Will There Be a War?

IN DECEMBER 1860 the United States of America trembled on the brink of … what? Disunion certainly. But civil war? Violent language filled the columns of newspapers, North and South, and the air of debating chambers in state and the national legislatures. How far would violent language lead those who spoke with passion? On December 20, a convention in South Carolina declared its secession from the United States, created by the thirteen British colonies’ declaration of independence and their subsequent promulgation of a common constitution eighty years earlier. South Carolina’s secession was swiftly followed by that of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. The occasion of secession was the election of Abraham Lincoln as the new president of the United States. He and his Republican Party had won on a platform that opposed slavery, and many in the South had concluded that his presidency threatened an end to the “peculiar institution,” which for them defined their way of life and underpinned their prosperity. Secession secured the means to preserve both. Secession did not, however, imply war, nor did the South, or the North for that matter, proceed from secession to undertake any preparation for fighting.

Moreover, as cooler heads in the South recognised, neither Lincoln himself nor his Republican Party proposed abolition, the legal ending of slavery by an amendment of the Constitution, which indirectly permitted slavery while not positively endorsing it. What Lincoln and the Republicans and indeed a very large number of Northerners insisted upon was that slavery should not be extended into the “territories,” the vast tracts of North America belonging to the Union but not yet organised as states. Unfortunately, many in the South had persuaded themselves that slavery and a South dependent on slavery could only survive if slavery was extended into the territories. The issue had already caused a great deal of trouble within the United States, legal, political, and constitutional, and in some of the territories, notably Kansas, was provoking bitter and violent conflict. Pro-slavery parties were prepared to tolerate the violence, or the passions that underlay it, if that was the price of carrying slavery westward. The anti-slavery parties foresaw that the extension of slavery would strengthen Southern power in Congress and, they believed, undermine the principles of political and economic liberty on which the United States had been founded. In December 1860 the implications of the crisis were yet to be perceived. While there was talk of war by some, it was still only as an eventuality, not an inevitability.

Sixty years earlier few would have been found who believed that slavery could cause a crisis threatening the domestic peace of the nation. The South’s attachment to slavery in 1860 was explained by the slaves’ role in cultivating and preparing raw cotton. In 1800 only 70,000 bales of cotton fibre had been produced, in 1860 over four million bales. The number of slaves had increased proportionately, from 700,000 at the time of the first census in 1790 to four million in 1860, exclusively the result of births, since the slave trade had been abolished in 1807. The rise in output had a number of causes, including the invention of the cotton gin, which separated fibre from the hard cotton boll much more quickly and less laboriously than it could be done by hand. Rich land in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana also yielded much larger crops, at a time when the traditional growing areas in Virginia and the Carolinas were losing their fertility. The development of “short staple” cottons also opened up regions unsuitable for the planting of long staple varieties. The expansion of planting was driven by rising demand from Europe, where in Britain, Belgium, and France the industrial revolution was bringing a mechanised textile spinning and weaving industry into being. Rising demand for cotton generated rising demand for slave labour, supplied by slave owners who were also slave breeders in the South and who despite the prohibition of slave imports made large profits by selling American-born slaves on the domestic market at prices that rose throughout the century’s first half. Rising slave numbers heightened the South’s attachment to slavery, since the institution had sound social as well as economic functions, assuring control of an unfree population, which in some areas of the Deep South exceeded in number that of the free, slave-owning white population.

During the 1850s, as the population of the United States was swelled by the immigration of millions of European settlers, many of whom joined native-born Americans in moving west into the fertile farmlands of the Midwest, slavery acquired a critical political importance. Southerners sought to have the legality of slavery established in the new areas of settlement not only because they wished to profit by the spread of slave owning, but also because territories, once settled, were destined to become states and so to alter the balance of power in Congress. Thitherto, the balance between slave and free states had been maintained with remarkable equilibrium; in 1847 there were fifteen slave and fourteen free states. The balance was crucial to the South, since though it could not hope to limit numbers of voters in states, their electoral weight counted only in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, by contrast, each state controlled two votes. As long, therefore, as territories were admitted to Congress as states in which slavery was permitted, and slavery was accepted in the federal Constitution, slavery was safe within the South, since anti-slavery legislation passed by the House of Representatives could be voted down in the Senate. Much of the political business of the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century was concerned with the creation of new states, carefully supervised by the South to assure that the balance was maintained. The process was delicate. In 1787 Congress had by ordinance banned slavery in the Northwest, territory that became the states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, then only beginning to be settled. In 1820, when the question of admitting Missouri arose, the North agreed to a compromise, accepting Missouri as a slave state on condition that Maine, the northern part of Massachusetts, was admitted as a free state, thus maintaining the balance. The Missouri Compromise also excluded slavery from those territories forming part of the Louisiana Purchase, north of 36°30’, the largest remaining tract of federal territory within the United States. The South did not quibble because the excluded territory was recognised to be unsuitable for slave agriculture, in that neither its climate nor its soil was fitted for the intensive cultivation of cotton or tobacco.

