How Jefferson Davis' Mistakes Failed the Confederacy

Updated on December 14, 2016
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty. After the smoke clears, it is easy to see where everyone stands and how it could have turned out differently. The Civil War is one of the most discussed in that manner. If one decision was made differently, it could have changed the outcome.

After the fact, one can easily point out where Jefferson Davis made his mistakes and how the Confederacy lost the war. There was no one reason why the South lost. It was a culmination of actions. Starting in the West, Davis found himself regretting many of his decisions that would become fateful for the newly created nation. At the time, he thought he was doing right by those around him and the South as a whole, but in the end, they helped to destroy the Confederacy. The main ones are discussed below.

Mistake #1

The first mistake Davis made was in making his friends commanders. Rewarding them as you advance in power is one thing. To put them in charge of critical decisions...maybe not such a good thing.

One such mistake was with Joseph Johnston as the commander of the Western theater of the Confederacy military. Though successful in withdrawals, it became obvious that the lack of offensive moves on Johnston's part hurt the Confederacy. Instead of pushing the initiative when he had the chance, Johnston elected instead to pull back. This left many opportunities unexplored by the South which in turn only allowed the Union to grow stronger. Davis only pulled Johnston from leadership when pushed to do so.

If Davis would have pulled Johnston out of command earlier, the South might have had a different result in the West which would, in turn, have impacted the Eastern theater. Add that with other poor choices such as Polk, the Western theater was practically doomed. Davis was too slow in responding to poor performance and let friendship come before leadership.


Mistake #2

Davis was one to also try to defend all of the South at once. When added with poor appointee decisions as in Johnston as western theater commander, this was crippling to the Confederacy. It was just impossible to do.

The South had limited resources. That is always listed as one of the reasons the South lost the war. It was the North that had the supplies needed to win such a large military action. Davis spread what little resources the South had over the entire South instead of pooling them together to protect more vital and strategic locations. Davis crippled the South by looking at the whole instead of the parts that had to be defended at that moment.

This further weakened the Confederacy, giving the Union a more decided edge against them. Davis should have been more deliberate in what areas to defend in the West as well as where to attack.

In wanting to protect all, he risked losing it all. Sentiment overran strategy.


Mistake #3

Third, Davis had trouble focusing on the Western theater. Because he was personally attending to defending the entire South, he could not focus on everything before him. This meant that sections were neglected at times. The Western front would find itself the focus of Davis and the military at one point and then practically ignored at others. The time between the Battle of Shiloh and Davis' visit to the West was a period of neglect of the Western theater. Opportunities were again missed.

He willing gave friends the ability to be commanders but refused to let any help defend the South.The Civil War was not a simple war. A lot was going on at one time which meant it needed to be looked at in pieces and not as a whole. Davis couldn't see the sections for wanting to protect it all.

Too Much

Davis seemed to have bitten off more than he could chew. Trying to stay loyal to friends at time outweighed loyalty to the Confederacy. He wanted to protect all of the South and was unwilling to let any part go in order to protect the whole.He could not comprehend losing a small part in order to win the war. In the end, it would be his undoing.

Davis also had his own focus pulled in too many directions. The Western theater had such promise for the South, but it was not appreciated in time.


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