Similarities Between the North & South During the Civil War

by Dennis Ova

History books have long explained the differences between the North and South during the Civil War of 1861 to 1865. But the two sides were also similar in many ways. It was called the war between brothers in part because their political, economic, social and military systems were nearly the same.

Political Systems

The sides were clearly divided on the issue of state's rights. But states and smaller local governments in both regions divided power between an executive branch, a legislative body, and a judiciary. When the Southern states began to secede to form the Confederate government, they maintained the American democratic model complete with separation of powers. Prior to secession, virtually all Confederate leaders held some form of government office. They carried most of the system over to their new government.

Economic Systems

The economies of both sides relied heavily on farming, and both used similar methods to work the land. Although the North experienced far more industrialization, farming factored just as heavily into its economy as in the South. In the North, states raised wheat and corn primarily while the South rested its economic hopes almost solely cotton and rice.

Social Systems

Slavery is the most obvious example of social inequality in the South prior to and during the civil war. Outside of slavery, however, the social strata of the North and South were very similar. Class structure in both developed along very similar lines with a large lower class, a smaller middle class, and a much smaller upper class. Indeed, slave owners consisted primarily of relatively tiny group of wealthy plantation owners. While the majority of southern citizens sympathized with slave owners, most, like their Northern counterparts, were not slave owners themselves.

Military Systems

The North and the South were arguably more similar in terms of their military systems than in any other aspect. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was trained at West Point Military Academy, and served as a colonel in the United States Army. His commanding general, Robert E. Lee, was also educated at West Point, as was his opposite, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The heavy West Point influence on both sides meant the strategies and tactics, weaponry, training, rank structure, and chains of command were virtually the same in both armies.

The Soldiers

The actual soldiers had a lot in common, including social status. Most of them, even those from Union cities, were volunteers who didn't have a lot of money. They also shared social interests such as sports and music. Baseball, for example, was played in some form in both regions prior to the Civil War. Soldiers adopted it as their own pastime while in camp or prison. It served as a morale booster as well as a means for physical conditioning. Music was a huge common ground. Some individual regiments retained enough musicians to perform concerts for the resting men. Each side had songs that supported its cause, but there were common favorites too. One famous story concerns an impromptu battle of the bands that took place while the armies were camped on opposite sides of a river in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The bands alternated songs for hours. Finally, they played "Home, Sweet Home" at the same time. Men on both sides cheered.

About the Author

Dennis Ova is a human services supervisor for the state of Kansas as well as a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He received his Bachelor of Arts in English literature and his Master of Public Administration from Kansas State University.

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