This is the third part in my Civil War “mini-series”, make sure you take the time to check out parts I (Civil War, The Beginning) and II (Civil War II, Creation of the CSA). Now that you are caught up this entry will explore the events of the Civil War that took place in 1861.
From reading the Creation of the CSA article that I published two days ago, you know that three major events happened in 1861 before Abraham Lincoln became President of the United States. First, starting with South Carolina, the original seven states started the secession process. Then, the South meets in Montgomery, Alabama, to create a Confederate Constitution and appoint Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States of America. Lastly, the CSA started to seize federal property from the United States. These actions, while still intentional steps to start a war against the Union, were not considered actions of war.
On April 12th, 1861, the Confederate Army opens fire on Fort Sumter. This is considered the first transgression against the North and the start of the Civil War. As you already know, the Confederate Army forced the Union Army to surrender, and Fort Sumter flew the Rebel “Stars and Bars” flag.
Now that war was a reality for all, it was time for the remaining states ‘on the fence’ to choose their side. Between the months of April and June, three major decisions were made. First, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina joined the South in secession. Second, western counties of Virginia did not believe in the Confederate’s battle and broke off to form their own state, which would officially become the state of West Virginia on June 20th, 1863, joining the Union forces. The last major decision was that made by Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri; as all four states were slave states and openly accepted and participated in slavery, they all decided to stay with the Union. As Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri were all bordered by Union states, it is not fully accepted that they were true to the Union, because many historians believe they only stayed out of fear of the Union’s Army. Now that all of the states had officially chosen sides, it was time for war!
Going back just a little bit, it is important to understand the leaders in charge of each side’s armed forces. As Virginia seceded from the US, General Robert E. Lee was conflicted. The best way to explain as to why Robert E. Lee would have been conflicted, is to let Wikipedia.org tell you….
The son of Revolutionary War officer Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee III and a top graduate of the United States Military Academy, Robert E. Lee distinguished himself as an exceptional officer and combat engineer in the United States Army for 32 years. During this time, he served throughout the United States, distinguished himself during the Mexican-American War and served as Superintendent of the United States Military Academy.
When Virginia declared its secession from the Union in April 1861, Lee chose to follow his home state, despite his personal desire for the Union to stay intact and despite the fact that President Abraham Lincoln had offered Lee command of the Union Army.
General Lee, having all of this deep history with the Union, while at the same time wanting to fight for his home state of Virginia, turned down the job to lead the Union Army and instead took the position as Senior Military Adviser to President Jefferson. Now that the Union Army needed a new General to command its army, Irvin McDowell was promoted to Brigadier General on May 14th, 1861, and given command of the Army of Northeastern Virginia. It well a known fact that McDowell had moved up the ranks based on connections and that he had no real battle experience, but Lincoln was hopeful based on the fact that the Confederate Army was not experienced. It was well-known that the Confederate’s Army was primarily composed of volunteers with little or no battlefield training, and the North wanted to take advantage of this fact.
On July 21st, 1861, the Union made its move and attacked the Confederate Army near the city of Manassas, Virginia. This battle, known as the First Battle of Bull Run, surprisingly led to a Union defeat. Many things were brought to light after this battle: the Confederate Army wasn’t a pushover and had powerful men–like Stonewall Jackson–who would be an opposition, that this was going to be a long and bloody war, and that McDowell could not lead an army.
As soon as the dust settled, Irvin McDowell was removed from his post and was replaced by General George McClellan. From here Lincoln required that the Navy improve its fleet to properly blockade the South’s coast lines. With proper blockading, the Confederates would have a difficult time getting supplies. Neither side would advance in a significant battle for the rest of 1861.
This completes the lesson for Civil War, 1861. Stick around for the next lesson: Civil War IV / 1862. Click here to check out Part IV!