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"The scale and the sophistication of A Great Civil War put it on a level with James McPherson's epic Battle Cry of Freedom" —Denis Showalter, President, Society for Military History
"The crowning achievement of one of America’s most distinguished military historians." —Lincoln Prize jury
"Readers will find much to debate in this book—including... its affirmation that, because of emancipation, ‘the Civil War calls for a rethinking of the attitude... that war is always futile, that its rewards never match its cost, that any conflict [must be] immediately decisive and virtually without loss of American lives.’" —Gary W. Gallagher
Indiana University Press
"The scale and the sophistication of A Great Civil War put it on a level with James McPherson's epic Battle Cry of Freedom" —Denis Showalter, President, Society for Military History
"Weigley's A Great Civil War is the finest, most complete and insightful, and historiographically up-to-date, large-scale one-volume military and political history of the U.S. war for the Union now in print." —Herman M. Hattaway
From Secession to War
The Forts at Charleston
If the secession of seven Southern states from the Union meant war, the tinder with which to ignite the flame lay immediately at hand in Charleston harbor, South Carolina, in the state where secession fever ran hottest. On the Battery, Charleston's most desirable galleried mansions surveyed the meeting of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers and looked toward three United States forts: Castle Pinckney close at hand on a small island at the mouth of the Cooper River, Fort Sumter on an artificial island some three miles down the harbor, and Fort Moultrie, barely visible on the horizon on Sullivan's Island at the harbor entrance.
The forts were part of an elaborate system planned after the War of 1812 to guard all the principal seaports of the United States. Like most of the system, they had never been finished. Typically, of the 135 guns planned for Fort Sumter, only fifteen were mounted. The forts were lightly garrisoned as well as incomplete, because the U.S. Army had to commit most of its small peacetime strength to the Indian frontier, and national policy had always anticipated that against foreign attack the garrisons would be recruited to full strength from the local militia. Weak as the forts were, however, and although their purpose had been to turn back foreign assailants from Charleston, they and their guns, especially if reinforced, might now close to would do. The garrison commander sensed all too acutely the excitement in Charleston that Governor Pickens was trying to use to blackmail Buchanan, and the stateauthorities' encouragement of it. He was sure that Sumter would soon be seized unless he did something to prevent it, depriving him of a sea-girt fortress with masonry walls five feet thick and leaving him exposed to land attack at Fort Moultrie. Despite the President's extreme caution, the instructions delivered by Buell authorized Anderson to put his command into any of the forts "which you may deem most proper to increase its power of resistance," if he should be attacked or had "tangible evidence of a design to proceed to a hostile act." On the night of December 26-27, after careful and skillful preparations and the spiking of the guns he left behind, Anderson quietly transferred his troops and their women and children to Fort Sumter in the harbor.
South Carolinians predictably expressed outrage at the presumption of a U.S. officer who would seek to defend himself and his flag against them, and their government interpreted Anderson's move as a breach of the Buchanan administration's pledges. An angry Charleston crowd gathered at the Battery. Governor Pickens took possession of the Federal arsenal in Charleston, the customs house, the post office, and a branch of the U.S. Treasury, while state troops occupied Castle Pinckney and Fort Moultrie. In Washington, Jefferson Davis and other Southerners quickly carried the news of Anderson's move to President Buchanan, who was characteristically apologetic and unnerved. Secretary Floyd sent Major Anderson an impatient telegram demanding that he explain the meaning of the report that he had shifted his garrison to Sumter.
Buchanan possessed at least the presence of mind to postpone until the next day, December 28, a meeting he had scheduled with the South Carolina commissioners to discuss the transfer of property. In the interval the President met with his Cabinet. Cobb had resigned on December 8 to return to Georgia, but Floyd and Thompson were left to rage against Anderson's effrontery. Cobb's successor, Philip F. Thomas of Maryland, sympathized with them but carried little influence. Black and the new Attorney General, another Pennsylvanian named Edwin M. Stanton, appointed December 17, called attention, in contrast, to Anderson's instructions regarding what he was authorized to do if he received evidence of an intended attack.
Floyd proposed to order Anderson's garrison to withdraw completely from Charleston harbor, but under contrary pressure from Black and Stanton the President reverted from a capitulatory mood to his customary mere indecisiveness. When the South Carolina commissioners, received by Buchanan only in their capacities as private gentlemen, took up the call for abandoning all the forts next day, the President told them they were pushing him too hard. When Floyd failed to get his way at another Cabinet meeting that evening, the Virginian took this opportunity to resign from the War Department. He thus staged his exit just ahead of the full development of another problem that was coincidentally enveloping him, a scandal over missing department funds and his relationship with certain venal contractors.
With Floyd departed, Black and Stanton unquestionably dominated the Cabinet. By threatening to resign also and thereby to leave the executive branch in still more chaos than even Buchanan could tolerate, they drove the President into a rejection of all South Carolina's requests and demands. On December 30, Buchanan told the South Carolina commissioners that his first impulse after hearing of Anderson's move to Sumter had indeed been to order him back to Moultrie, but that South Carolina itself had changed the situation by occupying Pinckney and Moultrie. He was now asked to surrender Sumter as well and thus all Federal property in Charleston, but "This I cannot do; this I will not do."
The disappointed South Carolina commissioners responded with a complaint that by transferring his garrison Major Anderson was already waging war against their state. Against so curious a description of war, Buchanan clung to his new firmness. He was being prodded by now not only by Black and Stanton but also by Major-General and Brevet Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott, the Commanding General of the Army, who had just come to Washington from his usual headquarters in New York. Particularly under Scott's urging, the President decided to reinforce Sumter with arms, supplies, and "two hundred well instructed men."
At first Scott intended to send the reinforcement on the U.S. Navy sloop-of-war Brooklyn, but because South Carolina had sunk vessels to block the channel into Charleston harbor, he substituted the light-draft merchant steamer Star of the West. This ship steamed out of New York on January 5, quietly but with Southerners including Secretary Thompson promptly dispatching word to South Carolina. By this time the South Carolinians were constructing a battery on Morris Island as well as repairing guns at Fort Moultrie, from both of which places they could fire on ships attempting to enter the harbor. When the Star of the West arrived at dawn on January 9, flying the United States flag, and sailed close to Morris Island toward the harbor, the South Carolina batteries opened fire. The ship then hoisted a full-sized U.S. garrison flag to her fore, but the hostile firing persisted and began to score hits.
Anderson's guns at Fort Sumter might well have been able to overpower the lightly protected batteries that were attacking the Star of the West, but Anderson had received no indication from the War Department regarding the conduct expected of him more recent than Secretary Floyd's rebuke for his simply moving his troops. On January 5, Lieutenant-Colonel Lorenzo Thomas, Assistant Adjutant General, had drafted a letter of instruction to Anderson from General Scott, authorizing him to silence the fire of any battery in the harbor that might open against a vessel bringing reinforcements or supplies, but Anderson had not yet received it. Nor had he received Thomas's assurance that Scott commended his conduct to this point. Nor had the newly appointed Secretary of War, Joseph Holt, a stout Kentucky Unionist, yet found the opportunity to add his commendation of Anderson's previous conduct. Knowing so little and having as far as he was aware met disapproval for doing much less than shooting, Anderson believed he dared not fire on the South Carolina batteries. When ships emerged from around Fort Moultrie apparently intending to cut her off, the Star of the West turned away.
