The Confederate States of America (informally, the Confederacy) was a government created from an alliance of eleven southern states that had seceded from the United States between December 1860 and April 1861.
The Civil War that was begun by the Confederate shelling of Fort Sumter proved disastrous; four years of savage fighting ended with the fledgling government defeated and dissolved, leaving the southern states a financial and industrial wreck.
The main reason for secession was to preserve slavery-but all the slaves were emancipated with no compensation to the owners. After the war, the states were later readmitted during Reconstruction.
For the social, political, economic, and diplomatic history, see the Civil War home front.
Seven southern states seceded from the United States of America over the winter of 1860-61 and joined together as the "Confederate States of America" to protect their sovereignty and economic status.
The political future for slavery and for Southern commerce was bleak, as the South was losing relative strength in Congress.
Arguing that their Constitutional states' rights protected the extension of slavery into America's western territories, they saw that issue rejected in the North.
The Union government rejected the claims that a state had a right to secede.
When fighting began in April, Lincoln called on all states to send troops; at this point, four more states broke away and joined the Confederacy: Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
Of the 15 slave states, four remained in the United States: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. Residents of the latter three states raised regiments for the Confederacy, although not as an official act of their governments.
In addition, Kentucky and Missouri saw the establishment of Confederate legislatures within their borders, which sent delegates to the Confederate Congress.
West Virginia broke away from Virginia during the war and joined the Union as a state.
The president of the Confederate States of America was Jefferson Davis, a former Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce and a Senator from Mississippi.
Richmond, Virginia, became the capital of the Confederacy after that state seceded. It was a poor choice for a war capital because it was hard to supply and hard to defend.
Starting in 1862, General Robert E. Lee led the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia against the Union armies, which were led by various generals appointed by Abraham Lincoln, with the last and most successful being General Ulysses S. Grant.
Lee proved a tenacious defender of Richmond, which had an exposed position and a long, difficult supply line. Grant wore down Lee's army, which was unable to replace its casualties, supplies, and desertions.
The Confederate States of America claimed a total of 2,919 miles (4,698 km) of coastline. A large part of this territory lay on the sea coast with level and sandy ground.
The interior portions were hilly and mountainous, and the far western territories were deserts.
The lower reaches of the Mississippi River bisected the country, with the western half referred to as the Trans-Mississippi.
Much of the area claimed by the CSA had a humid subtropical climate with mild winters and long, hot, humid summers.
The climate varied from the semi-arid steppe and arid desert west of longitude 96 degrees west.
The subtropical climate made winters mild but allowed infectious diseases to flourish. Consequently, the disease killed more soldiers than did enemy action.
In peacetime, the vast system of navigable rivers allowed for cheap and easy transportation of farm products. The railroad system was built as a supplement, tying plantation areas to the nearest river or seaport.
The vast geography made for difficult Union logistics and Union soldiers were used to garrisoning captured areas and protecting rail lines. But, the Union Navy seized most of the navigable rivers by 1862, making its own logistics easy and Confederate movements difficult.
After the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863, it became impossible for units of any size to cross the Mississippi since Union gunboats constantly patrolled it. The South thus lost the use of its western regions.
The area claimed by the Confederate States of America was overwhelmingly rural. Small towns of more than 1,000 were few - the typical county seat had a population of fewer than 500 people.
Cities were rare. New Orleans was the only Southern city on the list of the top 10 largest U.S. cities in the 1860 census, and it was captured by the Union in 1862.
Only 13 Confederate cities ranked among the top 100 U.S. cities in 1860, most of them ports whose economic activities were shut down by the Union blockade.
The population of Richmond swelled after it became the national capital, reaching an estimated 128,000 in 1864.
Other large Southern cities such as Baltimore, St. Louis, Louisville, and Washington, as well as Wheeling, West Virginia, and Alexandria, Virginia (both located in territory that had officially seceded), were never under the control of the Confederate government.
Before the war, the states that formed the Confederacy had an agrarian economy with exports, to a world market, of cotton and, to a lesser extent, tobacco and sugar.
Local food production included grains, hogs, cattle, and gardens. The 11 states produced $155 million in manufactured goods in 1860, chiefly from local grist mills, lumber, processed tobacco, cotton goods, and naval stores such as turpentine.
The CSA adopted a low tariff of 15% but imposed it on all imports from the rest of the United States, making one of the greatest tax increases in American history.
The tariff mattered little; the Confederacy's ports were blocked to commercial traffic by the Union's blockade, and very few people paid taxes on goods smuggled from the Union states.
The government collected about $3.5 million in tariff revenue from the start of their war against the Union to late 1864.
