This morning’s papers confirmed last night’s news; viz., that the rebels opened fire at Sumter yesterday morning…
So Civil War is inaugurated at last. God defend the Right.
The Northern backbone is much stiffened already. Many who stood up for “Southern rights” and complained of wrongs done the South now say that, since the South has fired the first gun, they are ready to go all lengths in support the government.
It is said the President will assume the right to call for volunteers, whether the law give it or not. If he does, there will soon be a new element in the fray; viz., the stern anti-slavery Puritanism that survives in New England and in the Northwest. Ossawattomie John Brown would be worth his weight in gold just now. What pity he precipitated matters and got himself prematurely hanged!
Events multiply. The President is out with a proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteers and an extra session of Congress July 4. It is said 200,000 more will be called within a few days. Every man of them will be wanted before this game is lost and won. Change in public feeling marked, and a thing to thank God for. We begin to look like a United North. Willy Duncan (!) says it may be necessary to hang Lincoln and Seward and Greeley hereafter, but our present duty is to sustain Government and Law, and give the South a lesson…
George Templeton Strong, Journal Entries April 13-15, 1861
Calling The Volunteers
On April 15, 1861, just three days after the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, President Lincoln issued a call for volunteers to put down the “rebellion.” The facts of the bombardment, the newspapers’ angles, and the president’s proclamation created a patriotic frenzy in the North.
Did Lincoln actually have the Constitutional power to raise a citizen-army? It depends on your 1860’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Many of the earliest regiments were formed from the state militias and supplemented by other enthusiastic civilians, adding to the debate if the president was using his right to call out the militia or if he was actually taking a larger step.
One unique unit was the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry. Formed by a young friend of the Lincoln family – Elmer Ellsworth – the recruits were from the New York fire department. With flashy uniforms, notable teamwork, and patriotic excitement, this regiment gained a reputation for dashing appearance (and some disruptive antics) and, in many ways, became the “poster-soldiers” for the Union cause in 1861.
George Templeton Strong
In 1861, George Templeton Strong was a forty-one year old lawyer in New York City. Well-educated during his youth and with a strong interest in the arts and life-long learning, Strong supported many philanthropic organizations. George Templeton Strong and his family enjoyed music and socialized with the elite of the city.
October 5, 1835, was an important date in Strong life, though he probably didn’t realize it at the time; it was the day he penned the first entry in his journal. Recording daily activities and observations for nearly 40 years, Strong’s diary is a significant primary source for historians interested in mid-19th Century upper-class life in New York City. The Civil War years are particularly valuable, providing a Union man’s commentary on political, social, and military events. His opinions and diary are important because they help historians gage public sentiment and feelings about the Civil War.
Strong was in favor of union and opposed secession. He helped organize the U.S. Sanitary Commission, supported a patriotic “Union club”, provided financial support for a regiment, and allowed his wife to volunteer as a nurse on a hospital ship. However, in his private diary, Strong was not always complimentary of Union leaders – often expressing blunt opinions on their policies or leadership.
In these two journal entries by George Templeton Strong, there is a reflection of Northern public sentiment. First, he records the “aftershocks” of Fort Sumter as the event brought former states rights supporters in the North to the “union party.” Two days later, he writes that the president’s call for troops launched the country into a fervor to end the “Southern rebellion.”
This is a momentous change in ideas. Suddenly, the north (which, as a whole, was not exactly pro-Lincoln) has laid aside the divisive politics and united on the issue that the American states must remain united. The Northern people found a common cause and banded together to act. Certainly the press played a major role in this change, but, arguably, the largest catalyst was the firing on Fort Sumter itself (which opened the door for the call to arms.)
April 1861 is time of upheaval and re-examination of American thinking, though most probably did not realize it at the time. Secession, Fort Sumter, and Lincoln’s call for troops worked in unison to create “a united north.”
P.S. Did you notice Strong’s observation on the abolition influence?