As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

Please note that a Czech translation of this website is available at http://www.bildelarexpert.se/blogg/2016/11/10/obcanska-valka-cile-strategie-dusledky/. Many thanks to Barbora Lebedová for this translation!

History 110 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

The Civil War: Goals, Strategies, and Consequences

Map of CSA and Union States in 1861

Introduction: We have already learned that slavery played perhaps the major role in bringing about the Civil War. Today, we will continue our discussion of the war by beginning with an understanding of how slavery continues to influence our social, political, and economic lives. Let's keep this in mind as we watch these two excerpts from the PBS show, African American Lives in which Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. examined the roots of many famous African Americans.

Discussion Goals - The Civil War: Goals, Strategies, and Consequences
  1. To discuss the goals of the Union and Confederacy on the eve of the Civil War.
  2. To examine the initial political strategies of the Union and Confederacy.
  3. To examine the resources of the Union and Confederacy at the beginning of the war.
  4. To explore the internal factors in the Confederate States of America that led to the Confederacy's defeat.
  5. To understand Lincoln's presidency, especially his evolving beliefs about slavery and his role in passing the controversial 13th Amendment.
  6. To understand the consequences of the Civil War.

Goal #1: To discuss the goals of the Union and Confederacy on the eve of the Civil War

Map of Confederate States of America

In one respect, the Union and Confederacy had the same goal - to preserve a way of life. But all similarities ended there - because both sides wanted a different way of life preserved.

As the war continued, the Confederacy's goals remained the same - BUT the Union's goal changed.

Goal #2: To examine the initial political strategies of the Union and Confederacy

Map of all states during Civil War with emphasis on border states

Union Goals.  The union initially adopted four strategies:

  1. Invade the Confederacy and destroy its will to resist.
  2. Obtain the loyalty of the border states - Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, and in 1863, West Virginia.
    • This was absolutely essential for several reasons:
      • The border states had 2/3 of the South's entire white population, 3/4 of the South's indusrial production, and over half of all its food and fuel.
      • Each state was geographically strategic for the Union - Kentucky held a 500-mile border on the Ohio River; Maryland surrounded the Union capital on the north; Missouri border the Mississippi River and controlled its routes to the west; and Delaware conrolled access to Philadelphia.
      • To fight the war on Southern soil meant marching through hostile border states.
    • And how did Lincoln obtain the loyalty of the border states?
      • After Fort Sumter, the northern-tier of the slaveholding states - known as the border states - were still undecided about whether to secede.
      • Eventually, all four decided to stay in the Union, but pro-Confederate sympathizers existed in each state and men fought for the Confederacy in all four.
        • In Maryland, more than the other states, there were many Confederate supporters. Maryland stayed in the Union under duress; Lincoln declared martial law, arrested suspected ringleaders of pro-Confederate groups and held them without trial (by suspending the writ of habeas corpus), and detained secessionist leaders. When secessionists moved to block Union activity in the first days of the war, Lincoln stationed Union troops throughout the state and imprisoned most suspected secessionists.
        • In Missouri, an uneasy military rule by Union troops kept them in the Union.
        • Delaware was loyal from the beginning.
        • Kentucky declared neutrality which Lincoln accepted without a fight.
        • A fifth border state was created in mid-1863 due to deep internal divisions in Virginia. Its western counties refused to support the Confederacy because citizens had no slaves or interest in slavery. West Virginia was formally admitted to the Union in June 1863.
  3. Construct and maintain a naval blockade of 3,500 miles of Cartoon map of Civil War naval blockadeConfederate coastline.
  4. Prevent European powers - especially Great Britain and France - from extending recognition of and giving assistance to the Confederacy. Lincoln knew he was in a bind as long as the Confederacy portrayed their rebellion as one for national self-determination. He also knew that if he could redefine the war as a struggle over slavery, Europe’s sympathies would no longer lay with the Confederacy. However, he was not able to address these concerns until mid-way through the war.

Confederacy Goals To be victorious, the CSA knew it did not need to invade the North or capture a mile of its territory.  Its strategies were fairly simple:

1. Defend Confederate land.
2. Prevent the North from destroying the Confederate army.
3. Break the Union's will to fight.

Goal #3: To examine the resources of the Union and Confederacy at the beginning of the war

Image of Civil War ResourcesCivil War Resources

A Comparative View of the Civil War

Thus, the Civil War was a total war in at least four ways:

Goal #4: To explore the internal factors in the Confederate States of America that led to the Confederacy's defeat

Map of Confederate losses

Throughout the first three years of the war, the Confederates looked as if they might win. What, then, accounted for their loss? Many have pointed to external causations - failure to gain support of European powers, the Union's strategic shift of objectives, etc. However, a clear analysis of the war indicates that internal problems within the Confederate government and military were the primary causations for losing the war. At least seven internal factors led to the southern defeat.

