A frequently, and sometimes hotly, discussed subject; the outcome of the American Civil War has fascinated historians for generations. Some argue that the North's economic advantages proved too much for the South, others that Southern strategy was faulty, offensive when it should have been defensive, and vice-versa. Internal division in the South is often referred to, and complaints made against Davis' somewhat makeshift, inexperienced, government. Doubts are sometimes raised over the commitment of Southerners to a cause many of them were half-hearted about. Many historians have argued that the South lost the will to fight long before defeat was inevitable. However, many of these criticisms could easily be applied to the North, had the outcome been different, and a simple superiority in resources is an insufficient explanation, when one considers the many examples in history, not least the American War of Independence, when a weaker defender has kept a far stronger attacker at bay. There were four distinct turning points in the war which led ultimately to Southern defeat. However, while a presentation of the war's events and key points may explain how the South lost the Civil War, it fails to explain why they lost. Why did the Southern war effort fail at three key stages?
The North's superiority in manpower and resources must not be omitted in any answer to this question. Lincoln had at his disposal a population of 22,000,000, compared with a Southern population of 9,000,000, which included 3,500,000 slaves whom they dared not arm. This provided a far larger base from which to draw troops, although it has been suggested that Southerners were keener to join up than their Union counterparts. Furthermore, in terms of resources, the Union advantage was huge: New York alone produced manufactures of a value four times greater than the total Southern output; the North had a virtual monopoly on heavy industries; coal, iron, clothing, armaments, shipyards, machine shops - all were plentiful in the North and scarce in the South. The Union infrastructure was far better, with twice the density of railroads, and several times the mileage of canals and well-surfaced roads. Most shipping was carried out in Northern vessels, and the South had few shipyards, and only one machine shop capable of building an engine for a respectable warship.
However, the ingenuity of many Southern officers compensated somewhat for her material disadvantages. Not once did a Southern army surrender for want of ammunition, and despite being in terrible disrepair, the Confederacy's railroads somehow fulfilled their task of transporting troops to battle on several notable occasions. Historian Edward Pollard commented that 'something more than numbers make armies', and Southern leader P G T Beauregard remarked that the outcome could not be explained by 'mere material constraints'. Furthermore, the South had several clear advantages at the start of the war. Firstly, fighting on home ground was easier since supply lines were shorter, natives friendlier, and knowledge of the climate and terrain better. The vast area of the Confederacy made occupation by an invader virtually impossible, and the coastline with its many inlets and bays made for difficult blockading. Secondly, most of the US Army's best leaders were Southerners, so, at the start at least, the Confederacy had superior leadership in battle. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, military historians reckon that attacking in this period required thrice the manpower that defending did, virtually wiping out the North's demographic advantages. It would seem, therefore, that although the North's superior resources undoubtedly helped, this alone does not fully account for the Southern defeat.
Another view is that the South lost through bad conduct of the war. These criticisms fall into two main categories, military and political. There were four main shortcomings in the economic...
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