On April 12, 1861, 150 years ago today, the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. It was weeks after South Carolina had seceded, four years before the war would be over, before 617,000 Americans would be killed, and before there would once again be one nation, under God, indivisible.
Confederate soldiers attacked the Federal Fort Sumter in the wee morning hours, just before sunrise. Southerners knew they wanted the federal government out of their new nation and opened fire. The events that happened 150 years ago today moved our nation into war, divided families, and should make us all thankful for text messaging.
The miscommunication before the battle at Fort Sumter has been described by historians as a comedy of errors. Things didn't really go as planned, Union ships played a "who's on first" routine with Lincoln, and the Confederates took advantage.
The Confederates wanted the Fort evacuated -- it was one of the last Federal occupancies in their now Southern Nation, and they wanted it out. Lincoln, the newly elected president, agreed to disagree about the evacuation of the Fort, but assured Southerners that they would never be fired upon (unless they started it) and the Fort would remain Federal property.
So Lincoln sent ships to restock Fort Sumter with food and supplies to relieve the strain on the fort, but he got his orders mixed up. He sent the supply ships for Sumter, but sent the protecting war ship to Fort Pickens in Florida. The sight of the re-supply ships without a war ship gave Confederates a reason to talk and to reach the decision to launch their early morning attack on the vulnerable fort.
Had the warship made it to Fort Sumter, had Lincoln simply sent a text message to the Captain of that ship, saying, "You guys are headed for SC, right? Not Florida? Think I may have gotten a little confused," things might have been extremely different for us. I'd be from the Confederacy, might celebrate Presidents' Day in June (Jefferson Davis was born June 3), and I might have never owned a really heavy winter coat.
If you're from anywhere in Civil War territory, you've probably already noticed the increase in Civil War events this summer -- the 150th anniversary of many early battles start this spring. (My hometown in Virginia is commemorating the battle that took place there on June 17 between Union and Confederate troops on the train tracks that still run through town.) If you decide to go, make sure you make plans over text, email, or phone. Snail mail and word-of-mouth could get you in a lot of trouble. And by all means, don't travel by boat.
Is your town commemorating any Civil War anniversaries this year?
Photo via Bogdan Migulski/Flickr