  1. Loss of the border states
    • Failure of the South to convince the four border states to secede hurt their argument that South must secede to protect their right to own slaves.
    • The states that remained loyal to the Union would have added 45% more white military manpower to the Confederacy and 89% more manufacturing capacity.
  2. Absence of centralized/unified political power and goals. From the beginning of the Confederacy, President Jefferson Davis was unable to create a feeling of national community or unity because the government was split between Davis and his followers who believed the Confederacy's first  role was to secure the South's independence, even at the expense of states' rights; versus his Vice President, Alexander Stephens, who believed the Confederacy existed to protect slavery and ensure states'  rights.
  3. Southern belief in aristocratic privilege. Many southerners believed that it was a "rich man's war but a poor man's fight".
    • At least 50,000 of the wealthiest southerners paid for their  exemptions - $5,000 or more. Two out of every 3 white persons who fought owned no slaves.
    • Wartime conditions affected the rich and poor differentially. As food shortages became more acute, the rich began to hoard. The poor suffered so severely that food riots broke out in 1863 in four Georgia cities and in North Carolina. In 1864, the price of food soared - a dozen eggs sold for $6; a pound of butter for $25. The rich paid; the poor starved.
    • Southern aristocracy felt social class should override military rank. Wealthier soldiers would not obey officers of ordinary social rank. Discipline broke down.
  4. Failure to provide enough services to meet wartime demands. Although the South had brilliant military leaders and high morale among its troops, it lacked the industrial and agricultural capability to support its supply food, clothing, shoes, medicine, transportation. Further, it lacked the railroad infrastructure to move much needed supplies to the army.
  5. Plantation owners continued to rely on cotton crops. Cotton planters were insistent upon raising cotton for profit and would not convert their land to food production for the armies. Confederacy had to pass an impressment act to feed its armies - took food from civilian farms and plantations, by force in some areas.
  6. Internal disintegration of slavery. Slaves ran away, some joined the army,  others fled to freedom behind Union lines. Those who remained on the plantation, undermined the system and drastically decreased productivity.
  7. Inability to raise enough finances to support the war.  Unlike the Union which passed a series of broad-based taxes and borrowed from the middle  and wealthy classes, the Confederacy covered less than 5% of its wartime  expenditures through taxation and 35% by borrowing money.  
    • The  Confederate Congress fiercely opposed taxes on cotton exports and the property of planters (especially slaves) and while wealthy planters had enough capital to fund a relatively large part of the war, most refused to buy  Confederate bonds. 
    • Thus, the Confederacy was forced to finance about 60% of its war expenses with unbacked paper money which, in turn, caused  soaring inflation and counterfeit copies of poorly designed and printed Confederate notes.  

Goal #5: To understand Lincoln's presidency, especially his evolving beliefs about slavery and his role in passing the controversial 13th Amendment

Book cover of Eric Foner's "The Fiery Trial"Lincoln's evolving beliefs about slavery. According to Eric Foner's Pulitzer Prize winning and revisionist book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010):

Lincoln's role in passing the 13th Amendment. According to Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals (2005):Cover of Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals"

Lincoln, Gettysburg, and the Gettysburg Address. For three days - July 1 to July 3, 1863 - General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army clashed with the General George Meade's Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, some 35 miles southwest of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It proved to be one of the most violent battles of the war; of roughly 170,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who fought in the three-day battle, 23,000 Union soldiers (more than one-quarter of the army's effective forces) and 28,000 Confederates soldiers (more than a third of Lee’s army) were killed, wounded or missing. It was a crushing defeat for the Confederacy, and a much-needed victory for the Union.

In the next few months, David Wills who was a local attorney began efforts to create a national cemetery at Gettysburg. The cemetary's dedication was set for mid-November and Edward Everett - the former president of Harvard College, former U.S. senator and former secretary of state - was asked to be the keynote speaker. On November 2, Wills asked President Lincoln to join him to "set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks." When he received the invitation to make the remarks at Gettysburg, Lincoln saw an opportunity to make a broad statement to the American people on the enormous significance of the war, and he carefully prepared his speech.

