20 April 2010

ch.20: War Aims

When I teach my American Civil War class, there comes a time when we discuss military strategy. In Team of Rivals, you are now readings about battles and generals; as well as military wins and losses. So it seems a good time for you to consider what each side was attempting to achieve in this Civil War.

Take a look at the questions in the following scenario. Think about all of them from the perspective of both the Union and Confederate sides. Ponder these questions as you finish the book  Post your comments and/or talk to your friends about your answers. I think you will understand the Civil War much better after thinking about and examining these questions. And there are no right or wrong answers!         

You are a special group of high-level military and civilian strategists. Your group has been asked by the president
(Lincoln/Davis) to devise an overall strategy for the war. The president is trying to decide on a comprehensive plan on how to fight and win the impending civil conflict. He also needs policy recommendations on a number of other specific issues. Some issues that he wants you to discuss include:

• Where to fight the war: what geographical areas should you focus upon and why?
• How to fight the war: offensive, defensive, or some other strategic plan?
• How long to fight.
• Overall war aims: what exactly does your side wish to achieve? (really think about this one)
• Will you draft soldiers or depend on volunteers? If you do institute a draft, how will it be done?
• Slavery? What will your policies be regarding slavery?
• Finances and taxes: how will you fund the war?
• Foreign diplomacy: what strategies will be used in dealing with the European powers? 

Your distinguished group should devise a preliminary list of recommendations and be able to discuss them with the class.   


  1. although i found this post helpful in terms of understanding what was going on during that time, it did not help me understand this chapter. i wanted more of a chapter summary like your other posts..

  2. Professor Woodard has posted an intriguing exercise: How would we advise the given President on the overall strategy for the war? I will choose President Lincoln.

    The advantage of history is, of course, a tremendous advantage. So, much of what I would recommend would not be necessarily new but, rather, a confirmation of those steps that did, in fact, achieve victory.

    First, Mr. President, both “preserving the Union” and “liberating the slaves” must be introduced as dual war aims right from the beginning to justify the anticipated massive amount of blood that will inevitably be shed. The moral issue of slavery will serve well the political issue of Union preservation.

    Second, prepare to fight a war that might well last years. Most citizens in the North totally underestimate the will and military means of the South to defend their homeland. Are you, Mr. President, willing to sacrifice potentially hundreds of thousands of lives to achieve victory?

    Shortening the time length of the war as much as possible is crucial. Citizens of democracies rarely have the patience, no matter how justified the cause, to fight long-term wars. You could easily lose Congressional support, if not your re-election in 1864.

    In a protracted war, are you willing to violate the Constitution by imprisoning anti-war sympathizers and suspend habeas corpus and risk popular backlash? If not, how do you plan to deal with war protestors without jeopardizing the cause?

    Choose generals that are aggressive and understand that the quicker the Union is victorious, the sooner the bloodshed will end. Moreover, remind them that the technology of weaponry has surpassed accepted military tactics and, therefore, their tactics much be revised accordingly. I understand, for example, a certain Ulysses Grant who appreciates my former advice, but may have to be educated regarding my latter advice.

    Third, taking the offensive whenever feasible must be the primary strategy for achieving the quickest end to the war. However, care must be taken to avoid - as much as possible - harm to Southern citizens as well as destruction of their property. You might well win the war, but lose the hearts of the citizens you are trying to “bring back” to the Union. Post-War Reconstruction could be seriously jeopardized as a result of “total war” against non-combatants.

    Fourth, if you can successfully persuade the people regarding your war aims, you may not have to resort to a potentially unpopular draft. Offering generous compensation to volunteers – including appealing salaries and promises of free western land acreage after the war - might well secure the necessary manpower to achieve victory.

    Fifth, financing the war thru any number of taxes will be a necessary evil that could, of course, jeopardize popular support. One suggestion might be a tax on those able-bodied men who do NOT volunteer for service and, therefore, giving them a chance to take ownership by giving patriotic support to the war effort. By all means, avoid introducing a personal income tax – particularly one that is “progressive” – as future generations of hard-working citizens will come to loathe such an initiative.

    Finally, you cannot afford, for obvious reasons, risking European power intervention. Rather than a naval blockade of the Confederacy that prohibits European purchase of Southern cotton, make it a first priority to order the Navy to capture as many ports as soon as possible. Once a given port is secured, invite European ships to disembark and purchase goods (whatever is available under wartime conditions) from “the United States.”

    Mr. President, I do hope you appreciate my counsel. One last suggestion: Grow a beard … You’ll look splendid on day on a five dollar bill.

    Tim Utter