Skip to comments.Civil War at 150: How a Bloodless Battle Started It All (150 years ago today)
Posted on 04/12/2011 4:38:31 AM PDT by iowamark
During the winter of 1860-61, the citizens of Charleston (map), South Carolina, were so sure that no war would follow their recent move to secede from the United States of America that the fiery editor of the Charleston Mercury supposedly vowed to eat the bodies of all who might be slain as a result.
Not to be outdone, former U.S. Senator James Chesnut, Jr., promised to drink any blood spilled. After all, "a lady's thimble," as a common saying had it, "will hold all the blood that will be shed."
Perhaps the most visible reminder to Charlestonians of the U.S. government's dominion over them was in their harbor, where atop the lonely bulk of Fort Sumter the Stars and Stripes still flew.
The November election of the notably antislavery Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States had so angered seven slave-owning states that they had chosen to secede and form their own union. Roughly five months later, on April 12, 1861, decades of high-flown oratory were reduced to a struggle for that pile of brick and mortar.
Fort Sumter in First Line of Defense
Fort Sumter was only one in a series of imposing masonry fortresses, decades in the building, which studded the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from Maine to Texas.
The nation's single biggest public expenditure and traditionally its first lines of defense, these symbols of sovereignty once carried an aura of impregnabilityfrom without, if not from within.
During the four months leading up to Lincoln's Inauguration, the seceding states, one after another, seized federal forts, arsenals, and customs houses within their borders.
There was little to oppose the breakaway forces, a caretaker and a guard or two comprising many of the garrisons. Most of the 16,000 or so regular Army soldiers had been posted to the western frontier to protect settlers against the perceived threat from American Indians.
Civil War Inevitable?
On March 4, 1861, Lincoln was inaugurated, promising the seceding states that he would use force only "to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places" belonging to the federal government.
The stage was set for the inevitable showdown.
As of March, only four Southern forts were still under federal control. Two of them, Forts Taylor and Jefferson, were remote way stations in the Florida Keys. They would remain in government hands, useful as prisons and coaling stations throughout the four years of the coming Civil War.
The other two federal forts, however, became pawns in a game of war or peace.
The Civil War might as easily have erupted at Fort Pickens, outside Pensacola, Florida, as at Fort Sumter. Seen as easier to defend than smaller bastions nearby, both forts had been hastily garrisoned early in the secession crisis. (Read "Civil War Battlefields" in National Geographic magazine.)
Though the plight of both garrisons remained in the public eye, Fort Pickens stood to the outside of Pensacola Bay, while Fort Sumter was positioned in the middle of Charleston Harbor, surrounded by hostile batteries. Sumter, therefore, became a symbol of contested sovereignty.
Neither the new President nor the new Confederacy could afford to lose face by surrendering the Charleston fort. The only question was, who would shoot first?
In early January the South Carolinians had actually done so, turning away the Star of the West, a federal supply ship, with gunfire. But those were more or less warning shots that kicked up plumes of spray but caused no damage.
(See Civil War reenactment pictures.)
The Battle of Fort Sumter
As March turned to April, Lincoln, having dispatched another relief fleet to supply the beleaguered and increasingly hungry garrison, was willing to shoot his way through if need be.
Lincoln soon thought better of it, however, instead informing the rebellious Southerners that the fleet would carry only supplies into Sumter. The warships would remain outside the harbor.
Should the Confederates choose to fire on this "mission of humanity," as Lincoln called the supply run, they would then become the aggressor.
The Confederate government, knowing that its claims to sovereignty depended on no "foreign" power occupying any of its coastal forts, decided to act before the relief expedition arrived.
Confederate leaders, therefore, ordered Charleston's chief military officer, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, a flamboyant Louisiana Creole, to demand Fort Sumter's surrender. Should that be refused, he was to open fire on the stronghold.
James Chesnut, Jr., the former U.S. senator who'd pledged to drink the blood of casualties, was one of two emissaries who delivered the ultimatum to an ashen-faced Anderson at 3:25 a.m. on April 12, 1861150 years ago Tuesday.
An hour later a signaling shot curved high in the sky and burst directly over the fort. A cacophonous barrage erupted, as 43 guns and mortars opened up on Sumter.
The pyrotechnic uproar had soon summoned all Charleston to the rooftops, where the citizens spent a sleepless night, watching the arcs of mortar shells. They spent the following day deafened by the din, peering through the smoke. (See pictures of the Battle of Fort Sumter.)
