South Carolinawas the first state to secede from the Union in December 1860, and was one of the founding member states of theConfederacyin February 1861. The bombardment of the beleaguered U.S. garrison atFort Sumterin Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861 is generally recognized as the first military engagement of the war.
South Carolina was a source of troops for the Confederate army, and as the war progressed, also for the Union, as thousands of ex-slaves flocked to join the Union. The state also provided uniforms, textiles, food, and war material, as well as trained soldiers and leaders from The Citadel and other military schools. In contrast to most other Confederate states, South Carolina had a well-developed rail network linking all of its major cities without a break of gauge. Relatively free from Union occupation until the very end of the war, South Carolina hosted a number of prisoner of war camps. South Carolina also was the only Confederate state not to harbor pockets of anti-secessionist fervor strong enough to send large amounts of white men to fight for the Union, as every other state in the Confederacy did.
Among the leading generals from the Palmetto State wereWade Hampton III, one of the Confederacys foremostcavalrycommanders,Maxcy Gregg, killed in action atFredericksburgJoseph B. Kershaw, whose South Carolinasaw some of the hardest fighting of theArmy of Northern VirginiaandJames Longstreet, the senior Lieutenant General in the army, andStephen D. Lee, the youngest Lieutenant General.
The white population of the state had strongly supported the institution of slavery since the 18th century. Political leaders such as DemocratsJohn CalhounandPreston Brookshad inflamed regional and national passions in support of the institution, and many pro-slavery voices had cried forsecession. On the outbreak of war, South Carolina had the highest percentage of slaves of any U.S. state at 57% of its population enslaved; 46% of its white families owned at least one slave.
For decades, South Carolinian political leaders had promoted regional passions with threats ofnullificationand secession in the name of southernstates rightsand protection of the interests of theslave power.
Alfred P. Aldrich, a South Carolinian politician fromBarnwell, stated that declaring secession would be necessary if a Republican candidate were to win the 1860 U.S. presidential election, stating that it was the only way for the state to preserve slavery and diminish the influence of the anti-slavery Republican Party, which, were its goals of abolition realized, would result in the destruction of the South:
If the Republican party with its platform of principles, the main feature of which is the abolition of slavery and, therefore, the destruction of the South, carries the country at the next Presidential election, shall we remain in the Union, or form a separate Confederacy? This is the great, grave issue. It is not who shall be President, it is not which party shall rule it is a question of political and social existence.
In a January 1860 speech, South Carolinian congressmanLaurence Massillon Keitt, summed up this view in an oratory condemning theRepublican Partyfor its anti-slavery views, claiming that slavery was not morally wrong, but rather, justified:
The anti-slavery party contends that slavery is wrong in itself, and the Government is a consolidated national democracy. We of the South contend that slavery is right…
Later that year, in December, Keitt would state that South Carolinas declaring of secession was the direct result of slavery:
Our people have come to this on the question of slavery.
On November 9, 1860 theSouth Carolina General Assemblypassed a Resolution to Call theElection of Abraham Lincoln as U.S. Presidenta Hostile Act and stated its intention to declare secession from the United States.4
In December 1860, amid the secession crisis, former South Carolinian congressmanJohn McQueenwrote to a group of civic leaders in Richmond, Virginia, regarding the reasons as to why South Carolina was contemplating secession from the United States. In the letter, McQueen claimed that U.S. president-electAbraham Lincolnsupported equality and civil rights for African Americans as well as the abolition of slavery, and thus South Carolina, being opposed to such measures, was compelled to secede:
I have never doubted what Virginia would do when the alternatives present themselves to her intelligent and gallant people, to choose between an association with her sisters and the dominion of a people, who have chosentheir leader upon the single idea that the African is equal to the Anglo-Saxon, and with the purpose of placing our slaves on equality with ourselves and our friends of every condition! and if we of South Carolina have aided in your deliverance from tyranny and degradation, as you suppose, it will only the more assure us that we have performed our duty to ourselves and our sisters in taking the first decided step to preserve an inheritance left us by an ancestry whose spirit would forbid its being tarnished by assassins. We, of South Carolina, hope soon to great you in a Southern Confederacy, where white men shall rule our destinies, and from which we may transmit to our posterity the rights, privileges and honor left us by our ancestors.
