- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (December 31, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307345998
- ISBN-13: 978-0307345998
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 29 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,750,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat 1st Edition
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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.)
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"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."
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So why did the South lose? Author Bevin Alexander (Sun Tzu at Gettysburg, How Hitler Could Have Won World War II) says that there were plenty of errors and bad generals on both sides.
Alexander faults the Confederacy's overall military commander, the revered General Robert E. Lee. He credits Lee with the greatest skills at battleifled leadership-- on the Northern side, only William Tecumseh Sherman has a comparable skill level.
However, Lee's fatal flaw, says Alexander, is his propensity for direct assault. It's hard to argue the point in light of the slaughter of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, which was the turning point of the war. In that most critical of direct assaults, Lee sent three divisions against the dug in Union forces on Cemetery Ridge. Only 150 men crossed the low wall and they fell to Union guns and capture. From then on, the South was on the defensive.
So what could Lee have done there? Alexander says Lee should've followed his subordinate, General Longstreet's advice to swing south towards Washington and force Meade to come off of his excellent defense position and attack the Confederates who would be able to defend ground of their choosing. Washington was too strong to attack and perhaps not even the best direction to go. Cutting off the railroad between Baltimore and Washington would've forced the evacuation of the capital which would've been an important moral victory for the South. As Alexander points out, the Union would've been nowhere near and unable to stop them.
Even if Lee had held his position on Seminary Ridge, opposite Cemetery Ridge, Meade would've come under irresistable pressure from Washington to attack and Lee would've had the advantage.
But Lee sent in Pickett's Charge on the third day at Gettysburg over Longstreet's objections. Even Stonewall Jackson, who had died not long before, may not have been able to convince Lee to avoid the pointless slaughter.
Lee, Jackson, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis each had different approaches to fighting the war. Davis believed the South must maintain its borders, which was no policy at all, considering the length of the borders around the Confederacy. Lee favored direct assault against the Union army while Jackson was the master of the indirect assault.
Jackson successfully tied up large military units with feints and thrusts in the Shenandoah Valley while preserving his forces and was elswhere able to to inflict casualties as well as victories over the Federals. But Jackson could not get Lee to agree to let him attack into the weakly defended areas of the North where he would basically wreak the havoc such as that wrought by Sherman in his march through Georgia.
Alexander, who wrote a biography on Jackson, believes if Jackson had his way, the South would've gotten its independence, but Lee's policy of direct assault, immeasurabvly costly in manpower, prevented it.
The battle detail is frankly often over my head. My historical knowledge of Civil War battles is spotty. I know best about Gettysburg due to books, articles, movies, documentiares, and a relatively recent visit. But Bull Run, Shanandoah Valley, Petersburg -- I'm pretty weak on the details in those and other battles. I nevertheless benefitted overall from Alexander's observations. Excellent book. Worth a read if you have any interest in this devastating war that still affects present-day America.