According to Union accounts, the noise was indescribable within the Fort Sumter's brick gun enclosures, but Anderson's men gamely returned fire, discharging about a thousand rounds as opposed to the almost four thousand shells that smashed into their walls or dropped into their courtyard.
Fires were devouring the barracks and edging dangerously close to the powder magazine by the time the white flag came fluttering up Sumter's flagstaff, some 34 hours after the bombardment had begun.
The opening gunfire of the Civil Warthe first shots exchanged in anger between the United States and the Confederate Statesthen fell silent. (Interactive Map: Battlefields of the Civil War.)
As the smoke cleared the toll of battle was taken, and it amounted to one mule. Not a single person had been killed (though one man soon died in an accidental explosion). The South had indeed won the contest over that symbol of sovereignty without spilling enough blood to fill a thimble.
Or had it?
A Bolt From the Sky
By firing first, the Confederates had allowed Lincoln to claim the high ground. On April 15, some 75,000 Union loyalists volunteered to help "repossess the forts, places, and property which have been seized from the Union."
The Northern states fell in behind Lincoln, while Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee duly tumbled into the Confederacy.
But the Battle of Fort Sumter was a call to arms for both sides. The great convulsion had come at last, releasing stresses accumulated over generations of sectional strife.
"We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky," wrote the ex-slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and the "cry now is for war, vigorous war, war to the bitter end. ... "
Huge, flag-waving crowds gathered in cities and towns across the country, flushed with a kind of mass hysteria, a contagious abandon, an almost suicidal zeal. "It is a war of purification," claimed Virginia's Governor Henry Wise, "You want war, blood, fire, to purify you."
Hundreds of thousands of young militiamen, parading by torchlight to the dazzle of fireworks and the music of bands, soon marched into the crucible. Many of them would never return, for the war that was ignited that April night would eventually cost nearly 620,000 men their lives2 percent of the United States' population at the time, and nearly as many as those killed in all the country's other wars combined.
The shooting was practically over by April 14, 1865, whenfour years to the day after the Stars and Stripes had been lowered in defeatthe U.S. flag again rose over the rubble of Fort Sumter. But one more bullet found its victim that night. While watching a play in Washington, D.C.'s Ford's Theater, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
The dislocations of the Civil War "wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character," as writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner put it in 1873, "that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations."
Nearly five generations have now passed since the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, and still their reverberations are being felt.
DECEMBER 29, 1860: South Carolina secedes
JANUARY 9, 1861: Mississippi secedes
January 10: Florida Secedes
January 11: Alabama secedes.
January 19: Georgia secedes.
January 26: Louisiana secedes.
January 29: Kansas admitted to the Union as a free state.
FEBRUARY 1, 1861: Texas convention votes for secession.
February 4: lst Session, Provisional Confederate Congress, convenes in Montgomery, Alabama.
February 9: Jefferson Davis elected provisional Confederate president.
February 18: Jefferson Davis inaugurated.
February 23: Texas voters approve secession.
MARCH 4 1861: Abraham Lincoln inaugurated 16th President
March 6: Provisional Confederate Congress establishes Army, calls for 100,000 volunteers.
APRIL 12, 1861: Bombardment of Fort Sumter begins.
April 13: Fort Sumter surrenders.
April 15: Lincoln calls for 75,000 volunteers.
April 17: Virginia secedes.
April 19: 6th Massachusetts attacked by Baltimore mob; Lincoln declares blockade of Southern coast.
April 20: Norfolk, Virginia, Navy Yard evacuated.
April 29: 2nd Session, Provisional Confederate Congress, convenes; Maryland rejects secession.
That time line, and the article both indicate slavery had nothing to do with the war between the states.
God Bless You Edmund Ruffin.
Edmund Ruffin was born about a mile from where I live. His long white hair made him immediately recognizable to contemporaries, was born in 1794 and educated in Virginia, including a brief period at the College of William and Mary. For most of his life, Ruffin was a farmer and a renowned agricultural reformer. Experiments on his farm convinced him that fertilizers, crop rotation, drainage, and good plowing could revitalize the declining soil of his native state. From the 1820s onward, Ruffin published his findings, edited an agricultural journal, lectured, a nd organized agricultural societies. In the 1850s, he became president and commissioner of the Virginia State Agricultural Society.
