On the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, David Williams writes that it was the Southerners themselves who brought down the Confederacy:
‘More has been published about the American Civil War than any other era in US history. But for all that has been written about the war, one is astonished at how little we seem to really understand it, especially the reasons for Confederate defeat. ‘Nearly every US history textbook notes that the North had more industry than the South. Yet the Confederacy never lost a major battle for lack of munitions. What Confederate armies constantly lacked was food. One of the great ironies of the war was that the industrial North fed its soldiers fairly well, whereas the agricultural South did not. Transportation problems have sometimes been blamed for the shortcoming, but a far greater problem was that planters grew too much cotton, exporting millions of bales by land and sea. In so doing, they quite literally starved the Confederacy out of existence.
‘Textbooks also note that the North’s population was double that of the South. Yet it was not Northerners that gave Union armies their two-to-one numerical advantage. Roughly a quarter of Union forces were composed of men, white and black, from the slave states. Had those Southerners served with Confederate forces, the two sides would have been evenly matched.
‘The Confederate army’s manpower problems were made even worse by a desertion rate that was at least double that of the Union army. Most Southern soldiers left at the call of their women back home, who were in such dire straits that they rioted in nearly every major Southern city and many smaller ones. They also wrote letters to their men encouraging them to desert. In September 1864, Confederate President Jefferson Davis publicly admitted that “two-thirds of our men are absent . . . most of them without leave.”
‘Tens of thousands of those deserters joined anti-Confederate guerrilla bands that ranged throughout the South. They often worked with the assistance of blacks, who either operated under the noses of slaveholders or simply walked away. In a very real sense, one can say that it was Southerners who defeated the Confederacy, with, of course, a bit of help from the Yankees.’