Friday, April 29, 2011

"All We Ask is to be Let Alone"

Jefferson Davis
150 years ago today Jefferson Davis gave an important speech to the Confederate Congress in Montgomery. He began by announcing that all the seceded states had adopted the Confederate Constitution, and continued on to address issues that would probably come up during the coming war.

He quickly recounted the grievances of the south against the north and how a president had been elected who ran on the platform of abolishing slavery:
With interests of such overwhelming magnitude imperiled, the people of the Southern States were driven by the conduct of the North to the adoption of some course of action to avert the danger with which they were openly menaced. With this view the legislatures of the several States invited the people to select delegates to conventions to be held for the purpose of determining for themselves what measures were best adapted to meet so alarming a crisis in their history. ... In the exercise of [the] right [to redress grievances] so ancient, so well established, and so necessary for self-preservation, the people of the Confederate States, in their conventions, determined that the wrongs which they had suffered and the evils with which they were menaced required that they should revoke the delegation of powers to the Federal Government which they had ratified in their several conventions. They consequently passed ordinances resuming all their rights as sovereign and Independent States and dissolved their connection with the other States of the Union.
Davis said that the new Confederacy attempted to establish friendly terms with the nation which they had just left, but were refused. He told of the necessary attack on Fort Sumter, Lincoln's call for 75,000 men, the secession of Virginia, and the Confederate efforts to organize the government and raise troops for its defense. He concluded:
A people thus united and resolved cannot shrink from any sacrifice which they may be called on to make, nor can there be a reasonable doubt of their final success, however long and severe may be the test of their determination to maintain their birthright of freedom and equality as a trust which it is their first duty to transmit undiminished to their posterity. A bounteous Providence cheers us with the promise of abundant crops. The fields of grain which will within a few weeks be ready for the sickle give assurance of the amplest supply of food for man; whilst the corn, cotton, and other staple productions of our soil afford abundant proof that up to this period the season has been propitious. We feel that our cause is just and holy; we protest solemnly in the face of mankind that we desire peace at any sacrifice save that of honor and independence; we seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the States with which we were lately confederated; all we ask is to be let alone; that those who never held power over us shall not now attempt our subjugation by arms. This we will, this we must, resist to the direst extremity. The moment that this pretension is abandoned the sword will drop from our grasp, and we shall be ready to enter into treaties of amity and commerce that cannot but be mutually beneficial. So long as this pretension is maintained, with a firm reliance on that Divine Power which covers with its protection the just cause, we will continue to struggle for our inherent right to freedom, independence, and self-government.
You can read the entire speech here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Maryland Refuses Secession

Thomas Hicks, governor of Maryland

Today, 150 years ago, the Maryland legislature voted on secession. Maryland was a slave state and south of the Mason-Dixon line, but it had sympathies with both the North and South. After Lincoln's election the governor tried to be neutral, and did not call the legislature into secession.

After the Baltimore riot, where a secessionist mob attacked troops moving through the city, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. Haebeas corpus provides a defense against being unlawfully imprisoned. It is a right guaranteed by the Constitution, except in cases of insurrection.

A convention met in late April to discuss secession, and it voted against it 55-13. If they had seceded, they would probably have been immediately occupied by the North, because of the location of Washington, DC. Even though their state voted to remain in the Union, about 20,000 Marylanders fought for the South, while about 30,000 fought for the North.

Fort Sumter

A few weeks ago we visited Charleston for the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter. Here are a few pictures from Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie, where Robert Anderson's garrison originally was. 

Fort Sumter
Cannon at Sumter

Heavy Cannon at Sumter

Fort Moultrie
You can see more pictures here

Saturday, April 23, 2011

George B. McClellan Appointed General

On April 23rd, 1861, 150 years ago today, George B. McClellan was appointed Major General of Volunteers and commander of the Ohio militia. Throughout the war McClellan had one of the greatest effects on the military cause of the Union, in both positive and negative ways.

McClellan was born December 3, 1826 and ranked second in the West Point Class of 1846. He fought in the Mexican War and remained in the military afterward, serving with distinction. He was the official American observer of the Crimean War, and invented the McClellan saddle, which is in use in the US military to this day. He resigned in 1857 and became the president of a railroad company. Because of his high military standing and his practical organizational experience, the governors of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York all asked him to command their militia. He accepted the command of the Ohio militia on April 23rd.