Increasingly, however, Ruffin turned his attention in the 1850s to politics, especially the defense of slavery and secession. Although he had earlier expressed some doubts about slavery and opened the pages of his agricultural journal to arguments abo ut colonization, by the 1850s Ruffin had become a staunch proponent of slavery and of the racial inferiority of blacks. He joined the ranks of fire-eating southern radicals advocating a separate southern nation to protect slavery and the southern way of life. Secession became as great a reform cause as agricultural improvement. Both would rejuvenate the South.
Ruffin’s desire to push the secessionist movement towards a confrontation with the North brought him to Charleston during the Sumter crisis. He intended to take his stand with the Confederacy, and he hoped events would drive his native state, Virginia , out of the Union. His ardent southern nationalism made him a hero of southern radicals. He was invited to attend three secession conventions, and given the honor of firing one of the first batteries against Fort Sumter.
As the Confederacy’s fortunes ebbed during the war, however, Ruffin grew distraught. Plagued by ill health, family misfortunes, and the rapid collapse of Confederate forces in 1865, Ruffin proclaimed “unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule,” and on June 1 7, 1865, committed suicide. His act, sometimes considered the “last shot” of the Civil War, become identified with the Confederacy’s defeat and a symbol of the lost cause. His suicide was interpreted as an expression of the southern code of honor, the refusal to accept a life in defeat.
If it was possible to make a live film documentary back then and show it to them now, they would still argue with us...
I gave up a long time ago :p
you make your point by secession....you can then send a message to Washington that you would need to have a discussion about the inevitability of moving your forts out of the sovereign nation of the CSA...
“”Maj. Robert Anderson sat at his desk in Fort Sumter, composing a letter that might never be read...
Since their move to Sumter in December, the skeptical Capt. Abner Doubleday, a staunch antislavery man and uncompromising foe of secession, had done his best to get inside the commanders head. He had observed the pious Kentuckian intently, tried to draw out his opinions, and even baited him on the subject of slavery.
Anderson confessed he was disgusted by the Norths refusal to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, and quoted the Bible to demonstrate that God himself had ordained human bondage. Doubleday, in turn, wheeled the Bible around like a howitzer and fired it straight back at Anderson, pointing out that since the slaves in the Old Testament were white, he saw no reason why some pious Southern master should not enslave the major himself, and read texts of Scripture to him to keep him quiet. Anderson, Doubleday later boasted, was unable to counter this merciless logical volley. (A less tolerant superior might have clapped the captain in irons.)
On the morning of the move to Sumter in late December, when a rebel envoy had come to demand an explanation, Anderson had told the man ruefully, In this controversy between the North and the South, my sympathies are entirely with the South. These gentlemen here he turned to his blue-coated officers know it well....
The red tape of military duty, Lincolns secretary John Hay would later sneer, was all that bound his heart from its traitorous impulses. Though it may also have reflected Lincolns private views, this was unfair to Anderson. His heart was bound or perhaps more precisely, pulled upon by forces far more powerful and complicated than red tape alone.””
“”Ancestry.com and the National Archives Release Millions of Civil War Records Online
Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online family history resource, and the National Archives, today launched millions of newly digitized Civil War records that are now available online for the first time. This effort is part of an ongoing partnership between Ancestry.com and the National Archives to make important historical records more easily available to the American public. Ancestry.com’s entire Civil War Collection of more than 42 million records, including 25 million records from the National Archives, will be free to access for the general public for one week beginning on April 7. Existing members will have immediate access beginning today.
Included are the entire U.S. Civil War Draft Registration Records, 1863-1865 and the complete 1860 and 1870 Censuses. These Civil War collections are in the National Archives and have been digitized by Ancestry.com to help preserve the original records and provide convenient online access. They now serve as a vital source of information for an estimated 17 million Americans(1) who have an ancestor who fought in the conflict. The entire Civil War Collection can be accessed for free at www.ancestry.com/civilwar150
The highlight of the Civil War Collection is the newly digitized Civil War Draft Registration Records, 1863-1865. These records are among the most popular in the National Archives Civil War holdings and served as a virtual male census for the northern states during the war period. Famous 19th century Americans such as Andrew Carnegie, future President Grover Cleveland, Aaron Montgomery Ward and multiple Rockefellers are all found in these records. Previously only available by request in original form in the Research Room of the National Archives, the public will now be able to easily access these records on Ancestry.com without having to travel to Washington, D.C.