In 1820 it seemed unlikely that more land would be added to the territory of the United States. Though there was agitation to adjust the frontier with British Canada, the issue was muted. The vast Southwest, today California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico, was being infiltrated by American settlers, but was the property of the sovereign country of Mexico and so apparently inviolable. That nevertheless was where the penultimate crisis over slavery would arise. In 1836 the American population of Texas rebelled against Mexico and declared itself an independent republic. It soon became obvious that it would seek to accede to the United States, as it did in 1845. Mexico accepted the loss with ill grace but showed itself determined to resist over the incorporation into the new state of large Texan territories to the west. The dispute led rapidly to war. Though the Mexicans outnumbered their American invaders several times, the invaders—many Southern volunteers—were hardy and excellent marksmen. In sixteen months of fighting in 1846-47, the Americans won all the battles and arrived in Mexico City on September 14, 1847, to impose a peace. It robbed the Mexican republic of nearly half its territory, an indignity only softened by President Santa Anna’s acceptance of a large sum in dollars in return for territory and the United States’ acceptance of Texan debt.

The first legacy of the Mexican War, however, was the opportunity it gave to free settlers to form new non-slave states from the surplus of Texan territory. The probability appeared even before the Mexican War was over. In 1846 an anti-slavery congressman, David Wilmot, introduced in the House of Representatives a measure outlawing slavery in all territory conquered from Mexico. Southern congressmen at once recognised that the Wilmot Proviso spelt doom to the slave system, since captured Mexican territory was likely to give rise to sufficient new states to endow the anti-slave factions with an undefeatable majority in both the House and Senate. Using their current equal representation in the Senate, the Southern politicians worked to annul the Wilmot Proviso. But they could not prevent its reappearance in some form in the future. It reappeared in 1850, when Congress was forced to consider legislating for the future status of California, former Mexican territory which had overnight acquired a surge of population because of the discovery of gold within its borders. The gold-rushers were overwhelmingly Northerners and, as pioneers out to make private fortunes, adamantly opposed to the legalisation of slavery on soil they were determined to exploit by free labour. Complex debate in Congress eventually yielded a second compromise, which admitted California as a free state but created two others, New Mexico and Utah, in which the slavery issue was to be settled by settler vote. Both new states legalised slavery, though the institution in practice did not take root there. The really baleful consequence of the Compromise of 1850 was the inclusion, among other legislation, of the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed slave owners to enter free states to recover runaways and obliged both federal and state jurisdictions to assist them. The re-enslavement of fugitives outraged many in the North, where it was seen as a violation of the laws of liberty guaranteed in the Constitution and by the struggle for freedom against British colonialism. Attempts to frustrate recapture of fugitives equally enraged many Southerners, who saw repossession of runaways as an exercise of the right of property, a principle equally dear to Americans. The issue was inflamed by the publication in 1852 of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a depiction of the practice of slavery that blackened the South in Northern eyes, and enraged Southerners, all the more by the enormous scale on which it sold.

The political leaders of the South correctly recognised that the tide of opinion in a country in which they represented a minority was moving against them. They might have moderated their position and sought common ground. It would have been difficult to find. Not only was the South indeed different from the North, with the difference founded on an institution that could not be disguised or easily altered; as the dispute with the North dragged on, Southerners had begun to make a virtue of the difference, by inventing a creed of Southern nationalism which eventually committed them to confrontation. Mid-century Southerners proclaimed themselves to be a superior breed to Northerners, preserving the agrarian way of life on which the republic had been founded at the Revolution and led by a breed of cultivated gentlemen who better resembled the Founding Fathers than the money-grubbing capitalists who dominated public life in the North. The South’s poorer classes, too, sons of the soil and outdoorsmen, were held to be superior to their equivalents in the North, whose lives were confined by factory walls and who were often not native-born but immigrants, sometimes not English-speaking, and Catholic rather than Protestant. Southern nationalism had impressive ideologues as its own founding fathers, John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay, and it even had its own lyceum, the University of the South, founded at Sewanee, Tennessee, to train Southern scholars who could debate on equal terms with men from Harvard. The North took it seriously enough to destroy its buildings, down to the foundation stone, soon after the Civil War began.

