April 12, 1861: And The War Came

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 Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

                                                                            Abraham Lincoln

One hundred and fifty years ago, at 4:30 AM on April 12, 1861, the Civil War began with the commencement of the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.  This was the end of months of attempted negotiation regarding the removal of Federal troops from Fort Sumter.  The bombardment was fierce, but casualty free.  The 85 men under Major Robert Anderson defended the fort until April 13, 1861 at 1:00 PM when he agreed to surrender due to his men being hungry and exhausted, fires raging uncontrolled throughout the Fort and the military situation being completely hopeless.  The surrender ceremonies were held the next day, with two Union soldiers being killed when a pile of cartridges exploded during the 100 gun salute to the Stars and Stripes that Major Anderson had insisted upon.  Anderson and his men sailed to the North with Anderson carrying the Fort Sumter flag with him.  Four years later to the day, Major General Robert Anderson raised the same flag over Union controlled Fort Sumter.

The firing on Fort Sumter sent both the North and the South into a war frenzy, leading to the secession of Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina.  The battle lines were now drawn  for the Civil War, a war which would kill some 620,000 Union and Confederate troops, and wound, often maimed for life, approximately an equal number.

How had it come to this?  Why did the conflict over slavery end in war?

1.  Talked out-For over forty years the North and the South had argued about slavery.  I think there was zero appetite on both sides to continue a discussion that was obviously going nowhere.

2.  Failure of compromise-In 1820 and 1850 grand compromises had been reached to resolve the slavery issue.  They failed.  People on both sides had reached the conclusion by the election of 1860 that no satisfactory compromise on the question of slavery was possible.

3.  Hardening attitudes on slavery-At the time of the Revolution most of the Founding Fathers agreed that slavery was an evil and that ultimately it would die out as an institution.  Technological advances, including the cotton gin and steam transport, breathed new life into the institution of slavery, and morality followed economics with most white Southerners viewing slavery as a positive good.  The North on the other hand, home of an ever-growing abolitionist movement, became more convinced over time that slavery was an evil, the Republican platform of 1856 referring to it as a “relic of barbarism”. 

4.  Secession as fait accompli-Americans have usually shown a genius for compromise.  In the secession crisis of 1860-61 this talent for compromise was short-circuited.  Once secession was a fact rather than a threat, compromise was no longer possible on the key issue of preservation of the Union.

5.  Expectations of a swift and bloodless war-Both sides had convinced themselves that the other side would not, or could not, fight.  (Two exceptions to this viewpoint were Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis who both feared the war would be long and arduous.)  This viewpoint is well illustrated in this scene from Gone With the Wind:

The war they actually got is shown in this selection of other scenes from Gone With the Wind:

6.  Leaders unwilling to compromise-Ironically both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln prior to the war were regarded as moderates.  Lincoln was not an abolitionist who wanted to compel the South to abolish slavery yesterday, and Davis, although he believed in the legality of secession, opposed it in practice, as he did when he spoke against secession prior to Mississippi leaving the Union.  However, in the war they would not compromise on the issue of the preservation of the Union or independence for the Confederacy.

7.  Enemies not Countrymen-For more than a generation the North and the South had gotten used to thinking of the other section as an adversary.  A huge amount of animosity and ill-will had built up on both sides, and it was a small leap from viewing each other as political adversaries to enemies to fight against.

8.  James Buchanan-One of the worst of American presidents, he was in office at precisely the wrong time for the nation.  His weakness and vacillation helped convince the South that the North would not fight, and allowed secession to build up a head of steam that turned a political crisis into a sanguinary war.

9.  John Brown-His raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 helped drive many moderate white southerners into the secessionist camp by convincing them that there were more than a few Northerners quite willing to incite a race war in the South.

