While Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln became opposing presidents for vastly different reasons, and had markedly different styles of command, they faced similar problems in trying to lead their respective nations to victory, and often their solutions were more alike than different. How they responded to these common problems was often heavily influenced by the differing interpretations each man and the nation he led had on the same documents, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Each man tried to centralize control of their respective nation’s war efforts, but the federalized nature of the Union government made this much easier for Lincoln than the South’s emphasis on states’ rights did for Davis. Both men were considered moderates by their political enemies and often fought ferociously with those same domestic political foes. The Southerner fire-eaters “feared that Davis was at heart a Unionist and was willing to submit to Yankee domination.”  As for Lincoln, he expended much time and energy trying to keep the radicals in his own Republican Party from turning the war into a crusade to subjugate the South, instead of a war to re-unify the United States. Neither man wanted war but neither man shrank from war if that is what was necessary to achieve their goals.
In many ways Lincoln and Davis were polar opposites. As James McPherson puts it, “Davis did not suffer fools gladly. He lacked Lincoln’s ability to work with partisans of a different persuasion for the common cause. Lincoln would rather win the war than an argument; Davis would rather win the argument.” This quarrelsome tendency made Davis’ hard job harder. Given the inherent friction built into the Confederate Constitution for states’ rights versus the federal government, the Confederacy might have been served better by a more diplomatic president.
The two men came from dissimilar backgrounds, shared few common experiences and had differing career goals. Davis had graduated from West Point and served in the Army during the Mexican War, which gave him some insights into the various officer personalities on both sides of the Civil War, not always with positive results for his country. He had a quick temper. He held grudges. He held onto opinions stubbornly and in the face of contrary evidence, especially as regarded general officers such as Braxton Bragg and Joseph E. Johnston. After leaving the army in the 1850’s he became a United States Senator, Secretary of War and a well-respected national politician. When secession happened against his wishes, Davis remained loyal to his home state of Mississippi and wanted nothing more than a command in the field. “Jefferson Davis no more wanted to be president of the Confederate States of America… than of the United States he was leaving. He already had what he wanted. On January 25, 1861, Gov. John J. Pettus commissioned him a major general and gave him command of the Army of Mississippi.” For him serving as President of the Confederate States was a sacrifice and a poor fit for his style of command. As president, Davis lead much like a commanding general might have, in an authoritarian style, a direct contrast to both the wishes of his people and the structure of their government, which was at least partially created to oppose authoritarianism.
Lincoln, on the other hand, had no substantial military experience, a brief stint in the militia notwithstanding. His formal education was minimal and certainly had no equivalent to West Point. As a largely self-educated lawyer, he was used to persuading people to see his point of view instead of forcing it upon them. His national political experience was limited to one term in Congress, but his appeal was not so different from a famous Southerner, Davy Crockett, who also combined homespun humor and a common sense point of view with a genius for empathizing with his audience, while convincing others to agree with him. Lincoln built consensus, Davis did not.
Both Presidents came to realize that the concentration of powers in a central government during wartime makes for a more cohesive and effective war machine, both in the field and at home. Lincoln may have revealed something of his feelings that on his shoulders rested the ultimate burden of the war when he wrote General John McClernand in 1861, “In my present position, I must care for the whole nation.” Both Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis came to steer their respective nations’ war efforts using similar measures and making similar decisions. The powers granted to Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis by their respective government structures, however, made this more difficult for Davis than for Lincoln. In the Confederacy the differences in the social classes manifested itself negatively in a number of ways, usually as a differing opinion on the role of government. The upper classed feared and distrusted their federal government while most of the people wanted its protection. “…more and more, as one portion of the population-the governors, the politicians, the ideologues-complained louder and louder against the intrusion of army authority into civilian life, the broad mass of the people demanded that the military assume an ever greater role in protecting them not just on the battlefield but at home, in the market, and on the thoroughfares.” Such disparate views of government would threaten to fracture any political system, but to one created on the fly and subjected to the ultimate stresses of war it posed a potentially fatal threat all on its own.
