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Confederacy, The Military in the

Confederacy, The Military in the. From the moment the representatives of the seceded Southern states met in Montgomery, Alabama, on 4 February 1861, they sought to defend the South. As a former military officer and secretary of war, the provisional president, Jefferson Davis, seemed to possess impeccable credentials for that task.

The Confederate War Department had the specific responsibility of assembling an army using state militia units and volunteers. The governors of the states would then transfer those units to Confederate service, and thus create a national army. Hastily organized units soon bombarded the War Department for requisitions and instructions; with limited resources, the government could not provide the necessary arms and accoutrements for its troops. Even so, by April 1861, the Confederate states could boast some 70,000 men in the field.

After the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion. Davis countered with a call for 100,000 men.

But if the Confederates had established the basis for a military, significant problems remained. That military had to be supported and maintained adequately. It had to be deployed properly and employed effectively. All of this demanded a coherent war strategy.

The closest the Confederate hierarchy came to such a plan was an implicit belief in the defensive nature of their war. Rather than subjugate the North, the Confederacy relied on the fact that it could win simply by continuing to exist and that its people would be waging war in defense of their homes. Even so, the South could not afford to conduct a completely passive defense, thereby exposing its citizens to the ravages of war.

Instead, Davis planned to implement an “offensive‐defensive” strategy. This overall defensive scheme would allow the Confederate forces to exploit their interior lines of communication and supply and concentrate Southern forces against invading Union columns. The South could shift troops to repel a threat at a time and place of its own choosing.

Unfortunately, Davis faced political demands that greatly hampered his plan. In addition to his personal difficulties with some generals, the Confederacy's creation of a rigid departmental command structure militated against this strategy. Thus, Davis and the War Department confronted localized pressures from governors, such as Joseph E. Brown of Georgia and Zebulon Vance of North Carolina, and from various generals more concerned with protecting their own interests than with cooperating with others.

Despite the South's defensive strategy, Confederate armies did mount several major offensive operations into Union territory, including the Maryland campaign of Gen. Robert E. Lee in 1862, the Kentucky campaign of Gen. Braxton Bragg, also in 1862, and Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863. All of them failed, depleting the South's offensive power.

Manpower shortages in particular prevented the Confederacy from engaging in further grand offensives. Such concerns had led to the implementation of conscription, or the draft, in April 1862. Initially designed to include able‐bodied men between the ages of eighteen and thirty‐five, conscription was expanded to men between seventeen and fifty, and exemptions were sharply reduced. Finally, in 1865, the Confederate government authorized the arming of slaves, but the war ended with the program only in its initial phases.

The Confederate government ultimately attempted to establish a unified command structure under General Lee. Unfortunately, by then—February 1865—the Confederacy was in its death throes. Lee's army and the rest of the main Confederate field armies would surrender in a matter of months.

Debates continue to rage over the relative importance of the eastern and western theaters of operations and the Civil War's role as a “total” or “modern” war.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Civil War: Changing Interpretations.]

Brian S. Wills

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