How the South Won the Civil War

How the South Won the Civil War

By Ernest B. Furgurson
Autumn 2011 • MHQ

The Confederates capture Washington? That's just one of the clever bits of fiction that Churchill conjured up in his 1931 essay (Photo Illustration by Vertis Communications; White House: Library of Congress; Confederate Flag: Thinkstock).
The Confederates capture Washington? That's just one of the clever bits of fiction that Churchill conjured up in his 1931 essay (Photo Illustration by Vertis Communications; White House: Library of Congress; Confederate Flag: Thinkstock).

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Many who have read and relied on Winston Churchill’s magnificent historical works may be surprised to learn that he once devised an elaborate explanation of how Jeb Stuart prevented World War I. This seemingly far-fetched analysis was the great man’s contribution to If, or History Rewritten, a 1931 collection of essays by historians of the day. Each explored a world where events had unfolded contrary to recorded history, with titles such as “If Napoleon Had Escaped to America” and “If the Moors in Spain Had Won.” Churchill penned his contribution during his wilderness years, when he was out of office and working the lecture circuit across America. The essay is a playful study of a Civil War counterfactual: what might have happened had Robert E. Lee, with help from Stuart, won at Gettysburg and carried the South to victory in the war. It offers a look at Churchill’s lively imagination at work, as well as a few glimpses of his views on race, war, and international politics as the storm clouds of World War II began to gather.

In Winston Churchill’s fanciful alternative history, Lee wins at Gettysburg, and Jeb Stuart prevents World War I

The seeds of Churchill’s excursion into alternative history were planted during his trip to North America in 1929. He and his entourage—including his son, Randolph, an undergraduate at Oxford, and his brother, Jack—arrived by boat in Quebec, then took a train across Canada to the Rockies. Entering the United States, he was indignant when customs officers searched his party’s bags, which held Prohibition-defying flasks of whiskey and brandy, plus reserves secreted in medicine bottles.

Churchill, who was in his mid-50s, was endlessly interested in America, the land of his mother’s birth. In California he admired the redwoods, visited William Randolph Hearst at the newspaper magnate’s seafront castle, and toured MGM’s studios. In Chicago, he inspected the meatpacking plants that Upton Sinclair had condemned in The Jungle, which Churchill had favorably reviewed on its publication in 1906.

From New York, Churchill headed south and spent 10 days as a guest of Virginia governor Harry F. Byrd at the governor’s mansion on Richmond’s Capitol Square. On Churchill’s arrival, according to his granddaughter Celia Sandys, he mistook 14-year-old Harry Byrd Jr. for a servant, sent him out for a newspaper, and tipped him a quarter. When Mrs. Byrd served Virginia ham, he complained that there was no mustard. With his casual, cigar-waving air of entitlement, Churchill seemed unaware that he had offended his hosts. Young Harry, later his father’s successor in the U.S. Senate, recalled that when Churchill left, Mrs. Byrd ordered her husband never to invite that man to her house again.

On most days during Churchill’s stay with the Byrds, Douglas Southall Freeman, editor of the Richmond News Leader, whisked him away for tours of battlefields of the Civil War, which had fascinated the British leader even as a schoolboy. Freeman at the time was working on his Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of Robert E. Lee. The son of a Confederate soldier, he was famously said to have saluted the statue of Lee on the city’s Monument Avenue each morning on his way to work.

Churchill’s service as a young cavalry officer in India, Sudan, and South Africa as well as his brief duty as a World War I battalion commander had taught him that military history couldn’t be learned in the abstract. “No one can understand what happened merely through reading books and studying maps,” he wrote. “You must see the ground, you must cover the distances in person, you must measure the rivers, and see what the swamps were really like.”

Freeman and Churchill tramped among the ghosts of the Seven Days’ Battles and other famous Virginia showdowns. The British leader also toured Gettysburg, which he considered the decisive conflict of the Civil War. Years later he would analyze its events in his legendary A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, and his critique agrees comfortably with Freeman’s. Although Freeman admired Lee as the beau ideal of Virginia chivalry, he did not insist that he was perfection personified. He criticized Lee for mistakes in the field, as did Churchill. Both men wrote that Lee at Gettysburg had too much confidence in his army, based on its performance against a two-to-one superior force in the Chancellorsville campaign two months earlier. While most accounts of Chancellorsville feature Lee’s bold generalship and Stonewall Jackson’s daring flank march, Lee remembered what his outnumbered troops had done after Jackson was mortally wounded—how they drove Major General “Fighting Joe” Hooker’s powerful army back across the Rappahannock River in brutal, slugging combat.

“Lee believed his own army was invincible,” Churchill wrote, “and after Chancellorsville he had begun to regard the Army of the Potomac almost with contempt. He failed to distinguish between bad troops and good troops badly led. Ultimately it was not the army but its commander that had been beaten on the Rappahannock.” In Pennsylvania, however, it was the glum, courageous Major General George G. Meade who commanded the Union army. “It may well be that had Hooker been allowed to retain his command, Lee might have defeated him a second time,” Churchill speculated.

Both Freeman and Churchill thought that Jackson, had he lived, would have changed the outcome at Gettysburg. “I have but to show him my design, and I know that if it can be done it will be done,” Lee had said of Jackson. “Straight as the needle to the pole he advances to the execution of my purpose.”

Lieutenant General James Longstreet, who would play a critical role at Gettysburg, was a proven fighter, but he was not Stonewall Jackson. He had suggested that instead of attacking Meade’s lines on Cemetery Ridge head-on, Lee should swing south to get around the Federal left, placing the Confederates between Meade and Washington and thus forcing Meade to attack. When Lee rejected the idea, Longstreet sulked for the rest of the campaign.

Churchill sided with Lee: “It is not easy to see how Lee could have provisioned his army in such a position,” he asserted. He was appropriately hard on Longstreet, who balked at Lee’s attack orders on the second and third days of the battle: “Longstreet’s recalcitrance had ruined all chance of success at Gettysburg.”

