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The War Between the States

Windsor Ruins, Port Gibson, Mississippi

There has been nothing like it on American soil before or since. A devastating confrontation that threatened to dissolve the United States, the Civil War pitted brother against brother, family against family, and state against state. Before hostilities ceased and the warring factions reunited, more than a million of America's young men had been killed or wounded, entire cities and once productive farmland lay in ruins, and a way of life had vanished forever.

The decade of the 1850s brought the United States exceptional growth and prosperity. The population increased by 35 percent, to more than 31 million. Railroad trackage more than trebled, reaching 30,000 miles. The production of all kinds of foodstuffs and manufactured goods rose dramatically. And the country had enormous resources to sustain its phenomenal progress: vast unoccupied lands, a network of navigable rivers, incalculable riches in timber, iron, coal, copper and California gold....

It was true that the 1850s also exacerbated the the political tensions between North and South. But in the cold light of economics, the sections were interdependent - perhaps inseparable. Southern plantations provided bountiful raw materials for the industrialized North, and Northern factories made most of the finished goods consumed by the South.

The famed Southern boast that "Cotton is King!" became increasingly true in the 1850s. Though many plantations thrived on rice, tobacco and other cash crops, more and more land was planted in cotton to meet the demands of British and Yankee textile mills, and more and more slaves were put to work bringing in the harvests. The annual yield soared from two million bales in 1849 to 5.7 million bales in 1859. This amounted to seven eighths of the world's cotton and more than half of all American exports.

But even though the two sections might be interdependent, there were marked differences in the character and lifestyles of North and South. The bucolic landscape and the slow, agrarian lifestyle were just what most Southerners desired. Cities were scarce and practically all of them were

small; Charleston, Richmond and Savannah each had populations of less than 40,000. Only New Orleans, with about 150,000 inhabitants, was comparable to Northern cities in size and diversity.

In marked contrast, Northern cities were crowded, bustling, boisterous places, many expanding too fast to digest their growth. The population of New York soared from 515,000 to 814,000 in the 1850s. Chicago, incorporated a city in 1837 with a population of 4,170, had 112,000 inhabitants by 1860.

The war they would engage in traced its roots to the birth of America and perhaps even further back than that. To begin with, the vast majority of immigrants who settled the Northern part of the country tended to come from the cities and industrial centers of England, while the majority of Southerners came from the wilder, more agrarian areas of that country.

With different geographies and climates, North and South had developed radically different economic and social patterns. In the upper Atlantic states, the terrain was hilly and rocky, with the interior heavily forested and difficult to access. These conditions tended to keep farms small and to build up large pools of population along the coast. Many Northern settlers, therefore, became seamen, fishermen, shipbuilders and merchants.

The South, on the other hand, developed a plantation system that relied to a considerable extent on large-scale cultivation of a single cash crop: tobacco, rice, sugarcane or cotton. In a pattern set in Virginia tobacco plantations, intensive one-crop farming quickly exhausted the soil. Rather than sacrifice profits by rotating crops or fertilizing, big planters simply purchased more land - and more slaves to work the new holdings.

Against this backdrop of two divergent Americas arose a series of political crises during the first half of the 19th century. All dealt with the expansion of slavery; all were seemingly resolved, but each deepened sectional hostility. 




The Roots of Conflict    




The North Star: Tracing the Underground Railroad 
Documenting the American South 

Poetry and Music of the War Between the States 
The American Civil War Home Page 
The United States Civil War Center 
Atlanta History Center Civil War Manuscript Collections 
Guerrilla Warfare in the American Civil War 
The Valley of the Shadow 
Encarta Schoolhouse: The Civil War 

Mississippi Related 
Mississippi Civil War Information 
17th Regiment Mississippi Infantry 
Corona College, Corinth, Mississippi - bibliography (great resources)
Hancock County Historical Society
The Civil War in Mississippi  


Prisoner of War Camps 
Camp Douglas, Chicago
Experience of a Confederate Soldier in Camp and Prison in the Civil War 1861-1865

Fort Delaware Society
Andersonville and Other Civil War Prisons  
Point Lookout, Maryland Prison Camp  
Elmira Prison Camp On-line Library 

The Confederate Cause 
The Confederate Shop
Valor in Gray

Intriguing Historical Ladies 
Harriet Tubman 




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This page last updated 05/14/00.
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by Deborah Cox