For either nation to bring its resources to bear was difficult; the United States had not been involved in a war since 1848 and the Mexican War had barely strained the national resources. The new war was a different matter. The scope of the battlefield was almost unimaginably large and the huge numbers of men deployed was unprecedented in North America. The logistics for supplying such enormous forces on a battlefield covering much of the continent would require that governments be organized and streamlined for both speed and efficiency. In the North this merely accelerated the very reason for war, the supremacy of the federal government. The South, however, found the necessity of gathering power into the hands of a few problematic, since that was the very reason their nation had been founded. Davis found himself continually embroiled with governors and local leaders throughout the Confederacy, some of whom actively worked against the measures he believed were necessary for the South to be victorious. Nevertheless, by 1865 the country that was created to trumpet the supremacy of states’ rights was ruled by a President whose autocratic power made him a virtual dictator at the head of an all-powerful central government, one almost completely divorced not merely from its popular support, at least as much as remained, but also from the political philosophy that created it in the first place. The disconnect had become so immense, and the situation so desperate, that in early Spring of 1865 the Confederate Congress voted to emancipate and arm slaves; such a proposition might have lead a mob to hang anyone foolish enough to propose it a short four years previously. “Instead of impressing slaves for labor, take them into the army noncombat, but arm them if necessary, and grant freedom for faithful service. Davis said privately ‘we are reduced to choosing whether the negroes shall fight for us or against us.’” 
The North had a defined goal for the war that made its prosecution a more straight-forward process. Victory for the United States meant bringing the secessionist states back into the Union by whatever means necessary. For the Confederacy victory meant continued existence. Both men began the war with certain ideas of how to win, but Lincoln proved more adaptable to change. Be it strategy, weapons or commanders, if it did not work Lincoln showed no hesitation in finding someone or something that did. Between the two the standard wisdom has been that Lincoln had the harder job in a war, since the Northern armies had to actually march south, defeat their enemy and then garrison the cities and towns, protect supply lines and subdue guerillas. In the absence of an elected government the military had to supplant those officials until other arrangements could be made. Davis had only to direct his armies to defend their territory, a strategy which gave them interior lines of movement and supply, and a civilian population that mostly supported them. In one respect, however, Davis’ task was the harder of the two, because Lincoln knew what his goal was, and he knew when it would be over. His mission was to conquer the South and bring the southern states back to the Union by destroying the Confederacy. Whatever it took, however long it took, and Lincoln was not going to stop until this mission was accomplished, even to the point of suppressing freedom in his own country for the duration of the war. “The Lincoln administration not only freed and armed the slaves and countenanced conscription but also suppressed civil liberties, permitting the occasional repression of newspapers, the censorship of reporters’ telegraphic dispatches, and the military arrest of perhaps as many as 15,000 people.”
Davis had fewer strategic choices, since his armies had only to defend their own land. By blunting Northern drives into Southern territory, and inflicting casualties for little Northern gain, the Southern strategy was to bleed the Union white until their morale cracked and they gave up the fight. As things turned out this almost happened to both nations and it was precisely what happened to the South. In deciding on national survival as the ultimate goal of the war, Davis gave up the strategic initiative and guaranteed that the war would be fought on a Northern timetable. This was an open-ended task and one which depended on the North to give up, not for the South to win. It also allowed Lincoln and his generals to decide when and where to commence a battle, leaving the timeline of the war an open-ended question between how fast the Union could conquer the South versus how long Northern popular support for the war would continue. Robert E. Lee wanted to carry the war to the north but Davis was resistant, and so the Army of Northern Virginia only went north of its own territory on two occasions. Elsewhere, a few other modest invasions were made into Northern territory, mostly as raids or diversions. John Hunt Morgan caused uproar by riding through Indiana and Ohio until he and his command were captured, Kentucky was invaded periodically, but in the end these were minor threats of no strategic value. Standing on the defensive, with only those few excursions into the North that achieved little, Davis had no way of bringing the war to a successful end short of waiting for the North to give up. And with the blockade proving very effective that turned time against the Confederacy. Eventually, desperation began to affect Davis’ decisions.
Lincoln tried many different things during the war attempting to find tactics and strategies that would work. For example, early in the war Lincoln’s understanding of the dynamics behind Southern secession were woefully misguided; like many Northerners he had accepted the concept of an oligarchy that ruled the South and formed a ‘Slave Power’ to dictate its will to its subjects. “The pervasiveness of the Slave Power myth made plausible the idea that most Southerners had enjoyed little voice in the decision to leave the union…Lincoln himself subscribed to this theory.” This complete misjudgment of his opponent lead to the relatively passive strategy drawn up by Winfield Scott of blockading the South and seizing its major waterways, derisively labeled the ‘Anaconda Plan’ by Northern journalists who wanted a more aggressive strategy. Lincoln did not want the South damaged because he believed few Southerners supported secession and the rebellion would soon collapse. Given the South’s over-dependence on foreign trade for manufactured goods, as well as having most of its economy based on cotton exports, this plan would have combined blockade with the exploitation of major rivers as avenues for invasion to sever trade links and collapse the Confederacy from within. Given his belief that Southern support for the war was shallow, it followed that under moderate deprivation large segments of the Southern home-front would demand to rejoin the Union.