Ultimately, however, Churchill’s analysis of the battle came back to the actions of Jeb Stuart. The flamboyant cavalry officer and his troops left Lee’s forces before the main fighting to pursue what became an ill-advised and ineffectual raid on the rear of the Union army. “Fortune, which had befriended [Lee] at Chancellorsville, now turned against him,” Churchill wrote. “Stuart’s long absence left him blind as to the enemy’s movements at the most critical stage of the campaign….Lee’s military genius did not shine. He was disconcerted by Stuart’s silence, was ‘off his balance.’”

Given Churchill’s dissection of Gettysburg’s actual events, it’s no surprise that he made Stuart a crucial figure in his imaginary account for If. Returning to England after his jaunt through America, he began to work out in his mind just how Lee lost at Gettysburg—and how he might have won. “It always amuses historians and philosophers to pick out the tiny things, the sharp agate points, on which the ponderous balance of destiny turns,” he writes in the essay.

Churchill goes on to attribute the Rebel victory to many small factors that aligned in their favor. “Anything…might have prevented Lee’s magnificent combination from synchronizing,” he writes. Like most historians, he points to the Confederate July 2 assault on Little Round Top as a pivotal moment; in his fictionalized version of events, the Rebels took the hill, depriving Meade of the high ground for his guns.

But ultimately, Churchill concludes that Stuart was the key. His narrative has the cavalry arrive at the Union rear precisely as Major General George Pickett led his infantry charge on Meade’s position on Cemetery Ridge. This helped produce a panic that swept through the whole left of Meade’s army. There could be “no conceivable doubt,” he writes, “that Pickett’s charge would have been defeated if Stuart with his encircling cavalry had not arrived in the rear of the Union position at the supreme moment.”

Perhaps Churchill’s adventurous service as a cavalryman inspired him to assign the decisive role to the dashing Stuart and his horsemen. For him, the battle was tipped not by the collision of masses of infantry, but by the hard-riding cavalry that moved on the fringes of the central ground.

Students of Churchill’s strategic leadership on a much bigger stage have seen that he often proposed roundabout approaches rather than direct confrontation. He did so in 1915, when as First Lord of the Admiralty he urged the disastrous Gallipoli landing in Turkey. Not long after, he must have been moved by the waste of lives he witnessed in his three months of service in France, where he became commander of the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers.

But Churchill doesn’t credit Stuart simply with saving the battle for Lee; he claims the cavalryman’s raid was exactly one of those “sharp agate points” that changes destiny. In his alternative history, Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia took Washington within three days of Gettysburg. Lee then declared the end of slavery in the South—a “master stroke,” Churchill wrote, that swung British opinion behind an alliance with the Confederacy. Faced with such a formidable combination, and with the moral issue of slavery removed, President Abraham Lincoln agreed to peace that September in the Treaty of Harpers Ferry, which gave all slaves their freedom and established the South as an independent nation.

Churchill’s imagination didn’t stop there. When tensions arose between the North and the South, he wrote, Lee created a diversion by sending the Confederate army to conquer Mexico in three years of bloody guerrilla war. At the turn of the 20th century, affairs beyond the oceans began to present graver threats. In his fable, Churchill explains how Prime Minister Arthur Balfour and President Theodore Roosevelt met to discuss a moral and psychological union. Once President Woodrow Wilson of the Confederacy joined the effort, “this august triumvirate” agreed to the Covenant of the English-Speaking Association on Christmas Day 1905.

The association adopted peace and international disarmament as its cause. But its voice was unheeded as the European powers began to mobilize for war in 1914. Calling for peace, it urged all nations to halt their armies at least 10 miles from their borders. If they did not, the association would consider itself “ipso facto at war with any power…whose troops invaded the territory of its neighbor.”

The combined influence of Britain and America brought breathing space to Europe. The armies backed away. Thus World War I—which “might well have led to the loss of many millions of lives, and to the destruction of capital that twenty years of toil, thrift and privation could not have replaced”—never came to pass.

And that, in Winston Churchill’s whimsical fantasy, is how Jeb Stuart prevented World War I. Amusing as it is, Churchill’s fictional account also suggests that, although he was out of Parliament, his mind was still busy with the political issues of the day, particularly race. Since he and Freeman were used to publishing their opinions on tender subjects, they may have discussed racial matters as they drove to and from the battlefields.

Freeman was moderate by the standards of the time, less of a hardliner than Governor Byrd, for example, who decades later as a U.S. Senator led Virginia’s campaign of “massive resistance” to school desegregation.

But moderation was not in Churchill’s makeup. In his If essay, he wrote derisively about what might have followed a Union victory in the war: “Let us only think what would have happened supposing the liberation of slaves had been followed by some idiotic assertion of racial equality, and even by attempts to graft white democratic institutions upon the simple, docile, gifted African race belonging to a much earlier chapter in human history.”

Churchill was not simply critiquing what happened in the postwar South. He was also underscoring his strong objection to what was happening in England’s colonial holdings. Mahatma Gandhi was crusading for the independence of India, and Churchill vehemently opposed the liberation movement throughout his career, correctly anticipating that it would lead to the breakup of Britain’s far-flung, mostly dark-skinned empire. He was a champion of liberty, but not too much of it, not for everyone.

