Books NF Why the North Won the Civil War


Lieutenant General
- ★★★ -
Managing Member & Webmaster
Apr 1, 1999
Martinsburg, WV

Why the North Won the Civil War
by David Herbert Donald

In this classic exploration of the Confederacy’s defeat in the Civil War, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner David Herbert Donald and author of Lincoln assembles insightful and probing essays from six of America’s most distinguished historians.

Focusing on the political, military, economic, social, and diplomatic reasons behind the Union victory, this collection presents the most complete picture of this key aspect of Civil War studies. In an essay new to this edition, Henry Steele Commager offers a historiographical overview of the collapse of the Confederacy. Richard N. Current describes the economic superiority of the North and shows how the civilian resources of the South were dissipated during the war. T. Harry Williams examines the deficiencies of the Southern military strategy and leadership. Norman A. Graebner discusses the reluctance of France and England to aid the South.

David Herbert Donald, in his own essay, reports that excessive Southern emphasis on individual freedom fatally undermined military discipline. And David M. Potter suggests that a lack of political leadership in the South resulted in gross incompetence. And exclusively for this edition, the editor has written a new foreword and completely updated the bibliography to create the most comprehensive and enlightening guide to understanding why the North won the Civil War.

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Lt. Colonel
Apr 4, 2017
Denver, CO
1. The US was wired for telegraph communication and the two belligerents existed adjacent to each other. The response of the US was measured in days and weeks. As the Kentuckians noticed, the US land and river forces had numerous entry points into the Confederacy. Therefore the Confederacy got little benefit from inertia and distance.
2. The US had enormous naval capacity. The bases, harbors and construction wharves existed on the Atlantic Coast, on the internal rivers, and even at Mare Island, CA. The chance for the Confederacy to score a quick victory was virtually nil. The US navy was going to deploy and because the naval vessels were steam powered, they were the most powerful weapon systems of the war.
3. Once the navy had achieved its main objectives, it was mainly a logistical contest. The US had a domestic railroad industry, which had reached critical mass before 1861, and the US had the larger and growing agricultural area. The US could engage in a war of overwhelming force, and by late 1864 it did that. They conclusion was a total victory and a crushing defeat.


Lt. Colonel
Apr 4, 2017
Denver, CO
The US might not won in one war. But because immigration barely paused in 1861 and 1862, by the end of Civil War decade the US had more fighting age men then when the decade began, many more. Its industrial base was untouched and growing and its work force and military manpower were increasing. The US would have crushed the Confederacy in any second round of fighting.


Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Jul 8, 2015
This revised edition published 25 years ago. The original first published in 1962.

Donald was very highly thought of in his day. He was the co-author of my college textbook of Civil War history.