By: Phil Leigh
(December 9, 2020) Academic historians widely deny a tenet of the so-called Lost Cause Myth that the North won the Civil War because of its overwhelming manpower and economic advantages. The South, they eagerly argue, could have readily won the war despite the North’s numerical and resource advantages. Consider the following examples:
In explaining Confederate defeat, the Lost Cause says that the main factor was not qualitative inferiority in leadership or fighting ability but the massive quantitative superiority of the Yankee industrial machine. —— Wikipedia “Lost Cause of the Confederacy.”
Ultimately, in the Lost Cause interpretation, a unified South did not really lose the war but was simply overwhelmed by the manpower and material resources of the North. . . Few scholars today, however, accept it as an accurate portrayal of the history of the era. —— Carl H. Moneyhon
To adherents of the Lost Cause . . . the Confederacy fought to uphold the supposed virtues of the antebellum South, advanced by leaders who were exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry [and was] defeated by the Union armies not through superior military skill, but by overwhelming force. Historical scholarship in recent decades has since disabused Civil War students of the merits of this ideology. —— Danny Lewis, Smithsonian Magazine October 20, 2016
The venerable James McPherson argues that other nations won independence against greater odds than did the Confederacy. Among the examples adduced is the success of the United States during our war for independence. Yet McPherson overlooks the relative casualties.
Soldier deaths during the Revolutionary War totaled 25,000, which was 1% of the population. In contrast, at least 300,000 Confederate soldiers died during the Civil War, which was about 5% of the available white population. (Assuming a larger 400,000 Northern soldiers died during the Civil War their loss ratio would have been only 1.8%.) Thus, the Confederate death ratio was five times the rate of the Revolutionary War in half the time. Such casualties were unsustainable. If America were to engage in a war today and endure the same proportional losses, the number of dead soldiers would total nearly 17 million.
Another historian suggests that Robert E. Lee planted the seed of the Lost Cause version of the Southern military defeat when the General declared at Appomattox on April 9, 1865 that his men had fought honorably but were overwhelmed by superior Northern resources and numbers. Yet Grant himself apparently agreed with Lee when he described his strategy for winning the war as commander of all Union armies in a July 22, 1865 letter: “The resources of the enemy, and his numerical strength, were far inferior to ours. . . I therefore determined . . . to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition, if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him but . . . submission. . .”
Other contemporary Northerners shared the opinion that the South could only be defeated by overwhelming numbers. Henry J. Raymond, who was Chairman of the Republican National Committee, advisor to President Lincoln and Editor of the New York Times wrote in the fall of 1864, “The Rebels have exhibited a most wonderful energy and skill. No people on Earth ever made such a hard fight with such limited means. . . All candid men, whatever their hatred of the rebellion, are free to admit that the final triumph of our national armies will be due only to superiority in numbers.”
Charles Wainwright who was a leading artillerist with the Union army opposing Lee wrote at the latter’s surrender: “The Army of Northern Virginia under Lee . . . today . . . has surrendered. During three long and hard-fought campaigns it has withstood every effort of the Army of the Potomac; now it is obliged to succumb without even one great pitched battle. . . The rebellion has been worn out rather than suppressed.”
When newspaperman William Swinton, who often accompanied the Union Army of the Potomac, published Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac a year after the war ended, he wrote of Lee’s surrender: “the army of Northern Virginia fell before the power of the North, yet what vitality had it shown! How terrible had been the struggle.”
Even President Lincoln agreed that the North had overwhelming resources relative to the South. His frustration at the inability of larger Union armies to vanquish smaller Rebels ones in the Eastern Theater is well known. Upon meeting with the commander of the Army of the Potomac and a subordinate on the eve of the Battle of Chancellorsville he said, “I want to impress upon you two gentlemen, in your next fight, put in all of your men.”
Finally, after visiting nine of the eleven Confederate states in 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur J. L. Fremantle of her majesty’s Coldstream Guards departed for home from New York shortly after observing the Battle of Gettysburg. He wrote of his brief time in Philadelphia and New York, “The luxury and comfort of New York and Philadelphia strike one as extraordinary after having come from Charleston and Richmond. . . The streets are as full as possible of well-dressed people and are crowded with able-bodied men capable of bearing arms, who evidently have no interest in doing so. They apparently don’t feel the war at all here; . . . I can easily imagine that they will not be anxious to make peace.”
Evidently Shelby Foote was correct in remarking that the North could have fought the Civil War with one hand tied behind its back. Such a conclusion is forbidden among academia where the agenda is to portray the Confederate military as inferior. Adam Domby, for example, ridicules the Confederate soldier. Nonetheless, the Southerner has a warrior tradition that still lives. Forty-four percent of our nation’s volunteer army come from the South although the region accounts for only thirty-six percent of the national population.