In my opinion, even with the many scenarios that could have possibly played out, the Union’s victory over the Confederacy was pretty much always going to happen.
By early 1865, it was pretty obvious to everyone but the most die hard members of the Confederacy that they were inevitably going to lose the war. Now, whether that loss was actually inevitable is somewhat of an insoluble question, but considering some “what if” type of scenarios has been a popular practice among historians, writers and Civil War buffs for a long time, and I’ll give some examples of these what-ifs and their counterpoints. To really investigate those what-ifs, historians often use a concept known as contingency, but the issue with each what-if scenario is that although they’re seemingly convincing, they ultimately fall apart under the weight of contradictory facts. For example, one of the most common scenarios centers on the actions of General Robert E. Lee.
Some have said that one of the causes of the Confederacy’s defeat was his aggressiveness in the war, suggesting that if he had had a more defensive strategy, or even carried out more of a guerrilla warfare style after the battle at Appomattox, maybe he could have held the North at bay until they got tired of the conflict and decided to negotiate something. But was that really a possibility considering what the Southern’s expected? From historical evidence, southerners were convinced that they were far superior soldiers, and they really expected their armies to defeat the enemy on the battlefield. Politically, General Lee couldn’t have adopted a complete defensive strategy because his people would not have stood for it. Guerrilla warfare wasn’t an option either because events in Tennessee, Missouri, and other areas where guerrillas fought during the war pretty clearly showed how such a harsh style of warfare ruined entire areas and broke down morale. There just simply wouldn’t have been enough popular support of it to really sustain such a strategy for long. Another example would be the Confederacy’s defeat being blamed on King Cotton diplomacy.
The scenario is that if the Confederates had sent as much cotton as they possibly could to Europe before the blockade happened, instead of hoarding it to create a shortage, they could have maybe established “lines of credit to purchase war material”. This argument is true from what I’ve read, but it ultimately misses the point. While the Confederacy did suffer very severe shortages by the middle of the war, they never lost a battle because of a shortage of guns, bullets, or other war supplies. They did lose battles though because of a shortage of men, and a badly broken-down railway system which made it very difficult to move men and supplies to important places. The north had a far larger population and superior transportation, so it really was a lost cause from the southerners. And cotton diplomacy wouldn’t have expanded the size of the rebel army, and the Union blockade would have just prevented the importation of iron and other supplies to build a railroad no matter how much credit the Confederacy could have gotten from the Europeans.