South Carolinian religious leaderJames Henley Thornwellalso espoused a similar view to McQueens, stating that slavery was justified under the Christian religion, and thus, those who viewed slavery as being immoral were opposed to Christianity:
The parties in the conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders. They are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battleground Christianity and Atheism the combatants; and the progress of humanity at stake.
Other religious institutions in South Carolina also expressed support for slavery. The Southern Presbyterian of S.C. declared that:
Anti-slavery is essentially infidel. It wars upon the Bible, on the Church of Christ, on the truth of God, on the souls of men.
On November 10, 1860 the S.C. General Assembly called for a Convention of the People of South Carolina to consider secession. Delegates were to be elected on December 6.7The secession convention convened inColumbiaon December 17 and voted unanimously, 169-0, to declare secession from the United States. The convention then adjourned to Charleston to draft an ordinance of secession. When the ordinance was adopted on December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first slave state in the south to declare that it had seceded from the United States.89James Buchanan, the United States president, declared the ordinance illegal but did not act to stop it.
A committee of the convention also drafted aDeclaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolinawhich was adopted on December 24.10The secession declaration stated the primary reasoning behind South Carolinas declaring of secession from the U.S., which was described as:
The declaration also claims that secession was declared as a result of the refusal of free states to enforce theFugitive Slave Acts. Although the declaration does argue that secession is justified on the grounds of U.S. encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, the grievances that the declaration goes on to list are mainly concerned with the property of rights of slave holders. Broadly speaking, the declaration argues that the U.S. Constitution was framed to establish each State as an equal in the Union, with separate control over its own institutions, such as the right of property in slaves.
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of Slavery; they have permitted the open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
A repeated concern is runaway slaves. The declaration argues that parts of the U.S. Constitution were specifically written to ensure the return of slaves who had escaped to other states, and quotes the 4th Article: No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due. The declaration goes on to state that this stipulation of the Constitution was so important to the original signers, that without it that compact [the Constitution] would not have been made. Laws from the General Government upheld this stipulation for many years, the declaration says, but an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery has led to a disregard of their obligations. Because the constitutional agreement had been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, the consequence was that South Carolina is released from her obligation to be part of the Union.
A further concern was Lincolns recent election to the presidency, whom they claimed desired to see slavery on the course of ultimate extinction:
A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the Common Government, because he has declared that that Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free, and that the public mind must rest in the belief that Slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.11
The South Carolinian secession declaration of December 1860 also channeled some elements from theU.S. Declaration of Independencefrom July 1776. However, the South Carolinian version omitted the phrases that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and mentions of the consent of the governed. Professor and historianHarry V. Jaffanoted these omissions as significant in his 2000 book,A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War:
South Carolina cites, loosely, but with substantial accuracy, some of the language of the original Declaration. That Declaration does say that it is the right of the people to abolish any form of government that becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established. But South Carolina does not repeat the preceding language in the earlier document: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…
Jaffa states that South Carolina omitted references to human equality and consent of the governed in its secession declaration, as due to their racist and pro-slavery views, secessionist South Carolinians did not believe in those ideals:
[G]overnments are legitimate only insofar as their just powers are derived from the consent of the governed. All of the foregoing is omitted from South Carolinas declaration, for obvious reasons.In no sense could it have been said that the slaves in South Carolina were governed by powers derived from their consent. Nor could it be said that South Carolina was separating itself from the government of the Union because that government had become destructive of the ends for which it was established. South Carolina in 1860 had an entirely different idea of what the ends of government ought to be from that of 1776 or 1787. That difference can be summed up in the difference between holding slavery to be an evil, if possibly a necessary evil, and holding it to be a positive good.
