Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, continued to fly the United States flag, even as Confederate forces surrounded it. Lincoln decided to send provisions but no additional troops or ordnance to the fort unless resistance was met. Unwilling to tolerate a U.S. garrison in Southern territory, Confederates began shelling the fort in the pre-dawn hours of April 12, 1861, and Union guns responded. The Civil War had begun.
As the spring and summer of 1861 wore on, hundreds of thousands of white men, most of them ill-trained and unprepared for war, poured into the armed forces of both sides. Anticipating a day when their services would be accepted, African American men in the North formed military training companies, while women on both sides labored on the home front after their men left for war. Most Americans assumed the war would be over by Christmas, but the bloody battle at Manassas, Virginia, and the Union naval blockade of the Confederate coastline suggested otherwise. As the conflict extended into 1862, the North and South readied their armies for a longer fight.
Fort Sumter Falls
On April 12, 1861, the first salvos of the American Civil War were fired with the bombardment of the U.S. garrison at Fort Sumter, located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. It stood as one of the last Federal outposts in the region. Three months earlier On January 28, 1861, George T. Perry submitted this map for copyright. The map carries the following description of the newly completed fort: “Fort Sumter is built in the water, one thousand yards from the land . . . It is just finished and is one of the strongest works in the world; mounted with thirty-two-pound cannon and one hundred rounds of ammunition per gun, . . . two men at one of these could defend it against five hundred.” Alma Pelot made the first photograph of the Confederate flag flying over the fort.
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George T. Perry. Part of Charleston Harbor, Embracing Forts Moultrie, Sumter, Johnson, and Castle Pinckney, also Sullivan, James & Morris Islands. . . . Philadelphia: P.S. Duval & Son, ca. 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (015.00.00) [Digital ID# cw0374000]
Alma Pelot, photographer. Confederate flag Flying [Interior view of Fort Sumter after the evacuation of Major Anderson], April 16, 1861. Albumen silver print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (016.00.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-ppmsca-32284]
And the War Came…
After months of negotiations broke down over the fate of the U.S. garrison at Fort Sumter, surrounded by Confederate-held Charleston, South Carolina, Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant (P.G.T.) Beauregard (1818–1893) offered Union Major Robert Anderson a final chance to surrender the fort. Anderson refused and inquired if Beauregard, his former student at West Point, would fire on the fort without warning. With a note written at 3:20 a.m., Beauregard alerted Anderson that he would commence firing in one hour.
To Secede or Not to Secede
Although some Americans quickly decided whether to join the Confederacy or side with the Union, others agonized over the decision—weighing the relative strength of their family ties, past loyalties, devotion to the cause, and hopes for the future. Robert E. Lee remained with the country his family helped found and in whose military he served, until Virginia seceded in April 1861. In this letter Lee explains to his young cousin that the bond to Virginia trumps all others.
Call to Arms
The Union and Confederate volunteers of 1861 were woefully ill-prepared for the coming conflict. The vast majority of enlistees had no military background or training. Few imagined the ultimate length of the war or the amount of death and destruction it would generate. This poster propagates the opening recruitment drive of the 4th New Hampshire Infantry, which would go on to distinguish itself in a number of engagements, including the battles of Fair Oaks, Cold Harbor, and the 1863 operations near the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.
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Fourth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers. . . . Concord, New Hampshire: Fogg, Hadley & Co., 1861. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (018.00.00) [Digital ID# cw0018]
Unatrributed. [Unidentified young soldier in 5th New Hampshire Infantry uniform.] Sixth-plate ambrotype, between 1861–1865. Promised gift of the Liljenquist Family, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (019.00.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-ppmsca-31304]
The Eagle and the Harp
Spurred in part by the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s, the United States experienced a massive wave of immigration from Ireland in the decades preceding the Civil War. The great majority of first generation Irish-Americans settled in the Northern states, especially in the urban centers of New York City and Boston. In an attempt to increase recruitment, Union officials quickly recognized the value of emphasizing ethnic heritage in the formation of its regiments. Enlistment posters often pictured the symbols of the eagle (representing the United States) and the harp (representing Ireland) to draw a connection between the new and old countries. Irish units such as Meagher’s Irish Brigade, which included the 69th New York State Regiment (popularly known as the “Fighting 69th”) served with great distinction during the war. It is believed that about 150,000 Irish-Americans served in the Union Army.
