Lincoln Inaugurates War Against South Carolina
The United States Constitution (Article III, Section 3) provides that “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” It is important to note the Constitution’s word “them,” and not “it” when referring to the United States. It was 150 years ago today that an American president plotted and initiated war against South Carolina.
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
Abe Lincoln Inaugurates War Against South Carolina:
“It was 2:20AM. The Confederates having decided, James Chesnut penned the following instruction:
“By authority of Brigadier General Beauregard, commanding the provisional forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.”
Biographer Hudson Strode would describe the parting:
“Major Anderson accepted the decision ruefully…As the Confederates took their courteous leave, they saw that he was deeply moved. Anderson did them the honor of accompanying them down to their little boat and seeing them into it. In brotherly farewell he pressed their hands, one after another. As the Confederates pulled away, the Kentuckian called out softly, “If we never meet in this world again, may God grant that we may meet in the next.”
Out on Morris Island, Edmund Ruffin, of Virginia, was ready. Captain Cuthbert had sought him out a few hours earlier and told him the company had voted that he fire the first cannon at Fort Sumter should the order be given, as was expected. Just before 4:00AM the men hastened to their posts. The artillerists aimed the cannon. Ruffin made ready. The signal gun flashed from Fort Johnson across the harbor.
Edmund Ruffin fired the first cannon at Fort Sumter at 4:30AM, an hour and ten minutes after the deadline presented in James Chesnut’s final message to Robert Anderson. The cannon ball surged from Morris Island, across Charleston Harbor, and on toward the mid-harbor fort. It struck “at the northeast angle of the parapet.” At the same time Federal warships were gathering offshore in preparation for an assault planned for the following night, about 20 hours later. Then the other cannon ringing Charleston Harbor began firing. The Confederate cannon would fire at two-minute intervals for many hours.
The Federal Naval fleet did not invade Charleston Harbor that night. It seems that William Seward’s purposely confounding instructions to the most powerful warship, the Powhatan, had immobilized the command structure off Charleston Harbor. Gustavus Fox, who was bobbing out there on the [USS] Baltic, was itching to move into battle, but S.C. Rowan, commander of the [USS] Pawnee refused to allow it. The whole purpose of the military mission to Charleston Harbor was to incite Jeff Davis to order cannon fire against the Federal garrison. That objective had been met, and moving into Charleston Harbor with Federal warships must have seemed unnecessary to the more politically astute Federal Navy officers.
(Abe Lincoln’s First Shot Strategy, excerpted from Bloodstains, an Epic History of the Politics that Produced the American Civil War,” Howard Ray White, 2011, pp. 33-34)