War takes its toll

When the war broke out, the Northern states possessed a vast superiority of resources, so much so that some scholars have depicted Confederate efforts at independence as doomed from the start. That argument, however, draws on the critical knowledge that the Confederacy ultimately lost. In wartime, nations must be able to tap their resources, to convert them into military strength, and to focus and sustain that force at the enemy's critical source of power, what Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz called the center of gravity. The task is easier said than done. In an industrialized world, it takes prolonged periods to mobilize manpower, to convert manufacturing to wartime purposes, and to replace valuable personnel who have rushed off to arms but who had produced on farms and in factories. Then, political and uniformed leaders must map out strategy, train and equip armies, and finally oversee the successful execution of military operations.

Certainly the advantage of resources rested with the Federals. Four of every five white persons lived in the Northern states, and the region held 90 percent of all manufacturing. The Union was home to two of every three farms, and possessed a modern and efficient transportation system.

But the Confederacy had advantages as well. The seceding states encompassed over 700,000 square miles (1.8 million km2) of territory. Since the Union sought to conquer the Rebels, its armed forces must overcome a hostile people over an enormous land mass. That huge Southern coastline - some 3,500 miles (5,600km) - no doubt could serve as an avenue of invasion. At the same time, it also offered easy access for imported goods, which could compensate for limited manufacturing capabilities. The Confederacy had a well-educated segment of the population who could design and build factories. And while the North had an overwhelming advantage in population, the Confederacy hoped to rely on three and a half million slaves. Their labors could offset the loss of productivity when white men took up arms and actually enable the Confederate states to place a higher proportion of their population in uniform.

After 27 months of fighting, Union armies had seized control of the Mississippi River, severing the Confederacy and reducing further contributions to the area west of the river to a trickle. Grant alone had captured two Rebel armies, totaling nearl; 50,000. Federal forces had secured Kentucky and much of Tennessee, in addition to large portions of Missouri, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Tens of thousands of slaves had flooded Union lines. Early in the war, these laborers had produced for the Confederacy; now, they would work to defeat it. With the Emancipation Proclamation in effect, the Union armies would make a conscientious effort to strip Southerners of their slaves and to recruit them to work for or serve in the Federal armies. As Lincoln assessed pithily to Crant. 'It works doubly - weakening the enemy and strengthening us.'

By mid-1863, too, Northern might had just begun to weigh into the equation. There were twice as many Federals present for duty as Confederates, and the Union could replace its losses much more easily than the Confederacy. These Yankees, moreover, were better clothed, better fed, and better equipped than their Rebel opponents. It took a while, but the preponderance of Union resources began to take effect. Factories in the North churned out enormous quantities of military and civilian products, and imports continued to pour into New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other port cities.

President Abraham Lincoln struggled to find someone who could exploit the Northern superiority in resources and lead the Union army to victory. Eventually he found that person in Ulysses S. Grant (National Archives)

Relying on farm machinery to offset manpower loss, Northern farmers grew bumper crops, despite inclement weather. And after some initial struggles, Northerners had mastered the art and science of logistics - the supply and transportation of its armies - to ensure that soldiers in the field received much of that productive bounty.

The conversion of Northern industry to wartime production also advantaged the Union. After the war, Confederate Chief of Ordnance Josiah Gorgas boasted that the Confederacy never lost a battle because its armies lacked ammunition. Yet Northern factories churned out vastly more ammunition and weapons, and the quality was superior. The Northern states forged as many field and coastal artillery guns in a single year as did the combined productivity of the entire Confederacy for the war. Yankee munitions makers manufactured 50 percent more small-arms cartridges in one year than the Confederacy made for the entire war. Had Confederate ports been open, the Rebels could have offset the imbalance through imports, but Northern shipbuilders crafted ironclads and wooden vessels in such prodigious numbers that the once porous blockade had begun to tighten significantly.

While momentum had shifted to the Federals, two critical questions remained. Would the Union place individuals in high command who would direct the armies and resources skillfully against the Confederate center of gravity - its people's willingness to resist Union authority in order to create an independent nation? Second, would the Northern public and the armies in the field continue to support the cause in the face of huge losses sacrifices, and hardships?

From the Confederate standpoint, despite losses in manpower and territory in the first 27 months of fighting, most Southern whites retained a powerful commitment to the war. Morale had rolled up and down, based largely on battlefield successes and failures. Still, Confederates realized that the Union had to conquer them to win. and in mid-1863, the secessionists were a long way from being defeated. Most Confederate land remained in Rebel control. No massive slave rebellions had taken place, and although large numbers had fled to the enemy, millions remained behind and produced for the Rebel cause. The primary armies stood intact, and the one in Virginia appeared unbeatable on home soil. No doubt, soldiers and civilians suffered shortages, but Southern farms and factories produced enough to sustain both sectors. If the Confederacy could resist stoutly for another 16 months, till the Northern presidential election, perhaps its people could force a political decision by swaying Northerners into voting a peace party into power.

The fighting

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