The drawing and quartering of Bobby Lee has been done


It’s only a bit over 150 years too late, but I’ll take it — deserved worse. It’s also a barbaric punishment, but it’s only being done in effigy, so you can’t complain too much.

He does have his defenders, though, but it’s too bad that they include a certain stupid ex-president who declares Lee the greatest strategist of them all, except for Gettysburg. Wasn’t Gettysburg ultimately a tactical failure? And wasn’t the greater strategic failure getting involved in the Civil War at all? I’d have to say that Grant totally out-strategized Lee.

Comments

  1. Bruce Fuentes says

    I am quite certain donnie has no idea what the terms strategic and tactical mean. The vast majority of mouth breathing, Rambo wannabe, weekend fake warriors have no idea what those terms mean.
    I am a student of history. The Civil War and Gettysburg are particular areas of interest. I am by no means an astute student of military history but I know a little. Lee was certainly not a strategic genius as pointed out by PZ above, but there were many more examples. The whole Pennsylvania campaign was a strategic nightmare. Once Grant hounded him back to Virginia and the trench warfare started Lee had no strategy. He looks better tactically, but a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that the UNion had such slipshod leadership. I don’t think Lee performed that awful well in set-piece battles. Gettysburg shows this. It is hard to maintain successful tactics when your overall strategy is crap or non-existent.

  2. Snarki, child of Loki says

    “Amateurs talk tactics. Professionals talk logistics

    The South was doomed by logistics from day 1.

  3. says

    As Snarki said, logistics doomed the Confederates, along with the lack of an industrial base. My dad is a hardcore Civil War buff, and he has always believed the nail in the coffin for the South was the taking of Vicksburg and the sundering of Texas from the rest of the Confederacy. That was Grant, too.

  4. medicated says

    Apparently there were more factories in New York City at the start of the war than in the entire Confederacy.

  5. Bruce Fuentes says

    #4 but all that was inevitable. The Confederacy and bobo lee had no strategic plan to start with. The reason there was no strategic plan was in many ways, as stated above, because there could be no logistical plan. The loss of Vicksburg and Texas were foregone conclusions at the start of the war. All it would take was time.

  6. microraptor says

    One thing to remember about Lee is that he fought against opponents he personally knew, and most of his victories came against McClellan, who was probably the single worst wartime general the US has ever had. It’s not exactly that impressive to defeat someone who’s already convinced that you outnumber him regardless of what his scouts say and refuses to actually attack.

  7. microraptor says

    Bruce Fuentes @7:

    The Confederacy’s strategic “plan” was to attempt to drag the war out in the hopes that cotton export shortages would persuade Britain and France to pressure the Union into peace talks. They didn’t take into consideration that Britain was far more economically dependent on northern wheat than southern cotton or that as most European countries had already banned slavery it would be politically embarrassing for them to be seen supporting a nation that was founded to perpetuate slavery.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    The late general’s family members Stan, Bruce, and Spike could not be reached for comment.

  9. davidc1 says

    @8 I thought the Jubilation T Cornpone was the worst General the US produced?

    Off topic ,but really pissed off at facebook .Someone on a funny site posted a Gif of a young lady stepping from a
    car onto an icy ground ,and landing on her lady part.

    In the comments ,someone posted a Gif of a cat in the snow .I replied to him ,”Oh Look Another Pussy in The Snow .”
    And the bastards handed me a 30 day ban .It comes under bullying according to faceache .
    Bastards .

  10. says

    @#9, microraptor:

    No 19th-century European nation ever let slavery in the production process keep them from importing raw materials they wanted; Britain had no problem continuing to pay former slaveowners compensation for their loss of slaves all the way into the 21st century (but never paid former slaves a farthing at any point), while France still considers Haiti ungrateful for its slave population revolting against its French masters (after charging them a vast, unrealistic sum as compensation for losing all that human capital). Even today, the EU’s record on the subject is… less than perfect. (Not that we in the US are doing better, or even as well, by any reasonable measure.)

    Given how sympathetic the English were to the South, and how much they hated and feared the North, up to and even after the war, the Confederacy might well have managed to talk the country into giving them material aid… except that the South’s idea of diplomacy was approximately that of Donald Trump: “you’re a bunch of idiot inferiors, give us everything we want in exchange for nothing whatsoever except some vague handwaving which we refuse to put into writing, oh and while we’re here we’re going to behave in ways which would be considered unacceptably rude even back home, to make sure that everybody knows we don’t actually consider you our equals”. For some mysterious reason the English preferred to keep building up their (basically slave-harvested, but with mild subterfuge to make it seem otherwise) cotton supplies within their empire than ally with them.

  11. whheydt says

    From what little I’ve read (NOT even an amateur historian, let alone military historian, especially when it comes to the CIvil war…despite a great-grandfather that fought in it…on the wrong side), Lee used the tactics drilled into him at West Point. Problem was, those tactics required a near endless supply of replacement troops as they were, basically, throw troops at the opposing side until you overwhelm them. The Confederacy couldn’t support the raw number of bodies he needed to make that work. (Which, in it’s way, is saying that the logistics problem extended to personnel as well as materiel.)

    Re: snarki @ #3…
    That is, in a nutshell, Isaac Asimov’s thesis, which he extended to suggest that the south was either going to return to being an economic colony of the north (if they lost), or an economic colony of the UK (if they won).

    Re: several comments….
    The UK did materially aid the Confederacy. They knowingly allowed at least one commerce raider (CSS Alabama) to built in a British shipyard. When the Kearsarge sank the Alabama off Cherbourg, the British “rescued” the captain of the Alabama plus some of the crew, and refused to turn him over to the US. After the war, they paid war reparations for permitting that.

  12. microraptor says

    @13: They were fine buying goods that were produced by slave labor, yes. What they weren’t fine with was speaking out in support of a country who’s founding principle was legalizing slave labor after they’d made a big show of outlawing it in their own countries. That would have been highly embarrassing for them to try to explain to their populations since the news about what was happening in America was too prominent to ignore.

