Centennial Times - January 3, 1862 - Two nations in war to death.
January 3, 1862
Within One Short Year, America Has Become Two Nations In War To Death
Within the space of one short year, a nation at peace has become two nations at war. Whatever the outcome, America will never be the same again.
The year started with a series of crises as state after state seceded, following South Carolina’s lead. Excitement mounted when the Confederates drove the Star of the West away from Charleston Harbor with cannon fire when it tried to bring troops and provisions to the garrison of Fort Sumter. That was the first shot of the war.
The Provisional Government of the Confederacy was organized at Montgomery, Ala., on Feb. 4, and Jefferson Davis was inaugurated there on Feb. 18. The country had two presidents when 52-year old Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated in Washington on March 4 with cannon guarding the Capitol and armed men posted on the rooftops along Pennsylvania Ave.
The new president and his cabinet were immediately faced with the vexing problem of what to do about Fort Sumter where Major Robert Anderson’s little garrison had only a six-week supply of food. After much debate a relief expedition was sent there from New York on April 6.
The Confederates learned that it was on the way, issued an ultimatum, and then began firing on the fort an hour before dawn on April 12. After a tremendous bombardment in which, oddly enough, no one was killed, Anderson surrendered; his men marched out of the fort on April 14. The war had reached the shooting stage, and there could be no turning back for either side.
Reaction was prompt and violent, with one event giving rise to another. When Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers on April 15. Virginia promptly seceded. Col. Robert E. Lee then resigned from the U. S. Army and offered his services to his native state.
Federal installations in Virginia were destroyed to prevent them from being captured by the Confederates and the Harper’s Ferry Arsenal and Norfolk Navy Yard went up in flames. When Lincoln declared a blockade, Davis retaliated by offering letters of marque and reprisal to privateers to prey on Yankee ships.
On April 19, the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment was attacked in the streets of Baltimore while being rushed to the defense of Washington. For nearly a week, the nation’s capital was completely isolated. Confederate sympathizers had burned railroad bridges, torn up tracks and cut telegraph wires.
The famous Seventh Regiment of New York got through on the 25th by going by boat to Annapolis and proceeding from there by rail, repairing the tracks as they advanced.
Word of the tragic break in American unity traveled rapidly around the world. On May 13, England issued a Proclamation of Neutrality, dashing Confederate hopes for immediate recognition. France, Holland, Spain and other nations quickly followed suit.
Richmond became the new capital of the Confederacy at the end of May. Many felt the move was a mistake, for hardly more than 100 miles separated the city from Washington, and its nearness invited attack.
Hostilities flared in western Virginia, a non slaveholding area, where the people were already restless. On June 8, a young West Point railroad executive defeated the Confederates at Philippi. His name was George B. McClellan. When he followed this up with two other victories a few weeks later, his position was assured
Meanwhile, West Virginia Unionists seceded from Virginia on June 11. And fighting broke out in another border state—Missouri, where Federal forces won again, this time at Boonville on June 17.
So far the North had good reason to feel encouraged. It not only has more people, more wealth and more manufacturing and shipping facilities than the South, which may be decisive if neither side wins a quick victory; the North was also winning the initial victories even though they were small ones.
Northern soldiers lost a battle at Big Bethel on the coast of Virginia on June 10, but they had established a foothold in northern Virginia where McDowell was training an army of recruits to beat the equally cocksure Confederates.
They met at Bull Run on July 21. McDowell was late in getting his army there, and Confederate used the time to bring up more men. The Union attack, at first successful, soon failed; the repulse quickly became a rout.
Many three-months volunteers whose time had expired decided that they had had enough. McDowell’s raw recruits streamed back to Washington, overrunning civilians and Congressmen who had driven out to see a victory.
Bull Run may in the long run prove a blessing in disguise to the North—though it was well disguised at the time. Though humiliating, it did bring Northerners to their sense and made them settle down to the realities of a long, hard war. McDowell was replaced by McClellan and troops were enlisted for three year terms.
August and September saw initial Union victories in Missouri turned to defeat at Wilson’s Creek on Aug. 10 when General Nathanial Lyon was killed, and again at the siege of Lexington Sept. 12 to 20. Union forces suffered another loss at Ball’s Bluff, Va., on Oct. 21, when Col. Edward D. Baker, a personal friend of President Lincoln, was struck down.
At this time, Union fortunes seemed to have reached a low ebb. Yet a series of amphibious movements have begun, which, when combined with the blockade, may have a serious effect on the Southern economy.
The area around Hatteras Inlet was taken Aug. 28-29; Ship Island, Miss, was occupied Sept. 10; and Port Royal, S. C., was captured by Federal forces on Nov. 7. And Union forces still hold bases on the Florida coast and at Fortress Monroe, Va.
The Confederacy hopes for recognition abroad. Even active foreign intervention should not be discounted as a possibility. To further their chances in Europe two Confederate commissioners, James Mason and John Slidell ran the blockade and boarded a British steamer, the Trent, at Havana, Cuba, on Nov. 7.
The next day they were captured at sea by Captain Charles Wilkes of the U.S.S. San Jacinto. When news of this was printed in England on Nov. 27, the British press whipped up such fury that the British Empire actually considered war with the United States.
The Cabinet spent a gloomy Christmas in Washington discussing the Trent case. The members finally decided to release the prisoners.
It was a bitter pill, President Lincoln admitted. But he also said that one war at a time was enough. And the technicalities of international law are on England’s side. The troublesome prisoners will be turned over to a British warship in Provincetown Harbor.
The first year of war is ending with the contest between North and South still undecided. Only one major battle—Bull Run—has been fought. It may be that the worst is yet to come.
Used with permission of the Herald-Mail
59 x 33 cms
Washington County (Md.), history; Antietam, Battle of, Md., 1862; Sharpsburg, Battle of, Md., 1862; Centennial celebrations, etc:
Washington County (Md.), 1860-1862