Although the South Carolina guns continued to fire on her as long as she was within range, neither the North nor the South was yet ready to accept the attack on the Star of the West as an irrevocable commitment to war. Nevertheless, the South Carolinians now so hastened the strengthening of their batteries guarding the approaches to the harbor that there would be no more opportunity to reinforce or supply Fort Sumter against South Carolina resistance except by a major expedition of armed ships. The possibility of avoiding further warlike confrontation had dangerously narrowed.
Other possibilities and opportunities had perhaps also been lost. Even the Buchanan administration, for all its vacillations, could not in the end surrender the last Federal fort at Charleston with no resistance at all. If Buchanan had made this fact clear from the beginning, that there could be no removal of all United States authority from the Southern states without a fight, he might just possibly have added decisively to the resistance against secession in those Southern states that were less unanimous than South Carolina, and slowed the Southern march toward formation of an independent Southern Confederacy. But he did nothing of the sort.
The Anomalous Southern Nation
The secessionist fervor that threatened Major Anderson and that radiated from South Carolina throughout the South with only slightly diminished intensity sprang from the Southern conviction that parting from the North had become essential to preserving nothing less than the South's entire way of life, all its values and its existence as a civilized society. Everything worth preserving in the South, many leaders of the section had convinced themselves and their followers, depended on perpetuating slavery. If slavery fell, law and order in a biracial society would give way to chaos and barbarism. And the election of the antislavery Republican Abraham Lincoln to the United States Presidency, such Southerners believed, signified that slavery could be perpetuated only outside the old Union. This identification of slavery with Southern civilization goes far, obviously, toward accounting for the zeal behind secession and the intensity with which the seceded states were about to engage in war.
Like most expressions of emotional zeal, however, the secessionist movement flew squarely in the face of rational self-interest. The Republicans' determination to forbid the expansion of slavery into the Western territories triggered secession, but by seceding the Southern states abandoned their ability to fight for the West in Congress and the Supreme Court — which they still controlled — and practically gave away most of their claims upon the West. Southerners might dream of new filibustering expeditions to expand slavery and their own influence in Latin America, but such dreams were bound to be still more ephemeral than their hopes of planting slavery in the valleys of the Colorado or the Sacramento. Furthermore, by seceding the South also abandoned hope for enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law to prevent slave escapes into the North, along with most other kinds of effective help from Northern sympathizers. Secession threw away the considerable ability of the South, assisted by a largely friendly Democratic Party, to resist the antislavery movement on its own political ground.
Upon seceding, moreover, the Southern states found themselves in a perilous situation. They professed to be independent republics, but they did not possess the complete appurtenances of sovereignty. In particular, while they had their militia systems, they did not separately have the ability to protect themselves from the potential military power of the Union. They must form a new union of Southern states, and quickly, to shield themselves against the Northern threat — but also because secession sprang at least as much from the idea of a Southern civilization to be upheld by Southern nationhood as from states' rights.
On the day South Carolina seceded, Robert W. Barnwell, a political protégé of John C. Calhoun, introduced into the secession convention a resolution calling upon the Southern states to send delegates to a convention to form a national government, with Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, as the suggested site. The resolution having passed, the Alabama secession convention issued the appropriate invitation — it was important that the seceding states should find a broader base for leadership of combined action than that provided by hotheaded South Carolina — and delegates from the six seceded states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana assembled at Montgomery on February 4, 1861. Texas, whose convention passed an ordinance of secession on February l, sent delegates who arrived later.
The members of the Montgomery convention proved to be mostly politicians experienced in officeholding under the old Federal government. Indeed, there are hints in all that we know of their farewells from Washington as well as what they said and did at Montgomery that many among them still envisaged themselves less as creators of a new nation than as reformers of the old one, applying in unprecedentedly drastic form — by going to the length of acting out the threats — the warnings of disunion that so often in the past had served to render the North conciliatory. Often mere talk of secession had bullied the North into caving in to Southern demands; now the South was actually going through the forms of seceding — but once again perhaps mainly to twist Northern politicians' arms. Such a method of political blackmail to wring from the North new concessions to slavery offered, after all, a much more rational means of defending Southern interests than going through with secession and separate nationhood. Not every Southern politician was zealously emotional. This ambiguous element in the formation of the new Southern union was destined to affect the coming war in a manner contradictory to the forces unleashed by the emotional defense of slavery. Be that as it may, the Union's President-elect refused to rise to the bait, no concessions on the vital issue of slavery in the territories were forthcoming from him, and the Montgomery convention found itself with no choice but to proceed with its ostensible business of creating a new confederacy.
Significantly in light of the reforming as distinguished from the revolutionary impulse behind the Montgomery convention, the delegates chose as president of the gathering Howell Cobb, recently Secretary of the Treasury, who was conspicuous for his veneration of the Constitution of the United States. Cobb's elevation to leadership and then his personal influence helped assure the participation in the convention's labors of a still more dedicated worshipper of the old Constitution, his fellow Georgian Alexander H. Stephens.
Cobb also proved to be a most efficient parliamentarian. He lost no time in appointing and hurrying on the work of a committee to prepare a provisional constitution, chaired by Christopher G. Memminger, an experienced South Carolina legislator, so that some form of united government might begin functioning at once. Memminger's committee reported and the convention accepted its handiwork as early as February 8. Under the Provisional Constitution, the convention became the unicameral Congress of the Provisional Confederate States of North America, acting in that capacity by day while continuing as a constitutional convention to write a permanent constitution at night. In the Provisional Congress, each state would have one vote, while usually being represented by as many delegates as it had had members in the old Federal Congress. The Provisional Constitution was to endure for one year after the inauguration of a Provisional President, or until a permanent constitution could be put into effect.
Obliged by the absence of any Northern rush to conciliate to proceed with their avowed purpose, but guided by such men as Cobb and Stephens, the Montgomery delegates wrote for the Confederate States of America a permanent Constitution that was almost a recapitulation of the old Constitution. The most important departures from the latter all had as their intent the buttressing of a conservative, agrarian, slaveholding society.
Alexander Stephens caused a certain embarrassment when in a speech at Savannah on March 21 he said of the new Confederate States government that "its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition." The embarrassment was simply such as is usually prompted by unvarnished plain-spoken troth. The writers of the Confederate States Constitution were not so embarrassed that they declined to mention slaves and slavery by name; they eschewed the circumlocution of the old Constitution. There was to be no Confederate States law "denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves." In Confederate States territories "the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States." Although a state of the Confederacy might conceivably abolish slavery, given the principle of states' rights, nevertheless slaveowners "shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired." The assertion of the rights of slavery did not extend, however, to the reopening of the overseas slave trade. Importation of slaves was forbidden, except from the United States, and Congress might prohibit the latter trade as well.
