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Northern opposition to the Civil War took various forms. Among the more extreme abolitionists, the United States Constitution was considered irretrievably defective and the idea of fighting a war to keep the slaveholding South in the Union under the terms of the Constitution was anathema.
On the other side, the Copperheads believed that the war was simply not worth winning, if possible at all, and that the Union should arrive at the quickest possible settlement on whatever terms the Confederacy was willing to accept.
34c. The Northern Homefront
At age 12, with $100 in borrowed money, "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt began building a shipping and railroad empire. He died the richest man in America.
After initial setbacks, most Northern civilians experienced an explosion of wartime production .
During the war, coal and iron production reached their highest levels. Merchant ship tonnage peaked. Traffic on the railroads and the Erie Canal rose over 50%.
Union manufacturers grew so profitable that many companies doubled or tripled their dividends to stockholders. The newly rich built lavish homes and spent their money extravagantly on carriages, silk clothing and jewelry. There was a great deal of public outrage that such conduct was unbecoming or even immoral in time of war. What made this lifestyle even more offensive was that workers' salaries shrank in real terms due to inflation. The price of beef, rice and sugar doubled from their pre-war levels, yet salaries rose only half as fast as prices &mdash while companies of all kinds made record profits.
The U.S. Army's regulations allowed four laundresses in each camp, although men did their own laundry in the field. Sometimes soldiers' wives performed this duty for their husbands' regiments.
Women's roles changed dramatically during the war. Before the war, women of the North already had been prominent in a number of industries, including textiles, clothing and shoe-making. With the conflict, there were great increases in employment of women in occupations ranging from government civil service to agricultural field work. As men entered the Union army, women's proportion of the manufacturing work force went from one-fourth to one-third. At home, women organized over one thousand soldiers' aid societies, rolled bandages for use in hospitals and raised millions of dollars to aid injured troops.
Nowhere was their impact felt greater than in field hospitals close to the front. Dorothea Dix, who led the effort to provide state hospitals for the mentally ill, was named the first superintendent of women nurses and set rigid guidelines. Clara Barton , working in a patent office, became one of the most admired nurses during the war and, as a result of her experiences, formed the American Red Cross .
Rioters in New York often targeted African Americans. This scene from a contemporary newspaper shows rioters burning down the African American orphanage.
Resentment of the draft was another divisive issue. In the middle of 1862, Lincoln called for 300,000 volunteer soldiers. Each state was given a quota, and if it could not meet the quota, it had no recourse but to draft men into the state militia. Resistance was so great in some parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana that the army had to send in troops to keep order. Tempers flared further over the provision that allowed exemptions for those who could afford to hire a substitute.
In 1863, facing a serious loss of manpower through casualties and expiration of enlistments, Congress authorized the government to enforce conscription , resulting in riots in several states. In July 1863, when draft offices were established in New York to bring new Irish workers into the military, mobs formed to resist. At least 74 people were killed over three days. The same troops that had just triumphantly defeated Lee at Gettysburg were deployed to maintain order in New York City.
The very first abolitionist demonstration in America took place in 1688. A group of brave Quakers gathered in Germantown, Pennsylvania, to voice their religious objections to the slave trade. At first, few people paid much attention to the Quakers' calls for an end to slavery. During the eighteenth century, however, a growing number of people living in the American colonies looked at slavery with a more critical eye. Free blacks like Episcopal church leader Absalom Jones (1746–1818), businessman James Forten (1766–1842), and Methodist bishop Richard Allen (1760–1831) lobbied tirelessly for the freedom of their race, and some white people—religious leaders and politicians as well as ordinary citizens—expressed reservations about "the peculiar institution," as slavery was sometimes called. Slavery remained common across the colonies, but discomfort with the practice became more evident.
