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International Conflict, Industrialization and the US Civil War

In 1850, industrial production in the US was less than a third that of Britain's. Cut off by Britain's blockade in the War of 1812, entrepreneurs in the US opened factories in the Northeast that set the stage for new manufacturing businesses and technologies. The Northeast had phased out its slavery amid its industrialization. and its farms were prospering. The South, meanwhile, remained more agricultural, with cotton plantations worked by slaves.

Cotton production had been growing, said to be around 750,000 bales in 1830 and 2.85 million bales in 1850. Wealthy Southerners were investing in slaves rather than labor-saving machinery. And in the US, slave deaths were more numerous than slave births, with slave owners turning to a trade that the United States and most Western nations had declared illegal and punishable by death.

Only the British had been seriously combating the trade. From 1843 to 1857 the US had seized only 19 ships transporting slaves, and of those 19 only there were only six instances of a prosecution. The British in this same period had seized nearly 600 ships and had prosecuted all but 38.

The North had more small manufacturing industries, capitalists and banking than the South. By 1840 there were 1,200 cotton-goods factories in the United States, two-thirds of them in New England and importing cotton from the South, making blankets, flannel and worsteds. New England was also the heart of sea-born commerce in the United States. By the late 1840s, ships powered by steam engines were replacing sailing ships in hauling freight and passengers across the Atlantic Ocean, the new technology and competition reducing shipping rates. Foreign commerce grew dramatically in the 1840s and 1850s. The North was manufacturing power looms and exporting them to Europe. Ships owned by Northerners were shipping the South's cotton to Europe, mainly to Britain — cotton being two-thirds of US exports.

The South grew more cotton than food and was importing its food from the North. The South bought its shoes from the North, much of their weaponry, and it rode on carriage wheels produced in the North.

In the North, the Puritan work ethic prevailed, people working long hours and six days per week. There was a general dislike of slavery but abolitionists were a minority and few were in favor of coercing the Southeners into freeing their slaves.

In 1853, four years of war began in the Crimea that told people who cared to notice that a new kind of warfare had arrived with the new industrial age. The Crimean war introduced trench warfare, an intensive use of long-range artillery bombardment, and intensified rifle. The Russians were behind industrially and lost the Crimean War largely because of its inability to transport troops and supplies. Russia had been the great military power on the ground, with far more soldiers than others. They are said to have fought well in Crimea, but Russia's army was, writes historian Paul Kennedy, "wretchedly armed." There were no railroads south of Moscow, and horse-drawn supply trains across rough and muddy terrain could not match its enemy's abilities at transport.

The Crimean War had arisen from an inability to resolve a dispute and violence)between Catholic and Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem. Russia went to war against Turkey for failing to protect the Orthodox believers, and in Turkey people had been urging a holy war aginst Russia. Britain and France had been anxious about Russian expansion in the direction of their colonial interests in South Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean. They were against Russia gaining access to the Meditteran Sea through Turkey's waterways. There was also among the British disgust with tsarist Russia's brutal autocracy (the land of the knout), and just before Britain entered the war, its newspapers screamed massacre in response to the Russians smashing the Turkish navy at dock on the Black Sea port of Sinop. The wooden Turkish ships burned, and of the 4,400 Turkish seamen, 3,000 were killed.

The Crimean War became known for Britain going to war poorly prepared for supplying its troops with food and medical assistance. In late October 1854, Florence Nightingale left Britain with 38 nurses heading for the Crimea. At the front she organized care for the wounded, cleaned up the care areas and cut mortality rates. It was a beginning for the nursing profession in Europe.

The war was known also for a lack of heads-up adjustment in facing artillery, for what became known as the "Charge of the Light Brigade." Six hundred British cavalrymen with swords drawn charged against Russian artillery well-defended on a hill.

The British government had intervened and freed slaves in its territories in 1834, providing the former owners compensation their loss — much easier that what was to be experienced in the United States. The US Civil War had its origins, in part at least, in Southern congressmen afraid of losing the political power with which they had been protecting the institution of slavery. With Lincoln's election in November 1860, they feared that this power had come to an end. The senator from South Carolina, James Henry Hammond, spoke against their panic, saying that seceding would be foolish and self-destruction, that Lincoln's Republicans controlled neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives nor the Supreme Court and that the Republicans lacked the means to distribute patronage. But Hammond's point-of-view went nowhere. On January 9, 1861, delegates to South Carolina voted to secede from the Union. Florida followed suit on the 10th, Alabama on the 11th, and Georgia a week later. On February 18, Mississippi's former senator, Jefferson Davis, was inaugurated as the Confederacy's president, and on February 23, Texas voters chose to join the Confederacy. Three days later Louisiana joined.

Lincoln became president on April 4th. In his inauguration speech Lincoln said:

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

He argued that no state "upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union." The Union, he said, was an association of states by contract and a contract that could not be undone except by all parties.