“The significance of these records, which document one of the most important events in American history, cannot be overstated,” said Ken Burns, director and producer of the award-winning documentary THE CIVIL WAR and longtime board member of the Foundation for the National Archives. “I’ve been able to make multiple discoveries about my own great-great-grandfather Abraham Burns through these and other records from the National Archives. I’m excited that more people will now be able to have similar discoveries through Ancestry.com.”
Ancestry.com is providing another special experience in searching for Civil War and National Archive information through the new interactive Military Headstone Archives. Dynamic visuals and multimedia tools will enable users to ‘virtually’ explore the cemeteries of the Civil War’s most famous battlefields at Gettysburg, PA; Sharpsburg (Antietam), MD; Stones River (Murfreesboro), TN; Petersburg, VA; Shiloh, TN and Vicksburg, MS. Users can search for their family’s heroes in Ancestry.com’s unique collection of headstone photographs from 33 national cemeteries in the North and South. The new Military Headstone Archives can also be accessed by visiting: www.ancestry.com/civilwar150
Since 2008, Ancestry.com and the National Archives have worked as partners to make important historical records available to the public as part of a shared commitment to preserving America’s heritage. A key component of this collaboration includes digitizing as many of the original paper National Archives’ Civil War records as possible and publishing those records on Ancestry.com.
“The National Archives continues to be a model for preserving important U.S. history and making those records available to the public,” said Josh Hanna, Executive Vice President for Ancestry.com. “We’re honored that our partnership with the National Archives has made millions of records, including the new Civil War Collection, available to the many Americans who want to learn more about their family history.”
“We are pleased that our partnership with Ancestry.com is making these important records available outside of our research rooms,” said Susan Cummings, National Archives Director of Access Programs. “This is just the first of many series of Civil War records that will be made available online that are scanned from original records, instead of from microfilm in the years to come.”
The expanded Civil War Collection now includes new National Archives records such as:
U.S. Civil War Draft Registration Records, 1863-1865: This collection lists all Civil War Draft Registrations. There were four drafts between 1863 and 1865, which included 3,175,055 people in its rolls, although of those, just over 46,000 actually entered into service. Historically, the 1863 draft was one of the most tenuous moments in the Union outside of the battles fought on Northern soil. Most of the concern was due to the draft riots that took place in New York in 1863. These records include more than 630 volumes of registries and are lists of individuals who registered for the draft.
U.S. Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865: This collection contains indices of compiled military service records for volunteer Union and Confederate soldiers who served with units organized in more than 20 states. The indices also include Confederate soldiers who later served with the Union Army, Union and Confederate soldiers, Generals and staff officers, and other enlisted men not associated with a regiment. Individual records contain both military and personal details useful for locating an ancestor in time and place by tracking his movements during the course of the Civil War.
Other additions to the Civil War Collection include:
New York Civil War Muster Rolls
New York Civil War City Registers
Kansas Civil War Enlistment Papers
Confederate Pension Applications from AL, AR, TX and VA
Georgia Civil War Correspondence
Alabama Census of Confederate Soldiers
Register of Officers of the Confederate States Navy
To begin searching The Civil War Collection, current subscribers can visit www.ancestry.com/civilwar and new users can visit www.ancestry.com/civilwar150. For further stories and updates related to Civil War family history research, please follow Ancestry.com on Facebook and Twitter.
Ancestry.com Inc. (NASDAQ: ACOM) is the world’s largest online family history resource, with nearly 1.4 million paying subscribers. More than 6 billion records have been added to the site in the past 14 years. Ancestry users have created more than 20 million family trees containing over 2 billion profiles. Ancestry.com has local Web sites directed at nine countries that help people discover, preserve and share their family history, including its flagship Web site at www.ancestry.com.
About the National Archives
The National Archives and Records Administration, an independent federal agency, is the nation’s record keeper. Founded in 1934, its mission is unique — to serve American democracy by safeguarding and preserving the records of our Government, ensuring that the people can discover, use, and learn from this documentary heritage. The National Archives ensures continuing access to the essential documentation of the rights of American citizens and the actions of their government. It supports democracy, promotes civic education, and facilitates historical understanding of our national experience. The National Archives meets a wide range of information needs, among them helping people to trace their families’ history, making it possible for veterans to prove their entitlement to medical and other benefits, and preserving original White House records. The National Archives carries out its mission through a nationwide network of archives, records centers, and Presidential Libraries, and on the Internet at http://www.archives.gov/.”"
