Since today is the sesquicentennial of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, I thought this quote from Jame’s Mcpherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom on the Union victory might be appropriate:
“Most attempts to explain southern defeat or northern victory lack the dimension of contingency-the recognition that at numerous critical points during the war things might have gone altogether differently…Northern victory and southern defeat in the war cannot be understood apart from the contingency that hung over every campaign, every battle, every election, every decision during the war.”
Page 858, taken from the 1988 Oxford Press version.
I’m not entirely certain I agree *entirely* with this statement, as I’m not sure the ‘fallacy of reversibility’ McPherson describes earlier (if you don’t know what that is, feel free to ask) is *that* devastating to alternate explanations of the war’s outcome. Still, I think he raises an excellent point–the triumph of the Union was hardly foreordained or inevitable. No matter how much more money and materiel one side of a war may have, and even if it was fighting for the right thing (which I believe the Union was), its chances of victory ride not on fate, or some “inexorable” force of history, but on the strength and courage of its fighting men…and a whole lot of luck.