10. A House Divided Cannot Stand-A nation has to agree on fundamental principles if it is to endure.  America had been founded in the name of liberty.  From the beginning the institution of negro slavery had made a mockery of American pretensions to love liberty.  From the Revolution forward, the conflict over slavery had gradually worn away the love of the Union that had been one of the legacies of the American Revolution.  By the time of the Civil War, the few Revolutionary soldiers left were men nearing a hundred and new generations had arisen to whom the Union was not something to cherish, but something to fight over. 

All of the foregoing reasons played a role in bringing about the war, but I tend to agree with Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address as to perhaps the ultimate cause of the war: 

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

More to explorer

PopeWatch: Uncle Ted

 “Yeah, five years. If we had five years, the Lord working through Bergoglio in five years could make the Church over again.”

Requiescat in Pace: Pat Caddell

  Pat Caddell has passed away at age 68.  He went from being Jimmy Carter’s wunderkind pollster in 1976 to supporting Trump


  1. Other than geographical distribution, I see little difference between slavery and abortion. Perhaps this is because of my pessimism. Yet with just a few word changes to the last quote from Lincoln above we could easily make this applicable to pro-life vs abortion. We face a great and terrible crisis today just as our nation faced a similar one 150 years ago. Yes, I agree that there were many other factors in the war between the states than slavery, and yes, I agree in the principle of “states’ rights” said to have been the main driving thrust of the Confederacy – today our Federal government is far, far too big and too powerful. But slavery was an evil to be removed only with the sword. I truly hope thhe same isn’t the case with abortion, yet no liberal I have ever met is ever willing to abandon abortion. May the Lord have mercy on us.

  2. Good as usual, though Virginia did not secede because of Sumpter (in fact, as late as April 4 Virginia voted against secession and in fact had sent a “peace delegation” to Washington to try to avert war.

    Even after Sumter Virginia did not secede. Only when Lincoln plainly declared his intention to invade the south and made demands on Virginia to contribute troops to this effort, did Virginia secede.

    While slavery was the most important bone of contention, sectional differences had sharply increased in the 50 years leading up to the war.

    Certainly, slavery being a practice entirely constitutionally permissible, the North could in no wise invade and conquer a state or combination of states to eliminate it. Lincoln himself realized this of course, and famously wrote to Horace Greely that “If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

    Only much later did Lincoln seize on emancipation as a war aim, when he rightly calculated it would avert European intervention on behalf of the Confederacy, and satisfy the fire-eating wing of the Republican party.

    Alas, if South Carolina had been more patient, and Lincoln had not clumsily tried to raise troops from the border states and Virginia, war could have been averted, and our system of federalism remain strong. In the event, Lee’s prediction was very close to the mark:
    “I consider it [state sovereignty] as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”

    We are living it out.

  3. “Reading US history, it sometimes amazes me that we didn’t break out into war earlier.”

    Indeed. And if it had, it would have likely ended in a southern victory. I’ve read that if it had started any time before 1850, the South wins. The reason: the Northern rail net that gave so much strategic mobility and logistical superiority to the Union forces was nowhere near as developed.

  4. This is what we call in the news business “the anniversary story.” As if there is something special about the number 150, as opposed to 149, which passed last year without notice, and next year when it will be a non-news story.

    Sorry, Don, to be the skunk at the garden party, but other than a round number, what is there to celebrate, commemorate or otherwise observe, other than to dredge up a terrible time in our nation’s history that saw 600,000 Americans killed in a needless, yes, needless conflict that might have been avoided with a peaceful solution?

    Were the South to have had its way and seceded, perhaps two separate nations would have carved out different and better destinies because in the end what we have now is a nation just as divided politically on any number of issues and a civil war of a different kind. No shooting — yet, but where is the unity that Mr. Lincoln said was vital to standing rather than falling?

    As a veteran, it’s more than sufficient that there are special holidays a year to remember those who sacrificed for the cause of freedom. Further reminders of our bloody history are superfluous, IMHO, but I realize I am in the vast minority because, guaranteed, it will be on every TV news show tonight.

