Historical Failure Analysis Case Study 1, The Confederate States of America; Part 2: Similar Cases

The interest in Part 1 of this series was gratifying, thank you. Hope you stay with me until the end…and there shall be an end.

And before I go any further, a happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Similar cases to the Confederacy may be tricky. Failure analysis in engineering can look at thousands of similar designs and patterns. Historians have a somewhat more limited selection. 

What kind of similarity are we looking for?

Conditions; social structure; time frame; circumstances of creation. Engineers have it easy in this regard. Thus, I’ll define the Confederacy as:

  1. Mid-19th Century time frame
  2. Agrarian-industrial political economy 
  3. Split from a federal constitutional republic to form a confederacy of states
  4. A class and race divided social system.

I think we can forget about an exact match. While 2. is common, 3. is not: Slavery wasn’t unique to the US in the mid-19th century, but it was unique as a reason for dividing the country. But 4. is common.

Strict adherence to my list is problematic…

The Confederate States of America was an offshoot of Tocqueville’s “Great Experiment” in representative government. Their founders replicated most of the institutions of the Union that they separated from and made significant but minute changes to their Constitution. The biggest difference between the Union and the Confederacy was the greater state autonomy in the Confederacy…and no Supreme Court. This is ironic because the Dred Scott decision gave the slaveholders most of what they wanted: the freedom to take their slaves anywhere and relief from the idea of “free blacks” in their boundaries. Let’s look for cases where a government failed to represent who they claimed to represent, and in so doing, lost the capability to succeed.

France in the period 1794-1815 strikes me as a possibility.

Think about it. Start with a revolution, get rid of the aristocrats, carry “liberty, equality, brotherhood” around Europe for nearly a decade…then a Corsican artilleryman places the crown of empire on his head in Notre Dame, announcing that he’s the emperor of the French…who strangled their aristocrats with the guts of priests. So, who did the French Revolution, the Terror, and the Directory represent? The French people? They put a Bourbon king back on the throne after Napoleon lost…twice. So, let’s say, provisionally, that France may be similar, without the overtones of separation from another body.

How about Russia before 1917?

Hard to nail that one down because the Romanovs had a hard time being popular. They were autocrats, indeed. But after the revolution, so much changed in Russia, it’s hard to divine just who the succeeding governments represented. Was Lenin’s government more popular than Stalin’s? It was so brief it’s impossible to know. Stalin did a better job of convincing the Russians that they were better off…better Red than dead, essentially.

The living will envy the dead.

Attributed to Nikita Khrushchev

How’s that for irony.

Neither France nor Russia is a good case to follow.

In neither case was there a “government of the people,” even in a literary sense. Both governments were dominated by their monarchs, who ruled with absolute authority if the mobs liked it or not.

How about 19th Century Japan?

Though similar–especially the agricultural economy and the strict class system–but they didn’t split off from another country, and Japanese democracy didn’t appear until after 1945 in any recognizable form. But fail to represent the people it did…even if it didn’t try that hard. And it failed utterly to defend itself.

Now, hold onto your hats because I’m going to suggest Weimar Germany.

The Weimar Constitution provided for a representative government after the collapse of the Hohenzollern monarchy. It enjoyed a brief period of calm and prosperity as long as the European-American economy was healthy…and economically, the Confederacy was OK for a short time–months, not years. Then came the global depression, and with that came the chaos of inflation…and an influential speaker who told the mobs precisely what they wanted to hear. But even before the National Socialists took power in 1933, Paul Von Hindenburg was ruling by decree. The pre-1933 German government stopped representing Germany and was died with a whimper, not a bang. So, Weimar, sort of. But its failure mode was far different.

The Confederate States of America was a unique case.

A case that had no real equivalence anywhere at any time. Its failure to represent and protect the people it purported to represent was like several others, but it was a unique failed constitutional confederacy, not a dictatorship like late Weimar Germany, an absolute monarchy like France or Russia, or a military dictatorship masquerading as a constitutional republic like pre-1945 Japan.