An Armchair Tactician
George Douglas Brewerton was a West Point graduate whose many adventures included accompanying Kit Carson in the 1848 expedition to New Mexico Territory. Realizing early in the Civil War that most members of the infantry had no training in military tactics, he devised the Automaton Regiment, an instructional kit intended to educate the user in planning troop movements. Brigadier General Rufus Saxton, awarded the Medal of Honor for his 1862 defense of Harpers Ferry, was sufficiently impressed with Brewerton’s creation. He believed “its invention will prove a useful and valuable assistant to every student of military tactics. I take pleasure in recommending it accordingly.”
Tedium of Camp Life
Army camps were designed in a grid pattern, with officers quartered at the front of each street and enlistees consigned to the rear. The camp would often approximate the location of each unit in a line of battle. When not engaged in combat, a soldier’s daily activities commenced with reveille at 5 a.m. (6 a.m. in the winter). The monotony of a typical day in camp was described by one soldier as follows: “The first thing in the morning is drill. Then drill, then drill again. Then drill, drill, and a little more drill. Then drill, and lastly drill.”
Defense of Hearth and Home
The majority of enlistees in the Confederate Army were young men from poor rural areas who neither owned slaves nor had a vested interest in seeing that slavery was perpetuated. A key motivating factor for these individuals to join the Southern cause was grounded in fears of a Northern invasion of their homeland. Confederate recruitment posters from 1861 contained dire warnings of Yankee confiscation of property and the violation of Southern families. Anxiety was especially acute in border states such as Virginia and Tennessee.
60th Tennessee Infantryman
Photographic portraiture flourished during the Civil War. Ambrotype and tintype photographs were not only affordable, but a finished portrait could be produced in a matter of minutes. Some soldiers visited photographic studios before they went off to war, leaving their portrait at home with loved ones. Union forces captured Confederate soldier James Bishop White on May 17, 1863. He spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner at Point Lookout, Maryland.
Unattributed. Sergeant James Bishop White of Company B, 60th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. Sixth-plate ambrotype, between 1861 and 1865. Promised gift of the Liljenquist Family, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (023.00.00)
[Digital ID# LC-DIG-ppmsca-32092]
Identifying Union and Confederate Supporters
During the summer of 1861, both Union and Confederate forces continued to mobilize. Fairfax County, Virginia, located just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., was home to growing Confederate forces and sympathizers. Union troops who were charged with defending unfamiliar territory, in this case a volunteer regiment from New York, relied on local inhabitants in Fairfax County for information and supplies. As seen on this manuscript map by F. F. Mead, the names of landowners in Fairfax County are followed by either an “S” or “U,” likely referring to the “Secessionist” or “Unionist” sympathies of the landowner.
F. F. Mead, Lt. Co. I, 16th New York Volunteers. [Map of part of Fairfax County, Virginia, south of the city of Alexandria and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad], August 30, 1861. Colored manuscript map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (214.00.00)
[Digital ID# cw0536400]
The Anaconda Plan
This 1861 cartoon propaganda map published in Cincinnati and the patriotic envelope below depict Union general-in-chief Winfield Scott’s (1786–1866) plan to crush the South both economically and militarily. Scott’s plan called for a strong blockade of the Southern ports and a major offensive down the Mississippi River to divide the Confederacy and cut off supplies and assistance to its heartland. The press ridiculed Scott’s strategy as the “Anaconda Plan,” after the snake that kills by constriction, but it had its supporters as the anti-Confederacy envelope illustrates. This general strategy contributed greatly to the eventual Northern victory.
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“When I wish to catch rats, I first stop their holes—Gen’l Scott.” Wood engraving on gold wove paper envelope, ca. 1861. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (026.00.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-ppmsca-33123]
Union general Benjamin Butler was in charge of Fortress Monroe, which sits on an island in the Hampton Roads area of the Chesapeake Bay, when runaway slaves Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory, and James Townsend escaped to his fort. By declaring these men and other escaped slaves “contraband of war,” and thus to remain within Union lines, Butler effectively wiped the Fugitive Slave Act off the legal slate in the Confederacy and opened the door for thousands of African Americans to find their way to freedom before the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Told to turn away those unable to work, Butler stated: “If I take the able-bodied only, the young must die. If I take the mother, must I not take the child?”
“Stampede among the Negroes in Virginia—Their Arrival at Fortress Monroe from Sketches by Our Special Artist in Fortress Monroe,” in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, June 8, 1861. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (028.00.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-ppmsca-33130]
Contraband of War
After accepting three fugitive slaves into Union lines at Fortress Monroe, General Butler wrote to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott for approval of his action, noting that if the Confederates used slave labor to aid their war effort, should “we not be allowed its use in aid of the United States?” Scott and Secretary of War Simon Cameron agreed with Butler. Cameron wrote to Butler, approving the use of “contraband” labor. In May 1861, the Civil War was still a war of “confiscation,” not “emancipation.”
