Where Treason Began…

Where Treason Began…

On April 12, 1861 at 4:30 a.m. secessionist Confederate batteries commanded by Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard commenced the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston (S.C.) harbor. The fort was commanded by Major Robert Anderson who had been Beauregard’s artillery professor at West Point. This was the first of many ironies that the American Civil War was to produce over a span of four long years. Unfortunately, Fort Sumter was not equipped with the type of ammunition that was necessary for this type of contest. After 34 hours of constant bombardment Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter on Saturday, April 13th. The fort was evacuated the next day after a tragic 50 gun salute when a Union cannon exploded killing one man and mortally wounding one. A Confederate gunner was killed during the bombardment by a misfiring cannon. Accounts, such as in the famous diary of Mary Chesnut, describe Charleston residents along what is now known as The Battery, sitting on balconies and drinking salutes to the start of the hostilities.Anderson’s men were evacuated by ship to New York where they were honored with a parade on Broadway. The American Civil War had begun. Four years later it ended but not before over 625,000 Americans North and South were dead and uncounted numbers wounded.

“The past is not dead, it’s not even past”, William Faulkner. The Civil War is unique in our consciousness. Tens of thousands of people have spent millions of dollars to equip and clothe themselves so that the can reenact events that took place 150 years ago. Millions witness these reenactments. Americans, North and South, have an emotional, almost visceral attachment to the Civil War. To this day we have organizations that encourage our attachment: The United Daughters of the Confederacy (my sister-in-law is a member), the Sons of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, to name a few. In addition we have hundreds if not thousands of reenactment units that mirror actual regiments of both armies.

We trace our heritage to men who served on either side. My sister-in-law’s ancestor was a Confederate soldier, John James Davis, who joined the 56th Virginia (Buckingham Grays) when Virginia seceded and returned when Lee surrendered at Appomattox. He walked the approximately forty miles home and resumed his life as a rural farmer in Buckingham County, Virginia. In between he was wounded and captured at Fort Donelson in Tennessee, paroled, exchanged, returned to duty with Pickett’s Division, charged the Federal center at Gettysburg, was wounded again, recovered and fought until the end of the war.

I myself had two ancestors on the Federal side. Sgt. Michael Patrick Murphy, an Irish immigrant, served with the 61st New York Volunteer Infantry from August 1861 until October 1862 when he was given a medical discharge. In between he fought in the Peninsula campaign in Virginia at the siege of Yorktown, battle of Seven Pines or Fair Oaks, battles of the Peach Orchard, Allen’s farm and Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale and Malvern Hill. His final battle was the bloodiest day in American history at Antietam (or Sharpsburg) in Maryland where some 23,000 were killed or wounded in twelve hours. In one part of the field 4,500 New Yorkers fell in 45 minutes! The 61st Col. Francis C. Barlow and 350 men of the 61st and 64th New York saw a weak point in the line and seized a knoll commanding the sunken road, now know as Bloody Lane. This allowed them to get enfilade fire into the Confederate line, turning it into a deadly trap. The Confederate line was broken and General Israel Richardson, the division commander, ordered his troops forward. They were stopped by artillery fire, Richardson was mortally wounded and Francis Barlow was severely wounded.

My other ancestor, Asa H. Dykeman, was a member of the 47th New York National Guard. This unit was used for rear-echelon assignments both in New York and in the Washington, D.C. area. Finally, I am the 3rd cousin, 4 times removed of Confederate General James Longstreet and the 5th cousin, four times removed of General, later Governor of New Jersey Joel Parker. You see what I mean: “the past is not dead, it’s not even past”.

Today, we begin an amazing four-year journey through our past. There will be reenactments, commemorations, parades and numerous other events celebrating and mourning a great national tragedy. There will be arguments and heated discussions about events that took place 150 years ago. We will argue about the causes of the war. Was it to save the Union or free the slaves?

Abraham Lincoln called it our “fiery trial”. Ante-bellum America was primarily rural. Post Civil War America was changed. America became urban and industrialized, an economic powerhouse that began to use its vast resources to spread across the continent. Our ancestors would not recognize the country today. They would recognize the flags that they fought under. So enjoy the events and understand that they changed our country and ourselves.

If you’re interested in the American Civil War join me at http://northagainstsouth.com. This site includes many stories, announcements and links for the people and events surrounding the Civil War and the current 150th Anniversary Commemoration.

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