In this selection, historian George Fredrickson assesses a number of interpretations about the outcome of the Civil War that emphasize the North’s advantages. He also builds his own case for the triumph of the
Union, a kind of grand synthesis or theory. Note why Fredrickson thinks explana tions that emphasize the North’s advantages are flawed. Also consider his argu ment that Southern military leaders were rigid and conservative and how it relates to his overall theory about the reason for the Union’s triumph. Does Fredrickson find the answer to the North’s victory on the battlefield or on the home front? Does he make a connection between the way each side fought the war and the respective home fronts? Finally, what role does slavery play in his analysis?
Blue over Gray: Sources of Success and Failure in the Civil War (1975)
GEORGE M. FREDRICKSON
Historians have expended vast amounts of time, energy, and ingenuity searching for the causes and consequences of the Civil War. Much less effort has been devoted to explaining the outcome of the war itself. Yet the ques tion is obviously important. One only has to imagine how radically different the future of North America would have been had the South won its per manent independence. It is also possible that a full comparison of how the two sides responded to the ultimate test of war will shed reflex light on both the background and legacy of the conflict. If northern success and southern failure can be traced to significant differences in the two societies as they existed on the eve of the war, then we may have further reason for locating the origins of the war in the clash of divergent social systems and ideologies.
If the relative strengths of the North in wartime were rooted in the character of its society, then the sources of northern victory would foreshadow, to some extent at least, the postwar development of a nation reunited under northern hegemony
A number of plausible explanations of “why the North won” have been advanced. The problem with most of them is not that they are wrong but that they are partial or incomplete….
Perhaps the most widely accepted explanation of why the North won and the South lost derives from the time-honored proposition that God is on the side of the heaviest battalions. The North’s advantages in manpower, resources, and industrial capacity were clearly overwhelming. According to the census of 1860, the Union, not counting the contested border states of Missouri and Kentucky, had a population of approximately 20,275,000. The Confederacy, on the other hand, had a white population of only about 5,500,000. If we include the 3,654,000 blacks, the total population of the eleven Confeder ate states adds up to slightly more than 9,000,000. Even if we consider the black population an asset to the Confederacy in carrying on a war for the preservation of slavery, the North still ends up with a more than two-to-one advantage in population. There was an even greater differential in readily available manpower of military age; the northern advantage in this respect was well in excess of three-to-one. In industrial capacity, the Union had an enormous edge. In 1860, the North had approximately 110,000 manufactur ing establishments manned by about 1,300,000 workers, while the South had only 18,000 establishments with 110,000 workers. Thus for every southern industrial worker the North had a factory or workshop! Finally, in railroad mileage, so crucial to the logistics of the Civil War, the North possessed over seventy percent of the nation’s total of 31,256 miles.
With such a decisive edge in manpower, industrial plant, and transportation facilities, how, it might well be asked, could the North possibly have lost? Yet history shows many examples of the physically weaker side win ning, especially in wars of national independence. The achievement of Dutch independence from Spain in the seventeenth century, the colonists’ success in the American Revolution, and many “wars of national liberation” in the twentieth century, including the Algerian revolution and the long struggle for Vietnamese self-determination, provide examples of how the physically weaker side can prevail.. ..
Recognizing the insufficiency of a crude economic or demographic expla nation, some historians have sought psychological reasons for the Confeder ate defeat. It has been argued that the South “whipped itself” because it did not believe strongly enough in its cause. While the North could allegedly call on the full fervor of American nationalism and antislavery idealism, the South was saddled with the morally dubious enterprise of defending slavery and was engaged in breaking up a union of hallowed origin for which many southerners still had a lingering reverence. It has even been suggested that large numbers of loyal Confederates had a subconscious desire to lose the war. The northern victory is therefore ascribed to the fact that the North had a better cause and thus higher morale; the breakdown in the South’s will to win is seen as the consequence of a deep ambivalence about the validity of the whole Confederate enterprise.
This thesis is highly speculative and not easily reconciled with the overall pattern of pro-Confederate sentiment and activity. It would seem to under estimate or even to belittle the willingness of large numbers of southerners to fight and die for the Confederacy. No northerner who fought the “Rebs” at places such as Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg would have concluded that the South really wanted to lose. …
On the surface at least, it seems harder to explain what made the northern cause so compelling. Contrary to antislavery mythology, there is little evi dence to sustain the view that a genuinely humanitarian opposition to black servitude ever animated a majority of the northern population. Most north erners defined their cause as the preservation of the Union, not the emanci pation of the slaves. This was made explicit in a joint resolution of Congress, passed overwhelmingly in July 1861, denying any federal intention to interfere with the domestic institutions of the southern states…. But when considered simply as a formal ideology, Unionism seems too abstract and remote from the concrete interests of ordinary people to have sustained . . . the enthusiasm necessary for such a long and bloody conflict. In any case, the a priori proposition that the North had a more compelling cause, and therefore one that was bound to generate higher morale, seems questionable.
Morale in both sections fluctuated in direct response to the fortunes of war…. Throughout the conflict, morale seems to have been more a function of military victory and success than a cause of it. Furthermore, any compari son involving the will to win of the respective sides cannot ignore the dif ferent situations that they faced. Except for Lee’s brief forays into Maryland and Pennsylvania, the northern people never had to suffer from invasion of their own territory. Whether the North’s allegedly superior morale and determination would have stood up under pressures equivalent to those experienced by the South will never be known. But we do know that the resolve of the North came dangerously close to breaking in the summer of 1864, at a time when its territory was secure, its economy booming, and its ultimate victory all but assured. At exactly the same time, the South was girding for another nine months of desperate struggle despite economic collapse and the loss of much of its territory. Such a comparison hardly sup ports the thesis that the North excelled the South in its will to win….
