Balance of Forces

At the beginning of the Civil War, the goal of the North was simply to restore the Union. In his first inaugural address (March 4, 1861), President Abraham Lincoln made it very clear that he had no intention of interfering with slavery where it already existed. This point was reiterated in resolutions adopted by Congress in July that stated the war was not waged against “the established institutions” of the southern states. As the conflict dragged on, however, the president realized that the slavery issue could not be avoided—for political, military, and moral reasons. By 1863, the purpose of the war had broadened into a crusade against slavery. Southern leaders fought the war under the dual banners of states' rights and preserving their way of life. Although the overwhelming majority of southerners did not own slaves, support for slavery was widespread, and southerners were deeply concerned about what would happen if it was abolished. The fact that almost all the fighting took place in the South meant that southerners defended their homes against an invading army throughout the Civil War.

The North had clear advantages over the South at the start of the war. While the South's population was just nine million (more than three million of which were slaves), more than twenty‐two million people lived in the northern and border states. The North had the resources and manpower to equip and put many more men in the field than the South and was comparatively an industrial powerhouse, far outstripping the Confederacy in available raw materials, factory production, and railroads. Despite these strengths, the North did face problems, and the South was not as weak as it initially appeared.

The problems of the North. That Lincoln won the presidency in 1860 with only forty percent of the popular vote indicated that he did not start his term with an overwhelming political mandate. His own party was divided into Moderates and Radicals; the latter favored immediate emancipation and tried to interfere with his method of conducting the war. The Democratic party in the North, while generally supportive of the administration, contained a peace faction known as the Copperheads their loyalty to the Union was doubted. Militarily, the North faced the difficult challenges of invading a large territory, maintaining long supply lines, and dealing with hostile southern civilians, all of which made its numerical superiority less effective. Northern generals proved less daring and innovative than their southern counterparts, particularly during the early stages of the war.

Advantages and expectations in the South. The South intended to fight a mainly defensive war, which meant it needed fewer troops than the invading army. With slaves working either on the farms or in Confederate labor battalions, more white soldiers were available for combat duty than would have been without slavery. Southern strategy, formed from an assumption that support for the war in the North was weak, was to wear down the Union forces until Lincoln was ready to accept the independence of the Confederacy. The South also had a greater number of experienced military commanders than the North; many U.S. army officers, including veterans of the Mexican War, resigned their commissions to fight on the Confederate side when the hostilities broke out. Southerners knew that their economy was not self‐sufficient, particularly in wartime, but they anticipated outside help. They fully expected the dependence of Great Britain and France on cotton imports to lead to diplomatic recognition and direct material aid.