  13. davidc1 says

    @6 According to that Richard Overy bloke ,the Ford company produced more arms and war stuff
    than the whole of Italy .

  14. unclefrogy says

    I think that the most fitting monument to Lee was the turning over his family estate at Arlington to become the national cemetery for war dead and other dignitaries deemed worthy of national recognition in that way.
    Without Lee there would have been a far different war there were few who had his prestige in the south who could have commanded the loyalty and respect he did, all those dead issued from his door and are his lasting legacy. A fitting reward for a failed cause, if you fight for the subjugation of others for your own personal gain what should you expect?

    I think the blockade even imperfect as it was had a material effect on the outcome of the war.

  15. batflipenthusiast says

    Funnily enough if anyone from the American civil war is close to ‘the greatest strategist of them all’, it was inarguably Sherman (who was himself plenty flawed, so no hero worship please. Wondering about his statues might be merited). He was maybe also the best at tactics; and if not him, certainly not Lee, anyway.

  16. jrkrideau says

    Britain had no problem continuing to pay former slaveowners compensation for their loss of slaves all the way into the 21st century

    Are you sure you are not thinking of Haiti & France?

    Of course the British paid former slave owners compensation. The British Gov’t in the 1820s–1830s were not totally stupid and probably wanted to stay in office. They did not want insurrections in the Caribbean plus massive middle and upper class political chaos in the UK as all sorts of members of those groups would lost a lot of money.

    Th USA had a civil war at even the hint of the limiting of slavery and the Empire of Brazil ceased to exist as there was no compensation upon emancipation. British politicians wanted a peaceful life and probably got some of the money.

    Given how sympathetic the English were to the South, and how much they hated and feared the North

    WTF?

  17. blf says

    jrkrideau@22, Fact check: United Kingdom finished paying off debts to slave-owning families in 2015:

    […]
    The British government only paid off its obligations to former slave-owning families and organizations in 2015. When this fact gained public attention, it turned into a major controversy in the United Kingdom, which has since been reignited by international reckoning over anti-Black racism and social justice. We rate this claim TRUE because it is supported by our research.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    OT again.
    Thursday is the 50th anniversary of the release of Lennon’s ‘Imagine’.

  19. dorght says

    That is a metric f*** ton of graffiti on the building in the back ground on the right. What I find strange, however, is not a spot on the Lee statue or the building directly behind it. So is the building to the right some edifice to enlightened liberal thinking?

  20. unclefrogy says

    @27
    I think that is the pedestal that the over sized statue was resting on. the statue was mostly too high to be easily and quickly reached

  21. says

    But according to the Trumpenfuehrer he wasn’t capture and as every good ole Confederate boy knows surrender didn’t count so he’s still OK

  22. jrkrideau says

    @ 22 blf
    My goof.
    I cannot remember what debt the UK finally retired in 2020 but I think it was from possibly one of Marlborough’s wars or at least one of Wellington’s campaigns.

    Real vs accounting? Sometimes it is cheaper to keep a credit on the books than pay it off.

  23. springa73 says

    This is kind of tangential to the OP, but I think that it might be a mistake to assume that the Confederacy was guaranteed to lose in the US Civil War. It is true that it was industrially very weak compared to the US, but there are several obvious modern examples of relatively non-industrialized countries winning wars against industrialized countries that try to defeat and occupy them. Indeed, the US has been the loser in a couple of these wars in an era where it is orders of magnitude more powerful than during the US Civil War.

    Remember that the Confederacy’s goal was to defend its own territory and make the Union give up on trying to defeat and occupy them. In some ways, this is less demanding than defeating and occupying a hostile territory, which is what the Union had to do.
    I think that the Confederacy’s basic strategy was sound – they sought to make the war as costly to the Union as possible, while simultaneously seeking the support of foreign powers, especially Britain and France. A similar strategy had worked for the original 13 colonies in the war that created the United States, so the Confederate leaders had valid reason for thinking it might work again.

    One reason it may not have worked was that the Confederates put most of their effort into raising large conventional armies and using them to defend territory rather than fighting a guerrilla-type war against Union forces. There certainly was a fair amount of guerrilla style fighting in the US Civil War, but the bulk of the fighting was still done by conventional armies. There was an important reason why the Confederacy used a conventional rather than a guerrilla strategy, though – it was fighting primarily to defend slavery. Fighting a guerrilla war would mean abandoning much of its richest agricultural territory, with much of the enslaved population, to the Union army. The wealthy slaveowners who called the shots in the Confederacy didn’t want to concede any territory or slaves to the Union armies, especially once the Union army adopted a policy of first refusing to return refugees from slavery to their enslavers, and then after the Emancipation Proclamation, a policy of freeing them outright.

    Unfortunately for the Confederates, the strategy of conventional war and holding territory didn’t work well enough. The Confederate armies won some tactical victories in big conventional battles, especially in Virginia, but big battles meant big casualties, which the Union could replace while the Confederacy could not. The Confederates had hoped that big victories over Union armies would demoralize the North and impress Britain and/or France enough to get them to recognize and support the Confederacy. Their victories did indeed cause some demoralization in the Union, and impressed some people overseas, but never enough to achieve the Confederates’ objectives. Furthermore, while the Confederate victories were largely in the eastern states, they performed much less well in the western states and Mississippi valley, where they kept losing territory and strategic routes of communication. Perhaps most importantly, the enslaved population voted with its feet practically from the beginning of the war and fled in ever-growing numbers to Union army lines, weakening and impoverishing the Confederates who relied on their labor, while also putting pressure on Union leaders to make the war explicitly an antislavery war. In the second half of the war, more and more formerly enslaved men joined the Union army, strengthening it at a time when war-weariness meant a decline in white volunteers.

    Slavery was also one of the things that made it much more difficult for the Confederacy to get direct foreign support. There were certainly some very powerful people in Britain and France who wouldn’t have minded seeing the Confederacy win the war – including Emperor Napoleon III of France himself, who saw the opportunity of a divided former USA as a chance to make Mexico a satellite state unhindered. However, Napoleon III seems to have thought that directly aiding the Confederacy was a step too far – unless Britain did so as well. In Britain, despite heavy reliance on Confederate cotton for the textile industry, antislavery sentiment was very strong, especially among the working and middle classes. Because of this antislavery sentiment, the best chance for the Confederates to win British and French support was early in the war, before the Union made it an explicitly antislavery war. Again, though, Confederate victories early in the war were not decisive enough to get foreign support.

