12th

April 12th, 1861

April 2011

By

On this date a century and a half ago, the fractured Union and its erstwhile member states, then in a state of succession, began the four-year long national tragedy of the American Civil War. Newly-inaugurated President Abraham Lincoln had sent a supply ship to replenish the garrison at Fort Sumter in the harbor of South Carolina’s port of Charleston, where Major Robert Anderson had retreated from Fort Moultrie with his little command of seventy-eight men. General P. G. T Beauregard, with around 500 men and a number of formerly Federal shore batteries, would not allow the ship to pass.

The standoff continued until the early hours of 12 April 1861, when Beauregard ordered his shore batteries to begin a bombardment of the Federal garrison. The small Federal garrison returned fire, but the unequal contest was over by the next afternoon. Ironically, the opening act of the great and bloody contest was nearly bloodless, without a mortal casualty on either side, and fewer than two dozen wounded. But the battle represented a gate that, once exited, could not be re-entered. Though many can argue with conviction that the the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Harper’s Ferry two years before, or even in Lawrence, Kansas, in the middle of the previous decade, it was the roar of cannon at Fort Sumter that signaled that war had arrived. Abraham Lincoln somewhat optimistically asked for 75,000 volunteers to help put down the rebellion.

Nearly four years later, Lee’s starving and threadbare Army of Northern Virginia would surrender to Grant’s massive Army of the Potomac. In the interim was four years of unprecedented slaughter at places like Malvern Hill, White Oak Swamp, Antietam, Chickamauga, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. More than 650,000 American soldiers had died in a war that stretched from St Alban’s Vermont to Pichaco, Arizona, and saw the first widespread military use of railroads, telegraphs, repeating rifles, and metal warships.

The Civil War has been described as a struggle between two types of warfare, the modern and the obsolete. The character of the American Civil War in 1861 differed little from the last great battles in 1815. By the end, the struggle in the shell-pocked trenches at Petersburg, and the images of streams of refugees in front of Sherman in Georgia more closely resembled 1915 than 1815.

In 1861 Helmuth von Moltke dismissively described American armies as “mobs that wander about in fields carrying muskets”. By 1864, both the North and South fielded vast armies of disciplined, battle-hardened veterans, led by talented and experienced commanders. These armies could march great distances, possessed unparalleled firepower, and showed an ability to endure punishment at Antietam, Shiloh, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, and the Wilderness that astonished European observers. Indeed, the armies of 1864-65 were the most powerful on Earth, dwarfing in size and combat power any other armies fielded anywhere until the First World War.

In the end, the Union had survived. Slavery was abolished through force of arms. And in the words of a President who would be slain just days after the Southern surrender, “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” remained and remains to this day. The seminal event in American history, the great watershed that continues to shape our consciousness and outlook on ourselves and the world around us, began a century and a half ago, this day.




Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Army, History, Marine Corps, Navy, Uncategorized


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  • RickWilmes

    URR,

    Thanks, 150 years, I am reminded  
    of the following, which should be considered with the Middle East basically involved in it’s own civil war.

    Quote from “William Tecumseh Sherman and the Moral Impetus for Victory” by John David Lewis

    “The first shots in the war were fired by southern gunners against a Union garrison on April 12, 1861. For three years armies marched and countermarched between horrific battles, which slaughtered thousands but allowed neither side to prevail. A conflict that many thought would be settled quickly grew into a nightmare that butchered more than 600,000 young men. To restore the constitutional authority of the federal government, the North needed an integrated understanding of means and ends—of a military goal to be attained and a strategy to attain it—pursued with vigor against the heart of the South. For three years President Lincoln sought a general who could understand this—and do it. He found that man in General Ulysses S. Grant, who formulated a successful strategic vision and empowered the Union armies to use it. But it was Grant’s southern commander, General William Tecumseh Sherman, who thrust a dagger into the heartland of the South and brought the Union to victory.”

    http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2006-summer/william-tecumseh-sherman.asp

  • Byron

    Who was Shermans commanding officer? Who sent him to knife through the rebel breadbasket? That would be Grant, who saw both the March to the sea and the battle against the Army of Northern Virginia as parts of a whole.

  • RickWilmes
  • RickWilmes

    Byron, you are correct, as Dr. Lewis pointed out,

    ” To restore the constitutional authority of the federal government, the North needed an integrated understanding of means and ends—of a military goal to be attained and a strategy to attain it—pursued with vigor against the heart of the South. For three years President Lincoln sought a general who could understand this—and do it. He found that man in General Ulysses S. Grant, who formulated a successful strategic vision and empowered the Union armies to use it.”

    Where was Grant on April 12th, 1861?  The following is from Grant’s memoirs, which provides evidence that it is not just soldiers that fight wars.  There are no innocent civilians.

