A Confederate Victory: How the South Could Have Won the Civil War (Part 1)

    The Civil War cannot be regarded as a Union victory, as the loss by both sides was too great. The Civil War was however, a loss for the Confederacy, a total destruction of the Southern way of life. The events of the Civil War could have turned out very different had many seemingly insignificant decisions by the confederacy been made differently. These decisions include the discovery of Special Order 191 by the Union before the battle of Antietam, which, had that not occurred, may have led to the South winning that battle. Many decisions that Jefferson Davis had made were too little, too late and could have resulted in a Southern victory had they been made earlier. The final decision is the most explosive order in history, General P.T. Beauregard’s order to fire on Fort Sumter in 1861, which could have not happened at all, leaving the Civil War over before it started.  

    Beauregard’s order to fire upon Fort Sumter did not come immediately following South Carolina’s secession, but rather several months after. In cities across the Confederacy, federal garrisons surrendered quickly and without bloodshed to Confederate militias. Fort Sumter was a  holdout; and her commander, Major Anderson, was unwilling to do anything without direction from Washington D.C. The direction from the outgoing Buchanan administration initially favoured surrender to avoid confrontation, but after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, surrender was no longer a possibility. Anderson was torn, he was a slave holder from Kentucky, though he favoured the Union. (Sifakis, 1988, p. 178). Had Anderson chosen to ally with the Confederacy instead of the Union, the war could have turned out differently. The spark that started the civil war was the bombardment of Fort Sumter, and without that, the Union would have had no pretext for going to war with the Confederacy at that immediate time. This would have given the Confederate government crucial time it needed to prepare its infant nation for the coming war. Instead of this potentially history altering choice, Anderson chose the Union, regretfully fully informing General Beauregard of his final choice at 4:00 AM on April 12th 1862, with the bombardment started at 4:30 AM the same day. Had Anderson, like all other Union garrison commanders in the South, surrendered to the young Confederacy, crucial time may have been gained for the rebels, giving them a fighting chance, and a shot at victory, in the war between the states. 

   The discovery of Special Order 191 by Union troops has been called the “greatest intelligence coup in history” (Charnick, 2013). The order contained General Lee’s official plans for his campaign, and the successful use of this intelligence aided McClellan (The Union commander) in changing the course of the war at Antietam. Never again would the South be in such a strong position (Turtledove, 1997, p. 468). If Special Order 191 had not been dropped by a Confederate messenger just before the battle of Antietam, a Confederate victory is plausible. The intelligence McClellan gained from the order allowed him to disperse his forces appropriately to meet the highly concentrated Confederate flank attacks. Without this intelligence, McClellan would have been blind to the Confederate movements. In terms of ramifications for the whole war, it is plausible that England and France would have recognized a victorious Confederacy as “England [and France] desperately required the cotton the CSA provided, though they lacked a Confederate victory with which to discount Union chances of winning the war” (Charnick, 2013). In order for the European powers to recognize the rebels as a sovereign nation, a great victory was needed. A Confederate victory would have allowed the Army of Northern Virginia’s advance into Union territory to continue, leaving the strategically and economically important cities of Philadelphia and Washington open to Confederate attack.  Also, Lincoln would not have the victory of Antietam with which to sell the Emancipation Proclamation. The loss of Philadelphia and Washington, and the lack of moral responsibility in terms of the Emancipation Proclamation, and financial and possibly military support to the Confederates from Britain and France would have seriously undermined the Union will to fight. This would have led to a Confederate victory in the Civil War, leaving the door open to a whole host of alternate history. 

End of Part 1. A full references sheet will be included in the conclusion.