Reading between the lines of Churchill’s alternative history, we also find signs of what Churchill valued in war. As military historian Max Hastings and others have noted, the British in World War II liked minor operations, while the Americans did not. “The mushroom growth of British special forces,” Hastings writes in Winston’s War, “reflected the prime minister’s conviction that war should, as far as possible, entertain its participants and showcase feats of daring to entertain the populace.” Hastings was speaking of Churchill’s enthusiasm for commando raids like those at Saint-Nazaire and Dieppe in 1942, and later for thrusting into the soft underbelly of Nazi-held Europe by attacking Crete and giving priority to the Italian campaign—campaigns with strong echoes of those of the gallant Stuart and his cavalrymen

Given that Churchill’s public life was so long and full, it’s hard to say how his study of the Civil War influenced his thinking in World War II. But it is obvious that to the end of his days, he was fascinated by this chapter of American history. He returned often to Gettysburg. He was there again in 1943 as the guest of Franklin Roosevelt during a wartime visit to the president’s Catoctin Mountain retreat of Shangri-la (later Camp David), a few miles south of the battlefield. (He is said to have corrected Roosevelt when the president mistakenly said that the battle had been fought in 1864.) And in 1959, when he was 84 years old, he took a presidential helicopter tour of the battlefield with Dwight Eisenhower, whose farm was nearby.

Since Churchill’s time, the alternative-history genre has thrived, with many books about the Civil War and at least one about Gettysburg. There is also a computer game, taking off from the moment in 1931 when Churchill looked the wrong way in New York and stepped off the curb into the path of an oncoming automobile. The game deals with what would have happened to the world if that accident had proved fatal. Some ifs are terrible to contemplate.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue (Vol. 24, No. 1) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: How the South Won the War

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65 Responses to How the South Won the Civil War

  1. Jeff C says:

    Nice article, thanks for posting it. I have read and enjoyed H. Turtledove’s alternative history book series “Guns of the South” & “American Front”. They are very detailed and sweeping reads of epic events of “what if”. Newt Gingrich/ Dr. Forstchen have also written a good series. Thanks again for this article!

  2. Brock Townsend says:

    Yes, excellent. Congratulations.

  3. William Hale says:

    The problem with Churchill is that he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about! He was responsible for Gallipoli and the disastrous attack on Norway. Lee was NEVER going to destroy the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg and thus would NEVER have captured DC. As was found in WWI, the armies had grown too large to completely destroy. The AoP could have fallen back to the defenses of Washington to regroup and reprovision while Lee was standing outside the city twiddling his thumbs. He couldn’t besiege DC as they could always provision from the Navy and he couldn’t attack the defenses. Like Hannibal outside the gates of Rome, Lee would NEVER have succeeded in capturing DC by storm or by siege.

    The ONLY way that a alternative history on the US Civil War could plausibly end up with a confederate victory is if the first premise was the removal(by death or defeat at the polls) of Abraham Lincoln.

    Churchill was obviously too influenced by the biased Freeman in regards to his complete obtuseness as to Longstreet. To say that Longstreet to a backseat to Jackson in any military competentcy is an error, Jackson was not perfect in any stretch of the matter, his performance at 7 Days was horrendous. Longstreet was not just a good defensive soldier, he was excellent on the attack as well. Longstreet’s attacks at 2nd Bull Run and the Wilderness devastated the AoP and his 2 attacks at Gettysburg came out far better than they should have.

    The final commentary on who was the better general, Longstreet or Jackson belongs to the person who knew them both best, Robert E Lee, who made SURE that Longstreet was given his commission the day before Jackson to ensure that his best general would replace him if something should happen to Lee.


    • Keith says:

      No real problems with what you say here except your mention of Gallipoli. While the virtually unquestioned conventional wisdom is that Gallipoli was one of the “great military blunders of all time,” attention should be paid to WHY that invasion was undertaken. It was all about finding a route to provide assistance to the teetering Tsarist regime. Churchill realized, correctly, that without support the Tsar would fall and one of Britain’s allies would be lost. Russia could not be provided with aid through traditional channels because the Germans controlled the Baltic. Gallipoli was an attempt to establish a southern route for provisions and while it had little chance of success and ultimately failed, an argument can be made that it was worth the effort. In the spirit of revisionist history, “what if” the Tsarist regime had been able to pacify its hungry people and maintain order long enough to hold off the bolsheviks? No Soviet Union? No cold war? No nuclear arms race?

    • Robert says:

      Since Churchill was hell bent on getting the USA into WW1, including trying to intice UBoat atttacks on vessels, like the Louisitania, Jeb Stuart could have done nothing.

    • Rob Miller says:

      The man who lost Gettysburg for the South was Confederate General Dick Ewell.

      After Buford’s Union cavalry were driven out, there was nothing to stop Ewell from taking the high ground and digging in. Lee ordered him to do so ‘if practicable’ but Ewell, commanding the late Stonewall’s troops overruled his subordinates like Gen Isaac Trimble and decided it wasn’t.

      Had Jackson been there, or even a reasonably aggressive general like Hill or Longstreet, the Confederates would have taken the ridges that were the key to the battle, moved their infantry and artillery in from the west where they had no opposition whatsoever and dug in on the high ground..after which there might very well have been something of a reprise of Fredricksburg with Meade’s troops, coming in from the southeast forced to attack entrenched Confederate positions backed by artillery.

      If that had happened, the battle might have had a very different ending, with nothing between The Army of Northern VA and Baltimore/DC but a badly beaten Army of the Potomac and a few garrison troops.

      Lincoln, with the war already very unpopular would likely have had to settle for terms.

      At least that’s one way things could have gone ; )

    • Dave says:

      Your analysis is wrong wrong and,did I mention? WRONG about both Lee and the confederacy. Historians are ALWAYS biased and,judging by the ignorant comments posted here, extremely biased in favor of LIBERALS( products of the non-education of students by liberal college professors). To claim that the south couldn’t win the Civil War is the height of ignorance. The southern forces made some key mistakes in the civil war but chief among them was INVADING THE NORTH. That was just stupid,pointless strategy. Washington D.C. should have NEVER been a prize for the south to take. The real objective of the confederacy should have been to make the northern armies constantly pursue them throughout the south,constantly fighting in small group attacks which would give the north very few large-scale victories and lots of bodies in caskets. Stupidly,the confederacy fought a mostly “honorable war” with lots of open field big engagements.It should have never happened that way. Southerners could have easily turned places like Florida into the north’s “Vietnam”,with a steady flow of pointless casualties and no significant gains.In many ways the 1860s actually resembled the American war experience in the 1960s with one major exception:The confederacy,unlike the NVA,did not make good use of local terrain knowledge.A civil war characterized by decapitated and burning “Yankee corpses” in every southern town and road would have motivated Lincoln to eventually make a peace settlement rather than risking the dissolution of the ENTIRE union. The confederacy also did a poor job in enticing other countries into the war for material support.