On December 25, the day following South Carolinas declaration of secession, a South Carolinian convention delivered an Address to the Slaveholding States:
We prefer, however, our system of industry, by which labor and capital are identified in interest, and capital, therefore, protects laborby which our population doubles every twenty yearsby which starvation is unknown, and abundance crowns the landby which order is preserved by unpaid police, and the most fertile regions of the world, where the white man cannot labor, are brought into usefulness by the labor of the African, and the whole world is blessed by our own productions. … We ask you to join us, in forming a Confederacy of Slaveholding States.
Slavery, not states rights, birthed the Civil War,14argues sociologist James W. Loewen. Writing of South Carolinas Declaration of Secession, Loewen writes that
South Carolina was further upset that New York no longer allowed slavery transit. In the past, if Charleston gentry wanted to spend August in the Hamptons, they could bring their cook along. No longer and South Carolinas delegates were outraged. In addition, they objected that New England states let black men vote and tolerated abolitionist societies. According to South Carolina, states should not have the right to let their citizens assemble and speak freely when what they said threatened slavery. Other seceding states echoed South Carolina. Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery the greatest material interest of the world, proclaimed Mississippi in its own secession declaration, passed Jan. 9, 1861. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth. . . . A blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.
The state adopted thepalmetto flagas its banner, a slightly modified version of which is used as its current state flag.15South Carolina after secession was frequently called thePalmettoRepublic.16
After South Carolina declared its secession, former congressmanJames L. Petigrufamously remarked, South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.17Soon afterwards, South Carolina began preparing for a presumed U.S. military response while working to convince other southern states to secede as well and join in a confederacy of southern states.
On February 4, 1861, inMontgomery, Alabama, a convention consisting of delegates from South Carolina,FloridaAlabamaMississippiGeorgia, andLouisianamet to form a new constitution and government modeled on that of the United States.18On February 8, 1861, South Carolina officially joined theConfederacy. According to one South Carolinian newspaper editor:
The South is now in the formation of a Slave Republic…
South Carolinas declaring of secession was supported by the states religious figures, who claimed that it was consistent with the tenets of their religion:
The triumphs of Christianity rest this very hour upon slavery; and slavery depends on the triumphs of the South… This war is the servant of slavery.
John T. Wightman, The Glory of God, the Defence of the South, (1861).
1862U.S. Coast Surveymap of the Coast of South Carolina from Charleston to Hilton Head
Fort Sumter, 1861, flying theConfederate flagafter the forts capture from the U.S. by the Confederacy.
Six days after secession, on the day after Christmas, MajorRobert Anderson, commander of the U.S. troops in Charleston, withdrew his men to the island fortress ofFort Sumterin Charleston Harbor. South Carolina militia swarmed over the abandoned mainland batteries and trained their guns on the island. Sumter was the key position for preventing a naval attack upon Charleston, so secessionists were determined not to allow U.S. forces to remain there indefinitely. More importantly, South Carolinas claim of independence would look empty if U.S. forces controlled its largest harbor. On January 9, 1861, the U.S. shipStar of the Westapproached to resupply the fort. Cadets fromThe Citadel, The Military College of South Carolinafired upon theStar of the West, striking the ship three times and causing it to retreat back to New York.
Mississippi declared its secession several weeks after South Carolina, and five other states of the lower South soon followed. Both the outgoing Buchanan administration and President-elect Lincoln denied that any state had a right to secede. On February 4, a congress of the seven seceding states met inMontgomery, Alabama, and approved a new constitution for theConfederate States of America. South Carolina entered the Confederacy on February 8, 1861, fewer than six weeks after declaring itself the independent State of South Carolina.
Upper Southern slave states such as Virginia and North Carolina, which had initially voted against secession, called a peace conference, to little effect. Meanwhile, Virginian oratorRoger Pryorbarreled into Charleston and proclaimed that the only way to get his state to join the Confederacy was for South Carolina to instigate war with the United States. The obvious place to start was right in the midst of Charleston Harbor.
