By the late 1840s, ships powered by steam engines were replacing sailing ships in hauling freight and passengers across the Atlantic Ocean, with the new technology and competition reducing shipping rates. Foreign commerce grew dramatically in the 1840s and 1850s. In 1850, industrial production in the US was less than a third that of Britain's, but the US 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, with cotton as two-thirds of US exports.
Cotton production in the US had grown from around 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850. The South was importing its food from the North, while Southerners were buying their shoes and much of their weaponry from the North, and they wee riding on carriage wheels produced in the North.
In the US, slave deaths were more numerous than slave births, with slave owners turning to a trade that the US and most Western nations had declared illegal and punishable by death. But only the British were seriously combating the trade. The British had outlawed slavery for its entire empire back in 1833. And in the US North was a general dislike of slavery, but only a few were abolitionists, and only a few favored coercing the Southerners into freeing their slaves. From 1843 to 1857 the US had seized only nineteen ships transporting slaves. And of those nineteen, only six involved prosecutions. The British in this same period had seized nearly 600 ships and had prosecuted all but 38.
The British were allied with the French and Ottoman Turks, fighting the Russians in their Crimean territory beginning in 1853. Russia's Tsar Nicholas I had gone to war against Turkey for having failed to protect his fellow Orthodox Christian believers in the Holy Land, people for whom he felt responsible — while people in Turkey were urging a holy war against 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 Mediterranean Sea through Turkey's waterways. And there was disgust by Queen Victoria and others with tsarist Russia's brutal autocracy (the land of the knout).
Britain entered the Crimean War poorly prepared for supplying its troops with food and medical assistance. Months after the war began, 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 what became known as the "Charge of the Light Brigade." Six hundred British cavalrymen with swords drawn were sent on a disastrous charge against Russian artillery that was well-defended on a hill.
The Crimean War told people who cared to notice that modern industry had produced a new kind of warfare. The Crimean war introduced trench warfare, an intensive use of long-range artillery bombardment and an intensified use of rifle-fire. The Russians were far behind industrially and by 1856 lost the Crimean War, to a great extent 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 US, Southern congressmen were afraid of losing the political power with which they had been protecting their "way of life," including the institution of slavery. In the Congressional elections (from August 1860 through September 1861) the Republic Party was doing well, viewed as a threat to pro-slavery Congressmen. And when Abraham Lincoln won his election in November 1860 there was panic. They believed that a Lincoln presidency would be able to put the US with Britain in ending slavery. With Lincoln's election, pro-slave Congressmen feared their power to preserve slavery had come to an end. Among them was talk of the South seceding from the union.
James Henry Hammond — a planter, a former governor of South Carolina, a vociferous defender of slavery and states' rights, and in his first term as a South Carolina senator — argued that secession 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 Republican Party lacked the means to distribute patronage. But Hammond's point-of-view went nowhere. On 17 December 1860, delegates to a South Carolina Secessionist Convention voted unanimously for secession. On January 9, Mississippi seceded from the Union. Florida did so the following day, Alabama on the 11th and Georgia on the 19th. Louisiana on January 26 voted 112 to 17 to secede. On February 1, Texans favored secession 98 to 1.
Lincoln became president on April 4. 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 states that had seceded — the Confederacy. 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 secessionists 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 US. (Through the war, the North would view Russia as a friend while it viewed Britain and France with suspicion.)
On May 6, a convention in Arkansas voted 69 to 1 for secession. On May 20, North Carolina voted to withdraw from the union and Kentucky declared neutrality, followed by Missouri declaring neutrality the next day. On May 23 Virginia voted 132,201 to 37,451 to secede. And on June 8 a vote of 108,339 to 47,233, put Tennessee with seceding states.
In the movie, high society people are having a party. Men in fancy dress are discussing whether there will be a war. It is said that "the South must assert itself by force of arms" and "we've got to fight...There is no other way." Someone adds: "They've insulted us."
The screenwriter puts in some anti-war opinion: "Most of the miseries of the world were caused by wars. And when the wars were over, no one ever knew what they were about." One young man assures the others that "one Southerner can lick twenty Yankees and that gentlemen can always fight better than rabble."
One of the men at the party is Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable), a man of the world from Charleston who apparently has a lot of money stashed away in Liverpool, England. He speaks of the South as not having one cannon factory and says:
The Yankee are better equipped than we. They got factories, shipyards, coal mines... All we've got is cotton and slaves, and arrogance.
A young man tells Butler: "That's treacherous, I refuse to listen to any renegade talk." He wants a duel. The cool Mr. Butler smiles and says "I seem to be spoiling everybody's brandy and cigars and dreams of victory."
The party is interrupted by word that fighting has begun. Joy and excitement erupt.
There were to be four years of war between the Confederacy and the Union. The Union had a population of about 20 million, the Confederacy about 6 million who were not slaves. (About 25 percent of Southern families owned slaves and roughly 12 percent had twenty or more slaves.)
The North's advantage over the Confederacy in population and industrial strength and would have its effect. The Civil War historian Shelby Foote (from Mississippi) said:
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, and with its navy the Union was able to slowly and inexorably tighten its blockade around Confederacy's ports. Writes Paul Kennedy:
By December 1864 the Union's navy totaled 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.
On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln announced his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, to be effective on January 1, 1863. He could issue his proclamation only as an act of war. It was up to Congress to free the slaves elsewhere in the US and the Supreme Court to approve it. All slaves in states rebelling against the United States were to be declared free – but not slaves in the border states still in the Union: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri.
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 Southerners 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, who went West after having served in the Confederate military for only a few weeks.
As the winter of 1863 was approaching, Southerners were facing food shortages. (But not Texans. They had plenty to eat and were importing luxuries 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 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.
With Union military success the South began falling apart. A 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 it 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 Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee and the remnants of the Army of Tennessee and various other units under General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered on April , 1865. Other Confederate forces surrendered between April 16 and June 28. The Confederacy's government fled its capital Richmond (Virginia) and disintegrated.
Battle deaths for the Union were counted as 110,070 and for the Confederacy at roughly 90,000. Deaths in the military from disease on both sides was more than 414,000, more than twice the deaths from enemy fire.
Were there many who learned from the Crimean War and the US Civil War about the new kind of warfare that accompanied industrialization? Battlefield medical care improved with Britain learning from Florence Nightingale contributions during the Crimean War. Safe and effective anesthesia first used on a wide scale in the American Civil War" was one of the lessons well learned. But European military leaders would demonstrate that going into 1914 most still had not learned enough. They still had perspectives that should have been lost by again going over the experiences of the Civil War — perspectives that didn't serve their nation well when the power of defensive weapons would again produce trench warfare.
CONTINUE READING: Reconstruction and Civil Rights in the US South
Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.