GDG- Lost Cause and Inevitability

joadx1 at joadx1 at
Mon Jan 23 10:20:09 CST 2012

 Well, of course the outcome of our GDG debate doesn't matter at all, but just to continue the discussion, I think that we are actually talking from different perspectives.  I see where you are coming from:  victory is always with the largest legions so long as those legions don't give up the fight.  But I see that point as an abstract one.  In practice, it is a rare thing indeed for a society to fight to the last man when it has a choice.  James McPherson actually takes this up in Battle Cry of Freedom when he assesses the occasionally argued interpretation of the war's outcome as having been determined by the south's losing the will to fight.  Those who propound that interpretation argue that with only 5% of its total adult male population (not simply of military age) killed, a lot more men could have fought if they were willing to.  McPherson cites the Paraguayan death toll in their war of independence and notes an unbelievably higher death rate of males (somewhere well over 50%: I don't have the book with me), and asks if the south was willing to fight to that extent.  It's kind of a rhetorical question.

It could be asked of the north as well.  Let's say that Lee succeeded in destroying the AoP at Chancellorville or Gettysburg (he came pretty) close; would the Union have been able to raise a new army in time?  Would it have had the spirit to do so?

We can never know.  These are hypotheticals.  My point is that the will to fight is a practical matter, a matter of empirical experience, not an abstract principle.  The point some of us are making here is that, in practice, there was nothing inevitable about Union victory because there was nothing inevitable about Union willingness to fight to the last man and last dollar (or anything near that).  In fact a lot of evidence shows that a few more setbacks would have caused a voting majority of the north to throw in the towel.  Lincoln sure thought so in the summer of 1864.  Grant feared so as late as the spring of 1865.



-----Original Message-----
From: George Connell <georgeconnell at>
To: GDG <gettysburg at>
Sent: Mon, Jan 23, 2012 7:26 am
Subject: Re: GDG- Lost Cause and Inevitibility

Esteemed GDG Member Contributes:
An analogy: if I were to pick a fight with Mike Tyson I would lose unless he 
lost interest. 

Like all analogies, this breaks down at some point, but any objective study of 
comparative war making capabilities leads one to the conclusion that the North 
was going to win as long as it maintained the will to fight. 

While there are occasional exceptions, the outcome of modern symmetric warfare 
is determined by resources, not by bravery, not by strategy, not by wacky racial 
theory. Hence the rise of today's asymmetrical conflicts.

Interesting aside: in "Desertion During the Civil War," Ella Lonn points out 
that one of seven Union soldiers and one of nine Confederates deserted. (My 
thanks to Jack for putting me on to this great little book.)




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