With My Face to the Enemy: Perspectives on the Civil War

With My Face to the Enemy: Perspectives on the Civil War

by Robert Cowley (Editor)


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425184585
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/07/2002
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 544
Product dimensions: 6.02(w) x 9.04(h) x 1.21(d)

About the Author

ROBERT COWLEY was the founding editor of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History and served as its editor-in-chief for 10 years. He has edited such books as The Experience of War and What If? The World's Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been and co-edited The Reader's Companion to Military History. He lives in Connecticut.

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Chapter One



* * *

Eighteen sixty-one began as the year of indecision. It was a year of ineptness, of groping for solutions, of opportunities missed. It was also one of the most important years in American history. By the time Abraham Lincoln, the victorious presidential candidate of the young Republican Party, took office on March 4, seven Deep South states had already seceded and four more would shortly follow; key border states were up for grabs. For months, the outgoing administration of James Buchanan dithered and did nothing. Then, on January 9, when the Star of the West, carrying supplies and troops, attempted to reach Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolinian batteries fired on the ship and forced it to turn back. Even these first real shots of what would soon become a civil war hardly seemed to jolt Washington out of its torpor. But the new incumbent, a fifty-two-year-old Midwestern lawyer with little administrative, legislative, or military experience, gave scant promise of more effective leadership. There were army sharpshooters on the roofs as the outgoing and incoming presidents drove in a carriage up Pennsylvania Avenue to the still domeless capital where Lincoln would deliver his inaugural address. "If you are as happy, my dear sir," Buchanan remarked, "on entering this house as I am in leaving it and returning home, you are the happiest man in this country."

Happy Lincoln was not; the tensions of office brought on insomnia andfainting spells. Indeed, he would bungle the first crisis of his administration—Fort Sumter. As the distinguished historian David Herbert Donald points out, he may even have made it worse—though by this time there was probably no preventing the final breakup of the union. At 4:30 A.M. on Friday, April 12, artillerymen of the newly proclaimed Confederacy commenced firing on Sumter, which officially capitulated three days later. Lincoln promptly called on the loyal states to supply him with 75,000 militiamen. (There was no formal declaration of war: in his mind this was not a war but a rebellion.) Increasingly, Lincoln would take charge, and that is the story, surely one of the great American stories, that Professor Donald has to tell.

David Herbert Donald is the Charles Warren Professor Emeritus of American History and Civilization at Harvard University. "Lincoln Takes Charge" was excerpted from his biography, Lincoln. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography, for Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War and for Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe. He is also the author of Lincoln's Herndon, Lincoln Reconsidered, and editor of Why the North Won the Civil War.

At the news of Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, disunion erupted in the South. South Carolina promptly moved to secede, and the other states of the Lower South began to take initial steps toward secession. A few Northerners thought the dissatisfied states should be allowed—even encouraged—to go in peace. A much larger number favored a new agreement, in the spirit of the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850, that would keep the Southern states in the Union. At least as many others opposed any concessions to the South.

    President James Buchanan was torn between his belief that secession was unconstitutional and his conviction that nothing could be done to prevent it. The lame-duck Congress was controlled by the recently formed Republican Party, a still imperfect fusion of former Whigs, former Democrats, and former members of the American Party. With experience only as an opposition party, Republicans had never before been called on to offer constructive leadership. All eyes now turned to Springfield, Illinois, where an inexperienced leader with a limited personal acquaintance among members of his own party groped his way, on the basis of inadequate information, to formulate a policy for his new administration.

    Over the next three months, Lincoln issued no public statements and made no formal addresses. At most he could be cajoled only into offering bland observations: "Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling." Behind his silence lay a recognition of his own weakness: the presidential electors did not meet until December 5, and their ballots would not be officially counted until February 13. Until then, he had no legal standing as a public official.

