The purpose of highlighting and discussing the historical aspects of the Civil War in-depth is due to the profound significance and implications it holds in the history of the American people that has led to some unprecedented events that shaped the history in America, especially in the South. Essentially, the beginning of the Civil War marks the starting point of American history that signifies great strides in efforts to remain united and covering the periods of the attempts by eleven Southern States to withdraw from the union up until 1865. Concerted efforts have been made to provide comprehensive analysis in the review of the events leading to the bloody conflict. This has been aided by the availability of adequate literature that has all given an opening on the events that led to the civil war and the firing at Ft. Sumter.
“The civil war in America is best described as one of the earliest true industrial wars in human history” (Love, 2004). A number of factors have been brought forward to reinforce the belief that the beginning of the civil war in America was not marked by the firing at Ft. Sumter. Most literature points to slavery, nationalism and honor, the election of Lincoln as the President of the Union, tariffs, and sectionalism as the major contributing factors to the rise of secession.
Slavery in American society was more rampant in the Southern States where ninety-five percent of the black population lived. Therefore the “fears of much emancipation were greater in the South than in the North” (Bullock, 1967). The actions of the white men against the blacks led to the rise of “abolitionists” which was a major seed for the rise in secession. “Literacy through education was discouraged by the whites and made illegal and efforts to get literacy were subjected to punishment up to and including dismemberment and death” (Love, 2004). “In 1740, a South Carolina law criminalized slaves teaching and made it literally denied opportunities for the few literate African Americans to explore their acquired educational skills” (Irons, 2002). The reason the whites discouraged and even outlawed education for the African Americas was that the whites felt that education spoilt the slaves and was not required at all for a field hand. “In their opinions, black slaves were investments and were to serve as mere tools, sorely for the economic benefits of the whites” (Bullock, 1967). However, “the slaves felt that education was good for them” (Bullock, 1967). In fact, Irons (2002) has noted that “the efforts by whites to prevent the slaves from learning caused the black slaves to seek education even more”.
“The first decade of the 19th century saw all states in the south pass laws providing for the eventual cessation of slavery” (Love, 2004). The practice continued in the southern states, however. A law was also passed in 1830 in Louisiana that outlawed access to any form of literature that might insight African Americans against the continuing oppression and which might make them rebellious. “Violations of these laws resulted in heavy punishments including being sentenced to jail, hard labor or even death sentences” (Murray, 1953). But it was also realized by the whites that in order to drive production, some form of education for the African Americans was desirable. “This in effect set in motion a series of un-intentioned events that presented some opportunities for the African Americans in the educational arena” (Murray, 1953). Irons (2002) illustrates that “to enhance production efficiency the whites had to hire farm laborers who were not only strong but also intelligent.” This is perhaps best illustrated by Bullock (1967) who asserts that;
‘The inclination of certain owners to respond to the sheer challenge offered by a slave’s brightness of mind and gift of talents gave added impetus to the invasion of the plantation society by sentimentalism. Many masters placed such slaves under the tutelage of master craftsmen’ (p.6)
The Lincoln victory in the presidential elections was not welcome by the Southern States who resented this victory. The displeasure with Lincoln’s victory was demonstrated by the declaration of independence from the Union by the Southern States led by California. This event marked the beginning of a physical confrontation between the Union and the confederates. This points to the fact that the events leading to the Civil War were not marked by a single occurrence but comprised of factors that ran over long periods. This was a major contributing factor in the secession in that the Southern States were jittery of Lincoln’s leadership and feared that there was an oncoming possibility of an end to slavery. In February 1861, just before constituting the convention to solidify the existence of confederacy, six other states had been part of California’s move and had declared their independence from the Union.
According to Eyewitness History (2006), “The majority of the Southern leaders who attended the convention expected a peaceful secession; they did not anticipate that their action would lead to bloody conflict; they were wrong in that Fort Sumter, lying in the harbor off the city of Charleston, South Carolina, would prove the point”. The declaration of their independence become the pinnacle of the Civil War in that Lincoln’s attempt to send relief and supplies to Fort Sumter was turned down by the Governor of California. These led to a fiery of activities that signaled the beginning of a Civil War that is characterized by the application of all manner of artillery. In essence, the American Civil War of 1861- 1865 has been described as the first industrial war of its kind.
According to the available literature on the vents leading to Civil War, “After she seceded from the Union, South Carolina perceived herself as a sovereign state – the presence of Union forces in an armed fortress whose guns commanded her principal harbor was intolerable as it belied her independence” (Eyewitness History, 2006). Issues in the handling of the Fort Sumter crisis were complicated in that “For President Lincoln, the voluntary abandonment of this fortress was equally intolerable as it would be a tacit acknowledgment of South Carolina’s independent status” (Eyewitness History, 2006).
In addition to the above, the exact date leading to the Civil War cannot be ascertained. This is because the events and factors that significantly contributed to the physical confrontation at Fort Sumter were spread over a long period of time. Furthermore, sectionalism has been pointed out as a critical factor that contributed to the Civil War. “Sectionalism refers to the different economies, social structure, customs and political values of the North and South” (Eyewitness History, 2006). The period between 1800 and 1860 was characterized by the increase in sectionalism between the North and the South in that the North was able to develop its industries, farms, and urban settings as opposed to the South that relied on slave labor to support their farms. The differences between these two regions were reflected deep in the cultural and social aspects of the society. These projected the two regions as opposing and competing sides leading to the aggressive nature of the Southern States. In conclusion to sectionalism as a contributing factor to the Civil War, Irons (2002) reinforces this point in stating that
“Southern concerns included not an only economic loss but also fears of racial equality; The Texas Declaration of Causes for Secession said that the non-slave-holding states were proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color and that the African race “were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race”
In conclusion, the first shot to the Civil War was fired from a ten-inch motor by Captain James on 12th, April 1861. This was an event that marked the beginning of a physical confrontation between the South and the North.
The massive loss of lives on both sides of the Unionists and the Confederates by the end of the war in 1865 was numbered at more than one million combat soldiers and civilians with the victory falling in the hands of the unionists. This historical event remains permanently entrenched in the lives of the Americans and has for decades shaped the political and social aspects of American society. The social fabric that draws the culturally diverse American people together is from the history shared and challenges faced together with the Civil War remaining one of the most pivotal.
- Bullock, H. A. (1938). Inter-relation of educational agencies for Negroes in Texas. Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Conference at Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College. Prairie View College: Prairie View, TX
- Eyewitness History (2006). The First Shot of the Civil War; The Surrender of Fort Sumter, 1861. Web.
- Irons, P. (2002). Jim Crow’s children: The broken promise of the Brown decision. Viking: New York:
- Love, B. J. (2004). Brown plus 50 counter-storytelling: A critical race theory analysis of the “majoritarian achievement gap” story. Equity and Excellence in Education, 37, 227-246.
- Murray, P. (1953). The historical development of race laws in the United States. The Journal of Negro Education, 22(1), 4-15.