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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course United States Migration Patterns  by Beverly Whitaker, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

The Civil War, an Interruption & A Stimulus for Postwar Migration

Before the Civil War, wagon freighting across the Great Plains was a lucrative business. Virtually every item used west of the Mississippi was produced east of that river. Goods and materials were transported to a river port by wagon trails, river boats, and railroads, then went West by wagon train. During the Civil War, the United States Army required tons of freight from the Mississippi River ports. Freight also went to numerous mining camps. But shipping freight by wagon was usually a one-way business, with freighters driving back East with empty wagons.

Southern slaves were assisted North by the Underground Railroad which consisted of a chain of anti-slavery homes, stations through which thousands were spirited by abolitionists to the free-soil sanctuary of Canada. It is estimated that in 1860 the South was losing about 1000 runaways a year out of its total of nearly four million slaves.

The Civil War—also called the “War for Southern Independence” or “The War Between the States,” or “The War of the Rebellion” or “The War of Northern Aggression ”—was one in which brother sometimes fought against brother, “Yanks,” vs. the “Rebs.” Mountain whites in the South sent some 50,000 men North, and the loyal slave states even contributed some 300,000 soldiers to the Union army. The Border States (Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and later West Virginia) had people on both sides.

As a primarily farm area, the South was seriously hampered by having few factories. As the war dragged on, there were serious shortages among Southerners in such necessities as shoes, blankets, and uniforms. Even though the South had large stores of food, hunger was prevalent for both soldiers and civilians because it was difficult to transport food and supplies, particularly as railroads were cut or destroyed by the Northern invader.

The North possessed about three-fourths of the nation’s wealth, including superiority in manufacturing, shipping, and banking. It also possessed nearly three-fourths of the existing 30,000 miles of railroad, and its navy was superior, allowing it to establish a blockade that cut off the bulk of Southern exports and imports.

Figures show that the North had a much larger reservoir of manpower with a population of about 22,000,000 compared to the seceding states’ 9,000,000, this latter figure including more than 3,500,000 Negroes. During the four years of war, casualties on both sides totaled nearly 40 percent of the armies with several hundred thousand soldiers dying.
The South’s strategy was to tie down and wear out Union forces, and this worked somewhat in the East. But in the West, better-equipped and better-led Union troops won a series of significant victories, as early as 1862.

As war ended and recovery began, businessmen found available capital scarce. Many Eastern businessmen took their meager assets and their families and moved West. With the coming of transcontinental railroads, Eastern money saw potential commerce with the West.

Populated Areas in 1865

By 1865 everything east of the Mississippi River was in the hands of settlers with a few exceptions—small patches in Georgia, western North Carolina, western and upstate New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

West of the Mississippi, settlers populated the eastern third of Texas and the northern two-thirds of Kansas. There were settlers in all but the northwest corner of Nebraska. Southeastern South Dakota was populated along with a narrow strip of eastern North Dakota, patches of Colorado, and the southeastern corner of Wyoming. Pioneers had reached the western third of Montana and a thin adjacent strip of Idaho. Central Utah was settled, but only a small part of eastern Nevada and northern Arizona was populated. Much of California and most of the northwestern half of Oregon was settled along with all but the northeast corner of Washington State.

Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course United States: Migration Patterns offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website at We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.