    In a way, the very slave system that the Confederacy sought to defend was also the Union’s greatest secret weapon. The slave system forced the Confederacy to try to defend almost all of its territory with conventional armies even though the Union could always outmatch them in numbers and armament. The slave system meant that some 40% of the Confederacy’ population and the source of much of its labor actively wished for its defeat and tended to flee towards and aid the Union armies whenever they could. The slave system made it that much more difficult to get foreign support. I think that a lot of people, even those who agree that slavery was the root cause of the war, don’t quite appreciate how crucial the slave system and the people who revolted against it were to the outcome of the war.

  24. springa73 says

    Addendum to comment #33

    In short, I don’t think the Confederacy was guaranteed to lose the war, but it’s biggest weakness was the very slavery that it fought to defend.

  25. unclefrogy says

    the invasion of the north wasa costly adventure for Lee and contributed to the eventual defeat.
    The battle at Gettysburg Pennsylvania far from a defensive campaign was a big mistake by Lee

  26. Rich Woods says

    @springa73 #33:

    while simultaneously seeking the support of foreign powers, especially Britain and France. A similar strategy had worked for the original 13 colonies in the war that created the United States, so the Confederate leaders had valid reason for thinking it might work again.

    Valid reasons? The only reason that worked in the 18th century was because Britain and France had been at war on and off for eight centuries, so by default anyone fighting one country would gain the support of the other. By the 19th century the two had pretty much buried the hatchet, so which foreign powers were they hoping to win favour with? Germany and Italy had only just been united (or were still in the process of being united) as single kingdoms but were too busy fighting Austria. Russia had recently been put back in its box (where defeat in Crimea led to reform and the emancipation of the serfs, Russia’s equivalent to the end of slavery). Spain, Portugal and Turkey either no longer had or never developed a global reach. Belgium and the Netherlands had limited areas of interest. Who else was there who might be able to help the Confederacy, outside of Europe? Japan had only just opened up to the world but was hardly well-disposed to Americans after Perry’s gunboat diplomacy. Sympathy in Mexico wasn’t running high either.

  27. rydan says

    This begs the question. Who made that atrocity in the first place and what can we do to make sure they don’t make more?

  28. John Morales says

    rydan, it was made by Antonin Mercié in France.

    No need to do anything to make sure they don’t make more — he died on December 12, 1916.

    The people who comissioned it are all dead, too, FWTW.

    (Internet is handy for ferreting out such facts)

  29. says

    springa@33

    It is true that it was industrially very weak compared to the US, but there are several obvious modern examples of relatively non-industrialized countries winning wars against industrialized countries that try to defeat and occupy them.

    In those modern examples, the non-industrialized countries are able to acquire lots of modern weaponry from other industrialized countries.

    That didn’t work for the confederacy. The union blockade seems to have effectively limited their export and import traffic to small blockade runners.

  30. KG says

    Rich Woods@37,
    There was intermittent hostility between the UK and USA from the end of the War of Independence right up to the end of the 19th century. By the time of the Civil War, the USA was an obvious long-term threat to British global hegemony. Here’s a quote from the Wikipedia article I linked to @41:

    Diplomatic observers were suspicious of British motives. The Russian Minister in Washington, Eduard de Stoeckl, noted, “The Cabinet of London is watching attentively the internal dissensions of the Union and awaits the result with an impatience which it has difficulty in disguising.” De Stoeckl advised his government that Britain would recognize the Confederacy at its earliest opportunity. Cassius Clay, the United States Minister in Russia, stated, “I saw at a glance where the feeling of England was. They hoped for our ruin! They are jealous of our power. They care neither for the South nor the North. They hate both.”

    Lincoln appointed Charles Francis Adams Sr., as minister to Britain. An important part of his mission was to make clear to the British that the war was a strictly-internal insurrection and afforded the Confederacy no rights under international law. Any movement by Britain to recognizing the Confederacy officially would be considered an unfriendly act toward the US. Seward’s instructions to Adams included the suggestion that it should be made clear to Britain that a nation with widely scattered possessions, as well as a homeland that included Scotland and Ireland, should be very wary of “set[ting] a dangerous precedent.

    The British elite decided that siding with the Confederacy was too risky, but it’s clear many of them would have liked to.

  31. birgerjohansson says

    The late Harry Harrison wrote a counterfactual novel where Prince Albert died a few days earlier, thus being unable to defuse a diplomatic crisis that had the potential to cause war between Britain and USA.
    (I have no way to check how important Albert’s input was for the resolution of the chrisis, that is the domain of specialist historians .)

  32. snarkrates says

    I am of the opinion that there is no way the Confederacy could have won the war. The only thing that held them together was the threat from the North, and even that was not sufficient to keep the nascent slaveholding republic from balkanization. Georgia was barely recognizing the authority of Virginia by the last year of the war. The only path they had was to make the war so costly to the North that the people would tire of it and vote for a Copperhead President in 1864 while at the same time obtaining recognition from European powers–especially Britain.

