This Day in History
The Blue and The Gray

The Civil War Begins
April 12, 1861

As early as 1835 that most perspicacious of all observers, Alexis de Tocqueville, predicted, in his Democracy in America, that the Union would not survive: Slavery, he asserted, would divide it. His prediction was vindicated when, on December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. Most of the other slave states followed her out of the Union and, in March of 1861, formed the Confederate States of America. Virginia - the oldest and the most powerful of all the slave states, and the one with the strongest ties to the Union - held aloof.

Meanwhile South Carolina - and the new Confederate government - determined to precipitate the issue and to force Virginia’s hand by insisting on the surrender of all Union forces on Confederate soil or in her waters. In late December 1860 and January 1861, Confederate seized forts and arsenals from Charleston to Florida, and from Baton Rouge to Arkansas and Texas. At this juncture Major Anderson, in command of Fort Moultrie in Charleston harbor, moved his garrison to Fort Sumter. Determined to bring Virginia into the Confederacy by an open break, General Beauregard, in command at Charleston, opened fire on the fort at dawn on April 13. After thirty-four hours of intense, but bloodless, bombardment, Major Anderson surrendered. Lincoln declared that an insurrection existed, and he called for 75,000 volunteers; Virginia seceded, and the war was on.

In retrospect it is clear that whatever the immediate advantages of the reduction of Fort Sumter, the ultimate cost to the Confederacy was high. For while the opening hostilities brought Virginia into the Confederacy, firing on Fort Sumter branded the Confederacy as the aggressor and galvanized the North into defense of the Union and the flag. “There is among us,” wrote Horace Binney of Philadelphia, “but one thought, one object, one end, one symbol - the Stars and Stripes.”

May's Archived Features:

Saturday May 1, 2021
Sunday May 2, 2021
Monday May 3, 2021
Tuesday May 4, 2021
Wednesday May 5, 2021
Thursday May 6, 2021
Friday May 7, 2021
Saturday May 8, 2021
Sunday May 9, 2021
Monday May 10, 2021
Tuesday May 11, 2021
Wednesday May 12, 2021
Thursday May 13, 2021
Friday May 14, 2021
Saturday May 15, 2021
Sunday May 16, 2021
Monday May 17, 2021



All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.