Isolated, But Self-Reliant People
Necessity being the mother of invention, the war and naval blockade thrust upon the American South forced its people to rely on their ingenuity to not only survive, but fight tenaciously for four grueling years against absolutely overwhelming odds.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Isolated, But Self-Reliant People:
“One lasting a beneficial result of this situation somewhat compensates for the temporary inconveniences and sufferings. It stimulated the inventive genius of the Southern people and revealed to them a mechanical capacity which they did not know they possessed. Speaking to a New England audience in 1886 on “The Political and Social South During the War,”
[former North Carolina governor and US Senator Zebulon] Vance said:
“You can scarcely imagine the feeling which comes to a people when isolated as we were, and shut out from communication with all the world. A nation in prison we were, in the midst of civilized society, and forced to rely exclusively upon ourselves for everything. When the war began, with the exception of a few cotton and woolen mills and the crude establishments common to all plantations and villages, we were utterly without manufactures of any kind….But the land was full of resources, and the raw material for the manufacture of all that we needed.
And strange as it may appear to you, it was full of mechanical capacity to deal with this material…Cotton and woolen mills quickly sprang up and the capacity of existing ones enlarged. Foundries for casting cannon, shops for making fire arms, swords and bayonets, and mills for making powder were set up in abundance. Shoes and blankets were made by the hundred thousand, and transportation wagons and camp equipages of all kind soon supplied the demand.
The situation called into active use all the mechanical talent of our people. The village or cross-road blacksmith refurnished his shop and made tools and agricultural implements for his neighbors; the shoemaker, the cooper, the wheelwright, and the tanner, all sprang into sudden importance. Even the druggist who compounded from the wondrous flora of the country substitutes for nearly all the drugs of commerce, which if not so efficacious were at least more harmless than the genuine article.
The devices and expedients adopted in all the industries, the social and domestic departments of our daily life, were most ingenious, though sometimes ludicrous.”
(North Carolina, Rebuilding an Ancient Commonwealth, Vol. II, R.D.W. Conner, American Historical Society, 1929, pp. 195-196)