On April 10, theMercuryreprinted stories from New York papers that told of a naval expedition that had been sent southward toward Charleston. Lincoln advised the governor of South Carolina that the ships were sent to resupply the fort, not to reinforce it. The Carolinians could no longer wait if they hoped to take the fort before theU.S. Navyarrived. About 6,000 men were stationed around the rim of theharbor, ready to take on the 60 men in Fort Sumter. At 4:30a.m. on April 12, after two days of intense negotiations, and with Union ships approaching the harbor, the firing began. Students from The Citadel were among those firing the first shots of the war, thoughEdmund Ruffinis usually credited with firing the first shot. Thirty-four hours later, Andersons men raised the white flag and were allowed to leave the fort with colors flying and drums beating, saluting the U.S. flag with a50-gun salutebefore taking it down. During this salute, one of the guns exploded, killing a young soldierthe onlycasualtyof thebombardmentand the first casualty of the war.
In December 1861, South Carolina received $100,000 fromGeorgiaafter a disastrous fire in Charleston.
Fort Wagner was the scene of two battles. TheFirst Battle of Fort Wagner, occurred on July 11, 1863. Only 12 Confederate soldiers were killed, as opposed to the Unions 339 losses.21
TheSecond Battle of Fort Wagner, a week later, is better known. This was theUnionattack on July 18, 1863, led by the54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first major American military units made up of black soldiers. ColonelRobert Gould Shawled the 54th Massachusetts on foot while they charged, and was killed in the assault.21
Although a tactical defeat, the publicity of the battle of Fort Wagner led to further action for black troops in the Civil War, and it spurred additional recruitment that gave theUnion Armya further numerical advantage in troops over the South.21
The Union besieged the fort after the unsuccessful assault. By August 25, Union entrenchments were close enough to attempt an assault on the Advanced Rifle Pits, 240 yards in front of the Battery, but this attempt was defeated. A second attempt, by the 24th Mass. Inf., on August 26 was successful. After enduring almost 60 days of heavy shelling, the Confederates abandoned it on the night of September 67, 1863. withdrawing all operable cannons and the garrison.2122
The Confederacy was at a disadvantage in number, weaponry, and supplies. Union ships sailed south and blocked off one port after another. As early as November, Union troops occupied theSea Islandsin theBeaufortarea, establishing an important base for the men and ships who would obstruct the ports at Charleston andSavannah. When the plantation owners, many of which had already gone off with theConfederate armyelsewhere, fled the area, theSea Islandslaves became the first freedmen of the war, and theSea Islandsbecame the laboratory for Union plans to educate theAfrican Americansfor their eventual role as full Americancitizens. Despite South Carolinas important role in the start of the war, and a long unsuccessful attempt to take Charleston from 1863 onward, few military engagements occurred within the states borders until 1865, whenShermans Army, having already completed itsMarch to the Seain Savannah, marched to Columbia and leveled most of the town, as well as a number of towns along the way and afterward. South Carolina lost 12,922 men to the war, 23% of its male white population of fighting age, and the highest percentage of any state in the nation. Shermans 1865 march through the Carolinas resulted in the burning of Columbia and numerous other towns. The destruction his troops wrought upon South Carolina was even worse than in Georgia, because many of his men bore a particular grudge against the state and its citizens, who they blamed for starting the war. One of Shermans men declared, Here is where treason began and, by God, here is where it shall end!23Povertywould mark the state for generations to come.
In January 1865, the CharlestonCouriernewspaper condemned suggestions that the Confederacy abandon slavery were it to help in gaining independence, stating that such suggestions were folly:
To talk of maintaining our independence while we abolish slavery is simply to talk folly.
On February 21, 1865, with the Confederate forces finally evacuated from Charleston, the black54th Massachusetts Regimentmarched through the city. At aceremonyat which the U.S. flag was once again raised over Fort Sumter, former fortcommanderRobert Anderson was joined on the platform by two men: African American Union heroRobert Smallsand the son ofDenmark Vesey.
After meeting the requirements ofReconstruction, including ratifying amendments to theUS Constitutionto abolish slavery and grant citizenship to former slaves, South Carolinas representatives were readmitted to Congress. The state was fully restored to the United States on July 9, 1868.
