How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat

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How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat. Bevin Alexander. Crown Publishers. 338 pages; maps; index; $25.95.

Was Union victory in the American Civil War inevitable? That question has intrigued historians for more than a century. Most explanations for Union victory and Confederate defeat lack what military historian James McPherson calls the dimension of contingency-the recognition that at numerous critical points during the war, things might have gone altogether differently. In How the South Could Have Won the Civil War, Bevin Alexander contends that the South most definitely could have won.

In exploring the feasibility of Confederate victory, Alexander reiterates the argument that he first articulated in Lost Victories: The Military Genius of Stonewall Jackson. Alexander posits that Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson's strategic insight was vastly superior to that of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee. According to Alexander, Jackson figured out almost from the outset how to win the war, but neither Davis nor Lee was willing to follow his recommendations.

Recognizing the need to adapt to the new kind of war in which opposing armies were only an outward manifestation of enemy strength, Jackson proposed moving against the North's industries and other means of livelihood. His strategy, in short, was to bypass the Union armies and win the war indirectly by attacking the Northern people's will to prosecute the war. The course that Lee adopted, however, was costly frontal attacks aimed primarily against Union armies, a strategy that ultimately led to Confederate defeat. …