Where was the Civil War won?

I belong to a couple of Civil War discussion groups.  The question “Where was the war won?  And who won it?” was asked in my CivWar West group.  My response, copied below, caused more activity than the group had generated in months.  You be the judge — probably nutty, but possibly insightful, yet I hope interesting in either case.


 After considerable thought and analysis, I’ve come to my conclusion.  The Civil War was won in:

                Pittsburgh = Steeler Country

And it was won by western Pennsylvanian rivermen.

Some believe the momentum of the Civil War changed after victories in the Western Theater, whether Vicksburg or Shiloh.  If this premise is true, then what were the major enablers that differed from the east?  The major advantages of the Union Army were the tall stack steamers: civilian transports, tinclads, and gunboats, and their men: captains, pilots, engineers, and crews, who operated the transports.  The origin of these advantages, and other support goods, was Pittsburgh.

A mindful analysis of the Charles and E Kay Gibson’s “Dictionary of Transports and Combatant Vessels, Steam and Sail, Employed by the Union Army 1861-1868″, indicates that approximately 720 steamboats were employed on the western rivers during the Civil War.  The Army Quartermaster built and purchased 105 and chartered 615.  Cross referencing those steamboats by name with Capt Frederick Way’s “Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994″ revealed that just over 44% of the steamboats were built in Pittsburgh.  My definition of “Pittsburgh” is the region on the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers approximately 20 miles down the Ohio and 20 miles up the Mon from Pittsburgh.  That region includes boatyards in river towns such as Freedom, Shousetown (no longer exists), Elizabeth (Lewis and Clark keelboat fame), Brownsville, McKeesport, California, Belle Vernon …  That region is about 4% of the total run of the Ohio River.  

From Gibsons Dictionary I have included all the boats which means packets built as far up the Mississippi as Keokuk, IA and as far down as New Orleans, LA and in Bridgeport, AL on the Tennessee River.   So my 40 miles of water surrounding Pittsburgh is competing with all the boatyards on the rest of the Ohio plus nearly the full length of the Mississippi and the Tennessee rivers.  Gunboats also skewed the data against Pittsburgh.  Gunboats were built specifically for the Quartermaster in strange places such as Oquaka, IL, Burlington, IA, Chatanooga, TN, etc.   These sites were not commercial boatyards like those found in Cincinnati, OH, New Albany, IN, and Elizabeth, PA.  

The sources used to identify the steamers on the western rivers were the primary sources of Gibson’s Dictionary part 2 and 3 of HR-337 and one secondary source identified as Hurst which refers to a list in “The Battle of Shiloh” by TM Hurst.  The Gibsons do not list the build port for the steamers.  By cross referencing the name provided by the Gibsons with the build location in Way’s Directory, I have my data.


In addition to the boatyards, Pittsburgh was the major iron works center in the Union. Sixteen enormous steel works produced two-thirds of all the crucible steel.  Approximately 60% of the artillery used by the Union Army was forged in Pittsburgh.  Rails for the railroad systems were also forged in Pittsburgh, although the railroads contributed no or little advantage in the west.  Four inches thick, the iron plates for “iron clad” gunboats were made in Pittsburgh.   Theses products, artillery and iron rails and plates, provided the mortar to keep my main conclusion standing.  

Without experiencing a single warlike day, Pittsburgh, the cradle of manufacturing and industry, provided the underlying support that changed the momentum of the war.  Pittsburgh’s manufacturing base also benefited from steamboat production and their use.  Steamboats were used  not only to ship goods to market but were used to import raw materials to the local mills.


Note 1:  I was surprised that Pittsburgh’s steamboats did not total more than 50%.  Alas, I had spent too much time not to respond with the data at hand.    For the Missouri River commerce of the late 1860′s, Pittsburgh produced approx 70% of the packets.  I was also amazed by the number of packets built in Cincinnati.  Far more than any other single site, but far less than the Pittsburgh region according to my definition of the region.  I had no idea Cincinnati had such a river history.

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