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What advantages did the South and North have in the US Civil War?

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January 16, 2016 7:06PM

The South had two major disadvantages in the US Civil War. One was that their troop strength could never match that of the Union's , The North had over 23 million people compared to 11 million in the South. Also, the North's manufacturing capability could not be matched by the cropland economy of the South. These Confederate disadvantages were the advantages of the North.

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November 26, 2019 10:12AM
United States' greatest advantage in the war was the moral superiorityo of our cause. ehT
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July 24, 2016 8:40AM

Basically, it was a battle between an industrial power and an agrarian power, fought almost exclusively on Southern soil.

The North had a larger population base and a huge industrial base. It could produce more finished goods such as guns and armaments. There was more money in the North. The United States was better recognized by foreign governments as an established nation, so the Confederacy had a harder time obtaining foreign credit and aid. The states in the Union had an easier time recognizing a central government so organizing the army was easier, and Lincoln's authority was better recognized. The North also had a better developed system of roads and railroads.

* A detailed comparison of Northern advantages in wartime:

Manufacturing Capabilities

  • The primary advantage was the North's manufacturing capabilities. Their factories could mass produce weapons while the South had few facilities capable of providing the arms needed.
  • The North had greater production of war materials and comestibles.
  • The North had experienced an industrial revolution which left them with many factories to produce supplies necessary for outfitting an army. Also, with immigrants coming mostly to the North to settle (they were looking for jobs in the factories), little if any production was lost because of men leaving to fight in the war. Women and immigrants had been the main workers in the factories that now would be producing goods to be used by the Union soldiers.
  • The Southern dependence on agriculture was a major disadvantage and the dependence on slavery made it even harder for the South to industrialize. Being unable to industrialize was a real disadvantage because it meant that the South could not produce all the things they needed for war such as weapons. The Northern blockade also prevented trade with Europe making the situation even worse!
  • The North was much better equipped with the foundries and factories needed for producing weapons of war. The South was much more geared toward producing raw materials, primarily agricultural products, and sending them elsewhere for conversion into finished goods. The South was thus hard pressed to keep its troops adequately equipped.


  • The North's had nearly three times the population. (20 million vs. nine million in the South, four million of whom were black slaves.) The larger population provided a steady source of military and civilian manpower.
  • The North had a larger population which translated into the ability to field a larger army. However, while many men (and boys) eagerly went to enlist during the opening months of the Civil War, they lacked the experience needed to fight a war and time had to be taken to properly train the troops.
  • The North, being more populous, was also able to field a larger army, and to replace combat casualties. Grant, for example, refused prisoner exchange offers from the South, for the strategic reason that the South needed their soldiers back much worse than did the North.

Naval Power

  • The Northern navy prevented many supplies from being imported by the South. They blockaded ports.

Agricultural Capacity

  • The North grew most of the country's food, and a fighting army can get very hungry. The South had the plantations, but mostly cash crops were grown there.
  • The North had more farm land to produce crops.

Transportation Infrastructure

  • The North had better railroads and highways, including naval and civil shipping resources used to resupply forces in the field.
  • The North possessed a large amount of the country's railroad and canal systems. These would be vital in the quick and easy transportation of troops and supplies.
  • The North several times the amount of railroad mileage upon which to transport their armies and supplies to the battle fronts
  • More railroads meant better communication as well as better transportation.
  • The North had about 22,000 miles of railroad and the South only had about 9,000 miles of railroad. This means that they could not reinforce troops as quickly as the North could.
  • [Note that "interior lines" is cited as an advantage of the South, meaning that their transportation infrastructure was where it was needed most.]

Not Fighting on Their Own Soil

  • This helped protect their industrial and transportation resources.
  • [Note that "Fighting on Their Own Soil" is considered a Southern advantage for other reasons.]

Political Stability and Recognition

  • The North also possessed an existing, working government while the South was struggling to put their government together and fight a war at the same time.
  • The South had to worry about their slave population revolting and causing trouble for the troops.
  • The world recognized the Union as the legitimate government, allowing loans and trade concessions. [Note that South's cotton was desired in England. There was concern that England would side with the South despite England's stance against slavery.]