Some have attributed the North’s success in outlasting the South to its superior leadership. One distinguished historian has even suggested that if the North and South had exchanged Presidents the outcome of the war would have been reversed. As a wartime President, Lincoln was unques tionably superior to Davis. A master politician, Lincoln was able through a combination of tact and forcefulness to hold together the bitterly antagonis tic factions of the Republican party. . . . But perhaps Lincoln’s greatest suc cesses came in his role as commander in chief of the armed forces. Although lacking military training and experience, he had a good instinctive grasp of broad strategic considerations. Furthermore, he knew that he had neither the time nor the tactical ability to take direct charge of military operations and wisely refrained from interfering directly with his generals except when their excessive caution or incompetence gave him no choice. Lincoln’s primary objective was to find a general who had a comprehensive view of strategic needs, a willingness to fight, and consequently the ability to take full charge of military activity. In late 1863, he found the right man and without hesita tion turned the entire military effort over to General Grant, who proceeded to fight the war to a successful conclusion. In innumerable ways, Lincoln gave evidence of his common sense, flexibility, and willingness to learn from experience. Although not the popular demigod he would become after his assassination, he did provide inspiration to the North as a whole. Many who had been critical of Lincoln at the start of the war, seeing him merely as a rough, inexperienced, frontier politician, came to recognize the quality of his statesmanship. Furthermore, his eloquence at Gettysburg and in the Second Inaugural helped to give meaning and resonance to the northern cause.
The leadership of Davis was of a very different caliber. The Confederate President was a proud, remote, and quarrelsome man with a fatal passion for always being in the right and for standing by his friends, no matter how in competent or unpopular they turned out to be. He fought constantly with his cabinet and sometimes replaced good men who had offended him with second- raters who would not question his decisions. . .. Most southern newspapers were virulently anti-Davis by the end of the war. Particularly harmful was Davis’ military role. Because he had commanded forces in the Mexican war and served as Secretary of War of the United States, he thought of himself as qualified to direct all phases of operations. This belief in his own military genius, combined with a constitutional inability to delegate authority, led to excessive interference with his generals and to some very questionable strategic decisions. Unlike Lincoln, he lost touch with the political situation, and he failed to provide leadership in the critical area of economic policy. In the end, one has a picture of Davis tinkering ineffectually with the South’s military machine while a whole society was crumbling around him.
It appears the North had a great war leader, and the South a weak one. Can we therefore explain the outcome of the Civil War as an historical ac cident, a matter of northern luck in finding someone who could do the job and southern misfortune in picking the wrong man? Before we come to this beguilingly simple conclusion, we need to take a broader look at northern and southern leadership and raise the question of whether the kind of lead ership a society produces is purely accidental. If Lincoln was a great leader of men, it was at least partly because he had good material to work with. Seward was in some ways a brilliant Secretary of State; Stanton directed the War Department with great determination and efficiency; and even Chase, despite his awkward political maneuvering, was on the whole a competent Secretary of the Treasury. . . . The North, it can be argued, had not simply one great leader but was able during the war to develop competent and ef ficient leadership on almost all levels. Such a pattern could hardly have been accidental; more likely it reveals something about the capacity of northern society to produce men of talent and initiative who could deal with the unprecedented problems of a total war.
In the Confederacy, the situation was quite different. Among the South’s generals there of course were some brilliant tactical commanders. Their suc cesses on the battlefield were instrumental in keeping the Confederacy afloat for four years. But, in almost all other areas, the South revealed a sad lack of capable leadership….
The contrast in leadership, therefore, would seem to reflect some deeper differences of a kind that would make one section more responsive than the other to the practical demands of fighting a large-scale war. Since both soci eties faced unprecedented challenges, success would depend to a great ex tent on which side had the greater ability to adjust to new situations….
Lincoln himself set the pattern for precedent-breaking innovation. Whenever he felt obligated to assume extra-constitutional powers to deal with situations unforeseen by the Constitution, he did so with little hesitation. After the out break of the war and before Congress was in session to sanction his actions, he expanded the regular army, advanced public money to private individu als, and declared martial law on a line from Washington to Philadelphia. On September 24,1862, again without Congressional authorization, he extended the jurisdiction of martial law and suspended the writ of habeas corpus in all cases of alleged disloyalty. The Emancipation Proclamation can also be seen as an example of extra-constitutional innovation. Acting under the amorphous concept of “the war powers” of the President, Lincoln struck at slavery primarily because “military necessity” dictated new measures to disrupt the economic and social system of the enemy….
The spirit of innovation was manifested in other areas as well. In Grant and Sherman the North finally found generals who grasped the nature of modern war and were ready to jettison outworn rules of strategy and tactics…. In his march from Atlanta to the sea in the fall of 1864, Sherman introduced for the first time the modern strategy of striking directly at the enemy’s domes tic economy. The coordinated, multipronged offensive launched by Grant in 1864, of which Sherman’s march was a critical component, was probably the biggest, boldest, and most complex military operation mounted anywhere before the twentieth century. Grant, like Lincoln, can be seen as embodying the North’s capacity for organization and innovation….
Businessmen also responded to the crisis and found that what was patriotic could also be highly profitable. There were the inevitable frauds perpetrated on the government by contractors, but more significant was the overall suc cess of the industrial system in producing the goods required…. No small part of this success was due to the willingness of businessmen, farmers, and government procurement officials to “think and act anew” by organizing themselves into larger and more efficient units for the production, transpor tation, and allocation of goods.
It would be an understatement to say that the South demonstrated less capacity than the North for organization and innovation. In fact, the South’s most glaring failures were precisely in the area of coordination and collective adaptation to new conditions. The Confederacy did.of course manage to put an army in the field that was able to hold the North at bay for four years. . . . [But] Southern successes on the battlefield were in no real sense triumphs of organization or innovation. Before the rise of Grant and Sherman, most Civil War battles were fought according to the outdated tactical principles that generals on both sides had learned at West Point. In these very conventional battles, the South had the advantage because it had the most intelligent and experienced of the West Pointers. Since everyone played by the same rules, it was inevitable that those who could play the game best would win. When the rules were changed by Grant and Sherman, the essential conservatism and rigidity of southern military leadership became apparent.
Besides being conventional in their tactics, southern armies were notori ously undisciplined; insubordination was an everyday occurrence and de sertion eventually became a crippling problem. There were so many men absent without leave by August 1,1863, that a general amnesty for deserters had to be declared. For full effectiveness, southern soldiers had to be com manded by generals such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, charis matic leaders who could command the personal loyalty and respect of their men. The idea of obeying an officer simply because of his rank went against the southern grain.
Although the army suffered from the excessive individualism of its men and the narrow traditionalism of its officers, these defects were not fatal un til very late in the war, mainly because it took the North such a long time to apply its characteristic talent for organization and innovation directly to military operations. But on the southern home front similar attitudes had disastrous consequences almost from the beginning. In its efforts to mobilize the men and resources of the South, the Confederate government was con stantly hamstrung by particularistic resistance to central direction and by a general reluctance to give up traditional ideas and practices incompatible with the necessities of war.