Altogether, the departures of the Confederate States from the U.S. Constitution were so few, the old Constitution was copied so literally, except for the efforts to safeguard slavery, that textual comparison of the two constitutions suggests not only conservatism among the Montgomery statesmen, but another deep-seated attitude as well, the one that collided against the defense of slavery: an inability to wrench free from old loyalties to the United States. At sunrise on March 4 Letitia Christian Tyler, daughter of Robert Tyler and granddaughter of John Tyler, the only former President of the United States to embrace the Confederacy, unfurled the newly designed Confederate States flag for the first time publicly, over the white dome of the Capitol at Montgomery. Having copied the Constitution of the United States, the Confederacy had plagiarized the old flag and now sanctioned it by means of association with the Presidency of the United States. For as the heir apparent to the French throne and soon-to-be war historian, Louis Philippe Albert d'Orleans, comte de Paris, said of the Confederate Stars and Bars: "They selected for their new flag that which most resembled the banner of 1776" (or, to quibble with this foreign observer, the banner of 1777). All of which was curious conduct for rebels.
Did not the founders of the Confederacy display a remarkable propensity to gaze backward not only toward an old-fashioned social order but toward old loyalties as well? Professor Charles P. Roland in his history of The Confederacy writes of "the fatal rift in the psyche of the South": the incompleteness of the psychological break with the old Union. This fatal riff was nowhere more evident than in the most basic foundations of the Confederate claim to nationhood. It may well have had much to do with ultimate Southern defeat in the coming war.
The South Begins to Mobilize
But the defiant act of secession had been committed, and the pose of defiance had to be maintained. Though many Southerners, including many in the Montgomery convention, affected to believe that the North would allow secession to proceed in peace, there hung over every moment of the convention the threat that the United States might invoke force to try to save itself from disruption, and that the new Confederacy might shortly face war.
It was therefore imperative that the convention not simply deliberate in leisurely fashion over a new constitution, but that a functioning government be put in motion immediately. The Provisional Constitution provided for a Provisional President, a Provisional Vice President, and executive departments as well as the Provisional Congress. The need for executive action to protect the Confederate States against possible United States repression was so urgent that the convention nearly acted to choose a President on the very day it adopted the Provisional Constitution. At least one night's postponement seemed desirable, however, if not for reflection on the possible candidates, then at least for canvassing the delegates and trading off support, so there was a deferment to February 9.
Again significantly, secessionist fire-eaters such as William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama and Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina were never seriously in the running for the Presidency. The very vehemence of their calls for disunion had suggested that the fire-eaters were not securely members of the Southern establishment; they protested too much. Their character as outsiders in relation to the establishment combined with doubts about their stability and capacity for constructive action to exclude them from the highest offices.
Among more moderate statesmen, the populous, centrally located, and therefore strategically important State of Georgia had two major contenders for the Confederate Presidency, Howell Cobb and former U.S. Senator Robert A. Toombs. But Cobb lacked the personal magnetism desirable in a President who might have to be a rallying point, while Toombs was so overbearing a personality, that he repelled as much and as strongly as he attracted. Furthermore, the two Georgia candidates divided their own state's delegation and thus tended to cancel each other out. The choice for Provisional President therefore came around to ex-Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. Ten years earlier Davis had been among the most radical Southern Congressional leaders, but his opinions had moderated until in the crisis of 1860-1861 he had proved a reluctant secessionist. Meanwhile his service as Franklin Pierce's Secretary of War had earned him a reputation as an able, farseeing administrator; he was the best Secretary of War since John C. Calhoun had held the post in 1817-1825. The War Department experience also suggested knowledge and skill in an area likely to be especially pertinent to the Confederacy, as did the fact that Davis was a United States Military Academy graduate, class of 1828, and had led the Regiment of Mississippi Rifles with distinction during the Mexican War. Davis was tall, thin, imposing, austere, an effective public speaker if not usually an eloquent one, and in general a man fitting the Presidential image.
Georgia received the consolation prize of the Vice Presidency, which went to "Little Elleck" Stephens — short, wizened, sickly, seemingly always on the brink of the grave but nevertheless intensely ambitious. He had opposed his state's secession virtually until the moment when it was an accomplished fact. This outlook and his reverence for the U.S. Constitution made his selection still another expression of the Montgomery convention's and the Confederacy's divided psyche. On the level of conscious thought, however, the Montgomery delegates saw their choice of Stephens as another endorsement of the constructive and positive variety of statesmanship, as distinguished from fire-eating. Stephens was also a former Whig to balance Davis's previous adherence to the Democracy. The delegates neglected the possibility that old partisan differences, conflicting ambitions, and Stephens's deep misgivings about the secession experiment might make the President and Vice President an ill-matched team.
Davis received notice of his election while he was tending his roses at Brierfield, his Mississippi plantation. He was even more impressed by his West Point credentials than were those who had elected him, and he believed that these credentials indicated he should continue in his current post as major-general commanding the Mississippi State Militia and then, if war came, he should go on to other military activities and glory. Therefore he accepted the Presidency without enthusiasm. But he was a worshipper of duty, so accept he did, and he set off for Montgomery on a roundabout train journey through Chattanooga and Atlanta (which reflected one of the military and economic liabilities of the Confederate States, in that there was no direct line).
He reached Montgomery on February 15. The Provisional Congress had wanted to betray no divisions or dissensions to the outside world, and so Davis's choice had been engineered to be unanimous; but the choice having been made. Southerners promptly reflected that no other man among them was so patently fitted to be the Confederate President as Jefferson Davis. On February 18 Davis took the oath of office under auspiciously bright sunshine and offered the world beyond the Confederacy's borders both friendship and a firm resolution to preserve Confederate independence.
With an appropriate bow to the states'-rights creed, Davis saw to it that all the states of the Confederacy except his own Mississippi were represented in his Cabinet. Toombs of Georgia as a senior statesman and Presidential aspirant became Secretary of State. The diligent chairman of the committee that had drafted the Provisional Constitution, Memminger of South Carolina, received the Treasury portfolio, which was sure to demand diligence because the South had few strong financial institutions and the Confederacy little available specie. Davis expected to be essentially his own Secretary of War, so he gave the War Department to an unassertive and little-known Alabamian, Leroy Pope Walker. The Navy Department went to one of his best choices, one of the two men who would serve out the Davis administration while remaining in his initial post, Stephen R. Mallory of Florida. Mallory not only possessed suitable maritime interests, having been chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Naval Affairs, but he proved to have an innovative flair that permitted him to make the most of extremely modest resources. He presided over the Confederacy's spectacular program of commerce raiding. More than that, he pressed for the construction of powerful, advanced-design ironclads, and although his success was limited, he secured ships more powerful than the technologically straitened Confederacy would have produced under any but the most driving leadership. Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana, the Attorney General, was one of the austere Davis's few personal confidants. John H. Reagan of Texas consented to become Postmaster General only with much reluctance, because he foresaw many of the difficulties that were to plague his department under the Confederacy's disadvantages in rail and water transport; but he worked hard and became the other Cabinet member to stay in one post during the whole history of the administration.
Because it was so conservative and orderly a revolutionary enterprise, the Confederacy inherited from the United States a governmental machinery already functioning in many ways. By and large, the Confederate courts and the executive departments simply adopted the available personnel and the procedures of the old Federal government. For a time, where ports were open the Confederacy continued to collect the U.S. customs duties. The Post Office Department in the seceded states went about its business practically without change, until during the night of May 31-June 1, 1861, the postmasters, clerks, and carriers were transformed from United States into Confederate States functionaries. The Provisional Congress asserted the principle that all U.S. statutes as of November 1860 were still in effect, provided they were compatible with the Confederate Constitution and not specifically repealed by the Confederate Congress. On March 12, the Provisional Congress appointed a committee to review the laws of the United States and report on their applicability to the Confederacy.
