American Civil War Begins
The 12th of April 1861 AD
As so often it is easy with hindsight to follow a seemingly inevitable drift towards conflict in the American Civil War. The economic differences between industrial North and agricultural South created tensions. The slavery question was a constant source of friction. Yet for decades the two sides avoided open struggle.
Eventually the Southern-leaning Democratic party almost engineered a clash by a split that meant two candidates were fielded in the 1860 Presidential Election, ensuring anti-slavery Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected. South Carolina seceded; other slave-states followed, declaring themselves The Confederate States of America. Lincoln had to react. The flash point came over the Federal-controlled Fort Sumter, dominating strategically vital Charleston Harbour. The Confederacy claimed all such forts on its territory.
Notified by its commander Major Anderson Sumter’s supplies would fail in mid-April Lincoln sent a naval force to replenish it, and informed South Carolina’s governor: he effectively forced the South to open hostilities. Local forces negotiated Anderson’s surrender, but he refused. At 4:30am on April 12 the first shot of the American Civil War was fired when mortars began what became a 34-hour bombardment.
Amazingly no troops died during the exchange; but perversely a Union soldier was killed by a misfire during the planned post-surrender 100-gun salute.
Lincoln requested 75000 men for three months to defend the Federal government’s rights, knowing the conflict would probably last longer, and sure more men were required, but employing the political tactic at a war’s commencement of start-small-then-escalate.
Britain’s position was ambivalent - perhaps duplicitous. There were strong economic links with Southern cotton-growers supplying Lancashire and Yorkshire mills. PM Palmerston leaned towards the Confederates; but public opinion against slavery prevented any alliance. Instead he allowed British industry to profit: both sides used Enfield muskets; Northampton supplied the rebels with shoes; and British ships ran the Federal blockade of Southern ports. Most blatantly Lairds of Birkenhead provided the Confederacy with CSS Alabama, a warship highly effective in the conflict – though after arbitration long after the war Britain paid $15.5 million in compensation for damage she and others had done to Federal ships.
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