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Industrial Revolution Influence on US Civil War Essay


The importance of the industrial revolution for the U.S. Civil War was in its influence on the way the war was progressing; more advanced weapons, better communication, and information transmission, active use of railroads and telegraphs, and the rising number of industrial firms has resulted in a war that had similarities with the wars defined as “modern wars”.i The industrial revolution has provided more advanced weapons that could double the killing zone and permit high volumes of fire.

Furthermore, both sides, the Union and the Confederacy had to mobilize their economies and engage business in the war due to their dependency on different industries and suppliers (e.g., railroads).ii The industrial revolution changed warfare by introducing warships, rail and steam transportation, the telegraph, extensive production of food and armor, and new technologies for war propaganda.iii Nevertheless, the deliberate large-scale destruction of the property for demoralization and robbery, although also perceived as the causes of the industrial revolution, were known since the XII century or earlier.

The industrial revolution provided the Union with another significant advantage in the war. The control over the rivers was possible due to the naval force of the Union, which was countered by the Confederate’s guerrillas that, however, were not particularly effective in reducing the Union’s control over the rivers. As Beringer points out, light-draft “tinclad” steamboats were as effective in controlling the rivers as heavier ships; from January till June the Union was able to convoy 400 steamboats without a single loss.iv

The change of political course during the years of the Civil War also highly influenced its progress. The idea of popular sovereignty, i.e., the perception of people as the source of political authority and legitimacy was also highly prominent. Nevertheless, the influence on the warfare of the new perception also had its disadvantages. For example, passivity and obedience were rejected, and soldiers insisted on choosing their own officers and taking actions they found beneficial (e.g., Northern soldiers robbing Southern civilians).

Despite the active propaganda of political ideology and appeal to serve the government (without being coerced), soldiers’ support after the expiration of their terms of service for their government reduced, sometimes leading to a mass exodus, e.g., the departure of the Pennsylvania Reserves.v Furthermore, the government’s later direct forms of compulsion also were not effective in attracting more workforce but negatively influenced popular support for it.vi

One of the social factors that together with the Industrial Revolution influenced the course and the outcome of the military revolution was demographics. The South’s large slave population was beneficial to the Confederacy at first because during the mobilization of the white population the slaves were able to support economic progress at first. Nevertheless, the Confederacy was unable to compete with its rival neither in a demographical aspect nor the number of available industrial firms. Out of 128,300 industrial firms in the USA, 18,206 of those were located in the Confederacy and were mostly represented by small concerns.vii

The miles of railroads, available to each of the sides, also indicated the industrial role of the North and the South; while the Union had approximately 22,085 miles, only 8,541 were available to the South. Without the railroads, some of the campaigns would simply be impossible to conduct, because they would require enormous animal power, which would be, in addition, highly inefficient (if not dangerous for the whole campaign) compared to railway communication.

Another important social aspect is the South’s soldierly traditions. Despite the smaller numbers of men ready to participate in the conflict, a vast majority of the white population in the Confederacy had basic training and corresponding military skills.viii Almost eighty percent of the male adult population took part in the mobilization, which could be translated in approximately 900,000 to 1,140,000 men. At the same time, the Union’s male population was less eager to mobilize, although it still had the advantage in numbers.ix

The inability of the Southern political leaders to recognize that the economic aspect of this war was as important as the military one caused the chaotic policy on the cotton embargo, with which Jefferson Davis hoped to receive British recognition of the Confederacy and support for its independence. However, the European countries were not willing to participate in war only to stop the cotton embargo.

