Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy, 1861-1862

Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy, 1861-1862

Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy, 1861-1862

Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy, 1861-1862

Synopsis

In this reexamination of Confederate war aims, Joseph L. Harsh analyzes the military policy and grand strategy adopted by Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis in the first two years of the Civil War. Recent critics of Lee have depicted him as a general of tactical brilliance, but one who lacked strategic vision. Critics of Davis claim he went too far in adopting a "perimeter" policy which attempted to defend every square mile of Southern territory, scattering Confederate resources too thinly. Harsh argues, to the contrary, that Davis and Lee's policies allowed the Confederacy to survive longer than it otherwise could have and were the policies best designed to win Southern independence. The Confederacy needed to retain the resources of the upper South, and wanted to include the border states, so its aims were offensive rather than defensive. For the most part, Davis encouraged his field commanders to undertake aggressive operations, but it was not until Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia that Davis found a general with the intelligence and courage to invent and then execute a cogent strategy which gave the South a chance to win the war.

Excerpt

This is a book I did not set out to write. It wrote itself as I tried to understand why Robert E. Lee crossed the Potomac with his Army of Northern Virginia in early September 1862; and, even more, as I struggled to comprehend why Lee stubbornly clung to his campaign in Maryland long after common sense dictated that he return to Virginia. Persuasive answers to these questions could not be found within the bounds of the Maryland campaign itself.

Ideas never, no more than men, appear from nowhere. Actions are consequences of previous actions, and events evolve from what transpires before them. There is a pattern in history that can only be perceived when the chain of events is untangled and laid end to end, thus allowing the progression from link to link to be revealed. There was a logic in the decisions that Lee made in September of 1862, but it does not emerge until seen in the context of Confederate war aims and grand strategy and until it is viewed as the final step in the arduous journey that carried him to the banks of the Potomac.

Hence, what started as no more than an introductory background chapter in my study of the Maryland campaign ballooned into a reexamination of the Confederate conduct of the first year and a half of the war. the detour was worth the effort. the conclusions resulting from the digression have lead me to view the early Civil War and the Confederate side of the Maryland campaign in a substantially different light. I have come to see Lee's crossing the Potomac as a logical extension of his three-month operations and the battle at Sharpsburg as the finale to his summer's overland campaign to win the war. It was not, of course, that he plotted an expedition into Maryland while still mired in the swamps of the Chickahominy. Rather, it was that opportunities led him forward, from success to success, as he cleared one frontier after another until only the Potomac, the final frontier, remained.

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