Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Different Civil War "What If"

I referred recently to my fondness for a good "what if," which has the virtue of illustrating the contingent nature of history (and being a lot of fun). Early on in his Lincoln and the Decision for War, Russell McClintock provides a great one, and meditates on its meaning.

On December 2, 1860, in response to requests by Major Robert Anderson for reinforcements and permission to transfer his garrison from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, President Buchanan, to his credit, directed Secretary of War John B. Floyd to issue an order for reinforcements. As it turned out, Floyd was able to convince the president to defer making a decision until he consulted with General Winfield Scott -- a "laughable suggestion."

But what if the order had been given and carried out? "[T]he entire course of the crisis, and possibly U.S. History, would have been radically different in ways impossible to know." South Carolina certainly would have attacked the forts in December 1860 rather than in April 1861. Buchanan, not Lincoln would have been in charge, with public opinion on both sides less formed than it was four months later.
An attack may have rallied a united South and forced a divided North reluctantly to acknowledge South Carolina's independence, or it may have alienated the other Southern states, rallied the North, and led to a quick campaign that would have settled the issue of secession for good but left underlying sectional issues -- read: slavery -- unaffected. Or, as would happen several months later, an attack may have rallied both sides and sparked a long and horrific civil war . . ..

Civil War "what ifs" typically focus on whether the war could have been avoided altogether, or whether the Confederacy might have prevailed. But this one strikes me as a very close-run thing -- and fascinating to think about.


  1. Anonymous2:01 PM

    Your blog is great!

    Here is the url of the blog from the Archives of the Sandusky Library if you would like to take a look:

  2. Anonymous9:58 PM

    General Winfield Scott is my ancestor. I've just started looking up information on him. Previously the only info. I had was from my great grandfather who remembered what his great grandfather knew. Amazing.

  3. Winfield Scott was one of one of the greatest generals this country every produced. As a Virginian, he also deserves great credit for sticking by the Union in the secession crisis (compare RE Lee). On the down side, he was a terrible politician -- his campaign for the presidency as the Whig candidate was a disastrous series of missteps. I haven't read a separate biography of him, but almost any book on the pre-War period will discuss him.

    Sandusky, I've been looking into your site and enjoying it alot. Thanks.

  4. You've got a unique logic or reasoning there and it's pretty cool to read something out of the ordinary.

    Speaking of something out of the ordinary, I would like to share a one of its kind webcam which we placed on top of the Calhoun Mansion. It gives internet visitors a live view of Charleston's historical landmarks and captivating sceneries.

    So guys, if you want to see a Civil War remnant, visit the webcam at and see a real time video streaming of Fort Sumter and other places in Charleston.


Related Posts with Thumbnails