April 12, 2020
As the new president raised his hand to take the oath of office, the weight of the world already rested on his shoulders. He knew his election had divided the country even more than it had been. While half the people supported him, the other half despised his mere existence. The decisions he would have to make could bring the country together, or rip it apart beyond repair. Yet he knew a house divided could not stand, so he repeated the words with all sincerity and with every intention on making America great again.
By the time the first Republican president took his oath of office, seven states had already seceded while eight other slave states remained, for the moment, in the Union. However, one wrong move, one aggressive action, could push them permanently into the Confederacy. On the other hand, similar actions from those within the new country could cement their commitment to the United States.
When Thomas Jefferson penned the , he took special care in his first draft to specifically reject slavery. However, to ensure much needed unity between the colonies, he removed it fearing South Carolina and Georgia would object. (see ) As Northern states voluntarily abolished slavery following the Revolutionary War, the founders took actions to restrict the practice as new states joined. (see and )
The Missouri Compromise of 1820 attempted to ease tension. It worked for a time until the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 nullified its restrictions by letting voters choose slave status instead of geography, escalating the argument. (see , , and ) The new act prompted proponents of both sides willing to die for their cause to rush Kansas and populate the territory with voters, resulting in a massive bloodbath, known as "Bloody Kansas" or "Bleeding Kansas". (see ) This inspired Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner and others to form the anti-slavery Republican Party. Sumner's 1856 speech condemning the Act and its authors, Senators Stephen A. Douglas from Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina, almost cost him is life. Butler's relative, Representative Preston Brooks, also from South Carolina, marched into the Senate chambers after the speech and began beating Sumner within an inch of his life. (see ) Fortunately he survived and spearheaded the fight for equal rights for blacks for decades. (see , , and )
The final nail in the slavery coffin occurred with Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott decision. (see ) Deeming slaves property, the Democrat Andrew Jackson appointee claimed free states had no right to take a man’s property from him per the . He further proclaimed blacks never were and never could be citizens regardless of their status as free or slave. (see ) The decision resulted in an explosion of support for the Republican Party.
In efforts to stop the Democrats' suppression of anti-slavery, Republican Abraham Lincoln decided to go after Senator Douglas’ seat in 1858. Douglas' hand was not only in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he also co-authored the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which forced anti-slavery Northerners in free states to report fugitive slaves. (see and ) Lincoln launched his campaign declaring America could not continue as a “House Divided” with half of the country free states and the other half slave states. (see ) Facing each other in what is known as the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the two candidates ardently defended their views for and against slavery. While Lincoln lost that election, his opinions on slavery were firmly established and well known when he ran for president in 1860 with his rival once again Douglas. (see )
Not wanting to disregard the South, Lincoln tried to downplay the Republican Party’s impassioned anti-slavery platform. However, several slave states vowed to secede if Lincoln won office fully understanding his views on slavery. After his November victory, South Carolina immediately began taking action to leave the Union, which they did on December 20. Upon their exit, they proceeded to seize federal property, including forts.
With a few months left in office, Democrat President James Buchanan knew he must try to hold the Union together. However, war seemed inevitable. Therefore, he granted Major Robert Anderson command of the South Carolina garrison and sent them to Fort Moultrie. Vigilant of the troops’ safety, Secretary of War John B. Floyd advised Anderson to relocate to whatever fort "you may deem most proper to increase its power of resistance.” Following the state’s secession, Anderson transferred his troops to Fort Sumter, abandoning most of his supplies at Fort Moultrie. Considered the strongest fort in the world, Fort Sumter still presented a problem for Anderson as it was designed to defend Charleston against naval attacks, not strikes from the mainland.
Believing Buchanan had promised not to occupy the vacant fort, South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens viewed the move as a breach of faith, only deepening the divide. However, Buchanan cleverly worded his communication to avoid such an assurance. Regardless, Pickens insisted Anderson abandon the fort, while Anderson maintained he was following orders. Both men refused to budge as the slavery issue powder keg drew closer and closer to exploding. Meanwhile, Buchanan sent the unarmed merchant ship Star of the West to Fort Sumter with supplies but it was forced to turn around on January 6, 1861, when attacked by the South Carolina militia.
