The Stars and Bars might yet wave, if only someone could have convinced Robert E. Lee not to attempt all those frontal assaults on heavily defended positions.
Alexander, having previously pondered the business of military success (How Wars Are Won, 2002, etc.) and how wars could have turned out otherwise (How Hitler Could Have Won World War II, 2000), begins by observing that as a general Lee “was vastly superior to all of the Union commanders who came against him.” Yet at Gettysburg and elsewhere, he insisted on the brute-force tactics of throwing men against fortified lines in the hope of frightening the enemy into running, which may have worked in an earlier century but, toward the end of the war, did not phase the better-armed and vastly more numerous federals. Against Union commanders who, until Grant arrived on the scene, were content to stay behind their fortifications, Lee could have made different choices. Alexander wonders why the Confederates did not move on Washington after the rout that was First Manassas, a tactic that could have ended the war. Another counterfactual: Had Stonewall Jackson not died, he might have carried off a later move on Washington, and in all events would have warned Lee not to throw away his army at Pickett’s Charge. Interestingly, Alexander observes, William Tecumseh Sherman seems to have had an epiphany somewhere that led him to borrow Jackson’s style, another turning point in the war. Alexander has a firm command of the military aspects of the struggle. Yet, as recent books such as David J. Eicher’s Dixie Betrayed (2006) argue, the war was lost as much politically as militarily, and on that Alexander is largely silent.
Still, Civil War buffs will learn a thing or two from Alexander’s considerations of events.