Term Paper: Interpretive Narrative

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¶ … Civil War in American history. Specifically it will contain an analysis of James M. McPherson's Ordeal by fire: The Civil War and reconstruction and Why the north won the Civil War by David Herbert Donald, and answers the question "Why did the North win the Civil War?" The North won the Civil War for a variety of reasons, and not all of them have to do with manpower and might. The North won even though the South enjoyed several advantages, because the North, in the end, had superior forces and most of all, superior materials and more industry to create more weapons than the South had, and so, they simply outlasted the Southerners and their reserves.

As previously discussed, the North had several advantages over the South when the war began and as it progressed. The North had far more industry, and that industry was mechanized to create weaponry and other materials the soldiers needed at a far faster rate than the South could produce these items. The South's economy was still based largely on agriculture, and the slave trade formed the backbone of that economy. They did not have nearly the industrial resources the North had, and when they could not trade their cotton, their economy began to fall apart, which ultimately affected the outcome of the war. The North basically continued trading during the war, and so, their economy was sounder, and was not as affected as the South's. Their industries were not affected as much, either, so they could continue to produce the items their soldiers needed to continue fighting the war. In fact, McPherson notes the fiscal aspects of the war were the South's biggest deficiency. He notes, "The most serious deficiency of the Confederate economy was its financial structure" (McPherson, 2001, p. 220). They had to print their own money, and it led to widespread inflation. The lack of income coming in from cotton also ruined many plantation owners even before they had to give up their slaves after the war ended.

The Union finances were not much better at the beginning of the war, but they came up with some innovative ways of financing the war, including war bonds and development of a national banking system. The Union taxed its residents more, too, to help fund the war, while the South had to resort to rationing and other measures. McPherson notes, "To a remarkable degree, the Northern economy was able to produce both guns and butter" (McPherson, 2001, p. 226), and that is a key element of the North's ultimate superiority in the war.

Transportation was also an issue where the North was far superior to the South. The South had far fewer rail lines than the North did, and that made the lines more vulnerable to attack and destruction, because they did not have backups when they were needed. The North, on the other hand, had a far-reaching network of railroads that connected the cities and the rural areas, so it was easier to move troops and supplies, and it was easier to find a backup if a rail line was destroyed in the fighting. The North was simply more technically advanced, and this gave them one of their greatest advantages of the war.

The North also enjoyed greater numbers of eligible fighting men. It is estimated that over 2,100,000 men fought for the North, while over 850,000 fought for the South (McPherson, 2001, p. 202). Clearly, the North could afford to lose more men, and could afford to see the war go on until its' conclusion, while the South was coming close to reaching its limit in manpower. In fact, the South had to conscript men into the Army, especially as the war dragged on. McPherson notes, "About half the men of military age in the North served in the army or navy; close three-fourths of the white men in the South did so" (McPherson, 2001, p. 202). This was possible because the men left their slaves home to tend the fields and work in the South's industrial centers, while the men went off to war.

Another aspect of the North that helped lead to victory is the leadership qualities of the two leaders. Abraham Lincoln led the North, while Jefferson Davis led the South. Author Donald continues, "In supreme leadership the Union was clearly superior. Lincoln was an abler and stronger man than Davis" (Donald, 1996, p. 56). Indeed, Lincoln replaced several generals throughout the war, and even sometimes second-guessed his generals, as previous research on McClellan indicates. The North had a more refined and overall plan than the South, and the Northern generals were better strategic planners than most of the Southern generals. They were also more ruthless, it seems, as Sherman's destructive march through Georgia, the Carolinas, and burning of Atlanta seem to indicate. Historians maintain the South fought a more conservative war, and it cost them victory in the end (Donald, 1996, p. 57). The Southern generals were not ignorant, by any means, but several Northern generals, such as Grant, seemed to have more military prowess, and were able to lead their men to some resounding victories, like the Battle of Gettysburg.

Initially, Southerners felt the war would only last a few months. They did not anticipate a five-year engagement that would deplete their population, their resources, and their economy. When the war dragged on and on, they had trouble keeping their ranks filled with soldiers, and had to turn to conscription to gain additional men. Later, as the war lasted into 1864 and beyond, they had trouble keeping those men in the fighting ranks. Desertion became a huge problem in the South, for several reasons. As the war raged on, there was less and less to eat, and even slaves had gone off to fight, so women and children were left with almost nothing to survive. Some men deserted to go home and try to care for their families. Others deserted because of the miserable conditions at the front. Still others left because they came to feel their situation was hopeless. McPherson writes, "Until the fall of 1864, the desertion rate had been about the same on both sides. It was the 'epidemic' of Confederate desertions in the winter of 1864-1865 that lifted the Southern rate higher for the war as a whole" (McPherson, 2001, p. 504). Thus, as the war dragged on, it became harder for the South to find and keep soldiers in its ranks, and this helped eventually lead to a Southern defeat, as well.

Finally, the South simply did not have the economic or physical resources to continue fighting. The Union Army decimated entire areas of the South, leaving them in physical and economic ruin. McPherson notes, "While total Northern wealth increased by 50% from 1860 to 1870, Southern wealth decreased by 60% (or 30% if the slaves were not counted as wealth. These figures provide eloquent testimony to the tragic irony of the South's counterrevolution of 1861 to preserve its way of life" (McPherson, 2001, p. 513). The South was defeated due to numerous elements of the war, some that they envisioned, and some they could never imagine.

The South, as one of the essays in Donald's book notes, did have some serious advantages that could have led them to victory in the war. First, the South did not need to win the war. She only needed to wear the Union down; she had already seceded from the Union. All she had to do was convince the Union to leave her alone and govern herself. Next, she felt she could count on the support of France and Great Britain during the war, which had helped turn the tide of the Revolutionary War. Great Britain and France had developed great industries… [END OF PREVIEW]

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