Similarly, on March 4 the Provisional Congress adopted with few changes the Rules and Articles of War of the United States for the governance of an army. In this most urgent area of the government's concern, however, a functioning machinery could not so readily be appropriated from the old government. An army and navy had to be created. To military preparations President Davis therefore turned his primary attention, out of both personal inclination and probable necessity.
Three hundred twenty-nine of the 1,080 officers of the U.S. Army resigned their commissions during the secession crisis, largely to enter the military service of the Southern states and eventually of the Confederacy. Sixteen of them were Northern men who had married into Southern families. It has been believed that only twenty-six enlisted men deserted the U.S. Army to join the Confederacy, but this figure may be a considerable underestimate. Still, the enlisted soldiers overwhelmingly remained with the old colors. Of 1,457 officers of the U.S. Navy, 237 followed the South. In the old Navy as in the Regular Army, the rank and file remained overwhelmingly loyal to the United States.
The seceded states all began to remedy the military deficiencies of their pretensions to sovereignty before the Montgomery convention assembled. They did so by improving the militia organizations inherited from the English colonial system and later assimilated by both the Constitution and the statute law of the United States, as well as the laws of the states. Under the Uniform Militia Act of May 8, 1792 and its supplement of February 28, 1795, every free, white, able-bodied male citizen between eighteen and forty-five was enrolled in the militia of his state. Since 1808 the Federal government had been distributing $200,000 among the states annually for the purchase of arms and equipment for the militia. Although the universal service obligation, often invoked during the colonial Indian wars, had atrophied in practice even by 1792, the principle of a duty of all able-bodied males to give military service to their states remained established in American history and on the statute books, to be recalled to life when necessary.
Moreover, beyond the paper armies of hundreds of thousands of men enrolled in the muster books of the compulsory-service "common" or "unorganized" militia, the "volunteer" or "organized" militia had enjoyed a precocious growth, North and South, since the War of 1812. As early as the colonial era, men with a special taste or aptitude for military activity had set themselves apart from the mass of the unorganized militia to participate in more or less frequent military drill in organized volunteer companies, which would be the first to enter active service in case of an emergency call upon the militia. In the nineteenth century, the forming of dramatically uniformed militia companies evidently appealed to the romantic spirit of the age, and towns and cities competed with each other in contests of drill and display among such companies, much as they would later compete through their baseball and other sports teams. In the South, trained, armed, and organized volunteer militia companies met the special need for guardians against slave insurrection, in an era when especially in rural areas there were no other police. The companies of volunteer militia had formed the nuclei of the regiments of volunteers for Federal service in the War with Mexico, such as Colonel Jefferson Davis's Mississippi Rifles, and they could play a similar role for the Confederacy. Recruiting and drilling of extant units proceeded briskly in all the seceding states.
On February 28, the Provisional Congress authorized the President to take charge of military activities and to receive into Confederate service for a period of twelve months any military units tendered by the states. On March 6 the Congress followed up with two additional statutes making more detailed arrangements for a Confederate States Army. It authorized a Regular Army of 10,600 men. For immediate emergencies, it authorized the President to call the state militia into the service of the new government for six months and to accept 100,000 volunteers for one year. The volunteers were to furnish their own clothing and when necessary their horses and horse equipment. The states or the Confederacy would provide arms.
By no means wishing to rush into measures that in themselves might imply warlike intent, Davis used these powers with restraint. On March 9 he called for 7,700 men to garrison forts. On April 8 he called for an additional 19,500 men for Confederate service. Otherwise he left mobilization of troops for the time being to the considerable energies of the states. His own special efforts went into creating a military administration to care for and govern the troops as soon as the Confederacy might have to call for them in greater numbers. To establish staff bureaus and a command system, the President had to perform more than his share of the work, for Secretary Walker's appointment was already proving a mistake by any standards, even granting that Davis did not desire a strong character to occupy the War Department.
James Buchanan gave way to Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States on March 4, the day of the Confederacy's flag-raising ceremony. By that time, the Confederate States of America was undoubtedly a going concern, possessing among other attributes a capacity for military defense altogether respectable when measured against the small military force of the United States. The President and Congress in Montgomery accordingly dared hope that the new President in Washington might feel obliged to acknowledge their fait accompli. The Confederate Provisional Congress had authorized President Davis to send a three-man commission to Washington to negotiate for friendly relations and the settlement of outstanding questions. To conduct the mission, Davis chose veteran politicians well acquainted in Washington and representing a spectrum of political views: André Bienvenu Roman, distinguished governor of Louisiana as long ago as 1831-1835 and 1839-1843 and a former Whig, more recently a Constitutional Unionist; Martin J. Crawford of Georgia, U.S. Congressman 1855-1861 and a John C. Breckinridge Democrat; and John Forsyth, an Alabama newspaperman who had made the Mobile Register a Unionist organ, supported Stephen A. Douglas in 1860, and opposed secession until it was accomplished.
In Washington, however, the commissioners met disappointment. If James Buchanan had been unwilling to receive Southern gentlemen in their claimed official capacity as representatives of an independent republic, the new Republican President, still defining his policies, could hardly yield more. Although they were to talk unofficially with Lincoln's Secretary of State, William H. Seward, the Confederate commissioners were unable to assure themselves that Lincoln was apprised of their presence in town.
Fort Sumter: The Crisis Approaches
Still, Lincoln's aloofness from Davis's emissaries did not prove that the U.S. President intended to test Confederate military preparations by waging war. On the contrary, in his inaugural address Lincoln mixed his inevitable declarations of resolve to uphold the Union and the Constitution and appeals for reunion with the announcement of what could well be construed as a plan for avoiding war. Not only did he remind the world that he had often declared he had no purpose to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it existed, while reiterating that stand; not only did he go so far as to pledge enforcement of the constitutional provision for return of escaped fugitives, provided there were adequate safeguards that free men should not be made slaves. He went further, to say that in his defense of the Union, "there needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority." He would hold the property and places belonging to the government, and he would collect duties on imports; but he would do no more unless provoked, and especially he would do nothing to excite a sense of insecurity or endanger peace.
Until 1861 the growth of governmental power in the United States had been so slight that in peacetime most citizens rarely felt the direct touch of any government, and most especially they rarely had contact with the government of the United States. Their principal involvement with any Federal authorities was likely to be through the postal service. Only those directly participating in international commerce met at first hand the import duties that were overwhelmingly the principal form of Federal taxation. These things being true, Lincoln could with relative ease promise that the government would not touch at all any Southern persons or areas not wishing to be touched.
Promptly following his inauguration, he took up with his Secretaries of the Treasury and the Navy and with his Attorney General the question of implementing a suggestion of Secretary of State Seward that where Federal customs collectors could not function in seaports, the import duties might be collected by naval vessels crusing offshore. If Lincoln thus fulfilled his responsibility to collect the revenues without invading the soil of the Southern states, if he refrained as he said he would even from sending the mails if they were resisted, and with no Federal courts or officers functioning in the seceded states and Lincoln promising no invasion to compel their acceptance, then the Federal government simply would not be felt inside the states claiming to be the Confederacy. Lincoln would have avowed no sacrifice of principle, but there would be no occasion for conflict between the Southern people within their states and Federal agents, and a respite might be gained for peace to be assured.