    He was also following the advice of most leaders of his party. Any indication that he was frightened by Southern bluster might inadvertently cause demoralization and panic in the North. In addition, Lincoln believed that Unionists were in a large majority throughout the South and that, given time for tempers to cool, they would be able to defeat the secessionist conspirators. He did not believe that any sizable number of rational citizens could contemplate disrupting the best government the world had ever seen. In the past, Southerners had threatened to dissolve the Union in order to extract concessions from the North. That must be what was happening now.

    While Lincoln was constructing his cabinet—trying to balance it both politically and geographically to maintain peace among the competing interest groups that constituted the Republican Party—the country was falling to pieces. On December 6, South Carolinians elected an overwhelmingly secessionist state convention, which on December 20 declared that state was no longer a part of the Union. By the end of January, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana all followed, and secession was under way in Texas. In February, representatives of six states met at Montgomery, Alabama, and drew up a constitution for the new Confederate States of America. As the Southern states seceded, they seized federal arsenals and forts within their borders. Of the major installations, only Fort Pickens at Pensacola, Florida, and the fortifications at Charleston, South Carolina, remained under the control of the U.S. government. Late in December, Major Robert Anderson, in command at Fort Moultrie on the shoreline at Charleston, transferred his small garrison to the more defensible Fort Sumter, erected on a rock shoal in the harbor. On January 9, when the Star of the West, bearing supplies and 200 additional troops, tried to reinforce the Sumter garrison, South Carolinians fired on the ship and forced her to retreat.

    Buchanan and many other conservatives favored calling a national convention to amend the Constitution so as to redress Southern grievances. The House of Representatives created the Committee of Thirty-Three, with one congressman from each state, to deal with the crisis. After much debate, the committee proposed admission of New Mexico as a state, allowing its people to decide for or against slavery; more stringent enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, which required that slaves who escaped to the North must be returned to their masters; repeal of the personal-liberty laws enacted by Northern states to prevent the reclamation of fugitives; and adoption of a constitutional amendment prohibiting future interference with slavery. The Senate set up a similar Committee of Thirteen, which was unable to agree on a program, but one of its members, John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, long a leader of the Whig Party and more recently a supporter of the Unionist ticket headed by John Bell of Tennessee, came up with a broad proposal to extend the Missouri Compromise line through the national territories, with slavery prohibited north of that line but established and maintained with federal protection south of it. Crittenden's plan also called for vigorous enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act and for repeal of the personal-liberty laws.

    However, the chances for a compromise in 1860-61 were never great. The Crittenden Compromise, the most promising of the suggested agreements, was opposed by influential Southerners and Northerners alike. Only intervention by the president-elect might have changed the attitude of Republicans in Congress and, in so doing, conceivably could have induced the Southerners to reconsider their position. But Lincoln considered these compromise schemes bribes to the secessionists. Grimly he told a visitor: "I will suffer death before I will consent ... to any concession or compromise which looks like buying the privilege to take possession of this government to which we have a constitutional right."

    His commitment to maintaining the Union was absolute. "The right of a State to secede is not an open or debatable question," he said. The concept of the Union—older than the Constitution, deriving from the Declaration of Independence with its promise of liberty for all—was the premise on which all his other political beliefs rested.

    Pressured by members of his party in Congress, who were better informed and more alarmed about the South, Lincoln reluctantly agreed to accept minor concessions that would yield nothing of substance but might give some support to Southern Unionists. He had always accepted the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act, because the Constitution provided for the rendition of runaway slaves to their owners, and now he said he was willing to see it more efficiently enforced, provided that it contained "the usual safeguards to liberty, securing free men against being surrendered as slaves." The personal-liberty laws were enacted by the state legislatures, not the Congress, but if such laws were "really, or apparently, in conflict with such law of Congress," they should be repealed. He indicated that he cared little about the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia or interference with the interstate slave trade. He was even willing for New Mexico to be admitted without prohibition of slavery, "if further extension were hedged against." But on one point he was immovable: the extension of slavery into the national territories. Like most Republicans, he believed that if slavery could be contained within its present boundaries it would inevitably die out, but if the South's "peculiar institution" was allowed to expand it would take on a new and virulent life.