Oops!

If there’s only a few similar cases…is this step in our model good to have? With only a single case study so far, it may be too soon to tell. However, we are tempted to think of our model as a guideline, not a rule. But there goes intellectual rigor. So…we wait for more case studies.

If you have to make too many exceptions to your model, maybe the model was wrong

Desmond Morris

A lot of truth to that. Let’s keep working on our model. Next time, we identify the similarities…but didn’t we just do that? Let’s work on that.

Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories

Some of you know that I also write fiction…and some wags think my non-fiction is…never mind. Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories is a collection of short stories I’ve written over the years; most more than 20 years ago. At any rate, I’m publishing a second edition in paper and e-book in a few weeks. They’re mostly historical and military-related, some based on personal experience, most not. It will be announced before the end of the year, certainly in this space. Look out for it when it comes.

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.

Historical Failure Analysis Part I: An Outline

Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan

John F. Kennedy, 1961

This post is the first in a series of ruminations I’m about to venture on for the dual purpose of selling books and trying to advance the study and writing of history. Now, I’m not the guy to start a whole sub-field called “historical failure analysis,” but I’d like to get people thinking in those terms, if possible.

If at first you don’t succeed, then skydiving is definitely not for you

Steven Wright

Failure Analysis (FA) is a discipline of engineering that endeavors to determine the cause of a failure, be it a bearing or a bridge, to fix the problem(s) that caused the failure and avoid further failures. Now, applying this to history…dicy, maybe. But, perhaps not. To expand on my poor ruminations, I’ll be borrowing extensively from other web sites because I understand FA’s rudiments but not much more. So, if you work in failure analysis, forgive my clumsy attempt at adapting your discipline to mine.

Failure is always an option if you’re not paying attention

John D. Beatty

Reasons for Performing Failure Analysis

In engineering, these include:

  • Understanding the Root Cause of the Failure
  • Preventing (Future) Asset or Product Failures
  • Improving Future Products and Processes
  • Preventing Financial Losses and Penalties from Failed Components
  • Meeting Standards for Products and Assets
  • Determining Liability for Failure

Thanks to TWI Global for this adapted list. I’ll borrow more if I can. At the same time, I’m going to keep my eye on other truths, including…

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it

Georges Santayana

As students of the past, we should recognize the realities of the list above, because, in more than one book/class/discussion, we go straight to the bottom: finding someone to blame. And we shouldn’t. Well, maybe we should…sometimes. But it’s going to be my position that the Historical Failure Analysis (HFA) I propose should be applied not to battles or generals or even to campaigns, but first, best and most effectively to social groups like whole civilizations and kingdoms, to empires and countries. I believe that it is there that we’ll find the best use of any such method if we find any use for one like it at all.

What do we mean by “failure?”

I’m going to borrow heavily from the corrosion-doctors.org web site. A social group has “failed” when it can no longer act in its society’s best interests. It need not be broken entirely, conquered or destroyed, but often may be extinct: civilizations also sometimes transition into others. Any failure can begin with social stresses or environmental influences, by the effects of climate changes (yes, Virginia, there were climate changes before there were SUVs), by changes in neighbors, or by combining these and many other factors. Understanding the relative importance of these factors is the historical analyst’s job, but can never be as definitive as an engineer’s. Unlike in engineering, understanding what happens to people is a matter of opinion and opinion only, for conclusive proof has to wait to develop more reliable time machines than the sources at a scholar’s disposal.

History is part legend and part fact, but mostly interpretation by those who have gone before us.

Burgess Meredith in The Master Gunfighter (1975)

Think about that for a while. We don’t get proof like engineers do: we reach consensus. We go back to the original sources where we can, but the further back we look, the fewer sources survive. When I was in school, I had an issue with some “source material,” especially in the classical/ancient world. My professors said, “don’t worry about it,” but I still do. I mean, Pericles’ funeral oration is positively Shakespearean…but did he really say it? Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is what three different reporters who wrote it down in shorthand says it was. So, I look at the source documents and look for corroboration, preferably physical evidence. And that’s what we need for HFA to work: corroboration.