Brother against Brother
Percival Drayton was denounced by the legislature of his native South Carolina when he chose to fight for the Union during the Civil War. In command of the U.S.S. Pocahontas, Drayton participated in the successful 1861 expedition against Port Royal, South Carolina, during which the defending troops—under the command of his brother, Brigadier General Thomas Drayton—were forced to withdraw inland. General Drayton himself left behind a house and slaves pictured here. They were among some 10,000 slaves that were left in Union custody as a result of the Port Royal operation.
Henry P. Moore, photographer (1833–1911). Slaves of the Rebel Genl. Thomas F. Drayton, Hilton Head, S.C., [May 1862]. Albumen silver photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (034.00.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-ppmsca-04324]
War Changes Everything
If Confederates left the United States to protect their way of life, including the institution of slavery, events during the war caused some white Southerners to doubt even as early as 1861 that independence would ensure its preservation. The proprietor of Greenwood Plantation in South Carolina noted in his journal that the Union presence at Port Royal had so disrupted slavery there, that he feared further conflict would permanently cripple the institution, regardless of the outcome of the war.
As tensions escalated between the North and South during the 1850s, stationers began to issue envelopes for sale containing patriotic illustrations and verses. Flag motifs were especially popular. As most of the printers of the envelopes were located in the North, the majority of the output favored the Union cause. However, printers in border states such as Maryland produced envelopes to appeal to both Northern and Southern audiences. The popularity of illustrated envelopes waned about 1863 as they became too expensive to produce in a time of war.
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Battle of Springfield
Europeans following the events of the American Civil War especially noted the formation of regiments comprising their countrymen. An estimated 1.3 million Germans alone lived in the North and the South during the Civil War and up to 216,000 served under the Union, while 18,000 wore Confederate gray. The firm of Oehmigke & Riemschneider based in Neuruppin, Germany, produced popular prints of Civil War battles. This image depicts the death of Union General Nathaniel Lyon at the Battle of Springfield (Wilson’s Creek) in Missouri, on August 10, 1861. Lyon's command included several regiments of German volunteers and the battle was important news in Neuruppin.
“A People's Contest”
On April 15, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called Congress into special session that would last thirty-four days because he needed its cooperation in prosecuting the war, including an appropriation of $400 million and 400,000 men. On the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln explained to Congress, and by extension the nation, that civil war threatened the experiment in democracy created by the nation’s founders. In Lincoln’s view the present conflict was ultimately “a people’s contest,” testing whether or not a government based on the consent of the governed could survive domestic discord.
George B. McClellan
The victory of troops under General George B. McClellan (1826–1885) at the Battle of Rich Mountain, West Virginia, on July 11, 1861, just ten days before the Union disaster at First Bull Run, made McClellan the logical candidate to replace the disgraced General Irvin McDowell (1818–1885). McClellan’s credentials as a war leader seemed impeccable, and he proved an excellent organizer and administrator. However, to the dismay of almost the entire nation, the “Little Napoleon,” as he was popularly known, demonstrated little fighting spirit.
First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas)
As Union and Confederate troops met for the first great land battle of the war, confusion was the only constant. Lack of standardized uniforms made it difficult to tell friend from foe. Troops on both sides were untested in battle. Even the name of the battle set a precedent for confusion. Often Confederates named battles after nearby villages or railroad junctions (Manassas), while Federals named them after bodies of water (Bull Run). This engagement also underscored the strategic importance of interior railroad lines, which in this battle helped determine a C.S.A. victory. Lincoln’s secretary, John G. Nicolay, wrote a letter to his fiancé throughout the day on July 21, noting conflicting reports arriving on the telegraph wires and general confusion surrounding the engagement that culminated in a Union loss.
In February 1862, as a combined army-navy offensive by Union forces threatened Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, its Confederate defenders escaped to nearby Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. Maps reflected Donelson’s well-defended position on high ground, but not its ineffective Confederate leadership. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) exploited a weakness in the lines following a Confederate attack, allowing Union troops to close in on the fort. When asked for terms by Grant’s old friend Simon Bolivar Buckner, the officer left in command after the original commander had escaped, Grant replied, “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender.”
Cause and Comrade
Over the course of the war, men joined the military for a variety of motives, including adventure, duty, steady pay, draft notices, peers pressuring friends to enlist, and to protect slavery or abolish it. Many men also joined for a cause, whether it be to save the union or secure southern independence. Alonzo Ameli with 5th New York Infantry Regiment, also known as “Duryea’s Zouaves,” was one of many Northerners whose letters home expressed his great patriotism in fighting for liberty and union.