Particularism was manifested most obviously in the refusal of state gov ernments to respond to the needs of the Confederacy. The central govern ment was rudely rebuffed when it sought in 1861 to get the states to give up control over the large quantity of arms in their possession. The states held back for their own defense most of the 350,000 small arms that they held. The Confederacy, initially able to muster only 190,000 weapons, was forced to turn down 200,000 volunteers in the first year of the war because it could not arm them. The states also held back men….
. . . [T]he slaveholding planters, taken as a group, were no more able to rise above narrow and selfish concerns than other segments of southern soci ety. Because of their influence, the Confederacy was unable to adopt a sound financial policy; land and slaves, the main resources of the South, remained immune from direct taxes. As a result, the government was only able to raise about one percent of its revenue from taxation; the rest came from loans and the printing of vast quantities of fiat paper money. The inevitable consequence was the catastrophic runaway inflation that made Confederate money al most worthless even before the government went out of existence….
… What was there about the culture and social structure of the North that made possible the kinds of organizational initiatives and daring innovations that have been described? What was there about southern society and cul ture that explains the lack of cohesiveness and adaptability that doomed the Confederacy? Answers to such questions require some further understand ing of the differences in northern and southern society on the eve of the war, especially as these differences related to war-making potential.
A fuller comprehension of what social strengths and weaknesses the two sides brought to the conflict can perhaps be gained by borrowing a well-known concept from the social sciences—the idea of modernization. Sociologists and political scientists often employ this term to describe the interrelated changes that occur when a whole society begins to move away from a tradi tional agrarian pattern toward an urban-industrial system. …
… [One] theorist has provided a simple rule of thumb to gauge the extent of modernization in various societies: the higher the proportion of energy derived from inanimate sources, as opposed to the direct application of hu man and animal strength, the more modernized the society. Modernization therefore has its intellectual foundations in a rationalistic or scientific world view and a commitment to technological development….
By any definition of this process, the North was relatively more modern ized than the South in 1861. To apply one of the most important indices of modernization, thirty-six percent of the Northern population was already urban as compared to the South’s nine and six-tenths percent. As we have already seen, there was an even greater gap in the extent of industrialization. Furthermore, the foundations had been laid in the northern states for a rapid increase in the pace of modernization. The antebellum “transportation revo lution” had set the stage for economic integration on a national scale, and the quickening pace of industrial development foreshadowed the massive and diversified growth of the future. Because of better and cheaper transportation, new markets, and a rise in efficiency and mechanization, midwestern agricul ture was in a position to begin playing its modern role as the food-producing adjunct to an urban-industrial society. Literacy was widespread and means of mass communication, such as inexpensively produced newspapers, pam phlets, and books, were available for mobilizing public opinion…. In short, given the necessary stimulus and opportunity, the North was ready for a “great leap forward” in the modernization process.
The South, on the other hand, had little potentiality for rapid modernization. Overwhelmingly agricultural and tied to the slave plantation as its basic unit of production, it had many of the characteristics of what today would be called “an underdeveloped society.” Like such societies, the Old South had what amounted to a “dual economy”: a small modern or capitalistic sec tor, profitably producing cotton and other commodities for export, coexisted with a vast “traditional” sector, composed of white subsistence farmers and black slaves….
… The two main segments of the white South were united neither by a sense of common economic interests nor by a complete identity of social and political values. But the presence of millions of black slaves did make possible a per verse kind of solidarity. Fear of blacks, and more specifically of black eman cipation, was the principal force holding the white South together. Without it, there could have been no broadly based struggle for independence.
The planter and the non-slaveholding farmer had one other charac teristic in common besides racism; in their differing ways, they were both extreme individualists. The planter’s individualism came mainly from a lifetime of commanding slaves on isolated plantations. Used to unques tioned authority in all things and prone to think of himself as an aristocrat, he commonly exhibited an indomitable sense of personal independence. The non-slaveholder, on the other hand, was basically a backwoodsman who combined the stiff-necked individualism of the frontier with the arrogance of race that provided him with an exaggerated sense of his personal worth. Southern whites in general therefore were conditioned by slavery, racism, and rural isolation to condone and even encourage quasi-anarchic patterns of behavior that could not have been tolerated in a more modernized society with a greater need for social cohesion and discipline….
Such an attitude was obviously incompatible with the needs of a mod ernizing society for cooperation and collective innovation. Furthermore, the divorce of status from achievement made it less likely that competent leaders and organizers would emerge. Particularism, localism, and extreme individualism were the natural outgrowth of the South’s economic and social system. So was resistance to any changes that posed a threat to slavery and racial domination….
. . . [S]outhern politics, despite its high level of popular involvement, remained largely the disorganized competition of individual office seekers. Those who won elections usually did so either because they were already men of weight in their communities or because they came off better than their rivals in face-to-face contact with predominantly rural voters. In the North by 1861, politics was less a matter of personalities and more an imper sonal struggle of well-organized parties. In urban areas, the rudiments of the modern political machine could already be perceived.
The fact that the South was economically, socially, and politically less “developed” or modernized than the North in 1861 may not by itself fully explain why war had to come, but it does provide a key to understanding why the war had to turn out the way it did….
As it was, the only course open to southern leaders during the war was in effect a crash program of modernization in an attempt to neutralize the immense advantages of the North. When we consider the cultural heritage and economic resources they had to work with, their achievements went beyond what might have been expected. But the South had far too much ground to make up, and persisting rigidities, especially as manifested in the die-hard commitment to localism, racism, and plantation slavery, consti tuted fatal checks on the modernizing impulse.
The North, on the other hand, not only capitalized on its initial advan tages during the war but was able to multiply them. In fact, the conflict it self served as a catalyst for rapid development in many areas. Modernizing trends that had begun in the prewar period came to unexpectably rapid frui tion in a way that both compounded the North’s advantage in the conflict and helped set the pattern for postwar America.
The preceding essay examines differences between Northern and South ern society. In the following selection, historian James McPherson focuses on the military turning points. Note how he attempts to disprove other interpretations about the war’s outcome. Also pay particular attention to how he tries to demonstrate that individual battles affected the will to fight. What would George Fredrickson, the author of the previous selection, have said about
the reasons for the outcome of crucial Civil War turning points?
