Friday, April 20, 2012

A View of the Attack on Fort Sumter

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This document is an excerpt from Mary Boykin Chesnut’s diary. She was the daughter of Mary Boykin and Stephen Miller, who was one of South Carolina’s chief political figures. She married James B. Chesnut, Jr., whose father was one of the state’s major landowners. After James’ election in 1858, Mary swiftly launched herself into the social crowd of other southern politician’s wives. At the time, the Union had first aimed for secession in South Carolina, where Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor remained under Union control. South Carolina was focused on confiscating federal property and therefore declared their refusal to let the Union control the fort. On April 4th, President Lincoln decided to hold Union property in the South and ordered that Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens in Florida be reequipped. In response, South Carolina and the Confederate government decided to resist this decision. In 1860, the Chesnuts had left the nation’s capital to return to South Carolina. There, James played a chief role in the state’s succession. This excerpt from Chesnut’s diary offers a skillful description of Charleston just before and during the attack of Fort Sumter.

The excerpt starts off with a date of April 1th. It describes the night before being one of the “merriest and maddest” dinner parties yet. It continues that Anderson did not surrender by four and therefore fire was opened. It also states that Colonial Chesnut was ordered to open fire on one side of the fort if Anderson was persistent. She describes springing out of her bed. She then hurried downstairs with the crowd of people rushing about. She also explains that her husband was rowing on the dark bay, at this point, amongst the firing. Everyone was also wondering why Fort Sumter had not fired a shot. The next entry in the document is from the following day. She writes that no one was hurt after all and that Fort Sumter had been on fire. Anderson had also not yet silenced any guns. She describes the firing making it impossible to have regular meals and that some of the people were so anxious and miserable they did not leave their bed. Most of the women had much faith, and she quotes them saying that “God is on our side… oh course, he hates the Yankees…” On the other hand, she describes the black servants not even acting as if anything was going on. She questions whether they are “solidly stupid or wiser than they are; silent and strong, biding their time?” Some of her further diary entries go on to explain that the slaves were a large force and that white southerners feared they would join on the side of the North. She writes of the great anxiety over a Union attack that resulted in blacks being lined up and coldly shot by their masters. She repetitively continued to write her entries on the many injustices against blacks as a result of the fear of war.

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