By the end of the 1700s, when America became an independent nation, slavery in the North was fading away. Even some wealthy Southern slaveholders expressed hope that slavery might pass out of existence some day. In the early 1800s, however, the South's reliance on slavery increased as white landholders turned to the labor-intensive crop of cotton for their livelihood. This development was a bitter disappointment to people opposed to slavery.
Southern Union Loyalists
The secession movement that preceded the Civil War was not completely supported by the population of the Confederacy. There remained a sizable portion of the citizenry that continued to support the "old flag," as they called the flag of the United States. On many occasions, their support went beyond just moral support, but also translated into material aid to the Union war effort. In many instances, Southern Union loyalists aided the Federal war effort by providing comfort to Union prisoners of war, giving military information to Union regiments, and disrupting Confederate authority within their communities.
Beginning of Union Loyalist Opposition
After reaching a low point during the secession crisis, the strength of Unionists began to re-emerge as the weaknesses of the Confederacy began to come to the surface in 1862. The first of several Confederate conscription acts brought the class divisions of the war effort out into the open. Unionists had been a part of the initial wave of volunteers for the state regiments however, the reality of the costs of the war and the conscription of large numbers of the Southern yeomanry revealed the failure of the new republic. Long causality lists affected the makeup of local communities that had a large number of white males fighting in the war. Conscription efforts to bring the remaining white male population into the conflict brought the Unionists out to resist the Confederate government. In 1863, another Confederate conscription act dealt the outlying communities another blow with the introduction of the twenty-slave rule, which now exempted owners of farms that employed twenty or more slaves. This exemption further intensified the class divisions of Southern society. Unionists and other segments of Southern society now saw the war as an instrument of the rich. The Confederacy also instituted a new tax known as the tax-in-kind to generate funds for the war by taxing crop production at a rate of ten percent and taxing such other valuables as watches and slaves.
Many Unionists began to resist the Confederate government by hiding men from the conscription officers. They hid draft-age men in woods and caves and provided food for them. A number of farmers refused to turn over ten percent of their crops to the Confederacy, choosing instead to hide their harvests from local justices of the peace and Confederate commissary officers. They encouraged their family members and friends to avoid enlisting in Confederate service or to resist calls to report to the county courthouse for enrollment for conscription. They also wrote to relatives and friends to encourage them to desert by giving information about the destitute condition of their families and friends.
Unionist Secret Societies
In addition to this resistance, Unionists began forming secret societies to communicate with one another without attracting the attention of Confederate authorities. Organizations like the Heroes of America were formed in small communities to communicate information to fight against the Confederate government. The Heroes were also known as the Red Strings because the members wore red strings on their lapels to denote their membership. They conducted secret meetings in locations away from attention in their towns. Entry to the meetings was governed by secret handshakes and passwords that were very similar to Masonic rituals. Through this type of organization, the resistance of Unionists began to grow in various parts of the Confederacy.
In addition to these Unionist societies, a number of individuals began to emerge as leaders of Union loyalist activities within the Confederacy. William G. Brownlow (1805–1877), the editor of a newspaper in Knoxville, Tennessee, and later governor of the state, promoted the ideals of Unionism through his editorial columns as his son served as an officer of a loyal Tennessee regiment (Coutler 1937, pp. 262, 402–403 Evans 1996, pp. 17–18). William Woods Holden (1818–1892) led the development of the peace movement in the Old North State as editor of a Raleigh newspaper, the North Carolina Standard. Holden promoted Zebulon Vance as the anti-Confederate government candidate in the gubernatorial election of 1862. Despite threats to his editorial business, Holden became the candidate of the Peace Party in North Carolina and challenged Governor Vance in the statewide elections in 1864 (Harris 1987, pp. 12–18, 116–121, 127–155). Senator Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) remained as U.S. Senator from Tennessee despite his state's seceding from the Union, and did return as military governor of the Volunteer State in 1862. Johnson was inaugurated as Abraham Lincoln's vice president in March 1865 and succeeded to the presidency little more than a month later following Lincoln's assassination in April 1865 (Trefousse 1989, pp. 143–151, 152–175, 189, 194–195).