* * *

On February 11, Lincoln bade an emotional final farewell to his neighbors and left Springfield. For the next twelve days, the presidential train slowly moved across the country, in a journey of 1,904 miles over eighteen railroads. Special precautions were taken to prevent sabotage or accident along the route. The stated object of this roundabout journey was to give the people an opportunity to become acquainted with the first American president born west of the Appalachian Mountains, and Lincoln made frequent appearances at the rear of the train. The trip offered superb opportunities for a politician, and Lincoln played the crowds with consummate skill. There were also constant calls on Lincoln to speak at stops along the way—to welcoming committees, at receptions, and to state legislatures in Indiana, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The president-elect repeatedly asked Northerners to stand firm in the crisis. Over and over he stressed that he had been elected to uphold the Constitution and enforce the laws.

    Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated provisional president of the Confederate States of America on February 18; Alexander H. Stephens—Lincoln's friend and colleague in the House of Representatives in the 1840s, from whom he had expected strong support of the Union—became provisional vice president. On that same day, General David E. Twiggs surrendered all the U.S. military outposts in Texas to the secessionists. In response, Lincoln made it clearer than ever that he intended to preserve the Union. In New York City he told the audience, "Nothing ... can ever bring me willingly to consent to the destruction of this Union."

    After Lincoln addressed the Pennsylvania legislature, he and his most trusted advisers met to discuss rumors of a conspiracy to assassinate him in pro-Southern Baltimore; Senator William H. Seward of New York, his former rival for the Republican presidential nomination, and others believed the report to be genuine. Lincoln was not entirely convinced, and he recognized that he might appear ridiculous fleeing from a nonexistent danger. On the other hand, he respected the judgment of Allan Pinkerton, head of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. That evening, wearing a soft felt hat instead of his usual stovepipe, and with his long overcoat thrown loosely over his shoulders to help conceal his height, Lincoln slipped out of his hotel in Harrisburg and boarded a special train. At Philadelphia, accompanied only by Pinkerton and a bodyguard, he entered a sleeping car of the train to Baltimore and occupied a berth Pinkerton had reserved for an "invalid passenger." At Baltimore, without being observed, Lincoln transferred to the Camden Station across town and went on to Washington. Inevitably, Lincoln's secret night ride attracted unfavorable comment and some ridicule. Lincoln came to regret that he had allowed himself to be persuaded to undertake the night trip. It was a sound and reasonable decision—but it did nothing to sustain the reputation for firmness that he had been so carefully building on his long journey from Springfield.

    The ten days between Lincoln's arrival in Washington and his inauguration were among the busiest in his life, filled with endless calls and receptions. No words were more welcome than those of his Democratic opponent for the presidency, Stephen A. Douglas, who urged Lincoln to persuade Republicans to compromise but pledged that he and his Democratic followers would not try to gain political advantage from the crisis. "Our Union must be preserved," he told Lincoln solemnly. "Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I am with you, Mr. President, and God bless you." When the Illinois senator left, Lincoln exclaimed to another visitor: "What a noble man Douglas is!"

    Lincoln also made his final cabinet selections. Seward, who had already been offered the post of secretary of state, had increasingly come to think of himself as the premier of the incoming administration. In his mind, the brilliant policy he had pursued as a senator had saved the country during the months since the election. By conciliating the South with such proposals as extension of the Missouri Compromise line, he believed that he had stopped the hemorrhage of secession. Unionists were still in control of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas, and he was convinced that they would remain loyal so long as peace was preserved. Seward was confident he could persuade Lincoln to agree that the fever of secession should be allowed to run its course in the Deep South while Unionism should be fostered in the Upper South by avoiding all provocations.

    Lincoln's selection of Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, a rival for the presidential nomination who bluntly denounced secession, as secretary of the treasury was a signal that Lincoln was not going to follow Seward's cautious and conciliatory approach toward the South. Frustrated and despondent, Seward drafted a letter of withdrawal; but Lincoln made it clear to Seward's followers that he would not get rid of Chase. On the morning of the inauguration, while the procession was forming, Lincoln sent Seward a brief note asking him to reconsider. Genuinely worried about the fate of the nation, the New Yorker felt that he did "not dare to go home, or to England, and leave the country to chance"—in other words, to Abraham Lincoln. He continued to doubt Lincoln's plan for what he termed "a compound Cabinet," but on the day after the inauguration he agreed to serve.

