to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
disagreement between the North and the South finally burst into civil war in
April of eighteen sixty-one. Seven states in the South had withdrawn from the
Union. Soldiers of the new Confederate States of America shelled the Union base
at Fort Sumter, built on an island in Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. They
captured Fort Sumter after two days.
Lincoln asked the states of the Union for seventy-five thousand soldiers to
help end the southern rebellion. Northern states quickly sent forces to
Washington. But border states -- those between the North and the South --
refused to send any. Some prepared to leave the Union and join the Confederacy.
This week in our
series, Steve Ember and Shirley Griffith describe the first days of the
American Civil War.
The first state to
secede after the start of the Civil War was Virginia. It was an important state
because of its location. It was just across the Potomac River from Washington.
to secede cost the Union a military commander of great ability. He was Robert
E. Lee. Lee was a Virginian and had served in the United States Army for more
than thirty years. Lincoln asked him to be head of the army when General
Winfield Scott retired.
Lee said he could
not accept the job. He said he opposed secession and loved the Union. But, he
said, he could not make war on his home state. Lee resigned from the army. He
did not really want to fight at all. But soon after his resignation, he agreed
to command the forces of Virginia.
moved quickly after the state seceded. A group of one thousand soldiers went to
Harpers Ferry, Virginia, where the Union army had a gun factory and arsenal. It
was the same town where abolitionist John Brown had tried to start a slave
rebellion a few years before.
The United States
force at Harpers Ferry was small. The soldiers could not defend the town
against the Virginians, so they left. Before marching away, the soldiers set
fire to the gun factory and arsenal.
The fire did not
destroy all the equipment at the gun factory. When the Virginians captured the
town, they sent the equipment south, where it was used to make guns for
also moved against the United States' biggest navy base, which was at Norfolk,
Virginia. Once again, the Union force withdrew. Before leaving, it burned every
building and sank every ship.
was becoming increasingly worried about Virginia's military moves. He was
afraid Confederate forces in Virginia might try to capture Washington in the
first days of the war. After all, the Confederate secretary of war had declared
that the Confederate flag would fly over the Capitol building before the first
Washington was not
strongly defended. It did not have enough soldiers to stop any real attempt by
Confederate forces to seize the city. It was extremely important to get more
soldiers to Washington as quickly as possible.
Thousands of men
were on their way to Washington. But they could not get there quickly.
Troop trains had to
pass through the state of Maryland to get to Washington from the North. Many
people in the state supported the Confederacy. The governor, however, did not.
He refused to call a meeting of the state legislature. He was afraid it might
vote to secede. He wanted to keep Maryland neutral.
The first troop
train from the North passed through Baltimore, Maryland, without incident. The
second train was not so lucky.
A mob blocked the
rail line and threw stones at the train. Shots were fired. Four soldiers and
twelve civilians were killed.
State and city
officials met to discuss the trouble. They agreed that there would be even more
violence in the future. So they ordered railroad bridges outside Baltimore destroyed.
No more trains from the North could reach Washington that way.
told the officials of the great need to get more soldiers to the capital. He
agreed that they did not have to pass through Baltimore. But he wanted them to
be able to land safely at Annapolis, a city on the Chesapeake Bay.
Annapolis would be easy. Getting to the capital would not. Supporters of the
Confederacy had damaged trains, rail lines and bridges between the two cities.
The first soldiers to land at Annapolis had to repair everything as they moved
Still, with all
these difficulties, ten-thousand troops made it to Washington in the first few
weeks of the Civil War. The city and government were safe.
worried about the presence of Confederate supporters in Maryland. He knew they
would continue to be a threat to the movement of Union troops and supplies.
Lincoln wanted to
restrict the activities of the Confederate supporters. So he took an extremely
unusual step for an American president. He put much of Maryland under military
rule. He gave military officers the power to arrest civilians believed to be
hostile to the Union. And he gave them the power to hold these suspects without
suspended two of the basic rights under the Constitution. One was the right to
go free until officially charged. And the other was the right to a speedy
The chief justice
of the United States wrote a letter to President Lincoln. He said the
Constitution did not give the president the power to suspend the rights of
citizens. Lincoln disagreed. He felt the situation facing the Union permitted
him to take such strong measures. If he had not acted, he believed, Maryland
would have seceded.
Maryland did not
withdraw. But North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas did. There were now
eleven states in the Confederacy. There could be two more. No one knew how long
Kentucky and Missouri would remain in the Union. Both supported the southern
treated Kentucky carefully. He did not want the state to secede. Nor did he
want it to remain neutral. Kentucky reached from the mountains of Virginia to
the Mississippi River. As a neutral state, Kentucky could block northern troops
from much of the South. Lincoln wanted it firmly on the side of the Union.
The president did
not use force in Kentucky, as he had done in Maryland. Instead, he sent people
to Kentucky to organize support for the Union. Newspapers were urged to publish
pro-union statements. Home guard forces were formed. They received their
weapons and supplies from Lincoln's administration.
Lincoln hoped that,
in time, these efforts would win Kentucky's support for his war effort.
In Missouri, the
governor tried hard to take the state out of the Union. He called a convention
to decide the question. A majority of the delegates refused to vote for
organized state soldiers. The Lincoln administration organized home guard
forces. The two sides clashed several times. Some civilians were killed.
The United States
army finally seized government buildings in the state capital. They forced
state officials, including the governor, to flee. Missouri would remain in the
The capital of the
Confederate states of America was located far south in Montgomery, Alabama.
Within the first few weeks of the Civil War, the Confederate Congress voted to
move the capital farther north to Richmond, Virginia. They believed Virginia
would be an important battlefield in the war. They were right.
Two days before
Confederate President Jefferson Davis left for Richmond, Union troops invaded
Virginia. They left Washington, crossed the Potomac River, and seized the towns
of Arlington and Alexandria.
No shots were
fired. Confederate forces withdrew as Union troops moved forward. Within a
month, thousands more Union soldiers were in Virginia. They were to prepare for
a major battle at a place called Manassas Junction, or Bull Run.
That will be our
story next week.
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Steve
Ember and Shirley Griffith. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts are online, along
with historical images, at voaspecialenglish.com. You can also follow our
programs at twitter.com/voalearnenglish. Join us again next week for THE MAKING
OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.