When Lincoln was proven wrong, however, and it became clear that Southern civilians supported both the war and their new government, he began to try new strategies and listen to new ideas, and to name new commanders who would take the fight to the enemy. He was not afraid to be proven wrong and to rectify his mistakes. Lincoln did not turn to ‘hard war’, the destruction of the South’s ability to supply and succor its armies, lightly. But when faced with the failure of a conciliatory policy he kept in mind his ultimate goal, the reunification of the states. Writing to a Union official in occupied New Orleans in 1862 who disagreed with the abandonment of conciliation, Lincoln asked, “What would you do in my position?…Would you deal lighter blows rather than heavier ones? Would you give up the contest leaving any available means unapplied?” By war’s end his position on warfare against Southern civilians had come full circle. The question of slavery might be seen as the dividing point, Lincoln crossing his personal Rubicon, as it were. Leaving slavery intact showed that he had no intentions of destroying the Southern way of life, but once the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued he, in effect, declared war on the institution of slavery. And while momentous in and of itself, this was really a halfway mark between the policies of conciliation and hard war, when the Southern civilians and their personal economies became targets. Sherman’s campaign in Georgia is but the most famous example of this new and aggressive policy.
The Presidents of the North and South during the American Civil War needed complete mobilization of their respective nation’s resources, if their side was to prevail. They also needed to suppress dissent, or rather, the effects of dissent on morale and productivity. The Confederacy passed a number of draconian and unpopular laws to deal with opposition to the war, as well as to seize property owned either by Unionists or Northerners. In most cases the North passed similar laws. Both combatants passed legislation authorizing the confiscation of property owned by citizens of the other. This legalized plunder was called sequestration and “was common enough among nations in time of war. Lincoln would seize Confederate-owned property in the North as a punitive measure and to defray the expense of his war effort, so it was natural that the Confederacy would do the same.” The point could even be made that the cannonade of Fort Sumter, that began the war, was the first such instance of seizing enemy property in your territory. This mutual volley of economic warfare has an interesting side-note that shows both the similarities and the differences in the two American nations and their presidents, making a direct comparison of the two men on this point possible. The Northern measure went to helping accomplish the main mission of destroying the Confederacy, a mission that Lincoln always kept in the forefront, while the proceeds from the Confederate measure were dissipated by distribution into a few private hands. As the quote makes clear, Lincoln and the Northern Congress crafted their law to punish rebels and also to help pay for the war, thus punishing them twice, once by forfeiture of property and again by using their own resources to force them back into the Union. The Confederacy, while passing a very similar law, also differed in one major respect: the proceeds from sequestration “…should not go to the government, but into a fund ‘for the indemnity of citizens of the Confederate States and persons aiding the same.’ It was to reimburse people who lost property to Yankee confiscation…”  Those who had lost such property were usually the wealthiest, men whose dissenting voices carried the most influence in state governments and with the Confederate Congress. Seeing the Sequestration Act as one way of buying their cooperation does not seem much of a stretch.