      • Matt says:

        So what you are saying Dave, is the CSA should have fought a purely guerilla war? Just clarifying…hello from the lower Shenandoah Valley.

  4. Woody Tanaka says:

    ” He was a champion of liberty, but not too much of it, not for everyone.”

    Then he wasn’t really a champion of liberty, but of privilege (for himself, and those like him.)

  5. Thomas Kerr says:

    Oh, let’s be a little bit easy on Winston. Sure he favoured ‘peripheal’ operations. So would any sane man who experienced the insanity of the ww1 trenches which destroyed Europe as the world leader forever.
    Let us never forget that his rhetorical skill saved western civilization twice:
    in 1940 “We shall fight on the beaches, on the landing fields, in the cities…we shall never surrender”
    In 1948 “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an iron curtain has been drawn across Europe” (Fultham Missouri, Harry Trumans home town!)
    But he was also good with a quip and humour. Nancy Astor, a seriously left wing MP once denounced him in the House of Commons “Mr. Churchill, if you were my husband, I’d put arsenic in your tea.”
    “Were you my wife, I would drink it!”
    Let us now praise famous men.
    PS. I reckon that Lee lost it at Antietam before the Union had fully mobilized)

    • Bob Woodward says:

      Just a small correction… The speech was made in Fulton, MO and that was not the home of Harry Truman. Harry Truman was born in Lamar, MO and spent is adult life in Independence, MO.

    • Robert says:

      The Cult of Churchill is worse even than the Cult of Lincoln.

      • Dave says:

        Basically,you just admitted that you a card-carrying liberal stooge.
        Churchill deserves MORE credit than he gets.Historians, products of far-left college classrooms , get history WRONG frequently.

      • Nick says:

        Dave, “card-carrying liberal stooge”? And “products of far-left college classrooms , get history WRONG frequently.” Really? Seriously?

        How do you expect people to take you seriously when you resort to labeling like that? Short answer, people do not. You come across as an ignorant twit – devoid of facts but long on name calling.

  6. DVG93 says:

    There is one flaw for certain. The south would never free the slaves. States rights be darned. It was all about slavery. Yeah the politicians tip toed around it in the run up, but slavery was the main event.

    • willie b says:

      The south, by the midpoint of the war, was far too invested in WINNING that southerners everywhere were suggesting freedom for blacks who fought for the south, and some outright liberation so as to erase motivation for the north to fight. So many nations across the world ( i.e. the northern u.s.) had abolished slavery due to international and moral pressure. Without a doubt, confederate victory and enduring independence would have been owed to getting ng rid of slavery, and they wanted independence more.

  7. BrockTownsend says:

    It was all about slavery.

    Of course, just like the Tyrant Lincoln stated…………….

    • Dave says:

      If Lincoln was a “tyrant” he was the most valuable,positive “tyrant” in the history of the world…and that’s coming from someone who thinks the south definitely could have WON.

      • willie b says:

        Lincoln a “positive tyrant”? Even the British did not, save for a few isolated incidents, make war on civilians in the american revolution. When the south was already virtually crushed, wonderful humanitarian Lincoln ordered Sherman to torch the South’s interior, burning homes, looting, raping, pillaging, and brutalizing old men, women and children while there were still fighting confederates to confront. Not only that but he presided over the worst period of native american genocide in the old west. He ordered captured Sioux and Cheyenne to be hanged for defending their homes from hostile settlers. Lincoln was a horrible tyrant. The one great accomplishment, freeing slaves, he only did to give the union the moral high ground. He was an outspoken racist. His scorched earth campaign caused everyoneveryone in the south, especially freed blacks, to suffer in terrible poverty little better than slavery for deca

  8. William McDill says:

    Churchill was a master of ‘Grand Stategy’, i.e. thinking about what actions to pursue to achieve ultimate victory, but he was very poor at ‘Strategy’,i.e. actions to achieve Grand Strategic objectives. Thus he was correct about breaking the Central Power’s hold on the Dardenelles,( Russia would collapse with access to the West.) He was correct about keeping Britain in the war. He was correct about supporting the USSR, about getting the US into WWII. But he was totally wrong about Greece, Malaya, Burma, ‘The soft underbelly of Europe’.

  9. […] was reading, as a teenager, Winston Churchill’s famous essay on what might have happened if Lee had won at Gettysburg, which opened my eyes to the fundamental truth that many of the great events of history turn upon […]

  10. ichael Vaughan says:

    Just a couple of points. Churchill wasn’t out of parliament in the 1930s, he was out of government. Nancy Astor, a Virginian, was a fellow Conservative MP with equally dotty opinions. She is buried in Danville VA wrapped in a Confederate flag!

  11. pete yanzsa says:

    Nothing Lee did at Gettysburg could have prevented Vicksburg from surrendering the next day. The Confederacy is still split, and the South still loses the war.

  12. Tex says:

    Nothing in this essay changes the fact that Winston Churchill was an overrated pompous racist who literally had his rear end saved by The Yanks.

    His vile and vicious rhetoric against Indians and especially against Gandhi, who he called a half naked fakir!

    He is a farce and embodies all that was wrong about the colonial superiority and privilege that was the British Empire. Good riddance to that!

    • Dave says:

      So,basically,Tex,you are a far-left liberal who will never accept that conservatives have made really powerful and positive contributions to society. That’s pathetic.

