The Awakened Giant

The news from Fort Sumter spread throughout the country, and its coming awakened a restless energy in the North. That energy ignited patriotism and a new sense of collectivism throughout northern cities and states that would lead to a then-unparalleled war effort directed against the Confederacy.

In Boston, a man named George Ticknor observed that there was never such widespread, intelligent, and unanimous excitement, even during the War of 1812 or the Revolution.[i] Public meetings were held throughout the city, and men, women, and children roamed the streets “with Union favors and flags.”[ii]

One man in Philadelphia wrote:

“. . . The assault upon Fort Sumter started us all to our feet, as one man; all political division ceased among us from that very moment. Private relations with the South have been put aside, no doubt with great regret. There is among us but one thought, one object, one end, one symbol,—the Stars and Stripes.”[iii]

The 44th Indiana Infantry.

The news did not breed only optimism, however. Some Americans realized the tragedy yet to come. On an Indiana farm, a man named William Cory informed a boy and his father of the violence: “Jonathan the Rebs have fired upon and taken Fort Sumpter.”[iv] The boy’s father turned white and did not speak, and Cory continued: “The President will soon fix them. He has called for 75,000 men and is going to blocade [sic] their ports, and just as soon as those fellows find out that the North means business they will get down off their high horse.”[v] The boy and his father went into the house to get dinner, and the father went upstairs ignoring the boy’s mother asking what was troubling him.[vi] She followed him upstairs where they stayed for a period of time, and when both came downstairs, the father “looked ten years older.”[vii] As she burst into tears, the mother exclaimed, “Oh to think that I should have lived to see the day when Brother should rise against Brother.”[viii]

A woman in New York, Jane Stuart Woolsey, wrote to a friend in Paris:

Jane Stuart Woolsey.

“I suppose it is because so much intense emotion has been crowded into the last two or three weeks, that the ‘time before Sumter’ seems to belong to some dim antiquity. It seems as if we never were alive till now; never had a country till now. How could we ever have laughed at Fourth-of-Julys? Outside the parlor windows the city is gay and brilliant with excited crowds, the incessant movement and music of marching regiments and all the thousands of flags, big and little, which suddenly came fluttering out of every window and door and leaped from every church tower, house-top, staff and ship-mast. . . . A friend asked an Ohio man the other day how the West was taking it. ‘The West?’ he said, ‘the West is all one great Eagle-scream!'”[ix]

President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation on April 15, 1861 calling for 75,000 militiamen to be brought into national service to address the insurrection, which was “too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.”[x] Senators and congressmen visited the White House anxious to assure Lincoln of their “loyalty and support.”[xi] Lincoln’s former rival in 1858 and the Election of 1860, Stephen Douglas, traveled to Chicago where he told a crowd gathered: “There are only two sides to the question. Every man must be for the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in the war, only patriotsor traitors.”[xii] One month later, Douglas died as one of the most ardent Democrats and Unionists in the country.

New York’s Seventh Regiment in 1861. Courtesy: Library of Congress.

Lincoln’s call for troops set out a quota for each state, and shortly after receiving the proclamation, the governors began contacting the War Department with unexpected news.[xiii] The governor of Indiana, called on to provide six regiments, offered to provide 12 regiments.[xiv] Ohio’s governor faced a 13-regiment requirement, and he contacted Washington stating “without seriously repressing the ardor of the people, I can hardly stop short of twenty.”[xv] From each northern state, regiment upon regiment set out for Washington, prepared for the coming bloodshed.

The Confederacy, which had existed for over two months by the time of the firing on Fort Sumter, boldly challenged the North to respond to its provocation. The response, through Lincoln’s proclamation, may have initially seemed modest, but the hundreds of thousands of men gathering throughout the North must have felt empowered by the support of their compatriots. Ultimately, the North’s awakening ensured a forceful response to the growing insurrection; one that would lead to thousands upon thousands of casualties.

[i] Henry Steele Commager, The Blue and the Gray, Vol. 1, 40-41.

[ii] Id. at 41.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id. at 39.

[v] Id.

[vi] See id.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Id. at 40.

[ix] Id. at 44.

[x] See James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, 274 citing Jacob D. Cox, “War Preparations in the North,” in Battles and Leaders, I, 86.

[xi] Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative, 50.

[xii] James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, 274-75 citing Robert W. Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas (New York, 1973), 868.

[xiii] See James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, 275.

[xiv] Id.

[xv] Id.

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