On April 12th, 1861, the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter near Charleston, SC, the resulting battle and eventual surrender by the US Army garrison mark the start of the American Civil War. The shots rang out just 39 days after Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, and some five months after winning his election in a four-way race.
The seeds of secession, however, had been sown decades before the rail-splitter’s arrival. The abominable decision in Dred Scot v. Sanford (holding those of African descent were not “people”) and a host immoral measures in law and governance were part and parcel of a craven course of inhumane conduct of the white man. Events including the Missouri and 1850 Compromises, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, Bleeding Kansas and John Brown’s blaze of fanatical glory caused eventual rebellion, death, destruction, privation, ignorance and an unhealed, open wound festering as we speak.
Following the declaration of secession by South Carolina on December 20, 1860, its “government” demanded that the US Army abandon facilities in Charleston Harbor. On December 26, Major Robert Anderson of the Union Army surreptitiously moved his small command from the vulnerable Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island to Fort Sumter, a substantial fortress built on an island controlling the entrance of Charleston Harbor.
An attempt by US President James Buchanan to reinforce and resupply Anderson using the unarmed merchant ship Star of the West failed when it was fired upon by shore batteries on January 9, 1861. South Carolina authorities then seized, or stole, all Federal property in the Charleston area except for Fort Sumter.
The resupply of Fort Sumter became the first crisis of the administration of newly-minted President Lincoln. He notified the Governor of South Carolina, Francis W. Pickens that he was sending supply ships, which resulted in an ultimatum from the Confederate government for the immediate evacuation of Fort Sumter; Major Anderson refused. Beginning at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, the Confederates bombarded the fort from artillery batteries surrounding the harbor, firing on fellow citizens and soldiers they had served with just weeks before, with munitions looted from the US. Although the Union garrison returned fire, they were significantly outgunned and, after 34 hours, Major Anderson agreed to evacuate.
After the four ensuing years of bloody, epic conflict claiming 620,000 souls on both sides in a fight for the very purpose of a nation, the active combat ceased with a hollow victory. Hollow in that the battle for decency and justice against sedition, avarice, prejudice and ignorance continues to be fought to this very hour.