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The official formation of the Confederate States of America occurred on March 11, 1861 when the seven seceded states signed the new constitution. This process was started when South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860 and was then closely followed by seven other southern states. The event marking this beginning of hostilities took place on April 20, 1861 when General P. G. T. Beauregard and a group of cadets from The Citadel fired on Fort Sumpter in Charleston Bay.

South Carolina and the other seceding states were joined by four others during the early part of 1861. These states were united in a quest for independence from the United States, an untested right under the United States Constitution. Specifically the eleven States forming the Confederacy (See the border states discussion on the right.) were:

State Secession Date
South Carolina December 20, 1860
Mississippi January 9, 1861
Florida January 10, 1861
Alabama January 11, 1861
Georgia January 19, 1861
Louisiana January 26, 1861
Texas February 1, 1861
Virginia April 17, 1861
Arkansas May 6, 1861
North Carolina May 20, 1861
Tennessee June 8, 1861
One can also see where secession sentiment was strong by looking at men supplied to the Confederate Army.
State
Soldiers
Percent
Virginia
155,000
15.0%
Georgia
130,000
12.6%
North Carolina
127,000
12.3%
Tennessee
115,000
11.1%
Alabama
100,000
9.7%
Mississippi
85,000
8.2%
South Carolina
60,000
5.8%
Texas
58,000
5.6%
Louisiana
53,000
5.1%
Arkansas
45,000
4.4%
Missouri
40,000
3.9%
Kentucky
25,000
2.4%
Maryland
20,000
1.9%
Florida
15,000
1.5%
Other
5,000
.5%
All States
1,033,000
100.0%
Source:The Civil War Book of Lists (c) 1994 Combined Books, Inc.
 


The definition of "border states" for the United States Civil War are a great example of just how fluid things become in times of war. The definition hinges on when you asked the question, and whether or not you were talking to Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis.

Why were the border states important? The simple answer is manpower. The American Civil War quickly became a war of attrition. The South lacked sufficient men of fighting age to win such a conflict, and recruiting from the border states was critical.

Northern Definition
In the North the definition probably included Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. Early in the war though, you probably added at a minimum Kentucky and West Virginia to the list.

For the North the border states were especially important because they provided at least a little buffer between Washington, DC and the Confederacy.

Southern Definition
A clear indication of the difference in thinking can be seen on the Confederate battle flag. A quick examination of the stars on the flag shows thirteen stars. The list on the left shows only eleven seceding states. So obviously the South considered two states to be a part of the Confederacy that were not that all that clear. The two states in dispute were Kentucky and Maryland.

As a slave state Kentucky played a role as a supplier of slave labor to the deep South. But the Union firmly took hold of Kentucky in late 1862, so it would be difficult to claim it for the South. However, southern sentiment was strong in some areas of Kentucky, and as many as 25,000 soldiers joined the Confederate Army from that state. Had Kentucky clearly fallen into the Confederacy many more men would have been available for service. By contrast Kentucky funrished 75,000 men to the Union Army.

Maryland was also a slave holding state and faced many of the problems that were evident in Kentucky. Maryland had the added problem of proximity to Washington, DC. The Union needed Maryland as a buffer, and for that reason claimed Maryland early in the conflict.

State
CSA Soldiers
Union Soldiers
Kentucky
25,000
75,000
Maryland
20,000
47,000
Missouri
40,000
109,000
Total
85,000
229,000
Source:The Civil War Book of Lists (c) 1994 Combined Books, Inc.

 

For Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet the definition of states may have been slightly easier, but not always. A big part of the definition was who supplied soldiers to which side.

One might also have drawn the lines at captured territory and not traditional state borders. For example, in the state of Tennessee Union sentiment held on the eastern side of the state along a line that today would approximate the I-75 corridor. West of that line was clearly part of the Confederacy, but east of that line was not as clear. Chattanooga and Nashville were each captured by one side and then the other, perhaps as many as a dozen times. But late in the war Tennessee clearly fell back into Union control as Sherman made his march toward Atlanta and then on to Savannah.

But the real story is in the total manpower figures. The South mustered just over one million men for service, while the North recruited or enlisted two milllion eight hunderd thousand. The bulk of these men came from states and territories which were clearly in the Union, but there is another story here. We often talk about the Civil War in terms of "A House Divided." So how many men enlisted in the Union Army from clearly Confederate States?

State Soldiers
Confederate
Union
Tennessee
115,000
51,000
Virginia
155,000
38,000
Louisiana
53,000
29,000
Mississippi
85,000
15,000
Arkansas
45,000
13,000
North Carolina
127,000
8,000
South Carolina
60,000
5,000
Georgia
130,000
3,000
Florida
15,000
2,000
Texas
58,000
2,000
Total
843,000
166,000
Source:The Civil War Book of Lists (c) 1994 Combined Books, Inc.
So the states that were in the Confederacy were clearly in that camp. But on a personal basis many men made the decision to fight with the Union.