Only two things could have saved the South in 1864. First, if McClellan were elected as President, as he ran on a platform of seeking peace with the South and letting the Confederacy obtain independence. Secondly, if Britain had recognized the Confederacy and sent her navy or army to intervene, that may have been enough to at least stalemate the war and end with some sort of peace deal just as the French had done for the United States against Britain eight decades earlier.
Neither was a real possibility though, as Lincoln secured the election with military victories and British policy had written off the South after Gettysburg. There had also been so much damage done to the South economically by 1864 in terms of the blockade and the war effort that I can see no way they would have recovered after that in time to win the war.
It was impossible for the South to have won the war at any point, particularly in 1864. The North had superior weaponry, a more organized government, and a substantial advantage in railroads and technology. The only thing the South had going for it was the superior nature of its leadership and the marksmanship of its soldiers The Anaconda Plan, developed by Winfield Scott, was slowly starving the Confederacy, and its people were losing more ground daily.
The South's only chance to win the war was at Bull Run, when they were within striking distance of Washington. For a variety of reasons, they failed to press this advantage, and it was downhill from then on. General Lee's invasion of Maryland was for the sole purpose of gaining recognition from Britain for the South. He not only failed to do this; Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 which effectively precluded European intervention in the war. At that point, and certainly by 1864, the South was fighting a winless battle. All it could hope to do was hold on, which it did for a very short time.
Combined with the crushing defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg and the equally disastrous fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, there seemed little chance that the Confederacy could survive as an independent entity. The loss at Gettysburg hurt the South in several ways:
- The loss of military manpower could never be recovered, since Lee lost a large portion of his army to casualties.
- The chance at international recognition and aid had been lost.
- Lee was forced to go on the defensive for the remainder of the war.
The loss of Vicksburg cut off the South's domination of the Mississippi River and isolated most of the troops in the Western Theatre. About the only chance the Confederacy had following these losses was the hope that the 1864 U.S. election would remove Abraham Lincoln from office. Replacing Lincoln with a president who was willing to negotiate a peace settlement seemed the only possibility; however, Lincoln won, and he would settle for nothing less than the total capitulation of the seceding states and a return of the complete Union.
There is, of course, no way to know this for sure. However, I would argue that the South could have won the war if it could have held out more strongly through the election in early November.
In the 1864 presidential election, Gen. George McClellan was running against Pres. Lincoln. If McClellan had been elected, it is likely that he would have negotiated some sort of peace with the South. Up until shortly before the election, Lincoln firmly believed he was going to lose because the war had not been going well enough to satisfy most of the people in the North.
However, with a couple of months to go before the election, Atlanta fell to Gen. Sherman. In addition, there were various Union wins in Virginia. These victories turned the tide of public opinion back to Lincoln.
If the South could have prevented these victories from occurring, they might have won the war. They would not have won a military victory, but they would have held off the Union long enough for Lincoln to be defeated and for the South to win a political victory.