On the morning of November 19, Everett delivered his two-hour speech (from memory) on the Battle of Gettysburg to a crowd of about 15,000 people. Lincoln followed, giving his 272-word speech that lasted less than two minutes. What many historians believe is both the lasting and radical aspect of the speech began with Lincoln's claim that the Declaration of Independence - not the Constitution - was the true expression of the founding fathers' intentions for their new nation when they declared that the nation formed in 1776 was "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Thus, Lincoln's historic address redefined the Civil War as a struggle not just for the Union, but also for the principle of human equality. Historians continue to applaud the importance of the Gettysburg Address in the 21st Century - http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/gettysburg-address.

The 151st anniversary of Lincoln's delivery of the address will be November 18, 2014. Read the address here at http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm. For extra credit, learn the address and submit it at http://www.learntheaddress.org/#HNc78gzKk5w.


Goal #6: To understand the consequences of the Civil War

  1. The human costs were enormous:
    • Until the 20th Century, most historians accepted the following statistics about Civil War human costs: Photo of Civil War Deaths
      • Over 620,000 Americans died (360,000 Union; 260,000 Confederate). Two of every three died of disease.
      • One-fourth of the South's men of military age died.
      • One-fifth of all the black soldiers (about 37,000) died in the War.
      • One in 13 white men of military age died and 163,000 white women were widowed.
      • Some small towns whose young men had joined in a single regiment lost their entire populations of young men.
      • Another 465,000 men were wounded (275,000 Union; 190,000 Confederate).
    • However, newer estimates have been suggested by historian David J. Hacker in his December, 2011article, "A Census-Based Count of the Civil War Dead:"
      • About 750,000 Americans died - 20 percent more than previously estimated. Today, this would translate into 7.6 million American deaths in a contemporary war.
      • One in 10 white men of military age died and 200,000 white women were widowed.
      • Notably absent from Hacker's research are the total deaths of black men of military age.
  2. Slavery was prohibited in the United States - but slaves received little political, social, or economic equality.
  3. Those supporting egalitarian rights for the freed blacks were soundly defeated. The Civil War was a complex struggle between four groups: Confederates, Unionists, abolitionists, and egalitarians. The first three were victorious by 1877 - only the egalitarians lost the war.
    • Confederates and Unionists - Within 12 years after the war was over, the North and South were economically reunited and the nation's economy was on the way to making the U.S. the world's leading industrial power.
    • Abolitionists - The 13, 14, and 15th Amendments satisfied their goals.
    • Egalitarians - They lost, not only because the amendments had no way to guarantee equality in the South, but because white supremacy continued in the form of Jim Crow laws.
    • Emancipation merely forced white people - in the North and South - to redefine their world, but not to change their racist opinions about black people.
  4. The South was devastated.
    • Human losses: 1/4 of the South's men died - 260,000 Confederate soldiers; another 190,000 were wounded.
    • Economic structure was destroyed - especially given that they lost almost their entire labor force with passage of the 13th Amendment.
    • Much of the best agricultural land in Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina was destroyed.
    • Many major cities were in ruin - Richmond, Atlanta, Charleston
    • Cotton crops were destroyed - retreating Confederates burned most crops to prevent capture by federal troops; remaining cotton was confiscated by Union agents as contraband of war.
    • $1.5 billion of South's capital - mostly in slaves - was destroyed.
    • Farm values diminished 41%.
  5. Centralized, federal power, not decentralized state power was the victorious format for the United States government.
    • The Union's victory ensured that the US was not a voluntary union of sovereign states, but instead was a single nation in which the federal government took precedence over the individual states.
    • Before the War, the United States was used as a plural noun - the United States are; after the War, the United States was used as a singular noun - the United States is.
  6. The financial foundations were laid for the modern industrial state.
    • Government spending by both the north and south increased dramatically during the war.
    • Before the war, government spending was 2% of the Gross National Product; by war's end,  it was 15%.  (Compare with 20% in 1990.)
      Harper's Weekly cartoon - The Lost Cause -Worse than Slavery
  7. The Lost Cause Argument gained credence in the South. As such, it argued the following:
    • Slavery was merely one issue in the war; it was not important or central to the war's causation; the real reason for the war was a difference of opinion about the Constitution. 
    • The South believed that the North had seriously limited their Constitutional rights and the right of the Southern states to make their own political, economic, and social decisions. 
    • The real issue then, was not slavery but liberty - the need of the South to liberate itself from the oppression of Northern industrialists who advanced their interests through taxes, railroad subsidies, and growing industrialization at the expense of Southern planters and farmers.
    • The Confederate soldiers not only fought a noble battle of honor in the name of liberty, they also fought a better fight than the enemy.  They were defeated only by"overwhelming numbers and resources" as Robert E. Lee told his grieving soldiers at Appomattox.
