lost Victories et al.) offers a well-reasoned brief that lays the blame for the Confederate defeat in the Civil War primarily on President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee, and their war-long insistence on conducting toe-to-toe frontal assaults against the much-stronger Union Army. Alexander argues that had Davis and Lee listened to Gen. Stonewall Jackson, things very well could have turned out differently. Jackson—and like-minded generals Joseph E. Johnston, Pierre G.T. Beauregard and James Longstreet—warned against conducting an offensive war against the North. Instead, they advocated waging unrelenting war against undefended factories, farms, and railroads north of the Mason-Dixon line, bypassing the Union Army and winning indirectly by assaulting the Northern people's will to pursue the war. While Alexander convincingly argues that there was nothing inevitable about a Southern defeat, he is no Lost Cause advocate. Instead, he presents well-drawn and clear-eyed tactical and strategic analyses of the war's most crucial battles (including First and Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg) to buttress his contention that had Jackson not perished in May of 1863 (and had Lee and Davis adopted Jackson's strategy), the South just might have won the Civil War. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"Alexander argues persuasively that the wartime policies of President Jefferson Davis and the military strategy of General Robert E. Lee led to the failure of the Confederacy. . . . Thought-provoking and informative."
Washington Post

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Customer Reviews

The book was well written and easy to read.
Mark Longstroth
(In battle as opposed to armies not in contact manouvering) The reason why was the mobility of troops because of the adoption of the rifle.
Tom Munro
This book is a restating of that point of view, with a somewhat different framework.
David W. Nicholas

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Polymath on January 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a quite good operational and grand tactical history of the Eastern Theatre of the American Civil War from 1st Bull Run to Gettysburg, complete with a plethora of very useful maps, told from viewpoint of the Confederate high command.

For the author, Jackson is a transcendent military genius, Lee is myopic at best, and Davis becomes pretty quickly becomes immaterial. Ordinary soldiers enter the narrative mainly as numbers engaged, and casualties.

The author posits that the Army of Northern Virginia could have wandered around eastern Pennsylvania for months in the summer living off the land. On the other hand, he suggests that any Union army would have surrendered almost immediately if cut off from supply. Similarly, he suggests the Union itself would have surrendered upon the capture or cutting off of either Washington, Baltimore, or Philadelphia. The possiblilty that any of these events would have merely riled up the Union against an invader is not even mentioned, much less discussed.

So, while I found the book an enjoyable read, I also find it possible to doubt many of the author's opinions and spectulative theses. For me, these things balance out to a four star rating.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Sean Holland on March 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Alexander, Bevin. How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

This books supposed subject in contained in its title, but it does not really achieve that. The subtitles is slightly more accurate. It is 337-pages including notes, bibliography and index with eighteen maps and very readable type.

The introduction is entitled "No Victory is Inevitable" which is true but analysis of why and how victory could have shifted to the historically defeated is a difficult task. Such analysis moves into the realm of counterfactual (or alternate) history, a field more usually the playground of fiction writers rather than historians.

In Chapter 2 "A New Kind of War" (p 33-43) Alexander lays out the three strategies that the Confederates had to choose from:

* Passive defense, championed by President Jefferson Davis and, as such, the de facto strategy of the CSA.

* Engaging and destroying the enemy, championed by Robert E. Lee and later pursued by him.

* Invasion of the North to destroy its ability to make war, by destroying economic and transportation assets, according to Alexander, this was the strategy that `Stonewall' Jackson wanted to see followed by the CSA.

Alexander believes that the war against the infrastructure of the North would have been a winning strategy. By Jackson was not able to find support for such a course of action, nor does it seem that he tried very hard to do so, and it did not happen. There Alexander leaves the matter, Jackson was right and if the Confederates had just listened they could have won. No discussion is made of how the Confederacy could have effectively pursued this.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By James W. Durney TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A Southern military victory was never impossible even if it was highly unlikely. In the years since the Civil War, a number of points in the war were selected as places where a different result could have produce a Southern victory. All these points ended with Gettysburg and ignore the Western Theater. This concentration on Robert E. Lee and his army is in keeping with the historical importance they hold in the Southern view of the war. Bevin Alexander supplies a very readable book on why a different course was possible. This is not a balanced book that gives the "could have won" position couple with the reasons and/or statements supporting the historical action. This book embraces each of the "could have won" position with no dissenting voice.
Stonewall Jackson is the key element in the author's arguments. Jackson is pushing Lee, Lee's orders trump Jackson's strategy, Jackson's actions produce total victory while the actions Lee & Davis only delay defeat. The author produces some interesting gymnastics in maintaining the position that Jackson was the CSA's best hope of victory. James Longstreet is villain or hero, depending on the battle. At Second Manassas, Longstreet delays attacking until Pope is in a position to escape destruction. At Gettysburg, Longstreet is the champion of Jackson's ideas fighting and overly aggressive Lee trying to save the South.
People who read Civil War history will be troubled by many of the author's conclusions and should find a number of misstatements. This is not to say that the author plays fast and lose with the truth but that he tends to over state his position and be carried away by his arguments.
What is right with the book? First, it is an excellent compilation of the position of where the South could have won the war.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By David F. Mcginnis on February 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In about 1978 I began reading seriously about the Civil War. The library in St Paul MN had a vast literature on the subject, including numbered/signed 1st editions and obscure local works. The MN Historical Society had a lot of material including letters home from the front. I have gamed the ACW many many times, tactically at the battle-scale and strategically the war as a whole. At Ft Snelling I was inducted into the 1st MINN Vols, a re-enactment group, although as a non-uniformed member. On the wall of my gaming room hang framed reproductions of the paintings of the seven Minnesota regiments found in the capitol building and governor's office.

In all my studies I have found exactly one large unit that surrendered -- Pemberton at Vicksburg. This occurred after a campaign lasting about a year. I mention this because Mr Alexander has units surrendering left and right, had the Confederacy only done the right thing. Page 28 -- 1st Manassas -- "...a brisk move with only a few troops up to Centerville would have...forced them to surrender." Page 41 -- Stonewall Jackson -- "Jackson's aim...was to...force the opposing army against some terrain feature such as a mountain or river, where it would be compelled to surrender." Page 79 -- Seven Days -- "Lee felt he had a good chance of defeating McClellan and forcing his army to retreat in panic or surrender." Page 81 -- Seven Days -- "If this had been done, McClellan would have been forced to surrender his entire army."

We're only in 1862 and AoP has already surrendered three or four times! This sounds good if you know little or nothing of the war.

Alexander's thesis is a good one. He advocates Fuller's indirect approach.
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