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“As Federal armies penetrated deeper into the Confederacy, blacks flocked to Union lines for sanctuary from slavery. At first, Federal troops returned runaways who were not employed on Confederate military projects to their masters. This should not be, as Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan lectured Lincoln, a war to destroy slavery; rather, the object of the war was to save the Union. But for many northerners in and out of uniform, the situation was not that simple. Some soldiers abhorred the notion of returning anyone to slavery, while others found the practice of assisting masters in retrieval of slaves a nuisance that took away from their ability to wage war. It was also galling to civilians and soldiers alike that the Federal government was aiding individuals who had cast their lot with secessionists. By early 1862 the War Department prohibited the use of Federal troops in the retrieval of runaway slaves, and four months later, Congress went even further. In the Second Confiscation Act, it freed all escaped slaves of Rebel masters upon their entering Union lines.”
— Why the Confederacy Lost, 1992

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“It all began on a quiet May night in 1861 near Fort Monroe in Virginia. Three slaves, hired out as laborers on a Confederate fortifications project, slipped away from quarters, commandeered a canoe, and paddled into Union lines. The following morning, a Confederate officer approached the fort under a flag of truce. He came, he stated, to claim the runaways based on the fugitive slave law. The Federal commander Brig. Gen. Benjamin Butler refused to hand over the slaves. A shrewd courtroom lawyer and prominent politician before the war, Butler insisted that since Virginia had seceded from the Union, the fugitive slave law was inapplicable. Furthermore, since the Confederates had used these men for strictly military purposes, they were contraband of war and therefore subject to confiscation. Then, without much thought, Butler hired them for pay to construct a bakery for Federal soldiers. In one eventful day, Butler had, in effect, freed three slaves and then employed them to work for the Union army. The secretary of war promptly endorsed Butler’s rationale, and two months later Congress passed the First Confiscation Act, which converted policy into law. Together these three slaves and Benjamin Butler had stuck a monstrous blow for freedom and the Federal war effort. They carved out the first path for wartime emancipation and set a precedent for military employment. Once the Federal government granted tacit freedom to runaways hire to labor for the Confederate military, it opened the door for all sorts of other cases and set the Lincoln administration on the rocky trail toward emancipation. And once the War Department began hiring blacks for wages, the practice initiated the breakdown of opposition to the use of blacks in other military capacities. First it was the construction of a bakery, then the erection of fortifications, and later labor as teamsters and cargo handlers. In each instance, blacks filled jobs traditionally performed by soldiers, which enabled military authorities to place more troops in combat commands as early as 1861.”
— Why the Confederacy Lost, 1992

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“Any different policy in regard to the colored man, deprives us of his help, and this is more than we can bear. We can not spare the hundred and forty or fifty thousand now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force which may be measured and estimated as horse-power and Steam-power are measured and estimated. Keep it and you can save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it.”
—Abraham Lincoln, unfinished letter to Isaac M. Schemerhorn, Sept. 12, 1864

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“But suppose in the spring of 1864 [Lincoln] had to muster out of service one of its two primary commands, the Army of the Potomac or Sherman’s Army of the West. How would that have effected the outcome of the war? Could Grant have even adopted this strategy without those 100,000 men? How would the campaign of 1864-65 transpired? Such conjecture helps to elucidate, in just one area, the critical contributions of blacks to the defeat of the Confederacy. During those key months in the late spring and summer, when the picture for the Lincoln administration looked bleakest and the Union desperately struggled to maintain its uniformed strength, more than 100,000 blacks were serving in the Union army and thousands more were in the Federal navy. In fact, there were more blacks in Union blue than either Grant commanded outside Petersburg or Sherman directed around Atlanta. Their absence would have foiled Grant’s strategy and quite possibly doomed efforts at reunion; their presence enabled Grant to embark on a course that promised the greatest hope of Federal victory. At the outbreak of the war, leadership on neither side envisioned the varied and dramatic contributions that blacks would make to Confederate defeat. Nearly 180,000 served in the Union uniform with muskets in hand. As newfound laborers for the Federal war effort, blacks grew cotton and foodstuffs and aided in all sorts of construction and logistical endeavors, and as lost laborers for a fledgling wartime nation that so depended on its slaves for food production and other essentials, blacks caused shortages, hardships and disillusionment among soldiers and civilians alike. Slaves who could not run away to northern lines supported the Union war effort through work sabotage, general unruliness that created insecurity among white southerners, and assistance to Federal troops who escaped from Confederate prison camps. Blacks alone did not win the war, but timely and extensive support from them contributed significantly and may have made the difference between a Union victory and stalemate or defeat.”
— Why the Confederacy Lost, 1992

