What started the battle of Fort Sumter

US history : The eternal south

More than a thousand Americans have come to Charleston from all over the United States to re-enact the first battles of the Civil War today. Like their role models 150 years ago, they sleep in simple canvas tents. Some brought original uniforms and weapons from back then. Most of them wear robber clothes. US media proudly note that there are even history students from Germany and Australia.

With the shelling of Fort Sumter in the harbor entrance of Charleston on April 12, 1861, the civil war between the southern and northern states began. By the end of four years later, 620,000 soldiers had died - and the United States was a completely changed country. The north, which was industrializing ever faster, flourished. The south suffered from devastation and losses for decades and has remained at the bottom of the economic league to this day.

What was the war about? The common view of history ends with this question. The trigger was the dispute over slavery. The north had abolished it, for the south it was supposedly the indispensable basis of the plantation economy. But to this day, the United States has avoided the portrayal that it was primarily about the abolition of slavery. Because with it a division into “the good” and “the bad” would be connected. The country still couldn't stand that. In the official version, the North was fighting to maintain the Union and the South was fighting for the right to its way of life. The memorial plaques on the bloody battlefields such as Gettysburg, where more than 5,700 people died and nearly 45,000 were wounded in two days in early July 1863, note that, from their point of view, both sides fought for a just cause. To this day, the residents of the southern states proudly display the Confederate flag.

The budget dispute and the impending closure of all federal agencies almost prevented the re-enactment of the battle for Fort Sumter. Because the memorial sites that are subject to the National Park Service would have remained closed. Confident southerners see a parallel in this: In 1861, too, a hated federal government in Washington wanted to tell them what to do and what not to do. Mike Short, a retired insurance agent, threatened on Friday: “We took Fort Sumter by force back then. We can do it again today. ”No, it's no fun like that, grumbled Vernon Terry, a local metal goods owner in the“ New York Times ”. “We're bombarding Fort Sumter, but there's no crew inside?” Then came the budget compromise. Fort Sumter may now be occupied with unionists who are doomed to lose.

The civil war had been announced for a long time. For decades, both camps tried to strike a precarious balance in order to avoid it. With the expansion to the west and the admission of new states, care was taken to maintain the political balance between slave-holding states and states without slavery. Slaves who fled to the north and were caught there were returned.

In 1860, Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected president and inaugurated on March 4, 1861. At that time, his party promoted the abolition of slavery. The constellation today, in which conservatives and traditionalists in the South vote for the Republicans, while progressives and the descendants of the slaves vote for the Democrats, arose only in the 1960s from the civil rights movement, the formal equality of blacks and the resistance of many whites to it.

Lincoln was an opponent of slavery, but had repeatedly insisted that he would respect the laws of the individual states, seek a political solution to the conflict and would not fire the first shot. But the southern states, one after the other, declared secession after his election. In many places, they drove the soldiers and federal officials from the bases and offices in the south without force of arms - or they withdrew because they could no longer get supplies from Washington. In the spring of 1861 the Union had only two bases in the south: Fort Sumter in South Carolina, which controls the entrance to the most important port in the southern states, Charleston, and Fort Pickens in Florida near Pensacola.

The supplies were running low. Lincoln sent supply ships and announced this to the governors of the southern states with a request for passage. He will not order any military action as long as the south does not attack Union bases. On April 12, at 4:30 a.m., the Confederates opened cannonade on Fort Sumter. Its crew was inferior in numbers and ammunition, cut off from supplies around 700 kilometers deep in enemy territory and surrendered on the third day. In the weeks that followed, both sides held patriotic meetings, soliciting tens of thousands of volunteers and money. The north imposed a sea blockade that brought the cotton trade to a standstill and deprived the south of the main source of income. The first field battle followed in July. It was not until September 1862 that Lincoln declared the abolition of slavery a war goal and ordered the liberation of all slaves.

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