      • Richard says:

        For God’s sake stop calling everyone who disagrees with a far left liberal. Makes you sound like a thick as a brick Conservative bigot. Of course if you are, carry on.

    • willie b says:

      British imperialism brought prosperity to its subjects. Look it up. England also never needed us. They, like their man Churchill, were too tough for Germany to beat. “We will never surrender”

    • Davidcarwell says:

      While not defending Churchill’s nasty colonial racial views by any means, Gandhi quite literally WAS a “half-naked fakir” – an ascetic Hindu holy man, widely viewed as someone who could work wonders, who would only wear a homespun loincloth and dhoti. I never could understand that with all of the really nasty things Churchill has said about “colonial subjects”, including Gandhi personally, this is the one you always see used to vilify him.

  13. Rob Richardson says:

    A minor, very minor, detail but one that continues to bug me, none-the-less. The battle flag shown flying over the Capitol Building was not rectangular as shown. The battle flag was square. You see the same error all the time with \no nothings\ flying Chinese made (incorrect) battle flags at various political gatherings and motorcycle rallies.

    Of course, who’s to say that it wouldn’t have been redesigned by imaginary Confederates after they won their imaginary victory in the ’60s: perhaps, made rectangular to accommodate additional stars for Arizona, New Mexico, Maryland, and Delaware.

    • buckeyeman says:

      “You see the same error all the time with \no nothings…”

      Hilarious. “know nothings” ????? Just hilarious.

      • Rob Richardson says:

        Glad you caught my play on words.

        That said, I’m not sure why my quotation marks got translated to back slashes. Maybe when the gov is back in business we can move back from no nothings to know nothings.

    • Dave says:

      Rob, you are really over blowing this. The truth is that there were many many shapes of the confederate flag.So what? If you want to talk about the victories which you claim the south did not win(you are clearly a liberal) than you should at least admit that the American south,not the north,has become much more politically,economically,socially powerful over the past 100 years. It’s the north that is becoming “backwards” now,not the south.

  14. Don Herko says:

    Lee won nearly ever battle that he fought from 1862 to 1865, but he lost the war. many attribute that to overwehlming numbers and capabiltiy in the North.

    Well if Lee knew he was always going to be outnumbered and face more cannon, why would he carry out such offensives as Malvern Hill and Picket’s charge. He played right into the hands of the Federal strength – Union Artillery.

    As a retired Army Officer, we developed plans with the idea that the enemy had a vote. Lee learend from Winfield Scott in the Mexican War to not give the enemy a vote during the battle. This idea worked well against the bungling Burnside, mealy McClellan and the happless Hooker. Lee said Meade would not make a mistake in his front and Meade did not at Gettysburg, did not at Bristoe Station nor at Mine Run. Lee made all the mistakes

    • Dave says:

      Everyone is getting it wrong here.Lee DID NOT lose the war. It is more complicated than that. Claims that the north was destined to win due to superior numbers and industrial might are not based on COMMON SENSE. The south lost chiefly because they fought the war on the north’s own terms,not their own. Military forces can be vastly outnumbered and face big technological inferiority and STILL WIN.It has happened many times in history. Do your homework and stop following the ignorance of arrogant college professors.

      • willie b says:

        Thank you Dave, I agree completely. The south, though burned and devastated like Vietnam, would have held out if they had just conducted guerrilla warfare. They had no manpower to fight 20,000 casualty battles. But, with chivalry and honor they fought head to head considering ambushes cowardly. 19th century america would have been shaken to its core fighting invisible but devastating guerrilla forces, losing men but never winning a battlefield. How often do you hear of a pitched battle fought in Vietnam? Yet 58,000 men died, and millions were terribly wounded. Oh and we lost.

  15. Don Herko says:

    The Gingrich Forctchen could almost be classified as science fiction.

    Their Gettysburg book ingnores laws of physics and discounts entire Union Brigade and Divisional formations. I plotted their battle on a map, deducted casualties from both sides as occured, Lee runs out of men before the climactic battle.

    According to Gingrich and Forstchen, the ANV made a dramatic but failed attempt on Cemetary Hill the night of July 1st.

    Consider that prior to that attack, Heth’s Division had two Brigades in poor shape: Archer and Davis and Rodes had two in abissmal shape ONeil and Iverson. Two days later some of Heth and Penders’ Brigades were the first to break during the charge. So how could Heth, Pender and Rodes’ divisions be counted on for extended offeinsive operations over several days when most were incapable of maximum effort with 48 hours rest.

    With that mathmatical subtraction, Lee now faces Meade’s five Corps (minus 1st and 11th) with just six Divisons (Early’s division having incurred slight losses on July 1st) Rodes(largest in the Army) and Heth (next largest in the Army) were the largest in their respective Corps and Pender was the six largest in the ANV.

    By comparison the 1st and 11th Corps were the two smallest in the AoP. The Vermont \Paper Collar\ Brigade (1950 strong) was assigned to 1st during the campaign to bolster their strength, but were not present on July 1st.

    Meade was appraoching the Gingrich Forstchen battlefield on July 2nd with 62,000 fresh infantry and 10,000 fersh cavalry along with 306 unused cannon and a secret train of Artillery ammo that only Hunt knew about.

    Lee was appraoching July 2nd with the intact 1st Corps 21,000 and 87 cannon and portions of his other two Corps with only Johnson and Anderson’s fresh divisions a combined 13,500 men, 5300 cavalry and undertermined ammount of cannon not to exceed 63 unused pieces. Niether co-author clearly gave indication that Jones/Robertson nor Imboden were moved from their pre-battle locations

    That was their premise on the morning of July 2nd. The Union High Command would then completely lay an egg and allow themselves to be destroyed. Only one Army in the history of the war was smashed to pieces and disolved on the battlefield – Hood’s Army of Tennessee before Thomas at Nashville. That army was plagued with organizational and structural problems making that result a forgone conclusion.

