The American Civil War stands out as the most devastating conflict ever to have been waged on American soil. In this deadly war, the Northern States went into battle against the Southern States for the sake of preserving the unity of the Union of States. The Southern States had threatened to break apart from the union and establish their own independent states.
This threat was acted upon when eleven Southern States seceded from the Union in 1860 and declared themselves independent. The Northern States, under the Lincoln Administrations, therefore reacted by taking up arms to go into battle against the Southern rebels. The American Civil War therefore began in 1861 and lasted for the next 4 years during which hundreds of thousands of lives were lost.
This war had a lasting impact on the destiny of the USA and Americans continue to commemorate the events of the Civil War through an array of public events inducing reenactments. This paper will set out to describe the American Civil War with focus being given to the causes of the conflict and the main outcomes of the war. The paper will also highlight some of the reasons why the Union forces emerged victorious in this historical war.
Causes of the Civil War
The election of the strong Republican, Abraham Lincoln as the US president triggered the start of the Civil War. The seceding states explicitly stated that Lincoln’s election was the reason why they decided to pull out of the Union at that moment. During his rise to prominence, Lincoln had articulated a firm antislavery position (Ford 91).
Lincoln held the opinion that the phrase “all men are created equal” uttered by the founding fathers applied to both White and Black Americans. His convictions and ideals led him to make a pledge that he would stop the westward expansion of slavery that the Southerners were lobbying for and actively financing. Lincoln’s presidency marked a radical break with the past and it was seen as a break from the domination of the Slaveholders in State affairs.
His election into the highest office in the land was therefore seen as a threat by the Southerners who were adamant in their will to preserve slavery and the norms of the white society dependent upon that institution. Lincoln’s inauguration as president was quickly followed by the secession of seven southern states and the formation of a Union of Confederate States of America. Within three months, four more states had joined the confederacy making the total number of seceding state eleven.
The issue of the amount of power held by the States and how much was vested in the Federal government served as a primary cause of the Civil War. The Confederacy wanted power the greater amount of power to lie with the states since according to them, the United Colonies “”are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States” (Swindler 166).
On the other hand, the Union supported a strong central government that would have more power than the constituent states. This division led to the Southern States moving towards secession since they were of the opinion that the individual states should be able to act independently on issues that affected them.
The expansionist politics endorsed by the United States contributed to the breakout of the Civil War. Americans were engaged in an endeavor to expand further into the West, conquering territory until they reached the Pacific Ocean. Disagreements arose over what policies would be applied to the new territories.
While the Northerners were interested in abolishing slavery in the new territory, the Southerners were keen to ensure that this institution was preserved in the new lands. In an attempt to come up with a solution to the issue, politicians invented the Henry Clay Compromise of 1850.
This compromise comprised of resolutions that would ensure that the interests of the North and the South were protected in the expansion. Ford observes that while these resolutions were able to strike a balance between the free and slave states for a while, the South did not fully honor the resolutions (255). Southern States continued to push for slavery in the new states and eventually succeeded, leading to the outbreak of the civil war.
The issue of slavery was very divisive since the societies in the northern and southern states had different economic and social structures. Due to the economic and cultural background of the Northerners, this population took a firm stand against slavery. Renowned politicians from the North such as Abraham Lincoln called made their anti-slavery stand known and opposed expansion of slavery into the new lands in the West. Southern leaders were pro-slavery and according to them, this institution was crucial to the economic well-being of the South.
Slave ownership was “the cornerstone of Southern wealth, security, and well being” and protecting the slavery institution was a necessary step to guard the material interests of the Confederate whites. As such, the Confederate soldiers entered military service to defend the supremacy of white persons and property (Gallagher and Engle 311). On the other hand, the Union side saw the abolition of slavery as key to preserving the union of the State.
Outcomes of the Civil War
The most important outcome of the Civil War is that it led to a decisive victory by the Union Forces. With the defeat of the secessionists, the reunification of the United States under the Federal Constitution was achieved. The Confederacy idea was abandoned as the Southerners had to come back to the Union since they had been defeated in the war.
As the victorious side, the Union was able to impose its vision of the country. A stronger union of the states was established and the states became “a United States” (Gallagher and Engle 311). The post Civil War government was highly centralized and it wielded great power. The federal government established its dominance over the states and it has continued to do so ever since.
The war led to many deaths and casualties as soldiers and civilians made sacrifices for their sides. By the end of the war, the Confederacy had incurred a loss of more than 260,000 soldiers while the Union suffered from a loss of over 360,000 Federal soldiers.
The higher number of Union soldiers’ deaths, was caused by the fact that the Union forces had to engage in the attacking while the Confederate forces simply defended their territory. Ford reveals that the high number of troop deaths in the war was because the objective of the war was to weaken or destroy the opposing army and not to gain any geographical territory (132).
The War imposed a huge financial burden on the country as resources had to be dedicated to war efforts by both sides. The Union dedicated its industrial efforts to aiding the war while the south also channeled money to the war efforts.
Over the course of its existence, the war is estimated to have cost in excess of $20 billion. Ford notes that this figure was 30 times larger than the federal government’s budget in the year before the war (34). While both sides suffered from financial strain because of the war, the Southern economy received the greater damages.
