by Andy Mateja

Much has been written in recent years by novice authors to marginalize the impact of Robert E Lee on the Southern chances of victory during the Civil War.
Some are saying that the Northern victory was inevitable because of their superiority in men, material and industry. They continue to imply that Robt E Lee only expedited the Southern loss by sacrificing the lives of his soldiers in audacious offensive attacks instead of conserving his military power and remain on the defensive and let the invading Northern armies attack him
This line of thought has been prevalent in recent articles I have read in Civil war Times and American Civil War Magazines. Just this week an article stated that Lee’s stunning victory at Chancellorsville was actually a pyrrhic victory that Lee was reluctant to repeat.
This truly disturbs me as these new writers are attempting to revise history to fit a politically correct agenda.
For one, many historians including myself do not believe Northern victory was inevitable. If that was the case, then the American colonies should have lost the Revolutionary War, as they were far less prepared to take on the most powerful nation at that time than the Confederacy , with abundant financial capital, supply side and logistic experience and West Point trained and experienced battlefield commanders
Critics will say the colonies won because England lost interest or was distracted by other local concerns. However as Valley Forge demonstrated, the colonists won the war through perseverance despite repeated setbacks that were far greater than anything the Confederacy faced in the first three years of the Civil War. The colonists believed in their cause and continued to fight for their freedom in face of the overwhelming odds including deficiencies in men, material and industry. We all remember that Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington in 1781 and the 13 American colonies gained their independence.
The Confederacy, better organized and funded, had a greater chance at victory than the colonists in the early stages of the war. Their stunning victories at first battle of Bull Run and the 1st day of Shiloh demonstrated the South’s ability to fight AND WIN. Offensive battlefield tactics were used in each case.
However when Southern generals used defensive tactics as Joseph Johnston did outside of Richmond in 1862 and again outside of Atlanta in 1864, and Pemberton did outside Vicksburg in 1863, the results WERE inevitable in two out of three cases. The exception was Richmond, when Johnston was wounded and Robt E Lee was assigned command of the Confederate army that was already pushed back to within three miles of downtown Richmond. Most Southern politicians and civilians believed the war was lost and began to evacuate the Confederate capital.
Lee did not hesitate for a moment and seized the initiative by going on the attack. He aggressively pushed the larger Union army away from the outskirts of Richmond in defeat. Not wanting to wait for another Union attack, Lee brought the battle to them and defeated a second Union army less that 30 miles outside of Washington DC. Not content with these recent victories, Lee kept moving – NORTH into Maryland where, despite being outnumbered almost two-to-one, he managed to fight the Union army to a draw and return to Virginia unmolested. In less than four months of taking command , Lee not only broke the Union siege of Richmond, but moved the fighting to the outskirts of Washington DC and 50 miles northwest into Union territory. His victories not only reenergized the South , but put fear in the hearts of his current and future Union military opponents over the next 18 months.
Lee’s battlefield masterpiece at Chancellorsville in May 1863 convinced the world of his greatness. Once again, rather than waiting for attack , Lee took the initiative away from Joseph Hooker and, with less than HALF the troop strength of his opponent, soundly defeated Hooker in four days of fierce fighting. The only drawback was the accidental death of Stonewall Jackson who was instrumental in Lee’s victory.
Rather than disbursing his forces to reinforce other beleaguered Confederate armies, Lee wanted to KEEP the initiative and once again invade the North with his victorious army, whose loyalty to their commander was without modern comparison. Lee believed his northern incursion would not only relieve the pressure on Vicksburg (whose commander went on the defensive) but also convince wavering Northerners that the war was unwinnable for them. Foreign recognition might also be on the table.
Lee came close to victory at Gettysburg in July 1863. Even though the battle began as an accident, Lee immediately went on the offensive and nearly won the battle the first day. However the commander who replaced Stonewall Jackson did not have the same zeal and proceeded cautiously -not wanting to make a serious battlefield blunder while in corps command for the first time. Lee’s only experienced corps commander, James Longstreet , also failed to perform as expected during the second day of the battle, letting victory slip out of his grasp by delaying his attack several crucial hours – hours that Stonewall Jackson would have utilized to their fullest. On day three, Longstreet again dropped the ball and launched his reluctant attack hours later than expected. Lee had no choice but to retreat back to Virginia, suffering his first major battlefield defeat. Coincidentally, it was also the ONLY time Lee did not have Stonewall Jackson with him while commanding the Army of Northern Virginia up to this moment.
Lincoln felt that Lee’s army should have been destroyed or captured after Gettysburg in view of his significant loses, but attributing to the fear that Northern officers had developed regarding Lee and his audacious and unexpected tactics, allowed him to once again return to Virginia almost unscathed.
The Civil War continued for another two years after Gettysburg, mostly due to the tenacity of Robert E Lee. Even Ulysses Grant recognized Lee as the main Confederate threat and moved his headquarters to Virginia. He deduced that by defeating Lee, the rest of the Confederacy would collapse and the Civil War would be over. It took Grant almost a year and tens of thousands of casualties to confirm this .
While many in the North felt the war was just about over in June 1864 when Grant forced Lee into the defensive trenches outside Richmond, Lee surprised the world once again be detaching an attack force and having them threaten Washington DC once again which pulled troops away from Grant and put Lincoln on the verge of possibly losing reelection in November. That would have led to negotiations between the new administration and the Southern leaders for the independence of the Confederate States of America.
Northern victory of the Civil War was inevitable ?………………….. NOT BY A LONG SHOT !!!

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