There would be no occasion for collision unless the Confederate States reached out to resist collection of the duties offshore or to seize the offshore property and places that Lincoln had pledged to hold. Consistent with his evident intention to do nothing aggressive and to secure a breathing space between the seceded states and the U.S. government, Lincoln had removed from early drafts of his inaugural address a declaration that he would attempt to repossess Federal property and places already lost. The seceded states had already taken possession of most of the Federal forts located on their soil, most of the forts being accessible enough by land and lightly enough garrisoned that they could be seized by a corporal's guard. There remained in Federal hands when Lincoln delivered his inaugural address four island forts protected by the waters around them as well as by their garrisons: Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas, Fort Taylor at Key West, Fort Pickens near Pensacola, and Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The first two were at places too remote to cause an immediate crisis. For Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island off Pensacola, various Southern Senators had arranged with President Buchanan a truce, whereby Florida would not attack as long as the United States did not relieve or reinforce the garrison, though it might send in provisions. If not so remote as Forts Jefferson and Taylor, Pickens was also enough out of the way to make such an understanding possible. But Sumter, flying the Stars and Stripes in sight of the nursery of secession, provoked a Southern impatience that threatened Lincoln's whole plan for a respite.
Despite President Davis's relative restraint in implementing his authority to mobilize troops, the busy military preparations of the seceded states and the general haste to put the Confederacy in arms created a momentum toward war and an emotional climate conducive to aggressive military action in the new Southern nation. It was true that after the furor over Major Anderson's removal of his command to Fort Sumter, tempers had cooled sufficiently by the beginning of February that Anderson and Governor Pickens could reach an agreement permitting the women and children of the Sumter garrison to be evacuated to New York, and Pickens allowed Anderson to resume buying meat and vegetables in the Charleston markets, a privilege he had suspended after Anderson's move from Moultrie. Nevertheless, the mounting of guns and other preparations for combat went on busily both inside the fort — Anderson found many more guns at hand than those that had been ready to fire when the crisis began — and on the mainland and islands surrounding it. Meanwhile popular pressure in South Carolina to remove the insulting banner from the state's principal harbor grew so intense that on February 12, the Confederate Congress adopted a resolution to take control of the question of the forts, partly to head off unilateral and precipitate action by South Carolina. At once Governor Pickens wrote to Howell Cobb, still president of the Provisional Congress, urging that Fort Sumter ought to be taken over before the Buchanan administration left Washington. Then the incoming Lincoln administration would have to choose whether or not to make war without the possibility that the South might precipitate a collision at Sumter.
On February 15, the Provisional Congress responded to Pickens's urgings to the extent of resolving that steps should be taken to obtain Forts Sumter and Pickens as soon as possible, by negotiation or by force. Still impatient, Governor Pickens wrote to President Davis asking who should make the demand for the surrender of Sumter. Davis replied on March 1 that he too wanted Sumter in Confederate hands as early as possible, but that the Confederacy must be sure of winning victory in the first clash of arms. Secretary of War Walker told Pickens that a Confederate officer would leave Montgomery that very night to take command at Charleston. The officer was Brigadier-General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, a dapper disciplinarian from Louisiana who but for secession would have been superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point.
Beauregard promptly reorganized the South Carolina state troops at Charleston into a more coherent force that he hastened into fighting trim, to be sure of the desired victory in the first collision. The conciliatory portions of Lincoln's inaugural address did nothing to retard these activities. Most Southern leaders saw the new President's promise to hold Federal places and property, as an intolerable threat.
Promptly after delivering his inaugural address, Lincoln himself received disturbing news about Fort Sumter. He read a dispatch from Major Anderson dated February 28 and stating that the Confederate fortification of Charleston harbor had gone so far that a force of 20,000 well-disciplined men would be necessary to retain the fort. Furthermore, Anderson's provisions were limited; the Confederates would not allow him to buy a stock of perishables, so that his purchase of meats and vegetables was on a day-to-day basis. When Lincoln's Cabinet held its first meeting on March 9, Fort Sumter was a principal topic, and most of the Cabinet leaned toward evacuation. Seward in particular stirred about officiously in a search for conciliation. He thought he was cast to act as Prime Minister for the inexperienced prairie President, and, taking it upon himself to treat through intermediaries with the Confederate commissioners, he led them and other Southerners to anticipate that Sumter would be evacuated. Newspapers gave the public North and South conflicting guesses about the administration's plans.
By March 14, when two Cabinet meetings over Sumter consumed much of the day, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair was alone among the secretaries in standing unequivocally for holding the fort. Blair was sustained by the Jacksonian tradition still embodied by his father, Francis Preston Blair, a veteran of Andrew Jackson's Kitchen Cabinet. By now General Scott had told Lincoln that with the means at hand, the time to shore up Sumter had passed a month before. Necessarily full of doubts in the face of such counsels, Lincoln nevertheless felt reluctant to abandon Sumter. He wanted conciliation, but only with good odds for eventual reunion, and he thought the latter consideration demanded asserting that he stood firm on the principle of the Union by surrendering no more forts. He hoped that at least he might play for time at Charleston. He decided to send various emissaries there — Gustavus Vasa Fox, until 1856 a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and now the sponsor of a scheme for reinforcing Sumter from large tugboats; Stephen A. Hurlbut, an Illinois lawyer but a native of Charleston; Ward Hill Lamon, another Illinois lawyer and one of the President's closest friends. These men would report from first-hand observation on the prospects of the fort.
Fox made the trip and still believed Sumter could be reinforced. Hurlbut and Lamon took soundings that were more political than military, and their political conclusions were extremely pessimistic. Hurlbut thought that secession had prospered so well for so long that there was now no possible policy whereby the United States could head off an armed clash. Lamon was told much the same thing by Governor Pickens, except that the one chance for peace was for Lincoln to accept secession while not reinforcing die forts.
If he believed these tidings, Lincoln could retain little hope for delaying a showdown. To sacrifice Sumter would only strengthen the implied assurance of the Southerners that their revolution was fulfilled and accomplished. Meanwhile the Republican delegation in Congress was growing impatient with conciliatory procrastination; and in a similar spirit, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase of Ohio and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles of Connecticut shifted to support of holding Sumter, because there no longer seemed to be anything to gain and possibly much to lose by yielding it. Attorney General Edward Bates of Missouri also endorsed al least an end to procrastination; he thought the fort must be either resupplied or evacuated.
As he had stated in his inaugural, Lincoln believed that his oath of office bound him to hold the remaining Federal property. With Fox's assurance that Sumter could still be held, on March 29 Lincoln ordered Secretary of War Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania and Secretary of the Navy Welles to prepare a relief expedition for Sumter, to be ready to move by sea by April 6, and to be commanded by Fox. As Lincoln's plans matured, they still aimed at buying time if possible. The President decided to notify the secession officials in Charleston of his intention to supply Fort Sumter, but to tell them he would send provisions only, "and that if such attempt be not resisted no effort to throw in men, arms, or ammunition will be made without further notice, or in case of an attack upon the fort." Robert S. Chew, a Department of State clerk sent to Charleston, so notified Governor Pickens on April 8, reading to him and then handing him an unaddressed, unsigned copy of Lincoln's message. Pickens called in General Beauregard to hear the news. There would still be no hint of official communication between Lincoln and the secessionists that might imply recognizing them; Lincoln's emissary told Pickens he had no instructions to receive an answer.
