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Re: [civilwarwest] Re: Did they fight in the West?

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  • Chris Huff
    Dear Folks, Sorry for the poor formatting on the last bit of correspondence. :-) J.H. wrote: I think a very over-looked factor about the rapid loss of
    Message 1 of 2 , Aug 5, 2000
      Dear Folks,

      Sorry for the poor formatting on the last bit of correspondence. :-)

      J.H. wrote:

      " I think a very over-looked factor about the rapid loss of territory in the
      western theater was the inadequacy of their fixed fortifications. The East
      had long been fortified against European invasion, and those defenses were
      further improved by R.E.Lee & Beauregard who were, above all else,
      engineers. Remember that Lee's assignment before leading troops was the
      coastal defenses. There was no one equally equipped with these skills in
      the west for the Confederacy."

      Boy, do we differ there. There were very capable engineers in the
      Western theater too. (One of my favorite things to rave on about are the
      Shoupades on the Chattahoochee River Line-as most of you probably know by
      now). There was no real way to hold the vast areas in the West with
      fortifications without many more men and more and better supplies (ever
      study the difference in a Confederate cartridge and a Union one?-very
      telling). Polk's error lay in substituting some hastily constructed (though
      many would say that from the river, Donelson was truly a formidable fort)
      river defenses for the natural barrier provided by the Ohio River and the
      political barrier of Kentucky's neutrality. By invading Kentucky he changed
      the front from the Ohio River to an indefensible line stretching from
      Columbus Kentucky to Cumberland Gap. As resourceful as the South was, I
      don't think it was up to building the "Great Wall of Tenessee", which is
      what would have been necessary. The errors of the Confederacy in the West
      were tactical and political, not architectrual.

      "The only reason Vicksburg held out so long was the natural strength of
      its location. But look at Henry & Donelson, Nashville, Memphis, New
      Orleans. They just got picked off like ducks in a shooting gallery. Plus,
      the South had no navy to speak of to help defend the rivers and seaports (at
      least in the beginning when it really counted)."

      All the troops who were originally on the critical coastal defenses were
      sent north to try and slow the Union's advance into Tennessee. There were
      good fortifications aplenty on the coast, many built by the Union to begin
      with, but there were no men to man them. They were elsewhere fighting to
      make up for Polk's collosal goof.

      There is no question that the South was precipitous in declaring war
      when it did. It was not ready to fight logistically. Albert Sidney Johnston
      had not yet gotten back from California (where he was stationed with the
      Union Army) so Polk was given what was to have been his command initially.
      (Please note that "The Bishop and Albert Sidney were Davis' two best, if not
      his only, friends at West Point).

      And you're right about not having the ironclad necessary to defend the
      rivers. That was one of the big reasons Polk decided to build the ill fated
      fort at Columbus.

      " However, I do think that the strategists in Washington and Richmond
      (including the Cdr's in Chief) were well aware of the importance of the
      western theater, and were constantly hounding their respective generals to
      get on the move and do something. The Lincoln administration was in a
      veritable panic after Chickamauga, fearing the loss of two years worth of
      blood, sweat and tears."

      One wonders what would have happened if someone other than Bragg (read a
      teensy bit more capable and whose men didn't despise him) was in command.

      "And Jeff Davis' problem was that he cared so much about territory that
      he tried to defend it ALL, ALL the time, and kept the manpower too spread
      out. The west was just too big for that strategy."

      Jeff Davis' problem was that he played favorites and couldn't make up
      his mind *what* to do half the time. His assistant secretary of war Robert
      Garlick Hill Keen writes about Davis' lack of decisiveness over and over
      again. Davis wasn't lacking in personal courage at all, but he was a very
      poor commander in chief. (Lee could play him like a violin-and, lucky for
      the South, did!).

      "So my opinion is that the military, at least, of both sides did consider
      the western theatre to be important, but they were more focused on the East
      due to the proximity of the fighting, the capitals being there, the industry
      centers, and the larger populations."

      Yep. We definitely agree here.

      " Also, I'm not quite sure why so many of you think the western theatre
      has been "ignored". I have never found that there is a shortage of
      published materials about it, and they are getting better and more extensive
      all the time. I have been studying the Civil War for 30 years now, and have
      always been able to find good information about the western theater.
      Granted, it may not be as extensive as the east, but I would hardly say
      "ignored" is appropriate. Just curious."

      At the risk of sounding snide, and I do not mean to be, the very fact
      that your arguement lacks the detail it does speaks volumes about what is
      taught formally about the Civil War. Almost all the programs whether in
      secondary school or later focus on the War in the East,-the West is
      mentioned in passing or as a foot note. I mean, *everyone* has heard of
      Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee but far fewer have heard about Braxton
      Bragg and Nathan Bedford Forrest or even know off hand (you have three
      seconds to answer) who they fought against. Few folks know as much about the
      Western Theater as they do about the Eastern. They certainly don't have the
      same detailed knowledge. I think that's what Dick meant. (I'm sure he'll
      correct me if I'm wrong ;-) ) and it's certainly what I understand to be
      the case.

      Chris Huff
      Atlanta, GA- (presently sitting behind Howard's IV Corps and Newton's 2nd
      Division's positions before the Battle of Peachtree Creek)
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