*Why the North Won (1988)
james m. McPherson
[A] persistent question has nagged historians and mythologists alike: if . . . Robert [E. Lee] was such a genius and his legions so invincible, why did they lose? The answers, though almost as legion as Lee’s soldiers, tend to group themselves into a few main categories. One popular answer has been phrased, from the northern perspective, by quoting Napoleon’s apho rism that God was on the side of the heaviest battalions. For southerners this explanation usually took some such form as these words of a Virginian: “They never whipped us, Sir, unless they were four to one. If we had had anything like a fair chance, or less disparity of numbers, we should have won our cause and established our independence.” The North had a poten tial manpower superiority of more than three to one (counting only white men) and Union armed forces had an actual superiority of two to one dur ing most of the war. In economic resources and logistical capacity the north
ern advantage was even greater. Thus, in this explanation, the Confederacy fought against overwhelming odds; its defeat was inevitable.
But this explanation has not satisfied a good many analysts. History is replete with examples of peoples who have won or defended their indepen dence against greater odds: the Netherlands against the Spain of Philip II; Switzerland against the Hapsburg Empire; the American rebels of 1776 against mighty Britain; North Vietnam against the United States of 1970. Given the advantages of fighting on the defensive in its own territory with interior lines in which stalemate would be victory against a foe who must invade, conquer, occupy, and destroy the capacity to resist, the odds faced by the South were not formidable. Rather, as another category of interpreta tions has it, internal divisions fatally weakened the Confederacy: the state rights conflict between certain governors and the Richmond government; the disaffection of non-slaveholders from a rich man’s war and poor man’s fight; libertarian opposition to necessary measures such as conscription and the suspension of habeas corpus; the lukewarm commitment to the Con federacy by quondam* Whigs and unionists; the disloyalty of slaves who defected to the enemy whenever they had a chance; growing doubts among slaveowners themselves about the justice of their peculiar institution and their cause. “So the Confederacy succumbed to internal rather than external
causes,” according to numerous historians. The South suffered from a “weak ness in morale,” a “loss of the will to fight.” The Confederacy did not lack “the means to continue the struggle,” but “the will to do so.” …
In any case the “internal division” and “lack of will” explanations for Confederate defeat, while not implausible, are not very convincing either. The problem is that the North experienced similar internal divisions, and if the war had come out differently the Yankees’ lack of unity and will to win could be cited with equal plausibility to explain that outcome….
Nevertheless the existence of internal divisions on both sides seemed to neutralize this factor as an explanation for Union victory, so a number of histo rians have looked instead at the quality of leadership both military and civil ian. There are several variants of an interpretation that emphasizes a gradual development of superior northern leadership. In Beauregard, Lee, the two Johnstons [Albert Sidney and Joseph Eggleston], and [Stonewall] Jackson the South enjoyed abler military commanders during the first year or two of the war, while Jefferson Davis was better qualified by training and experience than Lincoln to lead a nation at war. But Lee’s strategic vision was limited to the Virginia theater, and the Confederate government neglected the West,
where Union armies developed a strategic design and the generals to carry it out, while southern forces floundered under incompetent commanders who lost the war in the West. By 1863, Lincoln’s remarkable abilities gave him a wide edge over Davis as a war leader, while in Grant and Sherman the North acquired commanders with a concept of total war and the necessary deter mination to make it succeed. At the same time, in [Secretary of War] Edwin
M. Stanton and [Quartermaster General] Montgomery Meigs, aided by the entrepreneurial talent of northern businessmen, the Union developed supe rior managerial talent to mobilize and organize the North’s greater resources for victory in the modern industrialized conflict that the Civil War became.
This interpretation comes closer than others to credibility. Yet it also com mits the fallacy of reversibility—that is, if the outcome had been reversed some of the same factors could be cited to explain Confederate victory….
Most attempts to explain southern defeat or northern victory lack the dimension of contingency—the recognition that at numerous critical points during the war things might have gone altogether differently. Four major turning points defined the eventual outcome. The first came in the summer of 1862, when the counter-offensives of Jackson and Lee in Virginia and Bragg and Kirby Smith in the West arrested the momentum of a seemingly imminent Union victory. This assured a prolongation and intensification of the conflict and created the potential for Confederate success, which appeared imminent before each of the next three turning points.
The first of these occurred in the fall of 1862, when battles at Antietam and Perryville threw back Confederate invasions, forestalled European mediation and recognition of the Confederacy, perhaps prevented a Democratic victory in the northern elections of 1862 that might have inhibited the government’s ability to carry on the war, and set the stage for the Emancipation Proclamation which enlarged the scope and purpose of the conflict. The third critical point came in the summer and fall of 1863 when [Union victories at] Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga turned the tide toward ultimate northern victory.
One more reversal of that tide seemed possible in the summer of 1864 when appalling Union casualties and apparent lack of progress especially in Virginia brought the North to the brink of peace negotiations and the election of a Democratic president. But [Sherman’s] capture of Atlanta and Sheridan’s destruction of Early’s [Rebel] army in the Shenandoah Valley clinched matters for the North. Only then did it become possible to speak of the inevitability of Union victory. Only then did the South experience an ir retrievable “loss of the will to fight.”
Of all the explanations for Confederate defeat, the loss of will thesis suf fers most from its own particular fallacy of reversibility—that of putting the cart before the horse. Defeat causes demoralization and loss of will; vic tory pumps up morale and the will to win. Nothing illustrates this better than the radical transformation of northern will from defeatism in August 1864 to a “depth of determination … to fight to the last” that “astonished” a British journalist a month later. The southern loss of will was a mirror image of this northern determination. These changes of mood were caused mainly by events on the battlefield. Northern victory and southern defeat in the war cannot be understood apart from the contingency that hung over every campaign, every battle, every election, every decision during the war.
Even before the Civil War, many commentators saw differences between the North and South. Note the differences that these observers saw between the two regions. How could they have translated into advantages or disadvantages on the battlefield?
Helper was a white, nonslaveholding Southerner who hoped the South would throw off the peculiar institution.