Grant's Grand March
Many Civil War songs celebrated military heroes. While few had lyrics or any real connection to their subject other than a dedication and a cover portrait, the use of a famous name in the title boosted sales. After leading troops to a victory at Fort Donelson, Grant was widely celebrated by a Northern public eager for Union progress. “General Grant’s Grand March” was one of several marches and quick steps named after popular generals written by the inexhaustible composer Edward Mack.
Women on both sides could be suspected of engaging in treasonous activities, including communicating important information across the lines or actively spying for the enemy. This was especially true in border regions like Washington, D.C., the residence of both the United States Federal government and a large population of Southern sympathizers. Several Washington area women suspected of disloyal behavior were arrested, imprisoned, or in the case of Eugenia Levy Phillips even exiled to the Confederacy. A fiery and outspoken Confederate sympathizer, Phillips often found herself at odds with Union officials. In this journal page, Phillips describes the indignities of her confinement after her arrest by Federal officers in Washington, along with two daughters and her sister Martha, on August 23, 1861.
Merrimack & Monitor
This fanciful rendering of the historical battle between the two ironclads, the C.S.S. Virginia built from the remains of the U.S.S. Merrimack, and the U.S.S. Monitor during the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, captures the emergence of ironclad steamships as the defining element in a new chapter in naval warfare. The crew of the Virginia, wreaked havoc on several wooden Union vessels on March 8. The duel between the two ironclads on March 9, however, was essentially a draw as neither ship could inflict serious damage on the other. The Battle of Hampton Roads demonstrated the superiority of iron ships and helped end the era of wooden military vessels.
"The Time Has Now Come"
Barely seventeen but already in college when the war began, James B. Mitchell was receiving military training at the University of Alabama—even as he wrote this eloquent letter urging his father to allow him to serve in the Confederate army. Elected lieutenant of Company B of the 34th Alabama Infantry, Mitchell continued to write vivid accounts of camp life, battle, and his experiences as a prisoner of war (1864–1865), a period he found “extremely irksome.”
Battlefield at Shiloh
When General Albert Sidney Johnston was wounded in the leg and quickly bled to death during the Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing) on April 6–7, 1862, his command of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi was assumed by General P. G. T. Beauregard. This delicately drawn manuscript map endorsed by Beauregard, shows the location of the critical battlefield site known as the “Hornet’s Nest,” Confederate and Union troop positions, Confederate headquarters, tents of Federal camps, and the position of gun boats along the Tennessee River.
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Captain Léon J. Frémaux. “Map of the Battle Field of Shiloh, April 6 & 7, 1862.” Manuscript map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (044.00.00) [Digital ID# cw0435300]
Charles Grobe. “The Battle of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing.” Boston: Oliver Ditson & Co., deposited for copyright 1862. Music Division, Library of Congress (045.00.00) [Digital ID# cw0045]
Women at War
It has been estimated that some 400 women concealed their identities and donned uniforms, serving as soldiers on both sides of the conflict during the Civil War. In addition to the usual cursory medical examinations and ill-fitting uniforms, Frances Clayton’s slim build and angular features made it possible for her to pass as a man and accompany her husband to the front. They fought together until his death at the Battle of Murfreesboro (Stones River), December 31, 1862 to January 2, 1863. After she left the army, Clayton’s story appeared in several newspapers.
Samuel Masury, photographer. [Frances Louisa Clayton and as “Jack Williams” 4th Missouri Artillery, wounded in the battles of Fort Donelson and Stones River], ca. 1865. Albumen silver prints. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (046.00.00)
[Digital ID# LC-DIG-ppmsca-30980, LC-DIG-ppmsca-30978]
"Extra Session of Congress Map"
On April 15, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for the initial raising of 75,000 militia to begin preparations for the upcoming armed conflict between the Union and Confederate armies. In the same proclamation, Lincoln called for an extra session of Congress to begin on July 4, 1861, to argue for the raising of troops and appropriation of funds to prosecute the war. In the summer of 1861, commercial publishers like Charles Magnus updated existing maps with new phrases such as “Extra Session of Congress Map” to make their maps appear more relevant to the shifting headlines.
Charles Magnus. Magnus’s County Map of the United States, Showing the Forts, Railroads, Canals, and Navigable Waters. Published to Trace the Progress of Operations by the Government, As They Occur, during the War of the Rebellion. New York: [ca. 1862]. Color printed map. Geography and Map Division">Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (024.01.00) [Digital ID# cw0030200]