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“During the final year of the war, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant employed his overwhelming superiority in manpower to defeat the Confederacy. Simply stated, Grant’s plan was to mobilize every available man, apply pressure on all fronts, and stretch the Confederacy to enable forces under Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to break up one of the two primary Confederate commands, the Army of Tennessee. Then, with all other forces maintaining the same stranglehold, Sherman’s army was to devastate the Confederate military infrastructure — its railroads, its factories, its agriculture, and its labor supply — thus bringing the Confederacy to its knees.”
— Why the Confederacy Lost, 1992

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“This transformation of northern will illustrates the point made earlier that the will of either the northern or southern people was primarily a result of military victory rather than a cause of it. Events on the battlefield might have gone the other way, on these and other occasions during the war. … To understand why the South lost, in the end, we must turn from large generalizations that imply inevitability and study instead the contingency that hung over each military campaign, each battle, each election, each decision during the war.”
— Why the Confederacy Lost, 1992

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“What about Lincoln’s superiority to Davis as commander in chief? This might seem indisputable. Yet Lincoln made mistakes as a war leader. He went through a half-dozen failures as commanders in the eastern theater before he found the right general. Some of his other military appointments and strategic decisions could justly be criticized. And as late as the summer of 1864, when the war seemed to be going badly for the North, when Grant’s forces had suffered horrendous casualties to achieve a stalemate at Petersburg and Sherman seemed equally stalemated before Atlanta, Lincoln came under enormous pressure to negotiate peace with the Confederacy. … And Jefferson Davis might have gone down in history as the great leader of a war of independence, the architect of a new nation, the George Washington of the southern Confederacy. This did not happen, but only because of events on the battlefield — principally Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, and Sheridan’s spectacular victories over Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley. These turned northern opinion from despair in the summer to confident determination by November.”
— Why the Confederacy Lost, 1992

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“That brings us back to the overwhelming numbers-and-resources interpretation, which at least had the merit of recognizing the large external aspect of Confederate defeat. But the deficiencies of that interpretation remain. Another category of analysis with an external dimension, though, might seem to resolve the dilemma of explanation. This one focuses on leadership. Numerous historians both northern and southern — and British as well, for they have paid a lot of attention to the American Civil War — have argued that the North developed superior leadership [generalship, logistics and political] which became the main factor in ultimate Union victory. And yet — and yet — it should not be uncritically accepted. … On more than one occasion the outcome seemed to hang in the balance because of incompetent northern military leadership.”
— Why the Confederacy Lost, 1992

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“Another internal explanation for Confederate defeat has been around for a long time and has recently resurfaced in a number of studies. This one can be described as the ‘lack of will’ thesis. It holds that the Confederacy would have won if the southern people had possessed the determination, the will to make the sacrifices and the total effort necessary to achieve victory. … The main defect of the lack-of-will thesis, as well as of the internal conflict and internal alienation thesis discussed earlier, is that they attribute Confederate defeat to factors intrinsic to the South. Like the analysts of Confederate mistakes at Gettysburg, they tend to forget about the Yankees.”
— Why the Confederacy Lost, 1992

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“Similar criticisms apply to another interpretation that overlaps the internal conflict thesis. This one might be termed the ‘internal alienation’ argument. … The nonslaveholders constituted two-thirds of the Confederacy’s white population. Many of them, especially in moutainous and upcountry regions of small farms and few slaves, opposed secession in 1861. They formed significant enclaves of unionism in western Virginia where they created a new Union state, in east Tennessee, where they carried out guerrilla operations against the Confederacy and contributed many soldiers to the Union army, and elsewhere in the upland South. Other yeoman farmers who supported the Confederacy at the outset, and fought for it, became alienated over time because of disastrous inflation, shortages of food and salt, high taxes, and a growing conviction that they were risking their lives and property in a war to defend slavery. … The alienation of many southern whites was matched by the alienation of a large portion of that two-fifths of the southern population that was black and slave. … Tens of thousands voted with their feet for the Union by escaping to Yankee lines, where the North converted their labor power and eventually their military manpower into a Union asset. … The alienation of these two large blocs of the southern people seems therefore a plausible explanation for Confederate defeat. … But perhaps the most important weakness of the internal alienation thesis is that same fallacy of reversibility mentioned earlier. Large blocs of northern people were bitterly, aggressively alienated from the Lincoln administration’s war policies.”
— Why the Confederacy Lost, 1992