Podcast # 24: The Civil War – The Union vs. The Confederacy

The Civil was lasted from 1861-1865 and is the bloodiest war in American history. A war, that originally was thought would only last a few months. A conflict, that had been simmering for decades finally erupted with the attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina in April of 1861. Confederate soldiers attacked the fort and quickly won it. The war not only divided the country between the North and South but family members who fought on opposing sides. Families with one brother fighting for the Union and another fighting for the Confederacy.

After the Confederates took over Fort Sumter, Lincoln requested that the remaining states in the union send militiamen to serve in the army. Each state received a quota. At the outset of the war, the North held a number of advantages over the Confederacy. The next major item to check off his list was who would lead these new recruits. His first choice was General Robert E. Lee of Va. Robert E. Lee was offered command of The Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln. He was considered the greatest military general of the time. Robert E. Lee was from Virginia which had already voted to secede. It is important to understand that prior to The Civil War, people had more of an allegiance to their state than they had to the Country as a whole. You would ask someone where they were from and they would answer with I am from Virginia, Kentucky, Kew York, Massachusetts, South Carolina. No one would give you the Answer I am from The United States. So, when General Robert E. Lee was asked to choose between Virginia and the United States, he chose Virginia. He was quoted as saying, “I Can’t draw my sword against my beloved Virginia” He resigned from the US military. He would go on to lead Virginia’s militia for the Confederacy.

The military plan for the union was devised by General Winifred Scott – a veteran of the war of 1812 and the Mexican American war. The Anaconda Plan was a 3-part strategy. A blockade of confederate ports, use the Mississippi river to divide the confederacy in two, and capture the confederate capital of Richmond Va. The war was of course much more complex than that and far longer and bloodier than most anticipated.

When we refer to The North or the Union, we are referring to the states that remained in the union. There were also 5 southern, slave holding states that didn’t secede. We refer to those as the border states which we will talk more about in a little bit.

At the outset, the Union had a far greater number of advantages than the south did. You will notice that many of the advantages the Northern states had, many of them were sectional issues, banks, industry, railroad lines.

The north had a greater population and as a result more men to fight and more people to aid in the war effort. The North was industrialized and had the factories needed to build war materials. The north had around 70% of the countries RR lines. This aided in the transport of soldiers and supplies. The north had farms where food was grown as opposed to the south whose climate was more suitable for cash crops.

The union had a number of different generals at the helm over the course of the war.

George McLellan took over the union army– at the young age of 34, newspapers at the time referred to him as Napoleon. He helped to organize the mass of volunteers. Camps were organized and men were trained and drilled. He would be removed from his post by Lincoln and then put back only to be removed again.

Typical Military rations: soldiers received meager rations, especially in the south which quickly ran out of supplies. Staples such as salted beef or pork and hardtack which was a hard biscuit made out of salt and flour made up the majority of the soldiers’ diet.

Before we get into battles, it’s important to discuss the Confederacy.

The Confederacy:

Jefferson Davis was the first and only President of The Confederate States of America. Like Lincoln, he was born in Kentucky. His family later moved to Mississippi. Unlike Lincoln, he was well educated, attended College and graduated from West Point. His family owned slaves and lived on a plantation in Mississippi. Like Lincoln he fought in the Black Hawk War but he saw military combat. He was also a veteran of The Mexican American War serving under General Zachary Taylor who would eventually become President of The United States. He married the daughter of then General Zachery Taylor in 1835, but she died a few months later. He remained a widower for quite some time. He married his second wife Varina in 1845, she was from a Mississippi Planter family. Jefferson Davis represented the state of Mississippi in The House of Representatives, he served as Franklin Pierce’s Sec of War and then went on to serve in the Senate until his resignation the day after Mississippi seceded from The Union. Rice University has an extensive collection of primary source documents on their website called The Jefferson Davis Papers. It’s a wonderful place to go if you are interested in learning more. In his resignation Speech, in it he stated “I have for many years advocated, as an essential attribute of State sovereignty, the right of a State to secede from the Union. Therefore, if I had not believed there was justifiable cause; if I had thought that Mississippi was acting without sufficient provocation, or without an existing necessity, I should still, under my theory of the Government, because of my allegiance to the State of which I am a citizen, have been bound by her action. I, however, may be permitted to say that I do think she has justifiable cause, and I approve of her act.”

Jefferson Davis was a strong supporter of states’ rights and slavery throughout his political career. When it came to Southern Representatives in the Legislative Branch he was considered a leading figure.