Faced by growing Northern hostility and fired by an impassioned belief in the rightness of their cause, the Southern political class, in the aftermath of the Compromise of 1850, deliberately sought to challenge the North over the issue of slavery. In 1854, Jefferson Davis, secretary of war in the cabinet of Franklin Pierce, persuaded the president to support the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which in 1820 had banned slavery in the territories north of 36°30’. He was backed by the great orator Stephen Douglas, a rational moderate who was hungry for presidential power and saw the chance to gain Southern votes by endorsing a Southern measure. The measure was the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would admit both territories as states, though both were north of 36°30’, but the first allowing slavery, the second free. The act was bound to cause trouble. Though Kansas bordered Missouri, a slave state, its population was strongly divided between Southerners and Northerners and its internal affairs were already sinking into the violence that would disfigure it in the years before the Civil War. The act not only disturbed the domestic peace of Kansas. It also enraged opinion in the North generally but particularly within the Democratic Party. The Democrats were, with the Whigs, one of America’s historic political parties. The Whig Party was already in decline by the 1850s; the Democratic Party, though still a vigorous and important medium of political activity in national and regional politics, was badly split over slavery. Stephen Douglas, its most important national figure, exhausted his considerable intellect during the debate by seeking a formula by which both sides could get what they wanted: the South extension of slavery into the territories, the North the popular right in the territories to make laws excluding slavery. The two positions were, of course, irreconcilable, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which attempted to fudge the issue, was rapidly recognised in the North and particularly by Northern Democrats as a false compromise. As Stephen Douglas was its author, and the Democratic Party his seat of power, Northern Democrats reacted by leaving the party in droves and joining the new Republican Party, which, without being markedly abolitionist, was doctrinally anti-slavery. In the presidential election of 1856 the Republicans captured most Northern states, winning on a programme based on the Wilmot Proviso. The election was won, however, by James Buchanan, who was strongly supported in the South and had won some Northern states.

Buchanan’s presidency was notable for two events that heightened the growing crisis, the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case and John Brown’s raid on the Harpers Ferry federal arsenal. It was an added complexity in the political geometry of the United States that the Supreme Court could in effect alter the Constitution by due process of law, while the political leaning of the Court could be altered over time by appointment of justices, which was a power that lay in the hands of the president. Because there had been a long run of Southern presidents, the Court’s composition in 1857 favoured the delivery of pro-Southern judgements. Southern fears over the alteration of the human character of the Court if an anti-slavery president were to be elected heightened the developing crisis. The Dred Scott case brought the judicial, and also the political, crisis towards a head. Scott was a Southern slave who had been taken by his owner into the North, where he had been kept for several years. He subsequently sued in court for his freedom. When the case reached the Supreme Court, six judges, five of them Southerners, ruled that he had no case and by extension that slavery was permissible in the territories. Jefferson Davis decided to press the point by introducing into the Senate a resolution requiring the federal government to afford slavery legal protection. He also announced that he would have the resolution written into the Democratic Party’s policy statement for the 1860 presidential election.

The Dred Scott judgement infuriated anti-slavery opinion in the North. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in October 1859 terrified the South. John Brown was a wild man, ferociously anti-slavery, who had contributed actively to the growing civil war in Kansas. His motive in attacking the federal arsenal was to foment slave rebellion, precisely the eventuality most feared in the South, where in some parts, notably Mississippi and South Carolina, blacks outnumbered whites. His raid was a forlorn hope. He led only eighteen men and, though they found the arsenal undefended, a government force, led by Colonel Robert E. Lee, assisted by Major J. E. B. Stuart, both of whom would later rise to eminence in the coming war, quickly rounded them up. John Brown was tried for treason and murder and hanged, with six of his followers. Though his disreputable life did not merit it, he was soon hailed in the North as an anti-slavery martyr, and the song composed to commemorate his death would become one of the marching rhythms of the Union army in the Civil War.

There had been other, less extreme outbreaks of violence before Harpers Ferry and many threats of violence. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner had been beaten into insensibility on the Senate floor by a South Carolina colleague. The bringing of weapons into Congress became commonplace, as did fistfights and the exchange of insults. During a prolonged dispute over the election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1860, an exchange of pistol fire was widely expected, and the governor of South Carolina wrote to one of the state’s congressmen offering to send troops to Washington if violence did indeed break out.