Early on in the war, gangs composed of draft dodgers and conscript age men armed themselves and fought against the abuses committed by conscription officers and Confederate regiments on detached service. Many communities became armed camps with men providing security and supported by their family and relatives. The increase of violence against wives and daughters of conscript age men forced the communities to react violently against the Confederacy. In the mountain regions, much of the violence followed family lines, with Unionist families fighting pro-Confederate families. Abuses were committed by both sides, with the taking of no prisoners and the abuse of women.
Helping the Union Army
Southern Unionists also took their support to the war through enlistment in the Union Army. A number of Unionist regiments were formed in the South in 1862 to help stop the rebellion. In Virginia, the First Virginia Volunteers were formed by Unionists from all parts of the state the unit was assigned to the Army of the Potomac. Other Southern states had such Unionist regiments formed for service as the First Tennessee Volunteers, the First Alabama Cavalry, and the First and Second Texas Cavalry, United States Army. In addition, a number of Unionists traveled to areas under federal control to enlist in Union regiments. A number of Northern regiments contained a sizable contingent of Southerners within their ranks. One Federal prisoner of war noted the discovery of an Alabamian as a member of the Sixteenth Illinois Volunteers at the Confederate prison near Andersonville, Georgia. The Twenty-first Indiana Volunteers contained a number of North Carolinians and Virginians within its companies. One North Carolinian became a recruitment officer for a Michigan regiment serving in Tennessee.
Unionists began to recruit and form military units within the Confederacy for serving in the Union Army. Wilkes County, North Carolina, was a county that had voted overwhelmingly for William W. Holden for governor in 1864. Unionists began to gather men for the beginning steps of forming companies for regiments. Once enough men had volunteered to form a company, a Union officer would swear them into service, and then the men marched westward to Tennessee to receive equipment. Through this method, the majority of the Third North Carolina Mounted Infantry was formed for service in the mountains. The Thirteen Tennessee Cavalry, U.S.A., also included within its troops a large number of Unionist North Carolinians who had traveled through the Great Smokey Mountains to enlist in the Union Army.
Besides these overt methods of serving the Union, Southern Unionists also worked as spies and scouts for the "old flag." During the Carolinas Campaign of 1865, Southern Unionists served as scouts for the Union Army because they could blend in with the local communities and obtain information on Confederate movements. Loyal Southerners also provided food and clothing to Union prisoners, and if able, guided escaped prisoners back to Union lines. Unionists were also able to pass along information to advancing Federal armies through slaves or direct contact with the U.S. Army's Bureau of Military Intelligence. An example was Elizabeth Van Lew (1818–1900), who passed along information to the Federal forces surrounding Richmond through a complex network of spies (Varon 2003, pp. 77–106). Major General William T. Sherman's Union armies benefited by intelligence passed via slaves from Union spies within the defenses of Atlanta.
After the capture of Atlanta, Sherman planned to evacuate the city and issued Special Order No. 67 to remove the civilian population. A number of Unionists in the city took steps to find a way for them to remain with their homes and businesses. Several of these families approached three Union army surgeons who had been imprisoned in the city. They asked these surgeons to write General Sherman for an exception to their expulsion, due to their assistance of food and medicine to Union prisoners. Sherman granted an exception for fifty families to stay in the city based on the testimony of the former Federal prisoners, but warned the families that their homes might still be destroyed due to the building of new entrenchments. The Unionist families that actually did leave Atlanta numbered around 1,500 persons. The majority of these families traveled northward to such states as Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Some families also traveled to Washington, DC, and New York City to join a number of other exiled families from Georgia (Dyer 1999, pp. 202–212).
