Life in the Civil War

Pennsylvania Factory by James F. Queen, 1857.

Pennsylvania Factory by James F. Queen, 1857.

When the war broke out in 1861, the North placed its faith in moral superiority and material advantage. The Union was a powerful image, and Lincoln used his “house” metaphor, hoping to keep the national family together. The Union wanted to impress upon its sibling rival that it possessed more improved farmland than the South and more soldiers in its growing population than did the Confederacy. Southern superiority in exports, almost exclusively cotton, could be abolished with the blockade. The North had over 125,000 industrial firms and the South had less than 20,000. New York State alone manufactured four times the value of manufactured products as did the entire Confederacy. One county in Connecticut manufactured more firearms than all the southern states combined.

The North had more and better ports, superior canals, and generally better transportation. Although the United States boasted one of the largest railroad networks in the world, less than one-third of its tracks were in the southern states — and 96% of American trains were manufactured in the North. Southern shipbuilding was considerably inferior to the size and scope of northern naval capabilities. Financial centers, especially sophisticated trade in bonds, were concentrated along the northeastern seaboard. Southern farmers were less commercially acclimated than the New England, Middle Atlantic, and Old Northwest homesteaders, with closer ties to eastern markets, fed by flatboat and steamer trade.

Foraging in Virginia during the Civil War.

Foraging in Virginia during the Civil War.

At the same time, most white southern volunteers had been trained in local militias and were better equipped to forage from their hunting expertise. Further, the Confederacy declared its independence, which meant it could conduct a defensive war against Yankee invaders, a far simpler tactic than the conquest required for Union victory. The numbers were reputedly against Confederate victory, but the spirit was strong, and the North had not anticipated just how entrenched and determined Confederate rebels had become.

From the National Park Civil War Series, Life in Civil War America, Catherine Clinton, published by Eastern National 2008. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, April 2019.

Also See:

Civil War Main Page

Civil War Photo Galleries

People of the Civil War

Slavery – Cause and Catalyst of the Civil War

Source: National Park Service E-Library

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