While doing research regarding the economic effects of the Civil war on both the north and south I found that both parts of the country were profoundly affected and that the Civil war essentially defined the direction the differing regions would take in the future. One of my key findings was the staggering costs of the war. The most notable and tragic cost the war took was the loss of 620,000 Americans along with devastation to much of the south. One of the prime causes of much of the infrastructural damage to the south was the implementation of total war by the north. Total war meant that any and all civilian associated resources and infrastructure were treated as military targets. The most notable example of this was General William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea where he ravaged Georgia to great success resulting in the Union taking Savannah.
My second key finding was the absolutely huge effect the civil war had on the U.S. national debt. In 1860 the U.S. national debt stood at $65 million, down from $77million in 1789 even after fighting two major wars and expanding its industrial power significantly. Before the civil war there were very few taxes as nearly all federal revenue came from tariffs, there was no income tax, excise tax or estate tax. After four years of a bloody and costly civil war this had all turned upside down. The nation debt was a staggering 2.7 billion and all the taxes mentioned earlier were implemented with a vengeance.
My third key finding was the majority of the economic impact of the civil war occurred after the war ended. The Civil war had left the south in shambles. Slavery was completely abolished and with that plantations had to find new ways to harvest their crops and somehow turn a profit without their primary labor source. Southern infrastructure was destroyed during the war such as railroads and roads needed to be repaired. Surprisingly even more than that, one of the biggest costs the federal government faced after the war was the pensions it owed to union soldiers. Confederate soldiers received no pensions for their service and because of this the north benefited from pension dollars at the expense of the south increasing tension between the regions.
The war between the north and the south had for the most part been decided based on pure economic and industrial power. The North was superior in nearly every respect when looking at the economic aspects of the war. Because of their superior industry and population they were able to produce substantial amounts of weapons and ammunition as well as other necessities such as clothes and shoes. The south would often have to scavenge ammunition from defeated union soldiers. Shoes became a surprisingly scarce resource with both sides in great need of them. Throughout the war I think it’s a safe argument to make that the south actually had superior military tactics and decision making. They won the majority of battles with significantly less troops and supplies than the north, however the north’s economic edge was too much for even the most cunning commanders to defeat.
Thesis: The Civil War had a huge economic impact on the United States and shaped the economy and economic systems to come in the future, these effects can still be felt today.
Secondary source: this article describes the economic situations of the north and south before the civil war.
Secondary source: a very detailed look into the costs the civil war incurred on the U.S. after the conclusion of the war.
Secondary source: a report that focuses on economic data and its analysis regarding the civil war and its effects.
Secondary source: a comparing and contrasting of the northern and southern economies in the 1860’s and beyond.
Secondary source: an article examining the economic effects of legislation that was passed after the war.
Secondary source: a report that provides data on the monetary costs incurred from the war in terms of dollars to both the north and south.
Primary source: the Homestead Act, this act had huge significance on the United States economy and helped shape the country in the years following the war.
Secondary source: an article detailing Sherman’s march to the sea, one of the most striking examples of total war within the civil war.