In 1861, the Confederate government’s goal was to maintain its independence. And, once their military forces in Charleston, South Carolina were ordered to fire on Fort Sumter, they, in effect, declared their intention to use armed force to obtain that goal.
Upon the loss of Fort Sumter, the President of the United States asked for 75,000 volunteer troops in order to force the states in secession back into the Union. A war was thus initiated between the two governments. How did the Confederate government intend to win that conflict and thus achieve their goal of independence?
Jefferson Davis decided the best strategy was to adopt a defensive posture. This was called a ‘cordon defense’ and it involved defending all the borders of the new nation while not taking offensive action against the North. The Confederate victory at Bull Run in July 1861 left the Federal capital of Washington City virtually undefended. But, Davis resisted the advice of his victorious Bull Run general, P.T. Beauregard and refused permission to advance against the undefended Federal capital.
Almost immediately, Davis ordered the Barrier Islands of South Carolina and Georgia to be abandoned because it was decided they could not be successfully defended.
To the north, the Confederate claim that the Ohio river was their northern-most border was successfully challenged by Federal forces. The western CSA command, under Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston had his command headquarters in Bowling Green, Kentucky Early in 1862 however, the loss of Fort Donelson, TE to Grant and his Union troops, forced General Johnston to withdraw entirely from Kentucky. Thus, that state was lost to the Confederacy as was an entire army of between 15,,000 and 18,000 men captured at Fort Donelson.
The loss of Fort Donelson had other consequences, too. Nashville, Tennessee, the capital of that state was also lost to the South. The dominating fort at Columbia, Kentucky had to be abandoned to the Federals, too. Thus, the defensive line had to be moved considerably south of the Ohio River.
The federal strategy of re-capturing control of the Mississippi River was being successfully carried out on the lower Mississippi, too when admiral Farragut captured New Orleans in April of 1862. He then followed this by taking by Baton Rouge and Natchez that same spring. Memphis on the northern Mississippi River would soon follow. When Vicksburg fell in July of 1863, the Confederacy was split in two and the ‘cordon defense’ strategy was in shambles.
By then, the only hope for the Confederate government to achieve their independence was for Lincoln to loose the November election of 1864 to the nominee of the Democrat Party. That party’s platform promised to end the war by negotiating a peace with the Confederate government.
At the outbreak of war, President Lincoln insisted that the war policy of the United States government was to restore the Union.
“If I could restore the Union without freeing one slave, I would do it.”
General Winfield Scott was Lincoln’s chief military advisor. Lincoln asked the general to recommend a strategy to accomplish his policy of restoring the Union.
Scott’s recommendation had several elements, all designed to accomplish the policy of restoring the Union as quickly as possible while causing the least destruction and loss of lives.
1. Blockade all the ports of the Confederate States of America thus”
a. Preventing the export of goods
b. Preventing the importation of civilian goods and war material.
2. Recapture control of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, thus:
a. Splitting the Confederate States of America virtually ihn half.
b. Regaining control of tributaries of the Mississippi, New Orleans, and other important river ports on that river.
c. Answering the demand made by leaders in the Midwest.
3. Raise and train an army of 300,000 men for a war lasting two to three years. By the time this army was ready, the achievement of #1 & #2 above would render the CSA too seriously weakened to offer much resistance. Then, Southern Unionists would lead their states back into the Union without major blood-letting by either side.
In derision, the Northern press called Scott’s plan, the ‘Anaconda’. Instead of supporting it, they trumpeted the widely held belief espoused by Secretary of State Seward, that one or two battles would settle the issue and result in the collapse of the CSA and thus the re-uniting of the United States as it was in November of 1860.
So, the battle-cry, ‘On to Richmond’ was trumpeted throughout the North. Toward that end, Lincoln hoped jhis ninety-day volunteers would be enough to end the war quickly.
General Edward McDowell warned Lincoln and his cabinet that the expanded Union army was not ready for combats. Never-the-less, McDowell was ordered to march his men south to meet the equally inexperienced Confederate army under the command of General Pierre Beauregard, the hero of Fort Sumter.
The two forced met in Virginia on July 20, 1861. The battle was fought on a plateau along a creek called Bull Run. The Federals were on the verge of victory. Then, General Joe Johnston (CSA) arrived on the battlefield just in time to surprise the Federals, turn the tide in favor of the Confederates and start a general rout of Lincoln’s young army.
