Toward War
Toward War
Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the election of 1860 began a chain of events that pushed the nation rapidly toward civil war.
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.
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