  5. “Sorry, Don, to be the skunk at the garden party, but other than a round number, what is there to celebrate, commemorate or otherwise observe, other than to dredge up a terrible time in our nation’s history that saw 600,000 Americans killed in a needless, yes, needless conflict that might have been avoided with a peaceful solution?”

    All conflicts can be avoided Joe, the question always is on what terms. The division of the Union and the preservation of slavery I think were not good terms. If the Union had not been preserved, I think not only two Republics would have stood for long in the aftermath. Allow secession to succeed once, and I think it is a remedy that would have been called upon frequently in times of national stress. Then a group of squabbling American republics would have been ill-prepared to meet the challenges from fascism and communism in the Twentieth Century. No, better that the war have been fought then than that the Union would have ended and slavery not end.

    In looking back at the Civil War I honor the courage of the men in the ranks on both sides, the endurance of the people, the brilliance of some of the generals and the travails of the statesmen, Abraham Lincoln and Jeffferson Davis, who found themselves leading fractions of the American people. I celebrate the ending of slavery and the preservation of the United States of American.

    Besides Joe, I find the Civil War endless fascinating and I will seize any opportunity to write about it! 🙂

  6. Yes, Don, reams have been written and more will be for the reasons you cite. I once bought an 11-hour documentary, Victory at Sea, and wound up watching about an hour. The rest was redundant.

    I am sorry to have intruded with my minority opinion. I remember reading Andersonville when I was a boy and it left a lasting impression of tragedy.

  7. I think that even if the North had allowed the South to secede, war would have still occurred. America was expanding westward. The issue of slavery kept cropping up, and conflict occurred between those who wished for the expansion of slavery into new territories, and those who opposed it. Secession would not have resolved that issue, and in fact would have complicated and increased the likelihood of conflict during western expansion. Eventually it would have come to blows anyway.

  8. In regard to Andersonville Joe, you might find my post on it of interest:

    “I normally take great pride in being an American, but there are passages in our history which all Americans should be ashamed of. During our Civil War in many prison camps, both North and South, POWs were treated wretchedly with inadequate shelter, clothing and food. The worst by far was Andersonville.”


    In regard to Robert E. Lee, I think this post indicates the high esteem I have for Marse Robert as he was called by his troops.


  9. “Reading US history, it sometimes amazes me that we didn’t break out into war earlier.”

    Wars are fought over economics and are manipulated by those who have something to gain financially. Abortion sucks up funds and lines the pockets of the unscrupulous. The greater the flow of cash the easier it is to skim off the top. Politicians get theirs in the form of bribes a.k.a. contributions, doctors in the form of revenues, and administrators in the forms of bonuses and perks. If you want to end abortion then take away the funding, public funding that is. You cannot have this LBJ type of society with all of these give always and expect government to do what is right and moral.

  10. Other than geographical distribution, I see little difference between slavery and abortion.

    I certainly think it is the moral issue of our time, as slavery was in ante-bellum America. An OB/GYN I know who is very active in the pro-life movement has told me he does not expect to see Roe overturned in his lifetime (he is in his late 50’s). But then, nobody imagined back in the 70’s that we would see the end of the USSR in our lifetimes. I do wonder if the social and sexual revolution of the ’60’s is not heading toward collapse, just as the social welfare state certainly is. Anyone interested in history is aware of how the pendulum swings, and it’s hard to imagine how we can get any more decadent before a correction sets in.

    The geographical aspect is worrisome and far more complicated than the Civil War breakdown into the Confederacy vs. the Union. Yes, I’m aware of the Northern Copperheads, pockets of Union sympathizers in the South, and the tricky situation of the border states, but, still, the geographic boundaries, by and large reflected the makeup of the country.

