The Border States
Not all slave-owning states immediately leaped on the secession bandwagon. Four border states in the upper portion of the region — Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Delaware — were cautious in determining how to proceed after the first Southern states withdrew from the Union.
Even though slavery was legal in all four border states, the proportion of slaves and slave owners was less than half of that in the states that had already pulled away from the Union. Delaware was the first to act, quickly rejecting a Southern request to join the new Confederacy.
The Confederacy had a lot to gain by way of population, industry, and defense in getting the border states to join. Between them, the states would have added 45 percent to the white population (meaning more able bodied soldiers), as well as more industrial output and military supplies. Their locations, especially those of Kentucky and Maryland, would also have had tremendous strategic value should the Union army invade. Maryland, in particular, was vitally important because if it joined the Confederacy, the Northern capital would have been surrounded. But despite the pleas of Confederate leaders and more than a few battles, all four of the border states remained in the Union.
The Struggle for Maryland
At first, it seemed that Maryland might do otherwise. A strong pro-Confederacy attitude developed there shortly after the fall of Fort Sumter when, on April 19, 1861, a Massachusetts regiment passing through on its way to Washington, D.C., shot several civilians after being attacked by an angry mob in Baltimore. Four soldiers and twelve civilians died.
Maryland officials were outraged at the carnage and demanded that no more Federal troops be sent through the state. Just to make sure their message was clear, the mayor and police chief of Baltimore approved the destruction of key rail bridges to prevent Union troops from entering the metropolis. At the same time, secessionist sympathizers tore down telegraph wires to Washington, cutting off communication to the nation's capital for a couple of anxious days.
Despite technically being a Union state, Missouri troops fought on both sides of the war, with more than 100,000 fighting for the Union and nearly 40,000 taking up arms on behalf of the Confederacy. Over the course of the conflict, about 75,000 Kentuckians fought for the Union, and 25,000 fought for the Confederacy.
On May 13, Federal troops — including members of the Massachusetts regiment that had been attacked the previous month — occupied Baltimore and declared martial law. Several prominent citizens, including the chief of police and a number of city commissioners, were arrested for their alleged role in the riot, and suspected secessionists were held without formal charges ever being brought against them. Federal forces would present an occupying presence in Baltimore for the duration of the war. Meanwhile, Governor Thomas Hicks and the state legislature voted against secession, declaring Maryland neutral in the rift between the North and the South, an obviously difficult position to maintain. When state elections were held in November 1861, the Union Party won a stunning victory, and Maryland remained pro-Union for the rest of the war, though there were continuous grumblings from pro-Confederacy factions.
Missouri's Divided Citizenry
Missouri also had a hard time deciding where its allegiance lay. On one side was Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson, a former “border ruffian” who advocated secession; on the other was pro-Union congressman Francis P. Blair, who happened to be the brother of Lincoln's postmaster, Montgomery Blair. Many of the residents of Missouri were slave owners, but the overall makeup of the population was decidedly different from that of the states in the Deep South. A large number of German immigrants had settled throughout Missouri, with the greatest concentration around St. Louis, and they had little interest in or regard for most Southern traditions — especially slavery.
Kentucky: Requiring Great Care
Kentucky, the birth state of both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, was even more divided on the issue of which side to join in the conflict between the North and the South. Bordered by three free states and three slave states, its sympathies were fairly evenly split between the Union and the Confederacy. Like Maryland, the state legislature voted to remain neutral, an act that was considered very close to secession, since neutrality was based on the doctrine of state sovereignty, or independence from the decisions of a central government.
Lincoln was torn over what to do about Kentucky. Because it was neutral, many goods were being forwarded through it to the seceded states, which certainly didn't help the Union cause. But Lincoln decided to treat Kentucky with a gentle hand rather than force the issue, and in the end his plan paid off: state elections in June and August 1861 saw tremendous Unionist victories. The state's official stance of neutrality came to an end when Confederate troops under Major General Leonidas Polk invaded Kentucky from Tennessee to take the strategically important city of Columbus.
The population of the Confederacy at the start of the war was 9 million (5.5 million whites and 3.5 million slaves), with nearly 1.14 million men of combat age. It had 20,000 factories employing nearly 100,000 workers, 9,000 miles of railroad, $47 million in bank deposits, and $37 million in gold.
Even though the Confederacy would have benefited from the strategic location of the border states, it wasn't shedding many tears over its loss. Instead, it concentrated on what it had rather than what it lacked, bolstering its borders on land and sea, gathering supplies, enlisting soldiers, and generally gearing up for a war that seemed inevitable. Now that the new nation had been formed, it was time to protect itself.