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 Post subject: Lee's Meeting with Davis
PostPosted: Fri May 06, 2022 10:33 pm 
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Stephen Sears, in his book Gettysburg, does a fine job setting up the background and context of the May meeting between Davis, Lee, and Seddon. This meeting ultimately culminated in the Pennsylvania Campaign. No written record exists of what was said or of what was decided amongst them - although subsequent letters and actions would fill in some blanks.

How'd you like to have been a fly on the wall for that command meeting though?

Given the support of some influential politicians (and generals) for a western concentration it must have been solely Lee's stature and reputation that carried the argument for commencing an offensive campaign in the summer of 1863.

Sears sums it up quite well when he wrote that the war might be lost in the west in a few years - but might still be won in a day in the east. Any gamble was worth that.


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PostPosted: Fri May 06, 2022 11:02 pm 
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It could be argued that more decisive wins in the west would have made wins in the east easier for the CSA.

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PostPosted: Sat May 07, 2022 1:36 am 
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All the commentary I've read has essentially said that Lee pushed for the Pennsylvania Campaign and Davis supported him despite concerns for Vicksburg. Shelby Foote says (Volume 2, Chapter 5 [about three pages from the beginning of that chapter, p430 in mine]) Lee was concerned that should his army be depleted of Longstreet's Corps then Virginia may be lost, Virginia being his primary concern as he said on the day he resigned from the US Army:
"Save in defense of my native State, I never again desire to draw my sword".

'The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Vol. 9: January-September 1863' may have some insight into that meeting. The index (https://jeffersondavis.rice.edu/volumes/volume-indexes/volume-9-january-september-1863-index) shows many references to Lee, Robert E.-Gettysburg Campaign, Lee, Robert E.-strategy and other possibilities.
Regrettably it is not available online and it generally sells for around US$100 (e.g. https://lsupress.org/books/detail/the-papers-of-jefferson-davis-10/). If you're real lucky you may find it in a library but I suspect that many libraries will have purged this and similar titles from their shelves.

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PostPosted: Sat May 07, 2022 1:52 pm 
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Sears referred to the choice between Virginia and Mississippi as a "Hobson's Choice". Meaning you think you have an option - but you really don't. If the South helped the west too much, then Virginia would have to be abandoned (in Lee's mind). The Confederacy simply didn't have the manpower or means to fight a prolonged war on multiple fronts with any expectation of success. Lee's gambit in 1863 was as much a realization of the South's desperation as anything else.

Even if the South had another victory or two in the west it wouldn't have likely altered the outcome of the war. Chickamauga was a totally pyrrhic victory. Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and Second Manassas were others. Lee always sought a climactic battle where he could defeat the Union army in a Cannae style and bring about an end to the war in a matter of days.

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PostPosted: Sat May 07, 2022 5:55 pm 
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Blake wrote:
Sears referred to the choice between Virginia and Mississippi as a "Hobson's Choice". Meaning you think you have an option - but you really don't. If the South helped the west too much, then Virginia would have to be abandoned (in Lee's mind). The Confederacy simply didn't have the manpower or means to fight a prolonged war on multiple fronts with any expectation of success. Lee's gambit in 1863 was as much a realization of the South's desperation as anything else.

Even if the South had another victory or two in the west it wouldn't have likely altered the outcome of the war. Chickamauga was a totally pyrrhic victory. Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and Second Manassas were others. Lee always sought a climactic battle where he could defeat the Union army in a Cannae style and bring about an end to the war in a matter of days.


Yes, that was a fatal flaw. There were a few occasions where the CSA came close to doing that but that thinking also led to the result at Gettysburg. My view is that Longstreet's strategic thinking was more likely to bring victory.

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PostPosted: Sun May 08, 2022 12:00 pm 
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Quaama wrote:
Yes, that was a fatal flaw. There were a few occasions where the CSA came close to doing that but that thinking also led to the result at Gettysburg. My view is that Longstreet's strategic thinking was more likely to bring victory.


