North versus South


*Lincoln was the first Republican president, and a moderate, compromise candidate.  He had many opponents within the leadership of the Republican Party, and, in order to make them (and the factions supporting them) relatively happy and to keep an eye on them, he put several of them in his cabinet. 


*Secretary of State William Henry Seward had hoped to win the nomination instead of Lincoln in 1860, and considered him soft, at least at first, and actually expected to run the presidency from behind the scenes, sort of like a prime minister. 


*The Secretary of the Treasury was Salmon P. Chase, a former Democrat and then Free Soil Party Senator and later Governor of Ohio who had also tried for the 1860 Republican nomination and won 49 votes, which he gave to Lincoln, most likely in exchange for a cabinet post (one of the many reasons Seward did not like him).  He threatened to resign from the cabinet several times over the course of his career, until Lincoln finally accepted (to Chase's surprise), but Lincoln later named him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.


*The Attorney-General was Edward Bates, of Missouri, the first Cabinet member from West of the Mississippi River.   He was an important Republican leader in his own right, a potential nominee in 1860, and a representative of the more conservative branch of the Republican Party.  It was also hoped that he would show that Lincoln respected slave-owning states (at least in the Upper South), although one of Bates's 17 children ended up fighting for the Confederacy. 


*The same was true of Montgomery Blair of Maryland, who was Lincoln's first Postmaster-General (who introduced postal money orders and railway cars to the US Postal Service).  Although an abolitionist himself, he had relatives who owned slaves and had been a Democrat until he was disgusted by the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its bloody aftermath.  His influence and that of his family played some role in keeping Maryland in the Union, although he later disagreed with other Republican leaders and resigned from the Cabinet.


*The Secretary of the Navy was Gideon Wells, a former newspaper editor and an anti-British conservative who did not get along with the other members of the cabinet. 


*Initially the Secretary of War was Simon Cameron, who had also tried for the 1860 nomination and later gave his support to Lincoln in exchange for a cabinet post.  Early on, he hired a Democrat, Buchananís former Attorney-General Edwin Stanton, as a legal advisor, and was replaced by him in 1862 after they together wrote a suggestion that freed slaves be armed and used against the CSA.  Stanton initially thought Lincoln was an idiot, but worked well with him despite this, and later they became very close and respected one another deeply.


*By the time Lincoln was inaugurated on 4 March 1861, seven states had left the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.  On 28 March, part of New Mexico officially seceded from the remainder of the territory and set itself up as the Confederate Territory of Arizona.  It seemed likely that the eight remaining slave states, from Delaware to Arkansas, and perhaps the Indian Territory might leave the Union as well, although several of them had already had conventions, referendums, or legislative votes on the subject and rejected it.


*Throughout the South, military installations had been turned over to the Confederacy and, indeed, throughout the Union, many Southerners in the Army and Navy (although not all), had resigned and gone back to their home states.


*Initially, both sides waited to see what the other would do.  The South only wanted to be left alone, and Lincoln, although he wanted to keep the Union together, feared that using force to do so without provocation might simply result in more states leaving the Union.  There was also, he feared, insufficient support in the North for a war, as many Northerners did not want to die in a war that they thought was over slavery.


*While the USA and CSA waited, Europe looked on, with many leaders hoping the Union would split up into smaller countries that Old World diplomats could play off against one another.  Seward publicly threatened war with Britain or France if either tried to help the South, as the South hoped they would due to their supposed dependence on King Cotton, but he privately assured their ambassadors that the USA was not quite so bellicose.


*Lincolnís official policy was to consider all the South still part of the Union, but not make any move to provoke the South outright.  However, he swore to defend any and all Federal installations in the South that were still held by the Union Army.  There were four of these:  Fort Sumter at Charleston, Fort Pickens at Pensacola, and Forts Taylor and Jefferson off Key West.


*The most important of these Federal installations was Sumter, and Lincoln would use it to provoke a war much as Polk had instigated the Mexican War with his trans-Nueces expedition in 1846.


