Why the South Lost the War

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“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.” These words, spoken by Abraham Lincoln during his campaign to be a senator from Illinois, ring eerily true with the truth about the country’s uncertain future. Only three short years after Lincoln gave this speech, civil war would break out between the northern and southern states, and it would end four years later with the South running away with its tail between its legs. Why did the South lose the war? The South entered into the Civil War unprepared to fight and, ultimately, was starting a fight it was destined to lose. In the end, there were five factors that led to the defeat of the South: The fundamental economic superiority of the North, a basic lack of sound military strategy strategy in the way the South fought the war, the inept Southern performance in foreign affairs, lack of a dominating civilian leader in the South, and President Abraham Lincoln (Hersch, 2002). The first contributing factor to the South’s loss of the war is the fact that the North had a fundamentally sturdier and superior economy. Economically, the Civil War was not a contest between equals. The South had no factories to produce guns or ammunition, and its railroads were small and not interconnected, meaning that it was hard for the South to move food, weapons, and men quickly over long distances. In addition, though agriculture thrived in the South, planters focused on cash crops like tobacco and cotton and did not produce enough food crops to feed the southern population (“Economy” 2004). The North, on the other hand, had enough food and enough factories to make weapons for all of its soldiers. It also had an extensive rail network that could transport men and weapons rapidly and cheaply. At first, this superiority of the North didn't seem to make much of a difference. Like many wars in history, those involved thought it would be over quickly. However, northern logistical capabilities would prove crucial as the war dragged on (“Economy” 2004). The second reason for Southern defeat was the fact that the South simply lacked any sort of coherent strategy, military of otherwise. Inferior strategies employed by the South included: the defense of Richmond, the defense of the coastal areas, gaining the Border States into the Confederacy, the "offensive defense" of taking the war into Maryland and Pennsylvania, blockade running and privateers, as well as efforts to gain diplomatic recognition (or assistance) from Britain and/or France (Resch, 2005). The South utilized the few resources it had effectively, but the Southern railroads could not keep up to the demands placed on it, unlike the Northern railroads, which grew during the war. These several problems hindered the South greatly in winning the war. One might stop and wonder why the South was not more proactive in finding solutions to these problems, but the answer is obvious: the South simply did not have the centralized power structure and decision makers necessary to remedy its struggling economy (Resch, 2005). Thirdly, the South struggled greatly in the area of foreign affairs. The South constantly attempted to become recognized by other nations as its own independent power, but over the course of the war not a single foreign nation would formally recognize the Confederacy. One such country was Britain. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was officially neutral throughout the American Civil War, 1861-65 (Harrison, 2005). The Confederate strategy for securing independence was largely based on British and French military intervention, which never happened; however intervention would have meant war with the United States. A serious conflict between Britain and the United...
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