War for Southern independence began with demands

Published 9:55 am Wednesday, June 15, 2011

by Jon Pyle

Editor’s Note: This column is part of a series by members of Urquhart-Gillette Camp 1471 Sons of Confederate Veterans to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The incident that began the war for Southern independence involved the demand for the surrender of Fort Sumter in the Charleston, S.C., harbor.

On April 11, 1861, Brigadier Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard formally requested that the fort be surrendered. The fort in the Charleston harbor did not belong to the Union; it is the property of South Carolina.

Those people, who were stationed inside, had been asked to evacuate many times before the first canons were fired. Each time the request was refused.

At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, Capt. George S. James fired the first shot of the war from a Confederate artillery battery. Some historians believe George Ruffin of Virginia — a staunch supporter of states’ rights with a devout dislike for Yankees — fired the first shot. Artillery exchanges continued through April 13, when terms of surrender were finally agreed to.

The fort was evacuated by steamer at noon on April 14. The following day, Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 militia to serve for 90 days to put down the start for Southern independence.

The proclamation by Lincoln served to force the uncommitted states of Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee to sever ties with the Union, unwilling to supply troops to fight against their sister Southern states. The border states of Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky, while providing soldiers to both armies, were kept under Union control.

The numbers did not look good for the newly created Confederacy. Eleven states had left the Union; 22 remained. The population of the Confederate states was about 9 million; almost one-third were slaves.

The Union could count 22 million individuals and a steady stream of immigrants. The South had only two main east-west railroad lines and limited ability to manufacture locomotives or rolling stock. Most of the known deposits of coal, iron ore and copper were in the North, together with about 92 percent of the country’s industrial capacity.

The Navy remained loyal to the Union, and most of the merchant shipping was Northern owned. If the South was to achieve victory, it would be against long odds.

With Virginia having cast its lot with the Southern states, the Confederate capital was quickly moved from Montgomery, Ala., to Richmond. This placed opposing capitals Washington, D.C., and Richmond only 100 miles apart.

The land mass between the two capitals saw some of the bloodiest fighting during the fight for Southern independence.

In the spring of 1861, Lincoln, seeing that his 90-day volunteers’ terms of enlistment would soon be expiring, placed Union Gen. Irvin McDowell at the head of the 30,000 men then stationed in Washington and ordered an advance toward the Confederate capital.

McDowell was not happy with the new and untrained troops. He proposed moving against Beauregard’s concentration of 20,000 troops near Manassas. Delays in beginning the advance allowed Beauregard time to reinforce his position with some 9,000 troops under Gen. Joseph Johnson, who had succeeded in giving the Union holding force the slip and moved his command by train rail from the Shenandoah Valley to Manassas.

In July 1861, a hot, dusty Sunday afternoon, the good citizens of Washington, D.C., believed this day to be a festive affair. They had read in all the newspapers how the Union army would rout and destroy the upstarts who dared to leave the Union. Those citizens rode in carriages, on horseback and even walked, all bringing their picnic baskets to sit and watch the great theater of the defeat of the Confederate upstarts.

Now these two opposing amateur armies clashed across Bull Run Creek.

Although McDowell’s attack plan was initially successful, a stubborn stand by Confederate Gen. Thomas J. Jackson’s brigade allowed Johnson’s late-arriving troops to form attack ranks and move forward and turned the tide for the Confederates. McDowell ordered a retreat, which soon became a rout, with Union soldiers, the good citizens, horses, mules and dogs now a disorganized mob running into, over and through each other stampeding back to the safety of Washington.

The inexperienced Confederates without replacement equipment and supplies were in shape to pursue the roughed Union troops. The first battle of this long, long war was over.