14 thoughts on “Event of the Year, 1861

  1. wgdavis September 2, 2012 / 12:56 pm

    The Battle of First Bull Run…it showed how really unready both sides were for combat, though the CSA side was a good bit ahead of the US side.

  2. Donald R. Shaffer September 2, 2012 / 1:03 pm

    How about in May 1861 when three slaves escaped to Fortress Monroe from working on Confederate fortifications across Hampton Roads? They sought and received sanctuary from Gen. Ben Butler leading to the Contraband of War policy, which eventually changed the whole complexion of the northern war effort from merely saving the Union also to ending slavery.

  3. Margaret D. Blough September 2, 2012 / 4:45 pm

    Lincoln’s response to the fall of Ft. Sumter which occurred when Congress was not in session. If he had simply waited until Congress could meet in emergency session, it could have been too late to save the Union.

  4. Bob Huddleston September 2, 2012 / 6:33 pm

    I am a traditionalist on this question:
    “The firing on that fort will inaugurate a civil war greater than any the world yet seen and I do not feel competent to advise you. Mr. President, at this time it is suicide, murder, and will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet’s nest which extends from mountain to ocean, and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal.”
    Robert Toombs, April 11, 1861

  5. Pat Young September 3, 2012 / 7:59 am

    Fort Sumter. War was only inevitable when the shooting started.

  6. TF Smith September 3, 2012 / 9:20 am

    The Sumter bombardment. Without that overt act, the conflict could have remained in the “short-of-war” situation for much longer, and it is very difficult to foresee how events would have progressed in such a situation.

  7. Jerry Desko September 3, 2012 / 10:44 am

    I think the most important event of 1861 was the formation of the Confederate States of America in February of that year. After seceding, the political leaders of those states realized the best means for survival was to form a new central government.

    Before they completed the process they had to play a gigantic game of chicken to see who would strike first the USA or the embryonic CSA. Unfortunately for them, the hot heads of South Carolina took the initiative before they were really ready. The result was a genuine civil and military insurrection of such magnitude that the Lincoln administration could justifiably act upon without any valid criticism from any other state or nation.

  8. Noma September 3, 2012 / 11:10 am

    I must agree with Donald, in May when Butler declared three slaves who escaped to Fortress Monroe to be “contraband,” he ignited the fuse to the most momentous social change in America since its founding — or possibly the most momentous social change ever. Now, no matter what politicians said to the contrary, the slaves had concrete evidence that this war was very likely to result in their freedom.

    The conviction that the slaves and the abolitionists gained from Butler’s act was a powerful impetus for freedom for four million people.

    The ingenious construction that Butler gave to his label of “contraband” insured that it would stick — unlike Fremont’s and Hunter’s unilateral attempts to liberate slaves — which were immediately overturned by Lincoln.

    Second to Butler’s “proclamation,” the Battle of Bull Run was important because it launched a chain of Union defeats which insured that the war would continue long enough for the social momentum to gather to actually free the slave.

    As Grant noted in his postwar conversation with Bismark, if the Union forces had been strong enough and well organized enough to put down the rebellion quickly, there is a good chance that the slaves would not have been freed when the war ended.

    • Noma September 3, 2012 / 11:19 am

      Also, since it’s Labor Day, it seems worthwhile to consider the impact that Butler’s actions had on all labor, not just the labor of blacks.

      One part of freeing the slaves — at least in the mind of Ulysses S. Grant — was to acknowledge the dignity of all labor. This (and the increasing political strength of the industrial workforce) set the stage for Grant’s proclamation of the 8-Hour federal workday in 1868.

      So Butler’s action had a profound impact, not only for 1861, but in its own way, for history long after that event. Here’s Grant’s proclamation:


      Proclamation 182 – Eight Hour Work Day for Employees of the Government of the United States
      May 19, 1869

      Whereas the act of Congress approved June 25, 1868, constituted, on and after that date, eight hours a day’s work for all laborers, workmen, and mechanics employed by or on behalf of the Government of the United States, and repealed all acts and parts of acts inconsistent therewith:

      Now, therefore, I, Ulysses S. Grant, President of the United States, do hereby direct that from and after this date no reduction shall be made in the wages paid by the Government by the day to such laborers, workmen, and mechanics on account of such reduction of the hours of labor.

      In testimony whereof I have hereto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

      Done at the city of Washington, this 19th day of May, A. D. 1869, and of the Independence of the United States the ninety-third.

      U. S. GRANT.

      By the President:

      HAMILTON FISH, Secretary of State .


      Also, for Labor Day, a picture of Grant and First Lady Julia Dent Grant at the bottom of a mine shaft in Nevada.


  9. Hunter Wallace September 3, 2012 / 3:13 pm

    Unquestionably it was Lincoln’s decision not to recognise the Confederacy and provoke an unnecessary war over Fort Sumter which he could have easily ceded to South Carolina.

    • Margaret D. Blough September 3, 2012 / 9:05 pm

      That decision had already been made by the 15th President of the United States, James Buchanan who refused to formally receive the South Carolina commissioners. He also refused, despite intense pressure by then Secretary of War and future Confederate general, John Floyd, to order Anderson to evacuate Ft. Sumter. He also sent an unsuccessful naval expedition to resupply the Fort in January. Buchanan may not have believed force could be used to fight secession (the question arises whether he simply didn’t have the heart to fight any longer) but he clearly believed secession was unconstitutional. As for the use of coercion, I can only repeat what former President James Madison wrote to his protege (and then private secretary to President Jackson) Nicholas Trist on December 23, 1832: “It is remarkable how closely the nullifiers who make the name of Mr Jefferson the pedestal for their colossal heresy, shut their eyes and lips, whenever his authority is ever so clearly and emphatically against them. You have noticed what he says in his letters to Monroe & Carrington Pages 43 & 203, vol 2, with respect to the powers of the old Congress to coerce delinquent States, and his reasons for preferring for the purpose a naval to a military force, and moreover that it was not necessary to find a right to coerce in the Federal Articles, that being inherent in the nature of a compact. It is high time that the claim to secede at will should be put down by the public opinion, and I shall be glad to see the task commenced by one who understands the subject.”

      • Hunter Wallace September 5, 2012 / 2:50 pm

        That’s interesting.

        Still, Lincoln could have recognized the Confederacy and ceded the federal forts, and there wouldn’t have been a war in 1861. It was his choice to provoke a war over the South Carolina equivalent of Guantanamo Bay.

        Of course, if the Southern colonies hadn’t been stupid enough to participate in the Yankee Revolution in the first place, then perhaps it would have been the Dominion of Dixie being formed in 1867 without a fight.

        By foolishly joining the United States, the South became a perpetual colony of the North and set the stage for its own destruction, whereas Canada and Australia became sovereign nations quite easily.

  10. Greg Taylor September 3, 2012 / 5:56 pm

    Lincoln’s decision to resupply Ft. Sumter. It forced the issue and gave the Union the moral high ground. He could call up 75,000 volunteers with a patriotic ferver. This, of course was followed by an amplified patriotic ferver of the Confederate states and the secession of Virginia a few days later.

  11. Al Mackey September 3, 2012 / 9:00 pm

    Fort Sumter. Don’t overthink it.

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