Why the Confederacy Lost

Why the Confederacy Lost

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After the Civil War, someone asked General Pickett why the Battle of Gettysburg had been lost: Was it Lee's error in taking the offensive, the tardiness of Ewell and Early, or Longstreet's hesitation in attacking? Pickett scratched his head and replied, "I've always thought the Yankees had something to do with it." This simple fact, writes James McPherson, has escaped a generation of historians who have looked to faulty morale, population, economics, and dissent as the causes of Confederate failure. These were all factors, he writes, but the Civil War was still a war--won by the Union army through key victories at key moments. With this brilliant review of how historians have explained the Southern defeat, McPherson opens a fascinating account by several leading historians of how the Union broke the Confederate rebellion. In every chapter, the military struggle takes center stage, as the authors reveal how battlefield decisions shaped the very forces that many scholars (putting the cart before the horse) claim determined the outcome of the war. Archer Jones examines the strategy of the two sides, showing how each had to match its military planning to political necessity. Lee raided north of the Potomac with one eye on European recognition and the other on Northern puplic opinion--but his inevitable retreats looked like failure to the Southern public. The North, however, developed a strategy of deep raids that was extremely effective because it served a valuable political as well as military purpose, shattering Southern morale by tearing up the interior. Gary Gallagher takes a hard look at the role of generals, narrowing his focus to the crucial triumvirate of Lee, Grant, and Sherman, who towered above the others. Lee's aggressiveness may have been costly, but he well knew the political impact of his spectacular victories; Grant and Sherman, meanwhile, were the first Union generals to fully harness Northern resources and carry out coordinated campaigns. Reid Mitchell shows how the Union's advantage in numbers was enhanced by a dedication and perseverance of federal troops that was not matched by the Confederates after their home front began to collapse. And Joseph Glatthaar examines black troops, whose role is entering the realm of national myth. In 1960, there appeared a collection of essays by major historians, entitled Why the North Won the Civil War, edited by David Donald; it is now in its twenty-sixth printing, having sold well over 100,000 copies. Why the Confederacy Lost provides a parallel volume, written by today's leading authorities. Provocatively argued and engagingly written, this work reminds us that the hard-won triumph of the North was far from inevitable.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 221 pages
  • 139.7 x 210.82 x 25.4mm | 453.59g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 019507405X
  • 9780195074055

Review Text

In this slender but sensibly argued group of essays edited by Boritt (Civil War Studies/Gettysburg College), five outstanding Civil War scholars offer their views of what led to Robert E. Lee's appointment with Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. The authors emphasize military operations as opposed to industrial, demographic, psychological, or other factors - almost counterrevisionism, given recent trends in Civil War scholarship. In the linchpin essay, Battle Cry of Freedom author James M. McPherson provides a roundup of some of these chic theories (e.g., that states' rights doomed a coordinated Confederate war effort) before dispatching them with his usual cool, crisp authority. The other essays aim to counteract what they see as faulty logic that makes Union battlefield success the result rather than the cause of Confederate failure. Taking a more or less traditional view of the key generals, Gary W. Grallagher sees Grant and Sherman as the indispensable architects of Union victory, while defending Lee's much-criticized concentration on the eastern theater as the best strategic course for the rebels. Reid Mitchell contrasts the increasing cohesion of the Union rank-and-file with Johnny Reb's fears for the welfare of his family. Without exaggerating their importance, Joseph Glatthaar gives one of the most succinct yet magisterial explanations to date of how blacks tipped the balance to the Union as the two armies teetered on the brink of exhaustion. Even the least impressive essay - Archer Jones's on strategy - skillfully discusses tactics like raids and concentration of forces - although, by finding that neither side really got the better of the other, it begs the question of why the South lost. A stimulating, authoritative, and persuasive contribution to Civil War historiography. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About G.S. Boritt

About the Editor: Gabor Boritt is Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies and Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. His more recent books are The Historian's Lincoln and The Confederate Image.show more

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95 ratings
3.55 out of 5 stars
5 15% (14)
4 39% (37)
3 37% (35)
2 6% (6)
1 3% (3)
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