On this day: Civil War

On this day, 150 years ago, the Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor.

"Civil war has at last begun. A terrible fight is at this moment going on between Fort Sumpter and the fortifications by which it is surrounded.

"The issue was submitted to Major ANDERSON of surrendering as soon as his supplies were exhausted, or of having a fire opened on him within a certain time.

"This he refused to do, and accordingly, at twenty-seven minutes past four o'clock this morning Fort Moultrie began the bombardment by firing two guns. To these Major ANDERSON replied with three of his barbette guns, after which the batteries on Mount Pleasant, Cummings' Point, and the Floating Battery opened a brisk fire of shot and shell.

"Major ANDERSON did not reply except at long intervals, until between 7 and 8 o'clock, when he brought into action the two tier of guns looking towards Fort Moultrie and Stevens iron battery."

--from Dispatches to the New York Times, Friday, April 12, 1861.

The New York Times is providing extraordinary coverage during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Click here for "Disunion", a daily series that "reconsiders America's most perilous period -- using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded."

My favorite article in the series so far is "How Slavery Really Ended in America", by Adam Goodheart, April 1, 2011. (Other readers liked it, too. It was the most e-mailed article that day.)

"On May 23, 1861, little more than a month into the Civil War, three young black men rowed across the James River in Virginia and claimed asylum in a Union-held citadel."

The article tells how Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler dealt with the first three fugitives and with the thousands who followed. I won't give away the details, but the article ends with this:

"When Lincoln finally unveiled the Emancipation Proclamation in the fall of 1862, he framed it in Butleresque terms, not as a humanitarian gesture but as a stratagem of war. On the September day of Lincoln’s edict, a Union colonel ran into William Seward, the president’s canny secretary of state, on the street in Washington and took the opportunity to congratulate him on the administration’s epochal act.

"Seward snorted. 'Yes,' he said, 'we have let off a puff of wind over an accomplished fact.'

“'What do you mean, Mr. Seward?' the officer asked.

"'I mean,' the secretary replied, 'that the Emancipation Proclamation was uttered in the first gun fired at Sumter, and we have been the last to hear it.'"

Another great article in the series is "From San Marino With Love," by Don H. Doyle, March 28, 2011. It tells of a letter sent to President Lincoln "from the oldest surviving republic in the world", conferring upon him citizenship in "the Most Serene Republic of San Marino". On May 7, 1861, "amid all the turmoil, Lincoln and Seward (both signed the letter) found time to graciously accept the 'honor of citizenship' from San Marino."

If you are interested in finding information about ancestors who fought in the Civil War, click here for the "Soldiers & Sailors System". Click on one of the categories, "Soldiers", e.g., and enter a name. If your ancestor's name comes up, you can click on his "Regiment Name", and information will come up: the organization of the regiment, the battles in which they fought, names of men in the regiment, casualties, etc. (Googling the regiment will often bring up additional information.) In addition to government sites, Ancestry.com is giving free access through April 14th.

Click here for more on the 150th anniversary of the attack on Fort Sumter.

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