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20674[civilwarwest] The What Ifs

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  • Dick Weeks
    Dec 29, 1999
      Howdy to all CWWT members. While I have a little time I thought would make a post and share a few things with you.

      As most of you know I have a standing offer to help folks with Civil War questions when I can.  As you might guess, this time of the year, most of my questions are from students.  I get them from grade school right up through the university level.  Those coming from High School and below have taken a strange twist this year.  Last year the questions were just dealing with specific people or events.  This year they are more essay type questions asking what I think about certain things involving the war.  I have also been getting a lot of "what if" questions.  Well, rather than just giving them my opinion, I try to get them to think a little for themselves.  Here is the way I explain how to arrive at "what if" answer.

      "During my military career, I had to sit as a member of several accident investigation boards. In this capacity we were taught that in any accident, occurrence, or event, there are a chain of actions leading to the end result.  In this chain there is one action, after which it is taken, the event/accident is going to occur, regardless of what else happens. Part of our job was to try to determine the point at which this action happened. This allowed us to better evaluate what cause the accident and how it might have been prevented.  All of which had to be contained in our final report.  In my study of the Civil War I attempt to look at each battle/event in this light.  There was one action, after which it was taken, the result of the battle/event  was going to be the same.  By using this technique, you will not only fully understand what happened, you will also be able to insert your own ideas as they pertain to the "what if" type questions".

      Having said that, let me give you an example of what I mean and since this is a Western Theater discussion group I will use a Western Theater action to illustrate my point. Besides, since I am just starting to really get into this part of the war, long held opinions will not get in the way.  In the Chattanooga Campaign, most say that had Bragg actively pursued Rosecrans after the Union defeat at Chickamauga, he could have destroyed the Union army there. Is that true?  I really don't know. However, I do know that the Southern forces were pretty well chewed up (they lost about 18,000 men compared to the Union's 16,000) and probably were not ready for another battle that might even have been bigger than Chickamauga.  After peeling back some of the layers I have found something very interesting. I am beginning to think that Missionary Ridge might have been the "point" I look for.  What if Missionary Ridge had held?  Just from what I have been seeing, if that ridge had been fortified properly, I have serious doubts if any army could have taken it.  By fortifying I mean making a "military crest" (if there was not a natural one there) instead of fortifying the "geographical crest" as they did.  How many men would Grant have expended in the effort to take the ridge?   What would have been the result if he had failed. Would Lincoln have fired him like the did the commanders before him?  Remember Grant was not as popular then as he was to become later.  Just something to think about.

      I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
      Dick (a.k.a. Shotgun)

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