Read 1861 Online

Authors: Adam Goodheart

1861

This Is a Borzoi Book
Published by Alfred A. Knopf

Copyright © 2011 by Adam Goodheart

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by
Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
www.aaknopf.com

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks
of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Goodheart, Adam.
1861 : the Civil War awakening / Adam Goodheart.— 1st ed.
p. cm.
Includes index.
eISBN: 978-0-307-59666-6
1. United States—History—Civil War, 1861–1865 —Causes.
2 . United States—Politics and government— 1861–1865. 3. United States—
Intellectual life— 19 th century. I. Title. II. Title: Civil War awakening.
E 459 .G 66 2011
973.7′11 —dc 22               2010051326

Jacket image: Cumberland Landing, Virginia. Federal Encampment
on the Pamunkey River by James F. Gibson, May 1862 (detail).
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Jacket design by Joe Montgomery

v3.1_r1

For my family

and in memory of

Rose Sudman Goodheart
 (Teleneshty, Russian Empire, 1905–Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1997),

who made America’s history ours, too.

Union rally, San Francisco, 1861 (
photo credit fm.1
)

ARM’D year! year of the struggle!

No dainty rhymes or sentimental love verses for you, terrible year!

Not you as some pale poetling, seated at a desk, lisping cadenzas piano;

But as a strong man, erect, clothed in blue clothes, advancing, carrying a rifle on your shoulder,

With well-gristled body and sunburnt face and hands—with a knife in the belt at your side,

As I heard you shouting loud—your sonorous voice ringing across the continent;

Your masculine voice, O year, as rising amid the great cities,

Amid the men of Manhattan I saw you, as one of the workmen, the dwellers in Manhattan;

Or with large steps crossing the prairies out of Illinois and Indiana,

Rapidly crossing the West with springy gait, and descending the Alleghanies;

Or down from the great lakes, or in Pennsylvania, or on deck along the Ohio river;

Or southward along the Tennessee or Cumberland rivers, or at Chattanooga on the mountain top,

Saw I your gait and saw I your sinewy limbs, clothed in blue, bearing weapons, robust year;

Heard your determin’d voice, launch’d forth again and again;

Year that suddenly sang by the mouths of the round-lipp’d cannon,

I repeat you, hurrying, crashing, sad, distracted year.

—W
ALT
W
HITMAN
, “1861”

It seems as if we were never alive till now; never had a country till now.

—A
YOUNG WOMAN IN NEW YORK WRITING
TO A FRIEND
, M
AY 1861

C
ONTENTS

Storm flag of the United States garrison at Forts Moultrie and Sumter, 1860–61 (
photo credit fm.2
)

P
ROLOGUE

A Banner at Daybreak

Then over all, (aye! aye!) my little and lengthen’d pennant shaped like a sword,

Runs swiftly up indicating war and defiance—and now the halyards have rais’d it,

Side of my banner broad and blue, side of my starry banner,

Discarding peace over all the sea and land.

—W
ALT
W
HITMAN
,
“Song of the Banner at Day-Break” (1860–61)

Charleston Harbor, December 1860

N
IGHT FELL AT LAST.
Boats slipped off the beach, swift and almost silent, drawn by skilled oarsmen across the water. The rowers labored hatless and in shirtsleeves, breath visible in the chilly air, blue uniform coats draped over their muskets, concealing the glint of bayonets. Somehow all three of their vessels eluded the patrolling steamers, crossing the broad belt of reflected moonlight at barely a hundred yards from the nearest one,
then vanishing, undetected, into the gloom on the far side of the channel.

Only a few of their comrades had remained behind at the old fort, working hour after hour in the darkness, attending to the final tasks. Last of all, they had been told, the towering flagstaff must come down. No easy task: it was well over a hundred feet tall and rooted deep in the earth, constructed to withstand shot and shell. As midnight passed and daybreak drew nearer, men toiled with saws at the rock-hard pitch pine, like woodsmen at the base of a great tree. They
fastened ropes to guide its fall. The soldiers carefully arranged bags of gunpowder, placed the fuse, lit a match. With a splintering crack the staff snapped perfectly at the cut, toppled forward, and split again upon the parapet. It lay at the foot of the wall, irreparably broken.

The work was done. That morning, for the first time in half a century, the flag of the United States would not fly above the citadel.
1

T
HE MAN WHO LED
that dangerous transit had arrived in Charleston just five weeks earlier.

Major Robert Anderson had been sent to command the federal garrison at Fort Moultrie, a stronghold at the tip of
Sullivan’s Island, just across the harbor from the city wharves. His official orders were to strengthen the harbor’s defenses against the far-fetched possibility of an attack by
Great Britain or
France, but everybody knew this was a
sham.
2
The real reason for his appointment had to do with the looming crisis threatening to split the country in half. Abraham Lincoln had been elected president just weeks earlier, and in response, the Southern states were moving quickly toward secession. It seemed certain that South Carolina would take the lead.

The three forts commanding Charleston Harbor—Fort Moultrie,
Fort Sumter, and
Castle Pinckney—not only dominated the very hotbed of disloyalty but could also, if properly manned, instantly shut down the largest Southern port on the Atlantic seaboard. Most important, holding on to them would be a crucial symbolic statement to the nation and the world: the United States
would not relinquish its grip on any federal property, nor on any of the states, without a fight. It would deal with secession as treason. If, however, it let the forts go peacefully, the national government would be sending quite a different message: that it was ready to negotiate with the aggrieved leaders of the slaveholding South, and perhaps even let the seceding states go peacefully as well. The new commander in Charleston Harbor had to be a dependable messenger—faithful
and prompt—of either message, as circumstances might warrant.

The junior officers waiting to salute his arrival could have been forgiven if their first sight of Anderson, as he stepped gingerly from a small launch onto Moultrie’s wharf, failed to inspire great confidence. Everything about their new commander seemed middling: he was a man in his fifties, of midlevel rank, medium height, and moderate demeanor; mild-mannered, nondescriptly handsome—the sort who left few vivid impressions even on those who had known him
well. (None, surely, could have guessed that women would soon beg for locks of that meticulously combed gray hair; that woodcuts of that bland, impassive face would appear on the front pages of magazines on both sides of the Atlantic.) A scrupulous, methodical man, he was known in the service mainly for having translated certain French artillery textbooks into English. And yet here was the person to whom the United States government had just entrusted one of the most delicate
military and political assignments in American history.
3

Anderson was, moreover, a Southerner who had grown up with slavery, and whose family included strong partisans for the South. Nearly all of the staff officers at Moultrie happened to be from the North. They included men like Captain
Abner Doubleday, a New Yorker and a radical by army standards. The mustachioed, barrel-chested Doubleday considered himself a thoroughly modern man, unencumbered by the cheap affectations of honor and
chivalry with which so many officers still bedecked themselves. Not one to keep his opinions to himself, he unabashedly opposed
slavery and had voted for Lincoln. (He was probably the only man within two hundred miles of the Charleston Battery who would admit aloud to having done so.) He relished being hissed in the streets as a “Black Republican” when his official duties took him over the water to downtown Charleston. The
fort’s other
company captain was a lean, introspective Yankee named
Truman Seymour, son of a Methodist minister from Vermont.

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