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The American Civil War

"In all history, no nation of mere agriculturists ever made successful
war against a nation of mechanics. . . .You are bound to fail"
-Union officer William Tecumseh Sherman to a Southern friend.

The American antebellum South, though steeped in pride and
raised in military tradition, was to be no match for the burgeoning
superiority of the rapidly developing North in the coming Civil War.
The lack of emphasis on manufacturing and commercial interest,
stemming from the Southern desire to preserve their traditional
agrarian society, surrendered to the North their ability to function
independently, much less to wage war. It was neither Northern troops
nor generals that won the Civil War, rather Northern guns and
industry.

From the onset of war, the Union had obvious advantages. Quite
simply, the North had large amounts of just about everything that the
South did not, boasting resources that the Confederacy had even no
means of attaining (See Appendices, Brinkley et al. 415). Sheer
manpower ratios were unbelievably one-sided, with only nine of the
nation's 31 million inhabitants residing in the seceding states (Angle
7). The Union also had large amounts of land available for growing
food crops which served the dual purpose of providing food for its
hungry soldiers and money for its ever-growing industries. The South,
on the other hand, devoted most of what arable land it had exclusively
to its main cash crop: cotton (Catton, The Coming Fury 38). Raw
materials were almost entirely concentrated in Northern mines and
refining industries. Railroads and telegraph lines, the veritable
lifelines of any army, traced paths all across the Northern
countryside but left the South isolated, outdated, developed in the
form of economic colonialism. The Confederates were and starving (See
Appendices). The final death knell for a modern South all too willing
to sell what little raw materials they possessed to Northern Industry
for any profit they could get. Little did they know, "King Cotton"
could buy them time, but not the war. The South had bartered something
that perhaps it had not intended: its independence (Catton,
Reflections 143).

The North's ever-growing industry was an important supplement
to its economical dominance of the South. Between the years of 1840
and 1860, American industry saw sharp and steady growth. In 1840 the
total value of goods manufactured in the United States stood at $483
million, increasing over fourfold by 1860 to just under $2 billion,
with the North taking the king's ransom (Brinkley et al. 312). The
underlying reason behind this dramatic expansion can be traced
directly to the American Industrial Revolution.

Beginning in the early 1800s, traces of the industrial
revolution in England began to bleed into several aspects of the
American society. One of the first industries to see quick development
was the textile industry, but, thanks to the British government, this
development almost never came to pass. Years earlier, England's James
Watt had developed the first successful steam engine. This invention,
coupled with the birth of James Hargreaves' spinning jenny, completely
revolutionized the British textile industry, and eventually made it
the most profitable in the world ("Industrial Revolution"). The
British government, parsimonious with its newfound knowledge of
machinery, attempted to protect the nation's manufacturing preeminence
by preventing the export of textile machinery and even the emigration
of skilled mechanics. Despite valiant attempts at deterrence, though,
many immigrants managed to make their way into the United States with
the advanced knowledge of English technology, and they were anxious
to acquaint America with the new machines (Furnas 303).

And acquaint the Americans they did: more specifically, New
England Americans. It was people like Samuel Slater who can be
credited with beginning the revolution of the textile industry in
America. A skilled mechanic in England, Slater spent long hours
studying the schematics for the spinning jenny until finally he no
longer needed them. He emigrated to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and
there, together with a Quaker merchant by the name of Moses Brown, he
built a spinning jenny from memory (Furnas 303). This meager mill
would later become known as the first modern factory in America. It
would also become known as the point at which the North began its
economic domination of the Confederacy.

Although slow to accept change, The South was not entirely
unaffected by the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Another inventor
by the name of Eli Whitney set out in 1793 to revolutionize the
Southern cotton industry. Whitney was working as a tutor for a
plantation owner in Georgia (he was also, ironically, born and raised
in New England) and therefore knew the problems of harvesting cotton
(Brinkley et al. 200). Until then, the arduous task of separating the
seeds from the cotton before sale had been done chiefly by slave labor
and was, consequently, very inefficient. Whitney developed a machine
which would separate the seed from the cotton swiftly and effectively,
cutting the harvesting time by more than one half ("Industrial
Revolution"). This machine, which became known as the cotton gin, had
profound results on the South, producing the highest uptrend the
industry had ever, and would ever, see. In that decade alone cotton
production figures increased by more than 2000 percent (Randall and
Donald 36). Enormous amounts of business opportunities opened up,
including, perhaps most importantly, the expansion of the Southern
plantations. This was facilitated by the fact that a single worker
could now do the same amount of work in a few hours that a group of
workers had once needed a whole day to do (Brinkley et al. 201). This
allowed slaves to pick much more cotton per day and therefore led most
plantation owners to expand their land base. The monetary gains of the
cash crop quickly took precedence over the basic necessity of the food
crop, which could be gotten elsewhere. In 1791 cotton production
amounted to only 4000 bales, but by 1860, production levels had
skyrocketed to just under five million bales (Randall and Donald 36).
Cotton was now bringing in nearly $200 million a year, which
constituted almost two-thirds of the total export trade (Brinkley et
al. 329). "King Cotton" was born, and it soon became a fundamental
motive in Southern diplomacy. However, during this short burst of
economic prowess, the South failed to realize that it would never be
sustained by "King Cotton" alone. What it needed was the guiding hand
of "Queen Industry."

