Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why the East?

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I know there are of lot of people out there who are going to disagree with me - but let me just say a few words on why I think the Eastern theater was the most important in the Civil War.

In terms of Confederate victory - what more than a few people were concerned with on both sides...the Rebs had the best chance in the East. Lee knew it. Davis knew it. Lincoln knew it. Grant knew it.

The East - for those of you who may not be familiar with Civil War theaters, was pretty much the northern part of Virginia down to Richmond and eventually Petersburg - and for a minute in 1862 and again in 1863, a little piece of Maryland and southern Pennsylvania. The Western theater was pretty much everything else - unless you count the trans-Mississippi. And lets be honest...nothing much happened there (attack from Texans and Arkansans in 3...2...1).

So why is a relatively tiny geographical section of the war more important. Well....lets see. 1) Both national capitals were in the East - something that military strategists tend to think about. 2) Robert E. Lee was in the East - the only Rebel general who fought and won on a regular basis. 3) (related to 2) All of the major Confederate victories were in the East - trust me, both sides noticed this. and 4) When U.S. Grant was promoted to commander of all the Union armies, where did go? East. Why? Because it was the place to be.

So go ahead - let me have it...I know you will (and I welcome the dialog, really). But I think that there is a reason why most consider the surrender at Appomattox the end of the war (it wasn't).




  1. The cult of historic personality and an understanding of warfare in the classic European tradition from the 18th and early 19th century concentrates our vision of the war in the East as a dance centered on the capitals. The war west of the Appalachians created the deviation from those European models of warfare that lead to modern war into the 20th century. Hard war as understood by Grant and practiced by Grant came first to the Mississippi Valley, not the Valley of the Shenandoah. Hiram headed east because he had an associate in Sherman that he knew could follow orders and run an army without personal observation, whereas nearly four years of failure in the Army of the Potomac yielded a lack of solid leadership necessary to bring about a victorious campaign. I will grant that the War Department agreed to Sherman's Savannah campaign as a sideways assault on Lee's food and forage supplies. But I believe that the progression of Federal war policy in the West, combined with those battle field victories from an Army of the Tennessee that never knew defeat, make the West the central, and too often ignored, theater of the war. It'd be my two cents, but then I'd owe someone a penny.

  2. Interesting topic. Let me take a shot at this.

    "In terms of (potential) Confederate victory" as mentioned, you may be right.

    But what about (potential) Union victory? The Union's first major victories were in the west - Forts Henry & Donelson, capture of Nashville, New Orleans, Shiloh. In a war even more concerned with politics than most wars (if possible), the belief in victory was important, and the west gave supporters of the Union cause confidence that it could happen and reason to persist in the effort.

    John Pope came east after western success and failed spectacularly, but look at the generals who cornered the main Confederate armies and maneuvered them into surrender. Grant, who learned "that they are as afraid of me as I am of them" in the West and then failed to be in awe of the mighty Lee; Sherman, his main Western associate whose campaigns through Georgia and the Carolinas were devastating and whose capture of Atlanta greatly aided Lincoln's re-election (my personal opinion is that was the "turning point" after which the Confederacy was doomed); and Sheridan who chased Jubal Early out of the Shenandoah Valley and created his own version of devastation.

    Where would the Union had stood in the East without the lessons learned and confidence gained by these men in the West?

    The east had Lee; the west produced Grant who changed the tone of the Army of the Potomac, simply by not retreated after defeat in the Wilderness. Many of his men realized something different had arrived when that happened.

    You are right in that virtually all major Confederate victories were all in the east, but that's kind of my point too. Had the Confederates had any "major victories" elsewhere, their dependence on just that one theater may have not been so great.

    I'll conclude by wondering: were all the Confederate victories in the east because that theater was so important, or was that theater so important because that's the only theater where they could claim such victories?