As part of theCompromise of 1877, in which Southern Democrats would acknowledgeas president, had the understanding that Republicans would meet certain demands. One affecting Louisiana was the removal of all U.S. military forces from the formerConfederate states.25At the time, U.S. troops remained in onlyLouisianaSouth Carolina, andFlorida, but the Compromise completed their withdrawal from the region.
Charleston, South Carolina in the American Civil War
Confederate States of America- animated map of state secession and confederacy
List of South Carolina Confederate Civil War units
List of South Carolina Union Civil War units
Military history of African Americans in the American Civil War
Slavery during the American Civil War
Keitt, Lawrence M. (January 25, 1860).
Congressman from South Carolina, in a speech to the House
The anti-slavery party contends that slavery is wrong in itself, and the Government is a consolidated national democracy. We of the South contend that slavery is right, and that this is a confederate Republic of sovereign States.
The Charleston Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. December 22, 1860
Resolution to Call the Election of Abraham Lincoln as U.S. President a Hostile Act and to Communicate to Other Southern States South Carolinas Desire to Secede from the Union. 9 November 1860. Resolutions of the General Assembly, 17791879. S165018. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.
McQueen, John (December 24, 1860).Correspondence to T. T. Cropper and J. R. Crenshaw. Washington, D.C. Archived from the original on March 25, 2015
Rhea, Gordon (January 25, 2011).Why Non-Slaveholding Southerners Fought.
. Civil War Trust. Archived from the original on March 21, 2011
Cauthen, Charles Edward; Power, J. Tracy.
South Carolina goes to war, 18601865.
Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2005. Originally published: Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1950.ISBN978-1-57003-560-9. p. 60.
. 1860. Archived from the original on June 4, 2004
Hall, Andy (December 22, 2013).Not Surprising, Part Deux.
Dead Confederates: A Civil War Era Blog
The states with the largest proportions of slaves and slave-holders seceded earliest.
Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, 24 December 1860. Teaching American History in South Carolina Project. 2009
A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War
. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p.231.ISBN20.
State of South Carolina (December 25, 1860).Address of the people of South Carolina to the people of the Slaveholding States of the United States
Loewen, James (2011).Five Myths About Why the South Seceded.
, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press:1998.ISBN978-1-57003-255-4. p. 619
Cauthen, Charles Edward; Power, J. Tracy.
South Carolina goes to war, 18601865.
Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2005. Originally published: Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1950.ISBN978-1-57003-560-9. p. 79.
Burger, Ken (February 13, 2010).Too large to be an asylum.
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Spratt, L.W. (February 13, 1861).THE PHILOSOPHY OF SECESSION: A SOUTHERN VIEW. South Carolina
Presented in a Letter addressed to the Hon. Mr. Perkins of Louisiana, in criticism on the Provisional Constitution adopted by the Southern Congress at Montgomery, Alabama, BY THE HON. L. W. SPRATT, Editor of the Charleston Mercury, 13th February, 1861.
Wightman, John T. (1861).The Glory of God, the Defence of the South. Yorkville, South Carolina
September 30, 2007, at theWayback Machine.
North & South – The Official Magazine of the Civil War Society, Volume 10, Number 1, Page 30.
This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War.
Courier. Charleston. January 24, 1865
Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction
. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. pp.169171.
Burger, Ken (February 13, 2010).Too large to be an asylum.
. Charleston, South Carolina: Evening Post Publishing Co
Cauthen, Charles Edward; Power, J. Tracy.
South Carolina goes to war, 18601865.
Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2005. Originally published: Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1950.ISBN978-1-57003-560-9.
, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press:1998.ISBN978-1-57003-255-4.
Rogers Jr. George C. and C. James Taylor.
A South Carolina Chronology, 1497-1992
South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948
South Carolina: A Guide to the Palmetto State
South Carolina: A Bicentennial History
Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union
National Park Service map of Civil War sites in South Carolina
MississippiList of C.S. states by date of admission to the Confederacy
RatifiedConstitutionon April 3, 1861 (6th)Succeededby
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