Alternative Strategies and
Union and Confederate 1863-1864
A period of just over 22 months separated the arrival of two vital telegrams at the Confederate White House. The first message, sent in the early hours of New Year's Day, 1863, informed Jefferson Davis that the Southern army had won the first round of fighting at Stones River and that Braxton Bragg was confident that he would rout Rosecrans' army in the next assault. The second message, received on the morning of November 9th, 1864, related the first news of President Lincoln's re-election on a platform of continuing the war until the Confederate republic had been totally dismantled.
This period of just under two years represents less than one percent of the existence of the United States as a nation, yet the events that occurred during that span of time largely decided the future of the American republic. During the first hours of January 1st, 1863, it appeared that the Confederacy was clearly winning its bid for national independence, and yet by November of the following year the course of secession was all but lost with only the final date of termination yet to be determined. The intervening period provided both adversaries with clear opportunities to change the nature and outcome of the War Between the States; any one of a series of events might well have given the North a decisive victory many months before Appomattox, while other actions might have ensured a continued existence for the Confederate republic.
A large number of narratives of the Civil War emphasize the importance of the titanic struggle at Gettysburg as the most promising opportunity for the South to have won its independence during the final two years of the war. However, the authors contend that while Gettysburg marked the high tide of the Confederacy in a psychological sense, the most promising