Angry over the surprising loss, public opinion in the North forced Lincoln to move quickly. He announced that an Ohio general of militia would be given the responsibility of rebuilding the Union army so recently shattered at the battle of Bull Run.
That Ohio general, George McClellan had become somewhat of a hero in the North. Under his leadership his Ohio militia army had helped the people of northwest Virginia break away from Virginia and form the state of West Virginia.
So, it was to General George McClellan that Lincoln gave the responsibility of rebuilding the Union army in the East. By the end of 1861, McClellan’s influence had proved to be so great that he was was able to replace his mentor, Gen. Winfield Scott, and thus take over command of all Federal forces. He wrote his wife that he had been given so much power that he believed he could become a dictator if he chose to do so.
He did not. But, he resisted all of Lincoln’s efforts to make him use his newly organized Army of the Potomac. He kept insisting that his army was too small and not sufficiently trained to move into battle. So, for the remainder of 1861, he managed to avoid Lincoln’s wish for him to use the new army and therefore to avoid engaging the Confederate armies in either the East or the West.
By January 1862, both President Lincoln and his new Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton were out of patience with General McClellan in the East and General Halleck in the West. So, Lincoln issued Executive Order #1 requiringGenral Halleck to initiate offensive operations in the West by February, 1862.
Thus it was that Halleck ordered General Grant and naval Captain Foote to attack and capture Forts Henry and Donelson. They did so successfully. So began the Union’s war in the West to regain control of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in April of 1861: “The attack on fort Sumter crystallized the North into a unit…”
So, the Confederate Secretary of State Robert Toombs was correct about the effect of the bombardment. He had advised President Davis, not to authorize an attack on Fort Sumter , “…it is unnecessary. It puts us in the wrong. It is fatal.”
The South did not need to attack the fort when it did. The Union commander there, Major
Anderson told the Confederate military commander in Charleston, General Beauregard, that he would run out of food by April 15. Then, he would have to surrender the fort at noon on that date if not resupplied.
Waiting was not acceptable to President Davis and his cabinet. Beauregard was ordered to ask for the surrender one more time. If refused, he was directed to take the fort by force. Major Anderson refused. So, bombardment on the fort began on April 12, 11861 atr four-thirty in the morning.
Had Confederate leaders been willing to suffer the shame of the Yankees holding Fort Sumter longer, they could have better prepared themselves for the expected conflict with the Union.
By waiting, they could have expedited the export of their cotton to the factories of Europe and the North without having to contend with the Union’s blockade. This export would have given them money to import weapons and military supplies needed to defend their independence.
In addition, by waiting, they could have forced the Union to be the aggressor. Instead, President Davis caused a war which, as predicted by the Confederate Secretary of State Robert Toombs, caused a firestorm of anger in the North against the South. The rash act of President Davis caused a war to begin with the North for which the Confederate States of America was woefully unprepared to fight.
At the very time the attack on Fort Sumter was ordered, the South had no army or navy. It had no steel making facility or factory to make armaments or gunpowder. Its population in 1860, was 9,103,332 pf which 3,523,110 were slaves, compared to 22,339,991 citizens in the Free states of the North. In 1861, there were 128,300 industrial firms in the United States Of this number only 18,206 factories were located in the South producing less than 10% of the total industrial output of the country. In addition, the Union had 22,085 miles of railroad track compared to 8,541 miles of track in the South; and these of various gauges.
At the beginning of the conflict, the South had 1,140,000 men between the fighting ages of 15 and 40 years old. The North had over 4,010,000 men in this same age range. Also, Lincoln chose to increase the number of fighting men available to him by recruiting 180,000 Negros as well.
By any measure, the Confederate States of America were unprepared to begin a war with the North.
Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis received advice from men in and out of their administrations during the secession spring of 1861. Both leaders were told that peace was preferable to war.
In the North, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Post, the newspaper with the largest circulation in the United States, urged Lincoln to let the South go their own way. General Taylor, Lincoln chief military adviser, also urged the president to wish the Confederate States of America well and let them go.
Republican leaders in the mid-west however, wanted Lincoln to recover control over the Mississippi River and New Orleans; by whatever means necessary. But, northern manufacturers, shippers and bankers believed war was not good for business. They wanted a peaceful solution to the secession crises, not war.
Lincoln’s Secretary of State Seward wanted a peaceful solution to the secession crises, too. Toward that end, he met with representatives of the Confederate States in Washington City after Lincoln’s inauguration. Seward assured them that property still held by the Union within the boarders of the CSA, would be relinquished peacefully.
