Why the North won the Civil War “You Are Bound to Fail.” Union officer William Tecumseh Sherman to a Southern friend: In all history, no nation of mere agriculturists ever made successful war against a nation of mechanics. .
. . You are bound to fail. (Catton, Glory Road 241) 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 nations 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the veritable lifelines of any army, traced paths all across the Northern countryside but left the South isolated, outdated, and starving (See Appendices). The final death knell for a modern South developed in the form of economic colonialism. The Confederates were 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 Norths 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 kings 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, Englands 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 nations 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 Whitneys 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 (Paluda …