Also like the national Congress under the Articles, the Confederate government had serious financial troubles throughout the war because few states paid their fair share. The central government even had trouble keeping the Confederacy together during the war: in 1861, Unionists in western regions of Virginia seceded from the Confederacy and then rejoined the Union as the new state of West Virginia two years later.

The Conscription Act

The Richmond government did manage to pass the Conscription Act of 1862 to draft young men in all the Confederate states into the national army. As Richmond got more desperate for troops, the draft was extended to middle-aged men as well. The law, like the North’s law, was biased against poorer Southerners in favor of the elite. Wealthy planters and landowners were exempt from the draft, as were overseers and anyone else whose job was vital to maintaining control over the slaves. As a result, the army was filled with farmers and landless whites, many of them disgruntled. Blacks were excluded from military service.

Confederate Diplomacy

One of the Confederacy’s most pressing goals during the war was to secure international recognition from Europe and enter a military alliance with Britain. International recognition would legitimize the Confederacy and justify its cause. An alliance with Britain would break the Union blockade of Southern ports and supply the Confederacy with arms and badly needed manufactured goods.

British Assistance

At the war’s outset, Confederate policymakers banked on recognition and an alliance because they believed Britain was very dependent on Southern cotton. Planters in the Confederacy provided 75 percent of the cotton that British textile manufacturers consumed.

Indeed, Britain allowed Southern ships to use its ports and even built Confederate warships, such as the Alabama, which sank more than sixty Union ships on the high seas. British shipbuilders also agreed to build two ironclad warships with Laird rams, which the Confederates could use to pierce the hulls of enemy ships.

British Detachment

Unfortunately for the South, however, Davis was never able to parlay this British assistance into a formal recognition or alliance. First, the Confederate government had overestimated Britain’s cotton dependence. Although most of Britain’s cotton came from the South, it became clear that British textile manufacturers had bought from the South only because it was cheaper. As a result, though the Union blockade of Southern ports temporarily hurt the British textile industry, the industry bounced back quickly after switching to cotton suppliers from Egypt and India.

Popular pages: The Civil War 1850–1865