Apr 12, 2011

Civil War Sesquicentennial

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the American Civil War. On this day in 1861, Confederate forces began firing upon the Union-held Ft. Sumter at the mouth of Charleston Harbor.

Inside the fort was Maj. Robert Anderson, an artillery commander who had once taught at West Point.

Leading the bombardment was recently promoted General P.G.T. Beauregard, who had been taught artillery and been an assistant to a certain artillery officer named Robert Anderson.

Ft. Sumter stands as a fascinating start to a truly horrifying conflict. No casualties were suffered by either side in that entanglement. However, almost exactly four years later, the war would be over and 622,000 lives would have been lost.

In addition to that was the human element, exemplified by the relationship of the adversaries at Ft. Sumter. Over the course of the war, countless friends and families were ripped apart. Some of the famous examples include:

  • Confederate Gen. Lewis Armistead sending his Bible to his dear friend Union Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock's wife (Armistead would die the next day while leading a portion of Pickett's Charge against Hancock's troops),
  • Confederate Gen. James Longstreet serving as a groomsman at Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's wedding, and
  • Confederate Gen. Jeb Stuart's father-in-law, Union Col. Philip Cooke, chasing him unsuccessfully as Stuart rode is cavalry in a circle around the entire Union army.

For these reasons--the combined horror and humanity, not to mention the central moral purpose of emancipation that President Lincoln successfully transitioned the war into--the Civil War is inscribed into our collective national memory. I hope that we continue to remember it, with both fascination and reverence, for its effects and its costs. As Robert E. Lee said during the massacre of the Battle of Fredericksburg, "It is well that war is so terrible, or we would grow too fond of it."

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