A Division in Slavery
There are numerous opinions and excellent facts to support those opinions as to why the South lost the Civil War, but the repeating theme continues to show that the South lost as a result of the same division that caused secession: slavery. The issue of slavery in itself caused severe separations within the South, which led many Southerners to eventually oppose slavery.
The South, itself, became divided over the issue of slavery, which brought in the factors of the Border South states, and their having to decide for whom to fight. Even prior to the Civil War, Border South Whites, and to a lesser degree Middle South Whites, did not have the same sentiments about the institution of slavery as did Lower South Whites. One reason could have been due to the discrepancy in slave population. The Border South contained a 12.7 percent slave population on the eve of the Civil War, compared to the 46.5 percent in the Lower South. Many Border South Whites did not have daily interactions with slaves or slaveholders, nor did they rely economically upon either of them. (Freehling 18-23) Simply, Border South Whites did not have as much invested into slavery as did Lower South Whites. This resulted in an increased division between Border South Whites and Lower South Whites at a time when they needed to be united.
The lack of connection between Border South Whites and Lower South Whites became ever more visible during the Civil War. At the outbreak of the Civil War several Border South states maintained a position of neutrality. These attitudes would not sustain for long, and eventually all Border South states voluntarily joined the Union, including the new state of West Virginia. What was more important was the enlistment of Union soldiers from these states. The Union was able to garner over 200,000 border-state Southerners, along with another 100,000 Middle South Southerners for its cause. (Freehling 61) Losing over 300,000 southern troops to the enemy was devastating. In addition, when one adds the inertia of possible soldiers within Kentucky, the 71 percent of Kentucky’s white males of fighting age who decided on inaction during the Civil War, it becomes obvious that anti-confederate white Southerners severely injured the Confederacy’s chances to win the Civil War. (Freehling 54)
The inability of the Confederacy to align itself with the border states reduced its industrial capabilities. St. Louis and Baltimore were the primary industrial cities in the Border South. St. Louis was vital for its ship building and repairing expertise, while Baltimore was even more important because of its railroad industries. Baltimore had the ability to construct railroad bridges, cars, engines and countless miles of track. The failure of Baltimore to join the Confederacy would prove to be devastating. Baltimore was a main railroad hub that could deliver troops throughout the South. Confederate soldiers were spread all across southern territory. As military action fluctuated from theatre to theatre at different times throughout the Civil War, the South needed the capabilities to transfer soldiers effectively. The failure of the Confederacy to move soldiers to their desired regions significantly injured southern efforts for victory. If the South could have garnered the Border South states they would have doubled their industrial output; nevertheless, it was the North who emerged with additional men and resources. (Freehling 61, 63)
The issue of slavery also caused many draft riots, draft dodgers and deserters in the South. The Confederacy introduced their first military draft law in 1862, which contained the “twenty nigger” rule. This rule stated that a southerner who controlled twenty or more slaves did not have to fight in the Confederate army. This aggravated the growing tensions between non-slaveholding Whites and slaveholding Whites. Some Southerners looked at the war as a “rich men’s war and poor men’s fight.” (Freehling 145) The South was fighting to uphold the institution of slavery, but the institution itself was dividing the ones who were fighting to protect it.
As the South became divided over the slavery issue, it opened the doors for the Union to take advantage in many ways. The Union’s ability to persuade Border and Middle South anti-confederate White men to enlist against the Confederacy was a major factor for their victory. This, along with the integration of freed slaves into the Union army and economy, helped their already superior numbers and resources. Furthermore, the Union’s capability of controlling Border South cities improved its aims toward victory. It was with the help of these anti-confederates and runaway slaves that the North was able to win and sustain occupancy in the western theatre of the Civil War, thus allowing for a greater concentration of Union men and resources to be allocated to the eastern theatre. Additional explanations for the outcome of the Civil War have attempted to focus on other external and internal causes to the South’s demise. However, there are serious questions about the validity of these arguments, which deserve some additional discussion. Despite these other attempts, the evidence remains: just as slavery was the cause of the Civil War, it would also become the reason behind southern defeat.
