Edwin c. Bearss former chief historian of the National Park Service and author of several books about the war



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EDWIN C. BEARSS
Former chief historian of the National Park Service and author of several books about the war.
The South lost the Civil War because of a number of factors. First, it was inherently weaker in the various essentials to win a military victory than the North. The North had a population of more than twenty-two million people to the South's nine-and-a-half million, of whom three-and-a-half million were slaves. While the slaves could be used to support the war effort through work on the plantations and in industries and as teamsters and pioneers with the army, they were not used as a combat arm in the war to any extent.
So if the South were to win, it had to win a short war by striking swiftly–in modern parlance, by an offensive blitzkrieg strategy. But the Confederates had established their military goals as fighting in defense of their homeland. In 1861, when enthusiasm was high in the South, it lacked the wherewithal and the resolution to follow up on its early victories, such as First Manassas in the East and at Wilson's Creek and Lexington in the West.
Despite the South's failure to capitalize on its successes in 1861, it came close to reversing the tide that ran against it beginning in February 1862. In the period between the fourth week of June 1862 and the last days of September and early days of October, the South did reverse the tide, sweeping forward on a broad front from the tidewater of Virginia to the Plains Indian territory. And abroad, the British were preparing to offer to mediate the conflict and, if the North refused, to recognize the Confederacy. But beginning at Antietam and ending at Perryville, all this unraveled, and the Confederates' true high water mark had passed.
In 1864, with the approach of the presidential election in the North, the Confederates had another opportunity to win the war. If the Confederate armies in Virginia, Georgia, and on the Gulf Coast could successfully resist the North and the war of attrition inaugurated by General Grant (with its particularly high casualties in Virginia), there was a good probability, as recognized by President Lincoln himself in the summer, that his administration would go down to defeat in November. But the success of Admiral David G. Farragut in Mobile Bay, the capture of Atlanta on the second of September by General Sherman, and the smashing success scored by General Sheridan at the expense of General Jubal A. Early at Cedar Creek, Virginia on October 19 shattered this hope, and Lincoln was reelected by a landslide in the electoral vote. With Lincoln's reelection, the road to Southern defeat grew shorter.

BRIAN POHANKA
Consultant for the weekly series "Civil War Journal" on the Arts and Entertainment network, on-set history advisor for the movie Gettysburg, a staff writer and researcher for Time-Life Books' The Civil War series, and a founder of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites.
The South certainly did not lose for any lack of idealism, or dedication to its cause or beliefs, or bravery and skill on the battlefield. In those virtues the Confederate soldier was unexcelled, and it's my belief that man-for-man there was no finer army in the history of America than the Army of Northern Virginia.
But of course the factors that enter into the South's ultimate defeat are those things that you hear time and time again, and with a great amount of validity: the North's industrial base; the North's manpower resources; the fact that foreign recognition was denied the Confederacy. In time these things would tell on the battlefield, certainly on the broader level. The North was able to bring its industry and its manpower to bear in such a way that eventually, through sheer numerical and material advantage, it gained and maintained the upper hand.
That's when you get into the whole truly tragic sense of the Lost Cause, because those men knew their cause was lost, they knew there was really no way they could possibly win, and yet they fought on with tremendous bravery and dedication. And that's, I think, one of the reasons why the Civil War was such a poignant and even heart-wrenching time. Whether or not you agree with the Confederacy or with the justness of its cause, there's no way that you can question the idealism and the courage, the bravery, the dedication, the devotion of its soldiers–that they believed what they were fighting for was right. Even while it was happening, men like Union officer Joshua Chamberlain–who did all that he could to defeat the Confederacy–could not help but admire the dedication of those soldiers.


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