Lost Cause bump
...except slavery was the reason the South was desperate to secede, and chose war even as the Union was making every assurance that it would not fire first.
The Confederates did exactly that, sending three commissioners to D.C. to discuss the matter with the Lincoln administration. They were assured by the U.S. Secretary of State, William Seward, that Ft. Sumter would be evacuated, and that the administration had no plans to resupply it. The Confederates assumed that the Sec. of State spoke for Lincoln, but that was obviously not the case.
Funny, I had been reading the documents of secession from the various Confederate states, and came to a completely opposite conclusion. But then, they didn't have the timeline and the article back in the day.
January 19th - Georgia secedes from the Union. On January 29th Georgia’s Declaration of Secession is approved stating, “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.”
In other words, Georgia went to war specifically because of slavery. But in what way was the North hampering Georgia over slavery: it was not permitting the export of slaves from Georgia into certain Western territories.
“But, wait,” you ask, “wouldn’t Georgians lose access to the Western territories in they secede?”
Sure. Unless the South claimed the Western Territories. Don’t think it couldn’t happen, either. The forgotten battle between Ft Sumter and Bull Run was in Baltimore, when confederate supporters rioted and killed union soldiers. That was a LOT more than a thimble of blood spilt. Why do you think that the
Now, who’s the aggressor.
they were in a hurry to fight this war....they were winning this war...but ultimately lost it...
this fort and other USA forts in CSA territories might have taken months...no years to pass into CSA hands...
I have no ax to grind...I live up North(hopefully not for the rest of life)but my forebears were stomping grapes in some bucolic little southern european village or harvesting potatoes in some equally bucolic northern european village....I am a states rights constitutional type...but I do believe the South made some fundamental political and military blunders and the attack on Sumter was the first and probably the worst....
I don’t disagree with that; in fact, one of the most hardcore secessionists, Robert Toombs, tried to convince Davis that firing upon Ft. Sumter was foolish and fatal. I’m just pointing out that an effort was indeed made beforehand to resolve the matter peacefully.
"In all the non-slaveholding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color - a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.
I guess Texas jumped into the Union before reading the Union's justification for existence?
(Yeah, the Constitution depends on the Declaration of Independence for authority, referring as it does to pre-existing rights.)
This fits with a hypothesis that has been building up in my mind the last few years. By no means am I a formal scholar in this subject. But as I've read about slavery and early American history, it's struck me how strong a concensus existed at the time of the American Revolution that slavery was a moral evil. Many of the Founders were slaveowners, but they themselves clearly expressed recognition that it was an institution they wanted go away. They just couldn't figure out a way to do it without an unacceptable level of societal upheaval and worse, so they optimistically hoped it would wither on its own.
But they did take steps to limit the damage, such as banning the importation of new slaves. I wish they had shown a bit more resolve in doing things like making the children of slaves free, but that's spilled milk.
Anyway, what interests me is how America went from having a concensus that slavery was evil and should be brought to an end at some point, to the bitter polarization of the Civil War. In the decades leading up to the war we find more and more fanatical apologetics (arguments) for slavery and how to justify it. These were in response to the increasingly fierce, uncompromising attacks on slavery and anyone connected with it by the abolitionists.
My basic thought is that the abolitionists, though I agree with them, executed a poor strategy of divisiveness that led to the war. Instead of demonizing their opponents, they could have maintained the concensus view and worked by degrees to cut off the supports for slavery as an institution until it did wither. By demonizing the opposition they caused a reaction that broke the concensus as slaveholders sought to defend and justify themselves. The quote above fits my thesis.
I'm a political hard-liner by nature in the here-and-now, so this carries some cautions for modern conservatives like myself. We have, and know we have, the moral high ground on subjects like abortion. But trumpeting that with a morally judgemental attitude that turns off abortion supporters will not win the pro-life war. I think there is a sincere concensus that abortion is evil and we should work to eliminate it. But if I follow my instinct to demand a sudden ban I wonder if the result might not be worse than the gradual work of persuasion and step-by-step restrictions on it until it becomes a historical relic.
Anyway... just thinking out loud this morning...
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