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The Confederacy Begins to Collapse from Within
Digital History ID 413

Author:   John McKinley Gibson


Initially, Lincoln and his generals anticipated a conventional war in which Union soldiers would respect civilians' property. Convinced that there was residual unionist support in the South, they expected to preserve the South's economic base, including its factories and rail lines. But as the war dragged on, the Civil War became history's first total war, a war in which the Union sought the Confederacy's total defeat and unconditional surrender. To achieve success, Union officers such as Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman believed that it was necessary to break the South's will to fight. Sherman summed up the idea of total war in blunt terms: "We are not only fighting hostile armies," he declared in 1864, "but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war."

A year earlier, a general order was issued that declared that military necessity "allows of all destruction of property" and "appropriation of whatever an enemy's country affords necessary for the subsistence and safety of the Army." This order allowed soldiers to destroy anything that might be of use to the Confederacy.

By the Fall of 1864, the Confederacy was beginning to show signs of collapse. It extended the draft age from 17 to 50. By early 1865, the need for manpower was so great that the Confederate Congress authorized arming 300,000 slave troops.


We are both glad to hear that you were all well, and that the Federals had given you no more than the ordinary trouble. I suppose you have the same trials that you had when I was with you. There is no such thing as satisfying a Negro without slavery. They do not know their own wants and unless there is some one to teach them, they are but as little children. I hope they may in some way be made to feel that they are not the superiors of the whites....

Have you seen the "Currency Bill" passed by the C[onfederate] S[tates's] Congress at its last session. One hundred dollar notes are taxed firstly with a discount of 83 percent and there is a tax of ten cents on a dollar every month. So that in a short time they will be valueless.... I am sorry I did not bring out with me all the Confederate money I could get. I was afraid something would be done to reduce the redundancy of the currency, which would result in a great depreciation of the old issue. Follow Lee's advice as far as practicable. I do not look upon matters in exactly the same light that he does though you should be prepared for the worst.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Lieutenant John McKinley Gibson to his father, Tobias Gibson

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