After the end of the war, many Southern Unionists became the base of support for the Republican Party in the South. Along with former slaves, the Unionists constituted the base of a new political party that was nearly destroyed by President Rutherford B. Hayes's abandonment of this wing of the Republican Party in 1876. Other Unionists returned home from either being exiled or serving in the Union Army. Jesse Dobbins returned home to Yadkin County, North Carolina, after serving for three years in an Indiana regiment. He was immediately arrested for murdering a conscription officer in 1863. He beat up the deputy sheriff and escaped to the woods. He contacted the closest United States Army detachment for protection, and after a lengthy court case, he was eventually acquitted of the crime (Casst-evens 1997, pp. 86–96, 107, 117–118).
Barrett, John G. The Civil War in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1963.
Bynum, Victoria. The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
Casstevens, Frances. The Civil War and Yadkin County, North Carolina. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997.
Crofts, Daniel W. Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
Coutler, E. Merton. William G. Brownlow: Fighting Parson of the Southern Highland. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1937.
Dyer, Thomas G. Secret Yankees: The Union Circle in Confederate Atlanta. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1999.
Evans, David. Sherman's Horsemen: Union Cavalry Operations in the Atlanta Campaign. Bloomington, IN.: Indiana University Press, 1996.
Fishel, Edwin. The Secret War for the Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War. Boston: Hougton Miffin Co., 1996.
Freehling, William A. The South vs. The South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Grimsley, Mark. The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861–1865. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Harris, William C. William Woods Holden: Firebrand of North Carolina Politics. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.
Moore, Albert L. Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy. New York: Macmillan 1924.
Paludan, Phillip S. Victims: A True Story of the Civil War. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1981.
Ryan, David D. A Yankee Spy in Richmond: The Civil War Diary of "Crazy Bet" Van Lew. Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole, 1996.
Sarris, Jonathan Dean. A Separate Civil War: Communities in Conflict in the Mountain South, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006.
Sutherland, Daniel E., ed. Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999.
Tatum, George L. Disloyalty in the Confederacy. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1934.
Trefousse, Hans Louis. Andrew Johnson: A Biography. New York: Norton, 1989.
Varon, Elizabeth. Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Wiley, Bill I. The Plain People of the Confederacy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1943.
William H. Brown
Today in History: Born on June 27
Louis XII, King of France (1498-1515).
Emma Goldman, Lithuanian-born American anarchist, feminist and birth control advocate.
Paul Laurence Dunbar, African-American poet and writer.
Antoinette Perry, actress and director, namesake of the "Tony" Awards.
Richard Bissell, novelist and playwright.
Willie Mosconi, professional billiards player.
Frank O'Hara, American poet.
Bob Keeshan, American television actor, best known as "Captain Kangaroo."
Alice McDermott, writer (That Night, At Weddings and Wakes).
Civil War CasualtiesUnion dead after the Battle of Gettysburg, Gettysburg, Pa., 1863. Photo by Alexander Gardner
The Civil War was America's bloodiest conflict. The unprecedented violence of battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, Stones River, and Gettysburg shocked citizens and international observers alike. Nearly as many men died in captivity during the Civil War as were killed in the whole of the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands died of disease. Roughly 2% of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty. Taken as a percentage of today's population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls.
The human cost of the Civil War was beyond anybody's expectations. The young nation experienced bloodshed of a magnitude that has not been equaled since by any other American conflict.
Military Losses in American Wars
The numbers of Civil War dead were not equaled by the combined toll of other American conflicts until the War in Vietnam. Some believe the number is as high as 850,000. The American Battlefield Trust does not agree with this claim.
Civil War Battle Casualties
More American soldiers became casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg than in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 combined.
New military technology combined with old-fashioned tactical doctrine to produce a scale of battle casualties unprecedented in American history.
Civil War Service by Population
Even with close to total conscription, the South could not match the North's numerical strength. Southerners stood a significantly greater chance of being killed, wounded, or captured.
Even with close to total conscription, the South could not match the North's numerical strength. Southerners also stood a significantly greater chance of being killed, wounded, or captured.