The lack of adequate financial resources led the Confederacy to finance the war by printing money, which led to high inflation.
Historian Emory Thomas compared the correspondence sent by the Confederate government in the first year of its existence to different governments. He writes,
The Southern nation was, by turns, a guileless people attacked by a voracious neighbor, an 'established' nation in some temporary difficulty, a collection of bucolic aristocrats making a romantic stand against the banalities of industrial democracy, a cabal of commercial farmers seeking to make a pawn of King Cotton, an apotheosis of nineteenth-century nationalism and revolutionary liberalism, or the ultimate statement of social and economic reaction."
The example of the U. S. Constitution clearly guided the drafters of the Confederate Constitution, enabling the latter group to complete their work in less than half as much time.
However, this Confederate Constitution contained a provision banning efforts to end de jure slavery, found in Article I, Section 9, clause 4, lumped in with the provisions banning ex post facto laws and bills of attainder.
Another clause banned the international slave trade but permitted the importation of slaves from the United States; this clause was consistent with the United States banning of Atlantic slave trading in 1808, which had the effect of improving the domestic slave market, benefiting states such as Virginia.
The wording of this clause demonstrates that the drafters clearly anticipated that not all slave states would secede, although they also included a provision for accepting new states into the Confederacy.
This proved essential when Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina seceded from the United States after the Confederate Constitution was in effect.
Although the Confederate document includes no bill of rights, the Ninth Amendment and Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights are reproduced in Article VI as Sections 5 and 6.
The Confederate Constitution implemented a ban on a religious test for office in Section 4, notwithstanding the preamble's invocation of God's blessing on the Confederate experiment. Other differences had to do with the appropriations process in Congress.
Not only was a line-item veto expressly included, but Congress required a two-thirds supermajority to appropriate any funds not specifically requested by the President, giving Jefferson Davis, in a real sense, more Constitutional power than Abraham Lincoln possessed - an irony, given the Confederate states' putative objection to centralized power.
Despite the later romanticization of the Confederate cause, the perpetuation of Southern conceptions of race and slavery was of prime importance to the new nation.
In his "Cornerstone Speech," Vice President Alexander Stephens argued that a major difference between the Confederate Constitution and the United States Constitution was the belief that blacks were not inherently equal.
In describing this fundamental difference, Stephens said,
The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution-African slavery as it exists amongst us-the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution... Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, and its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.
The rejection of slavery as a dominant ideology of the Confederate States began after the Civil War, as Confederate leaders sought to legitimize their failed rebellion.
President of the Congress:
Robert Woodward Barnwell, 4 Feb 1861 (served for several hours)
Howell Cobb, 4 Feb 1861 - 18 Feb 1861
President Pro Tempore of the Senate:
Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter, 18 Feb 1862 - 18 Mar 1865
President Pro Tempore of the Provisional Congress:
Robert Woodward Barnwell, 4 Feb 1861 - 16 Mar 1861
Thomas Stanhope Bobcock, Josiah A.P. Campbell, 18 Nov 1861 - 17 Feb 1862
Speaker of the House of Representatives:
Thomas Stanhope Bobcock, 18 Feb 1862 - 18 Mar 1865
President of the Confederate States:
Jefferson Finis Davis, 18 Feb 1861 - 10 May 1865 (provisional president to 6 Nov 1861)
Vice President of the Confederate States:
Alexander Hamilton Stephens, 18 Feb 1861 - 11 May 1865 (provisional vice president to 6 Nov 1861)
Secretary of State:
Robert Augustus Toombs, 21 Feb 1861 - 24 Jul 1861
Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter, 25 Jul 1861 - 1 Feb 1862
William Montague Brown, 1 Feb 1862 - 17 Mar 1862
Judah P. Benjamin, 18 Mar 1862 - 3 May 1865
Judah Philip Benjamin, 25 Feb 1861 - 17 Sep 1861
Wade Rutledge Keyes, 17 Sep 1861 - 21 Nov 1861
Thomas Bragg, Jr., 21 Nov 1861 - 17 Mar 1862
Thomas Hill Watts, 18 Mar 1862 - 1 Oct 1863
Wade Rutledge Keyes, 1 Oct 1863 - 2 Jan 1864
George Davis, 2 Jan 1864 - 24 Apr 1865
Commissioner of Patents:
Rufus Randolph Rhodes, 31 May 1861 - Apr 1865
Henry T. Ellet, 25 Feb 1861 - 6 Mar 1861 (nominated and confirmed; declined appointment)
John Henninger Reagan, 6 Mar 1861 - 5 May 1865
Secretary of the Treasury:
Christopher Gustavus Memminger, 21 Feb 1861 - 18 Jul 1864
George Alfred Trenholm, 18 Jul 1864 - 27 Apr 1865
John Henninger Reagan, 28 Apr 1865 - 4 May 1865
Treasurer of the Confederate States:
Edward Carrington Elmore, 6 Mar 1861 - 1865
Comptroller and Solicitor:
Lewis Cruger, 1861 - 1865
Secretary of War:
Leroy Pope Walker, 21 Feb 1861 - 16 Sep 1861
Judah Philip Benjamin, 17 Sep 1861 - 23 Mar 1862
George Wythe Randolph, 24 Mar 1862 - 17 Nov 1862
Gustavus Woodson Smith, 17 Nov 1862 - 21 Nov 1862
James Alexander Seddon, 21 Nov 1862 - 6 Feb 1865
John Cabell Breckenridge, 6 Feb 1865 - 5 May 1865
Chiefs of the Army Engineers Bureau (subordinated to Secretary of War):
Josiah Gorgas, 8 Apr 1861 - 3 Aug 1861
Danville Leadbetter, 3 Aug 1861 - 10 Nov 1861
Alfred Landon Rives, 13 Nov 1861 - 24 Sep 1862
Jeremy Francis Gilmer, 25 Sep 1862 - 17 Aug 1863
Alfred Landon Rives, 18 Aug 1863 - 9 Mar 1864
Martin Luther Smith, 9 Mar 1864 - Apr 1864
Alfred Landon Rives, Apr 1864 - Jun 1864
Jeremy Francis Gilmer, Jun 1864 - Apr 1865
Commissioner of Indian Territory (subordinated to Secretary of War):
Albert Pike, 16 Mar 1861 - 1862
Benjamin J. McCullough, 1862 - 7 Mar 1862
Albert Pike, 1862 - 5 Nov 1862
Douglas Hancock Cooper, Nov 1862 - Jan 1863
William Steels, Jan 1863 - Dec 1863
Commander of the Department of Indian Territory and Superintendent of Indian Affairs (subordinated to Secretary of War):
Samuel Ball Maxey, Dec 1863 - 1865
Douglas Hancock Cooper, 1865
Surgeon-general (subordinated to Secretary of War):
Samuel Preston Moore, 16 Mar 1861 - 1865
Secretary of the Navy:
Stephan Russell Mallory, 4 Mar 1861 - 5 May 1865
Colonel-Commandant of the Confederate States Marine Corps (subordinated to Secretary of the Navy):
Lloyd J. Beall, 23 May 1861 - 10 May 1865
Superintendent of the Confederate States Naval Academy:
A federal court system with a chief justice was not created during the 1861-1865 Confederacy.
Relations with the United States
For the four years of its existence, the Confederate States of America asserted its independence and appointed dozens of diplomatic agents abroad.
The United States government, by contrast, asserted that the Southern states were provinces in rebellion and refused any formal recognition of their status.
Thus, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward issued formal instructions to Charles Francis Adams Sr., the new minister to Great Britain:
You will indulge in no expressions of harshness or disrespect, or even impatience concerning the seceding States, their agents, or their people. But you will, on the contrary, all the while remember that those States are now, as they always heretofore have been, and, notwithstanding their temporary self-delusion, they must always continue to be equal and honored members of this Federal Union, and that their citizens throughout all political misunderstandings and alienations, still are and always must be our kindred and countrymen.
However, if the British seemed inclined to recognize the Confederacy or even waver in that regard, they were to be sharply warned, with a strong hint of war:
[if Britain is] tolerating the application of the so-called seceding States, or wavering about it, you will not leave them to suppose for a moment that they can grant that application and remain friends with the United States. You may even assure them promptly, in that case, that if they determine to recognize, they may at the same time prepare to enter into alliance with the enemies of this republic."
The Confederate Congress responded to the hostilities by formally declaring war on the United States in May 1861 - calling it "The War between the Confederate States of America and the United States of America."
The Union government never declared war but conducted its war efforts under a proclamation of blockade and rebellion.
Mid-war negotiations between the two sides occurred without formal political recognition, though the laws of war governed military relationships.
Four years after the war, in 1869, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. White that secession was unconstitutional and legally null.
The court's opinion was authored by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase. Jefferson Davis and his vice president Alexander Stephens both wrote long books expounding their theories of secession's legality.
Once the war with the United States began, the best hope for the survival of the Confederacy was military intervention by Britain and France.
The U.S. realized that too and made it clear that recognition of the Confederacy meant war with the United States - and the cutoff of food shipments into Britain.
The Confederates who had believed in "King Cotton" - that is, Britain had to support the Confederacy to obtain cotton for its industries - were proven wrong. Britain, in fact, had ample stores of cotton in 1861 and depended much more on grain from the U.S.
During its existence, the Confederate government sent repeated delegations to Europe; historians do not give them high marks for diplomatic skills.
James M. Mason was sent to London as Confederate minister to Queen Victoria, and John Slidell was sent to Paris as minister to Napoleon III.
Both were able to obtain private meetings with high British and French officials, but they failed to secure official recognition for the Confederacy. Britain and the United States were at sword's point during the Trent Affair in late 1861.
Mason and Slidell had been illegally seized from a British ship by an American warship. Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, helped calm the situation, and Lincoln released Mason and Slidell, so the episode was no help to the Confederacy.
Throughout the early years of the war, British foreign secretary Lord Russell and Napoleon III, and, to a lesser extent, British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, explored the risks and advantages of recognition of the Confederacy, or at least of offering a mediation.
Recognition meant certain war with the United States, loss of American grain, loss of exports to the United States, loss of huge investments in American securities, loss of Canada and other North American colonies, much higher taxes, many lives lost, and a severe threat to the entire British merchant marine, in exchange for the possibility of some cotton.
Many party leaders and the general public wanted no war with such high costs and meager benefits. Recognition was considered following the Second Battle of Manassas when the British government was preparing to mediate in the conflict, but the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, combined with internal opposition, caused the government to back away.
No country appointed any diplomat officially to the Confederacy, but several maintained their consuls in the South who had been appointed before the war.
In 1863, the Confederacy expelled all foreign consuls (all of them British or French diplomats) for advising their subjects to refuse to serve in combat against the U.S.
Throughout the war, most European powers adopted a policy of neutrality, meeting informally with Confederate diplomats but withholding diplomatic recognition.
None ever sent an ambassador or official delegation to Richmond. However, they applied international law principles that recognized the Union and Confederate sides as belligerents.
Canada allowed both Confederate and Union agents to work openly within its borders, and some state governments in northern Mexico negotiated local agreements to cover trade on the Texas border.
Died of States Rights?
Historian Frank Lawrence Owsley argued that the Confederacy "died of states' rights." That is, strong-willed governors and state legislatures refused to give the national government the soldiers and money it needed because they feared that Richmond was encroaching on the rights of the states.
Historians agree that northern governors were much more supportive of Lincoln's policies. Georgia's governor, Joseph Brown, warned that he saw the signs of a deep-laid conspiracy on the part of Jefferson Davis to destroy states' rights and individual liberty.
Almost every act of usurpation of power or of bad faith has been conceived, brought forth, and nurtured in secret session.
To grant the Confederate government the power to draft soldiers was the "essence of military despotism." In 1863, Governor Pendleton Murrah of Texas insisted that Texas troops were needed for self-defense (against Indians or a threatened Union invasion) and refused to send them East.
Zebulon Vance, the governor of North Carolina, was notoriously hostile to Davis and his demands. Opposition to conscription in North Carolina was intense, and its results were disastrous for recruiting. Governor Vance's faith in states' rights drove him into a stubborn opposition.
Vice President Stephens broke publicly with President Davis, saying any accommodation would only weaken the republic, and he, therefore, had no choice but to break publicly with the Confederate administration and the president.
Stephens charged that allowing Davis to make "arbitrary arrests" and to draft state officials conferred on him more power than the English Parliament had ever bestowed on the king. History proved the dangers of such unchecked authority."
He added that Davis intended to suppress the peace meetings in North Carolina and "put a muzzle upon certain presses" (especially the antiwar newspaper Raleigh Standard) in order to control elections in that state.
Echoing Patrick Henry's "give me liberty or give me death," Stephens warned the Southerners they should never view liberty as "subordinate to independence" because the cry of "independence first and liberty second" was a "fatal delusion."
As historian George Rable concludes,
For Stephens, the essence of patriotism, the heart of the Confederate cause, rested on an unyielding commitment to traditional rights. In his idealist vision of politics, military necessity, pragmatism, and compromise meant nothing.
The survival of the Confederacy depended on a strong base of civilians and soldiers devoted to victory. The soldiers performed well, though increasing numbers deserted in the last year.
The civilians, although enthusiastic in 1861-62, seem to have lost faith in the nation's future by 1864 and instead looked to protect their homes and communities instead.
As Rable explains,
As the Confederacy shrank, citizens' sense of the cause more than ever narrowed to their own states and communities.
