The American Civil War

War is an extremely serious event that occurs when an issue cannot be resolved in peace or compromise. Slavery was the issue of the mid-nineteenth century in America. The agrarian South wanted slavery maintained, and even expanded. The industrious North did not, promoting personal liberties and opportunity. Tension grew over the issue of slavery as America spread throughout the west. Ironically, the nation began breaking apart as one-by-one, southern states decided to secede into their own confederation, all united in slavery.

The newly elected President Abraham Lincoln worked diligently with Congress on possible scenarios to intervene or allow the institution of slavery to continue. Slavery had fulfilled a unique way of life to the Cotton States. It brought prosperity to its citizens. Many believed in their right to uphold slavery under the Constitution. Unfortunately, Lincoln understood the Constitution all too well. The carefully written manuscript did not address slavery. As any spreading disease, Abraham Lincoln believed it should not be encouraged for a young nation based upon freedom. As a competent leader, President Lincoln recognized diverse interpretations of the Constitution. However, in light of ongoing rebellion and secession, and for the sake of a nation’s integrity, he felt it necessary to resolve.

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States

Winning a war takes strength, strategy, a suitable battleground, and a firm conviction for success. Neither side was expecting war, nor were they wanting to do so. But the majority of Southerners thought it would be a quick victory as they easily captured the ill-equipped, federally occupied Ford Sumter off the South Carolina coast on April 12, 1861. With these first shots of the American Civil War, Lincoln concluded it would take more time, more resources, and more manpower to secure victory and unite the nation once again.

Our nation may not have been prepared to go to war although to some, it seemed a foregone conclusion. Yet the North was already in position to win the war. Essentially, the federal government had the money and resources to outfit and supply a successful war campaign. The Northern states were an industrialized culture with various types of mills and factories. The government maintained arsenals such as Liberty, Kansas, and they were also equipped to mass produce more guns and ammunition. In contrast, the Confederate South was primarily a society of farmers whose available tools and machinery supported an agrarian economy. There was but one manufacturer capable of producing heavy arsenal, located in the state of Virginia. The South could import weaponry from overseas unless they were blocked by the Union navy. Lack of munitions prompted desperation and creativity. Many volunteers supplied their own guns while others converted weapons from farm implements. Moreover, countless weapons were salvaged through Union capture or conquer.

The Civil War was fought in Southern terrain and along the extensive Atlantic coastline. The North already had access to over 300 vessels of various sizes and capabilities, naval shipyards, and the means to build more and repair as needed. The coastal region was difficult for the Confederates to defend as they scarcely owned or had limited access to warships. While they did import large ships from Britain, they again resorted to converting and outfitting available vessels, including tugboats and cutters for immediate battle. In fact, the Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory is credited for construction of torpedo boats and a submarine, the C.S.S. Hunley, which took down many vessels belonging to the North. In addition, Jefferson Davis solicited privateers to help capture additional ships for their cause.

American Civil War
American Civil War

The Union easily accessed the battleground via rivers such as the Tennessee and the Cumberland. Rivers and bridges were heavily patrolled with armed steamboats developed out of the Transportation Revolution. The steamboats supplied food and equipment to Northern soldiers. The modern railroad and telegraph were also used by the North. The Alleghenies of West Virginia provided railroad access, a great barrier, and gave the Union a strategic advantage over the Confederates. In addition, macadamized roads were much easier for Union soldiers to travel upon foot, as opposed to muddy gravel over difficult terrain that often wore Southern soldiers down. Without food and provisions, many Confederate soldiers became weak with hunger.

The availability of manpower was one of the most significant resources that brought the North to victory. In total population, the North outnumbered the South by 2 to 1, which was reflected in armed strength. There were career soldiers and volunteers. The North organized recruitment camps. The very first Union regiment came out of the state of Massachusetts. Northern soldiers organized for battle, security, and protection, especially at the rivers, railroads, and the area surrounding Washington D.C. When the South sabotaged telegraph lines, destroyed railroad bridges, or damaged ships, the North could send workers for repair and reconstruction. When Lincoln needed more men, he was able to order a new supply.

Each side could boast skillful leadership including commanding leaders Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, highly trained at West Point but chose which side to fight, based upon loyalty. Training of soldiers, on the other hand, varied greatly. Conviction was noteworthy but sometimes questionable due to drunkenness and inappropriate behavior. Regardless, thousands of soldiers went into battle inadequately outfitted and ill-prepared. While attempting to reclaim western Virginia in 1862 against the North’s General George McClellan, Confederate soldiers were observed to be exposed and vulnerable. Furthermore, many were weak and sickened from disease.

Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee
Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee

Directing them all was President Abraham Lincoln who exercised his authority and knowledge of the Constitution, helping to facilitate a Northern victory. At the onset, he arrested underground secessionists and other defiant activity, holding them under Article I, Section 9. He imprisoned Southern privateers as well, deeming them rebels and pirates. After the Battle of Antietam, September 1862, Abraham Lincoln delivered the infamous Emancipation Proclamation. As of January 1, 1863, all slaves became free from any slave or rebellious state. The Proclamation not only released indentured laborers in the South, it allowed 186,000 newly freed males to enlist in the Civil War, providing additional military strength to the Union army.

The issue of slavery was at the core of the American Civil War. The South felt so strongly in their belief that they were willing to rebel, to secede in order to continue the traditional aristocratic life they had enjoyed. There was much at stake and they were confident they could win. Yet the South had no means of winning. The best they could hope for was to avoid great loss.

For Lincoln and much of the North, allowing slavery to continue was a violation of the Constitution. Their convictions lie not, as much, in taking slavery away, but upholding the Constitution, reinforcing the integrity of our forefathers’ vision, and securing a united nation. They had to go to war. It was not an easy victory. Hundreds upon thousands of lives were lost. In the Spring of 1865, the American Civil War ended as General Lee and the Confederate army surrendered. Abraham Lincoln did not live to see the end of the war, but history would still remember him as one of our nation’s greatest heroes.