Eli Whitney soon came to realize that the South would not
readily accept change, and decided to take his inventive mind back
up to the North, where it could be put to good use. He found his niche
in the small arms business. Previously, during two long years of
quasi-war with France, Americans had been vexed by the lack of
rapidity with which sufficient armaments could be produced. Whitney
came to the rescue with the invention of interchangeable parts. His
vision of the perfect factory included machines which would produce,
from a preshaped mold, the various components needed to build a
standard infantry rifle, and workers on an assembly line who would
construct it ("Industrial Revolution"). The North, eager to experiment
and willing to try anything that smacked of economic progress, decided
to test the waters of this inviting new method of manufacture. It did
not take the resourceful Northerners very long to actualize Eli
Whitney's dream and make mass production a reality. The small arms
industry boomed, and kept on booming. By the onset of the Civil War,
the confederate states were dolefully noting the fact that there were
thirty-eight Union arms factories capable of producing a total of
5,000 infantry rifles per day, compared with their own paltry capacity
of 100 (Catton, Glory Road 241).

During the mid-1800s, the Industrial Revolution dug its spurs
deep into the side of the Northern states. Luckily, immigration
numbers were skyrocketing at this time, and the sudden profusion of
factory positions that needed to be filled was not a big problem (See
Appendices and Randall and Donald 1-2). The immigrants, who were
escaping anything from the Irish Potato Famine to British oppression,
were willing to work for almost anything and withstand inhuman factory
conditions (Jones). Although this exploitation was extremely cruel and
unfair to the immigrants, Northern businessmen profited immensely from
it (Brinkley et al. 264)

By the beginning of war in 1860, the Union, from an economical
standpoint, stood like a towering giant over the stagnant Southern
agrarian society. Of the over 128,000 industrial firms in the nation
at this time, the Confederacy held only 18,026. New England alone
topped the figure with over 19,000, and so did Pennsylvania 21,000 and
New York with 23,000 (Paludan 105). The total value of goods
manufactured in the state of New York alone was over four times that
of the entire Confederacy. The Northern states produced 96 percent of
the locomotives in the country, and, as for firearms, more of them
were made in one Connecticut county than in all the Southern factories
combined ("Civil War," Encyclopedia Americana).

The Confederacy had made one fatal mistake: believing that its
thriving cotton industry alone would be enough to sustain itself
throughout the war. Southerners saw no need to venture into the
uncharted industrial territories when good money could be made with
cotton. What they failed to realize was that the cotton boom had done
more for the North than it had done for the South. Southerners could
grow vast amounts of cotton, but due to the lack of mills, they could
do nothing with it. Consequently, the cotton was sold to the
Northerners who would use it in their factories to produce wools and
linens, which were in turn sold back to the South. This cycle
stimulated industrial growth in the Union and stagnated it in the
Confederate states (Catton, Reflections 144). Southern plantation
owners erred in believing that the growing textile industries of
England and France were highly dependent on their cotton, and that, in
the event of war, those countries would come to their rescue ("Civil
War," World Book). They believed that the North would then be forced
to acquiesce to the "perfect" Southern society. They were wrong.

During the war years, the economical superiority of the Union,
which had been so eminent before the war, was cemented. The Civil War
gave an even bigger boost to the already growing factories in the
North. The troops needed arms and warm clothes on a constant basis,
and Northern Industry was glad to provide them. By 1862, the Union
could boast of its capacity to manufacture almost all of its own war
materials using its own resources (Brinkley et al. 415). The South, on
the other hand, was fatally dependent on outside resources for its war
needs.

