The American antebellum South, though steeped in pride and raised inmilitary tradition, was to be no match for the burgeoning superiority ofthe rapidly developing North in the coming Civil War. The lack ofemphasis on manufacturing and commercial interest, stemming from theSouthern desire to preserve their traditional agrarian society,surrendered to the North their ability to function independently, muchless to wage war. It was neither Northern troops nor generals that wonthe 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 didnot, boasting resources that the Confederacy had even no means ofattaining (See Appendices, Brinkley et al. 415).Order now
Sheer manpower ratioswere unbelievably one-sided, with only nine of the nation’s 31 millioninhabitants residing in the seceding states (Angle 7). The Union alsohad large amounts of land available for growing food crops which servedthe dual purpose of providing food for its hungry soldiers and money forits ever-growing industries. The South, on the other hand, devoted mostof what arable land it had exclusively to its main cash crop: cotton(Catton, The Coming Fury 38). Raw materials were almost entirelyconcentrated in Northern mines and refining industries.
Railroads andtelegraph lines, the veritable lifelines of any army, traced paths allacross the Northern countryside but left the South isolated, outdated,and starving (See Appendices). The final death knell for a modern Southdeveloped in the form of economic colonialism. The Confederates wereall too willing to sell what little raw materials they possessed toNorthern Industry for any profit they could get. Little did they know,”King Cotton” could buy them time, but not the war.
The South hadbartered something that perhaps it had not intended: its independence(Catton, Reflections 143). The North’s ever-growing industry was an important supplement to itseconomical dominance of the South. Between the years of 1840 and 1860,American industry saw sharp and steady growth. In 1840 the total valueof goods manufactured in the United States stood at $483 million,increasing over fourfold by 1860 to just under $2 billion, with theNorth taking the king’s ransom (Brinkley et al. 312).
The underlyingreason behind this dramatic expansion can be traced directly to theAmerican Industrial Revolution. Beginning in the early 1800s, traces of the industrial revolution inEngland began to bleed into several aspects of the American society. One of the first industries to see quick development was the textileindustry, but, thanks to the British government, this development almostnever came to pass. Years earlier, England’s James Watt had developedthe first successful steam engine.
This invention, coupled with thebirth of James Hargreaves’ spinning jenny, completely revolutionized theBritish textile industry, and eventually made it the most profitable inthe world (“Industrial Revolution”). The British government,parsimonious with its newfound knowledge of machinery, attempted toprotect the nation’s manufacturing preeminence by preventing the exportof textile machinery and even the emigration of skilled mechanics. Despite valiant attempts at deterrence, though, many immigrants managedto make their way into the United States with the advanced knowledge ofEnglish technology, and they were anxious to acquaint America with thenew machines (Furnas 303). And acquaint the Americans they did: more specifically, New EnglandAmericans. It was people like Samuel Slater who can be credited withbeginning the revolution of the textile industry in America. A skilledmechanic in England, Slater spent long hours studying the schematics forthe spinning jenny until finally he no longer needed them.
He emigratedto Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and there, together with a Quaker merchantby the name of Moses Brown, he built a spinning jenny from memory(Furnas 303). This meager mill would later become known as the firstmodern factory in America. It would also become known as the point atwhich the North began its economic domination of the Confederacy. Although slow to accept change, The South was not entirely unaffectedby the onset of the Industrial Revolution.
Another inventor by the nameof Eli Whitney set out in 1793 to revolutionize the Southern cottonindustry. Whitney was working as a tutor for a plantation owner inGeorgia (he was also, ironically, born and raised in New England) andtherefore knew the problems of harvesting cotton (Brinkley et al. 200). Until then, the arduous task of separating the seeds from the cottonbefore sale had been done chiefly by slave labor and was, consequently,very inefficient. Whitney developed a machine which would separate theseed from the cotton swiftly and effectively, cutting the harvestingtime 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 morethan 2000 percent (Randall and Donald 36). Enormous amounts of businessopportunities opened up, including, perhaps most importantly, theexpansion of the Southern plantations. This was facilitated by the factthat a single worker could now do the same amount of work in a few hoursthat a group of workers had once needed a whole day to do (Brinkley etal. 201).
This allowed slaves to pick much more cotton per day andtherefore led most plantation owners to expand their land base. Themonetary gains of the cash crop quickly took precedence over the basicnecessity of the food crop, which could be gotten elsewhere. In 1791cotton production amounted to only 4000 bales, but by 1860, productionlevels had skyrocketed to just under five million bales (Randall andDonald 36). Cotton was now bringing in nearly $200 million a year,which constituted almost two-thirds of the total export trade (Brinkleyet al. 329). “King Cotton” was born, and it soon became a fundamentalmotive in Southern diplomacy.