* The Impending Crisis (1857) HINTON ROWAN HELPER
And now to the point. In our opinion, an opinion which has been formed from data obtained by assiduous researches, and comparisons, from labori ous investigation, logical reasoning, and earnest reflection, the causes which have impeded the progress and prosperity of the South, which have dwin dled our commerce, and other similar pursuits, into the most contemptible insignificance; sunk a large majority of our people in galling poverty and ig norance, rendered a small minority conceited and tyrannical, and driven the rest away from their homes; entailed upon us a humiliating dependence on the Free States; disgraced us in the recesses of our own souls, and brought us under reproach in the eyes of all civilized and enlightened nations—may all be traced to one common source, and there find solution in the most hateful and horrible word, that was ever incorporated into the vocabulary of human
… To undeceive the people of the South, to bring them to a knowledge
of the inferior and disreputable position which they occupy as a component part of the Union, and to give prominence and popularity to those plans which, if adopted, will elevate us to an equality, socially, morally, intellectu ally, industrially, politically, and financially, with the most flourishing and refined nation in the world, and, if possible, to place us in the van of even that, is the object of this work. Slaveholders, either from ignorance or from a wilful disposition to propagate error, contend that the South has nothing to be ashamed of, that slavery has proved a blessing to her, and that her superiority over the North in an agricultural point of view makes amends for all her shortcomings in other respects. On the other hand, we contend that many years of continual blushing and severe penance would not suffice to cancel or annul the shame and disgrace that justly attaches to the South in consequence of slavery—the direst evil that e’er befell the land—that the South bears nothing like even a respectable approximation to the North in navigation, commerce, or manufactures, and that, contrary to the opinion en tertained by ninety-nine hundredths of her people, she is far behind the free States in the only thing of which she has ever dared to boast—agriculture. We submit the question to the arbitration of figures, which, it is said, do not lie. With regard to the bushel-measure products of the soil, of which we have already taken an inventory, we have seen that there is a balance against the South in favor of the North of seventeen million four hundred and twenty-three thousand one hundred and fifty-two bushels, and a difference in the value of the same, also in favor of the North, of forty-four million seven hundred and eighty- two thousand six hundred and thirty-six dollars. It is certainly a most novel kind of agricultural superiority that the South claims on that score!
Olmsted, a Northern journalist and, later, urban landscape planner, traveled widely in the South in the 1850s.
The Cotton Kingdom (1861)
FREDERICK LAW OLMSTED
The whole number of slaveholders of this large class in all the Slave States is, according to De Bow’s Compendium of the Census, 7,929, among which are all the great sugar, rice, and tobacco-planters. Less than seven thousand, certainly, are cotton-planters.
A large majority of these live, when they live on their plantations at all, in districts, almost the only white population of which consists of owners and overseers of the same class of plantations with their own. The near est other whites will be some sand-hill vagabonds, generally miles away, between whom and these planters, intercourse is neither intimate nor friendly.
It is hardly worth while to build much of a bridge for the occasional use of two families, even if they are rich. It is less worth while to go to much pains in making six miles of good road for the use of these families…. It is not nec essary to multiply illustrations like these. In short, then, if all the wealth produced in a certain district is concentrated in the hands of a few men liv ing remote from each other, it may possibly bring to the district comfortable houses, good servants, fine wines, food, and furniture, tutors, and govern esses, horses and carriages, for these few men, but it will not bring thither good roads and bridges, it will not bring thither such means of education and of civilized comfort as are to be drawn from libraries, churches, muse ums, gardens, theatres, and assembly rooms; it will not bring thither local newspapers, telegraphs, and so on…. There is, in fact, a vast range of advan tages which our civilization has made so common to us that they are hardly thought of, of which the people of the South are destitute. They chiefly come from or connect with acts of co-operation, or exchanges of service; they are therefore possessed only in communities, and in communities where a large
proportion of the people have profitable employment. They grow, in fact, out of employments in which the people of the community are associated, or which they constantly give to and receive from one another, with profit. The slaves of the South, though often living in communities upon plantations, fail to give or receive these advantages because the profits of their labour are not distributed to them; the whites, from not engaging in profitable em ployment. The whites are not engaged in profitable employment, because the want of the advantages of capital in the application of their labour, inde pendently of the already rich, renders the prospective result of their labour so small that it is inoperative in most, as a motive for exerting themselves further than is necessary to procure the bare means of a rude subsistence; also because common labour is so poorly rewarded in the case of the slaves as to assume in their minds, as it must in the minds of the slaves themselves, a hateful aspect.
Numerous eyewitnesses, including journalists and those serving in the 5 Union and Confederate forces, recorded the struggles on the battle field of Gettysburg. Franklin Haskell, an officer in the Army of the Potomac, wrote one such account several weeks after the battle. What does
this selection reveal about the factors determining the outcome of these bat tles? Could Gettysburg have easily turned out differently?
* An Account of the Battle of Gettysburg (1863)
FRANKLIN A. HASKELL
Now came the dreadful battle picture, of which we for a time could be but spectators. Upon the front and right flank of [Union general] Sickles
Source: Harry A. Hagen and S. Lewis B. Speare, A History of the Class of 1854 in Dartmouth College (Boston: Alfred Mudge and Son, 1 898).
came sweeping the infantry of [Confederate generals] Longstreet and Hill. Hitherto there had been skirmishing and artillery practice—now the battle begins; for amid the heavier smokes and longer tongues of flame of the batteries, now began to appear the countless flashes, and the long, fiery sheets of the muskets, and the rattle of the volleys mingled with the thunder of the guns. We see the long gray lines come sweeping down upon Sickles’ front, and mix with the battle smoke; now the same colors emerge from the bushes and orchards upon his right, and envelop his flank in the confusion of the conflict. Oh, the din and the roar, and these thirty thousand rebel wolf cries! What a hell is there down that valley!
These ten or twelve thousand men of the Third Corps fight well, but it soon becomes apparent that they must be swept from the field, or perish there where they are doing so well, so thick and overwhelming a storm of rebel fire involves them. But these men, such as ever escape, must come from that conflict as best they can. To move down and support them there with other troops is out of the question, for this would be to do as Sickles did, to relinquish a good position, and advance to a bad one. There is no other alternative,—the Third Corps must fight itself out of its position of destruction! Why was it ever put there?