Anti-confederate Whites were only one part of how the Union would exploit the issue of slavery against the South. Another was assimilating runaway southern slaves into the Union army. At first the Union was hesitant to incorporate former southern slaves into the army. Although there was the introduction of Henry Halleck’s General Orders #3, which stated that runaway slaves were prohibited in the Union army, this order became impractical to follow as many Northerners either soundly rejected or often ignored it. They saw too many benefits in allowing runaway slaves to join and help the Union. Rejecting slaves and returning them to the South would only help the Confederacy in its bid to win independence. If the North did not use the slaves, the South surely would have. In addition, slaves provided the best resistance against southern guerilla attacks. Slaves had inside knowledge and knew where Confederate soldiers hid and when attacks would take place. (Freehling 101-102)
In all, over 178,000 black soldiers joined the Union army against the Confederacy. (Freehling 121) Largely, they maintained and resisted Confederate guerilla attacks over areas recently won by Union forces. For the North to secure an area, primarily an area in the western theatre, only to lose it again to the South did more harm than good. The North needed to sustain the gains they made in the western theatre. Leaving behind tens of thousands of white soldiers to protect forts, contraband camps and railroad tracks would injure the Union in future battles. (Freehling 150) The Union army needed the expertise and training of its white soldiers on the front lines. The North answered this question by substituting the black soldier for the white soldier. Black soldiers garrisoning conquered territory became essential to Union victory. Garrisoning work was often unpleasant, boring and dangerous, which white soldiers despised. Thus, they welcomed the idea of black soldiers performing them. Most importantly, this concept allowed for more trained white soldiers to fight among the armies of Grant and Sherman. Their addition also offset the need to draft more Union men. While the North drafted around 200,000 white men, they gained about the same number of freed slaves. (Freehling 146) Even though the North did suffer from draft riots, one could make the case that they would have been far worse if not for the enlisting of black men.
Although, not as prevalent as garrisoning forts, but nevertheless equally as important, many Black soldiers also fought on the front-lines in battles for the Union army. Such battles as Fort Wagner, Milliken’s Bend, Port Hudson and Nashville provide evidence of success due to their assistance. Even Ulysses S. Grant used black soldiers at the Battle of Petersburg against Robert E. Lee. (Freehling 135) Whether it was protecting captured land and resources or fighting against the southern army, freed black soldiers were crucial to northern victory.
Former slaves also expanded the economic capabilities of the North, while diminishing the Confederacy’s ever more. Freed slaves could produce for Northerners what they had been supplying to Southerners. Former slaves produced cotton and sugar for the northern economy, only adding to the growing economy the North witnessed during the Civil War. The Union army also benefited by consuming the food the former slaves produced. As ex-slaves were boosting the northern economy, the South’s already frail economic situation was worsening. Many plantations became unattended because of the freed slaves. This resulted in severe bread riots throughout southern cities and Confederate army units. This shortage of food compounded the resource disadvantage the Confederacy already faced at the beginning of the war.
With the added naval resource from the obtained border states, the Union was able to control the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. This prevented European intervention and limited shipments leaving the Confederacy to Europe. Cities such as New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Natchez and Vicksburg did succumb to the dominant Union navy, thus providing the Union with the opportunity to perform its other military objective.
With the fall of New Orleans in 1862 and Vicksburg in 1863, along with other major western theatre cities, the North severely divided the South’s landmass. The Union’s next step was to encircle Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia in the eastern theatre. The North’s ability to leave behind tens of thousands of black troops to uphold their military gains in the western theatre allowed for more trained white soldiers in Sherman’s army to march east to confront Joseph E. Johnston’s and eventually John Bell Hood’s southern army. As Sherman advanced eastward towards the sea, Grant gathered his 120,000 soldiers in Virginia and headed towards Lee. Sherman devastated several southern states while Grant was able to surround and force Lee and his army to surrender. The ability of the North to have additional men and resources to keep Lee and his army occupied in the eastern theatre for the early part of the Civil War while the North fought and won the western theatre, proved to be the final reason for northern victory on the battlefield. The North had the added men and resources ultimately due to the South being divided over the issue of slavery, and the many outfalls of that fact.
Historians’ interpretations of why the South lost the Civil War extend over a broad spectrum. Each popular explanation attempts to show either some sort of internal or external cause for southern defeat. And since there is not consensus on why the South lost the Civil War, it becomes necessary to address the different arguments and dispute their validities.
