Union and Confederacy in the Civil War
The View from the Confederacy
The Confederate States of America (CSA) consisted of eleven states that seceded from the Union before or after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and 1861. They were: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.
Together, they formed a government with a constitution under president Jefferson Davis. Originally, the capital was located in Montgomery, Alabama, but was moved to Richmond, Virginia after that state joined the CSA.
During the war, the CSA desperately hoped for military aid from European powers. If England or France recognized the CSA as a sovereign power, they might lend military aid. Otherwise, the industry and manufacturing was dominated by the USA. The USA used its many manufacturing plants to make weapons, ammunition, and other supplies essential for the maintenance of a war. The CSA thought that England would have to support them based on their need for cotton, but instead, it began looking for other means to obtain cotton. This threatened to cripple the agrarian Confederate economy which exported at least 1/2 of its cotton to England. Cotton was so important to the Confederate economy, that their currency was backed by it. In addition, the people of England thought the “institution” of slavery was an abomination, and were willing to forego cotton, and a host of other possible consequences, to stay neutral.
The Confederacy had a host of problems once the Civil War began, even after the initial victory at Bull Run in 1861. The CSA’s lack of manpower and industrial and manufacturing plants eventually sealed their fate. The lack of industrial plants in the CSA precluded them from fixing up breeched railroad lines in a timely manner. In addition, by 1862, Union forces controlled much of the vast southern river system, making Confederate movements difficult and blockading ports. After the fall of Vicksburg in 1863, the western portion of the Confederacy was virtually useless, and the ports at the Gulf of Mexico were under Union control. Union forces threatened to starve parts of the CSA because the CSA could no longer import or export.
By 1865, life in the Confederacy was very difficult. Large sections had been destroyed by Union forces, as virtually every battle (with just a few exceptions) took place on southern soil. The once great Confederate Army was systematically crushed by relentless Union forces in Virginia. Most of Georgia and much of South Carolina was destroyed during Sherman’s March to the Sea in 1864, and by 1865, many large southern cities were captured, besieged, or abandoned. On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederacy. For many Southerners, the end came as a relief.
The Union consisted of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, California, Nevada, and Oregon. Some historians count the four border states of Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware, and Maryland as Union states also. Border states were those that refused to give up the practice of slavery, but also refused to secede from the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 specifically denied freedom to slaves in these border states, so that they would not be tempted to secede. In addition, the state of West Virginia essentially seceded from Virginia in 1863 and joined the Union.
The entire populace in the USA wanted a quick resolution to the war. After the Confederate victory at Bull Run in 1861, however, it was readily evident that the war would be a long one. In fact, Union supporters actually lined the hills of Manassas, Virginia with their picnic baskets in anticipation of watching a Union victory (almost like it was a soccer match.) After Bull Run, morale in the USA was extremely low, and there was an ever-present threat of a Confederate attack on Washington from the Confederate forces in nearby Virginia. The Union Army (known as the Army of the Potomac) suffered from poor leadership and President Lincoln tried several different generals to lead them, most of whom failed miserably. Despite the uncertainty near Washington, Union forces quickly gained ground in the western territories and by 1863 controlled most of Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, including the vital Mississippi River. After repulsing the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg (the only significant battle fought on Union soil), and securing the last of the Confederate ports on the Mississippi River (Vicksburg and others) the tides of the war turned dramatically. In 1864, Ulysses S. Grant was named Commander of the Union Army. Lincoln chose Grant specifically for his willingness to fight. In his “Overland Campaign” Grant chased Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia throughout the fields and forests of Virginia, using his massive army to overwhelm southern forces. Both sides suffered huge numbers of casualties, but the Union Army had so many soldiers that it survived, while Lee’s Army was reeling from the continuous assaults, starving, and lacking adequate provisions and clothing. Eventually, Lee’s Army was besieged at Petersburg (40 miles south of Richmond), which prompted an evacuation of the capital. Meanwhile, General Sherman was busy destroying Georgia and South Carolina. In April of 1865, Northern forces forced a Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. The War was over.