    Lee did a reasonable job of playing defense. He was an engineer by training, and his fortifications were excellent, making it very difficult for Union troops to take Confederate positions without taking excessive casualties. The casualties were further exacerbated by the latest killing technology–rifles deadly at 200 yards, larger artillery with improved accuracy, etc.–being deployed against an enemy who was still attacking with tactics from the Napoleonic wars.
    However, despite the fact that defense was his strength, and where he had the best chance of grinding down the enemy, Lee was aggressive by nature and longed to take to offense. He and the Confederate leadership also knew they needed victories to convince recalcitrant Europeans to grant recognition. The offensives in the North were also a way of taking pressure off of the vulnerable Confederate capitol of Richmond, which, despite McClellan’s timidity, was constantly under pressure from the larger Army of the Potomac. This was the immediate motivation for Lee’s incursion into Maryland culminating in the battle at Antietam in 1862 as well as the Pennsylvania campaign that ended at Gettysburg in 1863.
    Lee was not a great general, but he was probably one of the most capable officers in the Army at the time of the war. He was also a stone-cold killer, and a product of the corrupt aristocracy of southern society that rested on the backs not only of the slaves, but also the poor of the South. He also had McClellan to make him look good, and Lee counted on McClellan’s timidity and fear of losing the war. McClellan was well known to Lee. Grant, much less so. Grant was a nobody before the war, but he was stolid and unflappable. He could do the grim math that totaled up to the Union being able to sustain high casualties and still win the war–as long as the public stayed supportive despite the losses. And that was Lincoln’s problem. Grant was also a perfect complement to the mercurial and brilliant Sherman. As soon as they took control from the timid McClellan, the mediocre Burnside and the unreliable Hooker, the South’s defeat in battle was a mathematical certainty. It is just a pity that we fucked up the endgame of Reconstruction. The legacy of the Confederacy is still why we can’t have nice things.

  33. KG says

    I am of the opinion that there is no way the Confederacy could have won the war. – snarkrates@46

    I’m not so sure. In the run-up to Gettysburg, the Confederate forces had had a number of successes. If Gettysburg had gone the other way, the effects on Union morale would have been considerable, and there would have been no Emancipation Proclamation, at least at that point. Even with all the Confederacy’s disadvantages, all they needed was for enough of the Union’s population to tire of the war before the disparity in resources decided the issue.

    birgirjohansson@45
    A Confederate victory is a favourite “alternate history” theme. Winston Churchill, in the 1931 book If it had Happened Otherwise fantasised about the British Empire, USA and CSA eventually reunifying and dominating the world (which tells you more about Churchill than about historical contingency). I have a copy of Ward Moore’s 1952 Bring the Jubilee, in which time travel is invented in the world in which the Confederacy won and expanded southwards while the USA became a backwater (and slavery continues at the time the novel is set); and a historian’s research trip into the past leads to the incident of the “lost orders” at Gettysburg, hence to a Union victory at that battle and in the war!

  34. snarkrates says

    KG, For the South to have won, the North would have had to remain stymied well into the Presidential campaign of 1864, and the South lost its most reliable asset when McClellan was cashiered as general of the Army of the Potomac. And Vicksburg fell at the same time Lee was retreating from Gettysburg–arguably a more important Union victory since it severed the Confederacy in two and elevated Grant to the top of the Union forces. It is true that Joe Johnston might have delayed the fall of Vicksburg had he been more vigorous, but Johnston was too cautious for that.

    And even if the South had managed to wrest independence from the Union, the Confederacy would not have survived more than a few years. It would have broken into at least 3 pieces, and likely more. Politicians in Georgia were already decrying the government in Richmond as “worse than Lincoln” by 1863.

    I think I heard “Bring the Jubilee” read on public radio when I lived in Eastern Kentucky. There was even an episode of the Big Bang theory where the main characters re-enact Gettysburg as a Mashup with comic-book heroes and Hindu deities. I think such alternate histories are a near obsession in the US, especially in the old Confederacy.

  35. KG says

    snarkrates@48,
    Well – suppose McClellan hadn’t been cashiered, Johnston had had a sudden access of boldness, and Grant had been kicked in the head by a horse? A claim that the Confederacy was bound to lose has to stand up against such idiosyncratic factors.

    As for post-war after a Confederate victory, the Confederacy might indeed have disintegrated (as might the remnant USA), but that’s a different question. I’m currently reading Alan Taylor’s American Revolutions: A Continental History 1750-1804 (having already read his American Colonies, about the preceding period). According to Taylor, following the Peace of Paris in 1783, establishing American independence, there was a widespread belief among both Americans and the European powers, that the USA was bound to disintegrate: Congress had no tax-raising powers, there were multiple disputes and rivalries between the states, settlers going west were beyond control of either Congress or the states and could most easily export produce either north to Briish Canada or south to New Orleans, and an Indian confederation had formed to resist further land theft – with support from Britain and Spain. The survival (and subsequent hegemony) of an undivided USA looks to me like a result of historical contingency rather than “manifest destiny”.

  36. KG says

    I might add to #49 – how certain can one rationally be that the USA will remain undivided over the next couple of decades?

  37. citizenjoe says

    Count me among those who think the statue should not have been removed.
    It ought to have been toppled, left to lie upon the earth, with Lee’s head as the centerpiece for a public pissoir.

  38. says

    @33 and later:

    Beware the danger of imposing lessons learned from the Second War of American Secession and later on the capabilities of polities and miltary forces in the 1860s. Refighting the battles/campaigns/wars of the past with 20-20(0) hindsight is an exercise that’s been enthusiastically engaged in since the dawn of Kriegspiel (which, I might add, was explicitly designed to do so) and inferentially long before that.

    Leave aside the logistical realities pointed out elsewhere on this thread (as a low-powered 1980s computer might have said, “The only winning move is not to play.”). Let’s just focus on something familiar to wargamers today: That detailed, accurate map used to plan battles and campaigns, and to regulate conflicts, and so on. Those maps didn’t exist in 1861 — that was one of the primary jobs of cavalry. One of the reasons that Gettysburg was a massive tactical defeat for the traitors is that they didn’t know the territory, at either a tactical or operational level. They approached from the wrong direction, with the wrong objectives, using the wrong battlefield routes… because there were no maps and Buford et al sufficiently distracted their cavalry from doing their job. Similarly as to even the traitors’ own territory, as demonstrated by the maneuvering before and during Appomattox. <sarcasm> Lee’s conduct during the Veracruz campaign only a few years earlier calls into question whether he would have been helped by full access to the West Point Atlas of the Civil War, but that’s for another time. </sarcasm>

    That’s just one example. In 1861, there was no concept of organized partisan warfare, the purported real hope for the traitors. The closest that there was had been “Lighthorse” Lee’s use of small units of regular cavalry during the First War of American Secession, but that worked only because the opposing British forces had been totally unsupplied and unable to maneuver at all. Naval blockade away from established ports? That was pretty much new, too. Railroads? Leaving aside the Buster Keaton film (highly recommended!), military doctrine had no expletives-delighted clue how railroads altered warfare; “point to point” in Europe was just a faster means of performing two days’ march between operational objectives (distance matters: it’s farther from DC to Atlanta than it is from Rome to Munich).