But, Seward did not accurately represent Lincoln’s views on the matter. In fact, Lincoln had already made it very clear in his inaugural address that he held a view contrary to Seward’s. Lincoln said that he did not intend to relinquish control over any Federal property claimed by the Confederate States of America.
In the South, some members of the President Davis cabinet cautioned him that moving aggressively to take Federal property (like Fort Sumter) was not a wise move. His Secretary of State Robert Tombs reminded him that many in the North wanted Lincoln to maintain the peace at all costs. He also predicted that any attack on federal property by the Confederate government would unite those people (even Democrats) behind Lincoln’s hard -line policy. Thus Lincoln would have the excuse he needed for a war against the Confederate States of America.
Into this crises came the issue of the tariff.
In March of 1861, the federal tariff again became part of the national discussion. From the earliest days of the Union, Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party had support a revenue tariff only. On the other hand, Hamilton’s Federalist Party, later the Whigs, later the Republicans, supported a protective tariff.
In the late 1820s, a very high protective tariff was passed into law to embarrass President John Quincy Adams. In opposition, the state of South Carolina threatened not to enforce the new tariff, and possibly secede instead. This ‘Nullification’ issue as it was called was settled by a Congressional compromise. So, by 1846, a tariff structure satisfactory to both the industrial North and the agricultural South was in place. In 1857, despite a recession in the North, representatives of the new Republican Party along with Northern & Southern Democrats in the Congress agreed to lower tariffs in response to a treasury surplus and a desire to stimulate trade.
In 1860, Republican congressmen and a few Northern Democrats supported the idea of higher tariffs to protect various industries in the North, particularly steel in Pennsylvania and the textile industry of New England.
The emergence of the Republican Party in the North saw increased pressure to pass a protective across the board, (for all imported goods). During the 36th Congress (May 1860), the Republican majority in the House of Representatives passed a sharply increased tariff called, the Morill Tariff. This bill was pass on May 10, 1860 by a vote of 105 – 64. the vote largely followed sectional lines.
The bill was sent to the Senate where it was bottled up in the Democrat controlled Finance Committee. Later, the votes to stop the implementation of the Morrill Tariff were lost after 14 Senators from the Deep South who opposed the measure, left the Senate when their states seceded from the Union.
As soon as the Morill Tariff was passed it was sent to President Buchanan. He signed it into law on March 5, 1861 the day before Lincoln took the oath of office. On March 11, 1861 the Confederate Congress responded with a revenue tariff bill instituting which was a much lower tariff system for the Confederate States of America.
The scene was set for a tariff war. How did this effect efforts for peace?
Abraham Lincoln took office on March 6, 1861. By this time, seven states that had been a part of the United States on election day in 1860, had left the union. Also, by the end of February, representatives of those seven states met and had formed a separate union called the Confederate States of America. They had written their own constitution, selected their own president. elected their own congress and established their own judiciary.
In his inaugural address, Lincoln refused to recognize secession or the formation of the Confederate States of America. On the contrary, he insisted that he would enforce the laws of the United States in all the states as they existed in November of 1860. He warned that to have sized federal property was illegal and an act of rebellion.
Despite the fact that the Constitution of the United States did not address secession, he insisted that its prohibition was implied. Therefore, he insisted, secession was rebellion. And, thus, it was his constitutional duty as president to suppress it, by force if necessary.
During March of 1861, the question of the control of some Federal property became the focal point of the issue. One such piece of property was a harbor fort (Fort Sumter) located in the port of Charleston, South Carolina. Another such fort (Fort Pickins) was located in the Panhandle of Florida. Confederate commissioners met with the US Secretary of State Seward in March and April to negotiate the transfer of those facilities to the CSA.
Lincoln asked his cabinet members to advise him on this issue. All but one of his appointees urged him to turn the forts over to the Confederate government. Lincoln asked his military adviser, General Winfield Scott for his opinion.
Scott told him that Fort Sumter could not be held and therefore should be turned over to the Confederates.. He believed the alternative was war. In his opinion, a war with the Confederate States would take several years and a quarter of a million men under arms to win. And, he predicted, that to win the Federal government must invade and occupy the South as well. and, possible worse, in winning the conflict, enmity between the two sections would be lasting and destructive to the future of the country. He therefore suggested that President Lincoln wish the Confederate States well and allow them to go in peace.
Lincoln rejected his peace proposal.
