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The Business of Civil War

, 320 pages

7 halftones, 2 line drawings

June 2006



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The Business of Civil War

Military Mobilization and the State, 1861–1865

This wide-ranging, original account of the politics and economics of the giant military supply project in the North reconstructs an important but little-known part of Civil War history. Drawing on new and extensive research in army and business archives, Mark R. Wilson offers a fresh view of the wartime North and the ways in which its economy worked when the Lincoln administration, with unprecedented military effort, moved to suppress the rebellion.

This task of equipping and sustaining Union forces fell to career army procurement officers. Largely free from political partisanship or any formal free-market ideology, they created a mixed military economy with a complex contracting system that they pieced together to meet the experience of civil war. Wilson argues that the North owed its victory to these professional military men and their finely tuned relationships with contractors, public officials, and war workers.

Wilson also examines the obstacles military bureaucrats faced, many of which illuminated basic problems of modern political economy: the balance between efficiency and equity, the promotion of competition, and the protection of workers' welfare. The struggle over these problems determined the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars; it also redirected American political and economic development by forcing citizens to grapple with difficult questions about the proper relationships among government, business, and labor.

Students of the American Civil War will welcome this fresh study of military-industrial production and procurement on the home front—long an obscure topic.

Mark R. Wilson is an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

"A superlative and welcome addition to Civil War scholarship... clear, informative and consistently insightful."

"A good book for anyone interested in logistics, as well as the more serious student of the Civil War."

"A 'must' for any serious student of Civil War history who would go beyond the usual statistics and battle events."

"Anyone interested in the antebellum army, the Civil War, or the role of the military in the American political economy will find this book worthwhile."

"Wilson says something new and vital about the war by illustrating the role of war and the military in American business and politics. Nothing like it has ever been published."

"This clearly written and detailed study of the northern procurement effort represents a fresh take on the 'sinews of war'."

"The first systematic and comprehensive study, based on original archival research into both military and business records, devoted exclusively to the Union's economic mobilization."

"A much-needed analysis of Union production and procurement issues."

"Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay the author is to say that after I finished reading his book I felt compelled to re-write the lectures in my Civil War course that I devote to mobilization."

"One of the most important Civil War books to appear in quite some time."

"A concise, well-argued work of scholarship. It enlivens a potentially stolid subject in a manner that engages nonspecialists."

"An excellent contribution to the general understanding of Union military institutions."

"Wilson's research and core analyses are solid. For reconstituting the complexity, the tensions, and the institutional innovations of massive war supply in a horse-and-wagon economy, Wilson deserves a hearty round of thanks from historians and political scientists."

"The book goes beyond a simple Civil War history and adds to the understanding of American business history, as well as the war's legacy to the Gilded Age... valuable to anyone examining nineteenth century business history or the links between the military and industry. Wilson's well written narrative and thorough research makes for compelling reading, and is a welcome addition to Civil War scholarship."

"Wilson makes a compelling case."

"Wilson provides an excellent treatment of the constantly evolving financial and manufacturing infrastructure that supported United States armies during the Civil War."

"An excellent study of military supply on the home front during the war."

"An outstanding contribution to our understanding of the military's role in society, politics, and the economy during the nineteenth century."

"A compelling account of the political economy of Northern mobilization."

"A fascinating account of how the North marshaled its economic might to win the Civil War."

"As Wilson observes, historians 'have tended to search for the roots of American bureaucracy in virtually every field except the military'. Wilson has struck a powerful blow against this exceptionalism, and the larger exceptionalism of the state of courts and parties thesis... Wilson presents compelling evidence that they should not be ignored."

"Readers will find Wilson's deeply researched account well worth the investment as a study of wartime political economy. It explores areas hitherto mostly neglected and rarely explored: readers will profit from learning how Union authorities procured the material means used to save the Union."

"An impressively researched and fresh contribution to the field, Mark Wilson's The Business of Civil War illustrates the role of the military in the American political economy, detailing how the army comes to the fore as orchestrator and manager of the wartime economy and how the Civil War experience may have laid the foundation for postwar developments."

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