“Don’t kneel to me. You must kneel to God only, and thank him <sic> for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter” (Brinkley 414). President Abraham Lincoln spoke these words to a former slave that kneeled before him while walking the streets of the abandoned Confederate capitol of Richmond in 1865. Although there are several different questions of why the North won the Civil War, factors involving manpower, economy, military tactics and leadership, and presidential leadership, are all parts of a puzzle historians have tried to put together for years. I believe that these four factors should prove to be the most powerful reasons for the Union’s destruction of the Confederate States of America.
The presidential leadership of Lincoln will be revealed as the major influence over the other three factors.
According to Robert Krick, an interviewee of Carl Zebrowski’s article “Why the South Lost the Civil War,” “the basic problem was numbers. Give Abraham Lincoln seven million men and give Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee twenty-one million, cognitive dissonance doesn’t matter, European recognition doesn’t matter, the Emancipation Proclamation and its ripple effect don’t matter. Twenty-one to seven is a very different thing then seven to twenty-one” (Zebrowski 223). Despite the North’s enormous population advantage over the South during the Civil War, other wars proved that size doesn’t matter. For example, the Colonist’s success in the American Revolution proved to Great Britain that America was an insignificant, but a successful opponent. “While Northern superiority in numbers and resources was a necessary condition for Union Victory, it is not a sufficient explanation for that victory,” says James McPherson (Zebrowski 224).
When looking at economic factors in the Civil War, we find that the war had a devastating effect on the South and a converse effect on the North. Because of the Northern blockade and the disconnection of Southern farmers from markets in the North, sales of cotton became nearly impossible. In the North, the war produced the same suffering as in the South, but “it also produced prosperity and economic growth by giving a major stimulus to both industry and agriculture,” says Brinkley (Brinkley 384). Since all Southern products were out of reach for Northern Americans, the North enacted a completely nationalistic program to promote economic development.
According to Richard N. Current author of “God and the Strongest Battalions,” “in cotton, the South had a cash crop of great value, and yet, in the midst of war, Southerners reduced their planting, burned the bales they had on hand, and discouraged shipments abroad” (Current 24-25). Furthermore, drafting of Southern slaves robbed cotton farms and industries of male work. In opposition to burning the cotton, the Vice- President of the Confederacy, Alexander H. Stephens, proposed to gain profit by selling cotton in Europe, but by the time the idea had actually fallen into place the Northern blockade had already become too tight. Currrent explains that “Not until the third year of the war, however, did the government take complete control of cotton exports and push them with determination. If this program had been taken earlier, probably Confederate finances could have been made much stronger then they became” (Current 27). Fortunately for the North it was much too late for this experiment to show any signs of its success.
Between the North and the South, the North simply had the upper hand when it came to raising revenue for the war. “Of the Confederacy’s income, to October 1864, almost 60 per cent was derived from the issue of paper money, about 30 per cent from the sale of bonds, and less than 5 per cent from taxation (the remaining 5 per cent arising from miscellaneous sources). Of the Union’s income, by contrast, 13 per cent was raised by paper money, 62 per cent by bonds, and 21 per cent by taxes (and 4 per cent by other means)” (Current 27). Unlike the Union, which relied mostly on bonds and taxation for revenue, the Confederates relied mostly on its paper currency. The Confederate government literally flushed itself into the worst economic inflation America has seen since the American Revolution.
When dealing with the military issues of the Civil War, the army of the North had a great advantage over the South. Richard McMurry, of “Why the South Lost the Civil War,” blames the South’s defeat on its military commanders (Zebrowski 224-5). McMurry states, “the Confederacy did not have a competent commanding general” (Zebrowski 225). Lincoln realized that the objective of his armies was not to occupy land in the South, but to destroy its armies. One of the Confederacy’s military downfalls may have been due to the fact that President Davis had no intention of sharing any strategies, granting any control to his military advisor or anyone in the Confederate party (Brinkley 396). Unlike Davis, Lincoln gave his commanding field officers all the control they needed to defeat Lee and his Confederate army. In 1865 he finally decided to appoint Lee to the post of general in chief, unfortunately for Davis, the war had already ended.
Another advantage the Union had over the Confederates was its navy. President Lincoln knew that in order to hurt the South’s economy he should somehow stop their means of transportation. On the Southern coast, the Union’s navy created a blockade of ships at each of its ports in order to stop ships of any kind (merchant or military) from leaving. Since small ships somehow managed to get through, the Union’s navy soon began to seize Confederate ports destroying any chances of escape for the South (Brinkley 397).
During the final stages of battle between the North’s Ulsses S. Grant, the general and chief of all Union armies, and the South’s General
Lee, both sides suffered many casualties, but Grant proved to Lee that the Union would not step down without a fight. “Despite the enormous loses, Grant kept moving. But victory continued to elude him.” says Brinkley (Brinkley 412). Through numerous battles, Grant and Lee proved to be equal and worthy opponents, yet during the Siege of Petersburg, Grant successfully cut off all Confederate communication with its capitol in Virginia. Within hours of Lee’s retreat from Richmond, the Confederate States of America had collapsed. Although both were great generals, one can see that the North simply had the upper hand in almost every aspect of the war.
Collectively, the arguments over principal reasons for the South’s loss in the Civil War can be summed up with the significant differences in presidential leadership. According to William C. Davis, “the most important things they couldn’t see was the determination of Abraham Lincoln to win, and the incredible staying power of the people of the north, who stuck by Lincoln and stuck by the war in spite of the first two years of almost unrelenting defeat” (Zebrowski 223). Lincoln’s military skills, knowledge of both raising revenue and using resources, coupled with ideas for economic growth without the help of foreign countries, were all major factors that contributed to the North’s victory. In contrast, the Davis government was heavily criticized because of its self-destruction of its economy by over circulation of its paper money. According to Current, “the government should have taxed and taxed and borrowed and borrowed, rather than relying so heavily on the printing of batch after batch of treasury notes” (Current 28). While Davis was busy inflating the Southern economy, Lincoln was busy chartering two new corporations like the Union Pacific Railroad Company and the Central Pacific.
He created the National Bank Acts for a new national banking system; the Homestead Act, which permitted any citizen to purchase 160 acres of land; and the Morrill Act, which helped lead to the creation of new colleges and universities (Brinkley 384). Lincoln gave Northerners a sense of nationalism by letting them know that they didn’t need help from other countries or from the seceded Southern states. Conversely, Confederate soldiers often disapproved of the Confederate president’s own decisions for the South, rather than joint decisions with his cabinet. According to David Herbert Donald, of the article “Died of Democracy,” “an Englishman reported that he had never heard such handsome cursing as when Confederate privates, off duty and “squatted cross-legged on beds,” spent their evenings damning their superiors’ “eyes and limbs” (Donald 84). Meaning the Confederacy’s soldiers mocked their own government. In the North, Lincoln gave the Union armies the sense of enthusiasm and nationalism it needed to help breakdown the Confederate States of America. Lincoln and the North were destined to defeat the South.
Regardless of whether it was manpower, resources, economy, or military, Lincoln knew he had the advantage and was not willing to let it go. Referencing the first quote of this report, Lincoln knew that God was on his side and that he was the man that would lead the slaves to their God-given right to freedom.