Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the election
of 1860 began a chain of events that pushed the nation rapidly toward
During the 1860 election, some Southerners threatened
secession pending Lincoln’s victory, even though he promised that
while he would forbid the extension of slavery into the territories,
he would not interfere with slavery in the South. In December 1860,
soon after Lincoln’s victory, a special South Carolina convention
voted unanimously for secession. By February 1861, six more Southern
states followed suit: Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana,
and Texas. Delegates from all seven states met to establish the Confederate
States of America, and they chose Jefferson Davis as
the Confederacy’s first president.
Lincoln refused to recognize the confederacy and declared
the secession “legally void.” Although he personally favored the
gradual emancipation of slaves with compensation given to slave
owners, as president, he strove to preserve the Union first and
foremost, by whatever means necessary—even if that meant freeing
no slaves at all. He once said, “If I could save the Union without
freeing any slaves I would do it, and if I could
save the Union by freeing all the slaves I would
do it.” Lincoln hoped that loyal Unionists in the South would help
him overturn secession.
However, the nation’s rift only widened in the early months
of Lincoln’s presidency. In April 1861, Confederate troops opened
fire on the federal army base at Fort Sumter, forcing federal troops
to surrender. Lincoln proclaimed the Lower South in rebellion and called
for an army to suppress the insurrection. The threat of incoming
federal troops prompted Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North
Carolina to secede and join the Confederacy. Maryland, Delaware,
Kentucky, and Missouri, all slave states, remained in the Union.
The Confederate attack on federal troops at Fort
Sumter sparked the secession of the Upper South and the commitment
of the North to war
Mobilizing for War
Each side predicted an early victory for itself. While
the North seemed favored to win the war, given its larger and better-equipped
army, the South also had some distinct military advantages.
The Union’s advantages over the South:
- Population size: The North
had a population of 22 million (23 states) versus the South’s 9
million (11 states). Northern forces totaled 2,100,000, compared
to the South’s paltry 800,000.
- Greater wartime funding: Both the North and
South sold war bonds, but the North also instituted an income tax
and had more effective tax collection. The Northern economy also
fared better during the war, suffering only moderate inflation,while
the Southern economy collapsed from severe inflation (prices in the
South rose more than 300 percent annually).
- More advanced industry: The North held more
than 90 percent of the nation’s industrial plants and could easily
produce heavy artillery weapons. The North also had 70 percent of
the nation’s railroad tracks and could therefore effectively transport
arms and food to distant troops. The South, on the other hand, had
to import arms until it could build an industrial base, could not
afford supplies, and could not efficiently ship food and equipment
to its troops.
- More abundant food resources: Northern agriculture
was geared toward grain, whereas the South specialized in the growing
of inedible cash crops like cotton, tobacco, and indigo.
The Confederacy’s advantages over the North:
- Geography: The Confederacy
was fighting for independence at home, while the Union was entering
enemy territory. Whereas the North would have to ship men and supplies
long distances and occupy conquered territory, the South could maintain
an arc of defense by moving its men around very little.
- Military tradition and morale: The South
had a stronger military tradition and more experienced military
leaders. During the war, fewer Southern troops defected than Northern
troops, suggesting a higher morale among Confederate forces.