Secession and Civil War

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Compare and contrast the economic and military advantages of both the North and the South on the eve of the Civil War.

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In 1861, the northern states had a population of twenty-one million. The southern states had about nine million people, three and a half million of whom were slaves. Throughout the war, the South had to worry about a slave uprising, a fear that the North frequently promoted.

The North was also much more industrialized than the South. It produced over ninety percent of the country's textiles, metalworks, and nearly all the firearms. The North was also much more connected by train, having over twice the density of railways. This meant that the North had a larger pool to recruit soldiers and the ability to outfit them and move troops and supplies quickly and efficiently.

Despite the greater population in the North, the Confederacy was able to recruit an army of nearly equal size at the outset of the conflict. This was likely because the cause of the war was more personal to many Southerners and it was mostly fought on Southern soil. However, the North was able to replace casualties much more quickly than the South due to the larger population.

The Confederacy had two major advantages over the Union. The first was home-field advantage. Most of the war was fought in the South. The familiar terrain and shorter supply lines meant that the South had certain advantages while strategizing and executing battles. When they took the war into Northern territory at the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, the Confederacy suffered two of their greatest defeats.

The other advantage was in military leadership. The South had much better generals than the North. Robert E. Lee was able to command the Army of Northern Virginia for the entire war, while the North had to frequently replace inept generals who seemed incapable of quickly ending the conflict when they had the chance. This frequent change in leadership was damaging to morale and created confusion in the ranks of the Army of the Potomac. Meanwhile, the continuity of leadership in the South made for a more organized and effective fighting force.

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21 states vs. 11 states. 21 million people vs. 9 million people. In the game of numbers, it would appear at the outset that the North had the singular advantage. However, despite this deficit, the South's army was almost equal in size to the North's.

This is because the South enjoyed the advantage of morale. It was their war; they were fighting for their culture, their land, and their sovereignty. Add this to the advantage of trained officers, and you are looking at an army that had every chance of winning. The South—like the colonies in the American Revolution—was also in the defensive position. The South had the home field advantage—they were fighting on land with which they were familiar, and this gave them a marked military advantage.

In the end, though, the superior economical advantage and the numbers advantage of the North was too much for the South to overcome.

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The North had a decided advantage over the South, both militarily and economically. The North had a much larger population from which to draw troops, had a decided advantage in heavy industry to produce armaments and had the majority of the nations railroads which could move troops and materiel rapidly. The North also had a more organized government which allowed for efficient prosecution of the war. The South had only one major foundry, the Tredegar Iron Words in Richmond, and was dependent on "cotton diplomacy" to secure aid from Europe.

The South had no real economic advantage; but enjoyed a military advantage. Commanders in the South were far superior to those of the North. Many were West Point graduates; Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson had been professor of geometry at Virginia Military Institute. Robert E. Lee, the Southern commander in chief had been offered that same position on the Northern side by Winfield Scott, but declined because he would not fight against Virginia, his home. Additionally, Southern soldiers were far better marksmen than their Northern counterparts. Since most battles were fought in the South, that side also had something of a "home field" advantage.

The South never had any realistic possibility of winning the war; however it did manage to prolong the war much longer than anyone had anticipated.  

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