Historical Failure Analysis Case Study 1: The Confederate States of America

Delay may give clearer light as to what is best to be done.

Aaron Burr

Sorry for the delay between entries, but the press of life is such that…well, OK, I wasn’t quite ready to continue.

Step 1: Determine when, where and how the failure occurred.

The seceded states clearly failed in their struggle to achieve separation from the Union in the war that lasted from 1861 to 1865. Most scholars and other commentators have suggested that it was because of several factors. Beringer, Hattaway, Jones, and Still, in their Why The South Lost the Civil War (1986) considered the popular notions as to the seceded states’ failure to achieve independence. They concluded that The South failed with something they called “civil religion,” or a united ideological basis for the conflict. 

Unfortunately, in this scholar’s view, that didn’t go far enough, because there are three entities–not just the seceded states–to be considered. . There were:

  • The seceded states popularly called The South
  • The slave states that included four states that did NOT secede–Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware (yes, Delaware), and the District of Columbia.
  • The Confederate States of America, or Southern Confederacy, which was a government entity formed in 1861.

For the purposes of this analysis, I’ll stick with these rough definitions.

All three are interrelated, and all three failed

Most commentators stop at the southern states, or The South, which is an understood entity all on its own. Perhaps understood by most after the war, but there were parts of other un-seceded states that considered themselves moderately southern in outlook. These included Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, and they also contributed recruits to Confederate armies.

Which brings us to the slaveholding states. Slavery along the borders roughly defined by the Mason-Dixon Line was a contentious issue divided more than just neighbors. Slavery in America was, in part, economical, in part philosophical, and in part political. Both sides of the argument had what they thought were perfectly valid reasons for their positions. Slaveholding states like Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland contributed units to both sides during the conflict. Delaware only sent troops to the Union. Little DC’s several 60-day battalions and militia cavalry companies maneuvered with the Union armies.

This brings us to the Confederate States of America, a government entity based first in Montgomery, Alabama, then Richmond, Virginia. The Confederacy was formed by the seceded states, and tried to include the non-seceded slave states–except Delaware. It considered DC to be slave-supporting in sympathy. It lost that struggle when Lincoln signed legislation freeing DC’s slaves in April 1862.

Failed…at What?

What were these three entities trying to do? What was the conflict about? All three entities said they wanted political and economic independence from the Union so that they could maintain humans as chattels and treat them as little better than animals. They also presumed that, as an independent political entity, they could take their property anywhere they wanted, including into the trans-Mississippi west. OK…but what about the war?

Lincoln’s election in 1860 caused fear in the slave states that their rights to keep and expand their policies would be curtailed in a Northern-dominated government. No matter what Lincoln, his supporters, or even neutral parties–there were a few–said about Lincoln’s burning desire to maintain the Union above all else, this is what slavery’s supporters feared.

The Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott vs. Sanford decision declared slavery legal no matter where the slave-owner wanted to take his property. It also denied citizenship to slaves for all time, effectively abolishing manumission–the act of freeing a slave–by denying them citizenship. The South believed that Lincoln would try to overturn Dred Scott. Starting in December 1860, before the electors voted, South Carolina began the stampede of secession.

There was also the stampede of southern militias grabbing Federal arsenals throughout the seceded states, but there was no shooting even after the Confederate government was formed in February 1861, until it started in South Carolina that April.

Slavery began secession

The seceded states contended that the ground upon which Ft. Sumter was built belonged to South Carolina, claiming that South Carolina’s secession meant that the fort would revert to state ownership, The Federal troops that occupied it were trespassing. They called the legal theory reversion .

But that little island didn’t actually exist before the US Army Corps of Engineers built it. Unfortunately, South Carolina started shooting, so that legal theory wasn’t tested in any court.

The shooting at Sumter triggered Lincoln’s militia call. That triggered the secession of the upper South–Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia–and we know what happened after that.

The war that followed the firing on Ft. Sumter was triggered by a legal theory that had never been tested.

It has long been argued that the conflict was fought for the seceded states’ independence. Well, that’s OK, until we note that three un-seceded states were considered part of the Confederacy–Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland. More than that, the Confederacy also claimed New Mexico and Arizona territories. And there was Oregon, that supposedly expressed sympathy for the Southern cause. Finally, there were attempts to drag California into the Confederate orbit.

Neither California nor Oregon nor Arizona nor New Mexico contained a single slave. Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland all rejected secession. Furthermore, every state but South Carolina formed Union regiments.

So…what exactly did the losing faction/side/political entity lose at? The violent war that ended in 1865, yes…but with such a coarse definition of who was on which side and when…what did who lose? All three entities failed to achieve meaningful and lasting political and economic independence from the United States. If all three entities failed in what they set out to do, didn’t the Confederate States of America fail its constituents? So that Berenger and company may have been at least partly right…

Step 1: The failure of the Confederate States of America was that, given the widespread support for the Union within its claimed borders, they failed represent, really and truly, the will of a majority of the people within its ill-defined borders.

Think about that until next time, when we talk about similar cases.

The Safe Tree: Friendship Triumphs

The Safe Tree

It’s on its way…slowly. Ran into some structural snags, some things failed to mesh with the rest of the Trilogy…but it’s getting there. Hoping by the end of the year.

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