On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

Ft. Sumter reenactors open fire, kick off 150th anniversary of War Between the States

Artist's rendition of Ft. Sumpter ablaze

Marking the start of 150th anniversary observances of the start of America’s War Between the States, a brilliant starburst mortar shell burst at 6:45 a.m. this morning over Fort Sumter, South Carolina.

Over the next four years. reenactments and ceremonies will mark key events in the bitter civil conflict that divided our nation, ended slavery and claimed 600,000 lives in what was history’s first industrialized war – in which railways, telegraph and industry played a key role.


Some would say the war began long before the South Carolina militia opened fire on the U.S. Army inside Fort Sumpter at the mouth of Charleston, S.C., harbor on April 12, 1861.

A Civil War battle

During the presidential election of 1860, the brand-new Republican Party, led by Abraham Lincoln, had campaigned against the expansion of slavery beyond states in which it already existed – such as Kansas, California and Nevada.


Lincoln also advocated a strong federal government instead of a loosely organized affiliation of states. So, with his win at the polls, talk of civil war grew, particularly since in their 1860 platform, the Republicans explicitly denounced threats of disunion as treason. Secessionists countered that there was nothing in the Constitution requiring states to remain in the Union forever.

When news of Lincoln’s election victory spread, seven states in which slavery was practiced, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, announced they had withdrawn from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. The outgoing administration of President James Buchanan and the incoming Lincoln Administration challenged the legality of their action, calling it rebellion.


Former slaves who enlisted with the Union

But it was not until 150 years ago today that the conflict turned violent. At dawn on April 12, 1861, the South Carolina militia took matters into their own hands, opening fire on Fort Sumter.

“As a boy, I remember hearing at my Aunt Annie’s knee how we told the Yankees to go home, but they wouldn’t do it,” remembers columnist Jay Tower. “So, in her words, ‘We had to shoot ‘em.’”


Lincoln responded by calling for a volunteer army from each state to recapture federal property. This led to declarations of secession by four more states – Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee – which were not major cotton producers and had resisted secession talk. The South’s top military commander, Robert E. Lee, had remained a general in the U.S. Army until the very last moment, waiting for the Virginia legislature to decide which side it would take.

Both sides raised armies as the Union seized strategic control of the slave state of Maryland – which surrounds the District of Columbia on three sides with Virginia to the south. Two slave states hesitated to takes sides – Missouri and Kentucky – where it was not uncommon for families to be torn with one son fighting for the Union and another signing up with the Confederacy.


Cherokee General Stand Watie

In the West, the Dakota territories voted to go with the North. In the Oklahoma Territory, the Five Civilized Tribes voted to side with the South. The Cherokee general, Stand Watie, would be the last Confederate general to surrender at the war’s end. 

The Union Navy quickly established a naval blockade of southern ports that virtually blocked cotton sales on which the Confederacy depended for income. The war ended four years later with the South in ruins and slavery abolished. The Cherokees were punished with the seizure of the Cherokee Outlet – which was then opened to homesteaders in the famous Oklahoma land runs.

Now 150 years later, Civil War reenactments are scheduled through 2015.

And it all begins today as antique cannon around Charleston harbor will continue shooting blanks at Fort Sumter in recognition of the historic bombardment that started it all.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Betty Draughon

    The Civil War – or Great War of Northern Aggression – was fought not because of slavery, but because of the violation of States’ Rights. Slavery was freely practiced in the Northern States, and continued to be practiced even after the war was “won”. Why weren’t these people attacked, ridiculed and punished? And we were taught manners. It’s impolite to tell other folks how to run their business… Slavery was a fact of life in the Bible and over much of the world 150 years ago. But it was WRONG, WRONG, WRONG for the American South. Why was that? Oh, I think I know… We had the cotton and the gin, right?

    Also your Editor/proof reader should have caught the glaring error that Ft. Sumter is in SOUTH Carolina, and not North Carolina.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Earcat

    Please don’t print falsehoods such as that the Civil War was fought over slavery.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Lynn

    I consider myself a professional because I was published at the age of 19 in the West Virginia History Journal.

    How about this. Robert E. Lee was responsible for hanging John Brown for the Union, then became the main General for the Confederacy.

    West Virginia is the only boundary change of the Civil War. Don’t believe what you read about it. It was illegal. Southern sympathizers were not allowed to vote. Union soldiers voted even though they didn’t live in the section of Viginia that wanted to be the new Virginia. The congress did not vote for West Virginia to become a state. It was signed in to law by Abe Lincoln. Another illegal move.
    Since West Virginia is basically an illegal state, do you think we should be given back to Viginia? We had 12 Yankee Generals and 7 Southern, including Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Our schools are named after the southern heroes more than the northern ones.

    Call us “rednecks” and we’ll tell you about that rebellion, too. Call us “hillbillies” and we’ll tell you about that, too.

    I am southern and West Virginian and have been all of my life. The first article that I had professionally published was “The Historical Authenticity of John Brown’s Raid in Stephen Vincent Benet’s John Brown’s Body.”

    Go visit Harper’s Ferry. You will never be the same again. You can stand with one foot in Virginia and one in West Virginia.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Stephanie Hamme

    What is your point? There was a civil war in the US because southern states seceded from the rest of the United States in order to maintain their way of life. This way of life included brutalizing other human beings as if these humans were nothing more or less than cattle. Granted, President Lincoln may not have set out wanting to “emancipate” the slaves but in the end God was in control. It boggles my mine why some of us won’t admit this was a sad part of the so called genteel southern way of life. Be proud of your southern heritage but don’t act like the men, women and children that were used as chattel liked living this way and/or had a voice to speak against it.
    The free labor that was gained by slavery made the south and all of the US a power in that era but the Civil War and all the major accomplishments afterwards made us a Super-Power.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Johnny Davis

    American slavery destroyed people, cultures and was the worst form of oppression the world has known to date.
    Hopefully, we who are enlightened will display some salt and light. A divided house will never stand or exist when injustice is practiced. The United States still is not healed because many of us are afraid to love our brothers and sisters.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment g

    Nice try you ‘revisionists’ trying to say that the Civil war wasn’t about slavery. But you really don’t have the facts.

    Historian Adam Goodheart (look him up) has found many direct quotes from Confederate leaders and newspapers that show that the ‘reason’ for the war was quite clear in the minds of the people of the South ; that is.. It was about the institution of slavery.

    “Americans even still debate why the war was fought. Many a revisionist says it was about state’s rights. Others insist it was over slavery. The latter have history on their side.

    There was no such confusion at the time of Ft. Sumter. Southerners in 1861 were fairly certain the war was about slavery. Alexander Stephens, the Confederacy’s vice president, said the following in his famous Cornerstone speech in March 1861, just weeks before the war started:

    The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

    These quotes are from an article posted on NPR website from an interview with historian Adam Goodheart. I heard the original Broadcast on NPR just a few days ago. The quotations lining Slavery and the War come directly from the main politicians and generals of the South during the era. So ‘revisionism’ was not playing a part in their thoughts!

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