The Civil War 150 Years Ago
by James W. Durney
- America is on a slippery slope as the New Year starts. Each day brings news of secession or states taking over Federal installations.
- During the first week of January, President Buchanan refuses to accept a letter from the South Carolina commissioners and orders reinforcements to Fort Sumter. Colonel Charles P. Stone begins to organize the Washington DC militia to defend the city. The War Department cancels the transfer of heavy cannon to various Southern cities. Florida is considering secession. In Alabama, state forces seize the US arsenal at Mobile, Forts Morgan and Gaines. Mobile is no longer under Federal control after these actions. The state of Florida seizes the arsenal at Apalachicola and Fort Marion in St. Augustine. The House approves Major Anderson’s transferring his command to Fort Sumter the day after supplies sail from New York on the Star of the West.
- Mississippi secedes on the ninth Florida follows a day later.
- The Star of the West is fired on by South Carolina state forces and turns back. Fort Sumter is isolated and under siege starting the ninth. The same day, 30 US Marines occupy Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor.
- Lincoln appoints William H. Seward secretary of state on the tenth. US forces spike the cannon at Fort Barrancas and withdraw to Fort Pickens in Pensacola. Braxton Bragg commanding Louisiana troops takes over the arsenal and barracks in Baton Rouge.
- On the eleventh, Alabama becomes the fourth state to leave the Union. The Mississippi members of the House of Representatives walk out of Congress. South Carolina demands the surrender of Fort Sumter. Federal installations in New Orleans are seized along with Forts Jackson and St. Philip. The city and the mouth of the Mississippi River are no longer in Federal hands.
- On the fourteenth, the Committee of Thirty-Three fails to agree on a solution. A constitutional amendment to protect slavery where it exists is approved but never ratified by the states.
- Georgia approves secession on the nineteenth; five states have left the Union.
- On the twenty-first; Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, Clement C. Clay and Benjamin Fitzpatrick of Alabama and Stephen R. Mallory and David L. Yulee of Florida depart from the US Senate chamber. Abolitionist Wendell Phillips hails the breakup of the United States saying that slavery hurts the nation.
- On the twenty-second the New York governor orders weapons and gunpowder sold to Georgia impounded. Georgia responds by impounding a number of Northern vessels.
- Louisiana becomes the sixth state to secede on the twenty-sixth. The same day, Georgia occupies Oglethorpe Barracks and Fort Jackson in Savannah.
- Congress makes Kansas the 34th state with a constitution outlawing slavery on the twenty-ninth.
- As January ends, Louisiana sizes the US Mint, the Customs House and the revenue schooner Washington.
- During the month Delaware, New York, Ohio and Massachusetts pass resolutions supporting the government.
- Forts Sumter and Pickens have refused to surrender several times. In Charleston harbor, an unofficial truce exists between the city and Major Anderson. State governments are moving against Federal installations in states that have or expect to secede.
- Unnoticed by many is the US forces taking control of the Florida Keys. The keys will serve as coaling stations, harbors, forts and detention centers throughout the war.
- The government has a Congress controlled by Republicans but Lincoln will not be President until March.
- James Buchanan continues to fill the office with little or no authority.
- Abraham Lincoln is busy building a government and avoiding taking any public position on secession. Lincoln has work made his position clear privately during the comprise debates. He will not accept any expansion of slavery but feels he lacks the power to outlaw it.