    And let’s not get started on the then-untested capabilities of rifled artillery, and/or of breechloading infantry weapons, or of naval forces not entirely dependent upon wind power, or… Nobody knew how they would affect warfare, and if there’s one thing that the traitors’ leadership (specifically including, as among the worst offenders, Lee himself) demonstrated it was inability to recognize — let alone adapt to — intraconflict change in capabilities. Which is sadly consistent with the insistence that slave labor was an efficient use of available resources, leaving aside any pesky moral dimensions…

  39. KG says

    Jaws@52,

    Both sides started from a position of having very little in the way of armed forces, and similarly, the lack of accurate maps hindered both – and more on their enemy’s territory than their own.

    Which is sadly consistent with the insistence that slave labor was an efficient use of available resources

    It was highly efficient in making a small number of people very rich – which is what it was for. It was also useful to that elite politically – the fear of a slave uprising, and the accompanying ideology of white supremacy, kept the white lower orders in line. The significance of that factor goes back to well before the War of Independence, in the southern states – and also the Caribbean colonies.

  40. mailliw says

    “The greatest strategist of all time”

    Reminds me of someone else who thought they were “Der größte Feldherr aller Zeiten”.

  41. birgerjohansson says

    Going off on a tangent about…a physical struggle between ideologies.
    I am told The Orange One said he would like to fight Joe Biden. Physically fight him.
    This obviously brings to mind the slow-motion fight between Family Guy’s “Mr Herbert” and “Franz Gutentag” aka “Franz Schlectnact”.

  42. snarkrates says

    And I suppose we always have to consider the scenario: “What if Varina Davis (Jeff’s wife) could fly? (A play on an old Saturday Night Live Skit)
    If the South had achieved independence, but then balkanized, the region would likely have suffered the same fate as the new South American states following Bolivar’s revolutions. The North might well have broken up as well–there was always factionalism. The states would have remained small and weak, open to exploitation of colonial powers. I don’t consider that a Confederate win, and Jeff Davis would not have either.

    The potential balkanization was also one of the reasons why Lincoln insisted so resolutely on Union.

  43. jenorafeuer says

    Jaws@52:
    Heck, there was even an attempt at submarine warfare during the U.S. Civil War in order to break through the blockade; look up CSS Hunley. It was not a resounding success, sinking three times, killing all its crew all three times, and only took out one ship (being sunk the third and final time because it was too close to its target when the explosion went off). There was a lot of new stuff being tried out then, it was right in the middle of some major changes in warfare as a lot of standardized machining work came into play; the Second Industrial Revolution was just about to start.

    KG@53:
    I’ve long held the opinion that the main reason the plantation owners of the South supported the original American Revolution was that they felt they were Barons, and were upset that King George III wasn’t treating them appropriately. They figured this ‘democracy’ stuff was a fad that wouldn’t last, and once the U.S. was separate from England and these crazy Enlightenment ideals fell apart, they could be the aristocracy they were obviously meant to be.

  44. KG says

    snarkrates@56,

    And I suppose we always have to consider the scenario: “What if Varina Davis (Jeff’s wife) could fly?

    No, we don’t. We only need to consider plausible scenarios – as I’m sure you know.

    I don’t consider that a Confederate win, and Jeff Davis would not have either.

    But you started your contribution to the thread by saying (#46):

    I am of the opinion that there is no way the Confederacy could have won the war.

    That has a clear meaning, and it doesn’t depend on what might have happened after the war ended. There are plenty of historical examples of a victory in war leading rather directly to a later consequence the victor didn’t like. Britain’s victory in the Seven Years’ War (“French and Indian War” in US parlance) is a clear example: by removing any French-Indian threat to the American colonies, it made American independence much more feasible.

  45. davidc1 says

    @54 Some Germans whispered to their trusted friends ,Grofaz ,a nickname for ,you know who .
    @49 American Colonies ,another book I bought ,and haven’t gotten around to reading yet.

  46. whheydt says

    Re: jenorafeur @ #57….
    The final sinking of the Hunley may have been caused by the use of a spar torpedo. (The original term “torpedo” was for what we now call a mine, while what we customarily call a torpedo was originally a “dirigible torpedo”).

    There was a bunch of military innovation at the time… Trench warfare, rifled, breech-loading field artillery, aerial observation/artillery spotting, turret mounted Naval guns, just to name a few.

  47. says

    jaws@52

    In general: well said!

    military doctrine had no expletives-delighted clue how railroads altered warfare

    The Prussians in 1870 had explicitly planned the use of railways for mobilization before the war.
    Their general staff actually had a railway section back then.

    Nobody knew how they would affect warfare

    Isn’t that mostly true of all new technologies and all wars? E.g. Wikipedia about WWI:

    Military tactics which were developed before World War I failed to keep pace with advances in technology and had become obsolete.

  48. KG says

    snarkrates@60,

    I consider the winner of a battle the winner of that battle, and the winner of a war, the winner of that war – why this seems odd or perverse to you, I have not yet fathomed. A Pyrrhic victory is called a Pyrhric victory because Pyrrhus did, in fact, win the Battle of Asculum (at any rate according to Plutarch, from whose account the term “Pyrrhic victory” derives – Cassius Dio says the Romans won). I also consider that if, @46, you had meant “I consider that even if it had won the war, the Confederacy would quickly have fallen apart”, you should, and indeed would, have said that.

  49. snarkrates says

    I just find it hard to consider a country the winner if the country ceases to exist right after the war.