    I would also draw your attention to this article

    read it and look at what the author presents, facts devoid of bias. He does not even negatively comment on the two commanders. The questions he posed are simple time honored questions commanders faced throughout history – many that Lee simply chose to ignore.

  16. Pro Bono says:

    Interesting counterfactual history by Churchill, but he completely misses the mark on his idea that Lee would have abolished slavery.

    Yes, Lee privately opposed slavery, even as his wife and her family owned slaves at Arlington. But Lee was a career army officer, a constitutionalist and a conservative. He was a man who recognized and respected civilian control of the military. There is simply no way that someone of Lee’s personality and political beliefs would every usurp the civilian political authority of the Confederate government by unilaterally abolishing slavery in the South, with no other authority than being the commander of the South’s largest field army.

  17. buckeyeman says:

    The South would more likely have “won” the Civil War by not firing on Fort Sumter”. There was a lot of sympathy in the North for the concept of states rights, including the right to secede and time was the South’s friend. Lincoln did nothing militarily to force the issue until the Fort Sumter debacle gave him an excuse to actually go to war.

    Fort Sumter galvanized Lincoln’s supporters and silenced (somewhat) the opponents of forced re-unification. “Southern Pride” is what lost the war. Once the shooting started there was virtually no imaginable way (short of fantasies like Churchill’s) that the South could have prevailed against the North.

    • Dave says:

      No,buckeyeman(liberal)northerner, you are completely WRONG in your analysis of the south in 1860. It had nothing to do with “southern pride” The south largely used “yankee war strategy”,which was destined to fail.
      Southern forces could have EASILY drawn out the war for over 10 YEARS by breaking it down into much smaller conflicts which would produce no lasting union gains.Churchill,though flawed,was RIGHT while you are WRONG.

      • Don says:

        Lincoln was fighting total war, the south would not have won and the entire south would have suffered real loss

  18. fgill says:

    Gallipoli could hardly rank as one of the greatest military disasters of all time. It was a great setback but it did not, for instance, result in the military collapse of the Allies. It represented both the best and worst of Churchill’s strategic imagination. It was certainly an idea worth trying, as Keith points out, but only if there had been a commitment to use whatever forces were necessary, combined with meticulous planning and cooperation. Instead, Churchill and others allowed the effort to follow an ad hoc, piecemeal process. This commenced with the effort in March,1915 to force the Straits on the cheap, using a quarrelsomely commanded Anglo-French naval force composed largely of obsolete ships and supported only by a small ground force to assist in reducing the Ottoman shore batteries.

    Even this came close to succeeding before it had to withdraw after taking heavy losses from Ottoman mines. The latter were left by Allied minesweepers which in their turn had been forced to withdraw under fire from the remaining shore batteries – batteries which may well have been taken with a larger ground force. By the time the Allies returned in force a month later their best chance had passed though even then they may have succeeded but for assorted errors.

    Most of this was not Churchill’s fault. WWI marked the beginning of that long and fitful, but spectacularly fruitful Western alliance which we are perhaps in the twilight of. The enormous difficulties of successful coalition warfare were only beginning to be grappled with. Moreover, modern amphibious warfare was in its infancy. Indeed, Gallipoli can be thought of as its painful precursor. In retrospect the campaign hardly stands out as a unique example of failure in this war. Commanders and strategists on both sides were often inadequate to the tasks they set themselves.

    In military manners Churchill was always a precocious amateur. His talents lay elsewhere as in, for instance, saving Western Civilization.

  19. Michael Vaughan says:

    Interesting comments by Tex.

    I agree with the first statement, but Churchill’s racist views were probably quite common at the time and never forget he was half-American. His father was in disgrace and Randolph famously played the \Orange Card\ to resurrect his political career. The result was a partitioned Ireland and bitter sectarianism to this day. Maybe, just maybe, that was why WSC hated James Longstreet, a Catholic convert. Lady Astor, the Virginian was a rabid anti-Catholic in the Blaine of Maine tradition.

    Yes, he did insult Gandhi and the Indians and I am glad you kept mum about American Indians – awfully embarrassing, old chap!

    The last statement could be an apt description about the collapsing American Empire.

    When I was young Randolph Jnr. was a laughing stock and said he would finally make the headlines when he died. He died on 6th June 1968 and barely got a mention.

    • Dave says:

      Apparently liberals suck up every anti-Churchill book composed by a fellow liberal and believe every statement as 100% fact. Churchill was no more “racist” than 1/2 the LIBERALS of his time,maybe even less so.

  20. […] in a different world. Churchill, a great admirer of Lincoln and a student of American history, wrote an article in 1930 imagining what might have happened had Lee won at Gettysburg. At least thoughtful Americans retain the ability to use the speech as a way of critiquing the […]

  21. Terry P says:

    Had Lee listened to Longstreet and went around Gettysburg and threatened Washington D.C he would have almost certainly defeated Meade’s Army and won the War. As Churchill noted, Lee was overconfident and repeatedly attacked uphill a fortified position. He had very little chance of succeeding as Sun Tzu had predicted in \The Art of War.\

    • BrockTownsend says:

      Though the march would have almost certainly been detected by the opposition, leaving it in a very precarious situation.

  22. Bob in Maryland says:

    The South’s last genuine chance to win the war may well have been General Early’s July 1864 raid into Maryland. Had he not been delayed by the unexpected Battle of Monocacy, just east of Frederick, his army could have swept in essentially unopposed to Washington, perhaps taking prisoner President Lincoln and the entire federal government.

    In such circumstances, just imagine the position of strength the Confederacy would have been in, enabling it to negotiate a favorable end to hostilities!

  23. R, L. Hails Sr. (P.E. ret.) says:

    That war, which killed 700,000 Americans, should never have been fought. It was the sorrowful result of hubris, greed and stupidity. Strategically, the North could have conquered the South with both hands tied behind them; they had overwhelming resources.