    As messy as it was, there was a far cleaner divide in 1861 then there would be today. How on earth could one split the country today? California, thought of as very blue, gets redder and redder as one moves inland from the coast. Illinois gets redder as one moves away from Chicagoland. In my own state, my liberal neighborhood is only 15 miles away from conservative Waukesha County and Brookfield (bless you, Waukesha County!) . And Brookfield is an hour and a half away from ultra-leftist Madison – but politically, the 2 places are in universes as different as the ones occupied by, say, Charleston and Boston in the 1860’s.

  11. I agree with you Donna that the sexual revolution has about run its course. Libertine periods as we have lived through are not that unusual in human history, and they tend to be followed by stricter periods, as the kids raised in such an environment eventually revolt against it.

    In regard to the overlap of blue and red areas I also agree. Most of the country consists of blue urban enclaves surrounded by red seas. Pre-Civil War, slavery had become the distinguishing characteristic of the South, and we have nothing like that which divides us on a purely regional basis. We are much more like the Patriots and Tories in the Revolution where regions within the states tended to go one way or another, although the Tories never were able to get their acts together unless they were supported by the Redcoats.

  12. C;mon, guys. You REALLY don’t have to look too hard to note that there is indeed a regional divide in this country. Yes there are pockets of red even in deep blue states, as there are pockets of blue in the reddest of red states. Nevertheless, this nation is divided along cultural lines that are discernable on a regional basis. Are the dividing issues as clear-cut as slavery? No. But they are there, they are distinctive, and one of the clearest indicators of one’s views on those issues is what region of the country one hails from.

  13. Well, Jay, what about Austin, Texas, Durham, NC, Charlottesville, VA – or New Orleans for that matter? The big divider is the urban areas and university towns vs. the ‘burbs and rural areas.

    Things look a bit more complicated to those of us who live in purple states – and that now includes states like Colorado and New Hampshire, which were once firmly conservative, but have trended more liberal since transplants from neighboring blue states have moved there.

    And please, someone explain the mindset of someone who flees Mass. or California because of the taxes – and then moves to NH or Colorado and proceeds to vote for the same ruinous policies?

  14. Donald: One striking contrast I’ve noticed is that that blasted Cook county tends to pull all the other northern Illinois counties with it, with the exception of Ogle and Lee counties. The 2008 election results in IL:


    Milwaukee, being a considerably smaller city, simply doesn’t have the pull Chicago does. Take a gander at our 2010 gubernatorial map and you’ll see that Milwaukee County floats alone in a sea of GOP voters:


    The big divide here (clearer when you check the results of last week’s election for SC judge) appears to be between the eastern and western parts of the state.

  15. A prime example of what I am taking about in regard to the urban-rural divide is in my home state of Illinois. Linked below is a map of the election results. Pro-abort Patrick Quinn eked out a narrow win against pro-life Bill Brady:


    Illinois has 102 counties. Quinn won 3 counties, two of those narrowly. Unfortunately, his third county was Cook which he won by 36 points. Wthout Chicago there would be few states more conservative than Illinois.

  16. Jay does raise a valid caveat to my thesis in regard to two regions: New England and the South. However, even here I think my thesis largely holds up when factoring in interstate immigration. New England, especially Vermont, has become a mecca for liberals, due to the high number of college towns and Vermont being portrayed, bizarrely in my view, as a hippie bucolic paradise, while the South has received many former rust belt Republicans over the past three decades.

  17. Donald said, “A prime example of what I am taking about between the urban-rural divide is in my home state of Illinois. Linked below is a map of the election results. Pro-abort Patrick Quinn eked out a narrow win against pro-life Bill Brady…”

    Wikipedia indicates that Governor Quinn, a Democrat, is Roman Catholic. How can he possibly be Roman Catholic and pro-abortion? Why does not the Church publicly excommunicate all publicly professed pro-abortion politicians? Those are rhetorical questions and yes, I realize a person excommunicates himself by such vile acts, yet the public scandal must be confronted with a public response. Look at how St. Peter confronted Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11, or what St. Paul did to Hymenaus and Alexander in 1st Timothy 1:19-20, or what St. John said about Jezebel at the Church in Thyatira in Revelation 2:20-23. Precedence has been established for dealing with Nancy Pelosi, Patrick Kennedy, Joe Biden, John Kerry and the rest.