Quelling dissent garnered its share of both legislation and energy. The corrosive effects of allowing protests and negativity could become troublesome indeed, if not fatal, to the morale of civilians and armies alike. “The influence of home was profound. Soldier’s families enforced and reinforced the centrality of courage.” Therefore, if soldier’s families were against their government or the war, or both, the morale of their relatives in the army would also suffer. Since there was no censorship of mail during the Civil War, any negativity, either at home or the front could easily be conveyed to friends and loved ones. Combined with reverses on the battlefield the effect on morale could be devastating. The Northern armies demonstrated this beginning late in 1862. After “defeat at Fredricksburg…morale in the Army of the Potomac plummeted. At the same time the rise of the Copperheads, political bickering in Washington and divisive controversy over emancipation interacted with discouragement in the ranks to plunge the army’s willingness to fight to the lowest point of the war.” The Copperheads are the most extreme example of Northern anti-war sentiment, but their opposition was widely known and thus carried the most influence. However, long before the Copperheads appeared the Lincoln administration had made it clear that Southern sympathies would not be tolerated. In April of 1861, President Lincoln took the first measures against dissenters, ordering the first arrests of those suspected of anti-Northern activities in the areas of Washington and Philadelphia, including suspension of habeas corpus. Although later rescinded, a far larger suspension of this fundamental right occurred in September of 1862 when opposition to conscription was growing. In proclaiming the newer suspension of the writ of habeas corpus throughout the country, in his written order Lincoln explained his reasons as being, “…in order to suppress the insurrection existing in the United States, and (as) disloyal persons are not adequately restrained by the ordinary processes of law from hindering this measure and from giving aid and comfort in various ways to the insurrection…” The terms of the proclamation seemed quite draconian, giving the government virtually unlimited powers to arrest whomever it wished without giving a reason. In the end this resulted in the aforementioned military arrest of perhaps as many as 15,000 people. This seems a staggering sum and implies the presence of a police state, which Lincoln was often accused of having created. Yet in Common Defense, A Military History of the United States, Millett & Maslowski make clear their opinion that Lincoln tried to walk a fine line between overreaction that destroyed all principles of a free society and resulted in a military dictatorship, and under-reaction that allowed disloyal elements to damage the war effort.
Jefferson Davis also used suspension of the writ of habeas corpus to try and keep a lid on protests and dissent, although the very nature of the Confederate government made this problematic. Efforts to curb dissent carried dangers of their own, however, political dangers that might encourage the very behavior he was opposing. “As a seasoned professional politician before 1861, Davis was aware that public support was necessary for the success of public policy as well as for the success of a public official.” Davis and the Confederate Congress addressed the issue of controlling the domestic front early the war. On August 8, 1861, the Alien Enemies Act made liable for arrest all United States citizens over age 14 residing within the Confederacy, unless they wished to become citizens of the new country. Davis followed this up with an order giving those affected forty days to leave Confederate territory. The ambiguity of this act left open for interpretation exactly who was an enemy alien and who was not. In large measure Confederate dissension was tied to conscription and taxation and became accusations that Davis did not believe in states’ rights and was building an authoritarian state. “Holding up such measures as conscription, impressment, and the suspension of habeas corpus, they attacked Davis for creating a consolidated central government. Despite the fact that Congress had legislated on all these measures, Davis’s critics accused him of being a despot, running roughshod over the rights of states and citizens.” Davis was not a stoic man and he often lashed out at critics, but he kept his course despite criticism, taking the measures he felt were necessary regardless of consequences.
Paying for the war was perhaps the most vexing of the problems faced by the two
Presidents, and for Davis it was linked with his myriad other difficulties. “Scarcity of goods as
well as money plagued the Confederacy… people resented conscription, exemption,
impressment of goods, the tax in kind, restrictions on the cotton trade, or the brief suspensions of
the writ of habeas corpus. Congress and the cabinet approved all these measures, but Davis got the blame.” Bonds were issued by both nations, with sharply contrasting results. Initial Confederate issues sold well, but then tapered off with subsequent issues. Union issues performed almost the opposite, with sluggish sales early but increasingly fast sales as the war progressed, when they were seen as a good investment in the likely victor. Northern bonds also had the advantage that nobody thought the United States would be destroyed in the war; come hell or high water, the government backing the bonds would still exist to pay them off when they matured. Confederate bonds, though, were worthless paper if the government issuing them was re-incorporated into the Union. In the end only the North raised significant money from bonds. Both Lincoln and Davis signed income tax laws, but the Confederacy’s “financial weaknesses undermined the South’s ability to pay for the war by fiscally responsible means. Taxation produced less than 5 percent of the Confederacy’s income.” Having little recourse, the South simply printed money; this lead to terrible inflation, further weakening the Confederacy’s financial basis. Simply raising money was not enough, though, unless that money had value enough to purchase goods to prosecute the war. Confederate money never really stabilized during the war, making inflation almost a given and pricing difficult. Eventually, money became so devalued as to be almost worthless, leading to the need for other sources of revenue. Almost from the start of the war Davis and the Confederacy implemented the ‘tax-in-kind’ on agricultural products, and this became a major source of income for the government. Essentially, this tax put the farmer citizen at the forefront of the fight to keep the war going. In a society based on individual freedom and the value of state power over that of the federal government, this tax was not only despised but made some people question the nature of their cause.
