One hundred fifty years ago today, Confederate batteries under the command of Brigadier General Pierre Gustav Toutant Beauregard (a Louisiana Frenchman whose name always brings to mind the phrase "laissez les bon temps rouler!") opened fire on the Union works at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. The opening shot was offered to Roger Atkinson Pryor, a Virginian congressman who so favored the southern cause that he ventured to South Carolina to urge the attack, though his state had not yet seceded. Pryor refused, overcome perhaps by the significance of the moment, or by grief that things had come to this pass, or by fear. So the honor fell to Captain George Sholter James, formerly of the United States Army artillery.
The firing on Fort Sumter fascinates, like many great episodes in history, because it is one of those moments at which things stand on the edge of a knife. All things were possible at 4am on April 12, 1861, in a way that they weren't on, for instance, November 6, 1987.
The war that began that day fascinates because, no matter how one feels about the causes for which men fought, the causes matter today, unlike squalid affairs like the Mexican War or the umpteenth middle eastern intervention we'll engage in next week. We can discern nobility and character in men on both sides even if we believe some of them were wrong in a way that we can't say of, for instance George Erwin Rommel, whose noblest deed was a confession that the war he'd fought so well was fought on behalf of a genocidal monster.
Unless we're black.
With that said, from today and every day for the next 1,458 days, you can read about the history of the war, stories of individuals who fought in it, and artifacts of their deeds, at the University of North Carolina's Civil War Day By Day blog, which will tell the story of the war, each day, with a primary source document or other item from the Wilson Library's southern historical collection, one of the best archives in the country for those who, like me, find this war such an intriguing flash of history.
Today's entry, from which this post is titled, concerns General Beauregard's orders to the batteries at Fort Sumter.