* * *

At noon on March 4, Buchanan—who had given his successor no help or advice—and Lincoln entered an open barouche at Willard's Hotel to begin the drive down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. Determined to prevent any attempt on Lincoln's life, General Winfield Scott had placed sharpshooters on the roofs of buildings along the avenue, and companies of soldiers blocked off the cross streets. He stationed himself with one battery of light artillery on Capitol Hill; General John E. Wool, commander of the army's Department of the East, was with another. The presidential procession was short and businesslike, more like a military operation than a political parade.

    Entering the Capitol from the north through a passageway boarded so as to prevent any possible assassination attempt, Buchanan and Lincoln emerged to a smattering of applause on the platform erected at the east portico. Lincoln read his inaugural address, an eyewitness recalled, in a voice "though not very strong or full-toned" that "rang out over the acres of people before him with surprising distinctness, and was heard in the remotest parts of his audience." When he finished, the cadaverous Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, now nearly eighty-four years old, tottered forth to administer the oath of office to the sixteenth president of the United States.

    The audience could not be quite sure what the new president's policy toward secession would be, because his inaugural address, like his cabinet, was an imperfectly blended mixture of opposites. The draft he had completed before leaving Springfield was a no-nonsense document: it declared that the Union was indestructible, that secession was illegal, and that he intended to enforce the laws. "All the power at my disposal will be used to reclaim the public property and places which have fallen," he had originally pledged, "to hold, occupy, and possess these, and all other property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties on imports." Promising that "there needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none unless forced upon the national authority," Lincoln had urged secessionists to pause for reflection: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.... With you, and not with me, is the solemn question of 'Shall it be peace, or a sword?'"

    Lincoln showed this warlike draft to several of his associates. Francis P. Blair Sr. (the Maryland Unionist who had advised a generation of presidents), remembering his glory days when Andrew Jackson stared down the South Carolina nullifiers, approved it and urged that no change be made. But Seward thought the speech much too provocative. If Lincoln delivered it without alterations, he warned, Virginia and Maryland would secede and within sixty days the Union would be obliged to fight the Confederacy for possession of the capital at Washington. Dozens of verbal changes should be made, deleting words and phrases that could appear to threaten "the defeated, irritated, angered, frenzied" people of the South. Something more than argument was needed "to meet and remove prejudice and passion in the South, and despondency and fear in the East."

    Lincoln made many of the changes Seward proposed. Seward's suggested final paragraph was too ornate for his taste, but he incorporated its ideas in language distinctively his own:

I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.... The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

    Reaction to the address was largely predictable. In the Confederacy, it was generally taken to mean that war was inevitable. A correspondent of the Charleston Mercury viewed this pronouncement from "the Ourang-Outang at the White House" as "the tocsin of battle" that was also "the signal of our freedom." In the Upper South, the Richmond Enquirer said it meant that Virginia must choose between invasion by Lincoln's army or Jefferson Davis's. In the North, Republican papers generally praised the address. The most thoughtful verdict was offered by the Providence Daily Post, a Democratic paper: "If the President selected his words with the view of making clear his views, he was, partially at least, unsuccessful. There is some plain talk in the address; but ... it is immediately followed by obscurely stated qualifications."

* * *

On the morning after the inauguration, Lincoln found on his desk a report from Major Anderson that the provisions for Fort Sumter would be exhausted in about six weeks. Unless Anderson was resupplied within that time, he would have to surrender. He warned that it would take a force of 20,000 well-disciplined men to make the fort secure.

    Lincoln was not prepared for this emergency. There was no executive branch of the government; the Senate had yet to confirm even his private secretary, John G. Nicolay. None of his cabinet officers had been approved, though he was already meeting with them.

