Fort Sumter Pt 2: Only Two Parties Now

sumterflag

The Flag of Fort Sumter

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Here is part two of another two-part installment of my Civil War text. The story follows the implosion of the Democratic Party, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and the secession crisis. It describes who the attack came about and the reactions of people in all parts of the country, as well as the Army to those fateful shots. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

When the Stars and Stripes came down on April 14th 1861 the North was galvanized as never before, and “the clash at Fort Sumter brought forth an outpouring of support for the Union and President Lincoln.” [1] Abner Doubleday wrote “With the first shot fired against Fort Sumter the whole North became united.” [2] Another observer wrote: “The heather is on fire….I never knew what popular excitement can be… The whole population, men, women, and children, seem to be in the streets with Union favors and flags.” [3] The assault on Fort Sumter help to unify the North in ways not thought possible by Southern politicians who did not believe that Northerners had the mettle to go to war against them. But they were wrong, those shots, which Jefferson Davis ordered had the opposite reaction, for Northerners, even opponents of abolition who were not supporters of Lincoln, slavery in the South was one thing, but the attack on a Federal garrison by massed artillery was another; even Senator Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s stalwart opponent of so many campaigns went to the White House for a call to national unity. Returning to Chicago he told a huge crowd just a month before his untimely death:

“There are only two sides to the question. Every man must be for the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in this war, only patriots – or traitors” [4]

For Frederick Douglass the shots marked a new phase in abolition:

“The first flash of rebel gunpowder and shell upon the starving handful of men at Sumter instantly changed the nation’s whole policy. Until then, the ever hopeful North was dreaming of compromise…

I wrote in my newspaper; “On behalf of our enslaved and bleeding brothers and sisters, thank God! The slaveholders themselves have saved the abolition cause from ruin! The government is aroused, the dead North is alive, and its divided people united. Never was a change so sudden, so universal, and so portentous. The whole North from East to West is in arms…” [5]

Douglas died less than a month later, possibly from cirrhosis of the liver, but his impact on the Democrats in the North was immense, “for a year of more his war spirit lived among most Democrats. “Let our enemies perish by the sword,” was the theme of democratic editorials in the spring of 1861. “All squeamish sentimentality should be discarded, and bloody vengeance wreaked upon the heads of the contemptable traitors who have provoked it by their dastardly impertinence and rebellious acts.” [6]

sickles as brigadier

Dan Sickles

One of these Democrats was New York Congressman Dan Sickles. He was one of many men whose outlook toward the South changed when Sumter was fired upon. Sickles had stridently defended Southerners and Southern states rights just months before, so long as they remained in the Union, and he took the actions of his former friends personally. He then became one of the first of men who were known as Union Democrats who followed Lincoln into the war, and despite his lack of ethics in much of his life it was a cause for which he would remain true, during and after the war.

When the soldiers of South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter, Sickles, who had said that no troops would cross through New York to invade the South in 1859 proclaimed “the men of New York would go in untold thousands anywhere to protect the flag of their country and to maintain its legitimate authority.” [7] In one of his last congressional speeches Sickles lambasted the South for its threat to the United States as a whole, and condemned the new Confederacy’s policies in spite of Northern attempts to conciliate them, “has been followed by insults to our flag; by the expulsion of the United States troops and authorities from navy yards and forts and arsenals; by measures to control the vast commerce of the Mississippi and its tributaries….” [8] He also condemned the South for its seizure of U.S. funds in the sub-treasuries and mints in the South as well sending envoys to England and France.

Sickles-Excelsior-Brigade-Headquarters-City-Hall-Park.-Yorktown

After the war Sickles, who had lost his leg in the Battle of Gettysburg fighting for the Union, oversaw the early efforts of reconstruction in North Carolina and for ordering the end to the public whippings of blacks by state officials was fired by President Andrew Johnston for supporting voting rights for African Americans. Congress reinstated him but Sickles who had so earnestly supported the South as late as 1860 no longer could stomach such abuse by those men who at one time his political friends and allies. During the election of 1876 Sickles, a lifelong Democrat labeled his party as “the party of treason.” [9] He joined forces with Republicans and helped to prevent the election of New York Democrat Samuel Tilden through shrewd political electioneering in key battleground states.

For Stephen Douglas the attack on Fort Sumter meant the end of his efforts to bring about some kind of reconciliation to reunite the country and restore the Union. When the Little Giant heard the news of the attack and reports of the statements of Confederate leaders he rushed to Lincoln to offer his support. Douglas wrote of the meeting:

“I heartily approve of your proclamation calling up 75,000 militia,” I told him. “Except that I would make it 200,000. You don’t know the dishonest purposes of these southern men as well as I do.” After a review of the strategic situation with the President Douglas continued, “Mr. President,” I said. “Let me speak plainly. I remain unalterably opposed to your Administration on purely its political issues. Yet I’m prepared to sustain you in the exercise of all your constitutional functions to preserve the Union, maintain the government, and defend the capital. A firm policy and prompt action are necessary. The capital of our country is in danger, and must be defended at all hazards, and at any expense of men and money. I speak of the present and future without reference to the past.

