The first Greek alphabet alpha symbolizes the beginning of an event. Here, of course, we are talking about the beginning of the Civil War. Conventional history claims that the American Civil War started on April 12, 1861 at the bombing of Fort Sumter. Is it true? We CW buffs probably would not quite satisfy with this answer, and we know there were armed hostile incidents happening long before Ft. Sumter, and we shall examine them here.
Carl Von Clausewitz, author of “On War”, said that war is the extension of politic. The South had long making threat that they would secede if the country elected the Lincoln as President. The North dismissed them. After all, the Southerners had been “talking” secession for the last 40 years since the 1820 Missouri Compromise. Too many cry wolves. Meanwhile, the South thought that the North wouldn’t fight. “I could wipe all the blood with my handkerchief” proclaimed Leroy Walker, who later served as the first Confederate Secretary of War. “They are shopkeepers and factory workers. What do they know about soldiering?” The South believed that one southerner could easily beat 10 Yankees. So both sides underestimated the other’s determination.
The drumming of war cry were beating slowly in the background. In the month of November 1860, events began to heat up. Lincoln got elected on the 6th. South Carolina called for a Convention. New York stock market dropped its price. Maj. Anderson was ordered to Ft. Moultrie. Georgia voted a million dollars to arm the State. In December, South Carolina seceded on 20th. Anderson secretly moved the Federal garrison to Ft. Sumter at night on 26th. US Revenue Cutter William Aiken surrendered to S. Carolina State force on demand. Please notice that President Buchanan took the “do nothing” policy. Taking a ship is clearly an act of war, according to the Northern viewpoint, but the same act would become the defense of a new Country from the Southern viewpoint. But if the Federal chose not to fight back, there would be no “conflict.” So you could see that a series of “incidents” happened, but the Federal under Buchanan did not respond.
The tempo of war drum increased in January 1861. South Carolina prepared for war / defense, organizing troops and guarding the wharfs and ships, and seized Ft. Johnson in Charleston Harbor. Federal organized militia to defend the D.C. Capital. Cooler heads tried to stop this run-away train. Sen. Crittenden tried his last compromise bill but went nowhere. Federal War Department cancelled the order of their former boss, Sec’ of War, Floyd, to remove guns from Pittsburgh to Southern forts. State troops seized Ft. Pulaski, 10 miles east of Savannah, Georgia. The Deep South began to seize Federal forts and arsenals. Alabama took US Arsenal at Mount Vernon, AL. On the next day, Alabama seized Ft. Gaines and Ft. Morgan, the gateway to Mobile Bay. State troops from Florida occupied US Arsenal in Apalachicola, and Ft. Marion in St. Augustine. At Pensacola, Florida, Federal defenders of Ft. Barrancas fired at an invading force. The twenty men fled. On the 9th, the second State, Mississippi, seceded.
On 1/9/1861 at the Charleston Harbor, artillery shots were fired by a young Citadel cadet named George E. Haynsworth (of South Carolina), at the unarmed Federal relief ship of Ft. Sumter, Star of the West, from a battery on Morris Island about a thousand yards away. Most of the shots missed, but a ricochet struck the fore-chains. Some historians considered this incident as the first shot of the Civil War. But it takes both sides to make a fight. Since the unarmed Star of the West merely retreated and Buchanan turned the other cheek, the War Between the States was postponed. At Ft. Moultrie, Confederate Lieut. Colonel Rowell Ripley, ordered his cannoneers to get ready, expecting Ft. Sumter returning fire. But Maj. Anderson restrained from the temptation. Anyway, Ft. Moultrie fired, but the shot fell a half-mile short on Sumter. But Anderson did not respond.