    Lincoln needed all the help he could get because, as he freely admitted later, when he became president "he was entirely ignorant not only of the duties, but of the manner of doing the business" in the executive office. He tried to do everything himself. There was no one to teach him rules and procedures, and he made egregious mistakes. For example, he thought he could issue orders directly to officers in the navy without even informing Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, and he attempted, without congressional authorization, to create a new Bureau of Militia in the War Department.

    The new president allowed office seekers to take up most of his time. From nine o'clock in the morning until late at night, his White House office was open to all comers; sometimes the petitioners were so numerous that it was impossible to climb the stairs. But Lincoln was incorrigible. With a sad smile he explained to Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts that these people "dont want much and dont get but little, and I must see them."

    The news from Fort Sumter forced Lincoln to make a hard choice: he must either reinforce Anderson's garrison or evacuate it. Lincoln wrestled with the problem. He was temperamentally averse to making bold moves; it was his style to react to decisions made by others rather than to take the initiative himself. In these troubled days, he made no public pronouncements and did not even discuss the Sumter crisis at the first formal meeting of the cabinet, on March 6. In subsequent informal conversations, the president told Welles that he wanted to avoid hasty action so as to gain "time for the Administration to get in working order and its policy to be understood." Lincoln asked General Scott to evaluate the situation, and he received the disheartening response that it would require a naval expedition, 5,000 regular army troops, and 20,000 volunteer soldiers to reinforce the fort. Since these could not be produced, surrender was "merely a question of time."

    The Sumter crisis was the principal topic of discussion at a cabinet meeting on March 9, when the secretaries learned for the first time how grave the situation was. If relieving Anderson required an expeditionary force of at least 25,000 men—at a time when the entire U.S. Army numbered only 16,000, mostly scattered in outposts along the Indian frontier—the inescapable conclusion was that the fort must be surrendered.

    Lincoln learned that not all military experts were as pessimistic as Scott. Former navy lieutenant Gustavus Vasa Fox, who was knowledgeable about coastal defenses, had been advocating a plan to reinforce or resupply Sumter from the sea, using powerful light-draft New York tugboats under the cover of night to run men and supplies from an offshore naval expedition to the fort. His plan had gotten nowhere under the Buchanan administration, and Scott, with the traditional scorn that army men showed for navy planners, thought it was impracticable. Now Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, who was a West Point graduate, endorsed it, and Lincoln began to give it serious consideration.

    On March 15, he asked each member of his cabinet whether Sumter should be provisioned. Seward took the lead in opposing any such attempt. An expedition to relieve Sumter would "provoke combat, and probably initiate a civil war." Welles, Secretary of War Simon Cameron, and Secretary of the Interior Caleb B. Smith echoed Seward's views. Chase admitted having some doubts, and he did not advise reinforcing Sumter if it would precipitate a war; but on the whole, he thought this unlikely and therefore voted in favor of resupplying Anderson. Blair strongly urged an expedition, saying that only prompt reinforcement of Anderson's garrison could demonstrate "the hardy courage of the North and the determination of the people and their President to maintain the authority of the Government."

    With his advisers divided, Lincoln was unable to reach a decision. He knew that evacuation "would be utterly ruinous" politically. "By many," he explained to Congress a few months later, "it would be construed as a part of a voluntary policy—that, at home, ... would discourage the friends of the Union, embolden its adversaries, and go far to insure to the latter, a recognition abroad ... in fact, it would be our national destruction consummated.

    "This could not be allowed," he concluded—but he did not know how to avoid it. Like any other administrator facing impossible choices, he postponed action by calling for more information. After several conversations with Fox, to whom he took a great liking, he sent the former lieutenant to Charleston, ostensibly to bring Anderson messages about possible evacuation but in reality to get a firsthand look at the fort and the Confederate fortifications that threatened it. In a separate move, the president asked Stephen A. Hurlbut, an old friend from Illinois who had been born in Charleston, to go to South Carolina and ascertain the state of public opinion.