Northern currency kept its value better, and while the taxes imposed were considered heavy, they never reached the levels of those on the southern population. In addition, since northern armies fought on southern soil, after Lincoln made the decision to aggressively use Southern resources for Union advantage, federal troops could take from enemy civilians, which simultaneously damaged their ability to support the Confederacy, as well as saving Northern resources.
Perhaps one of the biggest differences in the leadership styles of the two men was in their relations with subordinates. Lincoln was not afraid to make a change if he felt it necessary, or many changes, and his appointments of army commanders in the eastern theater is a prime example of this. He knew what he wanted in a commanding general, a fighter, and he went through a number of Army commanders before he finally found his man in Ulysses S. Grant. His patience with George McClellan might be understood as part of his learning process early in the war. Lincoln was not a military man and there was much he did not understand, such as command techniques, how to train an army or even basic tactics, which gave a general like McClellan the authority to dither away his advantages time and again before Lincoln finally removed him. Lincoln wanted action, he wanted to achieve his goal of re-unifying the country, and to do that he needed a commanding general who would fight to the end. Lincoln brought John Pope from the west to command the Army of Virginia, which Robert E. Lee promptly thrashed so badly that Pope was dismissed and his army amalgamated into the Army of the Potomac. But George McClellan remained cautious beyond reason, and when McClellan was removed for not pursuing Lee closely after Antietam, Lincoln replaced him and told Ambrose Burnside to go after the Army of Northern Virginia. Burnside’s incompetence led to the worst Union defeat of the war, the debacle of Fredricksburg. Despite terrible casualties, however, Lincoln could not subdue the Confederacy without bitter fighting and a warrior to lead his armies to victory. Lincoln turned to ‘Fighting’ Joe Hooker, which resulted in yet another defeat, this time at Chancellorsville. Once again replacing the commander of his largest army, the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln was satisfied when George Meade won at Gettysburg, but angry that Meade did not follow up his victory with a vigorous pursuit of Lee’s beaten army. Wanting the war to be prosecuted at an even more aggressive pace, Lincoln made perhaps his most brilliant personnel decision of the war. He technically left Meade in charge of the Army of the Potomac, but promoted Ulysses Grant over him, giving Grant command of all Union armies and, effectively, direct control of the Army of the Potomac. This chain-of-command legerdemain left the victor of Gettysburg in command of his army, while making him largely a figurehead behind the man who would fight the war to a conclusion, Ulysses Grant.
Davis had fewer men to choose from for army leadership, and fewer armies for them to lead, but he played favorites, a dangerous situation for a country with such a small margin for error. He had a tendency to stick with inept commanders, such as Braxton Bragg, long after their shortcomings were clear because he personally liked or trusted them, instead of measuring them against their results. By fall of 1863, Bragg’s record as commander of the Army of Tennessee was mixed at best and disappointing to all. He was abrasive and disliked by almost everyone, including most of his subordinates. His stubborn, poorly conceived frontal attacks at Shiloh and Stones’ River had cost his army dearly. At Chickamauga he won another bloody tactical victory that a better commander might have made a decisive one. Yet Davis left him in command even when he had lost the confidence of his subordinates. It was only after the loss of Chattanooga that Bragg was finally replaced, much too late to save the situation. Writing to his old friend Davis, Bragg admitted “The disaster admits of no palliation…I fear we both erred in the conclusion for me to retain command here after the clamor raised against me.” Lincoln also stuck with a commander for perhaps too long with McClellan, but once he began his search for the right general he did not stop until he found him. Not so Davis’ intransigence concerning Bragg. “Davis’s conviction about Bragg as devoted to his duty and to the cause had far-reaching repercussions. He stuck with the general as commander of the Army of Tennessee far longer than he should have.” As noted earlier, however, his replacements choices were also more limited than Lincoln’s. Only P. G. T. Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston were realistic candidates and Davis didn’t like or trust either one of them. He chose Johnston almost by default.
The most basic resource a nineteenth century nation needed to fight a war was manpower, and the American Civil War used up armies at a ruinous rate. “The number of soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865 is approximately equal to American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined. The Civil War’s rate of death, its incidence in comparison with the size of the American population, was six times that of World War II; a similar rate of death, about 2 percent, in the United States today would mean almost five million fatalities.” Given this voracious appetite for destruction by Civil War combat, both Presidents faced the haunting and daunting task of replacing the men lost to death, wounds or taken prisoner. Davis’ task was doubly difficult, however, because his country’s smaller population meant there were never enough men for all of the tasks that needed doing.