  50. says

    rsmith @ 63:

    What I was getting at was not so much that “generals are always training to fight the last war” (which is all too true; consider, for the moment, the problem epitomized by the all-too-real Top Gun school and how it trains naval aviators to refight Vietnam and the Yom Kippur War… against a tertiary threat, frequently losing situational awareness against greater threats), but the error of assuming that what we now know:

    was knowable by the leadership (primarily) of a past conflict, and
    could be put into effect immediately once recognized by that leadership, and
    would have garnered little or no subversion or opposition, and
    would not have conflicted with other priorities/limitations of or imposed on that leadership, and
    would by itself have made a difference to the overall (not just battlefield) outcome.

    That’s part of the danger of refighting the past. (Another part is that all too often, because true fog of war cannot be simulated without the Heisenbergian problem of knowing that someone else does know “the answer,” and that therefore there is an answer.) There’s a two-way projection problem involved, and it’s along dimensions of capabilities, of policy, and of implementation… and, further, it assumes that certain “lessons learned” in more-recent study could be inerringly applied not just through “knowledge” but through the confidence of “experience.”

    Once excellent example is Grant’s Vicksburg campaign. There were lots, and lots, and lots, of mistakes made on both sides throughout the campaign, many of which were exploitable to “change the result” (either direction, one might add; the Union suffered significantly during the campaign, too). In the abstract, the biggest loss for the traitors was that the campaign happened at all — it was a logistical nightmare and diverted resources (manpower and otherwise) from more-“attractive” operations (that would, of course, have had their own logistical problems)* that also would have formed a rich background for any number of works of alternate history. Including works of alternate history incorrectly painting Lee as a strategic genius (there weren’t any around at the time; Sherman exploited his operational opportunities as much through happenstance as anything else, and was dealing with a logistical — not strategic — failure of opposing supply), or the Hunley as an unanticipated precursor of the future (went back to the First War of American Secession and was anticipated in ship design and deployment by 1808; the “successful” attack was an individual failure of leadership by the Union as much as anything else), or darned near anything else cited as a “unique innovation” that on further reflection wasn’t so much “unique” or “innovative” as “noticed.” Not to mention right-wing-fantasy “the South Will Rise Again” novels, and if you think that has no effect consider who wrote Ben-Hur and its influence…

    For some things we should have known better. We should have known better about the not just “evils,” but “counterproductivity,” of slavery. Not just morally; not just economically. The “coincidence” that Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was published just a couple of months prior to the First War of American Secession — as a work of moral philosophy — also ignores the one iron-clad law in historical analysis: The Law of Unintended Consequences. Even by the time of the Second War of American Secession, “inefficiency” was not within the general purview of those with both the power and the vision to implement political economic policy, so we were left with moral dimensions… and then, at that time, those who did have the power and vision to implement political economic policy had read at least the juicy parts of their Bibles without much other context, so… (Go ahead. Read Leviticus. Read the Song of Solomon. Read Proverbs. Now try to tell me about the rectitude of being a “Christian nation” in the 19th century; it will all relate back not to That Book, but to self-interested demagogues with hidden agendas.)

    The real “American way of war” is to use American superiority in availability and deployment of natural resources to bludgeon an opponent to death by forcing it to commit too much of its social and economic capacity to the battlefield. When the opponent isn’t on the battlefield (Afghanistan, Vietnam, and to a lesser extent virtually every US-engaging conflict since 1945 except perhaps — and only perhaps — Desert Shield/Storm), and therefore isn’t distracted into such strategic overreach and the opportunity for mistakes, the “American way of war” is far less successful. Not always entirely unsuccessful; the equivalent Soviet strategic overreach did, after all, keep the particular individuals who directed it in power…

  51. KG says

    jaws@66,
    What do you mean by the “counterproductivity” of slavery? I know Adam Smith’s argument, at least in outline: that slaves have no positive incentive to work well, and so will slack as much as they can get away with, hence waged workers, who could be paid by results, would outperform slaves. But Smith’s argument was used by early 19th-century abolitionists in Britain, who claimed that if slavery were abolished in the British Empire, suger plantations in the British Caribbean would out-produce those worked by slaves of the French, Spanish etc. What actually happened when slavery was abolished in the British Empire in the 1830s was that British Caribbean sugar production collapsed, because no non-slave was idiot enough to go on working in such a hellish industry (the British actually resorted to bringing in quasi-slaves, indentured workers from India and elsewhere, but even that mostly failed to restore production to the levels necessary for economic viability).

  52. PaulBC says

    I’ve been ignoring this thread, since all I can think to say is “Good riddance!” But it looks like the most popular one for some reason. (And no, I have not read through all the comments so far. I will next.)

    So I’ll just plug Baltimore, MD, my old home for about 7 years in the 90s. They had the good sense to remove a double equestrian atrocity by night with little fanfare. I used to walk past that all the time and hated it. Also, it made no sense, because Baltimore was a union city (perhaps not entirely by choice) and has a large Black population.

    Maybe it’s tougher to make these removals in the South. Is that why they can hog a whole news cycle? Baltimore is right on the cusp (“the combination of Northern hospitality and Southern efficiency”).

  53. PaulBC says

    drew@10

    He wanted the CSA to be treated like the post-WWII Germans treated Nazis.

    This is a remarkable claim. Was Lee a time traveler or merely clairvoyant?

    Even dropping my most literal interpretation, it seems highly unlikely that he could have projected anything closely analogous. If you just mean he thought the South should have repudiated their rebellion, why not say so? Is that even true? What was his take on Reconstruction?

    In Reconstruction, Lee made it clear that he opposed political rights for the former slaves. Referring to blacks (30 percent of Virginia’s population), he told a Congressional committee that he hoped the state could be “rid of them.” Urged to condemn the Ku Klux Klan’s terrorist violence, Lee remained silent.

    So yeah, it’s exactly like Germany after WWII except that while repudiating the Nazis they remain openly and vocally anti-semitic.

  54. says

    KG @ 66:

    Ownership and upkeep of slaves was expensive. It became counterproductive because it became a capital sinkhole that prevented other, more diverse investment by sequestering capital, expertise, and attention away from change. Institutionalized slavery, in short, is a brake on progress, change, etc. — and given the changes forced on the economies by the Industrial Revolution (cotton itself being an excellent example), that made institutionalized slavery in the American South counterproductive.