    Fox returned to Washington more confident than ever that it was possible to resupply Fort Sumter by sea at night. But on March 27, Hurlbut offered a bleak picture of public opinion in South Carolina. "Separate Nationality is a fixed fact," he reported; "there is no attachment to the Union ... positively nothing to appeal to." He judged that any attempt to reinforce Sumter would be received as an act of war; even "a ship known to contain only provisions for Sumpter would be stopped and refused admittance."

    The next day, Lincoln received shocking advice from Scott: evacuation of Fort Sumter would not be enough to retain the loyalty of the Upper South, including Virginia, Scott's native state; it was necessary also to surrender Fort Pickens, on the Florida coast, even though that fort was securely in Union hands and could be reinforced at will. Only such liberality would "soothe and give confidence to the eight remaining slave-holding States, and render their cordial adherence to this Union perpetual." That night Lincoln did not sleep at all, aware that the time had come for decision.

    In the morning he got up deeply depressed. The cabinet met at noon. Each member—except Cameron, who was absent—gave a written opinion. Seward remained obdurately opposed to sending an expedition to Sumter; but sensing that the president was determined to take some action, he favored holding Fort Pickens "at every cost." But now Chase and Welles came out unequivocally for reinforcing Sumter, and Blair threatened to resign if the president followed Scott's advice.

    The advice of the majority of the cabinet reinforced Lincoln's own view. He directed Welles and Cameron to have an expedition ready to sail from New York by April 6. The strain under which Lincoln labored in arriving at this decision was immense. His wife, Mary, reported that he "keeled over" and had to be put to bed with one of his rare migraine headaches.

    Over the next week, Seward tried, with a growing sense of desperation, to reverse Lincoln's course. In the hope of avoiding hostilities, he had, through intermediaries, been in touch with the official commissioners whom the Confederate government sent to Washington in order to negotiate terms, of separation, and he had given his word that the troops would be withdrawn from Fort Sumter. He was still confident he could negotiate a settlement of the crisis if Anderson's garrison was evacuated. Now he was trapped between his pledge and Lincoln's determination to proceed with a relief expedition.

    One of Seward's schemes was to deflect the Sumter expedition by reinforcing Fort Pickens. Seward proposed calling on Captain Montgomery C. Meigs, the army engineer in charge of construction at the Capitol, to organize an expedition. President Buchanan had sent 200 soldiers to the fort on the warship Brooklyn, but the Confederates surrounding the fort threatened to fire if they were landed. Unwilling to start a war on his own initiative, the Union commander agreed to an informal truce: he would keep his men aboard ship, and the Confederates would not attack the fort if it was not reinforced. After becoming president, Lincoln had ordered that the troops be landed, but he still did not know what had happened; however, he guessed his order "had fizzled out." Now he asked Meigs, who was familiar with the Florida forts, to organize a relief expedition.

    Thus, two projects got under way at the same time. The Sumter mission, pressed chiefly by Welles and Blair, was largely a naval expedition commanded by Fox; the Pickens expedition, sponsored by Seward, was an army affair led by Meigs. The task forces preparing these fleets worked in secrecy and, partly because of interservice rivalries, partly because of antagonisms among cabinet members, each was kept largely in the dark about what its rival was doing. Inevitably there were contests for the limited resources available for these projects.

    On April 4, Lincoln notified Major Anderson by a private messenger that Fox's expedition would attempt to provision Fort Sumter and, in case it met resistance, to reinforce it. Then, two days later, he learned that his earlier order to reinforce Fort Pickens had not been carried out. And Meigs's expedition could not possibly reach Fort Pickens before Fort Sumter was either reinforced or compelled to surrender.

    Making one more attempt to avert hostilities, Seward wrung from the president a promise to warn South Carolina officials before sending a relief expedition. On April 6, Lincoln sent a State Department clerk to Charleston to inform Governor Francis Pickens that "an attempt will be made to supply Fort-Sumpter with 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." Intended to avoid provoking South Carolina authorities, this message instead only destroyed the slight possibility that Anderson could be secretly reinforced.

