Sunday, April 10, 2011

150 Years Ago: The Confederate Decision

CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 12:  Confederate re-ena...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The bloody Civil War started very politely, a very formal ritual with messages back and forth.

Union Major Robert Anderson and his small garrison were at Fort Sumter.  The unit was undermanned and the fort was unfinished, but it sat on a man-made granite island in the middle of Charleston harbor and commanded the whole scene.  Anderson was running out of supplies and Washington was sending them.  They had informed the rebels of that, and were leaving up to them to start the war if they wanted. 

But neither side was backing down.  It was as important for Jefferson Davis to take the fort as it was for Abraham Lincoln to keep it.  General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard commanded the Confederate defenses, the artillery that ringed the harbor.

On April 10, 1861, with the relief expedition on the way, the Confederate government decided to fight.  Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Walker sent Beauregard his orders:
"If you have no doubt of the authorized character of the agent who communicated to you the intention of the Washington Government to supply Fort Sumter by force you will at once demand its evacuation, and if this is refused proceed, in such manner as you may determine to reduce it."

Roger Pryor, until recently a U.S. congressman from Virginia, stood on the balcony of his hotel in Charleston and addressed a crowd gathered below. What would it take for Virginia to join with the other seceded states?
"I will tell you, gentlemen, what will put her in the Southern Confederacy in less than an hour by Shrewsbury clock -- strike a blow! The very moment that blood is shed, old Virginia will make common cause with her sisters of the South."

From Hampton Roads, Virginia, another ship, the U.S.S. Pawnee, departed to join the Fort Sumter fleet.

The snafu at Pensacola was finally resolved.  New orders finally arrived for Captain H. A. Adams, commanding him to get the reinforcements aboard the Brooklyn into Fort Pickens.

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