Trading space for time: the Confederate Army’s strategy revisited

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The American Civil War is the preferred topic of many military historians and other grand strategy practitioners. It has been widely studied from social, political, economic, cultural, and military perspectives. A lot of books and articles focus on the reasons for the Unionists’ victory or the Confederates’ defeat. The thesis of the superiority in resources and manpower of the North has been the main explanation for a long time. Other works, like this paper, concentrate on strategy. The years before the start of the Civil War were characterized by great fervor concerning military strategy. The actions of Napoleon and the works of Clausewitz and Jomini had been influencing military thinking from the nineteenth century onwards, with the latter being a particularly strong influence in the United States. I argue that Confederate generalship, in particular General Robert E. Lee’s, had an excessively aggressive posture. The focus on relentless offensives caused the depletion of the already limited resources and men of the Confederacy. I suggest that a defensive posture could have been more successful for the South. In particular, a defense-in-depth strategy would have allowed the Confederacy to trade space for time and, eventually, to exhaust the Union army and resources. I claim that through skilled use of Virginia’s geographic features, the Confederate army could have created multiple defensive zones along a trenched front with strongholds positioned in various points for coverage and far and wide defense, leading to strong resistance, thus enhancing its chances for victory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-98
Number of pages9
JournalThe Student Strategy and Security Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • American Civil War
  • Defense-in-depth
  • Antoine-Henry Jomini
  • Gen. Robert E. Lee


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