Advantages Both Sides Had Before & During the Civil War

Industrial centers like the Springfield Armory contributed to the North's advantage.
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The American Civil War was partly instigated over economic, political and social differences between the Southern and Northern United States. Each side had certain advantages over the other, and these disparities fueled the dynamics and outcome of the Civil War. The North was industrial, wealthy and friendly to immigrants, while the South was agricultural, more committed to battle and fighting a defensive war at home.

1 Industrial Disparities

Industrialization was one of the major differences between the North and the South in the years before and during the Civil War. At the beginning of the Civil War, the South had only one-ninth the industrial capacity of the North. This translated into huge differences in the construction of war materials: the North produced 97 percent of the country's firearms, 96 percent of its railroad locomotives and 93 percent of its pig iron, according to U.S. History. By the outbreak of the war, the South had only 29 percent of the nation's total railroad tracks. In addition, urbanization was much swifter in the North, which gave the region a more complex economy. Large cities like New York, Chicago, Cincinnati and Detroit thrived in the North, while the South had few large metropolitan areas.

2 Immigration and Population Sizes

Partly because of urbanization, the North and South were vastly different in the size of their populations. Before the Civil War, industrialization in the North had attracted large immigrant populations from Europe. Before and during the Civil War, approximately seven out of every eight immigrants settled in the Northern states. By 1860, the North's population totaled approximately 23 million, while the South's was at just 9 million. This included 3.5 million slaves who were not allowed to serve directly in the Confederate Army for the bulk of the war. Only in the final weeks of battle -- when the Confederacy's defeat was virtually assured -- did the Confederate Army accept limited slave soldiers, and those only totaled several thousand. Throughout the war, however, slaves provided some labor support to the Confederate Army, so they did contribute indirectly to the war effort.

3 Agricultural Production

One potential advantage to the South involved its agricultural production. By 1860, fully 84 percent of all Southerners worked in the agricultural sector, compared to just 40 percent in the North. Much of this agricultural work, however, was by unpaid slave labor. In addition, Southern-style agricultural work was more labor intensive, and this meant that it lagged in productivity compared to the North. Part of this disparity was due to industrialization. While the South was more agricultural overall, the North relied more heavily on agricultural machinery, and had nearly twice the value of farm machines per acre than the South. The South produced two-thirds of the entire world's cotton supply, but the North produced essential staple goods, including half of the nation's corn, four-fifths of its wheat and seven-eighths of the nation's oats. For the South, cotton provided income, while for the North, staple goods provided essential foodstuffs.

4 Military Tactics

The South found its major advantage in its military muscle. While the North had a greater population from which to draw military recruits, the South had a population more enthusiastic about the war. The South was able to recruit about 75 percent of its eligible men, while the North only recruited about half. During the first years of the war, the North and South had armies of roughly equal sizes. This ratio altered as the war progressed, with the North having an advantage by the war's end. The South also had an advantage in leadership. Many of the nation's best military leaders were Southerners, and this is partly due to the South's greater manpower contribution to the Mexican-American War, which gave its citizens military experience. Finally, the South had the advantage of fighting a defensive war. This meant the Confederate Army knew its own territory, while the Union had to venture into unknown places. In addition, "victory" conditions meant the Confederacy merely had to survive, while the Union had to actually conquer and subdue the South, a more difficult task.

Kevin Wandrei has written extensively on higher education. His work has been published with Kaplan,, and Shmoop, Inc., among others. He is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at Cornell University.