Early War

"On to Richmond!" Bay State Press, c. 1861

The Civil War started in the early morning hours of April 12, 1861 when Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Two days later, the fort fell, prompting Lincoln to call for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the southern rebellion and save the Union. Unlike many others in both the North and the South, Lincoln did not expect the war to be over in a few months but he did believe that a majority of loyal Unionists in the South would rise up against rebel extremists and restore their states to the Union — a hope he clung to for many months.

Lincoln’s naivety soon met the harsh realities of war. On April 25, both he and Mary lost a close personal friend, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, to rebel gunfire. More serious issues quickly followed. On April 27, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in Maryland, prompting many people in both the North and South to label him a tyrant. Fellow Republicans found fault with Lincoln’s lack of a policy dealing with thousands of slaves escaping to freedom behind Union army lines, and they urged him to make the ending of slavery a chief war aim. After Union forces suffered a shocking defeat on July 21 at the Battle of Bull Run, northern morale plummeted and many people began to seriously question Lincoln’s leadership abilities.