In the meantime some other dispositions must be made to meet the enemy, in the event that Sickles is overpowered. With this corps out of the way, the enemy would be in a position to advance upon the line of the Second Corps, not in a line parallel with its front, but they would come obliquely from the left. To meet this contingency the left of the Sec ond Division of the Second Corps is thrown back slightly, and two reg iments . . . are advanced down to the Emmitsburg road, to a favorable position nearer us than the fight has yet come, and some new batteries from the artillery reserve are posted upon the crest near the left of the Second Corps. This was all General Gibbon could do. Other dispositions
were made, or were now being made, upon the field, which I shall men tion presently.
The enemy is still giving Sickles fierce battle,—or rather the Third Corps, for Sickles has been borne from the field minus one of his legs, and General Birney now commands,—and we of the Second Corps, a thousand yards away, with our guns and men, are, and must be, idle spectators of the fight. The rebel, as anticipated, tries to gain the left of the Third Corps, and for this purpose is now moving into the woods at the west of Round Top. We knew what he would find there. No sooner had the enemy got a consider able force into the woods . . . than the roar of the conflict was heard there also. The Fifth Corps and the First Division of the Second were there at the right time, and promptly engaged him; and then, too, the battle soon became general and obstinate.
Primary Sources 289
290 Chapter 12 Grand Theory, Great Battles, and Historical Causes
Now the roar of battle has become twice the volume that it was before, and it’s [szc] rage extends over more than twice the space. The Third Corps has been pressed back considerably, and the wounded are streaming to the rear by hundreds, but still the battle there goes on, with no considerable abatement on our part….
.. . [F]resh bodies of the rebels continued to advance out of the woods to the front of the position of the Third Corps, and to swell the numbers of the assailants of this already hard pressed command. The men there begin to show signs of exhaustion,—their ammunition must be nearly expended,— they have now been fighting more than an hour, and against greatly supe rior numbers. …
. . . The Third Corps is being overpowered—here and there its lines be gin to break,—the men begin to pour back to the rear in confusion,—the enemy are close upon them and among them,—organization is lost, to a great degree,—guns and caissons are abandoned and in the hands of the enemy,—the Third Corps, after a heroic, but unfortunate fight, is being literally swept from the field. That corps gone, what is there between the Second Corps and those yelling masses of the enemy? Do you not think that by this time we began to feel a personal interest in this fight? We did, indeed. …
. . . Five or six hundred yards away the Third Corps was making its last opposition; and the enemy was hotly pressing his advantage there, and throwing in fresh troops whose line extended still more along our front, when Generals Hancock and Gibbon rode along the lines of their troops; and at once cheer after cheer—not rebel mongrel cries, but genuine cheers—rang out along the line, above the roar of battle, for “Hancock” and “Gibbon,” and our “Generals.” These were good. Had you heard their voices, you would have known these men would fight.
Just at this time we saw another thing that made us glad: we looked to our rear, and there, and all up the hillside, which was the rear of the Third Corps before it went forward, were rapidly advancing large bodies of men from the extreme right of our line of battle, coming to the support of the part now so hotly pressed. There was the whole Twelfth Corps, with the exception of about one brigade . . . and some other brigades from the same corps; and some of them were moving at the double quick. They formed lines of battle at the foot of the hill by the Taneytown road, and when the
broken fragments of the Third Corps were swarming by them towards the rear, without haltering or wavering they came swiftly up, and with glori ous old cheers, under fire, took their places on the crest in line of battle to the left of the Second Corps. Now Sickles’ blunder is repaired. Now, rebel chief, hurl forward your howling lines and columns! Yell out your loudest and your last, for many of your host will never yell, or wave the spurious flag again!
the war’s outcome?
General Ulysses S. Grant to Edwin M. Stanton (1865)
Hon. E. M. Stanton Sec. of War,
Washington D.C. June 20th 1865
I have the honor, very respectfully, to submit the following report of op erations of the Armies of the United States, from the 9th of March 1864, the date when the command was entrusted to me, to present date. Accompany
ing this will also be found all reports of commanders, subordinate to me, re ceived at these Head Quarters. To these latter I refer you for all minor details of operations and battles.
From early in the War I had been impressed with the idea that active, and continuous operations of all the troops that could be brought into the field, regardless of season and weather, were necessary to a speedy termination of the gigantic rebellion raging in the land. The resources of the enemy, and
his numerical strength, was far inferior to ours. But as an ofset [szc] to this we had a vast territory, with a population hostile to the government, to gar rison, and long lines of river and rail-road communication, tr[thr]ough terri tory equally hostile, to protect to secure in order that the more active Armies might be supplied.—Whilst Eastern and Western Armies were fighting in dependent battles, working together like a balky team where no two ever pulled together, giving Summers and Winters to almost entire inactivity, thus
enabling the enemy to use to great advantage his -his- interior lines of com munication for transporting portion of his Armies from one theatre of War to an other, and to furlough large numbers of the Armyies during these seasons of inactivity to go to their home and do the work of producing for the suport of these Armies, it was a question whether our numerical strength was not more than balanced by these [dis]advantages.
My opinion was firmly fixed long before the honor of commanding all our Armies had been confered on me that no peace could be had that would be stable, or conducive to the happiness of North or South, until the Military power of the rebellion was entirely broken. Believing us to be one people,
Source: John Y. Simon, ed., The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1 988), XV: pp. 164-1 66.
Primary Sources 291
In this letter, Grant reported to the secretary of war the completion of his military assignment. What does Grant reveal about the reasons for
292 Chapter 12 Grand Theory, Great Battles, and Historical Causes
one blood and with identical interests, I do and have felt the same interest in the welfa ultimate welfare of the South as of the North. The guilty, no mat ter what their offence or to what section they belong, should be punished according to their guilt. The leaders in this rebellion against the Government have been guilty of the most heinous offence known to our laws. Let them reap the reward of their offence.
Here then is the basis of all plans formed at the onset. Lst First to use the greatest number of troops practicable against the Armed force of the enemy. To prevent that enemy from using the same force, at different sea sons, against first one Army and then another, and to prevent the possibil ity of repose for refitting and producing the necessary supplies for carrying on resistance. Second; to hammer continuously at the Armed force of the enemy, and his resources, until by mere attricion [szc], if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him but an equal submission with the loyal
section of our common country to the universal law of the land. These views have been kept constantly before me and orders given and campaigns made to carry them out. How well it has been done it is for the public, who have to mourn the loss of friends who have fallen in the execution, and to pay the expense pecuniary cost of all this, to say. All I can say is the work has been done conscienciously and to the best of my ability. It has been done in what I concieved to be the interest of the whole country, South and North….