Southerners lingering in Washington continued to provide the Confederates with much information about attitudes in the old capital, including word of the hardening determination to try to hold Fort Sumter. This information alarmed President Davis's government. If in response to it the Confederacy did not act to force the United States out of Charleston harbor, the restive South Carolinians might well take matters into their own hands. If not, then a continuing Federal presence at Charleston would surely undercut Confederate bids for international recognition, and a persistent impasse marked by the failure of the Confederacy to open its principal Atlantic seaport might gradually erode secessionist sentiment even within the South — as Lincoln hoped. In light of such fears, General Beauregard had already cut off Major Anderson's purchases in the Charleston market the day before Governor Pickens received Lincoln's message about the intention to provision Sumter. Some Confederate officers feared that a strong expedition to relieve Fort Sumter would succeed. Davis conferred with his own Cabinet, and while it like Lincoln's was divided — Secretary of State Toombs warning of incalculable consequences — the majority opinion in the Cabinet and in the Confederate government generally was that inaction would dangerously revive Southern Unionism. This opinion itself testified again to the uncertainty of the Southern psyche. But it was a judgment with which Davis agreed. On April 10, Secretary of War Walker ordered Beauregard: "If you have no doubt of the authorized character of the agent who communicated to you the intention of the Washington Government to supply Fort Sumter by force you will at once demand its evacuation, and if this is refused proceed, in such manner as you may determine, to reduce it."
Fort Sumter: The Bombardment
On the afternoon of April 11, two of Beauregard's aides were rowed out to Sumter to present Anderson with the general's message: "I am ordered by the Government of the Confederate States to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter." Anderson replied that his sense of honor and his obligations to his government prevented his complying; but in conversation with Beauregard's aides he remarked that in any event, the garrison would be starved out in a few days. Beauregard and the Confederate authorities in Montgomery with whom he promptly communicated were quick to see in this remark a hope that they might not have to take the initiative after all. On further instructions, Beauregard sent messengers to tell Anderson: "If you will state the time at which you will evacuate Fort Sumter, and agree that in the mean time you will not use your guns against us unless ours shall be employed against Fort Sumter, we will abstain front opening fire upon you.
But Anderson recognized that such an agreement would forbid his opening fire to support a relief expedition. He replied that he would evacuate by noon of April 15, unless he received new instructions or supplies, but with the proviso that he would have to fire in reply to a hostile act against the fort "or the flag it bears." These terms could not satisfy the Confederates; hastening Sumter's capture before its guns could aid a relief expedition was one of the main purposes of their demands. Beauregard's messengers, principally ex-U.S. Senator James Chesnut of South Carolina and ex-U.S. Congressman Roger A. Pryor of Virginia, consequently rejected the answer on the spot and informed Anderson that Beauregard would open fire in one hour.
Just one hour and ten minutes later, at 4:30 A.M. on Friday, April 12, 1861, a mortar on James Island west of Sumter fired a signal shot that burst above the fort. Soon forty-three guns were firing against the fort from the whole periphery of the harbor. By now, Anderson had sixty guns ready; but he was short of cartridges — he had powder but lacked cloth to make cartridges — and he hesitated to risk the lives of his small garrison by firing his biggest guns, eight-inch howitzers and ten-inch Columbiads, which because of their high angle of fire had to be mounted not in the protected casemates but in the open, on the parade and on the parapet. Not until seven A.M. did Abner Doubleday, Company E, the senior captain of the 1st Artillery, fire Sumter's first shot. The fort kept up a slow return fire against a heavier Confederate bombardment until darkness came. Three times during the day Confederate hot shot set fire to the barracks, but the flames were extinguished, and by nightfall little damage had been suffered.
In the afternoon, three U.S. ships appeared off the bar at the harbor mouth: Fox's relief expedition. Neither then nor during the night, however, did Sumter receive any help. The ships were having trouble keeping station in a coastal storm, and heavy seas frustrated Fox's efforts to send in provision boats during the night.
Besides, Fox was waiting for the powerful steam frigate Powhatan to arrive before he attempted to fight his way to Sumter's rescue. He did not know that the Powhatan would never reach him. Secretary Seward, still pursuing conciliation in the spirit of his implied promises to the Confederate commissioners that Sumter would be abandoned, had contrived with the aid of Lieutenant David Dixon Porter of the Navy to divert, the Powhatan from the Sumter expedition to another relief enterprise, bound for Fort Pickens, which Seward considered a less sensitive and therefore more appropriate point at which to display a resolve to retain Federal property. Gustavus Fox always believed that if he had received a warship of the Powhatan's strength, as his plans had intended, the next events would have been different.
Confederate fire against Sumter kept up at a slackened pace during the night and resumed at full weight on the morning of April 13. Hot shot now set fires that went out of control, raging through the officers' quarters and the barracks and compelling Anderson to close the doors of the magazine. Heat and smoke soon had the defenders crowding to the embrasures for air or lying on the ground covering their mouths with handkerchiefs. Firing from the fort fell off to one shot every ten minutes. At one o'clock the flagstaff was shot down. Before Anderson could get the flag raised again, Louis T. Wigfall, until secession a boastful and posturing U.S. Senator from Texas and now acting as an aide to Beauregard, set out not from the latter's headquarters but from Morris Island, mainly on his own initiative, to ask the fort to surrender.
Wigfall offered Anderson any terms he desired. Under the impression that Wigfall came from Beauregard, and with the ships off the bar having made no discernible move to assist him, rations down to pork and water, and his means of responding to the bombardment rapidly diminishing, Anderson said he would accept the terms Beauregard had offered before the shooting began. These included evacuation with his command, taking arms and private and company property, the right to salute the U.S. flag as it was lowered, and conveyance to a Northern port. The arrangements apparently being satisfactory, Anderson raised the white flag, firing ceased, and Wigfall went off to report to Beauregard — that Anderson had surrendered unconditionally.
Eventually the resulting confusion was resolved by Beauregard's agreement to the terms Anderson had accepted. The next day, Sunday, April 14, the Sumter garrison marched out with colors flying and drums beating, to be carried to the Federal fleet off the bar. In the course of the artillery salute to the U.S. flag, the premature discharge of a gun and the explosion of a pile of cartridges killed Private Daniel Hough of Company E, 1st Artillery. Private Edward Galloway of the same company died of wounds from the explosion four days later. Four other wounded soldiers recovered.
The firing on the U.S. flags that flew from the Star of the West might well have been insult enough to cause war — but evidently the mood of the North was not yet ready in January, and certainly the Buchanan administration was not. The bombardment of a U.S. fort was worse, and with the tension and suspense of the intervening months, public psychology both North and South had also changed since January and grown ripe for a commitment to conflict.