It did not come to that, but plenty of political sensation was shortly to follow. It was a presidential election year and so one of party conventions. The Democratic convention was the first to meet in Charleston, South Carolina, perhaps the place least likely to produce a peacekeeping result. Stephen Douglas expected the nomination and thought he had a right to it. However, he had lost his following in the South because of his opposition to the introduction of a slave code in Kansas, the so-called Lecompton Constitution. There were sufficient Northern delegates, however, to carry a call for the adoption of a platform of popular sovereignty in the territories, effectively guaranteeing anti-slavery laws, and the convention could not reach a conclusion and agreed only to reconvene in Baltimore. When it did so, the convention had already split. The Northern Democrats nominated Douglas; the Southerners, meeting separately, selected John Breckinridge, the vice president, a Kentuckian.

The Republican Party, fighting only its second national election, met in Chicago. On the third ballot it chose Abraham Lincoln, who, though a Kentuckian by birth, was an Illinois resident. He was also an ex-Whig, as were so many others in the party, and he had a glittering reputation as a speaker who had proved a match for Stephen Douglas in their widely reported debates during the campaign for the Senate in 1858. The choice, undoubtedly a true reflection of opinion in the party, caused deep alarm in the South, because Lincoln made no attempt to disguise his abhorrence of slavery or his belief that the institution must be extinguished if the union was to survive.

Today, Lincoln would be unable to deliver the speeches on which he won the nomination in 1860, would indeed be prosecuted under federal law for uttering the sentiments he did. Lincoln, as he expressly made clear, did not believe in the personal equality of black and white. He held the black man to be the white’s inferior and irredeemably so. He also, however, held the black man to be the white’s legal equal, with an equality recognised by the founding laws of the United States, a recognition requiring legal empowerment. Blacks must have the same access to the law as whites, and exercise the same political rights.

Most Southerners held an exactly contrary view and believed that unless the inequality of blacks was legally enforced, their own way of life would be overthrown. Some Southern ideologues argued fervently that slavery was a guarantee of freedom, not only the freedom of the whites to live as they did and to organise the Southern states as they were organised but the freedom of the blacks also, since slavery protected the blacks from the economic harshness suffered by the labouring poor in the Northern factory system. Books were written to argue and demonstrate the case, and Southern polemicists advocated it unashamedly with their Northern opponents. There is no doubt that it was believed also, since the spectacle of apparently happy blacks living under paternal care on well-run plantations did seem to support the idea of slavery as a sort of welfare system. Those who advanced the theme of “Slavery as freedom” no doubt knew that what they were really justifying was a method of controlling four million people of different race by restricting their freedom of action and movement and what today would be called their human and civil rights. Southerners, however, unless they were unashamed racists, as many were, were adept at disguising their real motives from themselves, all the more so if they had, as many did, a benevolent and humane disposition to the blacks they knew as servants and workpeople.

By the spring of 1861, differences between North and South had passed beyond prospect of settlement by the power of words. In the South, particularly the Lower South, politicians and crowds were bent on pressing the difference to the point of action. On February 4, representatives of the seven seceding states met in Montgomery, Alabama, to concert schemes for an organised breakaway polity, to be known as the Confederate States of America. Within a month, the representatives of secession had framed a constitution, closely modelled on that of the United States, though with crucial alterations to permit the legalisation of slavery, and had elected a president, a Mississippian, Jefferson Davis, a former United States senator and secretary of war, who had graduated from West Point and served with distinction in the Mexican War. In his inaugural address he affirmed the Confederacy’s desire to live in peace with its neighbours, but in private he had uttered threats of using force if opposed.

