title
macrohistory.com

(CIVIL WAR in the UNITED STATES – continued)

home | 18-19th centuries index

CIVIL WAR in the UNITED STATES (8 of 12)

previous | next

The First Year of War, 1861

Lincoln hoped to avoid war and to lure the seceding states back into the Union. In his inauguration speech, on March 4, 1861, he quoted from one of his previous speeches:

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

He argued that no state "upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union." The Union, he said, was an association of states by contract and a contract that could not be undone except by all parties. The Union, he said, was formed by the Articles of Association in 1774, was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and was further matured in 1778 by the Articles of Confederation. "And finally in 1787," he added, "one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was 'to form a more perfect Union.'"

Lincoln hoped that the secessionists would see their act as an overreaction to his presidency. He described acts of violence from within any of the states against the authority of the federal government as "insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances." He added, "...there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority." He was, he said, ready to cooperate with the South, including mail service.

Following his inauguration, Lincoln informed South Carolina's government that he was sending needed supplies to the federal fort in that state – Fort Sumter. South Carolinians responded with hostility and sought to take over the fort by force, beginning with a bombardment of the fort on April 12. Lincoln declared a "state of insurrection." The fort was lost to the South Carolinians, and, on April 15, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to serve in the military for a three-month tour of duty, and more than this number responded.

Lincoln asked one of the Union's generals, Robert E. Lee, to become field commander of the Union forces. Lee was opposed to slavery and had freed his slaves, but he believed that states had voluntarily joined the Union and had a right to secede if they wished. "A union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets," he held, "has no charms for me." Lee resigned his commission and returned to Virginia, and he vowed to draw his sword again only in self-defense.

Clash of Military Forces, 1861

On April 17, Jefferson Davis invited Southern ship owners to prey on Northern merchant vessels, and two days later Lincoln declared a naval blockade of all ports and coasts of the Confederate states. Davis called on the Confederacy's Congress to "convene at the earliest practicable moment to devise measures necessary for the defense of the country." Davis spoke of Lincoln as having declared war on the Confederacy, and he spoke of the wrongs suffered by the slave states. "Fanatical organizations," he said, "supplied with money by voluntary subscriptions, were assiduously engaged in exciting amongst the slaves a spirit of discontent and revolt. Means were furnished for their escape from their owners, and agents secretly employed to entice them to abscond."

On May 3, Lincoln asked states to gather 42,000 more volunteers – for three-year tours of duty in the military. That month, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia joined the confederacy, making them eleven states strong. Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri, although slave states, were divided in their loyalties and chose not to secede. Some western counties in Virginia did not want to secede from the Union and seceded instead from Virginia – the beginning of what would, in 1863, become the state of West Virginia.

Also in May, Britain declared its neutrality and its intention to respect the Union's blockade of Southern ports. The Confederates were disappointed. They had believed that Britain, because its industries were dependent on the South's cotton, would side with them and if necessary for the sake of cotton would go to war against the Union.

In June a minor battle was fought near Fort Monroe, Virginia. Union regiments became confused and fired on one another before being driven back. The losses were seventy-six casualties for the Union and six for the Confederates, and the Confederates were encouraged. The larger battle came in July – the first battle of Bull Run. The General-in-Chief of the Union armies, Winfield Scott, of Mexican War fame, ordered General Irvin McDowell to advance with inadequately trained troops against Confederate troops at Manassas Junction, Virginia (25 miles west and a little south of Washington DC.)  People with packed lunches watched from hills what they believed would be the deciding battle of the war. The Union forces fell back in a rout, suffering 3,000 causalities and losing 1,200 as prisoners. The Confederates suffered roughly 2,000 casualties, and they gained a hero, a general with a thirst for battle who had acquired a new nickname by holding his ground: Stonewall Jackson.

The publisher of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, lost confidence and asked Lincoln to sue for peace. The general public in Union states was more steadfast, and more volunteers poured into state militias. Congress passed a law for an income tax to help pay for what appeared would be a prolonged war. General McDowell was replaced by General George B. McClellan as commander of the Union's army in the East – the Army of the Potomac. The overall commander of the Army, the leader of former wars dating back to the War of 1812 and former presidential candidate General Winfield Scott was 75, overweight, suffering health problems and unable to mount a horse. Before the year was over, McClellan was elevated to overall commander of the Union forces, and he was focusing on military training.

In the West, meanwhile, a Union force abandoned Fort Breckinridge in the territory of New Mexico, still known as Indian territory, in order to combat aggressive Texan Confederates, and Apache Indians responded to a withdrawal of US forces from around the Fort Breckinridge area by looting, burning and killing. On July 26 in central New Mexico, a union force at an outpost called Fort Fillmore, surrendered to a force of 250 Texans.

In August, a battle was fought in Missouri, at Wilson's Creek, eleven miles southwest of Springfield. A Union force of around 6,000 was forced to withdraw. While the opposing armies were maneuvering for positions, the Confederates advanced 130 miles to the north and captured a Union garrison at Lexington, Missouri. At the end of the month the Union commander in the West, John Fremont, panicked and ordered the confiscation of property of Confederate sympathizers, which helped to rally recruitment for the Confederacy in Kentucky and jeopardized Kentucky's neutrality.

In September, a Confederate force moved to Columbus, Kentucky, and a Union force, under the command of a newly appointed brigadier general, Ulysses S. Grant, moved from Illinois to Paducah, Kentucky, preempting a Confederate advance there.

Meanwhile, people were not using the phrase "civil war." In the South it was called a "war between the states," suggesting their right to break away from the Northern states. And in the North people were calling the war "the Rebellion of 1861."

Sources

Copyright © 2003-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.