Union and Confederate Advantages
The Union certainly had considerable advantages. There were 22 million people in the North compared with only 9 million in the South (of whom only 5.5 million were whites). The North had a much greater industrial capacity. In 1860 Northern states produced 97 per cent of the USA’s firearms and 94 per cent of its pig iron. Even in agriculture the North enjoyed an edge. The Confederacy hoped to make good its lack of materials by trading with Europe, but the Union used its naval strength to impose an increasingly tight blockade. The Union was further aided by the fact that four slave states – Delaware, Missouri, Maryland and Kentucky – remained loyal to the Union. Nor were all the people within the 11 Confederate states committed to the Confederate cause. Pockets of Unionism existed, especially in the Appalachian Mountains. Slaves were also a potential fifth column. Throughout the war there was a steady flow of blacks fleeing to Union armies. The North converted first their labour and eventually their military manpower into a Union asset. Nevertheless, in 1861 most Southerners thought that the Confederacy was favourite to win the war. The Confederacy’s sheer size – 750,000 square miles – was a major asset, making if difficult to blockade, occupy and conquer. Confederate forces did not have to invade the North: they simply needed to defend. The fire-power of the rifle-musket meant that battlefield tactics now favoured the defender. The Union, having no option but to attack, was bound to suffer heavy casualties. Southerners hoped that Northern opinion might come to question high losses. If Northern will collapsed, the Confederacy would win by default. Geography gave the Confederacy an important strategic advantage. In the crucial theatre of the war – North Virginia – a series of rivers provided a barrier to Union armies intent on capturing Richmond, the Confederate capital. Slavery, which might seem to be a Confederate weakness, enabled the South to enlist more of its white manpower than the North. The Confederacy also had important psychological advantages. Southerners were defending their own land and homes – a fact that may have encouraged them to fight that much harder than Northerners, who were fighting for the more abstract pursuit of reunion. In 1861 most Southerners were confident that, man for man, they were better soldiers than Northerners. The ante-bellum South placed more emphasis on martial virtues than the North. In 1860 most of the military colleges in the USA were in slave states. The elite of the nation’s generals had all been Southerners. Most military experts assumed that farmers, who knew how to ride and shoot, made better soldiers than industrial workers. Confederate victory in the first major battle at Manassas seemed to confirm this assumption. Missed Confederate Opportunities
At many stages, events on the battlefield might have gone differently. Historians stress different moments when the Confederacy was either unlucky or missed opportunities. Confederate forces might have been more pro-active after First Manassas. The Trent Affair could have brought Britain into the war on the Confederate side. Had Stonewall Jackson been up to par in June-July 1862 Lee might have triumphed even more spectacularly in the Seven Days battles. Who knows what would have happened had Lee’s battle orders not fallen into Union hands in Maryland in September 1862?
The Confederacy had its chances in 1863. Given more inspired generalship, Grant might have failed to capture Vicksburg. Lee might have done better at Gettysburg, especially if Stonewall Jackson had not been killed at Chancellorsville. There were still good opportunities for the Confederacy in 1864. Lincoln’s re-election in November 1864 very much depended on (belated) military success. The alternative was a victory for the Democrat party, parts of which were committed to peace. Perhaps President Davis might have taken up General...
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