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Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War

David G. Surdam

Reveals the Union navy's role in denying the Confederacy full use of its military and economic assets

Addressing an aspect of the Civil War that has long been a source of controversy among historians, David G. Surdam offers an unconventional analysis in this study of the Union's naval blockade. He questions common methods of evaluating the strength of the 3,500-mile siege line, disputes widely held interpretations of its impact, and explores previously unexamined aspects of the blockade as he presents a case for the effectiveness of the Union naval effort.

Surdam seeks to explain the failure of the Confederacy to wage war and sustain independence despite an apparently sufficient supply of raw cotton to trade with Europe and Canada for war matériel and enough beef and corn to feed its troops. To do so he expands the traditional approach to the blockade, finding that a focus on the number of goods that slipped past Union ships overlooks two of the blockade's most important achievements: disrupting intraregional trade and denying the Confederacy badly needed revenue from the export of raw cotton and other staple products.

Explicating the blockade's indirect yet devastating results, Surdam examines the degradation of railroad lines, collapse of specific internal markets, and effect on the exportation of cotton. He shows that the blockade forced more traffic to the railroads, and as railroads and locomotives broke down or were devastated by war, the blockade hampered the importation of rail iron, locomotives and cars, and other parts and machinery. He also explores how the blockade affected the cross-country movement of crops to hungry soldiers and civilians and how costs associated with blockade consumed most of the higher prices that Europeans paid for southern cotton.

David G. Surdam is a visiting assistant professor of economics at the Graduate School of Business of the University of Chicago and at the University of Oregon in Eugene. The recipient of the Edward S. Miller History Prize and the Ernest M. Eller Prize in Naval History, Surdam wrote his dissertation at the University of Chicago under the supervision of the 1993 Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert W. Fogel.

"David Surdam has written a valuable account of the effect of the Union blockade and its attendant consequences on the South's economy. The research and conclusions offer an updated and vital interpretation of the economics of 'King Cotton' and make valuable contributions to the body of knowledge of why the North won the Civil War. This book will be of great interest to anyone studying the American Civil War or war in general as it puts into proper perspective the direct connection between the Confederacy's economy and the nation's ability to wage war." —Stephen R. Wise, author of Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil War

"In Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War David G. Surdam presents a very detailed examination of the impact of the Northern blockage on the Confederacy's ability to feed itself and on its transactions in cotton. Based upon new archival materials and sophisticated historical and economic analysis, Surdam's book will take its place as the leading study of the blockade, and it will be of im—Stanley L. Engerman, University of Rochester

"This is a pathbreaking study of the economics of the Civil War. Textbooks that have focused primarily on the ground war will have to be rewritten to take account of David Surdam's findings." —Robert Fogel, University of Chicago



book jacket for Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War


6 x 9
310 pages
54 illustrations
ISBN 978-1-57003-407-7
hardcover, $34.95s
Studies in Maritime History

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