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Civil War Trust

Confederate States Had Many Advantages at Civil War's Outset

Though it certainly seems easy to suggest that the north was destined to win the Civil War at its outset, and the Union was certainly inclined to believe a short victory was at hand, the South had several advantages that it would bring to bear. Teachers looking for an interactive lesson plan that escapes Civil War lesson plans’common angle of focusing on slavery may appreciate the opportunity to have their students explore these advantages, compared to those held by the Federals as war broke out in 1861.

The South had three big things going for it. First off, it was fighting a defensive war. In essence, the Union under President Abraham Lincoln started the Civil War by calling for each loyal state to furnish a volunteer army in the wake of the shelling of Fort Sumter. His goal was to preserve the entirety of the United States, which could only be done by an all out defeat of and total surrender by the South. To accomplish this, the Federals had to stage a successful invasion and occupation of the South, never an easy task.

On the other hand, the self-named Confederate States of America only had to do enough damage to the invading army that its troops lost morale and politicians in Washington lost the popular support and political will to continue fighting. The Secessionists had shorter supply lines that often ran along already-established and known railroads and better knowledge of the territory. With many mountains and rivers running east-west in the South, the Rebels often were able to set up in defensible positions.

Second, the South was defending its home against invaders. Southern soldiers derived an immense and often lauded fighting spirit from their devotion to preserving the Southern way of life. This also meant that Southern whites felt a greater sense of unity than the Northern population, which was divided on issues of slavery, politics, and regional disagreement.

Finally, the best military minds belonged to Southerners, where there were also more military leaders in general as well as a broader base of recruits with some military or martial experience. The list of brilliant Southern generals is extensive, while even at the highest command the North struggled to find a competent leader for most of the Civil War. What’s more, between fighting the Mexican-American War and knowing how to live off the land, many Southern soldiers were just better equipped with the skills necessary to survive a war of attrition.

A teacher hoping to start a discussion or activity based on these Civil War facts might present just a thumbnail sketch of the South’s advantages, and then ask students to try and figure out using logic and textbooks why the Confederates had these advantages. As far as an intro exercise for a unit on the Civil War, there is certainly merit to dramatizing the event in this way.

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