*In January the US had tried to send the Star of the West to bring supplies to Fort Sumter, but she was fired upon by the cityís batteries manned by students from the Citadel.  Sumter was low on supplies, and Lincoln had to send more or else Major Anderson would have to surrender without firing a shot.  On 6 April, to make it look like he wanted to appease the South who claimed Sumter as their own and feared he would reinforce it, Lincoln stated that he would send a ship to re-supply it only.  The South was in a bind.  If Sumter was re-supplied, the Union flag would remain in Charleston and the South's most important Atlantic port would be blockaded.  However, if they attacked the fort, they would have begun the war.  After an emergency meeting in Montgomery, the Confederate government, with the dissent of Secretary of State Robert Toombs, felt they could not allow this.


*Although Anderson had told the South he would leave the fort by 15 April if not re-supplied, fire-eating Southern nationalists felt they had to make a point, and General Beauregard fired on Fort Sumter for 34 hours, beginning at 4:30 a.m. 12 April, 1861.  No-one was killed, Anderson surrendered, and the War began.


*Lincolnís plan had worked.  Pressure on the South had pushed the CSA into firing the first shot, and the North was outraged.  On 15 April, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion by force.  This in turn infuriated the South, who felt they were about to be invaded.  In both the North and South the majority of the people felt the time for reason had ended and rejected further calls attempts at negotiation and compromise.  Army and militia recruiters got more volunteers than they could handle, to the point they had to turn them away.   


*Moreover, this call for volunteers offended the Border States, who had not wanted to leave the Union, but were willing to let their fellow Southerners go if they wanted to, and would not let the South be invaded by the armies of the tyrant Lincoln, especially as he would have to march through them to do so.


*On 17 April, Virginia seceded and the Confederate capital was soon moved to Richmond, less than 100 miles from Washington.  In May, North Carolina and Arkansas followed.  On 8 June, Tennessee joined the Confederacy, too, despite strong opposition in East Tennessee (there had also been opposition in Middle Tennessee before Lincoln's call for volunteers).


*In parts of many Southern states, especially in the Appalachian Mountains, poor whites did not want to go to war to prop up the wealthy slave-owners who they felt had dismembered the Union. 


*In western Virginia, especially the northern panhandle near Wheeling, some delegates, disappointed by Richmondís decision, lobbied for the creation of a new state, and had the support of a few counties.  Conventions were held to consider the secession of West Virginia from seceded Virginia.  Soon Federal troops moved in and Ďassistedí in the process of voting for delegates to these conventions.  39 counties, under these conditions, chose to secede, but a total of 50 were selected for economic and military reasons, and in 1861 West Virginia (having rejected the name Kanawha) asked for admission to the Union as a new state, and was accepted as such in 1863, despite Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution, which states in part Ďno new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.í  Of course, Lincoln was always willing to bend the Constitution when it was useful for him to do so.  Besides, if Virginia said it had seceded from the Union, she could not insist the Constitution she had rejected still protect her, too.


*In Maryland and Kentucky there were strong pro-Southern movements, particularly in Baltimore where troops from Boston passing through town on 19 April, 1861 were attacked by war protestors, and fired into the crowd, making the first casualties of the war civilians killed by the US Army.


*In Maryland, the governor supported secession and the legislature opposed it.  The Kentucky the reverse was true, and as a compromise the governor declared Kentucky a neutral state, uninvolved in any warfare.  Lincoln promptly invaded.  He also suspended the writ of habeas corpus in both states, allowing him to arrest and imprison without a warrant anyone he wanted to, including, in this case, the governors and legislatures of both Kentucky and Maryland.  Chief Justice Taney said this was illegal and unconstitutional, so Lincoln threatened to lock him up, too.


*Wherever the US Army occupied the Border States, they took a hand in enforcing elections and manipulating them for the Unionís benefit, taking advantage of the public aspects of voting at this time to coerce voters into voting pro-Union (although there was certainly public pressure and the private threat of violence involved in elections in the South, too).


*Delaware considered secession, with the governor and one county in the state for it, and the other two counties opposed.  The Pro-Southern side called for help from the CSA but none came in time.  Pro-Union militia in the state forced the Pro-Southern militia to surrender without firing a shot. 