    And icky.

  55. PaulBC says

    KG@67

    What actually happened when slavery was abolished in the British Empire in the 1830s was that British Caribbean sugar production collapsed, because no non-slave was idiot enough to go on working in such a hellish industry

    That’s an interesting example. I think Adam Smith’s argument might apply in other cases, though maybe I’m just an optimist (Didn’t the Romans have highly educated Greek slaves who were tutors? How could that possibly work?)

    In free employment, the productivity of an individual worker, as well as the quality of their work can easily make up for wages and their ability to quit (in line with Smith’s view). In a case like a sugar plantation, if the skill level is low and the slaves are treated as disposable with a steady supply of replacements, then it’s an entirely different proposition. I’m not sure I want to defend Adam Smith too vigorously, but I’m open to the idea that his view is sometimes applicable, just not to Caribbean sugar plantations, or similar cases like mining in the Belgian Congo.

    Needless to say, I don’t subscribe to the view that slavery in the South was just destined to end due to its inefficiency. First, why end it slow when you can end it fast? It was an atrocity that had to end. The Civil War accomplished something great and would have even if slavery was to end in 20 years, 10 years, 5 years, or one for some other reason. Second, of course it wasn’t. Because slave “owners” weren’t about to give up their “property” and privileges and would have held out. Third, it cannot have been all that inefficient, since sharecropping and chain gangs were soon invented to preserve the conditions of Black slavery as much as possible and continue today with some elements of the US prison system.

  56. KG says

    Hmm – for some reason my response to Jaws@70 isn’t appearing when posted. No idea what the problem is, unless it’s the word “abomination”!

  57. KG says

    Evidently not. No links in the comment, no slurs. I’ll wait to see if it appears and if no, try posting parts of it to identify the problem.

  58. KG says

    PaulBC@71,
    Good points. Yes, Smith’s view may be valid in some cases, although it underestimates the extent to which positive incentives can be and sometimes were applied in slavery-based systems. Slaves could be permitted “privileges” such as limited freedom of movement or to earn money, which in some cases could be used to buy their freedom. This was quite common in the Roman system, where manumission of domestic slaves (as opposed to those working on plantations or in mines) was common, and manumitted slaves of citizens became citizens – I’d guess that’s how the slavery of Greek tutors etc. worked: they knew they had reasonable chances of being freed. But it also occurred in the Caribbean and American colonies – although increasingly, there were laws against manumission, and freed slaves never (in the British Empire or USA) gained full civil rights (they sometimes did in the French and Spanish Empires). In the British colonies and the USA, greater status equality between whites was combined with a harsher version of white supremacy.

  59. says

    KG @75:

    It’s obviously personal. As there are no spiders or cephalopods in this conversation, there was always a risk…

  60. KG says

    Jaws@77,
    Ah! I think I see the problem – I’ve used “retarded” – as a verb, i.e. “delayed”. Here we go (I hope):

    Slavery certainly served the big slaveowners and slavetraders well, making them extremely rich, but I understand that doesn’t conflict with your argument. It may have delayed the economic development of the areas where the slaves were concentrated (although one would need to show that there were feasible alternative uses for capital in those areas), but in any case they were part of a much larger developing capitalist economy, covering the whole of the north Atlantic coastline, and there’s a strong case to be made that slavery was a key part of that development. That’s not to say there were no other ways capitalism could have developed, let alone that slavery was other than a vile abomination, but as a matter of historical fact, the multilateral trade within the British Empire and later the USA was deeply dependent on the commercial ties resulting from the slave production of sugar, tobacco, cotton and other products, stimulating the manufacturing industries first of Britain and then of the northern USA. Manufactured goods were needed to buy the slaves in West Africa (up to the beginning of the 1800s) and to process the slave-grown crops (particularly sugar in the Caribbean, processing which was for the time a complex and sophisticated agro-industrial process – see Matthew Parker’s The Sugar Barons), while the New England colonists made the money needed to buy such goods from Britain by supplying the Caribbean slave-owners with food and lumber (and built up a shipbuilding industry to do so). Cheap slave-grown sugar, tobacco and coffee gave poorer Britons and then Americans an incentive to submit to factory discipline, and cheap slave-grown cotton was the main raw material for the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. The next two books on my historical reading list are Padraic X. Scanlan’s Slave Empire: How Slavery Built Modern Britain, and Edward E. Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, which “argues that the expansion of slavery in both geography and intensity was what made American capitalism”.

    Although of course the role of slavery, and whether it retarded or accelerated capitalist economic development, is a question of fact and must be decided on the basis of evidence, it seems to me it’s rather tempting to dismiss it as inefficient or “counterproductive” – rather like the liberal approach of regarding American (more generally, western) interventionism as a series of “mistakes” rather than a highly successful strategy for maintaining global hegemony. I’ve seen it claimed (I’m certainly not attributing this to you) that slavery was bound to wither away because of its “inefficiency”, so the Civil War was a mistake – whereas the half-century before 1860 had seen a huge expansion of slavery in the USA, and no sign it was in decline.

  61. KG says

    Jaws @77,
    Ah! I think I see the problem – I’ve used a synonym for “delayed”, which the gormless filter has decided is a slur. Try again:

    Slavery certainly served the big slaveowners and slavetraders well, making them extremely rich, but I understand that doesn’t conflict with your argument. It may have delayed the economic development of the areas where the slaves were concentrated (although one would need to show that there were feasible alternative uses for capital in those areas), but in any case they were part of a much larger developing capitalist economy, covering the whole of the north Atlantic coastline, and there’s a strong case to be made that slavery was a key part of that development. That’s not to say there were no other ways capitalism could have developed, let alone that slavery was other than a vile abomination, but as a matter of historical fact, the multilateral trade within the British Empire and later the USA was deeply dependent on the commercial ties resulting from the slave production of sugar, tobacco, cotton and other products, stimulating the manufacturing industries first of Britain and then of the northern USA. Manufactured goods were needed to buy the slaves in West Africa (up to the beginning of the 1800s) and to process the slave-grown crops (particularly sugar in the Caribbean, processing which was for the time a complex and sophisticated agro-industrial process – see Matthew Parker’s The Sugar Barons), while the New England colonists made the money needed to buy such goods from Britain by supplying the Caribbean slave-owners with food and lumber (and built up a shipbuilding industry to do so). Cheap slave-grown sugar, tobacco and coffee gave poorer Britons and then Americans an incentive to submit to factory discipline, and cheap slave-grown cotton was the main raw material for the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. The next two books on my historical reading list are Padraic X. Scanlan’s Slave Empire: How Slavery Built Modern Britain, and Edward E. Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, which “argues that the expansion of slavery in both geography and intensity was what made American capitalism”.