Blacks and the Civil War
During the Civil War nearly 180,000 blacks served in the Union army and navy. An estimated 500,000 to 700,000 slaves found refuge with Union forces. As you read the following sources, note what they reveal about the role blacks played in the defeat of the Confederacy.
Affidavit of a Tennessee Freedman (1865)
My name is Makey Woods. I am 43 years old. I have lived with Mr. William Woods, of Hardaman County, Tennessee for about twenty years. I was his slave, about three years ago when the Union Army was in possession of Bolivar Tenn, and when nearly all the Black people were leaving their Masters and going to the Union Army Mr. Woods told me and such others as would stay with him that he would give us one fourth of the crop that we would raise while we stayed with him that he would clothe us and feed us and pay our doctor’s bills. Since which time Mr. Wood has given me nothing
Source: Paul D. Escott and David R. Goldfield, eds., Major Problems in the History of the American South (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath and Co., 1990), I: p. 525.
but my clothing: about that time and soon after he made this statement to us he ran off down South into the Rebel lines fourteen of his slaves among whom were three of my children, Mr. Woods is now living in Memphis and refus to perform his contract or fulfil his promises to me in any respect, and when I spoke to him a few days ago about carrying out his contract he told me that he was sorry he made such a bargain with us:
There has been raised on Mr. Woods’ place this year 48 bales of Cotton most of which Mr. Wood has taken to Memphis last year there were 26 bales raised which Mr. Wood sold I do not know exactly how many black people on Mr. Woods’ place at present. Mr. Woods told us that any little patches we might cultivate at odd hours he would not take into the count but would let us have it besides the % of the regular crop.
Reverend Garrison Frazier on the Aspirations of His Fellow Blacks (1865)
Minutes of an interview between the colored ministers and church officers at Savan nah with the Secretary of War and Major-General Sherman.
On the evening of Thursday, the 12th day of January, 1865, [twenty] persons of African descent met, by appointment, to hold an interview with Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, and Major-General Sherman, to have a confer ence upon matters relating to the Freedmen of the State of Georgia….
Garrison Frazier, being chosen by the persons present to express their com mon sentiments upon the matters of inquiry, makes answers to inquiries as follows:—
First. State what your understanding is in regard to the Acts of Congress, and President’s [szc] Lincoln’s Proclamation, touching the condition of the colored people in the rebel States.
Answer. So far as I understand President Lincoln’s Proclamation to the re bellious States, it is, th[at] if they would lay down their arms and submit to the laws of the United States before the 1st of January, 1863, all should be well, but if they did not, then all the slaves in the rebel States should be free, henceforth and forever; that is what I understood.
Second. State what you understand by slavery, and the freedom that was to be given by the President’s Proclamation.
Answer. Slavery is receiving by irresistible power the work of another man, and not by his consent. The freedom, as I understand it, promised by the Proclamation, is taking us from under the yoke of bondage, and placing
Source: Pau] D. Escott and David R. Goldfield, eds., Major Problems in the History of the American South (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath and Co., 1990), I: pp. 525-527.
Primary Sources 293
294 Chapter 12 Grand Theory, Great Battles, and Historical Causes
us where we could reap the fruit of our own labor, and take care of our selves, and assist the Government in maintaining our freedom.
Third. State in what manner you think you can take care of yourselves, and how you can best assist the Government in maintaining your freedom.
Answer. The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn in and till it by our labor—that is, by the labor of the women, and chil dren, and old men—and we can soon maintain ourselves, and have some thing to spare; and to assist the Government, the young men should enlist in the service of the Government, and serve in such manner as they may
be wanted—(the rebels told us that they piled them up, and made batteries of them, and sold them to Cuba; but we don’t believe that.) We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it, and make it our own….
Sixth. State what is the feeling of the black population of the South towards fhe Government ot the’United blates; what is the’understanding in respect to the present war, its causes and object, and their disposition to aid either side; state fully your views.
Answer. I think you will find there is thousands that are willing to make any sacrifice to assist the Government of the United States, while there is also many that are not willing to take up arms. I do not suppose there is a dozen men that is opposed to the Government. I understand, as to the war, that the South is the aggressor. President Lincoln was elected President by a majority of the United States, which guaranteed him the right of holding the office, and exercising that right over the whole United States. The South,
without knowing what he would do, rebelled. The war was commenced by the rebels before he came into office. The object of the war was not, at first, to give the slaves their freedom, but the sole object of the war was, at first, to bring the rebellious States back into the Union, and their loyalty to the laws of the United States. Afterwards, knowing the value that was set on the slaves by the rebels, the President thought that his Proclamation would stimulate them to lay down their arms, reduce them to obedience, and help to bring back the rebel States; and their not doing so has now made the free dom of the slaves a part of the war. It is my opinion that there is not a man
in this city that could be started to help the rebels one inch, for that would be suicide. There was two black men left with the rebels, because they had taken an active part for the rebels, and thought something might befall them if they staid behind, but there is not another man. If the prayers that have gone up for the Union army could be read out, you would not get through them these two weeks.
Seventh. State whether the sentiments you now express are those only of the colored people in the city, or do they extend to the colored population through the country, and what are your means of knowing the sentiments of those living in the country.
Answer. I think the sentiments are the same among the colored people of the State. My opinion is formed by personal communication in the course
of my ministry, and also from the thousands that followed the Union army, leaving their homes and undergoing suffering. I did not think there would be so many; the number surpassed my expectation.
Eighth. If the rebel leaders were to arm the slaves, what would be its effect?
Answer. I think they would fight as long as they were before the bayonet, and just as soon as they could get away they would desert, in my opinion.
Ninth. What, in your opinion, is the feeling of the colored people about enlisting and serving as soldiers of the United States, and what kind of mili tary service do they prefer?
Answer. A large number have gone as soldiers to Port Royal to be drilled and put in the service, and I think there is thousands of the young men that will enlist; there is something about them that, perhaps, is wrong; they have suffered so long from the rebels, that they want to meet and have a chance with them in the field.