Northern financial leaders wanted peace, too. War was bad for business they said. Leaders of the Democratic Party opposed the use of force as well.
Horace Greeley, owner and editor of the largest newspaper in the United states, the New York Post, urged the new president to let the secessionist states go in peace. “if the Cotton States shall become satisfied that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go.”
Leaders in the Boarder States of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee & Arkansas remained in the Union. They were willing to allow the Lincoln administration a chance to govern. Thus, they did not join the other slaves states of the Confederate States of America; but awaited Lincoln’s response to the crisis.
Lincoln pledged in his inaugural address that he would not be the one to start a war. So, why did it begin?
In February of 1861, representatives of the seven seceding states met in Montgomery, Alabama to form a new nation called the Confederate States of America. With that action, the Mississippi river, its tributaries and the second busiest port in the United States, New Orleans, passed under the control of a foreign nation.
The Chicago Tribune editorialized that the people of the Mid-West would never negotiate with the Confederate States of America for free navigation of the Mississippi River.
“It is their right and they will assert it to the extremity of blotting Louisiana out of the map.”
Mid-westerners were assured by Southern politicians that no impediment to their commerce would be established on the Mississippi or at any river port. This was of special concern since in 1860, New Orleans was second only to New York as the most active port in the United States. To address this concern, the Louisiana Secession delegates pledged free access to all river traffic at New Orleans. And further, the Confederate Congress meeting in Montgomery Alabama promised the same free access for river traffic on the entire Mississippi River and its tributaries.
But, despite such assurances, Mid-western governors continued to be concerned about the unhindered use of the Mississippi, free access to the port of New Orleans and to the river ports of Memphis, Natchez and Vicksburg. An additional concern was raised.
Of additional concern was the issue of future generations. Despite current assurances could future generations of Confederate leaders be trusted no honor these pledges and not tax or otherwise restrict river traffic?
In March 1861, these governors told the new president .Abraham Lincoln, that they thought the issue was worth going to war over, even if he did not. For his part, Lincoln feared that if his administration did not aggressively address their concern, the mid-western governors would feel compelled to negotiate some sort of treaty with the Confederate States on their own; or even possibly form their own union separate from the United States.
In early 1861, William Sherman wrote his wife that: despite assurances of free trade: “Collisions are sure to follow secession, and the states lying on the upper Rivers will never consent to the mouth being in possession of a hostile state.”
What would the Lincoln administration do?
The Crittenein Compromise was the earliest of the efforts to find a way to bring the seceding states back into the Union and to calm the fears of the people in the Boarder States. Senator John Crittenden pulled together leaders who met in Washington City. His committee suggested that several constitutional amendments be adopted.
- To declare slavery inviolate except by state law.
- To compensate owners of fugitive slaves not returned to their owner.
- To extend the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific.
The president-elect, Abraham Lincoln, agreed to support the first to suggested amendments, but not the third.
The second effort at compromise was made by the members of the Peace Convention. The creation of this body was suggested by the Virginia legislature. One hundred thirty three delegates from twenty one states met at the Willard Hotel in Washington City.
They and suggested several constitutional amendments. Some were similar to the Crtitenden proposals. Significantly different was one proposal calling for an amendment that would prevent Congress, by law, and the people, by amendment, from ever interfering with slavery in any state.
The House of Representatives passed this recommendation on February 27, 1861 as the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It was immediately sent to the states for ratification.
Lincoln supported the adoption of this amendment and throughout the winter of 1861, continued to insist that his administration would not interfere with slavery where it already existed.
Neither the prospect of the adoption of this amendment to the Constitution of the United States, nor Lincoln’s assurances had any effect. None of the secession states returned to the Union.
Representatives from seven cotton growing states (the Deep South) met in Montgomery, Alabama on February 7, 1861. There, they wrote a constitution and formed a new government for, The Confederate States of America. The Congress of this new government selected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as their president and Alexander Stephens of Georgia as their vice-president.
It is interesting to note that both of these men had been Unionists following the election of Lincoln. They argued that the best course for their respective states and the entire slave South was to give Lincoln a chance before deciding whether or not to leave the Union. Besides, as Stephens argued, by the next presidential election, the split in the Democrat’s party would heal and Lincoln would be defeated. A united Democratic Party would ensure that Lincoln would be a one term president.
The Boarder States of the Upper South, Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky along with Arkansas and Missouri were slave states, too. But leaders in each of those states chose not to join the Confederate States of America. They chose to remain in the Union and see how Lincoln’s government would handle the secession situation and how his administration would govern.
