How important was it to control “interior lines” during the Civil War?

donelson

Commanding view from Fort Donelson overlooking the Cumberland River

His first task as a department head was the daunting responsibility of maintaining a long and meandering defensive line which ran from the hills of eastern Kentucky to the Mississippi River . . . . He was all too aware that if the far right flank caved in there would be serious problems in Tennessee, and Kentucky would surely be lost.

Jacobson, Eric A. (2013-11-01). For Cause and Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin (Kindle Locations 289-290). O’More Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Sherman’s two great campaigns through the interior of the South, first through Georgia and then through the Carolinas, were enormously important in weakening both the ability and the will of the southern people to carry on a hopeless fight. The very fact that Sherman was able to march his troops hundreds of miles through the interior of what purported to be the Confederacy, seemingly unhindered by any efforts of the Confederate army, was evidence of the helplessness of the slaveholders’ republic. The marches did enormous damage to the Confederacy’s continued ability to support armies in the field, destroying warehouses, depots, stockpiles, factories, and hundreds of miles of railroad track.

Woodworth, Steven E. (2011-04-16). This Great Struggle: America’s Civil War (Kindle Locations 5933-5938). Rowman & Littlefield. Kindle Edition.

Linked to the problem of supply was the concept of lines of operations. No matter how different in size two armies might be, the only thing that mattered was the size of the force each army could bring to a battlefield at a given moment (i.e., even an army that is numerically inferior to its opponent can still achieve victory if it can manage to pick off small sections of the enemy army and defeat them piece by piece). Consequently, Mahan impressed on his West Point pupils the vital importance of operating defensively on “interior lines” and forcing the enemy to operate on “exterior lines.” (What this means is that in any given strategic situation, an army occupying the interior of a position only has to move the chord of the arc surrounding that position to get from one end of it to the other; a commander on the exterior of a position has to occupy as well as move around the circumference of the arc, which forces him to spread his troops more thinly to cover the greater distance, and take more time in moving from point to point along the arc.) By taking up “interior lines,” a numerically inferior army could defend itself more easily, and could move to strike at exposed positions along the enemy’s arc faster than the enemy could reinforce them. For an attacking army, the best way to overcome the advantage of interior lines was to outflank the enemy’s lines entirely by means of turning or flanking movements. Hence, Civil War battles often found themselves determined by how successful one army was at getting hold of the other’s flank and compelling a withdrawal, rather than by head-to-head attacks.

Guelzo, Allen C. (2012-04-20). Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction (pp. 149-150). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

The Confederates eventually synthesized these various strands of strategic theory and political reality into what Davis called an “offensive-defensive” strategy. This consisted of defending the Confederate homeland by using interior lines of communication (a Jominian but also common-sense concept) to concentrate dispersed forces against an invading army and, if opportunity offered, to go over to the offensive, even to the extent of invading the North. No one ever defined this strategy in a systematic, comprehensive fashion. Rather, it emerged from a series of major campaigns in the Virginia-Maryland and Tennessee-Kentucky theaters during 1862, and culminated at Gettysburg in 1863.

McPherson, James M. (2013-01-28). Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Kindle Locations 7206-7211). ACLS Humanities E-Book. Kindle Edition.

Given the advantages of fighting on the defensive in its own territory with interior lines in which stalemate would be victory against a foe who must invade, conquer, occupy, and destroy the capacity to resist, the odds faced by the South were not formidable.

McPherson, James M. (2013-01-28). Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Kindle Locations 17673-17675). ACLS Humanities E-Book. Kindle Edition.

How important was “compromising” to keeping our nation from fighting the Civil War?

Compromise was dead. On December 20, 1860 the very idea of a United States of America began to unravel.

Jacobson, Eric A. (2013-11-01). For Cause and Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin (Kindle Location 264). O’More Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Shelby Foote on our failure to compromise:

It was because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise. Americans like to think of themselves as uncompromising. Our true genius is for compromise. Our whole government’s founded on it. And, it failed.

From Ken Burns, The Civil War

shelby

How important was the Confederacy’s loss of Nashville in early 1862?

nashville

LOC Nashville

Having already ceded Kentucky to Federal control, the failures at Henry and Donelson were serious setbacks that forced Johnston to withdraw deeper into Tennessee . That movement resulted in the forfeiture of invaluable territory and led to the hasty evacuation of Nashville without even so much as a fight. Abandoning Nashville, her factories and stores, and the city’s 17,000 citizens was an industrial and psychological loss from which the South never fully recovered. Nashville forever remained the lost jewel of the Confederacy, and the dream of regaining the city would die hard.

