Sunday, January 6, 2013

Emancipation and Confederate Military Strategy

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent quite a bit of time over my holiday vacation with a new Christmas gift - a DVD set of 48 lectures on the American Civil War by Gary Gallagher.

As I've watched each lecture I've made some mental notes on topics I wanted to reflect on here on the blog. In one of the early lectures, Gallagher discusses the different leaderships traits shown by Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. The UVA professor rates Davis fairly highly for his military experience and knowledge, while noting that he personally believes Davis attempted to hold too much territory, and thereby stretched Confederate forces too thin at times. 

Perhaps because I was watching these lectures right around the 150th anniversary of the final Emancipation Proclamation, I began to wonder about Gallagher's statement - shared by not a few historians - and how the Emancipation Proclamation might have factored into Confederate strategic decisions.

The defense of slavery of course was the prime motivator of secession, and therefore a principle war aim of the Confederate government. By ensuring that each northern army brought freedom to slaves in the Confederate states wherever they marched, did Lincoln not in some ways force Davis to defend as much physical territory as possible?

Often historians compare Confederate strategy with George Washington's strategy during the American Revolution. While I do not pretend to be a Revolutionary War expert, my understanding is that Washington was aware that the revolution was alive as long as he could keep his army in the field.

Such an advantage was not possible for Confederate forces after the Emancipation Proclamation. Their goal was independence, yes, but an independence that kept the fabric of the South's economic and society - slavery - in tact. If the Confederacy could not defend vast stretches of its territory - and slavery was compromised as a result - what was the value in independence?

Curious to hear other thoughts on this.

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