Over the next few weeks, six more slave states joined the Confederacy. Taking South Carolina’s lead, they also confiscated federal property within their state borders. With his term ending soon, Buchanan concluded it was best to leave the problem with his successor. Therefore, he did not respond to the loss of federal property in the Confederate States. By February, only Forts Sumter and Pickens in Charleston as well as Pensacola, Florida, remained in Union hands as delegates from the new Confederacy convened to elect Jefferson Davis, a Senator from Mississippi, as their president, inaugurating him on February 18. (see)
Sharing Picken’s concern of Federal troops in the South, Davis sent General Pierre Gustave T. Beauregard, the first general officer of the Confederacy, to Charleston to set up defenses against Anderson, his former instructor at West Point. Meanwhile, the Confederacy composed their new Constitution using the as their template. Minimal changes occurred, primarily to ensure states within the Confederacy not only allowed slaves, but vowed never to interfere with the institution of slavery despite claiming their motivation for secession was state's rights. (see )
When Lincoln repeated his oath on March 4, the American melting pot was boiling. (see and ) Lincoln strategically refused to recognize the Confederacy and give it legitimacy, communicating only with Governor Pickens. Understanding any aggressive move would surely encourage some or all of the eight remaining slave states to leave the Union, he decided to put the ball back into Davis’ court.
From the start, Lincoln resolved he would not recall Anderson from the fort, giving up federal property in the South. Not only would it acknowledge the new Confederacy, Lincoln vowed in his inaugural address “to hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the Government.” Breaking such a promise at the launch of his presidency would devastate his reputation and influence.
Upon taking office, Lincoln learned of Anderson’s low supplies, including his food rations expiring on April 15. This was Lincoln’s opportunity to allow the Confederacy to show some good faith, or take the first aggressive action. After making the arrangements, Lincoln advised Pickens that he was sending only food to the fort, giving him two choices. If no action was taken, that is all he would send. However, an attack on the ship would be regarded as a casus belli, or an act provoking a justified war, forever placing that responsibility on the Confederacy.
Refusing to adhere to Lincoln’s choices, Davis devised a third plan of action. He would order Beauregard to demand surrender one more time and attack before the relief ship arrived if Anderson refused. Robert Toombs, Davis’ own Secretary of State, strongly objected, stating such an attack "will lose us every friend at the North. You will only strike a hornet's nest. ... Legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary. It puts us in the wrong. It is fatal.” On the other hand, fearing Southerners might lose their passion for secession if the South didn’t act, a Southern journalist warned, “Unless you sprinkle the blood in the face of the people of Alabama, they will be back in the old Union in less than ten days.” It is likely Davis agreed as he knew his attack on Fort Sumter could only result in war and he moved forward anyway.
Negotiations between Beauregard and Anderson began on April 11 to no avail. Therefore, Beauregard sent several officers with one final message to Fort Sumter at 3:20 a.m. the next morning. "Sir: by authority of Brigadier General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.” Anderson walked with the Confederate officers back to their boat. After shaking each one’s hand, he stated, "If we never meet in this world again, God grant that we may meet in the next."
As directed, on April 12, 1861, at 4:30 a.m., Lt. Henry S. Farley sent a single 10-inch mortar round soaring from Fort Johnson and exploding over Fort Sumter, signifying the beginning of the bombardment of the federal fort from four Confederate positions. Anderson refrained from returning fire until dawn. A stone structure on the outside, the buildings and homes inside Fort Sumter were wood construction. Knowing this, Confederate soldiers placed cannonballs inside furnaces until they were red hot, called hot shots, before launching them. Fires ignited throughout the structure, a hazard more threatening than the exploding artillery shells. However, as a blessing raining down from heaven, evening showers doused the flames. At the same time, the guns went silent for the night.
