Alternative Strategies and
Union and Confederate 1861-1862
The inability of either Union or Confederate offensives to end the conflict in 1862 ensured that the Civil War would be far bloodier and all-compassing than most people had imagined when the first shell arched high over Charleston harbor the previous April. The first year and a half of the war, from Fort Sumter to Perryville, caused more American casualties than the Revolution, War of 1812 and Mexican War combined, and yet was merely the opening act of an even more brutal bloodletting that would terminate at Appomattox Court House. However, while this period was only one stage of a larger conflict, it is fascinating to speculate about the implications for the future of American society if either Union or Confederacy had been able to win a clear cut victory, before the nature and scope of the war began to change in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation and the even greater mobilization of men and resources that began in 1863.
A consideration of possible alternative scenarios of events that occurred in 1861 and 1862 virtually encourages that ever tantalizing question—could either North or South have actually won the Civil War during its early stage, and if that is the case, which factors might have produced this quite different outcome? While the Civil War fits into a four-year epoch that coincidentally also almost perfectly spans the Presidential term of Abraham Lincoln, there is nothing in historical precedent that defines civil wars as four-year struggles. The Spanish Civil War of the 1930's lasted only little more than half as long as the American version while the English Civil War, measured from the rising of the King's standard in 1642 to the execution of Charles II in 1649 was nearly twice as long as the War Between the States. Thus, theoretically, the Civil War could have ended in one campaign in a sort of bloodier version of Shay's Rebellion or the Whiskey Rebellion, or could have