Bob Cheeks below, with admirable selective nostalgia, speculates that the South could have won at Gettysburg with Jackson on the field.  Well, maybe.  Bob is right that, from Stonewall’s view,  the very location of that battle was misconceived and probably guaranteed not to achieve lasting results for the South, even in victory.

As I understand things,  the Confederacy, in its heyday of  1862,  had its three  most illustrious leaders in the East in conflict over basic strategy.  Jefferson Davis favored a basically DEFENSIVE strategy; he thought it dishonorable and so demoralizaing to invade the North.  In general, Davis was not a realistic commander-in-chief, and Lincoln’s superiority over him in that regard  is the chief cause of the North’s victory.

Lee’s honorable tendency was to favor big battles and frontal assaults, which weren’t to the South’s advantage over the long term.

Jackson thought the South should lay siege to the cities of the North,  taking the war to the enemy.  And so when entering the North Lee had no business doing battle as far west as  Sharpsburg or Gettysburg. Jackson had, we can say, the most modern and realistic (or least distorted by honor) view of the way the war could be won.  Although Jackson aggressively pushed his views, they never  prevailed.  I’m not saying that Stonewall was personally dishonorable or lacking in courage, of course.  He just thought it was better to win, and for the South that could only have happened fairly quickly by being smart and aggressive and terrifying.  Jackson was, in fact, a great and most memorable warrior.

The outcome of most wars and even most battles depend a lot of chance and who’s in charge at key moments.  The “regime” of the South was a “lost cause,” for reasons Tocqueville, for one, explains.  But the Civil War or War Between the States could have gone either way.  It was, on balance,  good for America and good for the South that the South lost.

Articles by Peter Lawler

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