Before the war, the North already boasted of a stronger economy and a better-developed infrastructure. The war was more damaging to the South since the North had a larger and better-equipped army. The agriculturally based economy of the South was devastated as Northern troops destroyed plantations during the war. Historians document that the devastation of the war on the Confederacy side was so great that it took six decades for the Southern states to get back to their pre-Civil War agricultural productivity (Woodworth 563).
The War led to the disruption of the lives of citizens in the North and the South. While most of the war was waged by soldiers against their opponent soldiers, civilians sometimes fell victim of attacks. In some cases, unruly troops set fire upon plantations leading to great loss of property and even lives.
The lack of Federal protection to the people of the seceding states in the south made civilians vulnerable to opportunistic attacks from thugs. Troops often burned down buildings therefore destroying towns that they had conquered. The destruction of the war did not end with the official surrender of the Southern states. Many insurrections followed the defeat of the confederacy as rebels continued to wage war against the Northern States and generally devastate community life.
The Civil War led to the official abolition of slavery in the United States. In 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves who were in the areas currently under Confederate military control. Through the emancipation policies, Lincoln effectively linked the preservation of the Union with the abolition of slavery.
When the war ended in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified therefore ensuring that the American Constitution would guarantee the freedom of all slaves (Woodworth 568). The Southerners who had fought to preserve the slavery institution were embittered by this outcome since they had to set their slaves free. In spite of the black population achieving their freedom because of the war, the white society continued to prevent them from exploiting its benefits fully (Woodworth 568)
The war led to the political dominance of Northern Republicans. Before the war, the Southerners had had the greatest influence in American politics.
During the War, the Confederate states were out of the Union and this allowed the Northerners to pass a number of acts in Congress that had been considered before the war but were blocked by Southern economic and political interests (Woodworth 560). Without the Southerners, the Northern politicians were able to implement acts that promoted western expansion and the interest of the Northerners.
Why the Union Won
The states making up the Union were more industrialized and their army had military superiority to the less industrialized confederacy. Due to the higher level of industrialization, the North was able to produce weapons more efficiently that the South.
Historians document that the north was able to purchase over 1.4 million artillery rounds and 260 million small-arms cartridges from Northern munitions makers in a year while the Confederacy produced only 150 million small-arms cartridges for the entire duration of the war (Gallagher and Engle 311).
The Union had over 700 naval vessels engaged in the war efforts. Most of these vessels were ironclad, making them formidable machines of naval warfare. In contrast to this, the Confederacy had almost none, making it impossible for the South to wage any naval attack against the North. This overwhelming advantage in weaponry by the Northern army gave them a significant advantage over the Confederacy and contributed to their ultimate victory.
The naval blockade by the Union contributed to the victory of the North. As an economy based on agricultural products, the South was heavily reliant on the foreign exchange earned by exporting their products through the Atlantic and the Gulf Coast. The South was also dependent on goods from outside since the region was not as industrialized as the North or other European countries. During the Civil War, President Lincoln called for a blockade that was aimed at preventing the South from receiving supplies and arms.
Gallagher and Engle state that this ever-tightening blockade was very effective and by 1865, it had succeeded in choking off imports to the Confederacy almost completely (311). As a result, the southern economy was crippled since ship operators were unwilling to have their ships confiscated by the Union Forces or destroyed. With little activity at the Southern ports, the Southern armies experienced a shortage of suppliers and ammunition as the war carried on.
The Union was able to sustain its economic activities even during the duration of the war. The industrial capability of the Northern states ensured that they exhibited growth even during the war. These states were able to sell off surplus industrial products overseas and earn foreign currency (Ford 56). In contrast to this, the South experienced economic stagnation or even deteriorated during the period of the war. The economic realities of the South led to high inflation rates and a general negative attitude towards the war by southerners.
The population of the warring parties also had some impact on the outcome of the war. Specifically, the Union had a larger population than the Confederacy. Some scholars argue that the Union won because of its overwhelming numbers. This argument is supported by the fact that while the Confederacy mustered close to 900,000 soldiers, the North was able to employ over two million soldiers (Gallagher and Engle 311).
The impact that great human and military resources had on the outcomes of the war was acknowledged by the Confederate Leader General Robert E. Lee who declared in his farewell address that “the Confederate Army has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers of resources” (Gallagher and Engle 311). By harnessing the vast resources that the North boasted, the political and military leaders of the Union were able to achieve the military might necessary to win the war.
This paper set out to provide a detailed discussion of the Civil War between the American North and South. It begun by nothing that the election of Abraham Lincoln triggered the secession that led to an outbreak of the war. Both sides were determined to win the war and due to this resolve, the war dragged on from 1861 to 1865.
The war resulted in the victory of the Union and the abolition of slavery in the US. The paper has highlighted that the overwhelming resources in population, industrialization, and infrastructure, strong leadership and a great commitment to the war enabled the Union to win the war.
Ford, Lacy. A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Print.
Gallagher, Gary, and D. Engle. The American Civil War: This Mighty Scourge of War, Colorado: Osprey Publishing, 2003. Print.
Swindler, Walsh. “Our First Constitution: The Articles of Confederation.” ABA Journal 67.1(1981): 166-169. Print.
Woodworth, Steven. The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research, NY: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996. Print.
This report on The American Civil War Causes and Outcomes