Lincoln meanwhile was striving to form his own new government. He, too, promised peace despite the challenge of secession, expressing a mood that was widespread in the North. It was widely accepted there that the Upper South—Virginia, North Carolina, and Arkansas—and the border states of Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, Tennessee, and Kentucky, which had not yet seceded, might be persuaded to remain within the union if the new president’s declared policy were sufficiently emollient. Given the large number of Unionists known to be found in the South, many Northerners hoped that by a deliberate policy of non-provocation moderate opinion in the South might be brought to deter the extremists from irreversible action. Admirable though their sentiments were, they partook of wishful thinking and exaggeration. Secession, where declared, was widely popular in the South, while the number of Southern Unionists, who were concentrated in areas where slave owners and slaves were few, or not present, such as western Virginia and eastern Tennessee, was smaller than claimed by some compromisers. Moreover, irreversible action had already occurred. In the seceding states, the new governments had already seized federal property, courthouses, mints, and military buildings and were appropriating federal revenues, such as customs duties. The ownership of federal fortifications was a particularly contentious matter since the coastal forts, which symbolised the reality of the Monroe Doctrine, also represented the federal government’s largest single investment in public works. The coastal fortresses of the First and Third Systems as the three stages of the military programme were called, included Fortress Monroe, at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula; Fort Sumter, at Charleston, South Carolina; Forts St. Philip and Jackson, below New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi; and Alcatraz at San Francisco. The First and Third System forts remain today among the most magnificent examples of fortress architecture in the world, but they had been built to defend the United States against attack by the European powers, not to safeguard the Union. That task required armed men in numbers, numbers far larger than 16,000, the extant number of federal soldiers, and men equipped and able to carry war against the South. Of the huge forts of the First and Third Systems south of the Mason-Dixon line, all but five—Fortress Monroe, at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay; Fort Pickens, at Pensacola, Florida; two small forts in the Florida Keys; and Fort Sumter—had by early 1861 been occupied by Southern garrisons. Of those remaining to the North, Fort Sumter was the most contentious, since South Carolina was the heart of secession and the state’s artillery commanded the fortress from the shore. Sumter, built on an artificial island, represented a new idea in fortification, seeking to dominate by massing large numbers of heavy guns inside thick brick walls instead of hiding itself behind low earthworks. It was still under construction in 1861 and had only a skeleton garrison, though its full complement of guns. Its commander, Major Robert Anderson, was a Kentuckian but a forthright Union loyalist. His opponent, a Louisianan, General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, had taught him artillery science at West Point. Even as late as March 1861 there was no sign of federal retention of Sumter provoking a military crisis. Most federal buildings in what was now the Confederacy had passed into rebel control without conflict or friction. Southern representatives had visited Washington to request Sumter’s transfer and the secretary of state, William Seward, advised Lincoln to let it go. Lincoln was reluctant, his reluctance fortified by outraged headlines in Northern newspapers where rumours of treason began to circulate. Lincoln’s difficulty was that Sumter was short of men and short of rations. An attempt to strengthen the garrison in January had failed for practical reasons. He could not, however, abandon those federal soldiers stationed there. They had been smuggled into Sumter by Anderson in a bold act of deceit under cover of darkness. Lincoln knew he had to resupply them, if the honour of his government were to be maintained. He was unwilling, however, to use force in resupply, and thus bear the blame for what would certainly be the inception of war. He hit eventually on an ingenious compromise. Supplies would be sent to Sumter, but on the public understanding that if the supply boats were not fired upon, the fort would not fire back. If the Confederates fired, they would bear the blame for aggression. Lincoln would thus protect his credentials as defender of the Union but escape condemnation as a warmonger. On April 6, 1861, Anderson sent a note to the governor of South Carolina: “I am directed by the President of the United States to notify you to expect an attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumter with provisions only; and that, if such attempt be not resisted, no effort to throw in men, arms, or ammunition will be made without further notice, or in case of an attack upon the fort.”1

The Confederate cabinet in Montgomery understood at once the dilemma in which Lincoln was placing the South but, urged on by firebrands, decided to be caught all the same. Beauregard was ordered by Jefferson Davis to fire on Sumter before the relief arrived. He did so, having issued a formal call to surrender, which Anderson dismissed. Beauregard gave orders for the bombardment to begin at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861; there was competition to fire the first shot. Thirty-three hours later, after 3,340 further shots had landed, the garrison surrendered. They had fired a thousand shots in reply but were battered and worn out—though, miraculously, neither side had suffered any fatal casualty. A mule was the only fatality. Anderson and his garrison were allowed to withdraw by ship and make their way to the North. None was made prisoner. It was as if the South still did not wish to formalise the opening of a war.

