What were the material advantages enjoyed by the North as the war began and the advantages enjoyed by the South?

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geosc's profile pic

geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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You asked about the advantages that the North and the South possessed at the start of the War to Prevent Southern Independence. Foremost for the North may be the industrial capacity that it possessed. This was to be a war in which both sides were to thoroughly organize their industrial capacities to support the war effort as probably had been done in no previous war. Counting all kinds of factories from one-man blacksmith shops to huge textile mills and iron foundries, the South had fewer factory workers than the North had factories, so the North had a tremendous industrial advantage at the start of the War.

The North had a lot more free citizens from whom to draw the soldiers to make an army.

The North had a president who was very determined; he was also willing to take illegal and unconstitutional actions to prosecute his war: He raised an army without Congressional approval. He arrested Maryland legislators in the middle of the night and imprisoned them without charges to prevent them from voting for secession. He refused to meet with Confederate diplomats who had been sent to Washington to negotiate payment for U.S. property (such as forts and post offices, including Ft. Sumter) that were located in the C.S.A. (This was not illegal, but it shows his determination to have his war even if the other side did not want a war.) He made war on lawfully elected state governments without a Congressional declaration of war. (Some of the states of the U.S.A. had joined the Union with the stipulation, expressly made, that they could withdraw if remaining became more of a burden than an advantage; at that time it was considered that every state had the right to secede. However, northern politicians and industrialists were already beginning their plans for empire, so they would just start by reducing to a colonial status the states that had seceded.)

The North had a much more extensive system of railroads and more industry (such as iron mills) for keeping the railroads and trains repaired.

Most of the sea-going commercial shipping belonged to Northerners, as did most (or all?) of the ship-building yards.

The North had in place a long-established government; the South’s government was newly formed.

Though it was not a large one, the North already had an army; the South had none.

Though it was antiquated, the North already had a navy; the South had none.

As for southern advantages: The southern soldier was defending his homeland; his homeland was being invaded; his houses and crops and libraries and schools and courthouses were being burned; he was not fighting on foreign soil; this was motive to fight harder.

Between 1859 (when a penchant for forming volunteer rifle clubs began in Britain and spread to the South) and 1861, many volunteer rifle and artillery units appeared in the South.

Some of the best officers in the U.S. army, resigned and joined the C.S. army.

It is often said that southern men were better qualified to become soldiers because all of them hunted, thus they knew how to use firearms, and all of them rode horses, thus they could be good cavalrymen. This advantage may be made too much of, because there were rural areas of the North, particularly in the West (Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa) where a good many men also possessed these skills.

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The material advantages enjoyed by the North were tremendous.  Your text surely has some good stats on this -- like that the North had 90% of all the industrial capacity, things like that.

Basically, the North had more people and more capacity to make things.  The South had few people (and fewer whites) and very little in the way of factories and railroads and such.

What the South had was a few advantages:

  • They only had to fight long enough to make the North decide it wasn't worth it and quite (like GB did in the Revolutionary War.)
  • They had more of the military officers -- military service was more of a tradition in the South and so they had people like Robert E. Lee.
  • They had more of an incentive to fight.

As it turned out, these were not enough to overcome the North's material advantages and Lincoln's determination to win the war rather than to compromise.

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There were some distinct advantages each side enjoyed at the start of the war.  The manufacturing advantage resided in the North with factories being more present in this section of the nation than anywhere else.  At the same time, this helped to create an economic advantage for the North, as production for wae and for profit would always be present for them.  The Southern advantage was in the belief that the war was going to be a short and compact conflict.  The cash and economics for the South resided in this particular reality.  The knowing of the terrain with most of the nation's smartest military minds present in the South also helped to create a unique advantage at the start of the war.  For the South, the rationale of conflict was more definable, as they saw the North as an intrusion in their way of life.

sonofateacher's profile pic

sonofateacher | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

Advantages of the North: Resources, Supply Lines, Infastructure, and Deep Sea Ports.

Advantages of the South: Better Rifles, Better Generals, Cotton Export, Defensive Position.

When the war started neither region of the country was particularly ready.  If the South had established better supply lines and received better aid from foreign countries, the war may have had a different outcome.  Resources and manpower were available to the South from the West and Carribbean, however the lack of infrastructure and deep sea ports at the South's disposal hindered it's ability to procure the proper resources. The US may have been a very different place had the South held it's ground.  The ideal of the North from the beginning of the war was to invade and reclaim the South.  Lincoln was and is today viewed as a hero, however to the Southerns he was viewed as an evil tyrant.  The South perceived the Northerners to be invading their land and taking their culture and life.  The North saw it as reclaiming and re-establishing the Union.  The rift that came between the South and North is still apparent to this day in South, and I fear we will never be the same from the experience oh so long ago.

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