Fighting resumed the following morning with the central flagpole tottering over at one in the afternoon. Concluding the fort had been punished enough, former U.S. Senator Colonel Louis Wigfall obtained a boat and traveled to the fort waving a white flag. Affording Major Anderson the respect he deserved, Wigfall stated, “You have defended your flag nobly, Sir. You have done all that it is possible to do, and General Beauregard wants to stop this fight. On what terms, Major Anderson, will you evacuate this fort?” Low on ammunition, depleted of food, fires raging, and exhausted and hungry soldiers surrounding him, Anderson concluded they honorably defended their post, but the battle was done. Taking Wigfall’s white handkerchief, Anderson raised it on another flagpole to signal to his former student he was done. It was agreed they would evacuate the fort the following day after a 100-gun salute to the United States flag, his one condition for withdrawal.
Half way through the event, a spark ignited a pile of cartridges causing an explosion that resulted in the immediate death of Private Daniel Hough and fatally wounding Edward Galloway. The Union soldiers had endured over 3,000 rounds of Confederate fire with no casualties only to lose two men to an accident during their evacuation ceremony. While the only deaths on either side of this battle, they were the first of over 650,000 deaths of the war.
Following the tragedy, Anderson watched as the beloved Old Glory descended the pole. (see ) Troops soberly folded the treasured flag, giving it to Anderson. Carrying it with him back to the North, the ensign became a symbol for the Union, rallying troops to her cause. Despite the Confederate government’s frustration with Anderson’s stubbornness and his troops’ resilience, the soldiers admired their foes' bravery and boldness in their defense of the fort.
Lincoln now had cause to take action, summoning Northern states to muster 75,000 troops to defend the Union and recapture federal property in the South. Most of the Northern states answered the call, with enough Ohioans volunteering within 16 days to cover the entire army. However, despite Davis firing the first shot, several states refused to participate in a campaign against Southerners. As Lincoln feared, four of the remaining slave states in the Union seceded and joined the Confederacy. The War Between the States had begun appropriately in the state that had been leading this fight since 1776. (see )
Fort Sumter remained in the hands of the Confederacy for nearly the entire duration of the war in spite of several attempts by the Union to retake it. Major William T. Sherman finally managed to recover it upon the capture of Charleston in February of 1865. That April 9, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, ending the war. (see ) Three days later, on the anniversary of the attack on Fort Sumter, Lincoln addressed the people from the White House balcony. Promoting unity, he declared, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." (see )
Anderson, now a retired major general and in ill health, stood at the base of a flagpole at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865. The same flag he watched descend exactly four years earlier ascended back to its rightful place. Later that Good Friday evening, John Wilkes Booth rejected Lincoln’s call for unity and treating blacks as equals, succumbing to his blinding hatred for the president. As President and Mrs. Lincoln enjoyed a play at Ford's Theater, Booth coldly and callously assassinated Lincoln. (see and )
Liberty, the election of Republican President Donald J. Trump in 2016 and these past three years have seemed like a time of pure hatred Americans haven’t ever seen among its citizens towards each other. Yet, Lincoln taking office equals a period where a portion of the country loathed the incoming president as much as people today detest Trump. We have forgotten that America went through such a horrific time and survived.
Unfortunately, the hatred and distain for the president is promoted by the media with over 95% of their stories being negative towards Trump. They ignore any positive events about him while twisting, selectively editing, and outright lying about his actions and comments in order to paint him in the worst possible light. While damning videos have surfaced showing Bernie Sanders campaign workers calling for violence, bloodshed, and deaths, reporters deem them unnewsworthy. Instead, they choose to spend days analyzing and condemning a statement by Trump purposely taken out of context.
While this is yet another time that tries men’s souls, we can take comfort that it is not unprecedented. (see ) More importantly, as we celebrate Easter on this anniversary of the Fort Sumter attack, we can remember that Christ already fought the most important war for us and won. We are victors before ever entering the battle. What comfort it is to know regardless of what tomorrow brings, we will stand at the flagpole watching Christ lift the banner of glory to its rightful place.
That’s my 2 cents.