This contraction of civic vision was more than a crabbed libertarianism; it represented an increasingly widespread disillusionment with the Confederate experiment.
While the Northern States had modernized and embraced the industrial revolution, incorporating new technology and rebuilding infrastructure to support it, the South had remained agrarian, and reliant on slave labor to boost productivity.
The Southern economic model was challenged by its lack of access to capital.
When a businessman in the North wanted to build a factory, he could obtain a loan from the bank or from a group of investors, pay the labor and material costs to erect it, maintain the factory as collateral, paying back the loan with cash flow from the business.
The capital was constantly liquid, changing hands from one individual to another.
Banks were fewer in the South, and most plantation profits went to purchases of more slaves and more land.
Legacy of destruction
The principal physical legacy of the Confederacy was mass destruction. Four years of the Civil War killed at least 620,000 soldiers (counting deaths from disease as well as in battle), of whom approximately 260,000 were from the Confederacy.
This represented a much larger fraction (slightly over one quarter) of the Confederacy's military-age free men than was lost by the Union.
An unknown number of civilians also died, in part as a result of the campaign of the systematic destruction of the infrastructure in late 1864 and early 1865 by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, which helped not only to destroy the will of the Confederacy to fight but literally to destroy the parts of the civilian economy useful to the war effort.
Severe damage was inflicted on both urban and rural communities in the South, and hundreds of thousands of people became refugees.
The exigencies of total war had led to the destruction of much Southern infrastructure, in particular railroads, long before 1864.
Upon the Confederate defeat, General Lee, on April 9, 1865, ruled out continuing to fight against insurgents. To have done otherwise would have been folly.
The Union was prepared to use techniques it had learned in Missouri: move all the hostile civilians into concentration camps, thus cutting off supplies to the insurgents, and then hunt down the rebel bands one by one.
The extent of wartime destruction
Most of the war was fought in Virginia and Tennessee, but every state was affected. There was little military action in Texas and Florida.
Of 645 counties in 9 Confederate states (excluding Texas and Florida), there was Union military action in 56%, containing 63% of the whites and 64% of the slaves in 1860; however, when the action took place, some people had fled to safer areas, so the exact population exposed to war is unknown.
Towns and cities
The Confederacy in 1861 had 297 towns and cities with 835,000 people; of these, 162 with 681,000 people were at one point occupied by Union forces.
Eleven were destroyed or severely damaged by war action, including Atlanta (with an 1860 population of 9,554), Charleston, Columbia, and Richmond (with prewar populations of 40,522, at least 8,052, and 37,910, respectively); the eleven contained 115,916 people in the 1860 census or 14% of the urban South.
Historians have not estimated their population when they were invaded. The number of people who lived in the destroyed places represented just over 1% of the Confederacy's population. In addition, 45 courthouses were burned (out of 830).
The South's agriculture was not highly mechanized. The value of farm implements and machinery in the 1860 Census was $81 million; by 1870, there was 40% less, of $48 million worth. Many old tools had broken through heavy use and could not be replaced; even repairs were difficult.
Railroad mileage was, of course, mostly in rural areas. The war followed the rails, and over two-thirds of the rails and rolling stock were in areas reached by Union armies, which systematically destroyed what it could.
The South had 9400 miles of track, and 6500 miles were in areas reached by the Union armies. About 4400 miles were in areas where Sherman and other Union generals adopted a policy of systematic destruction of the rail system.
Even in untouched areas, the lack of maintenance and repair, the absence of new equipment, the heavy over-use, and the deliberate movement of equipment by the Confederates from remote areas to the war zone guaranteed the system would be virtually ruined at war's end.
Slavery was abolished in the Confederacy, not in the four slave states that had not seceded- by Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, by the U.S. Army, and by the Thirteenth Amendment, which became law in late 1865.
The seceding states all rescinded their ordinances of secession and were admitted, one by one, back into the Union by a government that had previously maintained that it was not possible to secede from the Union.
This was done by the process of Reconstruction. Reconstruction began during the war and ended in 1877.
There was never any effort to revive the Confederacy, but nostalgia for the Lost Cause poisoned relations from the war and the destruction of Southern property, and the vengeful administration of Reconstruction soured north-south relations until at least the 1890s. Some Southerners insisted on white supremacy.
After Reconstruction, the Redeemers (white Democrats) took full control and slowly removed the voting rights and some of the legal rights of the Freedmen, installing a system of segregation known as Jim Crow.
The region became a Democratic Party stronghold for a century.
Economically, the South was badly damaged and fell far behind the North in terms of prosperity; it took 100 years for the South to catch up.