Moreover, it adversely influenced the decision of the British Empire to enter the war, because, despite the negative impact of the embargo on the British economy, it was also dependent on the Union’s grain.x Therefore, instead of cutting the supply of cotton, the Confederacy had to export it as quickly as possible to gain additional capital that could help support military operations. What is more, cotton was also supplied by Egypt, Brazil, India, and the West Indies, whereas the blockade-running became incredibly profitable because it produced returns of up to 500 percent.xi

Some of the researchers also emphasize the importance of slave rebellion and its impact on the course of the war. Using Du Bois argumentations, Henderson argues that not only “slave religion” and culture were prominent forces of the Black Revolution during the Civil War but also previous rebellions attempted by Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey, and Nat Turner since they also drew on slave religion and used biblical rationales to coordinate and motivate their followers.xii

All revolts tried and conducted were of a smaller scale than the one during the Civil War, but the latter relied on the set of networks constructed and expanded during the previous revolts. Particular attention was also paid to hired-out slaves who were not only fueled by the religious ideology and black culture but also their mobility and ability to establish links in slave communities.xiii Black population actively used antebellum networks established within and between slave neighborhoods, although the bonds within those were stronger than the outside ones; weaker links between slave neighborhoods also interfered with their ability to plan and coordinate their actions and the rebellion itself.xiv

Henderson correctly points out the importance of slave preachers, who were able to foster and support relationships between neighborhoods, as well as mediated slaves’ relationship with God. Another tool for information transference as “the grapevine telegraph”: a network of communication, in which servants, artisans, hired slaves, who were literate to a small extent, provided news from the owner’s houses, taverns, market squares, and courthouses to the quarters.xv Via these channels, slaves were able to learn about the antislavery movement in the North and start to take action.

As can be seen, the Industrial Revolution was a major influence on the course of the U.S. Civil War, which was also fueled by various political decisions (that were not always effective), social movements, and economic factors that either undermined or supported military actions of both sides.

Bibliography

Beringer, Richard. “The Union Navy and Combined Operations.” In Why The South Lost The Civil War, edited by Richard E. Beringer, Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones, and William N. Still, Jr., 185-267. Athens: Brown Thrasher Books, 1986.

Dawson, Joseph. “The First of the Modern Wars?.” In The American Civil War. Explorations and Reconsiderations, edited by Susan-Mary Grant and Brian Holden Reid, 121-135. Harlow: Longman, 1999.

Grimsley, Mark. “Surviving Military Revolution: The U.S. Civil War.” In The Dynamics of Military Revolution 1300-2050, edited by Macgregor Knox and Williamson Murray, 74-91. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Henderson, Errol. “Slave Religion, Slave Hiring, and the Incipient Proletarianization of Enslaved Black Labor: Developing Du Bois’ Thesis on Black Participation in the Civil War as a Revolution.” Journal of African American Studies 19, no. 2 (2015): 193-213.

Stoker, Donald. The Grand Design. Strategy and the U.S. Civil War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

  1. Joseph Dawson, “The First of the Modern Wars?,” in The American Civil War. Explorations and Reconsiderations, ed. Susan-Mary Grant and Brian Holden Reid (Harlow: Longman, 1999), 121-135.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Mark Grimsley, “Surviving Military Revolution: The U.S. Civil War,” in The Dynamics of Military Revolution 1300-2050, ed. Macgregor Knox and Williamson Murray (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 74-91.
  4. Richard Beringer, “The Union Navy and Combined Operations” in Why The South Lost The Civil War, ed. Richard E. Beringer, Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones, and William N. Still, Jr. (Athens: Brown Thrasher Books, 1986), 185-267.
  5. Mark Grimsley, “Surviving Military Revolution: The U.S. Civil War” in The Dynamics of Military Revolution 1300-2050, ed. Macgregor Knox and Williamson Murray (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 74-91.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Donald Stoker, The Grand Design. Strategy and the U.S. Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 24-43.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Errol Henderson, “Slave Religion, Slave Hiring, and the Incipient Proletarianization of Enslaved Black Labor: Developing Du Bois’ Thesis on Black Participation in the Civil War as a Revolution,” Journal of African American Studies 19, no. 2 (2015): 193.
  13. Ibid., 195.
  14. Ibid., 208.
  15. Ibid., 209.
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IvyPanda. "Industrial Revolution Influence on US Civil War." November 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/industrial-revolution-influence-on-us-civil-war/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Industrial Revolution Influence on US Civil War." November 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/industrial-revolution-influence-on-us-civil-war/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Industrial Revolution Influence on US Civil War'. 21 November.

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