The Art of Command in the Civil War

By Steven E. Woodworth | Go to book overview

1 / No Margin for Error: Civil War in the Confederate Government

CRAIG L. SYMONDS

Historians have often attributed the failure of the Southern Confederacy to win its independence to its inferiority in available manpower and to other equally tangible factors such as inadequate industrial support, weak internal transportation, and a dearth of naval facilities. Indeed, for more than a generation after the end of the war, Union numerical and matériel superiority seemed, to Southern observers at least, to constitute a full explanation for Confederate defeat. A bronze memorial to Lee's army erected at Appomattox in 1926 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy emphasizes--and indeed exaggerates--the underdog status of the Southern armies overwhelmed, finally, by sheer numbers:

HERE ON SUNDAY APRIL 9, 1865 AFTER FOUR YEARS OF HEROIC STRUGGLE IN DEFENSE OF PRINCIPLES BELIEVED FUNDAMENTAL TO THE EXISTENCE OF OUR GOVERNMENT LEE SURRENDERED 9000 MEN THE REMNANT OF AN ARMY STILL UNCONQUERED IN SPIRIT TO 18000 MEN UNDER GRANT1

The purpose of such exaggerated references to numerical disparity, of course, is to make the point that it was not for lack of courage or boldness that the South failed--the U. D. C. wanted it clearly understood that defeat was the result of Union brute force.

Ironically, the claim that the South was hopelessly overmatched from the outset exposes Southern leaders to the charge of what Henry Steele Commager called "criminal imbecility" for undertaking an unwinnable war. But while the leaders of the secession movement may have been guilty of many things--hubris among them--a Southern war of independence

-1-

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