As we will see over the next few years, McClellan was a master of organization, but his fighting skills did not measure up. Many times even after winning a battle with superior forces, he would retreat and loose the campaign. Lincoln summarized his by abilities saying, "If he can't fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Baltimore Riot

Since the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for 75,000 troops to attack the South, Virginia had already seceded and the secession was moving forward in several other states. Maryland, one of the slave-holding states, was favorable towards secession, especially Baltimore. When Lincoln was traveling to Washington for his inauguration a few months before, he had traveled through Baltimore at night for fear of assassination.

On April 19th, 1861 150 years ago today, the Sixth Massachusetts regiment was traveling through Baltimore on the way to defend Washington. The railroad cars in which the troops were transported had to be dragged by horse through the city because of a law against the use of locomotives in the city. As the Northern troops were moving through the streets, anti-Union men blocked the road to prevent their progress. Seeing this, the troops exited the cars and marched in formation. The rioters attacked the regiment, throwing bricks and firing pistols. Eventually the soldiers were able to reach the train station with the help of the police, leaving behind four soldiers and twelve civilians dead, and many more wounded.

The Marylanders asked Lincoln to not send any further troops through the city to prevent further riots. However Lincoln refused, saying that the troops were needed and that was the only way they could travel. As we will see later, the city was occupied and secession was prevented.
James Ryder Randall
Author of Maryland, My Maryland
Another consequence of the riot was the writing of Maryland, My Maryland. James Ryder Randall, a Marylander who was living in Louisanna, was a friend of one of the men killed in the riot. In the song he referred to the riots and Maryland's martial past and urged them to secede and resist the tyranny of Lincoln and the federal government. It was sung throughout the war by Marylanders sympathetic to the South and, amazingly, after the war it was made the state song and has remained so until the present.
The despot's heel is on thy shore,
His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Hark to an exiled son's appeal,
My mother State! to thee I kneel,
For life and death, for woe and weal,
Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
And gird thy beauteous limbs with steel,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Come! for thy shield is bright and strong,
Come! for thy dalliance does thee wrong,
Come to thine own anointed throng,
Stalking with Liberty along,
And chaunt thy dauntless slogan song,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Dear Mother! burst the tyrant's chain,
Virginia should not call in vain,
She meets her sisters on the plain-
"Sic semper!" 'tis the proud refrain
That baffles minions back amain,
Arise in majesty again,
Maryland! My Maryland!

I see the blush upon thy cheek,
For thou wast ever bravely meek,
But lo! there surges forth a shriek,
From hill to hill, from creek to creek-
Potomac calls to Chesapeake,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Thou wilt not yield the Vandal toll,
Thou wilt not crook to his control,
Better the fire upon thee roll,
Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
Than crucifixion of the soul,
Maryland! My Maryland!

I hear the distant thunder-hum,
The Old Line's bugle, fife, and drum,
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she'll come! she'll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!
You can read the complete words here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lincoln Offers Lee the Command

Col. Lee
One hundred fifty years ago today, Col. Robert E. Lee was offered the command of the United States army. Lee was a military officer who had attended West Point and had fought with distinction in the Mexican American War. He was one of the higher ranking soldiers in the U.S. Army at the time of secession, and had served for a time as Superintendent of West Point. Winfield Scott, the highest ranking American general and military hero, told Lincoln that he wished Lee to command of the army. He was appointed as Colonel on March 28th, and ignored a Confederate offer of command.

But after the attack on Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for 75,000 men, Virginia, Lee's home state, seceded. Lincoln appointed him Major General and offered him the command of the army. Lee however turned it down. After he made his decision, Winfield Scott said, “Lee, you have made the greatest mistake of your life...”

To many people today, it would see strange that Lee would turn down such a command and follow the apparently hopeless fate of the Confederacy. Although he was born and raised in Virginia, like Winfield Scott, he had spent much of his life serving the United States of America all over the continent. He disagreed with slavery, and believed that secession was unwise. He wrote:
I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, & I am willing to sacrifice every thing but honour for its preservation...
With all these reasons pointing to why he would stay with the North, why did he decide to side with the South? It came down to his view of state sovereignty. Lee viewed himself as a Virginian more than an American. He would follow the choice of his state even though he personally disagreed with it. He viewed his service to the South not as a fight against the Union, but as a defense of Virginia. Lee said,
I shall never bear arms against the Union, but it may be necessary for me to carry a musket in the defense of my native state, Virginia, in which case I shall not prove recreant to my duty.
General Winfield Scott

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Virginia Secedes

After Lincoln called upon the states remaining in the Union to raise 75,000 soldiers to attack the South, Virginia immediately began making preparations to secede, which they did on April 17th. In their ordinance of secession, they said this to defend their right to secede:
The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States...
What the Virginians were referring to is that when they voted to ratify the Constitution, they specifically reserved the right to leave the Union when they wished. At the time the delegates, “declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will.”