He shook my hand, hard. “We need more patriots like you, Douglas,” he said as he walked me to the door.

“I depreciate war,” I said in parting, “but if it must come, I’m with my country and for my country, under all circumstances and in every contingency.” [10]

Douglas then went to his fellow Democrats in Washington and told them: “We must fight for our country and forget all differences. There can be only two parties now – the party of patriots and the party of traitors. We belong to the first.” [11]

ewell

Richard Ewell

Army officers were conflicted between the Army that they had served, often for many years, the flag that they had fought under, longstanding friendships, and loyalty to their states and families. Richard Ewell who would rise to corps command in the Army of Northern Virginia, described the feelings of many officers in the ante-bellum Army: “Officers generally are very much adverse to any thing like civil war, though some of the younger ones are a bit warlike. The truth is in the army there are no sectional feelings and many from extreme ends of the Union are the most intimate friends.” [12] In California a number of those friends and their families bade tearful farewells as they parted ways. Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston and Captains Winfield Scott Hancock and Lewis Armistead gathered one last time. Hancock had already, who had great sympathy for his Southern friends, made his views known had previously announced “I shall fight not upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.” [13] His commander, Johnston, and dear friend Armistead were departing to serve the Confederacy and the parting was painful. Almira Hancock wrote of the final night together in Los Angeles:

“The most crushed was Major Armistead, who with tears, which were contagious, streaming down his face, put his hands upon Mr. Hancock’s shoulders, while looking him steadily in the eye, said, “Hancock, good-bye; you can never know what this has cost me; and I hope God will strike me dead if I am ever induced to leave my native soil, should worse come to worst….” [14]

Colonel Robert E. Lee of Virginia looked askance at secession, but he had made the decision that no matter what he would not lead armies against the South. In fact it was clear when he left Texas to come east where his sentiments lay. He told a friend “If Virginia stands by the old Union, so will I. But if she secedes (though I do believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution), then I will follow my native State with my sword, and if need be, with my life.” [15] When he returned to Washington D.C. he accepted a promotion to Colonel in the Regular Army less than a month before he was offered command of the Union armies by Abraham Lincoln, a position that he turned down. In his final interview with General Winfield Scott to announce his decision, he admitted that “the struggle had been hard. He did not believe in secession, he said, and if he owned every slave in the South he would free them all to bring peace; but to fight against Virginia was not in him.” [16] When Virginia seceded Lee submitted his resignation from the Army for a cause that he did not really believe was constitutional or necessary, noting in his letter:

“With all my devotion to the Union and feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore, resigned my commission in the Army, and save in the defense of my native State…I hope I may never be called upon to draw my sword.” [17]

Within days Lee was appointed as a General and commander of the military forces of Virginia. When he arrived at the State House and “before he had much time to ruminate, he found himself being presented with George Washington’s sword, and hailed as a hero in a powerful tribute by the president of the convention.” [18] Even so, Lee’s decision was assailed by much of his Unionist oriented family, and many of them went on to serve the Union with distinction during the war. One relative wrote of Lee’s decision, “I feel no exalted respect for a man who takes part in a movement in which he says he can see nothing but ‘anarchy and ruin’… and yet very utterance scare passed Robt Lees lips… when he starts off with delegates to treat traitors.” [19]

Lee’s future right hand man and chief lieutenant, Thomas Jackson, the soon to be “Stonewall” Jackson was then a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. The often grim and serious Jackson saw the issue of secession as he did all of life through the prism of his Evangelical Protestant Calvinistic faith. For him it disunion was a matter of Divine Providence. When secession came and Jackson heard a minister friend in Lexington lamenting the nation’s troubles he noted:

“Why should Christians be at all disturbed about the dissolution of the Union? It can only come by God’s permission, and only will be permitted, if it is for his people’s good, for does he not say that all things shall work together for the good to them that love God?” [20]

In San Francisco Lieutenant James McPherson of the Corps of Engineers attempted to convince Lieutenant Porter Alexander from going home and joining the cause of the Confederacy. He bluntly spoke the facts of what would happen to the South in coming the war to the future Confederate artillery general:

“The population of the seceding states is only eight million while the North has twenty million. Of your 8 million over 3 million are slaves & may pose a dangerous element. You have no army, no navy, no treasury, no organization & practically none of the manufacturers – the machine shops, coal & iron mines & such things – which are necessary for the support of armies & carrying on war on a large scale.

You are but scattered agricultural communities & will be isolated from the world by blockades.

It is not possible for your cause to succeed in the end…” [21]

But Alexander, like so many Southern officers realized “that a crisis in my life was at hand. But I felt helpless to avert it or even debate the question what I should do. I could not doubt or controvert one of McPherson’s statements or arguments…” [22]

buford

John Buford

However, many Southern born officers serving in the Army did not leave. Close to half of the “Southern West Point graduates on active duty in 1860 held to their posts and remained loyal to the Union.” [23] One was Kentucky’s John Buford who would gain immortal fame at the Battle of Gettysburg. Since Buford’s family had longstanding ties to Kentucky, the pro-secession governor of Kentucky, Beriah Magoffin offered Buford a commission in that states’ militia. At the time Kentucky was still an “undeclared border slave state” and Buford loyal to his oath refused the governor’s offer. He wrote a brief letter to Magoffin and told his comrades that “I sent him word that I was a Captain in the United States Army and I intend to remain one.” [24] Around the same time the new provisional government of the Confederacy “offered Buford a general officer’s commission, which reached him by mail at Fort Crittenden.” [25] According to Buford’s biographer Edward Longacre “a well-known anecdote has him wadding up the letter while angrily announcing that whatever future had in store he would “live and die under the flag of the Union.” [26] A starker contrast could not be drawn.

