To Preserve the Union: 6 Advantages That Helped the North Win the Civil War
To Preserve the Union: 6 Advantages That Helped the North Win the Civil War

To Preserve the Union: 6 Advantages That Helped the North Win the Civil War

Matthew Weber - March 31, 2017

To Preserve the Union: 6 Advantages That Helped the North Win the Civil War
Navy Ironclad. Steamboat Times

Naval Strength

This point is a bit murkier, and is less arguable on the side of the North, in some places. In terms of Naval Strength at the beginning of the war, you have to define what you mean. Neither the Union nor the Confederacy had real war ships that you could use to fight the war. At the start in 1860, the North had 50 (decrepit is a word used to describe them most often) ships, but none of them fell into the category of “war ship,” at least in terms of what you’d see near the end of the war. The South had nothing, as they were basically starting from scratch.

Playing into this, however, was something we already talked about: manufacturing strength. Because the North was able to manufacture their own vessels because of already existing infrastructure, they had quite an advantage over the South who had to both import vessels and build an infrastructure to manufacture their own navy, something that took a lot of time.

Now, as we said at the beginning of this part, this isn’t as clear cut as you might expect. The main reason being that what advantage the Union started off with was offset by some brilliant strategy and amazing ability to catch up by the South. While the North had an advantage of population, that didn’t translate to a large navy as it did with the army. This put them on much more equal fronts than what was usual for the other fronts of the war.

In the end, it is debatable how much of an influence the navy had on the outcome of the Civil War. It was incredibly important, but the war of the sea was very much a war of attrition, though the battles were awe inspiring, the most efficient use of their navies once established was using them to blockade and attack merchant ships, affecting the economies of both the North and the South.

To Preserve the Union: 6 Advantages That Helped the North Win the Civil War
White House 1861. National Park Service

Political Establishment

If we had to choose the two biggest factors in the ultimate outcome of the American Civil War, economy and political establishment might be the most important. The Confederacy was not a government prior to secession. The government didn’t exist at all until February 1961, just two months before fighting officially started. That means they had no tax structure, no military structure, and no constitution.

They were very quick to catch up, despite the hardships they faced. The Confederacy ratified a constitution within a year (it was actually written and passed in March 1861, just a month after the founding of the government). They created and passed laws quickly, and they used their power to start officially bringing together militias to form their army.

That all being said, the North already had all of that. Moreover, their tax base was larger, allowing for more income, their banking system was more robust, and they had a much large cache of laws that allowed to prosecute a war much quicker.

The downside is that the North did not take the Southern states seriously at first. Or, putting it more accurately, they assumed that any rebellion could be put down quickly, which would allow the country to come together once more. They were wrong. This caught the North flatfooted, and forced President Lincoln to significantly increase the Union army numbers (500,000 were called up in the first draw after several embarrassing losses).

In the end, however, the already established Union government held the advantage once it got its act together. There was less political rivalry, and rules of government that the South had to create from scratch (though they used established ideas for most of it). This allowed for more cohesive decisions once the war went into its second year. The Confederates would be well led, though, so it did take away some of the advantage of the North.