Jacobson, Eric A. (2013-11-01). For Cause and Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin (Kindle Location 302). O’More Publishing. Kindle Edition.

By moving into western Kentucky and Tennessee on the rivers, rather than marching overland through eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, a Federal army could turn the Confederacy’s uppermost flank and easily peel open the upper South like ripe fruit. “Move up the Cumberland and Tennessee, making Nashville the first objective point,” Halleck recommended. “This line of the Cumberland or Tennessee is the great central line of the Western theater of war, with… two good navigable rivers extending far into the interior of the theater of operations.”

Guelzo, Allen C. (2012-04-20). Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction (p. 195). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

The capture of forts Henry and Donelson was enormously important and might almost be called the first turning point of the war. Up until that time, the Confederacy had had things pretty much its own way, but it never fully recovered from the loss of the forts. The twin February victories gave the Union control of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers deep into what had been Rebel-controlled territory. Union gunboats, transports, and armies could range up the Cumberland all the way to Nashville and up the Tennessee all the way into northern Mississippi and Alabama. The Rebels could no longer hold positions along the Mississippi in the states of Tennessee or Kentucky because Union control of the Tennessee guaranteed the defenders would easily be turned and possibly trapped. Half the state of Tennessee passed to Union control, and the partial Confederate grasp on the state of Kentucky was gone. Within weeks, Union troops would be poised on the edge of the Deep South states.

Woodworth, Steven E. (2011-04-16). This Great Struggle: America’s Civil War (Kindle Locations 1717-1723). Rowman & Littlefield. Kindle Edition.

Strategically, the victories at Forts Henry and Donelson opened the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers as avenues of irresistible Union advance, completely unraveling Confederate defenses from the Mississippi to Nashville and southward to the southern boundary of Tennessee. Seven days after the fall of Donelson, the Confederates evacuated Nashville.

Woodworth, Steven E. (2007-12-18). Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 (Vintage Civil War Library) (p. 119). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

What was the importance of Grant’s victory at Shiloh in April 1862 for the Union?

bloody pond

For U. S. Grant the victory at Shiloh was a combination of both luck and dogged determination. For the Union the battle had wide-ranging ramifications. Had Grant been defeated at Shiloh it is unlikely he would have ever commanded another army.

Jacobson, Eric A. (2013-11-01). For Cause and Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin (Kindle Location 341). O’More Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Writing his memoirs more than two decades later, Grant stated, “Up to the battle of Shiloh I, as well as thousands of other citizens, believed that the rebellion against the Government would collapse suddenly and soon, if a decisive victory could be gained over any of its armies.” Shiloh, he said, changed his mind. “I gave up all idea of saving the Union except by complete conquest.” Up to this time, it had been Grant’s policy, reiterated in dozens of general orders, to spare the property of civilians. “After this, however, I regarded it as humane to both sides to protect the persons of those found at their homes, but to consume everything that could be used to support or supply armies.”56 The passage of two decades had led the 1885 Grant to telescope into a single battle the metamorphosis that had in fact taken place in his thinking over the several months following the Battle of Shiloh. Nor was Grant the only one whose thoughts that summer were migrating away from ideas of a limited police action against a clique of insurgent politicians to an all-out war against a rebellious people.

Woodworth, Steven E. (2007-12-18). Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 (Vintage Civil War Library) (p. 200). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Grant made mistakes before the battle that all of his undoubted coolness and indomitable will during the fighting barely redeemed. But in the end the Union armies won a strategic success of great importance at Shiloh. They turned back the Confederacy’s supreme bid to regain the initiative in the Mississippi Valley.

McPherson, James M. (2013-01-28). Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Kindle Locations 8763-8765). ACLS Humanities E-Book. Kindle Edition.

Shortly before his death more than two decades later, Grant reflected on the events that transpired at Shiloh. “Up to the battle of Shiloh I, as well as thousands of other citizens, believed that the rebellion against the Government would collapse suddenly and soon, if a decisive victory could be gained over any of its armies.” The two days of carnage along the Tennessee began to change his mind. Shiloh was a harbinger of the length and cost of the conflict that was then only just beginning.

Woodworth, Steven E. (2011-04-16). This Great Struggle: America’s Civil War (Kindle Locations 1933-1936). Rowman & Littlefield. Kindle Edition.