Confederate Military Deaths by State
This chart and the one below are based on research done by Provost Marshal General James Fry in 1866. His estimates were based on Confederate muster rolls--many of which were destroyed before he began his study--and many historians have disputed the results. The estimates for Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas have been updated to reflect more recent scholarship.
This chart and the one below are based on research done by Provost Marshal General James Fry in 1866. His estimates for Southern states were based on Confederate muster rolls--many of which were destroyed before he began his study--and many historians have disputed the results. The estimates for Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas have been updated to reflect more recent scholarship.
Union Military Deaths by State
Given the relatively complete preservation of Northern records, Fry's examination of Union deaths is far more accurate than his work in the South. Note the mortal threat that soldiers faced from disease.
Given the relatively complete preservation of Northern records, Fry's examination of Union deaths is far more accurate than his work in the South. Note the mortal threat that soldiers faced from disease.
There were an estimated 1.5 million casualties reported during the Civil War.
A "casualty" is a military person lost through death, wounds, injury, sickness, internment, capture, or through being missing in action. "Casualty" and "fatality" are not interchangeable terms--death is only one of the ways that a soldier can become a casualty. In practice, officers would usually be responsible for recording casualties that occurred within their commands. If a soldier was unable to perform basic duties due to one of the above conditions, the soldier would be considered a casualty. This means that one soldier could be marked as a casualty several times throughout the course of the war.
Most casualties and deaths in the Civil War were the result of non-combat-related disease. For every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died of disease. The primitive nature of Civil War medicine, both in its intellectual underpinnings and in its practice in the armies, meant that many wounds and illnesses were unnecessarily fatal.
Our modern conception of casualties includes those who have been psychologically damaged by warfare. This distinction did not exist during the Civil War. Soldiers suffering from what we would now recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder were uncatalogued and uncared for.
The Battle of Gettysburg left approximately 7,000 corpses in the fields around the town. Family members had to come to the battlefield to find their loved ones in the carnage. (Library of Congress)
Approximately one in four soldiers that went to war never returned home. At the outset of the war, neither army had mechanisms in place to handle the amount of death that the nation was about to experience. There were no national cemeteries, no burial details, and no messengers of loss. The largest human catastrophe in American history, the Civil War forced the young nation to confront death and destruction in a way that has not been equaled before or since.
Recruitment was highly localized throughout the war. Regiments of approximately one thousand men, the building block of the armies, would often be raised from the population of a few adjacent counties. Soldiers went to war with their neighbors and their kin. The nature of recruitment meant that a battlefield disaster could wreak havoc on the home community.
The 26th North Carolina, hailing from seven counties in the western part of the state, suffered 714 casualties out of 800 men during the Battle of Gettysburg. The 24th Michigan squared off against the 26th North Carolina at Gettysburg and lost 362 out of 496 men. Nearly the entire student body of Ole Miss--135 out 139--enlisted in Company A of the 11th Mississippi. Company A, also known as the "University Greys" suffered 100% casualties in Pickett's Charge. Eighteen members of the Christian family of Christianburg, Virginia were killed during the war. It is estimated that one in three Southern households lost at least one family member.
One in thirteen surviving Civil War soldiers returned home missing one or more limbs. Pre-war jobs on farms or in factories became impossible or nearly so. This led to a rise in awareness of veterans' needs as well as increased responsibility and social power for women. For many, however, there was no solution. Tens of thousands of families slipped into destitution.
Compiling casualty figures for Civil War soldiers is a complex process. Indeed, it is so complex that even 150 years later no one has, and perhaps no one will, assemble a specific, accurate set of numbers, especially on the Confederate side.
