Fort Sumter was relatively anonymous 150 years ago today. Yet by the end of April 12, 1861, Fort Sumter would become one of the most historic sites in U.S. history. It was the place where the Civil War finally began after years of tension and growing rifts between the North and the South. By early 1861, the bloodshed to come was all but inevitable, as it was just a question of when and where the Confederacy would begin the Civil War.
The new would-be nation finally began its assault in its own state of South Carolina. However, Fort Sumter was one of four federal sites in the South where Union troops were stationed. If the Confederates were going to beat back the Union, driving troops out of their new country would be a good place to start.
Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis had been in a cold war before then, as they were just waiting for the other side to make a move. After Lincoln’s contentious election in 1860, and his pledge to keep the United States whole, everyone knew that the Civil War was not far off. All it needed was an opening shot to start it off.
150 years ago today, Davis and the Confederacy blinked first, since they needed to liberate Fort Sumter to prove their nation’s legitimacy. General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard gave the order for the first shots, which were fired at 4:30 a.m. In a great irony, the opening battle of one of the bloodiest wars of all time only had one accidental casualty.
The attack also gave no indication of the struggle to come because the South won. The Confederacy would win its share of battles in the first half of the war, but the tide would turn two years after it began. At the time that the Confederates took the fort, they thought it would be a landmark win in their fight for independence, but it was the first piece laid in their defeat.
President Lincoln forced the South into attacking first when he ultimately decided not to surrender the fort; the war was needed to save the Union. Once Lincoln sent in an unarmed force to give the beleaguered troops foods and medicine, the South knew it had to strike before those troops could be fully re-armed.
After the Confederacy fired first, the Northern states were rallied into battle. With the North united against the South, and with Lincoln having made his full commitment to the war, the groundwork had been laid for the victory to come.
Technically, the attack on Fort Sumter was a victory for the South, but it would turn out to be the beginning of the end for them over time. The rest makes up the most bloody, brutal period in United States history, even exactly 150 years later.
New York Post- “Abe’s ticking clock”
American Spectator- “Not Afraid To Fight”