Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Past Is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past


Matmos "Regicide" from The Civil War (2003, Matador).

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, which started the Civil War. More about that after the jump....

Early in 1861, the Confederacy of southern states had formed, following South Carolina's lead – but the US military still occupied Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The secessionists could not claim sovereignty until the Union troops were expelled from this key southern port. Leading up to the battle, the exchange of letters between Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and Major Robert Anderson (commander of Fort Sumter) are a study in grave civility. Here's one, toward the beginning of the negotiation:

Charleston, S. C., April 11, 1861.

SIR: The Government of the Confederate States has hitherto forborne from any hostile demonstration against Fort Sumter, in the hope that the Government of the United States, with a view to the amicable adjustment of all questions between the two Government, and to avert the calamities of war, would voluntarily evacuate it. There was reason at one time to believe that such would be the course pursued by the Government of the United States, and under that impression my Government has refrained from making any demand for the surrender of the fort.

But the Confederate States can no longer delay assuming actual possession of a fortification commanding the entrance of one of their harbors, and necessary to its defense and security.

I am ordered by the Government of the Confederate States to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter. My aides, Colonel Chesnut and Captain Lee, are authorized to make such demand of you. All proper facilities will be afforded for the removal of yourself and command, together with company arms and property and all private property, to any post in the United States which you may select. The flag which you have upheld so long as with so much fortitude, under the most trying circumstances, may be saluted by you on taking it down.

Colonel Chesnut and Captain Lee will, for a reasonable time, await your answer.

I am, sir, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.


Major ROBERT ANDERSON, Commanding at Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, S. C.
FORT SUMTER, S. C., April 11, 1861.

GENERAL: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication demanding the evacuation of this fort, and to say, in reply thereto, that it is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligations to my Government, prevent my compliance.

Thanking you for the fair, manly, and courteous terms proposed, and for the high compliment paid me,
I am, General, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
Major, First Artillery, Commanding.
And so it went.

Top photo: the flag at Fort Sumter. Above: General Beauregard (left) and Major Anderson.

Click below to listen to this week's episode of Studio 360, which discusses several aspects of the Civil War in the United States' collective consciousness.

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