Civil War in a Long War, All Essay

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Civil War

In a long war, all of the economic, financial and population advantages would favor the North since the South was a mostly agrarian region that imported its manufactured goods. Initially, both sides had expected that the war would be short and decisive, although by 1862 it was clear that it might drag on indefinitely. Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and the other Southern leaders realized that their best chance would be to win a series of rapid military victories early in the war then appeal to Britain, France and other European nations for diplomatic recognition. They did not wish to conquer the North nor did they ever imagine that they had the capacity to do so. Their only goal was to gain independence and force the other side to end the war, but the longer it lasted, the more the Union's advantages in population, money, ideology and resources would grind the Confederacy down. They came very close to achieving this is 1861-62, when one Northern general after another was defeated in Virginia in vain attempts to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. In retrospect, though, this was as close as they would ever come to victory.

One of the most important factors that almost guaranteed victory for the North in any long, drawn out war of attrition was its economic strength. In 1860 it had 80% of the industry, 60% of the population and 75% of the wealth and these were disadvantages the South could not overcome. So were over two-thirds of the railroads, along with the industries, mechanics and machine shops that serviced this industry. Except for the Tredegar Works in Richmond, the South simply lacked the capacity to manufacture and repair locomotives, steel rails, artillery and rifles. Most of its manufactured goods had to be imported, and the South was counting on its exports of cotton to finance the war effort and gain diplomatic leverage for its cause (Brinkley 2012). From the start of the war, the Northern political and military leaders realized this was a key weakness, and that the Anaconda Strategy of blockades and seizing major port cities would strangle the Confederate economy. Although the North started off with a relatively small navy, it had the shipyards and finances to build hundreds of ships that the South simply could not match. In 1862, it seized New Orleans, the largest city in the South its major port, and the next year took control of the entire Mississippi River after the capture of Vicksburg. This strategic move cut the Confederacy in two and eliminated much of its capacity to export cotton. Over the next two years, the North captured or blockaded every other major Southern port city, with the last one being Wilmington, North Carolina in early1865, and the Confederate blockade runners, ironclads and commerce raiders built in Europe could not defeat the relentless naval war.

Population and the free labor ideology were key advantages for the North, including its capacity to attract and absorb immigrants and appeal to working class and middle class whites. Of the nine million people in the South, over four million were slaves who were not likely to volunteer to fight for the cause, nor were Confederate leaders eager to arm and train them to fight in the war -- for obvious reasons. On the other hand, the North began to free the slaves and arm them, starting with the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, and this was a strategy the Confederacy could not match. Lincoln did not begin the war with the goal of abolishing slavery, but only to prevent it from expanding any further to the West. He was even willing to offer the South a constitutional amendment to guarantee slavery where it already existed, but this proposal was rejected. Later, he offered compensated emancipation to slaveholders in the Border States, but once again met with refusal. Only then did he turn to the more radical or revolutionary idea of abolishing slavery by…

Sources Used in Document:


Brinkley, A. (2012). American History: A Survey, 14th Edition. McGraw-Hill, Chapters 13 and 14.

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