Why the South Lost the War Essay

Why the South Lost the War Essay

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“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. ” These words, spoken by Abraham Lincoln during his campaign to be a senator from Illinois, ring eerily true with the truth about the country’s uncertain future.

Only three short years after Lincoln gave this speech, civil war would break out between the northern and southern states, and it would end four years later with the South running away with its tail between its legs. Why did the South lose the war? The South entered into the Civil War unprepared to fight and, ultimately, was starting a fight it was destined to lose.

In the end, there were five factors that led to the defeat of the South: The fundamental economic superiority of the North, a basic lack of sound military strategy strategy in the way the South fought the war, the inept Southern performance in foreign affairs, lack of a dominating civilian leader in the South, and President Abraham Lincoln (Hersch, 2002). The first contributing factor to the South’s loss of the war is the fact that the North had a fundamentally sturdier and superior economy. Economically, the Civil War was not a contest between equals.

The South had no factories to produce guns or ammunition, and its railroads were small and not interconnected, meaning that it was hard for the South to move food, weapons, and men quickly over long distances. In addition, though agriculture thrived in the South, planters focused on cash crops like tobacco and cotton and did not produce enough food crops to feed the southern population (“Economy” 2004). The North, on the other hand, had enough food and enough factories to make weapons for all of its soldiers.

It also had an extensive rail network that could transport men and weapons rapidly and cheaply. At first, this superiority of the North didn’t seem to make much of a difference. Like many wars in history, those involved thought it would be over quickly. However, northern logistical capabilities would prove crucial as the war dragged on (“Economy” 2004). The second reason for Southern defeat was the fact that the South simply lacked any sort of coherent strategy, military of otherwise.

Inferior strategies employed by the South included: the defense of Richmond, the defense of the coastal areas, gaining the Border States into the Confederacy, the “offensive defense” of taking the war into Maryland and Pennsylvania, blockade running and privateers, as well as efforts to gain diplomatic recognition (or assistance) from Britain and/or France (Resch, 2005). The South utilized the few resources it had effectively, but the Southern railroads could not keep up to the demands placed on it, unlike the Northern railroads, which grew during the war.

These several problems hindered the South greatly in winning the war. One might stop and wonder why the South was not more proactive in finding solutions to these problems, but the answer is obvious: the South simply did not have the centralized power structure and decision makers necessary to remedy its struggling economy (Resch, 2005). Thirdly, the South struggled greatly in the area of foreign affairs. The South constantly attempted to become recognized by other nations as its own independent power, but over the course of the war not a single foreign nation would formally recognize the Confederacy.

One such country was Britain. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was officially neutral throughout the American Civil War, 1861-65 (Harrison, 2005). The Confederate strategy for securing independence was largely based on British and French military intervention, which never happened; however intervention would have meant war with the United States. A serious conflict between Britain and the United States erupted over the “Trent Affair” in 1861; it was resolved in a few months (Harrison, 2005).

The quandary of the South in the area of foreign affairs was caused by the fact that Jefferson Davis believed that the British dependence on textiles would force the British into an alliance with the South due to its abundant cotton resources. As president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, left foreign policy to others in government and, rather than developing an aggressive diplomatic effort, tended to expect events to accomplish diplomatic objectives (Harrison, 2005).

The new president was committed to the notion that cotton would secure recognition and legitimacy from the powers of Europe. The men Davis selected as secretary of state and emissaries to Europe were chosen for political and personal reasons – not for their diplomatic potential (Hersch, 2002). This was due, in part, to the belief that the demand for cotton could accomplish the Confederate objectives with little help from Confederate diplomats. One positive in the Confederacy’s foreign affairs was its ability to employ the British shipyard (John Laird nd Sons) to build two warships for the Confederacy, including the CSS Alabama, causing vehement protests from the United States (Harrison, 2005).

The controversy continued after the Civil War in the form of the Alabama Claims, in which the United States finally was given $15. 5 million in arbitration by an international tribunal for damages caused by British-built warships (Harrison, 2005). The British built and operated most of the blockade runners, spending hundreds of millions of pounds on them; but that was legal and not the cause of serious tension.

In the end, these instances of British involvement neither shifted the outcome of the war nor provoked the U. S. into declaring war against Britain. The United States’ diplomatic mission headed by Minister Charles Francis Adams, Sr. proved much more successful than the Confederate missions, which were never officially recognized (Harrison, 2005). Fourthly, is the fact that the South did not possess a dominating civilian leader. The Confederacy was also not as unified as is commonly thought.

Parts of the Confederacy were extremely loyal while others such as East Tennessee were hotbeds of Unionist activity (Resch, 2005). These citizens resisted Confederate drafts, and refused to pay Confederate taxes. Many of these Unionists formed groups of activists to resist the Confederate government. Confederate loyalists persecuted unionists in East Tennessee and in other areas (Resch, 2005). Nevertheless, internal opposition to the Confederacy hurt the stability of a region as well as undermined the war effort.

These shortcomings in civilian leadership lead to the downfall of the Confederacy, because without the people supporting the cause or stepping up to participate in the war effort, there could be no hope of ever winning the war (Resch, 2005). Finally, the success of the South was ultimately doomed as soon as Abraham Lincoln took office as President. With the election of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln on November 6, 1860, South Carolina, followed by six other states, seceded from the Union (Kelly, 2009).

Even though his views about slavery were considered moderate during the nomination and election, South Carolina had warned it would secede if he won. This attitude was encouraged by the confederate leaders in the South, and it was this bigoted resentment that was a contributing factor to the start of the Civil War (Kelly, 2009). Lincoln agreed with the majority of the Republican Party that the South was becoming too powerful, and made it part of their platform that slavery would not be extended to any new territories or states added to the union.

One could imagine how this would anger the South and cause them to feel threatened by the North. Here was a republican President from the North taking the side of the North in not allowing the South to expand its lucrative business of slavery. Lincoln perhaps single handedly started and ended the Civil War, whether implicitly or not. However, Lincoln was not the only reason the war started, he was only the final push the South needed to break away from the Union. More clear, however, is the fact that he did indeed the end the Civil War through his well-founded and composed politics and strategies.

There were two major moves made by Lincoln that heavily influenced the outcome of the war, these were the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation (Kelly, 2009). The first was a moving and decided blow against the image of the South. Part of the address is as follows: “…Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate– we cannot consecrate– we cannot hallow– this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” (as stated in The Gettysburg Address 1863), The people could not ignore the words of President Lincoln, and the South could not refute them with any sort of fact.

Truth be told, what Lincoln uttered in his address was the truth itself, and not even Jefferson Davis could argue that. And secondly was the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in states of the Union; although this did not free every slave in the Continental U. S. it was a start and a colossal blow to the morale of the Confederate army as well as its citizens.

The Union proved at that time that it was far more organized and unified in its cause because of the great leader it had in Abraham Lincoln (Kelly 2009). The fact that the South lost the Civil War has been a highly debated issue throughout the history of the United States and the reasons for this loss continue to be tossed around and discussed even to this day, however these five pervious factors consistently reemerge as reasons as to the defeat of the Confederate Army and their reentrance into the Union.

The words that would best describe this are the words Lincoln used three years prior to the Civil War, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. ” He was correct, it could not and would not stand divided; in the end the United States was one country and always would be.


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