For some time, historians have heavily debated the possible causes for the outcome of the Civil War. Looking back now, with minimal research, it appears as if Union Victory was inevitable. With a substantial monopoly on industrial goods, a clear advantage in supplies, and an army much greater in numbers, how could they possibly be overcome? While it seems convincing, the outcome could have been much different.
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At the beginning of the war, the Southern Confederacy had brilliant military leaders who could effectively make use of a smaller army when strategizing defense systems. This fact, along with an assumed advantage in land mass, led most southerners to believe that the war was bound to be successful for them. (Sheehan-Dean) At this point in time, they had already seen smaller armies be victorious in previous wars, so they had no reasons to label it impossible. What was it then, that ultimately led to the Union’s triumph over the Southern Confederacy? Before finding a possible answer to this question, we must delve into the different areas that had major effects, both positively and negatively, on the two sides of this war. For me, these areas are related to the resources each side had available for use, the leadership of the armies, and also the respective societies and their actions during the war.
As for resources, the Union in the North had a drastic superiority in every aspect. Besides the significantly larger number of soldiers, the North had over 100,000 factories, while the Confederacy had a much smaller number closer to 20,000. (National Park Service) With states such as New York or Pennsylvania, who outnumbered the southern factories on their own, the North took the prize in economy and manufacturing. With this in mind, they were well suited for war, and never short of supplies such as weapons or equipment. This advantage only grew greater as the war progressed, and is generally what people believe to be the main cause of the southern defeat. However, the South knew what they got themselves into, and continued still. They were not going to back down simply because the North had a clear edge favor in materials, but rather they would make adjustments to their strategies to defend against such multitudes. The monopoly on available equipment cannot prove to be the sole cause of the Union victory, but it put them many steps above the Confederacy.
Additionally, the leadership of the opposing sides played an enormous role in the overall outcome of the battles fought during the war. This is an area in which the Confederacy was believed to initially hold an advantage. With General Robert E. Lee on their side, the South was confident in the ability of their armies to stand their ground. Known as a “War Hero” by many in that era, Lee was quite possibly one of the most brilliant military leaders around. However, historians tend to pay more attention to the war in the east, where the strongest Confederate leaders were (such as Robert E. Lee), and forget about the west, where the Union placed their strongest commanders. (McPherson, 1996) One must not forget that leadership in war does not end with the army commanders. While the Confederacy had wiser generals, the Union quite possibly had a much stronger leadership at the governing level, with Abraham Lincoln as President. Lincoln was a strong politician who was able to adjust to different tactics and manage those under him in a much more effective way than that of the South’s President Jefferson Davis, who struggled on many accounts with effectively leading his men. One costly mistake, for example, was allowing General Lee to remain focused on the east, which led to the South’s loss in the West. This was a prime example of how leadership played a major role in the outcome of the war, and another factor which eventually favored the North.
Finally, the people of the opposing nations played what could be considered one of the largest roles in the war. While most Northerners agreed with the Union’s stance on the war, the Confederacy was falling apart more and more as time continued. There was disjuncture with farmers from the very start of the war. The South, while it was mainly a Plantation Economy filled and operated by many businessmen who made use of slaves, had many farmers with small plots of land. The lives of the small-time farmers would not be heavily affected by potential policies which would oppose slavery, and in fact, could benefit more from being a part of the Union. (War History Online) While some never supported the war at all, other southerners were quick to follow when they saw the failures their armies had, or even when taxes were raised. This disinterest in the war changed the initial passion the South had for the war, and on top of that, many of their population was filled with slaves who already neglected the South’s reasonings for war. With a lack of support from its people, the South was starting to implode.
Ultimately, no one aspect of the war completely influences who came out as the victor, but rather a combination of failures on one side, with a multitude of achievements on the other. The Confederate South might have been able to change the outcome had they acted differently in just one aspect, but that chance is far gone. Overall, the resources, leadership, and citizens of the North are what pushed the Union to victory in the Civil War.
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