On 1/10, the third State, Florida, seceded. The next day, Alabama seceded. Mass meetings continued North and South. The drum beat faster. On 1/12 Florida occupied Ft. Barrancas and its barracks, Ft. McRee and the Pensacola Navy Yard. Louisiana State troops took Ft. Pike, near New Orleans. To prevent seizure, Federal troops reinforced Ft. Taylor at Key West, Florida, an important Navy base. The demand to surrender Ft. Pickens to Florida was refused several times. Frederal defenders held the fort successfully. On 1/19, Georgia seceded. Mississippians seized Ft. Massachusetts and other installations on Ship Island. 1/21, Five southern Senators gave farewell speeches in the Capitol, including Jeff Davis. Rumors flew everywhere on the northern Navy Yards got attacked. Georgia seized US Arsenal at Augusta. 1/26, Louisiana seceded, and Federal forts and Arsenals were seized, including Ft. Macomb. Georgia took Oglethorpe Barracks and Ft. Jackson. In New Orleans, US Revenue Cutter Robert McClelland surrendered. Two days later, the US Branch Mint (near the marketplace of the French Quarters) and the Customhouse were taken, and so as the US Revenue Schooner Washington. At Mobile, US Revenue Cutter Lewis Cass surrendered.
The war drum beat faster in February 1861. Texas seceded. Furthermore, the Confederate States would meet in Montgomery, Alabama, to form the Confederate States of America on 2/4. Peace Convention led by former President Tyler convened in Washington. 2/8, the Confederate Constitution was adopted. 2/9, Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederacy, and was inaugurated in 2/18. On the same day, Maj. Gen. Twiggs surrendered the US military posts of the entire Department of Texas to the State, lock, stock and barrel. US property at Brazos Santiago, Texas was seized.
In March 1861, the tempo of the drumbeat quickened. The Confederate States of America took control of the military affairs at Charleston, SC and Davis named Gen. Beauregard to command the area. Beauregard reinforced Charleston with more cannons and gunpowder, plus training his artillery crew. Davis had almost completed his Confederate Cabinet appointment and Lincoln planned to appoint his Federal Cabinet. State troops seized Federal Revenue Cutter Henry Dodge at Galveston, Texas. On 3/4/61, Lincoln was inaugurated. Federal troops abandoned Ringgold Barracks, Camp Verde and later, Ft. McIntosh, Camp Hudson in Texas. The Federal lost more forts in Texas, Ft. Clark, Ft. Inge and Ft. Lancaster, and later, Ft. Brown and Ft. Duncan. At Mobile, USS Isabella was seized. Ft. Chadbourne and Ft. Bliss were abandoned in Texas. Pres. Lincoln ordered a relief expedition to Ft. Pickens, Florida.
Well, the drum beat of war rumbled non-stop in April. Lincoln continued to discuss Ft. Sumter with his Cabinet and Gen. Scott. At Morris Island in Charleston Harbor, a Confederate battery fired on the American schooner Rhoda H. Shannon. Union Sec. of Navy Welles ordered USS Powhatan, Pawnee and Pocahontas and Cutter Harriet Lane to provision Ft. Sumter. Powhatan had left for Ft. Pickens. Lincoln announced supplying Sumter. The Confederate moved the newly constructed floating battery and anchored it near Sullivan’s Island. 4/11/61, the Confederate demanded the Federal to surrender Ft. Sumter. Maj. Anderson replied he would leave on 4/15 at noon. The answer was not satisfactory to the Confederates, since the Federal relief ship was approaching Sumter. On the 4/12/61 at 4:30 am, (one source said it was) Capt. George S. James, (another source said it was Lieut. Henry S. Farley) at Fort Johnson fired the “first” signal shot as instructed, and with other batteries, opened up their artillery forming a ring of fire pointing to Ft. Sumter. (Most likely it was Capt. George S. James who “first” gave the order to fire at Ft. Johnson, and Lieut. Henry S. Farley who “first” pulled the lanyard.) Edmund Ruffin, the civilian, did not fire the real “first” shot as legend said, but he did fire the first shot from columbiad number one of the iron battery at Cummings Point on Morris Island. Ruffin was close, but didn’t get the top banana. Ft. Sumter blew up like a firework finale, with deafening roars, for thirty-four hours. Crowds watched from the rooftops. The fuse was lighted and there would be no turning back, because this time, President Lincoln responded.