CW 150: Secession, Timing, and Purpose

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During the time following the attack on Ft. Sumter but before the Battle of Bull Run, the country held its breath and began to find out what secession really means. No one was truly surprised when Firebrands in GA and SC began to push the slave holding aristocracy towards secession in the Deep South. Lincoln could see that the regional disillusionment of the Union was just that, regional. However his next move would be the tipping point between a wider more consuming war or simply a militia driven attack on the aristocrats.

Lincoln’s action of calling for militias to give their allegiance to the Federal government and then march through other states to attack major cities in the South, Charleston, Atlanta, and Birmingham, was a radical idea but not unheard-of. Additionally, the comments of Alexnder Stephens explaining GA secession as, “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition,” show that for many the war was about SlaveryAristocracy, and maybe State’s Rights. Thus, the actions of border states in April and May of 1861 appear just as radical as Lincoln asking the common man to fight the Slave holding Aristocracy of the the Deep South. If I were a Virginian at this moment in history, I would have been terrified knowing that the armies of the Federal Government, amassing within the federal district, would be marching through my towns and down my roads to attack “The South.”

Abraham Lincoln - Clara Barton CentenaryVirginia‘s legislature did what it assumed would be the proper course to both preserve the safety of VA and her people. Yet, it was this act that prompted ArkansasTennessee, and North Carolina to move on secessionist intentions. It was also this act that began the long three year process of the western counties of Virginia to in-turn secede from the Commonwealth and create the state of West Virginia. Other border states began to openly debate their next moves as well. Maryland, specifically Baltimore, became an occupied Southern state for fear that Washington, D.C. would find itself surrounded by secessionist before the end of the 1861 spring. Missouri, New Mexico Territory and Indian Territory (Oklahoma) also were divided and began rump Union and Confederate governments vying for recognition from both national capitols. While Kentucky, Lincoln and Jefferson Davis‘s home state, declare neutrality in the conflict.

No one can disagree that SC started the rebellion but it was the actions of Virginia that made the Rebellion an all out war between the Northern Industrial  and Southern Agrarian states. For without the support of the Commonwealth, the Southern Cause would have dwindled under blockade within a year. However, fighting in the Shenandoah Valley prolonged the Eastern Campaigns far into 1864. As TX, MS, and TN quickly fell to Union forces it was the battlefields of VA that kept the fight going. And lets not forget. Robert E. Lee would have become the leader of the Union Army of the Potomac, if not for VA secession.

Information contained in this article was fact checked using the online sources Wikipedia and CWPT. As well as works by Shelby Foote, James M. McPhersonBruce Catton, James I. Robertson Jr., and William C. Davis.