The first Capitol of The Confederacy was in Montgomery, Alabama. The heat, lack of industrial capability made Richmond, VA a better option once the state seceded. While many, including Jefferson Davis felt the capitol should stay in the deep south, Richmond VA, the second largest city in the South became the new capital. It was the industrial hub of the south. One company in particular sealed the deal. Tredegar Iron works, which is now the site of The Civil War museum in Richmond VA. It was the only place capable of producing the metal works necessary for war – things like artillery and iron for warships.

President Jefferson Davis resided in what would become known as The Confederate White House. A mansion initially built in 1818 and was rented out to the Confederacy by the city of Richmond. Davis both lived and worked in the mansion.

Confederate flag – most confuse the battle flag of Northern VA for the Confederate flag. The Blue background with the St. Andrew’s or Southern Cross with the stars. The national flag is sometimes referred to as the Stainless Banner. A white flag with the battle flag in the top left corner.

When the Southern States seceded, they quickly put together a Government. The Confederate Constitution was written in 4 days. Now while that might sound impressive, it was strikingly similar to the US Constitution with a few changes. It had the same 3 branches of Government as The United States. Some of the most notable differences in it being of course the recognition and protection of the institution of slavery by name. The President could serve 1 6-year term and could not be reelected. The sovereignty of each state was hammered home throughout the document and only states could propose amendments.

Confederate Currency

The Confederate Government Only issued paper currency. They didn’t have the access to metal to have coins. The currency depicted members of the confederate gov’t notable members of southern society and even slaves. The currency became worthless and it led to drastic inflation.

The Confederacy did have a few strengths. The South had a strong military tradition and as a result, many of the country’s greatest Generals sided with the south. They were fighting the war to protect their way of life. While most confederate soldiers didn’t own slaves, they still readily fought in the war. They had the home field advantage. They were very much on the defense. The most dangerous threat to the union was the fear that Great Britain would recognize the confederacy. The South felt that King Cotton would pave the way for both recognition and aid. The south cut cotton production to create a higher demand for it in Europe thinking it would build pressure to recognize the newly created Confederate States of America. Great Britain wisely waited for the dust to settle. While at first The Confederacy seemed to have the upper hand in the war, that changed and with the issue of the emancipation proclamation in 1863, recognition was no longer an option. The Union army had to invade and recapture a vast amount of territory. The Confederacy was plagued by a number of weaknesses which made fighting this war difficult. A new government, they had to create both an army and a navy, their lack of industrialization made securing the necessary supplies difficult. It was just war materials that they lacked, basic supplies like food, salt, flour. It resulted in the people of the south having to make do with the supplies they had on hand. Anyone want some secession bread? The low supply of meat, availability of ammunition to be able to hunt also gave rise to the popularity of the peanut. Boiled peanuts remain a popular snack throughout the south to this day.

Now, let’s talk about the border states.

The Border States consisted of 5 Southern slave holding states that didn’t secede from the Union. The Border state of Maryland in particular was of great strategic importance to the union due to the location of the capitol, Washington, DC. The border states were Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware, Maryland and then West Virginia after its creation in 1863.

Kentucky, its geographic location tied it to both the north and south. The state attempted to remain neutral. No matter which side it chose, it would cause major problems for the state. Residents of Kentucky fought for both sides. During the war the state traded with the Confederacy which the Union turned a blind eye to. There was a small minority faction in the government that voted for secession and established a gov’t that was admitted to the Confederacy. The Confederate flag had 13 stars yet only 11 states, one of the stars is for Kentucky. In the post-civil war era you will see strong support for confederate ideals within the state of Kentucky.

Missouri like in Kentucky, residents fought on both sides, although more fought for the union than for the confederacy. The state at first voted against secession, but after Lincoln’s request for the state to send troops, secession gained more popularity. Like in Kentucky, some members of the state government claimed autonomy and requested confederate statehood but that never happened.

Delaware also saw people fighting for both sides. While still a slave state, the number of slaves had decreased drastically within the state. Delaware was actually an important manufacturing hub for the union. When the state voted against secession, the governor at the time stated “Delaware had been the first state to embrace the union by ratifying the Constitution and would be the last state to leave it.” In Delaware there was a prison for confederate soldiers. It was known as The Andersonville of the North. Andersonville was a military prison camp for Union soldiers in GA and the conditions were terrible and led to the deaths of thousands. The union camp in Delaware for Confederate soldiers wasn’t nearly as bad.

Maryland was one of the most important border states due to its proximity to the capitol. Both VA and Maryland gave territory to create Washington DC. The population of Maryland was divided over its loyalty to the union and its fellow slave holding states. Lincoln declared Martial law in the state and suspended the writ of habeas corpus.

Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and sent troops to prevent members of the legislature from voting to secede. Lincoln went beyond the powers granted to him in the Constitution in order to preserve the Union.

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