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Five Plus Factors Why United States Won the American Civil War

Updated on August 10, 2013

Plus factors for the North were Lincoln, sovereignty, strategy, tactics and slave emancipation

There are several factors that contributed to the victory of the United States of America, or Union, or North over the Confederate States of America or South.

Some such factors are territory (23 states of the North, 11 that of the South), transportation (more railroad in the North), navy (the North had more ships), political maturity (the South had just organized in February 1861 then went to war in April 1861), financing (the South had scrappy network to collect taxes), manufacturing (the North had more industries, the South largely agricultural), labor (the North was already employing hired labor, the South used slaves),larger army (Donald, D.H. editor. Why the North Won the Civil War. 1986).

However, the plus factors for the North were: President Abraham Lincoln, sovereignty of the Federation/Confederacy over each state, strategy, effective tactics and slave emancipation proclamation. Let’s consider each of plus factors.

Lincoln. Lincoln was more of an executive than Jefferson Davis, provisional president of the South for six years. For some times Lincoln was his own commander-in-fact of the North army. But he did not intend to do it for long. At those times that he personally directed the war, he was looking for a commander who would adopt his tactics of “destroy the army” instead of “capture territory.” Peter Drucker defines an executive as one who does his job through other people, in his book “The Effective Executive.“

Lincoln was also a master of delegation. For the duration of the war that he presided over, he did not convene a cabinet meeting to synchronize the actions of one member with another (Donald, D. Abraham Lincoln and the American Pragmatic Tradition. Taking Sides. 1987:332-340). However, he did not allow each cabinet member to run his department the way he wanted it. For example, Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, wanted to punish the South once the North won the war. Lincoln wanted reconciliation and reconstruction. Even after his assassination, Lincoln’s policy was implemented by President Johnson then by Gen. Ulysses Grant when he was elected president.

[Lincoln was assassinated on April 14,1865, five days after Gen. Robert Lee of the South surrendered his army to Gen. Grant on April 9,1865 at Appomattox, Northern Virginia. He was gunned down with a pistol when he was watching a show at Ford theater by John Wilkes Booth, an actor and South sympathizer. Two months after Gen. Lee’s surrender, President Davis was captured.]

In contrast, President Davis did less delegation. He directed the war for the South in 14 months. Gen. Lee was commander of the army in 13 months, still with less ropes than that enjoyed by Gen. Grant under Lincoln. The South congress created a position for Gen. Lee, general in chief, to give him more rope to run the war but Davis vetoed it. Gen. Lee could not get reinforcements for his army without approval by Davis. When Gen. Grant erected a siege on his army in Northern Virginia for nine months before his surrender, he could not get reinforcement from the army commanded by Gen. Joseph Johnston, commander of the armies guarding the two Carolinas. Anyway, Gen. Johnston was busy defending against Gen. William T. Sherman, with 60,000 troops. Gen. Sherman was rounding out his “March to the Sea.” He had destroyed smaller armies of each state of the South with the plan to link up with Gen. Grant’s army. Gen. Lee surrendered ahead of Gen. Johnston.

In fairness to President Davis, he was a graduate of West Point military academy in Illinois, and held the rank of colonel when he went into politics. He was a hero of the Mexican-American war (Battle o Buena Vista) under the command of Gen. Zachary Taylor. He was also Secretary of War in 1853 under President Franklin Pierce. But Gen. Lee was already a Brigadier General, the highest rank in the army in the South. His capability could not be doubted; he graduated second in his class. In fact, Lee was offered the job of commander of the army by the North which he declined having been averse to secession. He could have succeeded Gen. Winfield Scott who was already 75 years old when Lincoln became president. Lincoln retired Gen. Scott; he appointed Gen. George B. McClellan (likewise second in his graduating class) as army commander.

Davis and Gen. Lee did not disagree in terms of strategy and tactics. The character, in terms of delegation, of Davis mattered. Davis was already overburdened as president of the South.

Sovereignty of the Federation/Confederacy over each state. The North had it. In the South, each state was more sovereign over the Confederacy. The constitution of the South was almost an exact copy of that of the USA except for the relative independence of the state. Each state had the option to support the South financially. During the civil war taxes in the South contributed 1% only to its finances compared with 21% that in the North.The South issued too much printing press money that its inflation soared to 9,000% compared with 117% that of the North.

Sovereignty also impacted on the army. Each state in the South demanded an army of its own and got it. It came to the extent that each was decimating the overall army for the Confederacy and President Davis was reduced as a referee for the demands of the states. A crucial result was that it made it easier for Gen. Sherman to destroy each state army with his army consisting of 60,000 troops while the army commanded by Gen. Lee was holed up in Northern Virginia under the siege erected by Gen. Grant.

Strategy. Early in the American Civil War, the North’s aim was to preserve the Union. This entailed defeating the South and recovering its territory for the North so that the original United States would be intact. That means that the North had a strategy of attack. That strategy was the Scott’s Anaconda. This consisted of a blockade of the southern and eastern coast, control of the Mississippi River to split the Confederacy into two then attack from all sides. Since the fall of 1861, Gen. Grant was stationed to watch the river.

Anaconda is a giant snake that subdues its prey by constriction. Scott’s Anaconda was developed by Gen. Winfield Scott then commander of the army when Lincoln became president in 1861, with help from Gen. George B. McClellan. Lincoln approved of this strategy.