    • Southern whites were the victims of the War of Northern Aggression which attempted to rob Southerners of their liberty. The Confederate flag stands not for slavery, but for a courageous search for liberty in the face of such aggression.  
    • Many contemporary historians argue that the South did not secede for either states rights or liberty - but rather to protect the institution of slavery. 
      • Surviving Southerners like Jefferson Davis and Vice-President Stephens created the Lost Cause myth to help southern whites deal with the shattering reality of a catastrophic defeat in a war they felt certain they would win.
      • In the end, historian Gary Gallagher notes in The Myth of the Lost Cause, "White Southerners emerged from the Civil War thoroughly beaten but largely unrepentant."
  8. The precedent was set for presidential usurpation of congressional powers during times of war.
    • Shortly after troops of the newly declared Confederate States of America bombed Union soldiers at Fort Sumter, President Lincoln - not Congress - declared war and mobilized the political, economic, diplomatic, psychological, and military resources of the nation. He claimed he had the right to do so as Commander in Chief. But the Constitution is silent on the definition of the powers of the president as commander in chief. There were no clear precedents for Lincoln.
    • Thus, Lincoln established the precedent by defining his role as Commander in Chief. He argued that he could bi-pass Congress and use executive orders to raise an army. How did he justify this?
      • When the CSA fired on Fort Sumter, Congress was not in session and was not due to come back to Washington until the end of summer. Lincoln made his decision to declare war and then called a special session which met on July 4, 1861.
      • At the July meeting, Lincoln told Congress that the attack on Fort Sumter left him with no choice, "It was with the deepest regret that the Executive found the duty of employing the war power in defense of the Government forced upon him. He could but perform this duty or surrender the existence of the Government ... In full view of his great responsibility he has so far done what he has deemed his duty." (Abraham Lincoln's "Special Session Message, July 4, 1861" )
      • Further, he argued, his oath of office required him to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution and this duty overrode any specific constitutional constraints on executive action. The President claimed he had "the war power" - and to not declare this war power might have forced him to "surrender the existence of the Government." But the Constitution makes no mention of "war power." According to historian James McPherson, "Lincoln seems to have invented both the phrase and its application." (Tried by War: 24) Political Cartoon of Lincoln as "The Federal Phoenix"
      • In short, Lincoln maintained that "as commander-in-chief of the army and navy, in time of war - I have a right to take any measure which may best subdue the enemy - I conceive that I may in an emergency do things on military grounds that cannot be done constitutionally by Congress."
    • Congress did not object. In August, by an overwhelming majority, it passed a law that "approved and in all respects legalized and made valid - all the acts, proclamations, and orders of the President of the United States respecting the army and the navy - as if they had been done under the express authority of Congress."
  9. The precedent was set for presidential usurpation of civil liberties during times of war.
    • Shortly after the war began, President Lincoln signed the Executive Order,"Writ of Habeas Corpus Relating to the Events in Baltimore" which suspended the writ of habeas corpus - the constitutional guarantee giving prisoners the right to be brought to court to determine if they were being legally held as well as the right to challenge their detention through independent judicial review.
    • The U.S. Constitution says, "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." (Article 1, Section 9) But Lincoln suspended habeas corpus without waiting for Congress to authorize it.
    • He then ordered military authorities to arrest and detain without trial those in the northern and border states who aided the rebel cause, were believed to be Confederate spies, and who resisted the draft - and detained most of them until the war's conclusion.
    • He also ordered that all arrested under this law could be tried and punished by military courts as regular courts were deemed to be inadequate during a rebellion and all those who opposed the Union endangered "the public safety." Over 4,000 military trials were held throughout the war.
    • In 1863, Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Act endorsing Lincoln's decision to deny habeas corpus in 1861 by authorizing suspensions throughout the war and enabling the government to detain persons suspected of disloyalty to the Union.
  10. The Civil War became the stuff of legend - a topic that has been endlessly studied and examined by historians and laypersons alike. And why has it become what many people have called it - the war that never goes away?
    • Human cost almost equals the number of American soldiers who fought in all other years combined - such a ghastly toll is both horrifying and hypnotically fascinating.
    • Human interest stories fascinate Americans.  The war pitted brother against brother, cousin against cousin, father against son.  In South Carolina, Brigadier General Thomas Drayton fought against his brother, Perceal, a captain in the Union Navy, at the Battle of Port Royal.
  11. The Civil War provides a historical backdrop for the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement is often called the second Civil War because it was only then that African Americans gained real political, social, and economic power - power that had been given to them after the war via the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, but which Jim Crow Laws had denied.

Photo of Civil War Soldiers