Throughout the North as the news from Charleston arrived, the Stars and Stripes appeared on public buildings and private homes, mass meetings to support the Union replaced meetings anxiously exploring conciliation plans, and newspapers and public men of Southern sympathies received threats of violence. The Confederate attack on the fort provoked Northern anger, and anger galvanized a conviction growing during the months when the secession crisis simmered, that too large a future would be sacrificed if the Union dissolved. Acquiescence in dissolution would invite future secessions by future discontented minorities, and at the end of such a road lay anarchy. The alternative was to fight for the Union, to save it, and thus to secure all the vast economic opportunities of a united continent, the infinite, imperial destiny that Americans believed was rightly theirs as a new chosen people, and as Abraham Lincoln was increasingly to argue, perhaps democracy itself.
To that end, on April 15, Lincoln called upon the loyal states for 75,000 militia, to suppress resistance to the laws in seven Southern states. He also called for a special session of Congress to meet at noon on July 4. In proclamations of April 19 and 27 he declared the ports of the seven seceded states under blockade.
Lincoln's militia proclamation stated that the details of the militia mobilization would be communicated to the states by the War Department. In carrying out this procedure, the War Department assigned each state a quota of the total of 75,000. The call was for three months' service, not because Lincoln expected armed conflict to be brief, but because Presidential authority to call the militia into Federal service rested on the February 28, 1795 revision of the Uniform Militia Act of 1792, which limited such service to three months in any one year. On April 27 the President ordered the creation of a new manufactory for arms at Rock Island, Illinois; this facility would not be ready for many months at best, and the order to establish it belies the notion that Lincoln was deluded into expecting only a short war.
Lincoln called for troops and invited war knowing that to do so would almost certainly add at least four states to the Confederacy. Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas were all led by professed Unionists. Their leaders, however, were plainly Unionists only conditionally, loyal to Washington only so long as Washington took no vigorous steps to force back into the Union the seceded states farther south. If the issue should come to war, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas all possessed too many economic ties, too many links of personal and community sentiment, with the lower South to join in an effort of coercion.
In Virginia, a convention to consider the relations of the Commonwealth with the Union had been elected on February 4, and the sentiments of the convention had been shifting toward secession for weeks before the Sumter bombardment. Doubtful evidence has it that Lincoln had offered to abandon Sumter if the Virginia convention would disperse. Lincoln's call for militia pushed Virginia over the brink into secession, which the Virginia convention voted on April 17. The convention provided for a popular referendum to be held May 23, but meanwhile the state formed an alliance with the Confederacy, Confederate troops began entering its borders, and the outcome of the referendum became a foregone conclusion.
North Carolina, a state of relatively few great slaveholders and of many yeoman farmers, hesitated more than Virginia, but finally ties of interest and sentiment similar to Virginia's produced a North Carolina ordinance of secession on May 20. In Tennessee, Governor Isham G. Harris pressed the General Assembly into passing on May 1 a vote of alliance with the Confederacy that was more than dubious constitutionally, along with related military measures. By the time a referendum was held on June 8, the Tennessee electorate like that of Virginia before it was merely accepting accomplished facts. In Arkansas there were fewer ties to the North than in Tennessee, secessionist procedures could be more straightforward, and a secession ordinance was passed on May 6 by a state convention assembled after Sumter.
The course of the other border slave states was in doubt. On April 19, Maryland secessionists attacked the 6th Massachusetts Infantry when it marched through Baltimore. Governors Beriah Magoffin of Kentucky and Claiborne F. Jackson of Missouri rejected Lincoln's call for militia. But it was not clear for how many of their constituents they spoke. The slave state of Delaware was too small to act independently of its ne ighbors Maryland and Pennsylvania.
In the Northern states where the flags had blossomed everywhere, states and people offered more troops than the Federal government knew how to organize, command, and provision on short notice — the Lincoln administration having carefully avoided all but the most minute military preparations before Fort Sumter to avoid giving the secessionists provocation. Because no Federal appropriations existed to finance a rapid increase of the Army, the states and groups of individuals also provided much of the equipment for the gathering Federal forces. A semblance of a new army rose almost overnight, nevertheless, because the fervor of angry emotion could be joined with the already organized, partially equipped and trained strength of the volunteer companies. The 6th Massachusetts Regiment, whose troubles in Baltimore made it the first famous Union volunteer regiment of the war, was formed from ten volunteer militia companies: the National Greys of Lowell, the Groton Artillery, the Mechanic Phalanx of Lowell, the City Guards of Lowell, the Davis Guards of Acton, the Warren Light Guard of Lawrence, the Worcester Light Infantry, the Watson Light Guards of Lowell, the Lawrence Light Infantry, and the Washington Light Guards of Boston.
In response to the military rising of the North, the Confederacy of course accelerated its own military preparations. In anticipation of Lincoln's prohibition of trade with Southern ports, President Davis on April 17 invited prospective privateers to apply for letters of marque, and a brisk little privateering campaign soon challenged the Federal Navy and threatened the Northern merchant marine. A second session of the Provisional Congress met at Montgomery on April 29 to consider replies to what Davis called Lincoln's declaration of war. Davis told the Congress that he had 19,000 men under arms in various places, with 16,000 more being assembled in Virginia, and that he planned to organize forthwith the 100,000 volunteers authorized by existing legislation. In the Confederacy as in the North, the foundation upon which these military efforts continued to be built was the organized volunteer companies.
Perhaps "the militant South," with its felt need for armed forces to guard against slave uprisings and its expectations of possible secession, had gone further than the North in recruiting and organizing the volunteer militia during the decade just preceding Fort Sumter — but only perhaps. Massachusetts, having reorganized its whole militia system around the volunteer rather than the common militia in 1840, in 1849 introduced annual training encampments for the volunteers. The encampments both reflected and further stimulated interest in the volunteer movement, and in 1857 the Commonwealth reported that of the 102 Massachusetts volunteer companies in existence, sixty-three had been organized since the passage of the encampment law. Other Northern states, particularly New York, similarly reorganized their militia systems around the growing enthusiasm of the volunteers.
In the rural and Western states of the North, the rise of the volunteers was less marked than in the more urban Northeast, and the states accomplished much less toward reorganizing their militias on a reasonably sound foundation of organized volunteer companies. But no part of the North was untouched by the volunteer movement. In Chicago in 1859, an impecunious law student with a passion for military drill and display, Elmer Ellsworth, was elected captain of the National Guard Cadets. Ellsworth had studied the drill of the Zouaves, French Army units whose distinctive uniforms and rapid evolutions were based on those of Algerian light infantry. He reorganized his company as the United States Zouave Cadets. Properly costumed and tutored under what proved to be Ellsworth's almost fanatical enthusiasm, the Zouave Cadets toured twenty Northern cities in the summer of 1860, setting off a craze for forming Zouave companies and regiments. Many of the units responding to Lincoln's call of April 15, and some that responded to Jefferson Davis's calls, wore the fez, the short blue jacket, and the baggy red trousers of the Zouaves.
Elmer Ellsworth was a romantic posturer, but he was not merely that. In 1860, the year he led his Zouave Cadets on their tour, he also became associated with the Springfield, Illinois law firm of Lincoln and Herndon. There he urged upon the prominent politician who headed the firm his well-considered plans for a Bureau of Militia in the War Department to reorganize the militia system across the whole country, and he submitted a similar draft of a militia bill to the Illinois General Assembly. He was a serious student of the problems of military organization in a democracy. A parallel mixture of the romantic and the deadly serious characterized the whole volunteer movement of the 1850s and the beginning of the 1860s, the faddishness of the Zouave idea mingling with forebodings of civil war to produce a special growth of volunteer companies in North and South in 1860 and early 1861.
