Front Matter The Beginning of the U.S Franklin's Return Troubles After the War The Constitution The First President Washington's Troubles A Wonderful Invention Death of Washington The U.S. Buys Land War With African Pirates Death of Somers The First Steamboat The Gerrymander The War of 1812 "Don't Give Up the Ship" The Star-Spangled Banner Clinton's "Big Ditch" More Land Bought Jackson Stories Jackson's Presidency New Inventions Whitman's Ride The Mormons The First Telegraph The Mexican War The Slavery Quarrel Daniel Webster's Youth Webster's Speeches Early Times in California Discovery of El Dorado Rush to California The Underground Railroad The First World's Fair John Brown's Raid Lincoln's Youth The First Shot The Call to Arms The President's Decision Admiral Farragut The Monitor and Merrimac The Penninsular Campaign Barbara Frietchie Lincoln's Vow The Battle of Gettysburg The Taking of Vicksburg Riots, Raids, and Battles The Burning of Atlanta The March to the Sea Sheridan's Ride The Doings of the Fleet Lee's Surrender Decoration Day Lincoln Stories Lincoln's Rebukes A President's Son A Noble Southerner Hard Times in the South The Atlantic Cable Best Way to Settle Quarrels Our One Hundredth Birthday Gold for Greenbacks A Clever Engineer Death of Garfield The Celebration at Yorktown The Great Statue A Terrible Flood Lynch Law The Great White City The Explosion of the Maine The Battle of Manila Hobson's Brave Deed Surrender of Santiago The Hawaiian Islands The Annexation of Hawaii The Philippine War Assassination of McKinley The Panama Canal Roosevelt's Administration Two Presidents German Views The World War Since the World War

Story of the Great Republic - Helene Guerber

The First Shot

Without even waiting to see what Lincoln would do, the senators from South Carolina left their seats in Congress and went home. Next, a meeting was called in Secession Hall, in Charleston, South Carolina, where it was decided that South Carolina, the "Palmetto State," should separate, or secede, from the Union (December 20, 1860). The Southern people, you know, firmly believed that they had a perfect right to leave the Union whenever laws were made which they thought unfair.

They were so sure they were doing right that in less than two months six other states joined South Carolina in seceding from the Union. Then the seven states, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, united to form a new republic, which was called the "Confederate States of America." Southerners said that this new republic was to have "slavery for its corner stone," and chose a well-known man, Jefferson Davis, for its President. At first Montgomery was the capital of the Confederacy, which adopted a flag with three bars and seven stars instead of the stars and stripes. When this became known in the North, and the people there realized that the new banner would be raised instead of the stars and stripes, they became so excited that Secretary Dix telegraphed to New Orleans: "If any person attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot!"



The Confederates, or secessionists, next seized most of the Southern forts belonging to the United States, except Forts Pickens and Sumter, which the officers refused to surrender. They also fired upon a ship called the Star of the West, when it came into the Charleston harbor to bring supplies to the government troops at Fort Sumter. In fact, the Confederates showed themselves so determined not to let it come in that it had to turn around and go back.

The Southerners believed so thoroughly in state rights that, although many of them did not wish to secede, they felt it their duty to do so. Thus more than two hundred officers who had been in the United States service, and had won laurels in the Mexican War, now gave up their positions in the army and navy and returned home.

The action taken by the Southern states greatly bewildered President Buchanan, who looked on helplessly, and did nothing. He said that the Southern states had no right to secede, but added that he had no right to force them to stay in the Union. Everything was therefore left for Lincoln to settle, and people anxiously wondered what he would do.


A rumor had arisen that, even if elected, Lincoln should never be inaugurated. This made his friends so anxious for his safety that they persuaded him to travel secretly to Washington. There he was inaugurated, on March 4, 1861. After taking his solemn oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," Lincoln made a grand speech, saying that, while he must at any cost keep this oath, he had no intention whatever of meddling with slavery in the states where it already existed.

He said that, in his opinion, no state could leave the Union, declared that he would hold the forts still belonging to the Union, and firmly but kindly added: "In your hands, my dissatisfied countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors."

For the first month after his inauguration, Lincoln was so bothered by office seekers that he could not attend to much else. But by this time Major Anderson, who was holding Fort Sumter, was so short of food and supplies that Lincoln sent word to South Carolina that he was going to send him help. This message was given to Jefferson Davis, who called a council to decide whether the supply should be allowed to come in or not.

There were two opinions about this, even in the Confederate Cabinet, and after some one had spoken warmly in favor of taking the fort by force, the secretary of state gravely said: "The firing upon that fort will inaugurate a civil war greater than any the world has yet seen. . . . You will wantonly strike a hornet's nest which extends from mountains to ocean, and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death."

In spite of this warning, Jefferson Davis finally decided that Sumter must be taken. He bade the Southern general, Beauregard, not to allow any supplies to pass in, and to fire upon the fort if it did not surrender. As Anderson firmly refused to yield to Beauregard's summons, the bombarding of Fort Sumter began on April 12, 1861.

Fort Sumter


At the end of about thirty hours the fort was a heap of smoking ruins, and as there was neither food nor ammunition left, Anderson was forced to haul down the Union flag and surrender. But he and his men were allowed to leave with their arms and colors, and the flag they thus saved was, as we shall see, again raised over Fort Sumter four years later.

Although there were none killed on either side in this battle of "seventy men against seven thousand," the firing on Fort Sumter acted like an electric shock upon the whole nation. Until then there had been two kinds of patriots in the North; but the fact that the flag had been fired upon put an end to all disputes, and the people rose like one man to defend it.

Lincoln, who had made no preparations for war, so as not to make the South angry and force matters, now called for seventy-five thousand men "to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of the Union." These men were called for three months only, because people then fancied that the war would be over in ninety days at the utmost.

In fact, at this sad time both parties greatly misunderstood each other. Educated people in the North felt sure the South would yield rather than see blood shed. But educated people in the South felt equally certain that for the sake of peace the North would yield, as had so often happened before. Besides, there were ignorant Northerners who fancied that Southern people were "fire eaters," and could only talk; while the same class in the South loudly boasted that the Yankees "would back up against the north pole rather than fight," and that "one Confederate could whip five Yankees."