Confederate tactics to win the war.A discussion of the Confederate tactics to win the war.

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geosc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Confederate strategy in the War to Prevent Southern Independence:

Tactics or strategy?

Tactics are battlefield maneuvers.  Tactics depend upon such things as the characteristics of the weapons that the soldiers are using, the combat experience of the soldiers, the terrain over which they are fighting.


Campaign stragegy is used by generals to maneuver the enemy force into an unfavorable positions so that it must either fight or surrender (preferably surrender).

Grand strategy is used by governments to guide generals, industrialists, farmers, and other segments of society toward victory.

I think you mean strategy or grand strategy.  The short answer is that the Confederacy did not have a good, coherent strategy.

At the outset of the war, cotton was held off of the international market in the hope that the English textile mills would starve and pressure the British government to give diplomatic recognition to the Confederate government. If Britain had recognized the Confederacy, the strong British navy would have kept Confederate ports and harbors open for international trade, so English mills could have cotton. This strategy did not work; Britain did not recognize the Confederacy and the Republicans blockaded the Confederate ports and harbors. By the time it was realized that the cotton embargo would not work, the blockade prevented sale of the cotton. The Confederacy would have been better off if the cotton had been sold for gold at the outset so that the Confederacy would have more gold.

President Davis wanted to use the strategy that General Washington had used in the War of American Independence.  That strategy was to keep the American armies away from the invader-armies, except when there was a good chance of victory.  The hope was to wear out the patience of the northern public so that it would stop supporting the Republican war against the Confederacy.  This would have meant lots of retreating and giving up Confederate territory.  Every Confederate governor and congressman screamed about this, so that Davis did not get to try this strategy.

Instead, the Confederacy tried to meet and fight every invasion all the way around its borders.  It used its railroads to transfer troops to where they were needed.  But it did not have a great number of railroads, and the ones it had started wearing out.  And the Confederacy did not have enough rail and engine and car factories to replace the worn out ones.  It also did not have as many soldiers as the Republicans, so that it started running low on soldiers too.  The Republicans did not run low on soldiers.  So this strategy did not work.

 Another part of Confederate strategy was to fight only on Confederate soil (most of the time).  This was so that European countries would see that the Confederacy was only defending itself and not trying to conquor foreign (northern) territory.  It hoped that European countries would see the justice of this and give diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy, but this never happened.

Part of the Confederate industrial strategy for winning the war was to build large, government-owned munitions factories.  This was so that business would not get too big.  Southerners were afraid of big business.  They thought big business would get so powerful that the government could not control it, but instead, it would control the government.  This strategy worked pretty well; the Confederates never lost a battle from lack of power or bullets.  Northern, private industry did develop better guns near the end of the war, which Southern, public industry did not do.  But this was too late to impact the outcome.  The South had already run too low on soldiers and transportation.  The wagons were worn out, the rail roads were worn out, the horses were dead or too weak to work, the folks back home were getting hungry and disheartened.

Concerning General Lee's strategy: He thought the war would be won or lost in northern Virginia between the two national capital cities of Washington and Richmond. Thus he wanted to concentrate Confederate troops there. He did not like to send any part of his army to other parts of the Confederacy, though occasionally he had to. He also thought that the Confederacy could not defeat the Republicans unless it had a great victory on the battlefield that completely smashed the Republican army. He knew the North had great industrial and manpower resources and that the South did not have these things, so he thought the Confederacy could not win a long war.He sometimes took chances when it looked like he might be able to achieve a great victory. He almost achieved such a victory at Chancellorsville

A word or two about Confederate naval strategy:  Blockage runners were mostly privately owned.  The Confederate government owned some.  The Confederate government required the privately owned ones to devote some of their cargo space each time they made a run into a Confederate port from Europe or the Islands, to goods useful for war such as rifles, medicine, uniforms.  The Confederate ocean going navy was too small to challenge the Republican blockade.  The Confederate government bought a few first class naval ships from Britain.  These ships sailed the high seas in search of northern whale boats and merchant ships.  The Confederate navy had many river boats for keeping the rivers open for travel.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Military leadership, a motivated populace and army with a cause to defend, and mere national survival as a goal of the war were all advantages the Confederacy enjoyed at the outset of war.  Their strategy for winning attempted to play to these strengths.

They were confident that, matched head to head with a Union force of roughly equal size, that southern troops would win more often, which was true in many cases.  In this way, they could use their superior leadership to simply "bleed" the Union out of the war.  This appeared close to working in 1863 and 1864 as Americans grew war weary.

Lee offered a masterful defense of southern territory - considering it took until 1865 to fully conquer Virginia - the state that borders Washington DC.  His invasions of Maryland and Pennsylvania in 1862 and 1863 were also successful diversions that drew Union forces back North.

The confederate government also played to international politics in that the British in particular saw benefits in a divided America over the long term. 

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Initially, I believe there was a general belief in the South that Union soldiers were no match for Confederate troops. There are many cases of seemingly extreme overconfidence in the fighting prowess of the Southern man. Many Southerners seemed to think that Northern troops would turn and run when faced by a strong Confederate force--as was the case in the first battle of Bull Run. Confederate armies did seem to be better led at the high command level for a time, but the eventual casualties took their toll on the Southerners, since they did not have the overall numbers to recoup their losses as did the far more populated North.

The Confederacy also hoped to be recognized by one of the major world powers--presumably England or France--and receive the needed financial aid and (possibly) additional troop support from new allies. The invasion of the North in 1863 was aimed at this objective; President Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee both hoped that a major victory on Union soil would produce international recognition.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There were a couple of major Confederate strategies for winning the war.

First, there was the strategy of simply waiting the Union out.  If the Confederates could have "played defense" long enough and well enough, the Union might have decided the war was not worth it.  For this reason, the Confederates, for the most part, did not invade the North.

Second, there was the strategy of trying to get other countries to recognize the Confederacy and put pressure on the Union to settle.  This was behind the Confederate invasion that ended at Gettysburg.  It was intended to show that the Confederates had a chance to win.  This might have inspired France and/or Britain to recognize the CSA.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Confederacy believed that it had some distinct advantages in winning the war.  It felt that the nation's best military minds had resided in the South and could navigate and configure victory for their homeland.  At the same time, the Southern belief in this concept of home helped to highlight another tactic they felt would be invaluable in the decisive phases of the conflict.  In recognizing their own landscape and terrain, Southerners believed that the tactic of "home field advantage" would prove to be critical in the war.  Finally, Southerners believed that they would have received foreign assistance with their production of cotton and this would have helped them in defeating the North.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
The Southernors were not as organized or well-equipped as the Northernors. The Confederates believed they were superior and would win. Arrogance does not win wars though, weapons win wars. Another confederate tactics was scorched earth, which is where you burn down your own land to keep the enemy from getting it.
mjn5084 | Student

Your post is utterly, egregiously wrong. I hope that students do not use the information provided above to enhance their understanding of Southern strategy.

First and foremost: Lee's two invasions of the North both ended disastrously. The first Maryland Campaign resulted in Antietam; the single bloodiest day of the war. Lee was forced to retreat South having achieved NONE of his objectives in the North. The second time, capitalizing on his victory at Chancellorsville, Lee pushed as far North as Harrisburg. His intent was to threaten Washington, Philadelphia, and North's primary population centers... all while AVOIDING a major battle. What he got was Gettysburg. The end result of Gettysburg was a decisive Union victory that provided "the beginning of the end" to Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

While the Civil War lasted until 1865, it was a foregone conclusion by early 1864. In addition, "Americans growing weary" is a bold statement, considering Abraham Lincoln was reelected over anti-war opponents.

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