Yet the fall of Sumter brought war all the same. In the North it prompted President Lincoln to issue a call for the loyal states’ militia to be mobilised, to the strength of 75,000. Such was the enthusiasm in some states that their quotas were quickly exceeded. In the South the effect of Sumter was to propel more of the militants into secession and to polarise public opinion. By April, eight Southern states still remained in the Union. Virginia was electrified by the news of Fort Sumter’s fall and Lincoln’s mobilisation. On April 17 a convention assembled to consider Virginia’s position and voted for secession, 88 to 55. The state government had already sent its militia to seize the federal arms factory at Harpers Ferry and the naval dockyard at Norfolk. Secession was ratified by popular vote on May 23 by a huge majority, two days after the state government’s offer of Richmond as a capital city for the Confederacy had been accepted by the Confederate government in Montgomery, Alabama. Among the Virginians agreeing to take service under the new flag of stars and bars was Robert E. Lee, who had been offered but rejected appointment as commander of the Union army by General in Chief Winfield Scott. Lee affirmed that he had to go with his state.

The thinly populated state of Arkansas, which had a sizable anti-secession party drawn from the non-slave Ozark Mountains, voted for secession on May 6. North Carolina’s convention, elected on May 13, unanimously voted for secession on May 20. Though one of the most northerly of the Upper South states, North Carolina was curiously detached from the rest of the Confederacy; its borders were difficult for Union troops to approach and its coastline was narrow and inaccessible. It would not suffer Northern invasion until right at the end of the war. Tennessee did not formally secede but passed a declaration of independence on June 8. Its eastern counties, where slave owners were few, voted heavily against secession. Lincoln was to make the liberation of Tennessee loyalists from the secessionists one of his principal war aims. Maryland and Delaware, geographically part of the North though heavily Southern by temperament, did not secede despite strong efforts by their pro-secession minorities. In Delaware they were restrained by the movement of federal troops, making their way to Washington. Maryland, also coerced by federal force, ultimately failed to find the nerve to secede, its legislature refusing to vote for secession or to call a convention to do so. Later, after the Confederate victory of First Bull Run, the secessionist legislators would summon up courage to threaten the Union again, but their bravado was quickly dissipated by arrest and imprisonment.

Kentucky, a border state whose population almost equally divided for North and South, also attempted to evade the issue by a declaration of neutrality. Lincoln cannily declined to force the point and did not attempt coercion. An out-of-term election held in June returned a large pro-Union majority to Congress, after which, as the strength of loyalist militias within the state grew, it came over to the Union, all the more readily after the Confederacy made the mistake of trying to seize the state by force. Nevertheless, many Kentuckians left home to join Confederate units, in a proportion of two to every three joining the Union army. Its neighbouring state of Missouri, also sharply divided, had a strongly Confederate governor who set out to take his state into the Confederacy with the active support of many of its citizens. He was frustrated by the initiative of the local Federal commander, Captain Nathaniel Lyon. Although the beginnings of a vicious internal guerrilla war were already raging in Missouri, Lyon seized the stores of arms in St. Louis, took command of the local pro-Union militia, and overcame their pro-Southern opponents. That was not the end of the trouble. The state legislature left for the Arkansas border, where it set up as a government in exile and was eventually recognised as legitimate by the Confederates, which admitted Missouri as a Confederate state. Its functions at home were assumed by the convention assembled to decide for or against secession, which had a strong Unionist majority. Missouri was thus represented in both wartime governments during the war. The Unionists of Tennessee, who dominated the state’s eastern counties, also attempted to secede but, lacking the support of Union troops on the ground, failed in the attempt. Tennessee therefore counted as a Confederate state, although 30,000 of its sons fought in the Union army.

Thus, by May 1861, a month of hiatus, the lines of division between North and South had been drawn. Would they become lines of battle? So far there had been little blood shed, none at Sumter, a sprinkling only in skirmishing and rioting. Young men were gathering, however, putting on uniforms, drilling, learning to march in formation, to stand in ranks, to handle muskets and rifles. North America was not yet a continent organised for war but its mood was increasingly warlike, and newspaper editors and politicians were demanding action. The two capitals, Washington and Richmond, lay only a hundred miles apart, little more than two days’ march. “On to Richmond,” which had begun as a newspaper slogan, was becoming a popular catchphrase in the North. Virginians, residents of the Confederacy’s frontline state, were alert for the tramp of Northern feet. The outskirts of Washington were already being crisscrossed with defensive earthworks. The Potomac River had become an important military obstacle. If war came, where would it strike? Secession had not only divided one of the largest countries in the world, it had also created a gigantic theatre of war, confronting both combatants, if they fell to fighting, with one of the most complex military problems ever to face war-making governments. Leaders and soldiers on both sides were already puzzling not only how but where to take the armies that were forming in the search for victory.

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