When the Civil War began the North had a huge advantage in manpower, some twenty million whites versus six million in the south. Not only that, but immigrants continued to pour into the north during the war, some 800,000 of military age, whereas the south was off limits because of the federal blockade. The north also made wholesale use of their black population as the war dragged on, and while many were not used in combat, some were, and all helped flesh out an army that had bled heavily during the first three years of the war. All of these factors were a major advantage for Lincoln. Still, the North also had their problems filling the ranks. And the attacking forces always need more men, to overwhelm defending forces, to guard flanks, garrison conquered territory and protect elongated supply lines. Lincoln supported a very unpopular conscription system, one that caused riots and lead to some 120 deaths in New York City. And yet, “…northern conscription…worked exactly as its authors intended… (even though only) 13 percent of Union Army enlistments came directly from the draft”. The actual percentage of conscripts varies among historians, from a low of 4 percent to the above mentioned 13 percent, but sheer numbers of conscripts had not been the point of the draft. The whole concept for Lincoln was to keep his goal in mind and to mobilize every last possible recruit who could carry a gun or dig a trench, regardless of cost or consequences.
Davis, however, also faced the statistical reality that with more than a 3-to-1 deficit in manpower, Southern armies needed to eliminate more than three Union soldiers for every one they lost merely to keep pace. And while both sides found the manpower demands hard on their economy, it was Davis who faced major problems because of the shortages. Slaves provided most of the labor for agriculture, but white oversight was needed to keep productivity high and to guard against slave insurrections. The North’s larger population kept this from ever becoming a serious handicap, but the South spent much time and effort trying to find a balance between the needs of the economy and the voracious needs of the army. Achieving such a balance was a never-ending juggling act for Davis and his subordinates.
And like Lincoln, Jefferson Davis did anything and everything that he could think of to mobilize southern manpower, including his support for conscription, which threatened Southern unity of purpose perhaps more than any other issue during the war. “To states’ rights adherents, conscription was unconstitutional.” The word ‘unconstitutional’ was the key, because violating the constitution meant there was no legal reason to obey laws passed by Congress and signed by Davis. He often found himself fighting not only the North, but his own governors as well. And the South’s casus belli was, of course, states’ rights. Some recognized the need for centralization during wartime and could put aside this inherent contradiction, but others could not. How far were some men willing to go to oppose the federal Confederate conscription laws? “Knowing that militia officers were certainly exempt, in Crawford County, Georgia, seven innovative men already on the conscript rolls…organized themselves into a militia unit containing only themselves, and then promptly elected each other officers and asked Governor Joseph Brown to give them commissions, which he did.” Such maneuvering may have kept those men safe but did little for the Confederate cause.
Despite its divisive nature, both Lincoln and Davis supported conscription. Perhaps the North could have filled its ranks sufficiently without a draft, perhaps not. But numbers alone can be misleading. Conscription served the same purpose for both countries, either by coercion into the ranks or pressure to enlist. For example, for Davis and the Confederacy it was not the actual numbers of men conscripted who made the effort worth the political damage, it was the numbers of men who enlisted or re-enlisted to avoid the stigma of conscription. In Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy, Albert Burton Moore makes it quite clear that without a draft, especially the extremely flawed first draft act in 1862, the Confederate armies that fought so well in 1863 and 1864 would not have existed. “According to the Richmond authorities…conscription was responsible for most of the volunteering.” Rather than face the onus of conscription, veterans whose enlistments were up re-enlisted, something which was also true for the Union. Keeping effective Confederate armies in the field after 1863 without a conscription act would have been nearly impossible. Davis knew this and was willing to accept the negative political ramifications.
And again like Lincoln, Davis was pragmatic enough to keep his own goal in mind even when it directly conflicted with the underlying basis for his country’s very existence. Facing near-certain defeat in 1865, Davis’ determination for the Confederacy to survive won out over the basic economic, political and moral rationale for his nation, the chief reason the war had begun in the first place: slavery. After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, Davis “…denounced the North’s emancipation and recruitment of slaves as ‘the most execrable measure recorded in the history of guilty man.’” Yet, as previously noted, in March of 1865, President Davis signed a bill to arm slaves to fight for the Confederacy, having recognized that black men were going to either fight with them or against them. There would be time enough to sort out the contradictions when the war was won and the Confederacy was rebuilding itself, but first Davis had to win the war.