*In Missouri a secession convention was held, but no ordinance was passed, and the Union maintained a strong presence there, especially after the battle of Wilsonís Creek on 10 August, 1861.  Nonetheless, Missouri remained deeply divided, and each of the Border States on both sides would experience an internal civil war, although Missouriís was one of the worst. 


*East Tennessee and Western North Carolina also saw destruction of public and private property (including most of the railroad bridgess in East Tennessee), bloody fighting in the woods, and massacres in remote hollows. 


*Fighting continued in Bleeding Kansas, too, and even in Indian Territory (which was below the old Missouri Compromise line and where many of the Five Civilised Tribes owned slaves), where most tribes divided into Union and Confederate factions based on existing internal rivalries (the leader of the Confederate Cherokees and the last Confederate general to surrender in 1865 was Stand Watie, a relative of a signer of the Treaty of New Echota while the leader of the Unionist Cherokee was John Ross, who had tried to oppose Removal).


*Ultimately, there were slave-owners in the Union and many non-slaveowners in the South.  When the War began, it was not a fight to free the slaves, but a fight to preserve the Union or the rights of the several sovereign states, depending on oneís point of view, and this debate split not only the country, but states and even families.  That unsuccessful compromiser, Senator John Crittenden of Kentucky had two sons, and one fought for the North and one for the South.



*When the War began, both sides had advantages, although in a material sense, the North had more.















Good roads

22,000 miles of RR

Many canals

Bad roads

9,000 miles of RR

Few canals

Sea power


No navy


22 million

5.5 million white

3.5 million slaves

During the course of the War, about 2.9 million Americans would serve in either the US or CS military, almost 2 million in the USA and 950,000 in the CSA.


*Established government


*Superior economy and diversified industry


*Excellent transportation system


*Large population


*800,000 immigrants to replace losses

*European help?  CSA offered tariff-free cotton to Britain

*Defensive war

*Interior lines

*Superior morale

*The Cause:  Independence, Home, and Family (although Statesí Rights would also prove to be a problem)


*Military tradition, strong state militia system, several state military schools, brilliant leaders


*When the War began, the Commanding General of the US Army was that veteran of 1812, the Conqueror of Mexico, ĎOld Fuss and Feathersí himself, Winfield Scott, the highest-ranked officer in the US Army since Washington.  By now, though, he was 75 years old, and had been admired for so long that officers under his command were named after him.  At his age he frequently fell asleep in meetings and was so fat he could not get on a horse. 


*Knowing that he could not command an army in the field, he told Lincoln that the man who should command the Union Armies was his old aide from the Mexican War, Robert E. Lee of Virginia.  Lee was offered the job on 17 April, 1861, but declined, refusing to draw a sword against his native state, which was voting on secession that very day. 


*Instead, command of Federal troops in Washington was given to General Irvin McDowell, a supply officer with no experience leading troops in combat.


*Nonetheless, Scott was the man with the plan, specifically, what came to be called the Anaconda Plan, so-called because it was meant to choke off and strangle the South slowly but surely, like its name-snake. 


*First, the US Navy would surround the South, blockading the Confederacy to prevent it from selling cotton or importing desperately needed supplies, such as British repeating rifles. 


*Second, the US would seize the Mississippi River, cutting the Confederacy in half. 


*Only when the South had been weakened in this way would it be seriously invaded; Scottís original plan focused on devastating the Southern interior, while later versions of the plan, more interested in a dramatic victory, shouted ĎOn to Richmond!í  Most Yankees (like most Southerners) thought the War would be over quickly, and, although they implemented the blockade, they then skipped straight to the last part of the plan, thinking the rest too slow and boring.  Indeed, the term 'Anaconda Plan' was first applied in derision by people who wanted faster action.


*In the end, the plan was successful, and although he had been forced into retirement by ambitious younger generals, Scott lived to see its fulfilment.


*Despite this plan, and despite the Northís obvious advantages, the South seemed to have a good chance, especially early on.  Not only were Southerners on the whole much more willing to fight than were most Northerners, many European powers were openly sympathetic.