    Although of course the role of slavery, and whether it delayed or accelerated capitalist economic development, is a question of fact and must be decided on the basis of evidence, it seems to me it’s rather tempting to dismiss it as inefficient or “counterproductive” – rather like the liberal approach of regarding American (more generally, western) interventionism as a series of “mistakes” rather than a highly successful strategy for maintaining global hegemony. I’ve seen it claimed (I’m certainly not attributing this to you) that slavery was bound to wither away because of its “inefficiency”, so the Civil War was a mistake – whereas the half-century before 1860 had seen a huge expansion of slavery in the USA, and no sign it was in decline.

  62. PaulBC says

    KG@76 I always considered Adam Smith’s view on the value of free labor insightful and reasonable. The more I consider it, there’s a lot of labor that isn’t done for wages, such as household labor and even work beyond that that may be carried out by members of extended families. They’re not slaves, but they may be entirely stuck without means of escape. There was an article in The Atlantic about servants in Hawaii who are effectively enslaved, though its not called that. (This partly fits Smith’s idea that the appeal of a slave is to have someone to order around, but I also doubt that if this practice stopped that many families could afford the same level of service at reasonable wages.)

    So on second thought, learning geometry from an enslaved paedagogi is no harder to contemplate than learning it from a nun or other member of a religious order, who also has few incentives for improving their lot through excellence in teaching. Smith seems to be ignoring (in this case) the existence of an unquestioned social order.

    Two notes: I would never try to extend this to chattel slavery as practiced in the US South or on Caribbean plantations. Also, I still think Smith’s insight is useful for skilled labor with high economic value, though it may just amount to a circular claim in that case: in cases where wages provide better return than coercion, wages will provide better return than coercion.

  63. says

    KG @78:

    (Very condensed, as this is off the first page now.) The capitalist trap of institutionalized slavery is simple: It works, if at all, only for direct, stable-process exploitation of land-based resources — that is, pure/almost-pure mercantilism. It also distorts capital flow into and out of that exploitation, making it even more reactive to other aspects of change. Consider, for example, that the proportion of slaves working in the steel mills of Birmingham, Alabama in the 1850s-1860s was vastly lower than that of the cotton fields (if I’m remembering the dominant crop correctly) around Tuscaloosa.

    Some of this is just fear embedded in a natural consequence: If we train/educate slaves enough to deal with transformation of goods through other than natural processes (and I’m not at all saying that agriculture requires no training/education/skill, just that its training/education/skill is less transferrable), they tend to Get Ideas. They tend to become more portable. They tend to become more capable of self-governance after they implement those Ideas (because one of the tools of institutionalized slavery is to ensure that no scalable social structure can ever develop inside the slave population), as there’s simply a greater need for organization and teamwork in transformation of goods at all levels than in direct husbandry/harvesting activities… especially once the concepts of a “factory” and a “production line” and “value enhancement through discrete subprocesses” begin to expand from luxury goods to general necessities and eventually to surpluses.

    Some of this is also the relationship between mechanization and slaves. Bluntly, the last thing that you actually want a population of slaves to have is the combination of free time and energy created by effective, widespread substitutes for muscle power! They Get Ideas then, too. And giving the oppressed Ideas when they no longer have to come within arm’s reach of The Man to kill The Man is, from the perspective of The Man, a very bad Idea.

  64. PaulBC says

    me@79 Ooops, now that I reread Atlantic article, I see it is about the Philippines, not Hawaii. I have a friend from Hawaii who was familiar with this situation and commented on it when the article came out.

  65. KG says

    Jaws@80,

    Two points:
    1) If what you say were generally true, Caribbean slave production of sugar (I know less about cotton, but see point 2) would not have worked. It was in fact a technically complex process, in which some of the slaves had to be highly skilled: the cane once cut had to be crushed quickly, before it fermented. The juice then had to be boiled in a series of cauldrons, each smaller and hotter than the last, for the right amount of time in each (this was where the skill came in). It also used “effective, widespread substitutes for muscle power”: windmills to power the cane mill. The outputs were muscovado sugar, and molasses (which was made into rum, often in New England). Setting up a viable plantation required considerable capital over and above that needed to buy the slaves.
    2) This:

    The capitalist trap of institutionalized slavery is simple: It works, if at all, only for direct, stable-process exploitation of land-based resources — that is, pure/almost-pure mercantilism.

    just doesn’t seem to be true of American cotton production in the period between 1800 and the Civil War, which was when American capitalism was developing. First, a new technical development, the cotton gin, was precisely what enabled the huge expansion in American slave-based cotton production – so it was not stable process; it was also being spread to new areas (stolen from Indian communities), with different soil and climate conditions. Second, the expansion was hugely profitable, both for the plantation owners, and for investors including northern capitalists. I’ve only just started the book by Baptist, but he appears to have detailed documentation of the extent to which the expansion of slave cotton production produced huge profits much of which fed into the development of industrial capitalism in the north. Slavery was not, either in the earlier stage of (mostly) sugar and tobacco production in the Caribbean and southern colonies, or in the American cotton boom of 1800-1860, isolated from the development of industrial capitalism: it was an integral part of that development.

    In short, theoretical claims about how slavery could only be part of a mercantilist economy just don’t appear to hold up in the face of empirical evidence.

Leave a Reply