How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat

Overview

Acclaimed military historian Bevin Alexander's surprising new book shows how the Confederacy nearly defeated the much larger and better equipped Union army, and reveals the fatal mistakes that led to the South's defeat. Debunking some of the most common assumptions about this great conflict, How the South Could Have Won the Civil War will transform the way you see the war.
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How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat

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Overview

Acclaimed military historian Bevin Alexander's surprising new book shows how the Confederacy nearly defeated the much larger and better equipped Union army, and reveals the fatal mistakes that led to the South's defeat. Debunking some of the most common assumptions about this great conflict, How the South Could Have Won the Civil War will transform the way you see the war.
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Editorial Reviews

Thomas J. Ryan
…readers who are unfamiliar with Alexander's earlier works will find How the South Could Have Won the Civil War thought provoking and informative.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

In his provocative study Alexander (How Wars Are Won) posits that the Civil War was a "near thing." The skill of the South's field commanders far exceeded that of their Union counterparts, but there were tactical differences among the Confederate Army's top leadership: Jefferson Davis endorsed a defensive struggle to bring on war weariness in the North; Robert E. Lee sought to challenge the federal armies directly, and this resulted in bloody engagements of attrition; and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (who couldn't dictate) proposed an offensive war on Northern civilian targets, while fighting from defensive positions of strength. The stubborn Lee, for once, allowed Jackson to apply his philosophy of warfare at Chancellorsville, and the outcome was a victory. Regrettably, with Jackson lost after that battle, Lee reverted to trying to batter his adversaries into submission. At Gettysburg he lost a third of his army. The strength of this work is that it encourages historiographical controversy. Alexander's contentions regarding Davis and Lee are largely fair. But some, including this reviewer, may insist that it was Lee's defeat at Antietam on September 17, 1862 that sealed the South's fate. In turn, that battle prompted Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which gave the war a higher calling. Recommended for all libraries.
—John Carver Edwards

Kirkus Reviews
The Stars and Bars might yet wave, if only someone could have convinced Robert E. Lee not to attempt all those frontal assaults on heavily defended positions. Alexander, having previously pondered the business of military success (How Wars Are Won, 2002, etc.) and how wars could have turned out otherwise (How Hitler Could Have Won World War II, 2000), begins by observing that as a general Lee "was vastly superior to all of the Union commanders who came against him." Yet at Gettysburg and elsewhere, he insisted on the brute-force tactics of throwing men against fortified lines in the hope of frightening the enemy into running, which may have worked in an earlier century but, toward the end of the war, did not phase the better-armed and vastly more numerous federals. Against Union commanders who, until Grant arrived on the scene, were content to stay behind their fortifications, Lee could have made different choices. Alexander wonders why the Confederates did not move on Washington after the rout that was First Manassas, a tactic that could have ended the war. Another counterfactual: Had Stonewall Jackson not died, he might have carried off a later move on Washington, and in all events would have warned Lee not to throw away his army at Pickett's Charge. Interestingly, Alexander observes, William Tecumseh Sherman seems to have had an epiphany somewhere that led him to borrow Jackson's style, another turning point in the war. Alexander has a firm command of the military aspects of the struggle. Yet, as recent books such as David J. Eicher's Dixie Betrayed (2006) argue, the war was lost as much politically as militarily, and on that Alexander is largely silent. Still, Civil War buffs willlearn a thing or two from Alexander's considerations of events.
From the Publisher
"Alexander argues persuasively that the wartime policies of President Jefferson Davis and the military strategy of General Robert E. Lee led to the failure of the Confederacy. . . . Thought-provoking and informative."
Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307345998
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/31/2007
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.51 (w) x 9.61 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Meet the Author

BEVIN ALEXANDER is the author of nine books of military history, including How Hitler Could Have Won World War II, How Wars Are Won, How America Got It Right, and Lost Victories.
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 3 of 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2007

    A reviewer

    Acclaimed historian and prolific author, Bevin Alexander, is known for his revealing, insightful examinations of some of history¿s most famous conflicts and commanders. His previous books include: How Great Generals Win, How Hitler Could Have Won World War II, How Wars Are Won, and How America Got It Right 'all available on barnes & noble'. This time, Alexander turns his sights on America¿s most deadly conflict, the Civil War, arguing that the Union victory in 1865 was far from preordained. In fact, as the book clearly lays out, it was the South¿s ¿fatal errors,¿ a relatively small number of tactical and strategic mistakes by Confederate leaders ¿ not overwhelming Union advantages in manpower and industrial might ¿ that doomed Confederate fortunes on the battlefield. ¿There is nothing inevitable about military victory, even for a state with apparently overwhelming strength,¿ Alexander writes, citing the improbable triumphs of outnumbered Greeks at Marathon, Alexander the Great¿s conquest of the massive Persian empire, and even our own defeat of global superpower, Britain, in the American Revolution. Although the side with the ¿bigger battalions¿ usually prevails in a war of attrition, he reminds readers, ¿the tables can be turned when a weak state produces inspired leaders.¿ Alexander points out that the Confederacy produced a disproportionate share of the Civil War¿s brilliant battlefield leaders yet, it was above all Gen. Thomas J. ¿Stonewall¿ Jackson who recognized ¿the need to adapt to a new kind of war ¿ and offered the South plans that would have succeeded.¿ The tragedy for the South was that President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee ¿refused to carry them out.¿ Jackson, Alexander asserts, proposed an overall Southern strategy that was the ¿polar opposite¿ of his president and his Army of Northern Virginia commander. While Davis favored a totally defensive strategy that would keep Confederate armies on their own soil, Lee was always offensive minded. But, to Lee, an offensive strategy meant hitting the enemy head on, meeting strength with strength ¿ an operational method that led to bloody battles 'such as Gettysburg' and a war of attrition that the South could not hope to win. Jackson, according to Alexander, ¿proposed moving against the Northern people¿s industries¿ by ¿bypassing the Union armies and to win indirectly by assaulting the Northern people¿s will to pursue the war.¿ It was precisely the strategy that the South¿s nemesis, Union Gen. William T. Sherman employed to gut the heart of the Confederacy in 1864. In twelve chapters, Alexander presents the plans that Jackson and other Confederate commanders actually proposed in critical Civil War battles that, had they been effectively followed, might have changed the course of history. The result is far from a fanciful ¿what if?¿ game, relying on 20-20 hindsight and far-fetched schemes. Instead, Alexander mines the historical record to illuminate the tactics and strategies that Jackson and others pleaded for when the battle ¿ and the war ¿ might still have been won for the South. Finally, lest readers think this is merely the wishful thinking of an ¿unreconstructed Rebel,¿ Alexander explains: ¿I sincerely hope no reader will conclude that this book¿s title implies in any way that I am advocating some reappraisal of the Lost Cause or some nostalgic longing for what is gone with the wind ¿ This book is about something entirely different ¿ My purpose is to show that, despite the odds, wars are won by human beings. When superior military leaders come along and political leaders pay attention to them, they can overcome great power and great strength. That is the lesson we need to remember today.¿ That lesson shines through in Alexander¿s superbly written, cogently argued and ingeniously conceived new book.

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    Posted January 18, 2010

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    Posted January 28, 2010

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