Sunday, June 10, 2007

Stonewall at Gettysburg

A recent article in Great Battles Magazine dedicated to Stonewall Jackson, asked leading historians whether the South could have won the war if the great Confederate general lived. You may recall, Stonewall was struck down at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863 accidentally by his own troops, and died 8 days later. Lee was so distraught as to declare he had “lost his right arm” then went on to destiny and ultimate defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Among the authors in the magazine, there was a general consensus that even had Lee’s "right arm" survived to participate in that turning point during the summer of 1863, it would have made little difference in the ultimate fate of the South in the war. The North always possessed the preponderance of men and guns, and it could only be a matter of time for the Confederacy, even if Jackson had turned the tide at Gettysburg, they contend.

I was surprised that these learned men failed to take in the account the importance of morale in wartime, and the will to fight on. America’s lost cause in Vietnam is a textbook example of how a much weaker though more determined foe can eventually overcome a more powerful and better armed antagonist. I could also point out the vast difference in military capability between the newborn United States versus the mighty British Empire in our own Revolution. There was also the possibility of intervention from the European Powers , at this time supreme on land and sea, as nearly happened during the Trent Affair in 1861.

Without the Union victory at Gettysburg, there would be no win at Chattanooga later that year, as Grant would doubtless already be in Washington defending the capital. There would hence be no March to the Sea in 1864, often credited with garnering Lincoln the election that year. Without Lincoln, there would be no Union, as the “Peace Democrats” were determined to end the war at any cost.

I’m not saying these authors, who are certainly better educated than myself, are completely wrong. There’s could actually be the correct assumption, as well as my own. Refusing to consider the alternatives involved, such as those I mentioned, seems to me a disservice to their readers.