What were the advantages and disadvantages faced by the Union and the Confederacy in the Civil War?

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martinjmurphy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At first, it looked as though the Union had all the advantages and this would be a short war. First, the Union had the large population, people to fight in the war and work in the factories to make war materials.  The North also had the industrial base, the factories to make these war materials.  The Union also was wealthier than the Confederacy and could finance the war.  The Union had an established army and government, but the Confederacy would have to build their army and government from scratch.  Finally, the Union had a navy which they used to blockade the southern coast. But the Confederacy had advantages, too.  The Confederacy would be fighting a defensive war, which is much easier than having to invade and conquer a territory, something the Union would have to do. Because the Union would have to invade the south, their supply lines would be much longer, and the Confederate army’s supply lines would be much shorter.  Because they would be fighting on their own land, they could take advantage militarily of their knowledge of the land.  They would be defending their homeland which would give them a strong incentive to fight.  They would also be fighting among friendly people. Finally, some of the best military leaders, such as Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, chose to fight on the side of the Confederacy.  It took Lincoln almost three years to find a competent commander in Ulysses S. Grant.  It was because of these Confederate advantages that the war took so long for the Union to win.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Confederacy was immediately faced with the problems of inferiority of numbers, the lack of an established military or navy, no allied support from other nations, and a lack of financial backing. Nevertheless, the Confederate armies held fast for the first two years of the war, winning battle after battle despite being vastly outnumbered in every battle. The Confederacy held a distinct advantage in the high command, since many of the top officers in the old U. S. Army sided with the South. While the Union took years before competent leadership emerged (such as U. S. Grant, William T. Sherman and Phil Sheridan), the Confederates had the likes of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Albert Sidney Johnston and Joe Johnston, who immediately won the respect of their troops. The Confederate cavalry also dominated their Union counterparts until the final year of the war.

The Union, meanwhile, had vast resources, an unlimited population, and a powerful navy to throw at the seceding states. They also had an outstanding leader in Abraham Lincoln, who never swayed in his desire to reunite the nation. The Union's Anaconda Plan, which choked the Southern waterways and coastlines, kept the South from being supplied adequately from within or abroad. When the great Union commanders, like U. S. Grant and William Sherman, finally came to the forefront, they used their numerical superiority to crush the outnumbered Confederates.