--FIRST -PREV NEXT-
In hindsight, it's fairly plain that Scott's plan to relieve Fort Sumter would have been too little, too late, even if it were possible to have put the plan into action immediately. Secretary of War Floyd had seen to that, having denuded the Southern harbor forts of men and materiel in the year before. It's a pity, because for once, Buchanan had been stirred to prompt action. In the first week of January, it was enacted just as Scott had said; a US Navy warship escorted the civilian steamship Star of the West down to Charleston, loaded with men and supplies to relieve the garrison at Fort Sumter. The mission was laid on with as much secrecy as could have been expected. It was, unfortunately, so secret that Major Anderson didn't know they were coming. As the ships entered the harbor, they were fired upon by cadets from The Citadel who were manning the guns of the landward harbor forts. Major Anderson could have supported the ships with suppressive fire, except that he had been drilling his men, and his guns were loaded with the wrong ammunition. He could only watch in frustration as the ships withdrew from the harbor.
In quick succession, almost as if in reaction, Southern states began adopting resolutions of secession. On the 9th, Mississippi. Then a day later, Florida, and a day after that, Alabama. Then on the 18th, Georgia. Louisiana and Texas would follow shortly, the latter under the protest of her governor, Sam Houston. Sam Houston argued strenuously against secession. No one could accuse him of animus against his state -- were it not for Houston's leadership at San Jacinto, there might not even be a Texas -- but passions ran too high for him to counter. Houston resigned rather than sign the instrument of secession.
Meanwhile, one last gasp at compromise had been made, this time by Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden. Crittenden proposed that the Missouri Compormise line be made permanent, and slavery allowed in perpetuity south of it. It was basically a non-starter; given that there was maybe ten square miles of decent agricultural land in the territories south of said line. Excepting California, which as we mentioned earlier, had entered the Union as a free state.
The positions had now hardened beyond a point of no return. The states that had bolted the Union were now dead-set on forming themselves into a new nation of their own.
As an independent nation, the Southerners would have many disadvantages, and only one clear advantage.
This is what I was getting at earlier with the Tale of the Tape: the Southern states faced a severe shortfall in terms of population, in terms of railroad and transportation capacity, and in terms of manufacturing capability.
Population: The states that would eventually become the Union held 21.6 million free, less than half a million slaves. The rest of the states together held five million free, with three million slaves. Of those five million, only about half were male; and not all of those were of military age, and not all of those could be spared for duty. On the face of it they were outnumbered four to one, and when you cut out the people left behind to guard and supervise the slave population, it was probably more like five or six to one.
Transportation: The transportation picture didn't look so dire, with the North having twice as many rail miles as the South, but that figure belied the picture. Northern rail lines would commonly go all the way through a town, allowing unimpeded access. Southern rail lines would commonly stop at the edge of a town, requiring a labor gang to unload a train and haul the cargo across town. Goods and cargo could not flow as smoothly. Not a problem in peacetime, especially where bulk goods are concerned; but it could become a crippling problem in wartime where every hour can count.
Manufacturing: New England alone equaled the output of all Southern states. What more need be said? The South could not produce its own munitions, heavy guns, or finished goods of any sort. They pinned their entire hope on being supplied with munitions from abroad.
All that said, the South still had one key advantage, one that would last a few years before the rest could catch up with them. They had no standing army.
Yes, in a perverse way, that was an advantage. You see, in the Union, you had a sharp division between Regular officers and volunteer or militia officers, with the Regular officers having all the important commands in the early phases of the War. Some of those regulars were good. Some, not so good. A few couldn't find their own hindquarters with both hands, a map, and a compass. Some of their best officers were actually in militia or volunteer units, and it would take years for them to rise to positions of power and influence. The South did not have this problem, and could put their most able men in key positions right away. This gave them a crucial leadership advantage in the early stage of the conflict.
The lines were drawn, and just about everyone knew it was going to come to grief. Now, it was all a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop.