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Business in the Civil War: Trade, Markets, and Industry  

Mark R. Wilson

The Civil War disrupted domestic and international trade. Union strategy included a considerable focus on economic warfare, especially in the form of a naval blockade of Southern ports. Because the war lasted four years, its outcome was affected deeply by the success or failure of Union and Confederate economic mobilizations of capital, industry, and labor. On the home fronts, many businesses, large and small, confronted new challenges to their normal operations and supply chains. Generally speaking, businesses in the South suffered more than their Northern counterparts. Forced to deal with the consequences of the blockade, high inflation, and Union advances, many Southern farmers, merchants, and manufacturers struggled to keep afloat, especially after 1862. In the North, there was more wartime prosperity, thanks to a smoother economic mobilization and the Union’s ability to continue internal and international trade. But there was no single uniform experience: at the levels of specific industries and individual firms, the impact of the war varied widely. Clearly, the single biggest economic change—and political and social change, as well—was the end of slavery. Beyond that, the Civil War’s effects on long-run economic and industrial development were more complex and uncertain. The conflict’s heavy costs in blood and treasure harmed the North as well as the South, but many industries came out of the war in a strong enough position to allow the United States to continue on its path to becoming the world’s largest and most prosperous national economy by the end of the 19th century.