[April 9, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of The Civil War’s end. In rememberance of the war, I’m reposting an article that I wrote in college for one of my classes. I did so well in writing this, that I got to present it at an honors conference. Over the next week I will write some articles possibly about John Brown, Lincoln or the bloodiest battles of the war.]
In the decades before the Civil War, America was separated into two unique nations. The North was urbanized and industrialized and did not fully rely on agricultural production. The South, however, stayed true to their tradition of an agricultural life which relied heavily on the slave labor force. This way of life was very lucrative for the southern economy and there were no signs that the South would simply annihilate it to please antislavery groups. By the 1850’s, there was much tension. The North and antislavery groups were afraid of southern power and denounced them for the immoral system of slavery that controlled their society. The South was annoyed at how the North attacked their way of life, because slavery kept their society together. The South argued that the slaves were happy with their living conditions. The tensions finally mounted during “Bleeding Kansas,” when antislavery northerners and proslavery southerners battled to the death. War was imminent, but did the South have the necessary tools to wage a full scale war?
After the southern states seceded, they met and created the Confederacy in Montgomery, Alabama. They rushed and improved industry on a small scale, in order to produce sufficient war materials so they could defend themselves. However, in comparison to the North, according to James McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom, “the Confederacy had only one-ninth the industrial capacity of the Union. Northern states had manufactured 97% of the country’s firearms in 1860, 94% of its cloth, 93% of its pig iron and more than 90% of its boots and shoes.” (318) The industrial power of the North clearly was superior and had more of an advantage for full scale war production over the Confederacy. In reference to the major Confederate weaknesses in addition to limited industry, my Civil War Professor Dr. Timothy Zeman stated, “the infrastructure of the South was weak in that its rail system was not well developed, and their dependence on a cotton economy crippled their effort at producing sufficient supplies for their armies. Even when they did produce those supplies, they were unable to get them to their men in the field.” I agree with this statement in that their war materials and internal improvements simply were not enough for full scale war. They had to scrape together whatever they had available to them in an effort to continue the war. Several examples of this are when they melted church bells down for cannons and swept battlefields for bullet casings to be melted down and used again. They also sent some daring southern men undercover in Europe where they acquired gunpowder, guns, ammunition and ships. This lack of supplies became an issue when the Confederacy recruited a large amount of men to fight, but because there were not enough supplies to go around, men were often turned away.
The South was clearly feeling the ill effects of war even from the very start. Southern society started to fall apart because many of the soldiers who went to war were farmers and they left the care of their land in the hands of their wives. These farmers eventually lost their land to speculators who took advantage of this opportunity, because women virtually had no property rights. Women also had to rely on a market, which was not on steady footing, where extortionist hiked up prices on necessities based on market value. Inflation was widespread and the Confederate economy declined. Nothing was going right for the Confederacy and the sheer presence of speculators and extortionist clearly showed that their society was not united in their efforts to work through the difficulties that war had inflicted on them. Based on Confederate disunity and numerous losses on the battlefield, the South believed that God was punishing them for the immorality of slavery. The Confederacy lacked all the tools necessary for a full scale war and it was apparent that they could not match the Union’s strength. The Confederacy was doomed from the start by refusing to participate in an industrial and market economy and this is one of the major reasons why the Confederates lost the Civil War.