Close to forty-percent of the Virginians serving on active-duty in the army remained faithful to the Union, including the Commander of the Army, General Winfield Scott and Robert E. Lee’s friend George Thomas and both were ostracized in the Old Dominion. “Thomas’s family never again communicated with him except to ask him to change his name. A young Virginian just out of West Point, acknowledged that by retaining his commission he had been shunned by all of his Southern associates; yet he still derided those who would hold their obligations so lightly as to abandon the nation when it most needed them.” [27]

But throughout the South, most people were less than circumspect and openly rejoiced at the surrender of Fort Sumter. In Richmond the night following the surrender “bonfires and fireworks of every description were illuminating in every direction- the whole city was a scene of joy owing to [the] surrender of Fort Sumter” – and Virginia wasn’t even part of the Confederacy.” [28] John Gordon, the future Confederate General was leading his Georgia volunteers to the new Confederate capital and “found the line of march an unbroken celebration: fires lighted the hilltops; fife-and-drum corps shrilled and thumped; cannons exploded their welcome.” [29]

poor--ulysses-s-grant-president-1040cs021412

Ulysses Grant

Far to the north in Bangor Maine a little known professor at Bowdin College named Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain read the news “could not abide the thought of a divided nation; the Founding Fathers “did not vote themselves into a people; they recognized and declared that they were a people” whose bonds out not to be severed by political, social, or economic grievances.” [30] The professor “was seized with anger that “the flag of the Nation had been insulted” and “the integrity and existence of the people of the United States had been assailed in open and bitter war.” [31] In Illinois, a former struggling former Regular Army officer and veteran of the War with Mexico, Ulysses S. Grant whose in-laws were sympathetic to the Southern cause who had volunteered to lead a regiment of Illinois volunteers, wrote “Whatever may have been my opinions before, I have but one sentiment now. That is to have a Government, and laws and a flag and they all must be sustained….There are but two parties now, Traitors and Patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter.” [32]

1st_7th_Reg_Departs

Even in cities that had often leaned toward the South like Cincinnati, people rushed to proclaim their patriotism and support of the Union. George Ticknor told an English friend “The whole population, men, women, and children, seem to be in the streets with Union favours and flags…. Civil war is freely accepted everywhere… by all, anarchy being the obvious, and perhaps the only alternative.” Pacifists who had rejected violence, even in support of righteous causes, turned bellicose. Ralph Waldo Emerson enthused, “Sometimes gunpowder smells good.” [33] As the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry marched through the streets of New York on their way to Washington were greeted with cheers from thousands of New Yorkers. The New York Times reported the event:

“Flags were displayed at all the hotels on the route, and waving handkerchiefs from the balconies and windows signified the warm greetings of the fair sex to the brave Bay State soldiers. Opposite the New York Hotel a gray-haired old man mounted a stoop and addressing the soldiers and people, said that he had fought under the Stars and Stripes in the War of 1812 against a foreign power, and now that the flag was spit upon by those who should be its defenders. He closed his remarks by a “God bless our flag,” and left the crowd with tears streaming down his wrinkled cheeks.” [34]

The Rubicon had been crossed and there was now no going back for either side. Poet Walt Whitman wrote:

War! An arm’d race is advancing! The welcome for battle, no turning away;

War! Be it weeks, months, or years, an arm’d race is advancing to welcome it.” [35]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Cooper We Have the War Upon Us p.270

[2] Doubleday, Abner From Moultrie to Sumter in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume I Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.48

[3] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.274

[4] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.274

[5] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.423

[6] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.274-275

[7] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.212

[8] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.214

[9] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.525

[10] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.421-422

[11] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.422

[12] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.120

[13] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.33

[14] Hancock, Almira Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock Charles L Webster and Company, New York 1887 pp.69-70

[15] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.187

[16] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.335

[17] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.85

[18] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.295

[19] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.295

[20] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.38

[21] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.24

[22] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.25

[23] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957

[24] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[25] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.70

[26] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[27] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.292

[28] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.140

[29] Smith, Jean Edward. Grant Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2001 p.99

[30] Longacre, Edward G. Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man Combined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 pp.49-50

[31] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.139

[32] Ibid. Smith Grant p.103

[33] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.205

[34] Holzer, Harold and Symonds, Craig L. Editors, The New York Times Complete Civil War 1861-1865 Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2010 p.75

[35] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.205

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1 Comment

Filed under civil war, History, Military, Political Commentary

One response to “Fort Sumter Pt 2: Only Two Parties Now

  1. no wonder Andrew Johnston was impeached!

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