    I have to wonder if the majority of pro-abortion politicians aren’t such self-professed Roman Catholics, in which case this whole mess is our fault in the Roman Catholic Church. Satan wins when the members of the Body of Christ don’t do their job. We the laity need to pray, and the clergy needs to get some back-bone and stop replacing the Gospel of Conversion and Repentance with this false sense of social justice (that is really Marxism at heart and not truly social justice). In fact, there can be NO social justice till abortion is stopped just as in the Civil War there could be NO peace till slavery was stopped (though that wasn’t the only issue of the war).

  18. “Wikipedia indicates that Governor Quinn, a Democrat, is Roman Catholic.”

    Yep, Paul and as you noted a 100% pro-abort. He got re-elected largely by under the radar last minute internet ads posted by Personal Pac, a pro-abort lobbying group, headed by Terry Cosgrove. As payback Quinn appointed Cosgrove to a $46,000 a year job on the Human Rights Commission:


    Now I happen to know Cosgrove from the days back in the Seventies when we were both attending the U of I. He is a lapsed Catholic, now a militant atheist, homosexual activist and fantical pro-abort. He was head of the local campus pro-aborts and I was one of the founders of L.I.F.E. (Life Is For Everyone), the campus pro-life group. One time I saw Cosgrove at Mass circa 1980 at the Newman Chapel, at Saint John’s. Puzzled why he was there, after Mass I found out why. At the pamphlet rack in the back I saw that he had stuffed pro-abort anti-Catholic pamphlets. I disposed of them. He also said in one memorable public forum that he carried a gun to defend himself against “militant anti-choicers”, as he phrased pro-lifers. That a bigot like Cosgrove now has a seat on the Human Rights Commission in Illinois has a nice Orwellian touch.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the bishops to say anything about this. They are too busy patting Quinn on the back for signing a bill abolishing the death penalty:


  19. “Well, Jay, what about Austin, Texas, Durham, NC, Charlottesville, VA – or New Orleans for that matter? The big divider is the urban areas and university towns vs. the ‘burbs and rural areas.”

    Having lived in one of those places (C’ville) and spent a fair amount of time in another (Austin), I’m well aware that those cities are more liberal than the states in which they are located. But make no mistake, Austin and C’ville are NOT Cambridge, MA, New Haven, CT, Berkley, CA, or Madison, WI. They’re just not THAT liberal (politically or culturally) in comparison.

    There’s a whole lot more than just urban vs. rural going on. My home state has 3 of the top-10 largest metropolitan areas in the country – Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio. And then, yes, throw in Austin. You’d think that the presence of these large urban areas would have some significant impact on the state’s political and cultural map. Yet Texas is one of the reddest of the red states politically (and only getting redder, even accounting for immigration from Mexico, which you’d think would make it bluer) and one of the most culturally conservative states in the union.

    My unscientific assessment is that he urban and university centers in the South, mountain West, and lower Midwest, while more liberal than the states in which they are located, are nevertheless more conservative than their urban and university counterparts in the Northeast, far West, and upper Midwest.

  20. “And please, someone explain the mindset of someone who flees Mass. or California because of the taxes – and then moves to NH or Colorado and proceeds to vote for the same ruinous policies?”

    Because they still are possessed of the same “Govt. provide us” mentality. That also includes the “Business is bad and has all the money mentality” and “Govt. can solve this” mentality.

    Thus they start to vote for the same things, especially since their “taxes are so low.” Then they feel good.

    Besides, it will take at least twenty years to get to where their previous state was and by then they will be collecting the benefits of all those policies they voted for.

  21. One casus belli that is not mentioned too often – Lincoln won the 1860 election without carrying a single Southern state.

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