However, during this short burst ofeconomic prowess, the South failed to realize that it would never besustained by “King Cotton” alone. What it needed was the guiding handof “Queen Industry. “Eli Whitney soon came to realize that the South would not readilyaccept change, and decided to take his inventive mind back up to theNorth, where it could be put to good use. He found his niche in thesmall arms business. Previously, during two long years of quasi-warwith France, Americans had been vexed by the lack of rapidity with whichsufficient armaments could be produced. Whitney came to the rescue withthe invention of interchangeable parts.
His vision of the perfectfactory included machines which would produce, from a preshaped mold,the various components needed to build a standard infantry rifle, andworkers on an assembly line who would construct it (“IndustrialRevolution”). The North, eager to experiment and willing to tryanything that smacked of economic progress, decided to test the watersof this inviting new method of manufacture. It did not take theresourceful Northerners very long to actualize Eli Whitney’s dream andmake mass production a reality. The small arms industry boomed, andkept on booming. By the onset of the Civil War, the confederate stateswere dolefully noting the fact that there were thirty-eight Union armsfactories 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 intothe side of the Northern states. Luckily, immigration numbers wereskyrocketing at this time, and the sudden profusion of factory positionsthat needed to be filled was not a big problem (See Appendices andRandall and Donald 1-2). The immigrants, who were escaping anythingfrom the Irish Potato Famine to British oppression, were willing to workfor almost anything and withstand inhuman factory conditions (Jones). Although this exploitation was extremely cruel and unfair to theimmigrants, Northern businessmen profited immensely from it (Brinkley etal. 264)By the beginning of war in 1860, the Union, from an economicalstandpoint, stood like a towering giant over the stagnant Southernagrarian society.
Of the over 128,000 industrial firms in the nation atthis time, the Confederacy held only 18,026. New England alone toppedthe figure with over 19,000, and so did Pennsylvania 21,000 and New Yorkwith 23,000 (Paludan 105). The total value of goods manufactured in thestate of New York alone was over four times that of the entireConfederacy. The Northern states produced 96 percent of the locomotivesin the country, and, as for firearms, more of them were made in oneConnecticut county than in all the Southern factories combined (“CivilWar,” Encyclopedia Americana).
The Confederacy had made one fatal mistake: believing that its thrivingcotton industry alone would be enough to sustain itself throughout thewar. Southerners saw no need to venture into the uncharted industrialterritories when good money could be made with cotton. What they failedto realize was that the cotton boom had done more for the North than ithad done for the South. Southerners could grow vast amounts of cotton,but due to the lack of mills, they could do nothing with it. Consequently, the cotton was sold to the Northerners who would use it intheir factories to produce wools and linens, which were in turn soldback to the South. This cycle stimulated industrial growth in the Unionand stagnated it in the Confederate states (Catton, Reflections 144).
Southern plantation owners erred in believing that the growing textileindustries of England and France were highly dependent on their cotton,and that, in the event of war, those countries would come to theirrescue (“Civil War,” World Book). They believed that the North wouldthen be forced to acquiesce to the “perfect” Southern society. Theywere wrong. During the war years, the economical superiority of the Union, whichhad been so eminent before the war, was cemented. The Civil War gave aneven bigger boost to the already growing factories in the North. Thetroops needed arms and warm clothes on a constant basis, and NorthernIndustry was glad to provide them.
By 1862, the Union could boast ofits capacity to manufacture almost all of its own war materials usingits own resources (Brinkley et al. 415). The South, on the other hand,was fatally dependent on outside resources for its war needs. Dixie was not only lagging far behind in the factories. It had alsochosen to disregard two other all-important areas in which the North hadchosen to thrive: transportation and communication.
. . . the Railroad, the Locomotive, and the Telegraph- -iron, steam,and lightning-these three mighty genii of civilization . .
. will knowno lasting pause until the whole vast line of railway shall completedfrom the Atlantic to the Pacific. (Furnas 357)During the antebellum years, the North American populace especially hadshown a great desire for an effective mode of transportation. For along time, canals had been used to transport people and goods acrosslarge amounts of land which were accessible by water, but, withcontinuing growth and expansion, these canals were becoming obsolete anda symbol of frustration to many Northerners.
They simply needed a wayto transport freight and passengers across terrains where waterways didnot exist (Brinkley et al. 256-59). The first glimmer of hope came as America’s first primitive locomotive,powered by a vertical wood-fired boiler, puffed out of Charlestonhauling a cannon and gun crew firing salutes (Catton, Glory Road 237). Ironically enough, this revolution had begun in the South, but there itwould not prosper. The Railroading industry quickly blossomed in theNorth, where it provided a much needed alternative to canals, but couldnever quite get a foothold in the South.