Military Infrastructure

  • The North already had a well-trained and organized standing army and navy. The Confederacy had to build theirs at the start of the war.

Military Leadership

  • The North's tactics, if not their leadership, was a clear advantage. The North's Anaconda Plan was to blockade, divide, and conquer the South. They literally constricted the South into submission. The North also did not set a specific time limit for which they thought the war would end. The South, however, only planned for eighteen months of fighting. This restricted their options on war tactics. [Note that military leadership is often cited as an advantage of the South.]


  • The North had much more money with which to pay for it all

The weaknesses of the South in the Civil war


The South did hardly any of their own manufacturing. They even had to buy their shoes from Northern industry. They had little iron and steel production for weapons and materials. The North had the production, the South had to pay dearly for it, and try to import during the war. Importing meant bringing tons of supplies through the Northern blockade on the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. So the North had all of the things they needed to fight a war and remanufacture what was used up, while South had only stockpiles that eventually ran dry when European countries decided not to deal with them anymore.


The northeastern portion of the USA in 1864 was more populous, although few were as well-trained in horsemanship. That may be the one area that the South believed they had covered: horsemanship. Being primarily a rural lifestyle, the South used horses all day long for long distance movement, while the North was more urban, and used their feet.

The strength of the South was its motivation! The South believed it was being invaded and that its farms and homes and women were at risk from the Yankee hordes. Northerners, on the other hand, were much less interested in a war to sustain the Union and had to pay their recruits a sign-up bonus, similar to what is being used to recruit reluctant soldiers today. In the South, every boy over the age of 14 wanted to join, and a great number of them did.

The North had the advantage in almost every way. They could make iron faster and cheaper. Cannons, rifles, railroads, even tools, all played a part in the war. The North could produce all of those things much faster than the South. Railroads are a great example, in the South the rails would be destroyed, they would have to find rail that was not needed and recycle it. With no means to produce new when it was all gone that was it. The North, on the other hand, could mass produce rails. Mass production cut the time to replace damage rails and meant for quicker transportation. just with that example the North had a huge advantage over the South.

A Slightly Different Opinion:

While the South did not have the major factories of the North, it did have some manufacturing, especially Alabama and North Carolina. At the beginning of the Civil War, North Carolina had 2,000 independent forges producing products from iron ore. While most of Alabama's factories were destroyed, at the end of the Civil War one factory remained producing over 20,000 tons of steel a day.

(After the Civil War Birmingham, AL was a major steel producing center. It has sources of iron ore, coal, and limestone, all within 75 miles. It joined the rust belt when new technologies made steel less expensive and the old companies could not afford legacy costs.)

Arsenals in Athens, Georgia, Fayetteville, North Carolina, and other places produced cannon throughout the Civil War.

While the south lacked the factories, it did have many shoemakers. Southerners wore shoes. Keeping the army supplied with shoes was a low priority.

One European Historian disagrees with American about the most important event in the Civil War. He puts the Battle of Chattanooga as the most important.

Most points in Alabama were not far from navigable rivers. It was possible to take a steamboat from Rome, Georgia, to Mobile, Alabama. A short rail road trip followed by another steamboat ride brought a person to western Virginia. War materiel, whether manufactured in Alabama or imported in Mobile, took the same path.

When Sherman destroyed the short railroad from Rome, Georgia, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, he gave the Union control over an important choke point.

When Sherman destroyed the railroads in Atlanta, he destroyed the remaining center of transportation.

When Sherman destroyed the arsenal in Athens, Georgia, he destroyed a source of Confederate cannon.

Sherman's 60mile wide destruction on the march to the sea made it difficult to rebuild transportation. (The factories could have made the rails but the horses carrying rails and cross ties would have also needed to carry fodder. The logistics were horrible!)

When Sherman destroyed the arsenal in Fayetteville, North Carolina, he destroyed Lee's source of artillery ammunition. Without artillery, Lee lost the ability to defend Petersburg.
The South was defending their homelands and so they had knowledge of the terrain, and had the motive to actively fight for their homeland.
The North had a stable government and a standing army and navy. It controlled the land that bordered the Confederacy and had guarunteed British neutrality. The North could supported itself, but when the south was blockaded, it couldn't make money or get what it needed.