*The crowned heads of Europe had long disapproved of American democracy, and felt both cultural and economic ties with the Cotton Kingdom.


*British textile mills imported 75% of their cotton from the American South.  The Emperor of France was also sympathetic to the South, as were most major European powers with the exception of Russia.


*Southerners hoped that foreign aid would help them as it had their ancestors in the first War for Independence, and counted on the Royal Navy to break the blockade.  Although some British vessels did operate as blockade runners and covert aid and assistance was given to the CSA by the British Empire, no European country ever officially recognised the Confederacy.


*This was in large part due to the influence of Uncle Tomís Cabin on the reading, working, and voting public of Britain.  Furthermore, the British had been buying excess cotton in the years immediately after the Crimean War, and now had a surplus on which they could temporarily rely.  When they felt more pinched later in the war, they would simply increased their influence over cotton-producing Egypt and India.  The British also found they needed the North.  The North had an overabundance of grain during this period, and the British suffered a series of bad harvests, and needed American wheat more than they needed American cotton.


*In the first years of the War, however, it was not obvious that Britain would not intervene.  On 8 November, 1861, the USS San Jacinto stopped the British mail-ship Trent on the high seas north of Cuba.  On board were two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell, the man who had tried to make peace with Mexico by buying California in 1846.  The US seized them and the British claimed this was an act of aggression and the proud British were incensed that anyone might stop their vessels to seize passengers.  War preparations began and redcoats shipped out for Canada.  In keeping with Sewardís policy of public posturing and backroom dealing, after a time, Mason and Slidell were allowed to go to Britain.  Lincolnís words on the matter were Ďone war at a time.í


*Yankees were also upset about Confederate commerce-raiders.  These were Confederate ships built in Britain but armed elsewhere, so that technically the British were not building warships.  Many had British crews and Confederate officers.  Although they fought the Confederate Navy, they mostly attacked US merchant ships, doing to them on the high seas what the US Navy was doing to Confederate merchants who tried to slip through the blockade. 


*The most famous of these ships was the CSS Alabama, which captured or destroyed over 60 Federal ships in all the oceans of the world.  In 1864 the Alabama was destroyed by the USS Kearsarge off the coast of France, but commerce raiding continued, and, indeed, the last Confederate unit to surrender was CSS Shenandoah, which was surrendered in Liverpool on 6 November, 1865.  The British built over 250 ships for the Confederacy over the course of the War.  In return some Yankees considered attacking Canada, which was, in fact, the base of some Confederate operations.


*The Union nearly did go to war with Britain over the Laird Rams.  Built by John Laird and Sons, the same firm the built the Alabama, these heavily armoured ships were meant to ram and sink the Union blockading fleet, opening up Northern cities to Confederate naval bombardment.  The US ambassador to Great Britain, Charles Francis Adams, grandson of President John Adams, threatened war again, and the British chose not to deliver the rams.  In 1872, the British even paid Americans $15.5 million for damage done by commerce raiders during the War.


*19 October, 1864, a group of Confederates operating out of Canada invaded the town of St Albans, Vermont, robbing three banks and making off with $200,000.  Later, the same town would be used by about 3,500 Irish-born Fenians as a point from which they invaded Canada in the hope of seizing it from the British and setting up an Irish Free State.  This attempt failed, as did a similar effort in 1870, but neither improved Anglo-American relations along the Canadian border.  One response to the first of these attacks, and to the growing threat of America in general, was the creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, uniting most of Britainís Canadian colonies under one government.


*The French Emperor, Napoleon III also tried to take advantage of the Unionís distraction from world events to violate the Monroe Doctrine conquering Mexico.  After doing so in 1863 (despite a setback on Cinco de Mayo, 1862), he set up the Austrian Hapsburg Archduke Maximilian (brother of the Emperor Franz Josef) as Emperor of Mexico, where he had support among conservative elements, but not the majority of Mexicans.  After the War, Seward threatened to march the 900,000-man US Army into Mexico unless Napoleon III withdrew his support.  He did so, offering to take Maximilian with him, but Maximilian stood by his supporters until his overthrow and execution by liberal forces in the country.

This page last updated 19 September, 2018.
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