Much of this can be accreditedto the fact that Northern engineers were experienced in the field ofironworking and had no problem constructing vast amounts of intricaterail lines, while Southerners, still fledglings in the field, simplyhobbled. This hobbling was quite unmistakable at the outbreak of the Civil War. The Union, with its some 22,000 miles of track, was able to transportweaponry, clothes, food, soldiers, and whatever supplies were needed toalmost any location in the entire theater. Overall, this greatly aidedthe Northern war effort and worked to increase the morale of thetroops. The South, on the other hand, could not boast such logistical prowess. With its meager production of only four percent of thenation”s locomotives and its scant 9,000 miles of track, the Confederacystood in painful awareness of its inferiority (Randall and Donald 8).
Trackage figures alone, though, do not tell the entire story of theweakness of the South”s railroad”s system. Another obstacle arose inthe problem of track gauge. The gauge, or width of track, frequentlyvaried from rail to rail in the South. Therefore, goods would oftenhave to be taken off one train and transferred to another before movingon to their final destination. Any perishable goods had to be stored inwarehouses if there were any delays, and this was not an uncommonoccurrence. There also existed a problem in the fact that there werelarge gaps between many crucial parts of the South, which requiredsuppliers to make detours over long distances or to carry goods betweenrails by wagon (Catton, The Coming Fury 434).
As the war progressed,the Confederate railroad system steadily deteriorated, and, by the endof the struggle, it had all but collapsed. Communication, or rather lack thereof, was another impediment toSouthern economical growth. The telegraph had burst into American lifein 1844, when Samuel Morse first transmitted, from the Supreme Courtchamber in the capitol to Alfred Vail in Baltimore, his famous words”What hath God wrought!” (Brinkley et al. 314). The advent of thisfresh form of communication greatly facilitated the operation of therailroad lines in the North. Telegraph lines ran along the tracks,connecting one station to the next and aiding the scheduling of thetrains.
Moreover, the telegraph provided instant communication betweendistant cities, tying the nation together like never before. Yet,ironically, it also buttressed the growing schism between the twodiverging societies (314). The South, unimpressed by this new moderntechnology and not having the money to experiment, chose not to delvevery deeply into its development. Pity, they would learn to regret it. By 1860, the North had laid over 90 percent of the nation”s some 50,000miles of telegraph wire. Morse”s telegraph had become an ideal answerto the problems of long-distance communication, with its latest triumphof land taking shape in the form of the Pacific telegraph, which ranfrom New York to San Francisco and used 3,595 miles of wire (Brinkley etal.
315). The North, as with all telegraph lines, embraced itsrelatively low cost and ease of construction. The Pacific telegraphbrought the agricultural Northwest together with the more industriousNortheast and the blossoming West, forming an alliance which would proveto break the back of the ever-weakening South (324-25). The Civil War was a trying time for both the Union and the Confederacyalike, but the question of its outcome was obvious from the start. TheNorth was guaranteed a decisive victory over the ill-equipped South.
Northerners, prepared to endure the deprivation of war, were startled tofind that they were experiencing an enormous industrial boom even afterthe first year of war. Indeed, the only Northern industry that sufferedfrom the war was the carrying trade (Catton, Reflections 144). To theSouth, however, the war was a draining and debilitating leech, suckingthe land dry of any semblance of economical formidability. No financialstaple was left untouched; all were subject to diminishment andexhaustion. This agrarian South, with its traditional values andbeliefs, decided not to cultivate two crops which would prove quitecrucial in the outcome of the Civil War.
Those crops were industry andprogress, and without them the South was doomed to defeat. A wise manhe was, that Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. A wise man indeed. Appendices(Note: appendices taken from Brinkley et al. 315-17, 415)Works CitedAngle, Paul M. A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years.
GardenCity, New York:Doubleday, 1967. Brinkley, Alan, et al. American History: A Survey. New York: McGraw,1991. Catton, Bruce.
The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road. Garden City, NewYork: Doubleday, 1952. —. The Coming Fury. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1961. Vol 2of The Centennial History of the Civil War.
3 vols. n. d. —. Reflections on the Civil War.
Ed. John Leekley. 1st ed. GardenCity, New York:Doubleday, 1981. “Civil War. ” Encyclopedia Americana.
1987 ed. “Civil War. ” World Book Encyclopedia. 1981 ed. “Cotton.
” World Book Encyclopedia. 1981 ed. Furnas, J. C. . The Americans: A Social History of the United States1587-1914.
New York:Putnam, 1969. Jones, Donald C. Telephone Interview. 28 Feb.
1993. “Industrial Revolution. ” World Book Encyclopedia. 1981 ed. Paludan, Philip Shaw.
A People”s Contest. New York: Harper, 1988. Randall, J. G. , and David Herbert Donald. The Civil War andReconstruction.
Lexington,Massachusetts: Heath, 1969.