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You are watching: What advantages did the union have

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Union Success in the civil War and Lessons for Strategic leaders

By man Erath Joint pressure Quarterly 77

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General Grant, sublievenant Colonel Bowers, and General Rawlins at Grant’s headquarters, Cold Harbor, June 1864 (LOC)

On April 10, 1865, Robert E. Lee created a letter come the soldiers of his military that began, “After four years of arduous service, significant by unsurpassed courage and also fortitude, the army of northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.”1 at this moment, the Civil war essentially finished in win for the Union, and also the process of reuniting the United states of America began. Lee’s prompt view that the circumstances, the the Confederate militaries had excellent everything possible but were overmatched by north numbers, listed a method by i m sorry his veterans might feel that they had actually served honorably, but it was challenged nearly immediately by other Confederate military and political leaders that blamed rather such components as it is not enough ability government, social divisions, and also political squabbling for your defeat. The Confederacy, many felt, would not have actually embarked top top a war it can not win.2 Indeed, that is success in repelling invasions over the very first 2 year of the war led many to think that the battle had almost been won.

A century and a fifty percent later, over there remains significant debate amongst historians regarding the reasons for the result of the polite War. Plenty of explanations have been proposed for the Union victory: political, economic, military, social, even diplomatic.3 strong cases can be made as to why each was necessary to the Confederacy’s downfall. However the vital to victory was discovered in 1864, after president Abraham Lincoln appointed general Ulysses S. Provide the command of every Union forces. In concert with Lincoln’s other strategic efforts to weaken the Confederate will certainly to resist, approve devised a military arrangement that eventually gave Lee no choice but come surrender. Return there to be no created plan, Lincoln and also Grant an unified the separate facets of Union strength in a complementary method to make continuing the war much more painful come the Confederate population than rejoining the Union. This substantial strategy, which consisted of political, economic, and also diplomatic elements and also military operations, brought about victory.

By the early on 20th century, however, a agreement had emerged among many Americans the endorsed general Lee’s watch of exactly how the war ended: the Union just had benefits in populace and economy that made win inevitable. The United states has took pleasure in such benefits in every succeeding conflict and also has usually sought to take benefit of them. However Lee’s perspective to be simplistic. Once American leaders have actually been effective in war, it has been because they, together did Grant and also Lincoln in 1864, imposed an overarching strategy that included all facets of U.S. Strength to achieve results; brute force and also abundant resources alone space most often insufficient to accomplish the wanted outcome. Through orchestrating a complete national strategy, Lincoln and his optimal general, Grant, listed the theme for American success in war—a template that 21st-century strategic leaders would be fine advised come follow.

Grant changes the Game

In February 1864, Lincoln appointed provide General-in-Chief of the Union armies, and also they started piecing together the means to win the war. Because that over 2 years, Lincoln and his leaders pursued objectives without a unifying strategic goal. The just experience the strategy for most Americans to be the war through Mexico (1846–1848) against a dictatorship in i m sorry the strategy was straightforward: defeat the army and capture the capital. More comprehensive method were needed versus a large democratic opponent. Despite a cable of Union successes in mid-1863, consisting of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and also the record of Chattanooga, Union prospects continued to be uncertain, and also the new year would encompass elections in which voter unsatisfied through the progress of the war could support an accommodationist government. In the east, army of the grape max Commander general George Meade had actually not adhered to up the loss of the Confederate intrusion of the north with far-reaching offensive operations, and Lee’s military remained a potent force. In Tennessee, Union forces had advanced about 70 miles in the ahead year however suffered a major reverse at Chickamauga. In the West, an epic blunder had enabled Grant to record a small Confederate field army at Vicksburg and also open the Mississippi flow to commerce, yet Confederate mounties raids threatened supply lines and kept Union pressures from straying far from rivers, thereby avoiding the occupation of lot territory. In short, over 2 years of bloody war had resulted in the liberation of precisely one state (Tennessee) and also some little areas close to waterways.4 that must have actually seemed to numerous in the North the subduing the whole Confederacy would be a task past the limit of Union resources. ~ above February 3, 1864, the New York Times composed that much more men would certainly not be sufficient to win the war and could never ever occupy all southern territory.5

There to be three main reasons because that the Union’s slow progression in the war as much as 1864. An initial was the superiority of the defense in 19th-century warfare. A generation earlier, Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, reflecting upon his experience in the Napoleonic Wars, had called defense “the stronger type of waging war.”6 The advent of the rifled musket in the 1850s enhanced the benefit of the defense by more than tripling the effective variety of infantry. When coupled with improved methods of field fortification, polite War–era armies were practically invulnerable come frontal assault, as the Union learned at Fredericksburg and also the Confederacy in ~ Gettysburg. Also if one side could manage an strike on an unprotected flank, militaries had a degree of tactical adaptability that permitted withdrawals in good order to solid defensive positions. Lee’s tactical masterpiece in ~ Chancellorsville required a Union retreat throughout the Rappahannock and also Rapidan rivers yet did not destroy the Union army; in fact, Lee ecg-tower.comred proportionately much higher losses in victory.7

The Confederacy likewise possessed the benefit of gift able come concentrate forces in response to Union offensives. In addition to operation on interior lines, Confederate armies were may be to make use of railroads to move forces to locations threatened by Union operations. The Confederates supplied their strategic mobility to its best effect during the Chickamauga campaign, as soon as they came closest to damaging a Union military after achieving neighborhood superiority v strategic motions of troops. Any effective Union strategy because that 1864, therefore, would have actually to deal with the potential because that such concentrations.8