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The Advantages the North Had Over the South in 1860

The Civil War lasted longer than both the North and South anticipated. Various factors influenced the North’s victory in the war. Leaders in the North believed that they would achieve victory over the South in a short period. This sentiment might have been influenced by the advantages the Union had over the South. Although the extent that specific advantages contributed to the Union’s victory remains the subject of debate over the war, there is consensus that the north had some advantages over the South with significant implications for the war (Thomas, 2020). As discussed in this history assignment help, some of the notable advantages that helped the North to prepare for the war included a larger population, superior industrial might, superior infrastructure, and control of the navy.

Larger Population

The presence of a larger population in the North proved to be one of the defining factors in the war. The North had over twice the population of the South (Dull, 2012). The larger population implied a larger source of manpower. In the period leading to the war, the larger population is likely to have influenced the wartime sentiment in the North. President Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 declaration to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in the attempts to address what he termed as a domestic insurrection reflected the influence of the large population on wartime sentiment in the North (Shea & Nardo, 2016). Lincoln’s declaration was associated with the perceived mandate he had as accorded to him by the citizens of America. The declaration also indicates Lincoln’s attitude to the war before running for the presidency. Wartime politicians in the North embraced the responsibility to ensure the unity of the nation due to their mandate as elected officials. In this regard, the large population of the North played a major role in defining the Union’s wartime leadership and overall sentiment.

The most significant benefit of the large population in the North, however, lied in the Union’s access to a wider source of manpower. The protracted war implied that soldiers were likely to lose morale as the war evolved. Letters wrote by soldiers such as Benedict (1861) and Boatwright (1863) indicate the effects of the protracted war on the morale of soldiers. Boatwright, a Confederate soldier, expressed in his 1863 letter his desire to leave the army as his morale was low and he would rather be with his family. The population advantage that the North had did not result in a quick victory because the South matched the union’s military early in the war (“Civil War and Reconstruction, 1840-1877”, 2020). As the war progressed, however, the South had to turn to coercion to a greater extent than the North to enlist soldiers. Although the North used similar tactics to a certain extent, its access to a large population gave it an advantage which only grew as the war progressed. Accordingly, the North could tap its wider population base and other advantages it had over the South.

Superior Industrial Might

The North had a superior industrial might that enabled the Union to access the needed resources and rely on an established manufacturing base. As one would expect of any war, economic resources were an important factor for the Union and Confederacy alike. Whereas the South was largely an agricultural economy, the North had robust industrial capacity with most of the nation’s manufacturing capacity. As of 1860, about ninety percent of manufactured products in the nation were produced in the North (Shea & Nardo, 2016, p. 14). The superior industrial might of the North emerged from the divergent approaches to education and the economy in the nineteenth century. About 25 percent of the Northern population lived in urban areas in 1860 compared to just 10% in the South (Shea & Nardo, 2016, p. 13). The largely rural, agricultural economy of the South implied higher levels of poverty and fewer resources for the war initiatives of the Confederacy. In contrast, the North was in a strong position to provide resources to sustain a larger army.

The superior industrial might of the North also implied a superior capacity to produce weaponry. Given that the majority of the nation’s manufacturing activities were concentrated in the North, the Union would spend fewer resources to address a gap in the manufacturing sector. Moreover, the North would also have access to superior weaponry. In contrast, the South was forced to elevate its consideration of the implications of a poor manufacturing sector for success in the war. Accordingly, whereas the South was obliged to set up a strong manufacturing sector to meet the needs of the war from a poor foundation, the North’s established industry gave it a heads start. As such, the North’s preparation as regards the manufacture of weaponry was a less demanding initiative. The superior industrial capacity helped the North to maintain technological superiority throughout the war (Shea & Nardo, 2016, 2016). Superior technology had a significant influence on the Union’s victory. The Union’s wartime initiatives such as logistics, communication, and combat were enhanced by superior technology. In his book, Thomas (2020) suggested that “technology won the Civil War” (p. 1). The author examined the contributions of engineers to the war and reinforced the notion that the North had a superior technological advantage that arose from its superior industrial might. The superior industrial might ensured that the North had access to superior technologies that enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of the army.