    IMHO, had the war not be found, the industrial revolution and political movements in both North and South would have made slavery economically unfeasible. As in Europe, it would have been phased out, probably state by state. This economic force would have countered the Southern strategy, which had some bases, that a disgusted North would have cut them loose, a goal they had no chance of winning by combat. A generation after secession, they would have reunited and the horrors of reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation, et al, would never have cursed Americans, black and white.

    Gettysburg was the high water mark of Lee’s military effort. He screwed up. Longstreet, perhaps the better general (not leader) was correct; Lee would get butchered. How many experts know their boss is dead wrong? Stuart’s brains were located behind his zipper; he utterly failed his boss at a most crucial time, chasing skirts and stealing their dads’ horses. Stupidity and arrogance cost 65,000 dead. Some of us believe in hell, so justice will be had.

  24. Nelson Kerr says:

    And he was the man that authorized the use op Mustard gas on civilians a nation he was intent on plundering,

    Shipped food out of a nation where millions were in the process of starving to death

    An open and murderous racist

  25. Frank Natoli says:

    Southall Freeman did see the Confederacy’s ultimate failure being keyed on Jackson’s death. Southall Freeman quoted GFR Henderson’s report of an Episcopal bishop, who had been an simple chaplain in Taylor’s Louisiana regiment, dedicating a statue in Baton Rouge circa 1875. Before the statue was revealed, the man of the cloth said “when in thine divine writ it was ordained that the Confederacy must fail, it was necessary for Thee to remove thine servant Stonewall”. And the statue was of course of Jackson.

    But I believe this author misses the critical difference Jackson would have made at Gettysburg since it would have been Jackson, not Ewell, coming into Gettysburg from the north on day one, and Jackson would have never permitted the Federals to entrench on Cemetery Ridge. That being the case, there would have been no failure of Longstreet’s at the Round Tops on day two, no legendary but doomed charge of Pickett on day three. Instead, Lee would have forced Meade east, and quite possibly annihilated Meade somewhere between Gettysburg and Philadelphia.

    And then many of us today would need passports to visit our elderly relatives in Florida.

  26. Brock Townsend says:

    Well said and then there was Pender:

    6. I ought not to have fought the battle at Gettysburg; it was a mistake. But the stakes were so great I was compelled to play; for had we succeeded, Harrisburg, Baltimore and Washington were in our hands; and, we would have succeeded had Pender lived.\

    General Lee to General G.C. Wharton

    Confederate Military History: A Library of Confederate States History, Volume 4, Page 337

  27. Francis Miniter says:

    Exactly right! Furthermore, the attrition that Lee would have suffered even winning at Gettysburg would have left him too weak to counter the ever increasing numbers and resources of the North. July 4th, 1863 was the end of the South no matter who won at Gettysburg. Don’t forget the blockade kept the South from gaining resources from Europe.

    As for Stuart’s attack on the rear, it failed independent of the action at the front. Stuart’s cavalry was ferociously attacked by Custer’s 7th Michigan Cavalry, for the first union cavalry victory in the war. Custer’s forces ran full tilt into Stuart’s charging horses, and although Custer lost more men than Stuart, it was Stuart who was forced off the field of battle.

  28. Brian says:


    I don’t understand why you feel compelled to respond to a number of perfectly reasonable comments with a totally extraneous condemnation of historians and liberals. At one level, historians are certainly always biased, in the sense that all of us have conscious and/or unconscious values, assumptions, etc., through which we view the world. You yourself are, as I’m sure you’ll agree, not immune from bias. Most professional historians, however, strive for objectivity, and make every effort to support their conclusions with facts and rational inferences. And as for your comment about liberals, that’s just weird. There are outstanding historians, and well-informed amateurs, everywhere on the political spectrum, just as there are polemicists who try to use history, or at least their view of history, to advance their own political agenda. I would suggest that you limit your commentary to what the writers here say, without indulging in what appears to be an obsession with liberal shibboleths.

    That said, let’s look at your major premise, that the South could have achieved its independence had it adopted an approach similar to that of the NVA/Vietcong in Vietnam, a quasi-guerrilla war if you will. There have been many historians who’ve suggested that the South’s insistence on defending all its territory, resulting in the overstretch of its limited resources, along with its invasions of the North, and its aggressive battlefield tactics, together made up the wrong strategy. Famously, Grady McWhiney wrote a number of books advancing this thesis, including the revealingly-named \Attack and Die.\

    The principal weakness in this approach, however, is economic. The South’s economy was built on cotton, and the North’s increasingly successful blockade, along with its occupation of the major Southern ports, cut off the South’s main source of ready cash, cotton exports. It also cut off the import of manufactured goods, particularly weapons. This would have occurred even if the South had adopted the less aggressive, more flexible approach you suggest. Indeed, things might have been worse for the South, as the North could have devoted greater resources to its Navy and the blockade had it not had to face large, aggressive Southern field armies. So drawing out the war, unpopular as it might have been in the North, would have been fatal to the South. The longer it lasted, the worse the Southern economy would have gotten.

    Also, in the sort of war you envision, Northern armies would have been freer to target the major Southern armaments factories–e.g., without Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, in being and in force in the field, the Tredegar Iron Works of Richmond might have fallen to the North, with major consequences. The North would have taken New Orleans, Vicksburg, etc. as soon if not sooner.

    If the Northern armies were free to move about in the South, even if subject to the sorts of attacks made by Forrest, et al., the plantation system might well have broken down, and more enslaved people would have left, or even rebelled. The South would have found it more difficult to feed and clothe their soldiers than they already did.