A friend of mine and I used to play Victory Games "The Civil War" every year on Black Friday, while the wives went shopping we played all day. I guess we played the game 20 times over the years, the rebs only won a few times and it was always when the score was checked in 1864 and the Union was not far enough ahead for Lincoln to win re-election.

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PostPosted: Sun May 08, 2022 3:36 pm 
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Fascinating topic, gentlemen - I've enjoyed reading the dialogue so far.

My view is that few, if any, Union generals besides Grant could have taken Vicksburg. Like all of us, I love the John Tiller games, but one thing the game engine (understandably) struggles to replicate is the logistical challenges faced by Civil War commanders, which were almost insuperable at Vicksburg. I also think there were plenty of occasions in the Vicksburg campaign up to and including Champion Hill, when another 10,000 men on the Confederate side would have made all the difference. You could argue that if say, Pickett's Division had been reinforced by Corse and Jenkins to its original five brigade strength, then Pickett's Charge would have been different, but I don't agree. Leaving aside the VI Corps which represented the AOP ace in the hole at Gettysburg, and would surely have been thrown in to check a stronger or more successful Pickett, the ANV would still have had a defeated AOP with a very powerful cavalry arm sitting in a prime position to cut Confederate supply lines through the Shenandoah Valley.

I think the search for a 'Confederate Cannae' shows the extent to which warfare is framed and limited by cultural expectations. It's easy to say now that the Confederacy's best chance was to dig in, literally and metaphorically, and attempt to wear down the North's resolve. Under this model, Kentucky's neutrality is not violated and once the Peninsula campaign was defeated, Lee sits on the Rappahannock & does not fight, so far as possible, without the benefit of entrenchments.

However, Lee and his contemporaries simply did not think like this. They clearly believed that the Confederacy needed to not only destroy a Northern army, but to be seen at home and abroad, to do so. Of course, they ignored the fact that the Confederacy chose to fight on after Fort Donelson & Vicksburg... and the fact that so too did the Romans, after Cannae, with the complete destruction of the Carthaginian empire the end result.

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PostPosted: Sun May 08, 2022 4:21 pm 
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krmiller_usa wrote:
Quaama wrote:
Yes, that was a fatal flaw. There were a few occasions where the CSA came close to doing that but that thinking also led to the result at Gettysburg. My view is that Longstreet's strategic thinking was more likely to bring victory.


A friend of mine and I used to play Victory Games "The Civil War" every year on Black Friday, while the wives went shopping we played all day. I guess we played the game 20 times over the years, the rebs only won a few times and it was always when the score was checked in 1864 and the Union was not far enough ahead for Lincoln to win re-election.


I purchased a copy of that game over a year ago to play with a boardgaming regular (although we postponed games due to illness and coronavirus but should resume again this year). We intend to use alternate rules (see http://www.wargameacademy.org/ARCHIVES/CVW/CVW-Rulebook-WGA-3rd-110427.pdf when we play it (although others are on our list ahead of it). Another Victory Games' titles we enjoy is Across 5 Aprils (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/4047/across-5-aprils) which is also designed by Eric Lee Smith.

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PostPosted: Sun May 08, 2022 4:41 pm 
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Thomas Marshall wrote:
Fascinating topic, gentlemen - I've enjoyed reading the dialogue so far.

My view is that few, if any, Union generals besides Grant could have taken Vicksburg. Like all of us, I love the John Tiller games, but one thing the game engine (understandably) struggles to replicate is the logistical challenges faced by Civil War commanders, which were almost insuperable at Vicksburg. I also think there were plenty of occasions in the Vicksburg campaign up to and including Champion Hill, when another 10,000 men on the Confederate side would have made all the difference. You could argue that if say, Pickett's Division had been reinforced by Corse and Jenkins to its original five brigade strength, then Pickett's Charge would have been different, but I don't agree. Leaving aside the VI Corps which represented the AOP ace in the hole at Gettysburg, and would surely have been thrown in to check a stronger or more successful Pickett, the ANV would still have had a defeated AOP with a very powerful cavalry arm sitting in a prime position to cut Confederate supply lines through the Shenandoah Valley.

