Military


War of Northern Agression
War Between The States
Civil War

The South seceded to defend slavery and the North went to war to stop secession. The South favored free trade and the North didn’t, so tariffs are rightfully considered an important secondary cause of the war. No one ever argued that slavery was the only issue, but it was the cause of the war. The question was which section would win the American future by spreading its system west, giving its political representatives a lock on power at the Federal level. After the war began many Southerners fought in self-defense since the Union Army invaded their region.

The American Civil War is one of the most written-about events in history, and in many ways it is the most thoroughly “known" already. Any place in the United States there was a battle, visitors encounter some phenomenally knowledgeable (and equally opinionated) local who knows the terrain of that battlefield to within the last inch and who can tell the precise development of the fighting to within a minute. Breaking out of the intense localism of such historiography allows breaking out of the tendency to isolate the war in place and time. The challenge for an introduction to this complex topic is to provide enough structure and detail to provide an overview of the War, without getting lost in an overwhelming mass of detail.

When Abraham Lincoln, a known opponent of slavery, was elected president, the South Carolina legislature perceived a threat. Calling a state convention, the delegates voted to remove the state of South Carolina from the union known as the United States of America. The secession of South Carolina was followed by the secession of six more states -- Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas -- and the threat of secession by four more -- Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. These eleven states eventually formed the Confederate States of America.

The North faced a demanding and complex political problem, namely to reassert its authority over a vast territorial empire, far too extensive to be completely occupied or thoroughly controlled. Furthermore, President Lincoln recognized that Northern popular resolve might be limited and established rapid victory as a condition as well. In an effort to placate the slave-holding border states, Lincoln resisted the demands of radical Republicans for complete abolition. In 1861, Congress had passed an act stating that all slaves employed against the Union were to be considered free. In 1862, another act stated that all slaves of men who supported the Confederacy were to be considered free.

Lincoln's original policy of conciliation having failed, the President opted for the unconditional surrender of the South as the only acceptable aim. Lincoln's search for a general who would devise a strategy to attain his aim ended with Grant in March 1864.

By comparison, the South's policy aim was to preserve its newly declared independence. The South's strategic aim was simply to prevent the North from succeeding, to make the endeavor more costly than the North was willing to bear. The South's policy objectives would seem to dictate a military strategy of erosion aimed at prolonging the war as a means to breaking Northern resolve. In fact, this was the strategy preferred by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Such a strategy would require close coordination of the Southern armies and a careful husbanding of the Confederacy's inferior resources. In practice, however, no Southern general in chief was appointed until Lee's appointment in early 1865. No doubt it was in part because of the Confederacy's basic political philosophy of states' rights that the military resources of the various Southern states were poorly distributed. Campaigns in the various theaters of war were conducted almost independently.

Modern historians call the Civil War the "first modern war" in American history. During this time, factories in the North produced guns and supplies for the war effort; railroads crisscrossed the country moving supplies and armies; generals used the telegraph to communicate over large distances; and a new ironclad navy driven by steam power blockaded the south. The scope of the struggle increased the power of industry and government in the North and led to the destruction of large areas of the South as the armies marched back and forth.

US President Abraham Lincoln declared a naval blockade on the Confederacy in April 1861 to prevent its shipments of cotton to European powers. The blockade covered the seaports along the southern Atlantic coast below Washington, DC, and extended along the Gulf coast to the Mexican border. The transport of the armaments to the Confederacy was made possible by the lucrative cotton trade that tempted blockade-runners to pierce the Union blockade for potential profits of 300 percent to 500 percent per voyage. The blockade-runners would offload cotton at the British islands of Nassau and Bermuda off the Confederate coast in exchange for armaments. Although the Union increased its number of blockaders, especially steam vessels, their effectiveness was hampered by the lack of coal and maintenance problems. British-built war ships, most notably the C.S.S. Alabama, destroyed much of the Northern merchant marine. Cotton had financed the construction of the war ships. It was the Union capture of southern ports, more than the blockade, that reduced the Confederate cotton-armaments trade. The last port, Wilmington, North Carolina, was taken in January 1865.

The North won because it had more resources and mobilized those resources better than the South. The Union had 3.5 million males of military age - 18 to 45 - as compared to 1 million for the South. About 75 percent of Southern males fought the war, as compared to about half of Northern men. By 1860, 90 percent of the nation's manufacturing output came from northern states. The North produced 17 times more cotton and woolen textiles than the South, 30 times more leather goods, 20 times more pig iron, and 32 times more firearms. The North produced 3,200 firearms to every 100 produced in the South.

As both the North and the South mobilized for war, the relative strengths and weaknesses of the "free market" and the "slave labor" economic systems became increasingly clear - particularly in their ability to support and sustain a war economy. The Union's industrial and economic capacity soared during the war as the North continued its rapid industrialization to suppress the rebellion. In the South, a smaller industrial base, fewer rail lines, and an agricultural economy based upon slave labor made mobilization of resources more difficult. As the war dragged on, the Union's advantages in factories, railroads, and manpower put the Confederacy at a great disadvantage.

For African Americans the conclusion of the Civil War meant freedom from slavery. With the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, African Americans were guaranteed their civil rights on an equal basis with white Americans. Thomas Jefferson's words stated in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 "that all men are created equal" now had meaning for millions of Americans that had been excluded from the social compact.

Lincoln believed that the North must avoid harshness and give the South as little offense as possible and then only against the military, not the civilian populace. That approach, he thought, would preserve the possiblity of a friendly reunion without painful memories of embarrassment or punishment promoted or inflicted by the North.

In the post war years the popularization by Confederate veterans organizations of the Battle Flag as a symbol of the South, was intended to represent the valour of the Southern soldier, rather than the Confederacy's political aims, which would have been represented by one of the old national flags. In recent years, some organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans have adopted the "Stars and Bars", in an attempt to counter the racist message associated with the Battle Flag.

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