Dixie was not only lagging far behind in the factories. It had
also chosen to disregard two other all-important areas in which the
North had chosen to thrive: transportation and communication.
. . . the Railroad, the Locomotive, and the Telegraph- -iron, steam,
and lightning-these three mighty genii of civilization . . . will
know no lasting pause until the whole vast line of railway shall
completed from the Atlantic to the Pacific. (Furnas 357)

During the antebellum years, the North American populace
especially had shown a great desire for an effective mode of
transportation. For a long time, canals had been used to transport
people and goods across large amounts of land which were accessible by
water, but, with continuing growth and expansion, these canals were
becoming obsolete and a symbol of frustration to many Northerners.
They simply needed a way to transport freight and passengers across
terrains where waterways did not exist (Brinkley et al. 256-59).

The first glimmer of hope came as America's first primitive
locomotive, powered by a vertical wood-fired boiler, puffed out of
Charleston hauling a cannon and gun crew firing salutes (Catton, Glory
Road 237). Ironically enough, this revolution had begun in the South,
but there it would not prosper. The Railroading industry quickly
blossomed in the North, where it provided a much needed alternative to
canals, but could never quite get a foothold in the South. Much of
this can be accredited to the fact that Northern engineers were
experienced in the field of ironworking and had no problem
constructing vast amounts of intricate rail lines, while Southerners,
still fledglings in the field, simply hobbled.

This hobbling was quite unmistakable at the outbreak of the
Civil War. The Union, with its some 22,000 miles of track, was able to
transport weaponry, clothes, food, soldiers, and whatever supplies
were needed to almost any location in the entire theater. Overall,
this greatly aided the Northern war effort and worked to increase the
morale of the troops. The South, on the other hand, could not boast
such logistical prowess. With its meager production of only four
percent of the nation"s locomotives and its scant 9,000 miles of
track, the Confederacy stood in painful awareness of its inferiority
(Randall and Donald 8). Trackage figures alone, though, do not tell
the entire story of the weakness of the South"s railroad"s system.
Another obstacle arose in the problem of track gauge. The gauge, or
width of track, frequently varied from rail to rail in the South.
Therefore, goods would often have to be taken off one train and
transferred to another before moving on to their final destination.
Any perishable goods had to be stored in warehouses if there were any
delays, and this was not an uncommon occurrence. There also existed a
problem in the fact that there were large gaps between many crucial
parts of the South, which required suppliers to make detours over long
distances or to carry goods between rails by wagon (Catton, The Coming
Fury 434). As the war progressed, the Confederate railroad system
steadily deteriorated, and, by the end of the struggle, it had all
but collapsed.

Communication, or rather lack thereof, was another impediment
to Southern economical growth. The telegraph had burst into American
life in 1844, when Samuel Morse first transmitted, from the Supreme
Court chamber in the capitol to Alfred Vail in Baltimore, his famous
words "What hath God wrought!" (Brinkley et al. 314). The advent of
this fresh form of communication greatly facilitated the operation of
the railroad lines in the North. Telegraph lines ran along the tracks,
connecting one station to the next and aiding the scheduling of the
trains. Moreover, the telegraph provided instant communication between
distant cities, tying the nation together like never before. Yet,
ironically, it also buttressed the growing schism between the two
diverging societies (314). The South, unimpressed by this new modern
technology and not having the money to experiment, chose not to delve
very deeply into its development. Pity, they would learn to regret it.

By 1860, the North had laid over 90 percent of the nation"s
some 50,000 miles of telegraph wire. Morse"s telegraph had become an
ideal answer to the problems of long-distance communication, with its
latest triumph of land taking shape in the form of the Pacific
telegraph, which ran from New York to San Francisco and used 3,595
miles of wire (Brinkley et al. 315). The North, as with all telegraph
lines, embraced its relatively low cost and ease of construction. The
Pacific telegraph brought the agricultural Northwest together with the
more industrious Northeast and the blossoming West, forming an
alliance which would prove to break the back of the ever-weakening
South (324-25).

The Civil War was a trying time for both the Union and the
Confederacy alike, but the question of its outcome was obvious from
the start. The North was guaranteed a decisive victory over the
ill-equipped South. Northerners, prepared to endure the deprivation of
war, were startled to find that they were experiencing an enormous
industrial boom even after the first year of war. Indeed, the only
Northern industry that suffered from the war was the carrying trade
(Catton, Reflections 144). To the South, however, the war was a
draining and debilitating leech, sucking the land dry of any semblance
of economical formidability. No financial staple was left untouched;
all were subject to diminishment and exhaustion. This agrarian South,
with its traditional values and beliefs, decided not to cultivate two
crops which would prove quite crucial in the outcome of the Civil
War. Those crops were industry and progress, and without them the
South was doomed to defeat. A wise man he was, that Union General
William Tecumseh Sherman. A wise man indeed.

 

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