Civil War Talk Radio: March 13, 2009

by Brett Schulte on March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Air Date: 031309
Subject: What if the Confederacy Had Won?
Book: The Confederate States of America: What Might Have Been
Guest: Roger L. Ransom

Summary: Roger Ransom talks about counterfactual history, specifically what might have happened if the Confederacy had won the Civil War.

Brett’s Summary: Civil War Talk Radio has a new home for information on the episodes, http://www.cwtr.org.  Gerry recently put up a description of how to find past shows in the archives at this site.

Ransom is an expert on the economic history of the Civil War, according to Gerry’s lead-in.  He just retired as a Professor of History and Economics at the University of California Riverside but he still teaches.  He has been at the school for 40 years.  Gerry points out that sometimes economic and history professors do not interact on topics as much as they should.  He asked Roger Ransom about the economics of slavery, who was one of the first economists to look at that question.  The bottom line was that slave owners were making money and that slavery WAS profitable.  Ransom believes slavery would have died out eventually when the cotton boom came to an end.

The first counterfactual Ransom looks at in the book is whether the war was inevitable or whether blundering politicians brought it upon the country.  Ransom believes the war might not have been inevitable, but a Southern attempt at secession probably was, partly due to economics and the cotton boom.

The second portion of the episode starts with Ransom’s second question, which asks if the South could have won the Civil War.  Ransom mentions his need to combat Lost Cause mindsets which refuse to believe the South could have ever possibly won.  Gerry points out that Ransom doesn’t base his argument on any one single battle being won.  Rather, he says that the South would have needed to win the war early rather than late.  First he has Nathan Bedford Forrest take more men with him in his escape from Fort Donelson.  This might have allowed Forrest to slow up Buell and cause Grant to fight at Shiloh alone.  He says Shiloh is an early turning point since the South needed to hold the West in order to have a chance.  A Confederate victory at Shiloh would have held back Union invasions for a longer time.  Next, he points to Antietam not as a major Confederate victory (which he calls impossible), but rather says “what if McClellan hadn’t found Lee’s orders?”  He sees a slower McClellan with Lee having more time to do what he wanted, taking away any claim to Union victory and with it the Emancipation Proclamation.

Gerry interjected to point out these counterfactual scenarios remind him somewhat of playing war games and changing history slightly.  Ransom says that although he is not that into war games or detailed military history, he DOES love to look at strategy and how small changes could greatly change campaigns enough to change a war.

Talk turned to the small changes Ransom makes at Gettysburg at the end of the second and the beginning of the third.  He says, “what if the South has taken Culp’s Hill?”  This prevents the Union from forming their incredibly strong fishhook line, and Ransom changes this to a small Federal defeat.  The campaign of 1863 continues north of the Potomac.

These delays push back the Federal invasion of 1864 in the East, and Lincoln loses the election of 1864 to Horatio Seymour.  Ransom says Lincoln losing the election is everything and causes the war to end.  These small changes all delay the Union invasion enough for Lincoln to lose.

Gerry asked Dr. Ransom if he had seen the film C.S.A. and he had.  Ransom also discusses Harry Turtledove and calls it “alternative history” rather than “counterfactual history”.  His issue with C.S.A. is that the South completely conquers the North, something totally absurd and unreasonable to expect.  What Ransom likes about C.S.A. is what it says about some portions and tendencies of our society.

Throughout the program, Ransom compares the housing collapse of today to an eventual collapse of slavery when the cotton boom ended.  He says he wishes sometimes his book had been written after the housing bust because it does work so well in comparison to gradual emancipation.  Ransom believes slaves would have suffered even more had no war been fought.

As the hour ended, the two professors discussed the fallout for world history resulting from a Confederate victory.  He, like Turtledove, has the two American countries joining different sides in World War I.

This sounds like a fascinating book, and one which I will be purchasing as a result of listening to this show.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC.

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