Although when secession came the states did not have the full apparatus of military organization appropriate to independent republics, in their volunteer companies, supervised by the state governments under their own militia laws and the militia provisions of the Federal Constitution and statutes, the states did possess reasonable facsimiles of armies. These forces were sufficient to enable the states to go to war against each other. Beyond the legalistic complexities of constitutional arguments about states' rights, the states in fact enjoyed sovereignty enough to have armed forces able to wage war — and thus possessed in fact one of the foremost essentials of sovereignty. Beyond the legalistic and historical complexities of the causes of secession, the states had the military means to permit secession to lead directly into civil war.
They controlled in the volunteer companies miniature armies strong enough to begin the Civil War, and the companies were significant also of a national mood and spirit that helps explain both why the sectional crisis should have resulted in war, and why the war should have become so intensely violent. Professor Dennis Hart Mahan, in the generation before the conflict the principal instructor in the art of war at West Point, said: "Of all the civilized states of Christendom, we are perhaps the least military, though not behind the foremost as a warlike one." The United States did not have powerful regular armies and navies, but it was a country fascinated by things military and committed to the principle that war is an acceptable means of solving political problems. The rise of the volunteer military companies of the 1850s and early '60s as their generation's equivalent in the life of American communities of the baseball teams and the Rotary Clubs of a later era indicates a national preoccupation with the military and with war verging upon a romantic desire to test the actual experience of war. Elmer Ellsworth, like all the zealots of the volunteer movement, was a romantic play-actor; but he was so in earnest about the role he played that he pursued it to the death. On May 24, 1861, as Colonel Ellsworth of the 11th New York Regiment of Volunteer Infantry, the New York Fire Zouaves recruited from New York City's fire companies, he was shot dead after he tore a Confederate flag from the Marshall House Tavern in Alexandria during the Union Army's first march into Virginia.
List of Maps
Note on Style
1. From Secession to War
2. The Battle Lines Form
3. Groping for Strategy and Purpose
4. Bloodshed and Indecision
5. The Confederacy Takes the Initiative
6. Of Liberty and War
7. Armies and Societies
8. Three Seasons of Battle
9. On the Horizon: The Postwar World
10. Traditional Politics and Modern War
11. Suspense and Resolution
12. The Relentless War
13. The Fires Die
Notes on Maps
Indiana University Press
Posted August 18, 2000
To anyone familiar with the distinguished career and military scholarship of Professor Russell F. Weigley, his long-awaited study of the Americna Civil War must come as a great disappointment. The book lacks the in-depth analysis of strategy, tactics and personality that made the author's, 'Eisenhower's Lieutenants' so impressive, and his, 'The American Way of War,' so important. Here, Weigley has one main thesis: that Civil War generals lacked adequate strategic and operational concepts to effectively organize and fight their armies. He then repeats this argument throughtout the text, using specific battles to illustrate his point. It is a good point, but it does not carry a six hundred page opus. To make matters worse, Weigley's discussion of the battles is sometimes sketchy at best -- for example, he discusses the Battle of Fredericksburg in less than a paragraph on page 194! Yet there is a lenghty discussion of the firing on Fort Sumpter from pages 16 to 23 that adds nothing to his overall thesis. In fact, the text tends to ramble at times, and one wonders if a more effective editor could not have improved it. (Note, also, the omission of an author's page at the beginning of the book to list all of Weigley's other works. This is a glaring and unforunate oversight by the publisher.) Weigley is surprisigly good, however, on the Union goals in the war, particularly on the place of abolition and emancipation in Union strategy. In fact, Weigley is most impressive away from the battlefield, in his discusison of the war aims of the combatants and the societal constraints on the Union and Confederate armies. Not surprisingly, of course, Weigley is excellent and illumminating in his discussion of the Civil War in the context of nineteenth century warfare. Also excellent are the endnotes, maps and annotated bibliography. In sum, 'A Great Civil War,' is a good study of the United States Civil War, but it is not the great book one might have expected it to be. It is original in part and derivitive in part, more an extended personal essay (in a moving aside, Weigley shares his family's personal roots in the Union Army) than a serious scholarly study. While it does not supplant or replace earlier studies such as 'Battle Cry of Freedom,' by James M. McPherson, or 'How the North Won,' by Hattaway and Jones, it does provide an informed and graceful companion to them.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 19, 2000
A Great Civil War makes a strong case that the Civil War was a necessary tragedy. This gracefully written historical narrative effortlessly spans the range of Civil War scholarship. The focus shifts smoothly from vivid personal details to battlefield tactics, and from campaign strategies (or, all too often, the lack of them) to the intimate connection of warfare, policy, and politics. Amongst his always illuminating battle narratives, the author intersperses short essays on such subjects as the design of ever more lethal weapons, the era¿s formative military myths, and how the demands of full-scale war centralized the nation¿s banking system and greatly enhanced the power of the federal government. This book¿s greatest contribution may be the author¿s willingness to make clear judgments based on balanced discussions of conflicting views. For example, Weigley presents a compelling argument that the Confederacy failed in large part because it could never overcome a basic ambivalence in its purpose: the incompatible goals of continuing slavery and the Southern lifestyle within a Union most Southern leaders believed in and complete severance from that Union. This ambivalence helps explain both why fighting ended so quickly after formal military defeat and why many Civil War issues remain unresolved. A parallel theme Weigley develops is the Northern shift from fighting for Victorian ideals of duty and honor to fighting to advance the moral cause of liberation. With eye-opening clarity, he demonstrates that as popular support for the war and the Republican Party waned, Lincoln and others changed their rhetorical and moral focus from restoration of the Union to the elimination of slavery. Thus, slavery became a moral motive for the North to continue waging war in large part because of political expediency. On a subject he has explored elsewhere, the author notes that each war develops its own momentum that reshapes the political purposes that began it. Thus, the Civil War, for the North, began as an effort to restore the constitutional union of the American Revolution but ended as a revolutionary struggle to uproot slavery and, along with it, the foundations of Southern life. The author implies an ambivalence toward emancipation that in some ways mirrors the South¿s ambivalence toward its cause. He finds in the North¿s eventual dedication to the elimination of slavery little concern for the practical matter of how the liberated slaves and their descendants would participate in America¿s democratic experiment -- a singularly important Civil War legacy. The few flaws are minor: the book has too few maps, and none that sufficiently covers the classic Johnston-Sherman duel from Chattanooga to Atlanta; the maps and text occasionally differ in the spelling of place and road names; the important Richmond and Danville Railroad is unidentified on the second map although listed in the legend; the typo 'throught' escaped spell-checking software and proof-reading; and the index, though useful, omits occurrences of repeated names, locations, and topics. This superb -- and superbly readable -- work is at one level a model of the virtues of the narrative form backed by solid scholarship. At another, subtler level, it is a deeply principled call to re-examine our national myths and bring the lessons we learn to bear on this nation¿s many unresolved social and institutional struggles.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.