Jefferson Davis’ Biggest Challenge From Day One Was Resources.

by Daniel Russ on June 30, 2019

From Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief

Book by James M. McPherson

Jefferson Davis’ Grave

History book reminds us that the South had a fraction of the power, and resources of the North at the beginning and at the end of the American Civil War.

“At a railroad station in Montgomery on February 16, Jefferson Davis pledged to the waiting crowd that if the North tried to coerce the Confederate states back into the Union, the Confederates would make the Northerners “smell Southern powder and feel Southern steel.” More soberly, in his brief inaugural address on February 18, Davis referred five times to the possibility of war and the need to create an army and a navy to meet the challenge. If “passion or lust for dominion” should cause the United States to wage war on the Confederacy, “we must prepare to meet the emergency and maintain, by the final arbitrament of the sword, the position which we have assumed among the nations of the earth.”


“Northern superiority was even more decisive. According to the 1860 census, Union states had eleven times as many ships and boats as the Confederacy and produced fifteen times as much iron, seventeen times as many textile goods, twenty-four times as many locomotives, and thirty-two times as many firearms. The Union had more than twice the density of railroad mileage per square mile and several times the amount of rolling stock.”


“Slavery gave the Confederacy one advantage in this respect: The slaves constituted a large percentage of the labor force in the Confederate states, and by staying on the job they freed white men for the army. But the slaves worked mainly in agriculture growing cotton and other staple crops primarily for export. In the production of the potential matériel of war, the seven Confederate states began life at a huge disadvantage. Even with the secession of four more slave states after the firing on Fort Sumter (to be discussed below), the Confederacy would possess only 12 percent as much industrial capacity as the Union states.”

Jefferson Davis

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