The American Civil War was the inevitable showdown between competing philosophies of government that evolved from the same source documents, the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. The two governments elected presidents with little shared background, experience or outlook on life and politics. Yet the resulting war found these fundamentally different men making similar decisions on many important topics, such as taxation, conscription and the suppression of dissent. The solutions they devised were far more similar than different, crafted to suit the nuances of their respective constitutions and constituencies. In the final analysis, then, the war might actually be a reflection not of the differences in the two men and their governments, or the similarities, but rather an illustration of which President and government were best suited to implement those decisions. In this sense, the war might have represented a sort of Political Darwinism to decide which governmental variant on those common documents was best suited for survival in the cauldron of war. And while the South had certain disadvantages that may, or may not, have been inherently fatal, it was not a given that the North would win the war; even today that point is debated. Although coming from very different backgrounds with very different training, Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln made similar decisions to solve similar problems, but in the end it was the United States government that was best suited to carry out those decisions.
1.William C. Davis., Look Away! A History of the Confederate States of America (New York: Scribners, 2002), 26
- James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 429
- Felicity Allen, Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart, Shades of Blue and Grey Series (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 266. One can only wonder what might have happened if Davis had not become President and had retained his high command in the west. Given his fame and influence, it seems likely that he would have been commander at Shiloh instead of Albert Sidney Johnston, but with what results? Could Davis have defended Tennessee better than Johnston? Could he really have done worse?
- The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 1861-1862, Volume V Edited by Roy P. Basler, Assistant Editors Marion Dolores Pratt & Lloyd A. Dunlap, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 20. Although Lincoln was not writing here strictly concerning his executive duties, in something of an unguarded moment he seems to have shown his outlook on where and upon whom ultimate authority lay. A man taking this position would not lightly brook interference.
- Davis, Look Away!, 262
- Allen, Jefferson Davis Unconquerable Heart, 395
- Allan R. Millett & Peter, Maslowski, For the Common Defense, A Military History of the United States of America, Revised & Expanded ( New York: The Free Press, 1994), 210
- Mark Grimsley. The Hard Hand of War, Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians 1861-1865 (New York: Cambridge University Press), 1997, 9
- Grimsley, The Hard Hand of War, 87
- Grimsley, The Hard Hand of War, 210. Grimsley makes it clear that Lincoln was attempting to appeal to Southern moderates and Unionists with this stance but finally realized it was hopeless. Either those people either did not exist in the numbers he had thought, or they were not receiving his message.
- Davis, Look Away!, 166
- Davis, Look Away!, 167
- Gerald E. Linderman, Embattled Courage, The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War, (New York: The Free Press, 1989), 83
- James M. McPherson, For Cause & Comrades, Why Men Fought in the Civil War, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 156
- The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln Volume V, Basler, et al, 436-37
- Millett & Maslowski, For the Common Defense, 211
- William J. Cooper, Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008), 83
- Mark E. Neely, Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism, (Charlottesville, The University of Virginia Press, 1999), 146-147
- Cooper, Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era, 97
- Allen, Jefferson Davis Unconquerable Heart, 377
- Millett & Maslowski, For the Common Defense, 164
- James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, The Civil War Era, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 681
- Davis, Look Away!, 257-258. Davis has an excellent write-up on this issue. The poisonous nature of the command structure of the Army of Tennessee did not offer Davis many choices, but he was not particularly anxious to make one. When Johnston was eventually replaced and Hood took over, it showed the utter bankruptcy of Confederate high command in the West. But Davis’ intractable nature did not allow him the most unbiased view of his choices, either.
- Drew Gilpin Faust, “The Civil War Soldier and the Art of Dying”, The Journal of Southern History (February 1, 2001) http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-71249954/civil-war-soldier-and.html (accessed October 15, 17th , November 1st, 4th, 2010)
- Millett & Maslowski, For the Common Defense, 205-210. The authors have a comprehensive discussion of the whole issue of manpower. Different numbers may be found elsewhere but the overall topic is about as well handled here as anywhere.
- Millett & Maslowski, For the Common Defense, 209
- Millett & Maslowski, For the Common Defense, 210
- Davis, Look Away!, 227
- Albert Burton Moore, Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy, (New York: Hillary House Publishers), 1963, 357
- McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 831 McPherson goes into some detail about the inherent contradictions in this action and the problems that it caused, all of which came far too late to matter.
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