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Posted at 1:17 PM ET, 02/28/2011

Dennis Frye: By the end of February, 1861, federal forts, arsenals. post offices and court houses in the Deep South had been seized by Confederate troops; how much did this help the South in its war effort and how much did the loss hurt the North?

By Dennis Frye

Chief Historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Frye

No nation operates without government infrastructure. The Confederate seizure of United States assets provided the seceded states with instant infrastructure to operate the mail service, ensure commerce activities and conduct the courts.

To ensure the confiscation did not appear as theft, the Provisional Confederate Constitution included a provision (Article VI, Section II) for the new nation to settle all matters in relation to U.S. public property and public debt, declaring the Confederacy's "wish and earnest desire to adjust everything pertaining to the common property, common liability, and common obligations of that Union, upon the principles of right, justice, and equity and good faith." The document did not identify the funding source for these fiscal obligations.

No nation survives without the means of defense.The Confederate seizure of coastal fortifications and their formidable cannon offered port cities, critical to Southern commerce, instant protection from invaders at sea. Possession of arsenals throughout the Deep South ensured small arms for state militias to protect against slave insurrection, and if necessary, potential legions from the North. Southern leaders cheered, as they had accomplished these seizures without losing a drop of blood. One matter remained problematic, however--possession of the means of production of weapons of war.

The only federal armory in the South was at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Since Virginia had resisted sudden secession, the Harpers Ferry weapons machinery remained off limits to the Confederacy. Tens of thousands of weapons in border state arsenals also remained the property of the USA since these ruminating states like North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Maryland still flew the flag of the USA. The question that sizzled as Lincoln prepared to give his first inaugural address--would these moderate states, in case of war, turn the weapons of the United States against their Southern slave-state brethren?

By Dennis Frye  | February 28, 2011; 1:17 PM ET
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