    The president knew from Hurlbut's report that the South Carolinians would attack any Union ship—even one known to contain only provisions—from the other forts in the harbor, all of which were now in Confederate hands. But in addition to giving Seward's schemes a last chance, he was building a historical record to prove his peaceable intent throughout the crisis. By this point he was fairly sure that the Sumter expedition would lead to bloodshed.

    On April 12, while the Union fleet lay helpless offshore, the Confederates began bombarding Fort Sumter, and after thirty-four hours Anderson and his garrison were forced to surrender. There were no casualties on either side during the firing, but during the surrender ceremony an accidental explosion of a pile of cartridges killed one Union private, mortally wounded another, and injured four others. The war had begun.

    Three months later, Lincoln's old friend Orville H. Browning visited the White House. According to Browning's diary, Lincoln did not denounce the Confederates, who after all fired the first shots, nor did he express any feeling of regret, much less of guilt, over his own role in bringing on the war. He mentioned the terrible stress of the weeks between his inauguration and the attack on Fort Sumter and spoke of his physical exhaustion, but he did not acknowledge that his ineffectual leadership had contributed to the crisis and made no mention of divided counsels in the administration, inadequate preparation of the relief expeditions, or bureaucratic snarls and interservice rivalries.

    Lincoln probably remembered an instructive letter that Browning wrote him before his inauguration: "In any conflict ... between the government and the seceding States, it is very important that the traitors shall be the aggressors, and that they be kept constantly and palpably in the wrong. The first attempt ... to furnish supplies or reinforcements to Sumter will induce aggression by South Carolina, and then the government will stand justified, before the entire country, in repelling that aggression, and retaking the forts." That was the scenario Lincoln had followed in sending the Sumter expedition. "The plan succeeded," he told Browning. "They attacked Sumter—it fell, and thus, did more service than it otherwise could."

    This does not mean that Lincoln sought to provoke war. His repeated efforts to avoid collision in the months between his inauguration and the firing on Fort Sumter showed that he had adhered to his vow not to be the first to shed fraternal blood. But he had also vowed not to surrender the forts. That, he was convinced, would lead to the "actual, and immediate dissolution" of the Union. The only resolution of these contradictory positions was for the Confederates to fire the first shot. The attempt to relieve Fort Sumter got them to do just that. After the attack, Lincoln told Congress, "No choice was left but to call out the war power of the Government; and so to resist force, employed for its destruction, by force, for its preservation."


Table of Contents

List of Mapsxi
I.First shots
Lincoln Takes Charge3
Band of Brothers: The West Point Corps27
The Ordeal of General Stone41
II.The Strategic View
What Took the North So Long?59
Failed Southern Strategies72
How Lincoln Won the War with Metaphor87
III.1862 and 1863: Bloody Years
Grant's Tennessee Gamble105
Malvern Hill122
The Last Word on the Lost Order145
Defending Marye's Heights160
A Hellish Start to the Year: The Battle of Stones River177
Stonewall Jackson's Last March190
The Antagonists of Little Round Top
The Victor218
The Other Man227
Packs Down--Charge!
The Frontal Attack238
IV.Leaders and Their Battles
When Lee Was Mortal245
The Stonewall Enigma261
Lord High Admiral of the U.S. Navy: David Dixon Porter on the Mississippi273
Grant at Vicksburg: A Lesson in Operational Art298
Hawk in the Fowlyard: Jeb Stuart307
The Rock of Chickamauga: George H. Thomas320
Considering Longstreet's Legacy332
Paladin of the Republic: Philip H. Sheridan348
V.The Last Act
The Andersonvilles of the North367
"Kill the Last Damn One of Them": The Fort Pillow Massacre382
The Boys of New Market395
The Walls of 1864412
The Fiery Trail of the Alabama429
Jubal Early's Raid on Washington443
The Crater459
The Battle of Westport472
The Second Surrender: Bennitt's Farm, North Carolina486
Rebel Without a War: The Shenandoah498
Ulysses S. Grant's Final Victory511

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