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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Began the bombardment of Sumter


anger was intense. They had counted on the evacuation of the fort, and seem to have considered that they held a pledge from Seward, who was now Secretary of State, and whose conduct in the matter seems certainly to have been somewhat devious, to that effect. The Stars and Stripes waving in their own harbour in defiance of their Edict of Secession seemed to them and to all their people a daily affront. Now that the President had intimated in the clearest possible fashion that he intended it to be permanent, they and all the inhabitants of Charleston, and indeed of South Carolina, clamoured loudly for the reduction of the fortress. In an evil hour Jefferson Davis, though warned by his ablest advisers that he was putting his side in the wrong, yielded to their pressure. Anderson was offered the choice between immediate surrender or the forcible reduction of the fortress. True to his military duty, though his own sympathies were largely Southern, he refused to surrender, and the guns of three other forts, which the Confederates had occupied, began the bombardment of Sumter.

It lasted all day, the little fortress replying with great spirit, though with insufficient and continually diminishing means. It is an astonishing fact that in this, the first engagement of the Civil War, though much of the fort was wrecked, no life was lost on either side. At length Anderson's ammunition was exhausted, and he surrendered at discretion. The Stars and Stripes

were pulled down and the new flag of the Confederacy, called the Stars and Bars, waved in its place.

The effect of the news in the North was electric. Never before and never after was it so united. One cry of anger went up from twenty million throats. Whitman, in the best of his "Drum Taps," has described the spirit in which New York received the tidings; how that great metropolitan city, which had in the past been Democrat in its votes and half Southern in its political connections--"at dead of night, at news from the South, incensed, struck with clenched fist the pavement."

It is important to the true comprehension of the motive power behind the war to remember what this "news from the South" was. It was not the news of the death of Uncle Tom or of the hanging of John Brown. It had not the remotest connection with Slavery. It was an insult offered to the flag. In the view of every Northern man and woman there was but one appropriate answer--the sentence which Barrere had passed upon the city of Lyons: "South Carolina has fired upon Old Glory: South Carolina is no more."

Lincoln, feeling the tide of the popular will below him as a good boatman feels a strong and deep current, issued an appeal for 75,000 militia from the still loyal States to defend the flag and the Union which it symbolized. The North responded with unbounded enthusiasm, and the number of volunteers easily exceeded that for which the President had asked and Congress provided. In the North-West Lincoln found a powerful ally in his old antagonist Stephen Douglas. In the dark and perplexing months which intervened between the Presidential Election and the outbreak of the Civil War, no public man had shown so pure and selfless a patriotism. Even during the election, when Southern votes were important to him and when the threat that the election of the Republican nominee would lead to secession was almost the strongest card in his hand, he had gone out of his way to declare that no possible choice of a President could justify the dismemberment of the Republic. When Lincoln was elected, he had spoken in several Southern States, urging acquiescence in the verdict and loyalty to the Union. He had taken care to be present on the platform at his rival's inauguration, and, after the affair of Sumter, the two had had a long and confidential conversation. Returning to his native West, he commenced the last of his campaigns--a campaign for no personal object but for the raising of soldiers to keep the old flag afloat. In that campaign the "Little Giant" spent the last of his unquenchable vitality; and in the midst of it he died.

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