I think the search for a 'Confederate Cannae' shows the extent to which warfare is framed and limited by cultural expectations. It's easy to say now that the Confederacy's best chance was to dig in, literally and metaphorically, and attempt to wear down the North's resolve. Under this model, Kentucky's neutrality is not violated and once the Peninsula campaign was defeated, Lee sits on the Rappahannock & does not fight, so far as possible, without the benefit of entrenchments.

However, Lee and his contemporaries simply did not think like this. They clearly believed that the Confederacy needed to not only destroy a Northern army, but to be seen at home and abroad, to do so. Of course, they ignored the fact that the Confederacy chose to fight on after Fort Donelson & Vicksburg... and the fact that so too did the Romans, after Cannae, with the complete destruction of the Carthaginian empire the end result.


Very well written.

Also, let's not forget what the South was fighting for - slavery. For Davis and the Confederacy, winning the war meant preserving slavery and maintaining life as it was in 1860. The one and only way this was possible was to end the war as soon as possible to prevent the total breakdown of the "peculiar institution" and southern civilization. In 1861 and 1862 this was, arguably, still possible. But after the Emancipation Proclamation and into 1863 this was no longer feasible. Lee's one last gambit to end the war in a day was really the "High Water Mark" as it represented the final opportunity to perhaps (through some miracle) turn back the clock to 1860.

Lee's move in 1863 was the right one - the only one.

Wasn't it James McPherson who argues in Crossroads of Freedom that the actual "high water mark" was Antietam? I believe so.

In his view, it was already too late by 1863.

Seriously, who am I to argue with James Freaking McPherson?
:mrgreen:

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PostPosted: Mon May 09, 2022 7:49 am 
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Blake, this is the internet - you can argue with whoever you like :)

Human societies always seem to under-estimate how much war will change things - despite all the evidence to the contrary. As Tom Berenger once put it in a film I'm certain we've all seen, 'you British had your own civil war once, didn't you?'

We certainly did! I remain amazed (and not a little perturbed) by how quickly both sides became radicalised & how routine acts of violence which we would now consider war crimes became.

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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2022 3:45 pm 
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Quaama wrote:
krmiller_usa wrote:
Quaama wrote:
Yes, that was a fatal flaw. There were a few occasions where the CSA came close to doing that but that thinking also led to the result at Gettysburg. My view is that Longstreet's strategic thinking was more likely to bring victory.


A friend of mine and I used to play Victory Games "The Civil War" every year on Black Friday, while the wives went shopping we played all day. I guess we played the game 20 times over the years, the rebs only won a few times and it was always when the score was checked in 1864 and the Union was not far enough ahead for Lincoln to win re-election.


I purchased a copy of that game over a year ago to play with a boardgaming regular (although we postponed games due to illness and coronavirus but should resume again this year). We intend to use alternate rules (see http://www.wargameacademy.org/ARCHIVES/CVW/CVW-Rulebook-WGA-3rd-110427.pdf when we play it (although others are on our list ahead of it). Another Victory Games' titles we enjoy is Across 5 Aprils (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/4047/across-5-aprils) which is also designed by Eric Lee Smith.

My brother and I used to play that game all the time when we were kids in the '70's, loved it. He re-released an updated version for GMT games just a few years back: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-729-the-us-civil-war-2nd-printing.aspx

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PostPosted: Thu May 12, 2022 9:02 pm 
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It was a great gamble they took in 1863 with the Confederacy on its heels on all fronts. It would be interesting to replay events and have JEff Davis make the opposite decision and divide Lee's army.

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