Morale on the Home Front
Morale is a big factor in the ability of people to fight. What do these sources reveal about the problems each side had with morale, and to what extent did it appear to be influenced by events on the battlefield?
By 1863, women and children in the South had streamed into cities, swelling the Confederacy’s urban population. At the same time, a Union naval blockade and hoarding had helped to create shortages of basic
necessities. In the face of skyrocketing inflation, bread or food riots, often car ried out by women, became a common occurrence in the South. The biggest such riot occurred in April 1863 in Richmond, Virginia.
Primary Sources 295
296 Chapter 12 Grand Theory, Great Battles, and Historical Causes
Southern Women Feeling the Effects of Rebellion and Creating Bread Riots (1863)
Source: Boston Athenaeum. Reprinted in Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, May 23, 1863.
Excerpt from Diary of Margaret Junkin Preston (1862)
April 3d, 1862:…
Darkness seems gathering over the Southern land; disaster follows disas ter; where is it all to end? My very soul is sick of carnage. I loathe the word— War. It is destroying and paralyzing all before it. Our schools are closed—all the able-bodied men gone—stores shut up, or only here and there one open; goods not to be bought, or so exorbitant that we are obliged to do without. I actually dressed my baby all winter in calico dresses made out of the lining of an old dressing-gown; and G. in clothes concocted out of old castaways. As to myself, I rigidly abstained from getting a single article of dress in the entire past year, except shoes and stockings. Calico is not to be had; a few pieces had been offered at 40 cents per yard. Coarse, unbleached cottons are
very occasionally to be met with, and are caught up eagerly at 40 cents per yard. Such material as we used to give ninepence for (common blue twill) is a bargain now at 40 cents, and then of a very inferior quality. Soda, if to be had at all, is 75 cents per lb. Coffee is not to be bought. We have some on hand, and for eight months have drunk a poor mixture, half wheat, half cof fee. Many persons have nothing but wheat or rye.
These are some of the very trifling effects of this horrid and senseless war. Just now I am bound down under the apprehension of having my husband again enter the service; and if he goes, he says he will not return until the war closes, if indeed he come back alive. May God’s providence interpose to prevent his going! His presence is surely needed at home; his hands are taken away by the militia draught, and he has almost despaired of having his farms cultivated this year. His overseer is draughted, and will have to go, unless the plea of sickness will avail to release him, as he has been seri ously unwell. The [Virginia Military] Institute is full, two hundred and fifty cadets being in it; but they may disperse at any time, so uncertain is the ten ure of everything now. The College [Washington College] has five students; boys too young to enter the army.
Source: Elizabeth Preston Allan, The Life and Letters of Margaret Junkin Preston, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1903), pp. 134-135.
Primary Sources 297
298 Chapter 12 Grand Theory, Great Battles, and Historical Causes
“Kate,” whose first name only is known, wrote a letter to ą friend in 11 Baltimore after Robert E. Lee’s army entered Frederick, Maryland.
“Katez” A Letter to a Friend (1862)
I wish, my dearest Minnie, you could have witnessed the transit of the Rebel army through our streets [of Frederick, Maryland] . . . Their coming was unheralded by any pomp and pageant whatever . . . Was this body of men, moving … along with no order … no two dresses alike, their officers hardly distinguishable from the privates—were these, I asked myself in amaze ment, were these dirty, lank, ugly specimens of humanity, with shocks of hair sticking through the holes in their hats, and the dust thick on their dirty faces, the men that had coped and encountered successfully and driven back again and again our splendid legions … ? I must confess, Minnie, that I felt humiliated at the thought that this horde of ragamuffins could set our grand army of the Union at defiance….
Source: From The Civil War and Reconstruction: An Eyewitness History, edited by Joe Kirchberger. Reprinted with permission of Facts on File, Inc., NY. Copyright© 1991 by Joe H. Kirchberger.
Heyward recorded this during General William T. Sherman’s march 12 through Georgia in 1864.
Account of a Slaveholding Family During Sherman’s March (1864)
PAULINE DeCARADEUC HEYWARD May 23, 1864
I have no heart to keep this Journal or tell of the dreadful, fatal battles in Va. Oh my God! my heart is too heavy, I am entirely miserable. Many whom I know are killed & wounded. Robert Taft and Col. Shooter are killed. Capt. Barnwell killed. George Lalane wounded. Wise’s Brigade was subjected to a fearful firing from the enemy at Druery’s Bluff. I suppose John Cochran is wounded, from the moment I saw him I felt that his life would be given to this devouring war; and I am assured that he is dead or wounded, for I feel it.
Source: Mary D. Robertson, ed., A Confederate Lady Comes of Age: The Journal of Pauline DeCaradeuc Heyward, 1863-1888 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992), pp. 36-37, 65-69.
The debate about the Civil War’s outcome illustrates that historians are specta tors in numerous arenas. In the Civil War, military leaders and events are in one amphitheater, political developments are in another, and economic and social developments are in still others. Of course, one venue is never entirely separate from another. Events on the battlefield affected in numerous ways politics and society in the North and South and vice versa. The challenge for historians is to demonstrate how they interacted.
The Civil War also illustrates the numerous ways in which historians ex plore the past. In searching for historical explanations, some historians look in several arenas. Others seek to understand everything about only one. Some historians conclude that leaders hold the key to understanding the past. Others insist that understanding the rank-and-file is more important. Some historians see large forces that give to events a certain inevitability. Others take a seat in the stands to witness all the unpredictable decisions and actions that took place.
Finally, the debate about the causes of the Civil War’s outcome is also a reminder that the question of causation is at the heart of historical inquiry. If the Civil War’s outcome was important in deciding the nation’s future, then determining why the war turned out as it did is obviously crucial to our un derstanding of the nation’s past. Yet to understand history we must not only know the influence of past events on later generations, but appreciate how interpretations of those events may also influence those who come later. In the next chapter, we shall turn to an especially powerful example of the power of histrocial interpretation.
**Questions for the document
1) Do the historians argue that the Confederacy lost the Civil War or that the United States won it?
2) Was the outcome of the Civil War inevitable because it was determined by the balance of resources on each side?
3) Cite the best examples of how developments on the home front affected the events on the battlefield and of the way people or events on the battlefield affected developments on the home front. ( Cite 2 of each)
4) Which of the authors’ arguments is most plausible and why?