American Civil War: How The South Could Have Won (Watch)

Lee's surrender 1865. 'Peace in Union.' The surrender of General Lee to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, 9 April 1865. Reproduction of a painting by Thomas Nast.
Lee's surrender 1865. 'Peace in Union.' The surrender of General Lee to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, 9 April 1865. Reproduction of a painting by Thomas Nast.

General Lee’s army surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 ending the American Civil War. It had been one of the bloodiest conflicts in American history and will be remembered in the years to come. If things had played out differently, the Civil War could have been won by the Confederacy. If the South had done these five things differently, the war’s outcome could have changed.

The Fabien Strategy could have been used.

Named after the Roman general who came up with it, this strategy avoids fighting frontal assaults and pitched battles wherever and whenever possible. Instead, the military focus is to wear down the opponent using attrition and skirmishes that are created to lower morale and cause disruptions to any supply lines.

There were Southern generals, such as Robert E. Lee, who are consistently praised because of their tactical genius. He has even been called the American Napoleon, but all of his battles were bloody and destructive affairs. The Union had more men and could handle more casualties than the Confederacy, so taking this pressure off could have resulted in a victory for the South. They really didn’t have to win, but they just didn’t need to lose.

The Confederacy did have geographical advantages because the Union armies were invading from the Northern states. The North was suffering from wavering public opinion.

The Peace Movement was also working to put pressure on the government and end the war. The South could have used this to their advantage and took the Union to the table for negotiations, and possibly arranged a cease-fire.

While it wasn’t recognized by the entire world as a sovereign country, it did have strong ties internationally. It was the producer of more than 80% of the cotton supplied to the world and worked to increase the demand for cotton by hoarding it before the Union set up the naval blockade.

They could have enlisted the military support of France and Great Britain then demand peace negotiations and threaten the ability for the Union to trade.

Leaders of high competence

The South was viewed as the force with the better military commanders during the war. This is because of what is called the Lost Cause, which was championed by the South following the war. It was an effort that romanticized the southern military forces and portrayed General Lee as the perfect strategist and general.

Lee was very capable in his leadership role; Generals Hood and Bragg are viewed as being incompetent commanders in comparison to Union leaders such as Sherman and Grant.

If the South had wanted the chance for victory, it should have shaken up the command structure of its army.

Technological advantages

Steam-powered ironclads, balloons, and rapid firing guns were gaining popularity, so both sides sought to gain a technological advantage over the other in an effort to win the war. The South even hinted on the idea of constructing a helicopter a century before they were used by the U.S. in battle in Vietnam.

A steam engine was used to drive two huge Archimedean screws. The device was intended to fly over the battlefield and rain destruction down on the Northern soldiers.

The project was stopped because of a lack of funds, but it had been built, the South may have gotten the advantage it needed to win the war.

Joris Nieuwint

Joris Nieuwint is a battlefield guide for the Operation Market Garden area. His primary focus is on the Allied operations from September 17th, 1944 onwards. Having lived in the Market Garden area for 25 years, he has been studying the events for nearly as long. He has a deep understanding of the history and a passion for sharing the stories of the men who are no longer with us.