Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The American Civil War January 1861 The South Secedes.

Throughout the decade ending with the Presidential elections of 1860, tensions between the northern and southern states increased to dangerous levels. The primary issue was, of course, slavery. Bloody fighting had broken out in several border areas over the question of weather the territories were going to be admitted to the Union as “Free” or “Slave” states. Perhaps the most notable was in Kansas where is was so dangerous that hundreds of people died and whole town were burned to the ground in the fighting and it became known as Bloody Kansas.

When Abraham Lincoln, a known opponent of slavery, was elected president, the South Carolina legislature perceived a threat. Calling a state convention, the delegates voted in January 1861 to remove the state of South Carolina from the union known as the United States of America. The secession of South Carolina was followed by the secession of six more states -- Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas -- and the threat of secession by four more -- Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. These eleven states eventually formed the Confederate States of America.

Another very significant event took place on January 9th, 1861. It involved developments at Fort Sumter, a Federal Fort located in the mouth of Charleston Bay in South Carolina. Without prior notice to, or knowledge of, Major Anderson, the officer in command of Fort Sumter, a merchant ship named Star of the West had been secretly leased by the Federal Government and loaded with relief supplies for the fort. It left from New York and entered Charleston harbor headed toward Fort Sumter. It had been learned by the South just prior to this event that hidden below the decks were two hundred armed soldiers with ammunition, and supplies; therefore, the South Carolina troops fired several shots across it’s bow and forced it to turn away before reaching the fort to deliver it’s cargo. Because this was a civilian ship, not a U.S. Navy vessel, and because the ship was not hit and no one was injured, these shots are not considered the first fired in the Civil War, but they increased the tensions between North and South to the boiling point.

An interesting point here is how close this incident came to an actual outbreak of hostilities. In Fort Sumter Major Anderson had no idea this ship was bringing him supplies. He only observed a ship, flying an American Flag, being fired upon by South Carolina forces. He ordered several pieces of his heavy artillery to target the Confederates in order to protect the ship. When the ship turned away before he could open fire, he had his artillery stand down. Had he fired, the war would very likely have broken out right then. As it turned out, it would take another 4 months before the cannons fired in earnest.

Following this incident Major Anderson received the following letter:

WAR DEPARTMENT, January 16, 1861

Major Robert Anderson,
First Artillery, commanding Fort Sumter:
Sir: You rightly designate the firing into the Star of the West as an `act of war,’ and one which was actually committed without the slightest provocation. Your forbearance to return the fire is fully approved by the President. Unfortunately, the Government had not been able to make known to you that the Star of the West had sailed from New York for your relief. . . .

Your late dispatches have relieved the Government of the apprehensions previously entertained for your safety. In Consequence, it is not its purpose at present to reinforce you. The attempt to do so would, no doubt, be attended by a collision of arms and the effusion of blood—a national calamity which the President is most anxious to avoid.

Whenever, in your judgment, additional supplies or reinforcements are necessary for your safety, or for a successful defense of the fort, you will at once communicate that fact to this Department, and a prompt and vigorous effort will be made to forward them.

This letter is a very good example of the "political" mind at work. Remember, the reason they were sending supplies is because Major Anderson had requested them. This letter, therefor, reflects both hypocrisy and contradiction. First it says they tried to send the supplies. Next it says they aren't going to send supplies because it could result in bloodshed. It concludes by saying "just let us know when we want supplies and we'll send them". These instructions must have left poor Major Anderson, sitting in a fort surrounded by hostile forces, feeling confused and isolated,

Live Long and Prosper....


thesystemworks said...

Hi Gary.

Its excellent that you are doing this and I will follow your posts on the events of 1861-65 intensely.

Even as a non-American (but someone who has spent a lot of time there, to the extent I have a New Yawk inflection) I have always been fascinated in the topic.

My sympathies have always lied with the Confederate cause, to be honest. I agree with you on the nomenclature issue in the previous post. It cannot properly be called a 'Civil War' in that the issue was secession, not who's in charge in the White House. I prefer to call it the Second War of Independence.

I recently purchased the excellent 'Gods and Generals' which portrays Lee, Stonewall and the Confederate cause in a sympathetic light, and was widely panned for doing so. The book 'The Real Lincoln' by Thomas DiLorenzo was also delivered to me this very day.

Lincoln, in my opinion, was no abolitionist and always stayed quiet on the issue of slavery before the Emancipation Proclomation. He actually had several opportunities to free thousands of slaves before the Civil War, such as during Federal military efforts against Confederate guerrillas in Missouri in 1856. He chose not to.

He stated himself:

''My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.''

thesystemworks said...

Apologies for my mistake: The actions against Confederate guerrillas in Missouri took place in 1861. Union General John Frémont wasin charge of these operations, he was the Republican Presidential nominee in 1856.

Gary said...

I am glad you enjoyed these posts on the Civil War. There will not be too many the first couple of months because the actual fighting did not break out until April so I will only be posting s few items covering the increasing tensions. In April the posts will be far more frequent as I try to keep up with the various events and battles.

You are right about Lincoln. It is widely believed that the only reason he freed the slaves when he did was because the war was not very popular in many northern states and recruiting for the Army was difficult. The issue of slavery became a "cause" many in the north could believe in so he simply told them they were needed to free the slaves. It worked.