Superior Infrastructure

The North had a superior infrastructure to support its wartime supply chain spanning a large area. The underground railroad system in the North in 1860 was more developed compared to that in the South (“Underground Railroad 1860”, 1999). Thomas (2020) noted that the size of the railroad network in the North was three times that of the South at the onset of the war. The superior railroad system in the North reflected the superiority of the North as regards infrastructure. Such infrastructure was useful in planning for the war. The North could rely on the railroad system to transfer produce from farmers in states with agricultural bases such as Minnesota to factories in Pennsylvania and ultimately to soldiers. The South needed a defensive strategy to protect its territory and therefore faced the need to align its supply chain with this strategy. In contrast, the North needed to invade and conquer the South. Logistical problems were, therefore, a major concern for the North given the need for an offensive strategy and the expansive territory to cover. The benefits associated with a large population and availability of resources would have eluded the Union in the absence of proper logistics. The Union faced the need to maintain an expansive supply chain to enable it to implement its offensive strategy and restore the nation. The elaborate infrastructure system in the North aided the North’s preparation for the war in that the Union was be able to move soldiers and resources efficiently over long distances. The Union would have probably delayed its initial offense had it lacked a solution to the logistical problems it faced due to the expansive supply chain.

The infrastructure in the North enabled the Union to recalibrate and reengage after major losses. The offensive strategy did not go as initially envisioned in the North. The war was rife with raging battles across battlegrounds with significant casualties on both sides. The Union needed to ensure the availability of reinforcements to maintain offensive capabilities. The railroad system was a major boon because it supported the complex supply chain needs of the Union. Other infrastructure, including naval and road systems, was similarly pivotal. The North was able to exploit its advantages over the South, including superior infrastructure, to win the war. As the war raged, Confederate forces gradually lost access to food, footwear, clothing, medical supplies, and manpower (Dull, 2012, p. 289). These developments might have influenced Robert Lee, a wartime Confederate general, to conclude that his army had to yield to the overwhelming manpower and resources of the Union. Although access to more manpower and resources contributed to the North’s victory, Lee’s conclusion that these two were the only defining factors is misleading. Superior infrastructure and a confluence of other factors derived from the advantages the North had over the South together facilitated the Union’s victory.

Naval Power

The North’s control of the navy represented an important advantage and had major implications for the war. After the initial Southern states declared independence, they did not have a navy as the nation’s naval force wrested with the North. According to Dull (2012), the navy was one of the key underpinnings of the formidable war economy of the North (p. 84). The benefit of the Union’s navy would soon come forth as the war unfolded. The North had significant naval experience and expertise while the South not only lacked a navy but also lacked naval expertise and bureaucracy (Dull, 2012). In this regard, the naval capability of the North enhanced the North’s preparation for the war. Specifically, the North did not have to establish a naval force as it already had one. The availability of the navy supported the preparations for an offensive strategy across an expansive supply chain.

The role of the navy in aiding the Union to achieve victory became clear as the war progressed. Faced with the need to defend a long coastline, the South was in a precarious position. America’s rivers were particularly useful to the Union. According to Dull (2012), the Confederate Army lacked the naval power to use rivers for defensive purposes. The Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers penetrated the South, making it vulnerable to the naval capabilities of the North (Dull, 2012). One of the major turning points in the war was the naval blockade of the South by the North. The blockade restricted the South’s access to important import and export routes. Accordingly, the North’s naval capabilities had a profound impact on the war and contributed to the North’s preparations and eventual victory of the Union.


The notable advantages that helped the Union to prepare for the war and ultimately prevail included a larger population, superior industrial might, superior infrastructure, and control of the navy. The population of the North was more than two times that of the South and provided a larger source of manpower. The Union also benefited from a superior industrial might of the North compared to the South.  The North had superior infrastructure characterized by a robust railroad system. The North also controlled the navy and enforced a blockade of the Confederacy. These advantages worked well for the Union, leading the Confederacy to lose access to food, footwear, clothing, medical supplies, and manpower and eventually surrender.


Benedict, G. (1861, August 31). Camp McClellan, Davenport, Iowa. Letter to Susan Benedict, Norway. Retrieved from Accessed 27 September 2020.

Boatwright, J.  L., (1863, December 23). Savannah, Georgia, Letter to his Wife, Mrs. Boatwright, Columbia, South Carolina. Retrieved from Accessed September 27, 2020.

Civil War and Reconstruction, 1840-1877. (2020). In American History. Retrieved from

Dull, J. R. (2012). American Naval History, 1607-1865: Overcoming the Colonial Legacy. University of Nebraska Press.

Shea, T. M., & Nardo, D. (2016). The civil war: A nation divided. ProQuest Ebook Central

Thomas, L. (2020). The Civil War, 1861–1865. In American History. Retrieved from

Underground Railroad 1860 — North America, United States, Map,, 1999. ProQuest Ebook Central,