    In short, the economy of the South was in desperate shape by 1865 anyway. Nothing in the change of strategy/tactics you propose would have delayed that, and it probably would have hastened it. The South had to win outright, or go down.(only exception–if Lincoln had been defeated in the election of November, 1864)

    One final comment–the notion that the flow of casualties in a guerrilla would have led to a Northern retreat seems unlikely. The terrible casualties which actually occurred did not shake Lincoln’s iron resolve for victory, and those of a guerrilla war would not have equaled the carnage that actually took place. And had there been a number of \decapitated and burning Yankee corpses,\ you may be sure that the Northern armies would have retaliated accordingly. In that case, Sherman’s march to the sea, which saw great material destruction but almost no civilian casualties, would have been very different, and much more terrible for the South.

    • willie b says:

      You don’t realize that with a guerrilla war, it wouldn’t have been just Forrest raiding union armies and lines of communication, but also Stuart, Lee, Jackson, Bragg, etc. Lincoln would have been faced with no field victories or killing large numbers of enemy troops to boost northern morale, but there would be a steady stream of dead union troops. Guerilla fighting on such a scale could have caused large armies to become isolated from their supply lines in enemy territory, and slowly be destroyed. As quickly might have occupied much or all of the south, they wouldn’t have first annihilated southern manpower and leadership in four years of war as in real history, but been subject to attacks by an enemy on which they could not concentrate their military power.

      • Paul J says:

        I’m too late to this argument to participate, but Sherman and Sheridan executed the North’s plan to successfully head off guerrilla warfare.

  29. Brian says:

    Had he done that, he would have found himself between Meade’s army and Washington, which by then was the most heavily fortified city in the world. In a subsequent attack, Meade’s army would have been the hammer, and Washington’s defenses the anvil.

    Also, it’s hard to see how Lee would have kept his lines of supply and communication open. He’d managed to live off the land in Pennsylvania, ranging over much of the state, but in the far more constrained space between Gettysburg and DC, it’s not clear he could have done so. Also, supplies of ammunition, powder, etc., which were sent from the South through Harper’s Ferry and other Potomac crossings could not have reached him. So he’d have had to fight pretty quickly, and his position would have been poor. Also, in that position, a defeat would have meant the total destruction of his army–no way to retreat.

  30. Don says:

    As I have stated elsewhere in this discussion, I have a Masters in Civil War History and a retired Army Officer with experience in infantry and logistics. I also deployed to Iraq in 2004 and worked logistics on a global scale.

    Lincoln, unlike Truman in Korea or Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon in Vietnam did not hamper his forces with boundries or no fly zones. He expected his generals to put down a rebellion. He viewed it as the greatest national emergency this county faced, which is why he suspended the writ of habeus corpus \sic\.

    Lee was fighting Naploenonic tactics and figihting to preserve Virginia. He was myopic in his vision of the war. He politely refused to fight in other theaters of war, where he was desperately needed. He was blessed with the finest cadre available for his army – VMI, VA Tech, Citadel and other Southern military academies provides the ANV with an exhaustable supply of young officers and NCOs. I say exhaustable because by the fall of 1863 most of them were dead. Virginia and the Carolina had a wonderful and vast militia system dating back to early colonial days. These entities and the Federal Armories taken by the Confederates – illegally as those lands and contents were US property, fueled the ANV for several years. The Union has an inexhaustable supply of draft animals, grew most of consumable produce in the nation, had a transportation system to keep the economy going even in total war. Most college sports teams did not even suspend their schedules during the war, while in the South to 700,000 to 900,000 men in Confederate service all but eradicated male presence in many towns and cities of the South.

    Lee’s battles while marveled by military strategists and students of battle were not looked upon in the same light by those who look from the lens of total war. In total war, the US Civil War and World War II as the two most famous examples, the side with the disadvantages must fight with an eye to preservation of force structure and retention of their advantages. Even as the Russians were moving through Eastern Europe, German field commanders were trying to retain forces, but overruled by Hitler who declared formations to stay in place and fight to the death.

    Lee in many instances was willing to slug it out with Union commanders. When they were of lesser quality Pope or Burnside, Hooker and McClellan, Lee generally ended up in the greater tactical position, but it was at a cost. His percentage of loss against his total strength in battles was actually higher than Grant. And unlike Grant, Lee never had a devestating win – Grant twice removed entire armies from the field of battle Donelson and Vicksburg.

    Lee prolonged the war, as he continued to frustrate Grant, but Grant was even more frustrated by his own commanders. Several times Grant put the AoP in motion to defeat Lee and Grant’s generals let him down. Grant even had the AoP disapear from Lee for 48 hours while Grant drove on Petersburg. timid action by Smith and Hancock kept Grant from gaining Petersburg by June of 1864 or 11 months early.

    When Lee fought battles and the AoP was able to put all its forces into the fight, Lee was never able to force the Union Army off the field. Even in the overland campaign, the battles some view as Confederate victorys, really the AoP never retreated never moved back north. it always moved east and south, east and south.

  31. […] alternate history wherein the South wins the Civil War and JEB Stuart thwarts World War […]

  32. […] This account of Winston Churchill’s excursion into alternate history makes interesting reading. […]

  33. Michael Rowley says:

    President Woodrow Wilson of the Confederacy??? Wilson is a Vermonter, about as Northern as you can get. I find it hard to believe the Confederacy would elect him President, no matter what his ideals.

  34. Jess Hansen says:

    The Confederates real chance to win the Civil War came after the first Battle of Bull Run. The Union troops were shattered, the bridge that crossed the Potomic was unguarded, the city of Washington was in a panic and Maryland was trying to decide whether or not to stay with the Union.

    Had the Confederates force marched to Washinton DC the war would have been over before it began.

  35. William Watson says:

    There is some belief that this was what was planned at Gettysburg – Stuart coming in behind to support Pickett’s charge. However, Stuart ran into Custer who managed to stop stuart. Admittedly we don’t know exactly where Stuart was going but we do know he was behind, in place to support pickett, and heading that way on day 3 of the battle but we do know that Custer stopped whatever he was supposed to be doing.

  36. Carey P. Page says:

    Entertaining Indeed. “What ifs” open many paths not trod by history.

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