In its secession Virginia was simply exercising its inherent right to secede which it had expressly reserved to itself when it joined the Union.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Lincoln Calls for Troops to Attack the South

Abraham Lincoln
The attack on Fort Sumter had very sudden political effects. While the South saw the fort as part of their territory occupied by a foreign nation which could rightfully be removed, the North saw it as an attack and insurrection on the government. Therefore, the day after the surrender, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for the states to call out 75,000 militia to suppress the rebellion. He said,
Whereas the laws of the United States have been for some time past, and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings...
He said that the first responsibility of the militia summoned would be to repossess the forts from which they were driven, and he assured the people of the South that, “utmost care will be observed ... to avoid any devastation, any destruction of, or interference with, property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens in any part of the country.”

We have discussed earlier how the Upper Slave states of the south had not yet seceded. While they wished to keep their slaves and desired to remain in the Union, they would not participate in an invasion of the seceded states. Just two days before President Lincoln told a prominent Virginian that no invasion would take place, just as he had said in his inauguration, “beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion - no use of force against or among the people anywhere.” But now he was calling upon the South to raise troops to attack the states who had exercised their right to leave the Union.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fort Sumter Surrenders

Ruins of the Fort
Today, 150 years ago, Fort Sumter was surrendered. After almost being reinforced from the sea and after a two day siege, it had fallen to the fierce bombardment. The fort was officially handed over at 2:30 pm. One term Anderson requested in the surrender is that a 100 gun salute be given to the American flag. While this was being done, a spark ignited a pile of ammunition, exploding and injuring a gun crew. Private Daniel Hough was killed instantly, and Private Edward Gallway died a few days later. These were the first casualties of the war, since no one was killed during the siege.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bombardment of Fort Sumter - Day 2

On April 13th, 1861, the bombardment of Fort Sumter continued. The Confederates began to fire "hot shot," cannon balls heated in ovens, to attempt to set the buildings of the fort on fire. They were successful, and although the Union garrison was able to prevent the explosion of the powder magazine, they were not able to successfully fight the flames. The Confederates recognized the valor of the defenders, and cheered on their efforts.

At 12:30 Sumter's flagstaff was shot down, and soon after it was replaced the occurred occur the next day. Anderson reported to Washington:
Having defended Fort Sumter for thirty-four hours until the quarters were entirely burned the main gates destroyed by fire, the gorge walls seriously injured, the magazine surrounded by flames and its door closer from the effects of heat four barrels and three cartridges of powder only being available and no provisions remaining but pork, I accepted terms of evacuation offered by General Beauregard being on same offered by him on the eleventh inst. Prior to the commencement of hostilities...
One man described Fort Sumter after the siege thus:
It was a scene of ruin and destruction. The quarters and barracks were in ruins. The main gates and the planking of the windows on the gorge were gone; the magazines closed and surrounded by smoldering flames and burning ashes; the provisions exhausted; much of the engineering work destroyed; and with only four barrels of powder available. The command had yielded to the inevitable. The effect of the direct shot had been to indent the walls, where the marks could be counted by hundreds, while the shells, well directed, had crushed the quarters, and, in connection with hot shot, setting them on fire, had destroyed the barracks and quarters down to the gun casemates, while the enfilading fire had prevented the service of the barbette guns, some of them comprising the most important battery in the work.
Even with the heavy fire on the fort no one was killed. In the coming days we will see some of the effects of this first battle of the war.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bombardment of Fort Sumter - Day 1

150 years ago yesterday, Major Robert Anderson, commander of Ft. Sumter, agreed to surrender on April 15th if he did not receive additional supplies. But at 3:20 AM the next day, General Beauregard received the news that the ships carrying reinforcements were gathering outside Charleston. Since their arrival was so imminent, he sent a message to Anderson telling him that he would open fire in one hour.
Captain George James
Roger A. Pryor, a Virginia politician who since his own state would not secede had come to South Carolina to urge the attack on Fort Sumter, was offered the opportunity to fire the first shot, but he refused saying, "I could not fire the first gun of the war." Therefore Captain George S. James, the commander of the battery, fired the first shot of the siege at 4:30 AM. The Civil War had begun.
The firing of the mortar woke the echoes from every nook and corner of the harbor, and in this the dead hour of the night, before dawn, that shot was a sound of alarm that brought every soldier in the harbor to his feet, and every man, woman and child in the city of Charleston from their beds. A thrill went through the whole city.1
Fort Sumter answered at 7:30 AM, firing accurately and slowly. The fort was designed to resist a naval attack from the ocean, so the only guns that could be safely fired could not fire directly on the opposing Confederate works. Even though both sides were low on ammunition, they continued firing throughout the night and into the next day.
Firing on Fort Sumter
Fox, the commander of the naval relief expedition, ordered small boats to be sent into the harbor with supplies. However, they were deterred by the artillery fire. At night the sea was too boisterous to land, so Fox hoped the fort would hold out until the next night so it could be relieved.

1. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Source p. 77

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Beauregard Sends Final Request to Surrender

Since the secession of South Carolina in December, the Confederate authorities had requested that Fort Sumter be surredered many times, and Major Robert Anderson always refused. But after receiving the news that a relief expedition was being sent to the fort, General P. G. T. Beauregard, the Confederate commander in Charleston, South Carolina, gave Anderson one last chance to surrender the fort without bloodshed on April 11th, 150 years ago today.
General Beauregard
Beauregard sent this as the final request to surrender:

Headquarters Provisional Army, C. S. A. 
Charleston, April 11, 1861.
       Sir: The government of the Confederate States has hitherto foreborne from any hostile demonstrations against Fort Sumter, in hope that the government of the United States, with a view to the amicable adjustment of all questions between the two governments, and to avert the calamities of war, would voluntarily evacuate it.
       There was reason at one time to believe that such would be the course pursued by the government of the United States, and under that impression my government has refrained from making any demand for the surrender of the fort. But the Confederate States can no longer delay assuming actual possession of a fortification commanding the entrance of one of their harbors and necessary to its defense and security.
       I am ordered by the government of the Confederate States to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter. ... All proper facilities will be afforded for the removal of yourself and command, together with company arms and property, and all private property, to any post in the United States which you may select. The flag which you have upheld so long and with so much fortitude, under the most trying circumstances, may be saluted by you on taking it down. Colonel Chestnut and Captain Lee will, for a reasonable time, await your answer.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, 
Brigadier-General Commanding

To which Major Anderson replied,

Fort Sumter, S.C., 
April 11, 1861.
       General: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication demanding the evacuation of this fort, and to say, in reply thereto, that it is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligations to my government, prevent my compliance. Thanking you for the fair, manly and courteous terms proposed, and for the high compliment paid me,
I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant, 
Major, First Artillery, Commanding.

Major Robert Anderson
Beauregard, knowing that the fort was nearly out of provisions, asked Anderson when that would occur. Anderson replied that if they received no aditional instructions or provisions, and the Southerners did not attack, they would leave the fort at noon on April 15th, just four days away.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Relief Fleet Departs from New York

Baltic, used as a transport ship
As we have discussed before, President Lincoln commissioned Gustavus V. Fox to attempt to execute his plan to resupply Fort Sumter. Therefore he left for New York City to procure ships and arrived there on April 5th, 1861. He hired a passenger steamship Baltic and three smaller tugs. They would rendezvous with Union warships at Fort Sumter. His work was hampered by several of the military officers, who believed that the attempt was hopeless and supplied useless soldiers. Additionally, he was hard-pressed to find ship owners who were willing to risk their ships in the dangerous attempt. He was finally able to depart on April 8th. On the journey they encountered a gale which slowed their progress. As we will see, their arrival was Providentially delayed just enough to be of no service to the fort.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896) Source  Series 1, Volume 1 p. 248-249

Friday, April 8, 2011

Preparations to Attack Fort Sumter

Map of the Forts in Charleston Harbor
Since being appointed Confederate commander in Charleston on March 1 to drive the Northern troops out of Fort Sumter, Major General P. G. T. Beauregard was making preparations to launch the attack. When Beauregard had attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, Major Robert Anderson, the commander of the fort, was actually his artillery instructor. After graduation Beauregard became his assistant. Later on Beauregard was an engineer and one of the foremost US military officers. Just before coming South he had been appointed superintendent of West Point.

When he arrived in Charleston, Beauregard began to prepare for the possibility of having to attack the fort. He trained the South Carolina militia, 6000 of which were available, but they were very inexperienced. Additionally he gathered a large strength of artillery, numbering almost 50 guns of various sizes. The position of Fort Sumter was unfavorable for the Northern defenders. Aside from their lack of provisions, although they had 60 cannons, they did not have nearly enough men to man them and the guns were pointed seaward, and not toward the coastal positions.

Fort Sumter