And The South Rose: 4 Hypothetical Scenarios if the Confederacy Won the Civil War

Reader's Digest

As much fun as it is to discuss historical facts, it is arguably more fun to imagine different hypothetical outcomes. We know that the North won the American Civil War but what if the South had emerged victorious? According to Abraham Lincoln, it was a war that didn’t just determine the future of the U.S.; it would also decide the future of mankind.

Although this might seem like hyperbole on Honest Abe’s part at first, deeper thought suggests he was not that far off the mark. That American history would be irrevocably changed isn’t debatable. Slavery would have continued in some form for years, if not decades, after the conflict. While some may argue that the USA is more like the Divided States of America in the modern era, this schism would have been even more marked in the event of a Confederate victory.

Then there is the issue of world history. The United States became embroiled in a number of wars; most notably World War II where its intervention played a significant role in the Allied victory. If a Confederated States of America (CSA) lasted that long, how would it impact the outcome of WWII and indeed the other wars the U.S. was ultimately embroiled in?

While it is unlikely that the South could have won via unconditional surrender, it was possible for them to fight to a stalemate and negotiate a settlement whereby the South seceded from the Union to form the CSA. The whole ‘how could the South have won the Civil War’ question will be answered in more detail at another date. However, a victory at Antietam could have shifted momentum in the South’s favor. Further poor performance by the North under Lincoln could theoretically have led to the election of Gerald McClellan as President in 1864. Although some historians disagree, McClellan may have sued for peace to end the war.

In this article, I will look at 4 possible scenarios which look at what America might have looked like had the Confederates defeated the Union. For the sake of argument, scenario #3 will briefly include an alternate history where the South achieved an unlikely military victory.

Please note that these are scenarios and as such, they are simply speculation. As none of the following situations ever occurred, we can’t say for sure whether they could have happened let alone would have happened. I invite readers to comment and offer their scenarios as we get a debate going. Let’s start!

  • Tom Doss III

    I will address just one thing that is wrong in this analysis: The South would have become an economic powerhouse because the crippling tariffs imposed by the Union would would not have been present in the harbors of the lower southern coast, Galveston, and especially New Orleans. A huge amount of traffic would prefer those ports and not those of the North, especially New York.

    • Riley Hall

      No it wouldn’t have, because most European countries ended up replacing Southern Cotton with Egyptian. The South’s biggest export would have been of far, far less value.

    • Grei Walker

      It’s also interesting that the entire premise is based on two logical fallacies; 1 – That the war was actually necessary to end slavery in the United States. 2 – That the South would’ve never adapted its economy beyond cotton, or even farming in general.

  • Mark Symms

    Good thought provoking article. My theory is that if the South had won at Antietam, a whole other scenario that would be the four times the South could have won, slavery would have been over by the late 1880’s like Brazil. Relations with the European countries would have given us an aparthied like system. I fear that in this scenario, Huey Long and his brown shirts subdue the other parties in the Confederacy in the 1930’s depression era. Huey then aligns with other Facists and we have WWII right in our own back yard. Every man a king is pretty powerful to someone scrambling to feed his family. The South would have probably lost this war and it would have been just as ugly as the Dresden bombings. Civilians would have been targeted too.

    • Patrick Lynch

      Thanks for the comment Mark; and for your own input; that is one grim scenario!

    • Luke Sandman

      Gettysburg could have possibly flipped the entire conflict on its head even after Antietam. Not saying that it was not a pivotal battle, just that Gettysburg was the point of no return

  • Luke Sandman

    This is must be the most rediculous thing I have ever forced myself to read, just to see how stupid it would get. How is it that someone gets to spew this crap and claim it as even speculation??? This individual references “slave revolts” that were 70 years apart, if it was 10 or less (or at least within a generation) I could understand it’s train of thought. And saying that once the war broke out, there was no “certainty of freedom” that is the biggest crock of S#!T I have ever read. How about helping the men that are dying for your freedom…. wouldn’t that be swell, or maybe even fight for it yourself??? Thinking like this is what is wrong with the United States today. Somewhere along the line someone has to actually fight for the freedoms they seek. You used to have to earn your place at the big-boy table, now we give out participation trophys, and wonder why we cant have an election without the losing side’s supporters looting and rioting on metropolitan areas.

    PS…. Sorry, I was wrong to say 70 years apart, it was roughly 61. Someone Google the life expectancy in the 1850-1870 timeframe and see what you get.