In Washington City, government leaders seemed to take a wait and see stance, too. Between December 20, 1860 when the South Carolina Secession Convention voted to leave the Union and the Lincoln inauguration of March 6, 1861, President Buchanan chose not to confront the seceding states. He feared angering leaders in the loyal Boarder States and thus pushing them into secession.
Once in office, President Lincoln chose the same course for basically the same reason
Meanwhile, during the Secession Winter, two serious efforts were made in Washington City to lure the states of the Deep South back into the Union and to calm the fears of people living in the Boarder States.
FARMER AND HIS SON DISCUSS SECESSION
It was almost Christmas of 1860 in Lowell, Michigan. Jacob Drieborg and his son, Michael were in town this Saturday morning. Michael had just returned from the town’s library and joined his father at the town’s grain elevator.
“Papa,” he said excitedly. “Did anyone at the grain elevator tell you what people in South Carolina did last week?”
“Yes, I heard, Michael. One of da farmers had heard da news from Mr. Stafford. And a copy of his Lowell weekly paper was at da elevator. So, I read da article about it while I was waiting for our grain to be ground.”
“I read about it too when I was just at the library. There was a big article about it in the Grand Rapids Eagle newspaper. What do you think of it, Papa?” Mike asked.
Jacob Drieborg was a good two inches over six feet tall. Born in the Catholic party of Holland, he came to the United States as a teenager some twenty years earlier. He worked off the cost of his passage on his uncle’s farm before he married and started a farm of his own. Michael was his oldest child.
“Here, son,” his father told him. “Help me load dese sacks on our wagon. We can talk of politics on da way home.”
“But, Papa; the rest of the South may leave, too. So, what South Carolina did is very important.” An impatient seventeen year old, Michael wanted to talk about this event, right then. He was also blue eyed and blond of hair and a virtual physical clone of his father. But, he knew enough to follow his instructions.
“Dat may be, Michael. But, so is loading dese sacks on da wagon. And, so far, I’m da only one doing it. And, we have work to do back home. Dat’s important, too.
“Besides,” Jake continued. “Will anything we have to say change anything? I don’t think so. And, remember, our cows will not like our being late milking dem on time. So, help me here, son. We talk on day way home, eh?”
The Drieborg farm wagon was not far down the road when Mike brought up the subject again.
“So, Papa,” he began. “What do you think about South Carolina leaving the Union?”
His father chuckled, looked at his son and admitted,, “When I first heard of it back in town, Michael, I must confess dat I had a hard time even placing just where South Carolina is located. I think it’s on da Atlantic Ocean side and south of Washington City. Is dat right?”
“Pretty close, Papa,” Mike told his father. “Actually, North Carolina is between that state and Washington City. To the west is Tennessee and to the south is Georgia. Our teacher told is in school, that according to the last census, there are more Negroes in South Carolina than white people. He also told us that the farmers of that state export a lot of cotton and rice and import a lot of grain and manufactured goods from the northern states. The people of South Carolina are also big users of New England-owned ships and northern banks, too.”
“Thank you for all dat information, Michael. Do you think dey will stop exporting cotton or rice?”
“I can’t imagine why they would do that. Their entire economy is set up to produce agricultural goods for export. That’s why the landowners there own all those slaves.”
“I understand, son. Now, I have another question,” Jake said. “Now dat dose people live in another country, do you think dey will still need to buy da grain and manufactured goods from da North?”
“Yes, I would think they would, Papa.” Michael answered.
“And, will dey still use da North’s ships and borrow money from Northern banks?” Jake Drieborg continued.
” I don’t see why the people of South Carolina would stop, Papa.”
“Den, tell me, Michael,” Jake continued. “Why is it so important to us if South Carolina stays in da Union?”
“I don’t know, actually, how to answer that question, papa.”
But, Michael’s father wasn’t done with his questions. “Another thing; now dat South Carolina is gone from da Union, do we in da North have to help slave-owners recover da slaves who run away to da United States?”
“I wouldn’t think so, Papa,” Michael answered.
“So, maybe it’s a good thing for us and da people of South Carolina, dat dey left da Union.”
“Maybe it is, Papa.” Mike admitted. “But, it doesn’t seem right to me, just the same.”
“We shall see, son,” Jake Drieborg predicted. “We shall see.”
The above is an excerpt from the historical novel, 1860: America Moves Toward War