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Posted at 1:14 PM ET, 02/28/2011

John Marszalek: 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 John Marszalek

Giles Distinguished Professor Emeritus of history at Mississippi State University


One can not imagine the Confederacy surviving or even launching itself had federal forts, arsenals, post offices, mints, light houses, and ships remained in U. S. custody. The fact that these institutions actually stayed in local and state hands gave southerners the assurance that they really had a new nation and the essentials to survive.

It is true that the Confederate post office department, for example, had problems of efficiency, and mail from the northern states was cut off, but still there was mail and the local office remained open. Those committing a crime faced justice in the same buildings and usually from the same judges that had dispensed it before secession. Police, sheriffs, jailers, mayors, city councils, and state offices all usually stayed the same. After secession, life seemed to be going on.

More directly, the fact that the Confederacy held on to forts along the ocean made the war more difficult for Lincoln’s armies and navies. Blockade runners had places from which to sneak past the later blockading Union Navy, and such forts also prevented easy military entry into the South’s interior. In Virginia, the Gosport Navy Yard not only provided facilities for the building of ships for the fledgling Confederate Navy, but it also produced the ironclad ship Merrimac (Virginia) which terrorized the Union fleet and came close to decimating it.

Fort Sumter, the most famous of the Civil War forts in the South, provided the spark which started the war. Its stubborn defiance, along with the other Charleston forts, of repeated attempts to take that city cost the Union an enormous amount of time, energy, equipment, and casualties. The loss of so many black soldiers at Fort Wagner was the result of one of the many efforts to capture Charleston. When General Sherman reached the Atlantic Coast after his sensational march through Georgia, his troops first had to capture Fort McAllister before they could reach the ocean and the Navy supply ships. Fort Fisher in North Carolina survived until late in the war, providing refuge for southern ships and defense of that area of the Confederacy.

No one can ever be certain about such things, but it seems logical to assert that had not the South maintained its hold on federal installations, its war effort would have failed even more quickly than it actually did.

By John Marszalek  | February 28, 2011; 1:14 PM ET
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Next: 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?


I am a mere hobbiest of the plantation years and the pre and post civil war years. I am totally enthralled by all this wonderful info being provided with this series. I have read many diaries from the view of the more wealthy woman residing on the more prosperous southern plantations in and around different states of seccesion. I was very surprised to learn that these woman were very passionate about their views of the inpending war and during the Civil War itself, however I felt they did not really understand or suffer the devestation that befell most of the soldiers and the smaller farms and busnesses. I felt they saw the war more in an egotistcal, prideful, and entitled way of life and only became emotionally destressed with the death of a family or close friend during one of the battles or dieases that were also so deadly during this war. They still traveled and visited friends and family extensively and inturn housed many friends and family at the various homes each had acquried through marrage or inheritance. They were able to move out of harms way if the situation became compromised some actually traveled north to seccionist family members. Their diaries might mention some war news but most of the diaries I have read still concentrated on fashion, whom was marryng whom, what children were being born, their travels and all the friends they were entertaining. They also complaing about how it was so hard to find any men to help on the platations and they were now having to "actually" do some of the work themselves. And most revealing were the expressed views on how well the "negroes" were being treated as the chamber pots were being emptied by house "negroes" as diaries were being written. I felt many of these women did not have a clue as to the politics and the actual understanding of the enemy the south was up against. I read slim to nothing about the north's factories and the manufacturing of the munitions and the supplies the south could only dream about. I read mostly of fanciful, idlylic lives that only existed in the minds of the ones profitting from it off the ones they held in captivitey. I came away with the belief most of the wivies,sisters,aunts,etc. had not a real understandig of what the confedrate soldiers were induring in the battlefields, hosptals, and refugee camps, etc. I was bothered by the grandios ideas of the southern woman and the lack of reality of the south's true circumstances. Most of the diaries I have read thus far end just a few years after the war. It appears at this time ,for most, reality hits and the women no longer have the heart to write about the destuction or the survival they are forced to live and witness. A few did die because of child birth and diease but the remainder do go forth in life but loose the enthusiasm to continue diaries. Thus far, I have found, men mostly tend to chronical the reconstruction years and it's chaos.
Thanks for the wealth of historical info and allowing me to share.

Posted by: Cat1953 | March 6, 2011 12:21 AM | Report abuse

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