Why were the border states important in the American Civil War?
In the years preceding the American Civil War, the divide between the highly industrialized North and the agrarian South continued to grow. The South depended highly on slave labor, and the liberal ideas of the North did not sit well with these states. Straddling the North and South states, were the Border States; Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. West Virginia, came to be considered another border state, as it separated from Virginia during the course of the war.
Apart from their unique geographic location, the Border States also retained a shared cultural identity. Slave ownership was legal in the Border States, and like the Southern states, the Border States did not support Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election of 1860. Like the North, however, the Border States remained committed to being part of the federal union. Gaining the support of the Border States was very critical for President Lincoln, and the North to win the Civil War.
President Lincoln remained convinced that the Border States were the key to victory in the American Civil War. This weighed heavily on the defense strategy and the legislation drawn up by the federal government at the time. The President’s attempts to woo the loyalty of these Border States prevented the government from abolishing slavery in them, fueling Lincoln’s critics. Troops and precious war resources were spent in the effort to retain these Border States from falling to the Confederate Army. The fact that states like Missouri and Kentucky, despite remaining pro-Union, were deeply divided in their sentiments did not help. The Border States’ unshaken loyalty to the Union was a big boost to the morale and the resources mobilized by the northern states during the course of the American Civil War.
Let’s take a closer look at the Border States –
- Delaware remained firmly pro-Union throughout. The state rejected the Confederacy’s invitation to join in 1861. Delaware also contributed by sending supplies to the Union Army.
- Beriah Magoffin, the Governor of Kentucky, declared the state’s neutrality at the outbreak of war. Confederate General Leonidas Polk, however, made a failed attempt to take Columbus in September 1861 and following this, the state legislature requisitioned Federal protection. The state remained deeply divided in its loyalty to the Union. Recruiters from either side tried to sway sentiments pitting “brother against brother.” Some 74,000 Kentuckians (including 50,000 white men) joined the Union Army while about 35,000 joined the South. While the elected government of Kentucky remained firmly pro-Union, Southern sympathizers set up a provisional government in Russellville. Kentucky was hence admitted to the Confederacy (December 1861). This alternative government was not very significant or effective.
- Despite significant Southern sympathy, Maryland remained firmly committed to the Union. The culture and ties to the South prompted a demand for the recognition of the Confederacy, but the state itself did not secede from the Union.
- Even as the Southern States started to secede, Missouri legislators held a special convention and rejected the calls to join the Confederacy. Governor Claiborne F. Jackson remained pro-Confederacy and had been corresponding with Confederate President Jefferson Davis regarding the arms and training of the state’s militia. Captain Nathaniel Lyon of the Union Army invaded the state militia camp. This incident pushed Missouri to become a Confederate state on November 1861.
- In 1863, the northwestern parts of Virginia (which was a Confederate State at the time) broke away. The state of West Virginia was formed and was received into the Union, becoming another important Border State.
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