The Civil War

The Civil War On paper the North was far stronger than the South. It had two and a half times as many people, and it possessed far more ships, miles of railroad, and manufacturing enterprises. Southerners, however, had the advantage of fighting on home ground with better military leadership. But Union superiority in manpower was not so great as the gross figures suggest. Half a million people scattered from Dakota to California, could make no substantial contribution to Union strength. And every year Union regiments were sent to the West to fight Indians.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans in loyal border states and in southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois worked or fought for southern independence. Though, every state furnished men for the other side, there was little doubt that more Federals than Confederates “crossed over.” The South had superior officer personnel. For twenty years before Lincoln’s inauguration, southern officers had dominated the U.S. Army. Another source of southern confidence was cotton.

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Secession leaders expected to exchange that staple for the foreign manufactured goods they needed. The South’s most important advantage was that it had only to defend relatively short interior lines against invaders who had to deal with long lines of communication and to attack a broad front. The Confederacy also had no need to divert fighting men to tasks such as garrisoning captured cities and holding conquered territory. In a short war, numerical superiority would not have made much of a difference. As the war continued, however, numerical strength became a psychological as well as a physical weapon. During the closing years of the conflict, Union armies, massed at last against critical strongholds, suffered terrible casualties but seemed to grow stronger with every defeat.

Any staggering Confederate losses sapped the southern will to fight. Every material advantage of the North was magnified by the fact that the Civil War lasted years instead of months. Money and credit, food production, transport, factories, clothing (boots)–it took time to redirect the economy to the requirements of war, especially because these requirements, like the length of the war, were underestimated.