On April 12, South Carolinians began a bombardment of Fort Sumpter, a US government installation in South Carolina on a tiny island in Charleston Harbor. On April 17, Jefferson Davis invited Southern ship owners to attack the North's merchant vessels. Two days later, Lincoln declared a naval blockade of all ports and coasts of the Confederate states. Davis spoke of Lincoln having declared war on the Confederacy, and he spoke of the wrongs suffered by the slave states. "Fanatical organizations," he said, "supplied with money by voluntary subscriptions, were assiduously engaged in exciting amongst the slaves a spirit of discontent and revolt. Means were furnished for their escape from their owners, and agents secretly employed to entice them to abscond."

In May, Britain declared its neutrality and its intention to respect the Union's blockade of Southern ports. The Confederates were disappointed. They had believed that Britain, because its industries were dependent on the South's cotton, would side with them and if necessary for the sake of cotton would go to war against the Union. But it would never happen. Through the war, the North would view Russia as a friend while it viewed Britain and France with suspicion.

There were to be four years of war between the Union and the Confederacy and the Union, the union with about 20 million white people, the Confederacy with only about 6 million of the pinkish pale ones, the Scotch-Irish et cetera. (Only about 25 percent of them owned slaves and only 12 percent had twenty or more slaves.)

The North's advantage over the Confederacy in industrial strength and population would have its effect. The Civil War historian Shelby Foote expressed this view in a quote now well known:

I think that the North fought that war with one hand behind its back... If there had been more Southern victories, and a lot more, the North simply would have brought that other hand out from behind its back. I don't think the South ever had a chance to win that War.

The Union made more use of its railway infrastructure than did the Confederacy. The South had no machine shop with which to produce marine engines, whereas the North had several dozens. With its navy the Union was able, slowly and inexorably, to tighten its blockade around Confederacy's ports. Writes Paul Kennedy:

By December 1864 the Union's navy total some 671 warships, including 236 steam vessels built since the war's beginning. Northern sea power was also vital in giving is armed forces control of the great inland rivers... It was the successful use of combined rail and water transport that which aided the union's offensives in the western theater.

In his book War Made New, historian Max Boot writes of "commanders on both sides having trouble coming to grips with the destructive potential of [their] new weapons" and adds:

Having seen frontal assaults work against the Mexican army, they tried the same tactics against each other and turned farm fields into abattoirs [slaughterhouses]. It took a few years of slaughter for both sides to start hiding their troops in trenches or dispersing them in order to mitigate the rifle's impact.

Three years of war had hardened much of public opinion in both the Union and the Confederacy, each side seeing the other as demonic and deserving punishment. A Confederate shooting of seven Unionist prisoners-of-war occurred in early October 1863 — a retaliation for deaths that had occurred in battle. The Union general in St. Louis retaliated by hanging an equal number of Confederate prisoners-of-war.

During the winter of 1863-64 an evangelical revival swept through the ranks of Confederate soldiers. Among them was the sense that the Lord was punishing them with hardship and that surely God would not reward the dishonorable and materialistic Yankee aggressors if they rededicated themselves to God's purposes.

A few from the South were less interested in a victory against the Yankees and were migrating to the West Coast. Among them was Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), 28 years-old, went West after having served in the Confederate military for only a few weeks.

As the winter of 1863 was approaching the Confederate states east of the Mississippi faced a shortage of food – while Texans were enjoying plenty to eat and luxuries imported from Mexico. A loan to the Confederacy from French investors was of little help. The Confederacy was paying for their war by printing money, resulting in a rampant inflation. By January 1865, transportation problems and the Union's blockades were making the food and supply shortages more severe, and starving Confederate soldiers were deserting.

Following Union military success, the South began falling apart. Rah-rah pride at the beginning of the war had failed to make up for South's economic and demographic inferiorities (depicted in the fiction Gone With the Wind as Rhett Butler being confronted by a young man at a plantation party). Now a new kind of conspicuous frivolity appeared among wealthy Confederates, a kind of "what the hell" desperation that sometimes emerges when hopes are dashed.

Jefferson Davis approved the arming of slaves as a means of augmenting the Confederacy's shrinking army, but the measure was not put into effect. As many leaders do when facing military defeat, Davis was becoming delusional. He believed that however overwhelmed militarily, the Confederacy could live on as long as its people refused to submit.

The war ended in the Confederacy's army surrendering, on 9 April 1865. Battle deaths for the two sides added together have been counted as a little over 200,000 (110,070 for the Union and roughly 90,000 for the Confederacy). Deaths in the military from disease on both sides was more than 414,000, more than twice the deaths from enemy fire. This was similar but not quite as bad as the British suffered in the Crimean war: almost 5,000 killed militarily and more than 16,323 recorded as dying from disease.

The United States as a society had worked through the issue of slavery in a way more horrendous than what the British had experienced.

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Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.