The Civil War
On paper the North was far stronger than the South. It had two and a
half times as many people, and it possessed far more ships, miles of
railroad, and manufacturing enterprises. Southerners, however, had the
advantage of fighting on home ground with better military leadership. But
Union superiority in manpower was not so great as the gross figures suggest.
Half a million people scattered from Dakota to California, could make no
substantial contribution to Union strength. And every year Union regiments
were sent to the West to fight Indians. Hundreds of thousands of Americans
in loyal border states and in southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois worked
or fought for southern independence. Though, every state furnished men for
the other side, there was little doubt that more Federals than Confederates
The South had superior officer personnel. For twenty years before
Lincoln’s inauguration, southern officers had dominated the U.S. Army.
Another source of southern confidence was cotton. Secession leaders
expected to exchange that staple for the foreign manufactured goods they
The South’s most important advantage was that it had only to defend
relatively short interior lines against invaders who had to deal with long
lines of communication and to attack a broad front. The Confederacy also
had no need to divert fighting men to tasks such as garrisoning captured
cities and holding conquered territory.
In a short war, numerical superiority would not have made much of a
difference. As the war continued, however, numerical strength became a
psychological as well as a physical weapon. During the closing years of the
conflict, Union armies, massed at last against critical strongholds,
suffered terrible casualties but seemed to grow stronger with every defeat.
Any staggering Confederate losses sapped the southern will to fight. Every
material advantage of the North was magnified by the fact that the Civil
War lasted years instead of months. Money and credit, food production,
transport, factories, clothing (boots)–it took time to redirect the
economy to the requirements of war, especially because these requirements,
like the length of the war, were underestimated.