The American Civil War broke out in April 1861 with the Confederate attack on the federal fort, Fort Sumter.
At 04.30 Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbour. The order to attack was given by Captain George S James at Fort Johnson. The first shot was said to have been fired by 70 years old Edmund Ruffin, a Virginian highly hostile to the Union. The attack continued throughout the day. On Santa Rosa Island, Florida, Union troops landed to secure the vital Gulf Coast stronghold at Fort Picken.
Major Robert Anderson surrendered the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter. With no food and few supplies, he had little choice. Over 40,000 shells had been fired at Fort Sumter. While there were injuries, no Federal soldier was killed.
President Lincoln in Washington DC received his first confirmation that Fort Sumter had surrendered. Lincoln called for volunteers to “still the insurrection in South Carolina”. Two Union soldiers were killed at Fort Sumter after an accident when the US flag was being lowered. They were the first fatalities of the war.
Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to fight to save the Union. Many thousands responded.
The governors of North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri all responded negatively to Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers. Governor Harris of Tennessee said “Tennessee will furnish no man for coercion, but 50,000, if necessary for the defence of our rights, or those of our Southern brethren.”
The Virginia Convention passed the Ordinance of Succession. Jefferson Davis said that the Confederacy would issue Letters of Marque opening up the High Seas to privateers.
Lincoln offered the command of the Federal Army to Colonel Robert E Lee, a former Superintendent of West Point. Lee decided to turn down the offer and to serve his home state, Virginia, instead. Union troops fled the huge military arsenal at Harper’s Ferry on the River Potomac.
Lincoln announced that all Confederate ports would be blockaded. A riot of Confederate sympathisers occurred in Baltimore. The rioters attacked men from the 6th Massachusetts Regiment. Four soldiers were killed along with nine civilians.
Robert E Lee resigned from the US Army. The order was given by Commandant Charles Macauley for the destruction of the navy yards in Norfolk, Virginia, to stop them falling into Confederate hands. Though great damage was done after the order was carried out, the Confederacy still managed to salvage much that was of value including the hull and mechanism from the ‘USS Merrimac’, a powerful steam frigate. She was to later appear as ‘USS Virginia’.
Riots in support of the Confederacy continued in Baltimore. This cut off the rail links the Union wanted to use for the movement of troops and they had to use sea routes instead, which were slower and more vulnerable to poor weather. A meeting took place in western Virginia in support on the Union and Lincoln’s power.
The Federal arsenal at Fayetteville in Arkansas was taken over by the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis announced his determination to offer some kind of help to the supporters of the Confederacy in Baltimore.
Rioting continued in Baltimore. General B F Butler marching south to Washington DC with troops from Massachusetts offered to restore order. Robert E Lee was promoted to General and give the command of all land and sea forces in Virginia.
Rumours began to circulate in Washington DC that the capital itself was under threat from Confederate forces advancing towards it. Barricades were built around the city.
The 7th New York Regiment arrived in Washington DC.
The people of Washington DC felt sufficiently safe to start dismantling the barriers they had hastily erected.
The blockade was extended to the ports of North Carolina and Virginia after both states officially seceded from the Union. Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus in the region between Philadelphia and Washington DC to allow the military to deal with the rioters in Baltimore. Virginia offered Richmond as the capital city of the Confederacy.
Maryland voted against succession. The second Provisional Confederate Congress met in Montgomery, Alabama. Jefferson Davis told the gathering that “with a firm reliance on that Divine Power which covers with its protection the just cause, we will continue to struggle for our inherent right to freedom, independence and self-government.”
Union forces abandon the Indian Territory forts to the Confederacy. The ‘Five Civilised Nations’ were placed under the control of the Confederacy.