A true accounting of the number of men in the armies can be approached through a review of three primary documents: enlistment rolls, muster rolls, and casualty lists. Following any of these investigative methods one will encounter countless flaws and inconsistencies--the records in question are little sheets of paper generated and compiled 150 years ago by human beings in one of the most stressful and confusing environments to ever exist. Enlistment stations were set up in towns and cities across the country, but for the most part only those stations in major northern cities can be relied upon to have preserved records. Confederate enlistment rolls are virtually non-existent.
The average Civil War soldier was 26 years old, weighing 143 pounds and standing 5'8" tall. (Library of Congress)
Muster rolls, generated every few months by commanding officers, list soldiers in their respective units as "present" or "absent." This gives a kind of snapshot of the unit's composition in a specific time and place. Overlooking the common misspelling of names and general lack of specificity concerning the condition of a "present" or "absent" soldier, muster rolls provide a valuable look into the past. Unfortunately, these little pieces of paper were usually transported by mule in the rear of a fighting army. Their preservation was adversely affected by rain, river crossings, clerical errors, and cavalry raids.
Casualty lists gives the number of men in a unit who were killed, wounded, or went missing in an engagement. However, combat threw armies into administrative chaos and the accounting done in the hours or days immediately following a battle often raises as many questions as it answers. For example: Who are the missing? Weren't many of these soldiers killed and not found? What, exactly, qualifies a wound and did armies account for this the same way? What became of wounded soldiers? Did they rejoin their unit did they return home did they die?
A wholly accurate count will almost certainly never be made. The effects of this devastating conflict are still felt today.
"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
The myth of Lincoln
A remarkable number of popular beliefs about the Civil War fail critical scrutiny. Not just the causes of secession and the war but many other elements of the period.
For all that has been written about Lincoln, so few texts accurately portray his presidency. Reading Lincoln’s own words quickly dismantles the legend:
I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.
While denying the charge that he was an abolitionist at a presidential debate, Lincoln expressed his views about the “black race,” all of whom he thought should be sent back to Africa or to an island in the Caribbean. In his speech on the Dred Scott decision:
I have said that the separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation. I have no right to say all the members of the Republican party are in favor of this, nor to say that as a party they are in favor of it. There is nothing in their platform directly on the subject. But I can say a very large proportion of its members are for it, and that the chief plank in their platform — opposition to the spread of slavery — is most favorable to that separation. Such separation, if ever effected at all, must be effected by colonization.
While any reasonable person today would find these remarks abhorrent and bigoted, it was not outside the popular thinking of the period. In fact, the idea of the colonization of Black people was so popular that Lincoln proposed it as an amendment to the Constitution in his second annual message to Congress in 1862.
Colonization was a staple of Lincoln’s speeches and public comments from 1854 until about 1863. Lincoln’s views on race contrast sharply with his modern era image as the “Great Emancipator.” Indeed, his public remarks, which are well-documented, indicate he had little regard for Black people.
And this is where the myth of the sympathetic North begins to unravel. While there was a strong abolitionist movement in the North, it was so small that Lincoln and other politicians didn’t associate themselves with it.
Most white Northerners treated Black people with disdain, discrimination, and violence during the period leading up to the Civil War. Black people were not allowed to vote, marry, or use the judicial system.
As Alexis de Tocqueville observed in Democracy in America, “The prejudice of the race appears to be stronger in the States which have abolished slavery, than in those where it still exists and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those States where servitude has never been known.”
While the Emancipation Proclamation gave Lincoln some breathing room, he still had a tough road before him. The Union was having difficulty getting volunteers to fight in the war, so Congress enacted the nation’s first military draft act.
In New York City, a town deeply divided over the war, the new conscription law did not sit well with the general population. Not only were the wealthy allowed to buy their way out of the draft, but it excluded Black people.
The day after the draft lottery began, demonstrations broke out across New York City and soon morphed into a violent uprising. The New York draft riots lasted four days. Black men were lynched, private property was destroyed, and over 100 people lost their lives.
