Anxiety was spreading throughout North and South. South Carolina had already seceded from the Union, and although President James Buchanan opposed the action, he declared that he had no right under the Constitution to stop it. In South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor, the Federal garrison had been forced to abandon Fort Moultrie, withdrawing to the more secure Fort Sumter.
The sectional rift between North and South had escalated from uncertainty to crisis, as six states had left the Union and began seizing Federal arsenals and forts. Desperate attempts to compromise had failed in Congress. Northerners were growing frustrated by the Buchanan administration’s reluctance to stop the secession, while southerners were citing their Tenth Amendment rights under the Constitution to justify leaving the Union.
Southerners were gaining confidence after forming a provisional government in Montgomery, Alabama. Northerners were anxiously awaiting the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln to see how the first Republican administration in history would handle the southern secession. Tension and anxiety pervaded America.
With the U.S. split into two nations, many feared that war was imminent. The newly inaugurated Lincoln administration was working to resolve the crisis; the focal point had become the isolated Federal troops at Fort Pickens in Florida and Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
Talking about war was giving way to preparing for war. The first shots had been fired, and a frenzy of mobilization was sweeping across both North and South. However, many were still unsure what war meant. Some still hoped for a peaceful settlement, or at worst, one decisive battle to settle the dispute. Nothing was clear yet, but the people were massing for action nonetheless.
In both North and South, troops were gathering, arming, training, and parading as politicians delivered emotional speeches and military leaders prepared for battle. Northerners were eager to restore the Union and southerners were eager to defend their new independence. States quickly and haphazardly organized militias into regiments that were sent to join the national forces gathering in Washington and Richmond.
The Lincoln administration had approved plans for a Federal invasion of northern Virginia as troops continued pouring into Washington. The Federal naval blockade was slowly gaining strength, but southern blockade runners were still delivering supplies with little interference. War hysteria continued spreading as people awaited the one big battle they believed would decide the war.
The South was celebrating its victory at Bull Run, and northerners were mourning their defeat. However, Washington was still in Federal hands, and as it became apparent that the war would last longer than anticipated, both sides continued building up their militaries and planning for the next big battle.
Military buildup continued on both sides, and people were clamoring for more action in the hope that the war would end by winter. Slavery was becoming a political issue in the North; politicians maintained that the war was not being fought to free slaves even though Federal military commanders were confiscating slaves as the Federal armies advanced into southern territory.
Military planning continued as more people began calling for action. The Confederates were continuing to strengthen their presence in Kentucky and Missouri, while the Federals were strengthening the Army of the Potomac and their presence on the Gulf Coast. There had been little action since Bull Run in July, but increased fighting seemed imminent.
Besides the Battle of Bull Run in July, there had been no major military moves by either side thus far. The Federals had just suffered a military disaster at Ball’s Bluff, and more people in both North and South began growing louder in their calls for action.
Northern excitement had turned to anxiety concerning the British steamer Trent. Southerners were hoping that the incident would push Britain into aiding the Confederacy. The Federal blockade was having no effect on southern shipping, but southerners worried that this would soon change. Most in the South were cautiously optimistic that they would win their independence.
Last Updated: 2/16/2021