Confederate States of America

Early Reverses

Battle of Fort Donelson, Tennessee

Battle of Fort Donelson, Tennessee

The frontier of the Confederacy extending from Norfolk, Virginia, through the southwestern counties of Virginia and through Kentucky to western Missouri was broken at Forts Donelson and Henry, Tennessee, in February 1862, and again at Pittsburg Landing in western Tennessee in the following April. In May 1863, New Orleans fell into the hands of the Federals and with the fall of Murfreesborough, Tennessee and Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1863, the western part of the Confederacy was cut off from the main group of states.

From the autumn of 1862, the seafront from Chesapeake Bay to Galveston was guarded by an ever-tightening cordon of armed ships of war. This blockade effectually closed the ports of the South against all foreign trade. Only along the northern boundary of Virginia did the armies of the Confederacy make any inroads upon the North and these ceased after General Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July 1863. This was followed by General William T. Sherman’s march to the sea, which, in the autumn of 1864, cut through the heart of the Confederacy.

Under these discouraging conditions, petty personal jealousies arose among the officers of the army, not unlike those between the civil authorities of the Confederate and state governments. Joseph E. Johnston, who was connected with many of the most powerful families of the South, became intensely hostile toward President Davis and was jealous of the growing fame of General Lee, who was the very personification of the “first family” influence. The Confederate Congress generally sided with Johnston against the President but feared openly to antagonize Lee.

Confederate Generals

Pierre G.T. Beauregard

Pierre G.T. Beauregard

The South had the great advantage in the beginning in the character of the higher officers who resigned their commissions in the United States Army to accept commands in the army established by the Confederacy. The chief of these were Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, Albert Sidney Johnston and Pierre G. T. Beauregard; all leaders of great ability and long experience in actual warfare. The prestige which these names carried and the confidence which they inspired in the success of the cause had much to do with the rapid formation and successful organization of the armies with which the Confederacy began operations. During the first year of the struggle, the “new nation” put more than 400,000 men into the field and began the building of many ships of war in English and French docks. During the four years of the war, almost 900,000 soldiers were enlisted and equipped. Everyone in the South, whether he had favored the movement originally or not, counted it a disgrace not to have a part in the fighting, and for years, no one in the older southern states would admit that he or any of his family shirked military duty or sent a substitute to the front.

Economic Conditions

Railroad wrecked by retreating Confederates

Railroad wrecked by retreating Confederates

Enthusiasm for the cause, coupled with early victories in the field, led to the belief that success was only a matter of time. In this confident expectation, a debt of $1,500,000,000 was contracted on the part of the Confederate Government alone and almost as much must have been spent by the states, counties, and municipalities. In the end, almost all of this debt would be repudiated during Reconstruction by the Federal Government in 1865-66. A small portion of this huge debt was due to European creditors, not more than $10,000,000; but, all the rest was a total loss to the people of the South, mainly to those who had been slave owners. The loss in cotton production and export decreased from four million to less than one million bales between 1860 and 1865 and would not again reach its former state of profitability until 1870. The corporate wealth of railroads and manufacturers was almost wholly lost during the war. At the beginning of the war, the South had three main lines of railroad, some of which were extended to deal with the war-time traffic. Cut off from the steel and iron mills of the North and England, the railroad soon ran down and in the end became almost worthless.

End of the Confederacy

Throughout the war, troubles in the Confederate Government continued and from November, 1864 to February, 1865, a strong party in the Confederate Congress, led by Alexander H. Stephens and supported by Governors Zebulon B. Vance of North Carolina, and Joseph E. Brown of Georgia, urged the impeachment of Jefferson Davis and the establishment of a military dictatorship with General Robert E. Lee at the head. The refusal of Lee to support the plan prevented a practical attempt at its realization.

The Confederate States of America effectively collapsed after Ulysses S. Grant captured its capitol of Richmond, Virginia and Robert E. Lee’s army in April, 1865. The remaining Confederate forces surrendered by the end of June, as the U.S. Army took control of the South.

After the war, a decade-long process known as Reconstruction began which expelled ex-Confederate leaders from office, enacted civil rights legislation, and imposed conditions on the readmission of the states to Congress. The war and subsequent Reconstruction left the South economically weak and it would be years before they would regain prosperity.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated July, 2017.

About This Article: Much of this article is part of the Cyclopedia of American Government, Volume 1, edited by Andrew C. McLaughlin and Albert Bushnell Hart, 1914. However, the article that appears here is far from the original text as it has been heavily edited, truncated, and additional information added.

The fall of Richmond, Virginia, April, 1865

The fall of Richmond, Virginia, April, 1865

Also See:

Bleeding Kansas & the Missouri Border War

Civil War (main page)

The Union in the Civil War

The Era of Reconstruction

Civil War Photo Print Galleries

Civil War Books, Maps and Documents on CD


4 thoughts on “Confederate States of America”

  1. Why not mention how the Confederacy established in its racist Constitution the perpetuity of slavery?
    You skipped the detail that the south fired the first shot at Fort Sumter.

  2. You got everything except the flag. How do you keep forgetting the flag? One other major event you don’t include:

    March 13, 1865, the Confederate Congress passes an act to recruit Negro Slaves as soldiers, leaving their future as slaves up to the states governments. If the war had gone on, say three more years, the Confederacy may have freed the slaves themselves.

    1. The war was to perpetuate Black slavery.
      The racist Constitution of the Confederacy established this premise clearly.

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