Northern Advantages in the Civil War: Population, Industrial Capacity, and Railroads Help the North
The advantages enjoyed by the North at the start of the American Civil War should have pointed toward a short confrontation, in line with General Winfield Scott’s initial estimation. Even a worried but confident Abraham Lincoln perceived his response as a “police action” designed to bring the recalcitrant states back in the Union. Yet is was the immense advantages of the North that ultimately allowed the Union cause to prevail as war goals and strategies transformed into unconditional surrender.
Advantages of the Union in 1861
When the war came, the North had a total population of twenty-two million people of which 1.3 million worked as industrial workers. The South only had nine million people with 110,000 employed as industrial workers. Moreover, as the 1860 census demonstrated, many Southern counties had a majority of non-white persons, slaves, which would not be conscripted into the war effort other than the usual tending of agricultural enterprises. In South Carolina the slave population outnumbered the white population by over 100,000.
Immigration patterns remained steady both at the start of the Civil War and during the course of the war. The Irish comprised one of the largest pre-Civil War immigrant groups, settling, for the most part, in the large urban centers of the North. Civil War statistics demonstrate the immigrant advantage in terms of population size. Over 170,000 Irish served in the Union armies, compared to 40,000 for the Confederacy. Germans, the other large pre-war immigrant group, also contributed large numbers to the Union cause.
Northern industrial production was valued at $1.5 billion compared to $155 million for the South. Additionally, the ratio of textiles was 17 to 1. Much is written about the Southern military tradition where every man had a firearm and knew how to use it. This is often cited as a Southern advantage. Yet in actual numbers, the ratio of firearms between the North and the South was a staggering 32 to 1.
Railroads Benefited the North More than the South
The use of railroads would prove crucial to the Union’s ultimate victory. The ability to rapidly transport soldiers and supplies greatly assisted the effort to defeat the Confederacy. At the start of the war, the North boasted 22,000 miles of track compared to 9,000 in the South. Further, as the war progressed, the inability to properly maintain the Southern system hurt Southern defensive strategies.
The employment of the railroads to effectively wage war did not go unnoticed by Prussian observers. Prussian victory in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War was due in large part to the German rail system which had more than twice the track of the French. The military use of an extensive rail system was only one war innovation learned by the Europeans avidly watching the course of the war.
The North possessed a fleet of warships that effectively blockaded Southern ports from the first weeks of the war. Although the South utilized “blockade runners” as well as raiders that harassed Union shipping like the CSS Alabama, the Union blockade, part of General Scott’s initial “anaconda plan,” kept the South from receiving desperately needed supplies and munitions from Europe.
Comparing the Leadership Skills of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis
Leadership also played a major role in the Northern advantage. Although the South had better military leadership as the war began, with most field grade officers coming out of West Point, most historians agree that Abraham Lincoln was a better leader than Jefferson Davis. Davis’ personality was cold and abrasive. Lincoln was sincerely humble but a fast learner, spending hours in the Library of Congress reading and seldom intervening directly in field operations.
In 1861, the South fervently hoped that the North would allow it to leave the Union peacefully. Yet even Jefferson Davis questioned this seemingly naïve notion when he arrived home at his Mississippi plantation, telling his wife that everything would be lost. The industrial and military might of the North ultimately overwhelmed the South, demonstrating the Northern advantages.
- The North had a population of 22 million people against the 9 million in the South (of whom almost half were slaves.)
- The North was more industrial and produced 94 percent of the USA’s pig iron and 97 percent of its firearms. The North even had a richer, more varied agriculture than the South.
- The Union had a larger navy, blocking all efforts from the Confederacy to trade with Europe.
- The Confederacy hope that France and Britain would come to their aid due to their need of cotton, but these countries had enough cotton and a bigger need for Northern corn.
- The North controlled both the shipping and railroad avenues, allowing them to trade and to get supplies fairly quickly.
