History of the United States
Volume III


Chapter XVI
Lincoln's Administration and the Civil War, 1861-1865

Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, was a native of Kentucky, born on the 12 of February, 1809. At the age of seven he was taken with his father's family to Southern Indiana, where his boyhood was passed in poverty, hardship, and toil. On reaching his majority he left the farm and river life, moved to Illinois, and some years later became a student of law. After many years of struggle he distinguished himself in his profession, meantime having served in the legislature of his adopted State, and afterward in Congress. He gained his first national reputation in 1858, when, as the competitor of Stephen A. Douglas, he canvassed the State of Illinois for the United States Senate. His contest with Mr. Douglas proved him to be one of the foremost debaters of the country. These debates served to crystallize the sentiment regarding the extension of slavery. Lincoln proposed to Douglas a tryng question which either way he might answer would offend either the North or the South. Douglas answered it in a way to please the North and thus won the re-election to the Senate, but it lost him the Presidency two years later, when the Democratic party was hopelessly divided and Lincoln was elected. The position to which he was now called was one of fearful responsibility and trial.

The new cabinet was organized with William H. Seward, of New York, as secretary of state. Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio, was chosen secretary of the treasury, and Simon Cameron, of Pennsylvania, secretary of war; but he, in the following January, was succeeded in office by Edwin M. Stanton, of Ohio. The secretaryship of the navy was conferred on Gideon Welles, of Connecticut. In his inaugural address and first official papaers the President indicated the policy of the new administration by declaring his purpose to repossess the forts, arsenals, and public property which had been seized by the Confederate authorities. He declared that he had no purpose to destroy slavery where it already existed. But the question had now assumed larger proportions. Some of the States were in revolt against the United States Government; and Mr. Lincoln declared that as he should have a vow registered in heaven to preserve and protect the Union, he would execute the laws in all the States. His meaning was clear; he would preserve the Union. It was with this purpose that the first military preparations were made. In the meantime, on the 12th of March, an effort was made by commissioners of the seceded States to obtain from the national government a recognition of their independence; but the negotiations were unsuccessful. Then followed a second attempt on the part of the government to re-enforce the garrison of Fort Sumter; and with that came the beginning og actual hostilities.

The defenses of Charleston Harbor were held by Major Robert Anderson. His entire force, including non-combantants, amounted to 128 men. Owing to the weakness of his garrison, he deemed it prudent to evacuate Fort Moultrie and retire to Sumter. Meanwhile, Confederate volunteers had flocked to the city, and powerful batteries had been built about the harbor. When it became known that the Federal government would re-enforce the forts, the authorities of the Confederate States determined to anticipate the movement by compelling Anderson to surrender. Accordingly, on the 11th of April, General P. T. Beauregard, commandant of Charleston, sent a flag to Fort Sumter, demanding an evacuation. Major Anderson replied that he should hold the fortress and defend his flag. On the following morning, at half-past four o'clock, the first gun was fired from a Confederate battery. A terrific bombardment of thirty-four hours' duration followed; the fort was reduced to ruins, set on fire, and obliged to capitulate. The honors of war were granted to Anderson and his men, who had made a brave and obstinate resistance. Although the cannonade had been long continued and severe, no lives were lost either in the fort or on the shore. Thus the defenses of Charleston Harbor were secured by the Confederates.

The news of this startling event went through the country like a flame of fire. Public opinion in both the North and the South was rapidly consolidated. Three days after the fall of Sumter President Lincoln issued a call for seventy-five thousand volunteers to serve three months in the overthrow of the secession movement. There was a ready response from every part of the North. Party divisions were forgotten. Mr. Buchanan came out strongly for the Union. Mr. Douglas, the late defeated candidaate for the Presidency, vigorously defended Mr. Lincoln's inaugural address. Later he called upon the President, and the announcement of this interview was a call to the million men in the North who looked upon him as their leader. Two days later Virginia seceded from the Union. On the 6th of May Arkansas followed the example, and then North Carolina on the 20th of the same month. In Tennessee--especially in East Tennessee--there was a powerful opposition to disunion, and it was not until the 8th of June that a secession ordinance could be passed. In Missouri, as will presently be seen, the movement resulted in civil war, while in Kentucky the authorities issued a proclamation of neutrality. The people of Maryland were divided into hostile parties, the disunion snetiment being largely prevalent. In all the border States soldiers were furnished both armies. It often heppened that members of the same family were on opposite sides.

On the 19th of April, when the first regiments of Massachusetts were passing through Baltimore on their way to Washington, they were fired upon by the citizens, and four men were killed. This was the first bloodshed of the war. On the day before this event a body of Confederate soldiers advanced against the armory of the United States at Harper's Ferry. The officer in command hastily destroyed a portion of the vast magazine collected there, and then escaped into Pennsylvania. On the 20th of the month another company of Virginians assailed the great navy yard at Norfolk. The officers commanding fired the buildings and ships, spiked the cannon, and withdrew their forces. Most of the guns and many of the vessels were afterward recovered by the Confederates, the proprty thus captured amounting to fully ten millions of dollars. So rapidly was Virginia filled with volunteers and troops from the South that, for a while, Washington city was in danger of being taken. But the capital was soon secured from immediate danger; and on the 3d of May the President issued another call for soldiers. This time the number was set at eighty-three thousand, and the term of service at three years or during the war. Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott was made commander-in-chief. As many warships as could be provided were sent to blockade the Southern ports. This was the beginning of the most efficacious method of warfare. The navy was small and inadequate, but merchant vessels were transformed into ships of war, and it was not a great while until the three thousand miles of coast were closed to the world. On every side were heard the notes of preparation. In the seceded States there was boundless and incessant activity. Already the Southern Congress had adjourned from Montgomery, to meet on the 20th of July at Richmond, which was chosen as the capital of the Confederacy. To that place had already come Mr. Davis and the officers of his cabinet, for the purpose of directing the affairs of the government and the army. So stood the antagonistic powers in the beginning of June, 1861. It was now evident to all men (how slow they had been to believe it!) that a great war, perhaps the greatest in modern times, was impending over the nation. It is appropriate to lok briefly into the causes of the approaching conflict.


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