Books that analyze historical failures in any systematic way aren’t legion. Two examples that I’ve tried to follow are Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, and Robin Higham’s anthology Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat. Neither book, as far as I could tell, was very methodical about reaching their conclusions, which were nonetheless perfectly valid on their own. Being a writer (first) and a scholar (a close second), I’m concerned about the field I write in because I’ve been seeing many scholars write critiques of the past without a sound, repeatable method.

So, Let’s venture upon a method

The historian should first have a broad knowledge of the events leading to the failure. If the scholar is aware of the failed group’s nature and its historical performance, broadly-accepted conclusions are more likely. Failure analysis is akin to detective work, gathering, and weighing evidence. Not everyone will buy what we have to say, or the conclusions that we reach, or our method. Some critics are just more inclined to reach the conclusions they want/need to make, rather than those that fit the evidence.

Here’s a venture into a method, God help me.

  • Step One: Determine When, Where and How the Failure Occurred
  • Step Two: Collect Information on Similar Cases for Comparison
  • Step Three: Identify Social/Economic/Political/Environmental Similarities in Similar Cases
  • Step Four: Analyze Each Element/Factor Separately
  • Step Five: Compare and Contrast Like You Did as an Undergrad
  • Step Six: Stop, Think, and Ask: Does This Make Sense?
  • Step Seven: Publish Analysis–and Methodology–and Await Criticism.

Determine When, Where and How the Failure Occurred

Yeah, this looks a LOT like what most scholars do all the time…but is it? How often do we look at the American Revolution and the War of 1812 and ask ourselves how the British failed their empire-not-yet-imperial and conclude that America was just too far away to keep? How often do we look at WWI in the Pacific and say, “Japan jumped in for better position in 1941” without realizing that Japan was looking for markets and colonies in 1914, not mid-Pacific positioning? And who among us doesn’t bob our heads up and down and agree that the Cold War ended because of the Soviet system’s economic collapse, not the political failure? Who argues that the US manned space program was a significant contributor to that collapse? Can we look at the French Revolution and subsequent global wars from the Catholic Church’s standpoint and see if its influence had as much to do with The Terror and the eventual sale of Louisiana as did Bourbon indifference and Napoleon’s need for money?

We Rush Now to Step Ten…

Cover of Why the Samurai Lost Japan: A Study of Miscalculation and Folly available at your favorite booksellers

Historical Failure Analysis is what Lee and I think we did in Why the Samurai Lost Japan: We didn’t look at the triumphalist march of the US Navy across the Pacific, for once. We looked first at why the Japanese acted the way they did. We found a combination of reasons, but mostly what we saw was a cultural and institutional failure of Japan’s own making. It was also a cultural and institutional inability to build a military organization that…wait for it…learned from its failures. Failure analysis for the Japanese before 1945 consisted of examining the plan to discover who failed the plan, not how the plan failed. Consequently, losses like the Coral Sea, Midway, and even the first attack on Wake Island in 1941 were unfortunate blips on the Japanese tableau’s landscape, not failed plans.

In The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War, I tried to emphasize what both sides did wrong before those two days in the Tennessee pine barrens. Neither the Confederates nor the Federals were ready for a battle on that scale, not there, not then. Neither side had more than a handful of “veterans” of any battle, and even those saw nothing on the scale of slaughter they saw that April. Both sides failed at many things, that much is for sure. The relative weights of those failures ultimately paid off by Monday afternoon.

In future posts I’ll take a look at how this proposed method might be used, how it may help the discipline, and how it might just advance the field.

I invite scholars, dilettantes and others to comment and criticize at their leisure.

I just hope it sells more books.