This Day in History: April 12, 1861

Ebony Edwards-Ellis
2 min readApr 12, 2021

One hundred and sixty years ago today, the first battle of the American Civil War began.

Bombardment of Fort Sumter in 1861

One hundred and sixty years ago today, members of the South Carolina militia attacked Fort Sumter, a sea fort situated in Charleston harbor. In December of the previous year, South Carolina had become the first state to secede from the United States. After six more states followed suit, the nascent Confederacy began seizing federal property in its respective states. The militia, which served in lieu of the not-yet-comprised Confederate army, attacked the fort after the commander of Fort Sumter, Major Robert Anderson, refused to evacuate his troops from the harbor.

The bombardment began at 4:30 am on April 12. By two-thirty pm the next day, the first battle of the American Civil War ended with the exhausted Union soldiers surrendering to the Confederates.

The newly sworn President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, immediately called for seventy-five thousand volunteers to help squash the rebellion. Shortly thereafter, four more Southern states seceded from the Union. The Civil War began in earnest. By the time General Robert E. Lee officially surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House four years later, approximately 620,000 soldiers lay dead. The South lay in ruins.

Could another American Civil War happen? Possibly. Although the Supreme Court decisively ruled that succession was unconstitutional, the illegality of secession won’t stop another group of insurrectionists from forcing the issue at the barrel of a gun, especially if they are convinced that their efforts will be successful. Extremist militias, “sovereign citizens,” Neo-Confederates who still want to secede from the United States, and legislators clinging to the fiction of “states’ rights” are still inclined to resist the authority of a centralized government. Guns are much deadlier now than they were in the mid-nineteenth century and, due to the size of the US’s standing military, more Americans than ever have had formal military training. Anti-black racism and white supremacy have never taken a day off. And political polarization is at historically high levels.

Complacency can absolutely lead up to a second Civil War.

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Ebony Edwards-Ellis

Author of "Former First Lady" and "Memoir of a Royal Consort." Twitter provocateur, aspiring shut-in, and newly minted Roosevelt Islander.