    “THE 4TH OF MARCH, 1861, came, and Abraham Lincoln was sworn to maintain the Union against all its enemies. The secession of one State after another followed, until eleven had gone out. On the 11th of April Fort Sumter, a National fort in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, was fired upon by the Southerners and a few days after was captured. The Confederates proclaimed themselves aliens, and thereby debarred themselves of all right to claim protection under the Constitution of the United States. We did not admit the fact that they were aliens, but all the same, they debarred themselves of the right to expect better treatment than people of any other foreign state who make war upon an independent nation. Upon the firing on Sumter President Lincoln issued his first call for troops and soon after a proclamation convening Congress in extra session. The call was for 75,000 volunteers for ninety days’ service. If the shot fired at Fort Sumter “was heard around the world,” the call of the President for 75,000 men was heard throughout the Northern States. There was not a state in the North of a million of inhabitants that would not have furnished the entire number faster than arms could have been supplied to them, if it had been necessary.   1
      As soon as the news of the call for volunteers reached Galena, posters were stuck up calling for a meeting of the citizens at the court-house in the evening. Business ceased entirely; all was excitement; for a time there were no party distinctions; all were Union men, determined to avenge the insult to the national flag. In the evening the court-house was packed. Although a comparative stranger I was called upon to preside; the sole reason, possibly, was that I had been in the army and had seen service. With much embarrassment and some prompting I made out to announce the object of the meeting. Speeches were in order, but it is doubtful whether it would have been safe just then to make other than patriotic ones. There was probably no one in the house, however, who felt like making any other. The two principal speeches were by B. B. Howard, the post-master and a Breckinridge Democrat at the November election the fall before, and John A. Rawlins, an elector on the Douglas ticket. E. B. Washburne, with whom I was not acquainted at that time, came in after the meeting had been organized, and expressed, I understood afterwards, a little surprise that Galena could not furnish a presiding officer for such an occasion without taking a stranger. He came forward and was introduced, and made a speech appealing to the patriotism of the meeting.   2
      After the speaking was over volunteers were called for to form a company. The quota of Illinois had been fixed at six regiments; and it was supposed that one company would be as much as would be accepted from Galena. The company was raised and the officers and non-commissioned officers elected before the meeting adjourned. I declined the captaincy before the balloting, but announced that I would aid the company in every way I could and would be found in the service in some position if there should be a war. I never went into our leather store after that meeting, to put up a package or do other business.   3
      The ladies of Galena were quite as patriotic as the men. They could not enlist, but they conceived the idea of sending their first company to the field uniformed. They came to me to get a description of the United States uniform for infantry; subscribed and bought the material; procured tailors to cut out the garments, and the ladies made them up. In a few days the company was in uniform and ready to report at the State capital for assignment. The men all turned out the morning after their enlistment, and I took charge, divided them into squads and superintended their drill. When they were ready to go to Springfield I went with them and remained there until they were assigned to a regiment.”

    http://www.bartleby.com/1011/17.html

  • Chaps

    The north did not fight “to restore the Constitutional authority of the Federal government.” It waged war upon the South to impose an unConstitutional authority over sovereign States.

  • stevekaw

    Chaps: Suggest you take your rant over to the blogs at the CNI (Confederate Naval Institute).

  • Byron

    Ahem…Steve, Chaps is right. And it wasn’t a rant.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Gentlemen,

    The purpose of this post was to recognize the milestone that was the beginning of the American Civil War. It was not the purpose to re-fight the war, or declare one side or the other to be purely good or purely evil. Neither was the case. So please, let’s stay off that path.

  • RickWilmes

    URR, my hope is that there might be a discussion and comparison about how the United States was attacked at Ft. Sumter, Pearl Harbor, and 911. As Grant stated in his memoirs,

    ” The call was for 75,000 volunteers for ninety days’ service. If the shot fired at Fort Sumter “was heard around the world,” the call of the President for 75,000 men was heard throughout the Northern States. There was not a state in the North of a million of inhabitants that would not have furnished the entire number faster than arms could have been supplied to them, if it had been necessary.   
      As soon as the news of the call for volunteers reached Galena, posters were stuck up calling for a meeting of the citizens at the court-house in the evening. Business ceased entirely; all was excitement; for a time there were no party distinctions; all were Union men, determined to avenge the insult to the national flag.”

    And Dr. Lewis stated,

    “The response of Americans to September 11, 2001, was of an entirely different caliber than their response to December 7, 1941. In contrast to “the Greatest Generation,” Americans of the third millennium made no formal declaration of war, and did not unleash their weapons against those governments that had openly incited, financed, and celebrated fifty years of similar attacks. The American military offensive trained diplomatic envoys rather than missiles at the ideological, financial, and military center of the militant totalitarian Islamists. The political centerpiece of worldwide jihad—the Islamic Republic of Iran—remains untouched and is capitalizing on the vacuum in Iraq to bolster its power. This is not a situation forced upon us—it has been chosen. If Americans have not directed their forces toward the heart of the threats facing them, it is not because they cannot do so. It is because they think they should not do so.”

    As the enforcement of the NFZ in Libya turns into a stalemate, we should look at what Grant and Sherman did right in terms of strategy and tactics and why they were able to achieve victory. Again from Dr. Lewis,

    “History tells us that it need not be this way. Since time immemorial people have faced military attacks by motivated foes, and have had to choose between marching into an enemy’s own territory or retreating into defensive maneuvers. One case in point may be found at a turning point in our own nation’s history—the American Civil War—in which an ideology of slavery led to a deadly rebellion against the U.S. Constitution. Next to Iran, of course, the Confederacy was a paradise of rationality; the parallels between the two cultures do not extend to the death-worship emanating from Tehran. But the Civil War does offer a powerful lesson about how to win a war: by destroying the psychological and material foundations of an enemy’s will to fight.”

  • Byron

    Fair enough, aye, aye, sir.

  • Matt Yankee

    How about Pakistan??? I wonder what Grant would of thought of Predator strikes instead of ground assault or even real airstrikes. Bet we would still be in the Civil War with Predator only strikes.

  • Tom

    Of course, the underlining cause of the states rights issue was slavery.

  • RickWilmes

    This is a side issue but the BODs over at CNI(Confederate Naval Institute) are attempting to change their mission statement from an independent forum for state’s rights to an advocacy group for plantation power.

  • stevekaw

    RW: LOL, well said!

  • Byron

    Rick, the only plantations I know of are museums.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Byron:

    You overlooked the Louisiana State Prison.

  • Byron

    *SNORT* Guess you’re right, Granpa!

  • RickWilmes

    Grandpa and Byron,

    Plantations, museums, and prisons they are all the same.

    Today, I am going to the theatre :)

    http://www.atlasshruggedpart1.com/theaters

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