Many historians believe that the South lost the Civil War because it “lacked the will” needed to win, despite the evidence that suggests otherwise. The authors of Why the South Lost the Civil War believe that “lack of will constituted the decisive deficiency in the Confederate arsenal.” (64) For these authors, Southerners did not have a firm sense of their own “nationalism” to associate with, thus causing Southerners to lack in conviction for their cause. These authors point to the fact that the Confederacy’s Constitution was nearly verbatim that of the United States Constitution, the Confederacy had many of the founding fathers on their money and stamps, and the Confederate flag resembled that of the American flag. What these authors fail to understand is that the Confederacy believed they were the rightful heirs of American nationalism. The Unionwas the one that had departed from the founding fathers’ ideals, not the Confederacy. The Confederacy seceded from the Union to preserve these original American principles. (McPherson 30-31) If the Confederate money, stamps and flag were not enough to show a sense of “nationalism,” then the fighting on the battlefield was. Confederate soldiers were fighting for their home, land and family. Most battles and fighting were on southern territory, making southern commitment more conceivable than that of their enemy. Even Confederate soldiers’ letters and diaries from the battlefield referred to their country as “my country,” “our nation,” and “the South.” (Gallagher 63) “Nationalism” proved to be a strength for the Confederacy, not a weakness.
Kenneth M. Stampp’s hypothesis of southern “lack of will,” goes beyond that of the previous authors. Stampp does agree that the lack of southern “nationalism” was one motive in southern defeat, but his main reason for defeat is that Southerners “lacked a deep commitment to the southern cause.” (Stampp 255) For Stampp, this “southern cause” was slavery. Stampp argues that Southerners were “tormented by guilt about slavery,” and that many welcomed defeat to escape from this burden. (Stampp 264) The main problem with Stampp’s concept is that most of the evidence suggests otherwise. As Gary W. Gallagher explains in his book The Confederate War, “direct evidence that sizeable numbers of Confederates harbored serious doubts about the morality of slavery is scarce.” (Gallagher 46) Another problem with Stampp’s assertion is: if Confederates were “tormented by guilt” over slavery, why did they fight for so long? (Stampp 264) Even in the last years of the Civil War when it became clear that the North would win, Confederate soldiers continued to fight. If Southerners did have an inner guilt about slavery, their actions before, during, and after the Civil War did not show it.
Some historians, namely Frank Owsley and David Donald, have held firm to the idea that state rights caused southern defeat. Owsley’s main contention was that certain southern governors withheld men and arms from the Confederate government just to strengthen their own state militias. (Owsley 1) Donald, in addition, reasons that democratic practices kept during the Civil War within the southern army and the Confederate government led to the South’s defeat. The difficulty is, once again, the evidence confirms the opposite. As the authors in Why the South Lost the Civil Warillustrate, “The tangible effects of state rights…had little negative effect on the Confederate war effort.” (Beringer 429) These same governors and others were the same governors who mobilized men and resources for the Confederate army. As for Donald’s proposal, the case can be made that the Confederacy did as good a job as the Union did in enforcing the draft and suspending civil liberties; and the Confederacy was harsher on dissenters than the North. (McPherson 25) When the Civil War began, southern states did not allow state rights or democratic procedures to interfere with their main objective, which was to win the war.
For many historians it was inevitable that the North would win against a weaker opponent. The North held a large advantage in men and resources. The Union had a far-superior navy and held a more substantial amount of railroad trains and tracks. Not only did the North have more resources, but their production capabilities were greater. (Current 34) Also, most of the fighting and devastation would occur on southern territory and in southern cities. For historians like Richard N. Current, he seems to find it is obvious to see why the North won: they had the far-superior numbers. Yet, there are several problems with this thesis. First, the Confederacy knew the disadvantage they were up against. Nevertheless, they believed and fought as if they would win. Secondly, there are numerous instances of the smaller opponent defeating the favorite. A prime example was America’s war of independence against Great Britain. Lastly, the South nearly won the Civil War on a few occasions. If the South had won a few more battles earlier in the Civil War, or if even one battle, the Battle of Gettysburg, would have ended differently, then the history of the Civil War might be different. As the evidence confirms, the North winning the Civil War was not inevitable.
Each explanation fails to live up to its claim as the reason for southern defeat, thus, bringing one back to the original assertion. The South lost the Civil War because of the issue that created it, slavery. Slavery divided the Lower South from the border states, and to a certain degree the Middle South. This allowed for 450,000 anti-confederate Whites and freed slaves to join the Union army. This does not count the tens of thousands of anti-confederate Southerners and freed slaves who helped in the factories, in the cities and on the plantations for the war effort. It was with these extra men and resources that the North was able to conduct its military objectives, first in the western theater and eventually in the eastern theater. Slavery had embodied Southern society and had led the South to secession, but slavery would also lead the Confederacy to defeat.