History Final

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright July 2013


What were the stated war aims and military strategies of each side as the Civil War progressed? Why did the North succeed in winning the war?

Reference the Humbolt University History 110 website.


The Civil War is a good example of a community Panicking, and then Blundering in response to trying to solve the problem that caused the panic. In this case the community was the whole of the United States.

The panic was caused by the rapid change in technologies available to Americans. This dramatically changed how people lived. These changes inspired many people and deeply scared many others. Those who got scared got prescriptive: They felt there was one right way to do things, and all these newfangled inventions were upsetting the apple cart in deeply dangerous ways. These people existed in both the North and South, but they expressed their fears differently.

Note that in the 2010's there is a lot of focus on the slavery issue. It was an issue of the time, but the bigger issues centered on how to do business and government. Slavery was part of this spectrum of issues, but not the center of it.


Over the five decades after the War of 1812 the northern states had embraced industrialization. Along with Britain, France and Germany they were the first in the world to do so. The northern states were building a lot of railroads, canals and factories of all kinds. This was changing what was possible in The North. One interesting expression of that change was the Second Great Awakening centering on upstate New York. This produced a hundred or so new religions, including Mormonism, Christian Science and Seventh Day Adventism. Other changes were that The North got a lot richer, supported a lot more immigration, and became a lot more diverse in the activities it supported. The people of The North got populous, prosperous and optimistic. Many were ready to show The South how to do things right.

The South was also experiencing change, but it centered around new ways to do agriculture rather than industry. Thanks to the invention of river boats, the cotton gin, and related textile making technologies, cotton swept the textile world! "Wool and linen... pfft! So yesterday! Cotton, my boy, COTTON!" Cotton became the most profitable crop to grow over much of The South, displacing tobacco and food crops. And it was a lot more profitable compared to those previous crops. Cotton became King and remained king until synthetic fabrics became widespread following World War Two a hundred years later.

There were two serious rubs for The South in their transformation to the King Cotton environment. The first was that plantations manned with slaves proved a profitable way to exploit this technology -- slavery stopped disappearing. The second was that the downstream textile making technologies that created the demand for cotton -- the textile mills -- were being built in Britain, France, and the northern US states, not in The South.

This split in where things were done in the cotton-to-cloth cycle fueled sharp disputes between The South and The North. These disputes provided the economic roots for the panic that created the war. The South wanted to sell cotton to all comers. The North wanted to give its homegrown factories advantages over the Brits and French by imposing high tariffs and other trade barriers. In The South the attitude towards slavery hardened -- there was now a serious dollar flow supporting the "peculiar institution" and that supported a more vigorous belief that it was a God-given right.

Before and during the war these North/South disputes played out in high-profile violent ways in the Missouri and Kansas areas. "Bleeding Kansas" was an icon of the time. This was also the time of John Brown, the abolitionist terrorist, and ‪Dred Scott, the black slave icon.

Acting on the Panic

In the early 1850's the Whig party dissolved. It was divided on the slavery issue and became ineffectual, leaving the Democratic Party as the sole widely organized political party. But not for long! Much like the Tea Party movement of the 2010's, the Republican movement started grass-roots. Unlike the Tea Party movement it got fully organized within a year as a political party and was electing candidates throughout the northern states. From the wikipedia article Republican Party (United States):

"Early Republican ideology was reflected in the 1856 slogan "free labor, free land, free men", which had been coined by Salmon P. Chase, a Senator from Ohio (and future Secretary of the Treasury and Chief Justice of the United States). "Free labor" referred to the Republican opposition to slave labor and belief in independent artisans and businessmen. "Free land" referred to Republican opposition to plantation system whereby slave owners could buy up all the good farm land, leaving the yeoman independent farmers the leftovers. The Party strived to contain the expansion of slavery, which would cause the collapse of the slave power and the expansion of freedom."

The party ran John Fremont, the famous explorer, in 1856. He didn't win, but the rise of the Republicans deeply scared The South. As the 1860 election drew near, the leaders of The South declared that if a Republican was elected president, they were cutting bait on the Union. Abraham Lincoln ran and won, and seven states in the Deep South made good on their promise.

The Blunder Evolves

This was a time of chaos. No one knew what would happen. Buchanan departing and Lincoln at his inaugural both declared the breakaway states illegal, but both said they would not initiate force against them.

What started the hostilities was Lincoln sending supply ships to Fort Sumter, an island fort in the Charleston, SC harbor held by federal troops loyal to the Union. The Confederate troops in Charleston, manning other forts around Sumter, opened fire and two days later it surrendered.

This opening of actual fighting brought four more states to the Confederate side. And the stage was set.

Early goals

The basic Union goal throughout the war was to preserve the Union. The basic Confederate goal throughout the war was to have the Union abandon that goal and recognize the Confederacy as a separate state. These were constants, but there were secondary goals that evolved with time.

The first goal for Lincoln and The North was keeping what remained of the Union together and organizing it for a war. This meant keeping control of the border states which might go Confederate if the Union got even more chaotic. The Lincoln administration succeeded at this, even though the war started getting serious. At the battle of Shiloh on the Tennessee River in April 1862 the casualty count surprised everyone: 3,000 killed, 23,000 casualties.

Mid-war, after the even more destructive Battle of Antietam‬, Lincoln formally brought the slavery issue into the war with the Emancipation Proclamation. This brought a lot more emotion into the goals of the conflict, and made the moral ground more difficult for Britain and France to move in support of the Confederacy.

The Confederacy consistently hoped for support from Britain and France. They hoped that the desire to sustain King Cotton and keep their textile mills flourishing would give them motivation to discourage the Union or directly support them. The Southern hope was that if they did support, the war would get much more difficult for the Union, they would get discouraged, and it would end.

When the hostilities began neither side had much of a military. Lincoln called for mobilizing just 75,000 troops after Fort Sumter surrendered. In comparison, by the end of the war 2,000,000 had served on the Union side.

In a move that made good political sense but terrible military sense, the Confederacy moved their capital from Montgomery, AL in the Deep South to Richmond, VA, the capital of the premier border state. The problem: Richmond is just a few hours drive south of Washington, DC. When that happened "Capture the Capital" became a high-profile goal for the North.

Winfield Scott, the retiring top general of the Union, outlined in the early days of the crisis what subduing The South would take. But he was mocked for his plan -- Scott's Anaconda as it came to be called -- because it was so big and expensive. Everyone, on both sides, was hoping for a quick war and a quick resolution. ...It didn't happen. This turned into a war both sides were willing to pay a lot to fight.

The war ended up becoming the first modern war. Railroads, telegraphs, and industry in general allowed huge numbers of troops to be mustered and maneuvered. It lasted for four years and sucked up huge resources from both The North and The South. Over a half million men died in a nation with a population of thirty million. The South's economy was devastated. The South was devastated, but the Industrial Revolution was still in full swing in The North and its economy actually grew while this conflict was in progress. Just three years after the war ended the Union, the whole Union once again, bought Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million. ($118 million in current dollars)

The Blunder Continues

Victory did not end the harsh feelings. The Reconstruction Era which followed did not mend the feelings or bring The South up to economic par with The North. Southern culture, now filled with impoverished free blacks and whites instead of slaves, remained distinct from Northern culture in many ways that Northerners considered unpleasant. It wasn't until the Civil Rights Era of the 1960's, one hundred years later, that The South caught up economically, and culturally became more a part of what we now consider The American Way.


--The End--