The artillery bombardment of Fort Sumter, which is in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., is considered the beginning of the American Civil War, which would last just more than four years and take more than 600,000 lives.
The event was commemorated at the same spot with an artillery barrage using period cannon while a band played, “When Jesus Wept.” Considering what was being commemorated, a very appropriate selection indeed.
It is perhaps unfortunate that the men firing cannon balls at one another that morning, 150 years ago, could not foresee the conflagration that they had just set a match to. If they had foreseen the death and suffering that would take place during the long, weary years that would follow, they might have stayed their hands, tried to find some other way.
It is the curse of humankind that differences can often be so intractable that they cannot be settled but in blood and fire. Such was the question of human slavery in the United States and indeed what kind of society the country would evolve into. The tools of democracy to smooth over differences, to allow argument and debate to persuade one side or another, had proven inadequate to the task in this case. Now the argument would be settled with Enfield rifles, bayonets and artillery shells. It would be settled at places that were unknown as the cannons roared around Fort Sumter, but would soon become as famous as Waterloo and Marathon. Those were places like Shiloh, Gettysburg and Antietam.
The people who cheered or expressed outrage, depending upon where they stood, at the bombardment of Fort Sumter had no idea what they were in for. Their view of war was of gaily flutter flags, of fine uniforms, and of cavalry charges. That view did not include dying screaming in the mud as a mini ball or a bayonet tore into ones eighteen year old body, a whole life time snuffed out on one of many terrible days.
The irony was that the main issue was not entirely settled, even at the end of it when Grant and Lee met at Appomattox. People were still fighting over whether men and women should be allowed rights and dignity regardless of skin color a hundred years later.
Finally, one wonders what the men who so enthusiastically fired cannon at one another would have thought at who the current president is. Barack Obama has stirred his share of controversy, but none among them, at least among serious people, is the fact that his father was born in Africa. There is progress there, at least.
Source: Fort Sumter: Somber 150th anniversary of Civil War, Bruce Smith, AP, April 12, 2012