The South had no counter strategy to speak of. Its overall plan was to defend its territory consisting of 11 states.

Effective tactics within the strategy. All the generals of both the North and South, that included President Davis, were graduates of West Point. They shared a military doctrine of “capture territory.” They got this doctrine from the writings of Jomini who used to serve as assistant of Napoleon in his European campaigns. This was the tactics used in the failed First Bull Run; Gen. McClellan used it when he let Gen. Lee escape in Virginia the first time around their armies met there. Gen. McClellan disdained slavery. Gen. Lee's escape displeased Lincoln.

Lincoln was an advocate of the “destroy the army” doctrine. This was the doctrine he wanted his commanders to adopt, from Gen. McClellan who replaced Gen. Scott to Gen. Henry W. Halleck.

Gen. Grant delivered the victory at the Battle of Shiloh where troops under his command, reinforced by Don Carlos Buell, repulsed the South army under the command of Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard. Earlier, Gen. Grant was caught off guard as Buell’s troops were still on the march. Gen. Beauregard decided to sleep through the night without attacking Grant’s army may be more from exhaustion and hunger. His troops that overrun the camp of Grant early on scampered for food. When Gen. Beauregard woke up in the morning he found a much stronger army in front of him. (It was Gen. Beauregard who ordered the firing on North's Fort Sumter in South Carolina that sparked the shooting war.) Gen. Grant’s army suffered 13,000 casualties, that of Gen. Beauregard 10,694. Gen. Halleck blamed Gen. Grant for this number of casualties, accusing him of having been drunk. The truth was that Gen. Grant was being treated for a wound on the leg.

The Battle of Shiloh was the bloodiest yet but it was the turning point of the war. The South would from now on wage a losing war. France and Great Britain who were fidgety over the fortunes of the war saw that the North would eventually win the war. The Battle of Shiloh made them decide finally not to recognize the South as a new nation.

Lincoln appointed Gen. Grant commander of the army in 1864 to replace Gen. Halleck who objected saying that Gen. Grant drank wine one bottle too many. To which Lincoln retorted, if Gen. Grant’s drink won him battles other generals should drink it, too, according to Drucker in his book on executives.

What was significant was that Gen. Grant got the point of Lincoln on “destroy the army” over that of “capture territory” for application in the Scott’s Anaconda strategy. Another convert was Gen. Sherman, who embarked to destroy small state armies of the South in his “March to the Sea.” When Gen. Grant showed Lincoln his battle plan, the latter reportedly said: "Those not skinning can hold a leg." From then on Gen. Grant had plenty of rope in conducting the war.

Gen. Sherman's "March to the Sea," approved by Gen. Grant, began at Atlanta with 62,000 troops (accounts vary, 60,000 to 65,000) on November 15,1864.. It was opposed by 13,000 troops commanded by Gen. William Hardee of the department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Its objectives were to destroy the economic support and psychological will to resist of the rebels and to capture Savannah port. There were small skirmishes along the way. Gen. Hardee concentrated his forces in Savannah but when Gen. Sherman warned him that Savannah would be shelled, Gen. Hardee escaped with his troops, by the Savanna River, without a fight abandoning 150 guns and ammunition and thousands of bails of cotton. On December 22, 1864, Gen. Sherman cabled to Lincoln his Christmas gift - Savannah. Gen. Sherman next turned his eyes on the Carolinas defended by Gen. Joseph Johnston who put up a stiff resistance. He surrendered to Gen. Sherman on April 26,1865. The surrender of Gen. Lee on April 9,1865 was considered the end of the American Civil War.

Lincoln was neither a West Pointer nor a disciple of Jomini. He must have read about the campaigns in the American Revolution when Gen. George Washington’s army and the expeditionary force of France exacted the surrender of Gen. Earl Charles Cornwallis with his 8000 British troops in Yorktown in 1781. This was the last battle of the American Revolution that led to the birth of the United States of America

Slave emancipation proclamation. The fifth plus factor for the North was the slave emancipation proclamation issued by Lincoln on the first day of 1863. It cut the Gordian knot 865of slavery and added to the number of soldiers for the North. “…By 1865 the Union army included 178,895 colored solders – roughly five times the number of men in Lee’s army when he surrendered at Appomattox.…” (Donald. D. H. editor. Why the North Won the Civil War. 1996:85).

Gen. Sherman's army (moving attack) from Atlanta to Savannah City comprised of a "tail" of former slaves. Having been freed by the emancipation proclamation of 1963, they had nowhere to go. Some of them would find home in Haiti.

This proclamation also added to the disincentive for France and Great Britain to mediate in the civil war. For the United States, mediation is a virtual recognition of the South. The South would sit in a negotiation table, recognized as a belligerent and with a legal standing. The aim of mediation would be to make peace between the North and the South, consequently with the South as a separate nation. There was a time Napoleon III of France urged Great Britain to join in mediation to which the latter replied in effect: "if we venture in mediation we should be prepared for all out war." State Secretary Seward made it clear that USA would go to war with any country that recognized the South. It was the position of the United States that there was no new nation within USA, only an insurrection. In fact, the South was not referred to by any name; that would be tantamount to recognizing it. The proclamation included those in the South.


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