- The Union had more support: four slave states still remained loyal and not everybody in the 11 Confederate states were on the Confederate side. There were still plenty of people in the South that supported the Union.
- Many slaves fled to the Union armies, providing even more manpower.
- The South squandered their resources early in the war by focussing on conventional offensives instead of non-conventional raids on the Union’s transportation and communication infrastructure.
- Lee’s offensive war strategy had a high cost in casualties, destroying a large part of the Confederate army.
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What Were The Northern States In The Civil War ?
The Civil War period was a period when America was fighting itself. Due to difference of opinions about issues like regulations and legislations, and slavery, after the election of Abraham Lincoln as the President of United States, few of the southern states like Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia seceded from the union and thus prompted the start of the Civil War.
These southern states wanted to be independent whereas the northern states were interested in keeping the US as one country.
The southern states, known as the Confederates, had a population of only about 5 million people. These states were primarily into agriculture and supported slavery while the northern states were mainly into industries and supported the anti-slavery stand of Abraham Lincoln. However, the Northern states, known as the Union, were far more urbanized and more populated. They had a population close to 23 million. This worked in their favor during the War and also helped them win it.
The list of Union states included California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. Three new states namely Kansas, Nevada and West Virginia joined the already existing large number of northern states during the War.
The Civil War was finally won by the northern states and the United States continued to remain as one country, leaving behind massive destruction and heavy loss of life and property. However, the one positive effect of the Civil War was abolition of slavery.
The American Civil War actually started in 1861 and the first attack made was on April 12 in Fort Sumter of South Carolina. The American Civil war has also been popularized as the war of several states because many of them were involved in it. More..
These northern Democrats–“Peace Democrats” as they were called–drew the ire of Republicans who supported the war. And the Republicans soon began to refer to Peace Democrats as “Copperheads”–a pejorative drawn from the example of a poisonous snake.
Copperheads were criticized for being friends of the Confederacy as well as slavery. But as Mark M. Boatner III showed in his bibliographic work, The Civil War Dictionary (1959),
the consistent problems Copperheads cited with the Civil War revolved around what they viewed as Lincoln’s violations of the constitution.
Wrote Boatner: “Lincoln assumed strong executive powers in suppressing [anti-war sentiment], including arrests, suppression of the press, suspension of habeas corpus, and censorship.”
These things are not points of dispute–they happened. And the Copperheads refused to support the Union’s war effort because of it.
To be clear, this is not to say the Copperheads were not altogether unified on every point. There were some who focused on the slavery issue, but even many of these did so from a constitutional point of reference. They did not think a war against slavery was constitutional and the longer the war went on, the more it appeared to be about slavery rather than about keeping a divided house from falling.
Copperheads were predominantly in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. As the war carried on into 1862, the voices of dissent in these states grew louder.
When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, the Copperheads were outraged over what they saw as another attempt to act without constitutional authority.
By the time the proclamation was effectual on January 1, 1863, the Copperheads appeared to be on the rise and the Union’s war effort on the decline. What momentum the South lacked Lincoln feared the Copperheads might possess. He felt himself trapped between two forces, neither of which was friendly.
Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863 brought Lincoln some relief, but it was an uneasy relief. Northerners who had grown weary of the war and Copperheads who had found it unconstitutional from the start were short-fused. With the slightest provocation or perceived constitutional infraction their anger flared to such a degree that Lincoln feared revolt.
By late summer of 1864 the Copperheads saw their ranks swell with those who supported ending the war.
Then, with a suddenness only warfare can convey, their momentum was gone. Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman captured Atlanta and burned it to the ground. This was followed by other Union victories, and finally by Lincoln’s re-election in November 1864.
The war was coming to an end, and so too the Copperheads.
Copperheads are the subject of a new movie by Ron Maxwell, director of the Civil War films Gettysburg and Gods and Generals. Copperhead opens in select theaters on June 28th. For more information, please visi t the film’s website.
Photo source: Ancestry.com