The Gathering Storm

The Secession Crisis
Part III

The Election of 1860 | Secession | Gearing Up For War | A Problem In Charleston Harbor | Key Players

The Election of 1860  

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln completed his rise from relative obscurity by capturing the Republican Party's nomination for president.  His skill as an orator had captivated the North, while his views on slavery had infuriated the South.  Lincoln's path to the White House was cleared by the discordant Democratic Party, whose northern and southern factions could not agree on a candidate.  Stephen A. Douglas ran as the candidate of the Northern Democrats and John C. Breckenridge ran as the candidate of the Southern Democrats, while a third party candidate, John Bell, further complicated matters.  Fewer than four in 10 Americans voted for Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 -- he wasn't even on the ballot in nine Southern states -- but it was enough to win.  Lincoln carried eighteen of thirty-three states, sweeping Northern population centers, and won 180 of the 303 electoral votes.  His election outraged the South and triggered the Secession Winter.

lincoln c.u.

Lincoln was photographed at Brady's New York studio on the same day of his famous Cooper Union speech, during his first visit to New York City in February 1860.  Both the speech and the photo would help propel him to the presidency.


 lincoln hamlin 

Campaign buttons and banners, such as this one for Lincoln, often included imagery, either a photograph or an engraving.


John C. Breckenridge, the candidate for the Southern Democrats, carried the South and was second in electoral votes, but finished third in the popular vote with 18.1 percent.


capitol inaug

When Lincoln took the oath of office as 16th president of the United States, below the unfinished dome of the Capitol building, on March 4, 1861, the seven states of the Deep South had already seceded.

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On December 20, 1860, six weeks after Lincoln's election as president, South Carolina's leaders met in the banquet and concert hall of the St. Andrew's Society and voted to secede from the United States.  Thereafter, the hall became known as Secession Hall.  President James Buchanan declared the act illegal, as did President-elect Lincoln, but it did not quell the tide.  Mississippi was next to secede, on January 9, 1861, followed the next day by Florida and by Alabama the day after that.  By February 1, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas had also seceded.  But the states of the upper south remained in the Union, with Virginians voting two-to-one against secession just eight days before the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

secesh hall

This circa 1860 photograph shows Charleston's Secession Hall and the Circular Church.  Both buildings were destroyed in a December 1861 fire.


interior secesh hall

Another circa 1860 photograph, possibly by Charleston photographer George S. Cook, shows the interior of Secession Hall.


Alexander Hamilton Stephens, shown here in a striking post-war photograph with an African-American man holding his crutches, was vice president of the Confederate States of America.


davis inauguration

In this engraving from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Jefferson Davis, president-elect of the new southern confederacy, addresses the crowd outside the Exchange Hotel in Montgomery, Alabama on the night of February 16, 1861, two days before his inauguration.

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Gearing Up for War    

As war clouds gathered, military leaders in both the North and South tried to prepare for the conflict.  Finding soldiers was easy, as tens of thousands on either side rushed to join the ranks of the respective armies, but ramping up the machinery of war presented additional challenges.  In the North, the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania prospered, as its heavy industry was called upon to provide the Union Army's big guns and, eventually, ironclad warships.  The South had the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, but most of its industrial establishments were small and local.  In terms of capital invested in business, the amount invested in all of the southern states combined did not match that of the states of Massachusetts, New York or Pennsylvania, individually.  The war spawned the development of new inventions and sped up the growth and refinement of established technologies, such as weaponry, photography, and more domestic items like sewing machines.


The Washington Arsenal, today called Fort McNair, was a storehouse for arms headed to the front, including these Wiard cannons.  Gen. Daniel Sickles stands on two legs at right, a year before he lost his right leg at Gettysburg.


 ship launch

The New York shipyards produced a variety of vessels, including the monitor Dictator, shown here on launch day in 1863.  The Dictator was the largest Union ironclad ever built. 


The Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia, shown here in 1865, produced about 1,100 artillery pieces during the war -- about half the total built for the Confederacy.


artillery militia

Gearing up for war also involved training -- and lots of it.  These artillery militiamen practiced their skills in Charleston during 1860 or early 1861.

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A Problem in Charleston Harbor    

Six days after South Carolina seceded, and under cover of darkness, Maj. Robert Anderson transferred his small garrison from the coastal Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, located on an island in Charleston Harbor, to secure that important bastion for the Union.  In 1861, the newly established Confederate government focused its attention on the fort, demanding Anderson's withdrawal.  Despite dwindling supplies, Anderson refused to leave.  A northern steamship, the Star of the West, attempted to deliver reinforcements and supplies, but was shelled and repulsed by cadets from The Citadel.  Tensions continued to heighten as winter became spring.  After his inauguration, Lincoln decided to resupply the fort, despite Southern insistence on withdrawal, including a looming deadline.  When the Confederate demands went unmet, shore batteries opened fire and the shelling of Fort Sumter began on the morning of April 12, 1861.  Outgunned and outmanned, Anderson surrendered after 34 hours of bombardment that left the fort a burning hulk.  The Civil War had begun.

anderson and staff

In the midst of the crisis in February, 1861, Charleston photographer George S. Cook photographed Anderson and his officers inside Fort Sumter.  His images sold by the thousands, and one was converted to an engraving used on the cover of Harper's Weekly.



Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard, commander of Confederate forces in Charleston, gave the order to bombard the fort.

moultrie before

This remarkable matched pair of 'before-and-after' photographs by Osborn & Durbec of Charleston show Confederate Fort Moultrie and a distant Fort Sumter in August 1860, before the bombardment, and, at right, in April 1861, just after.


moultrie after

In this view, taken the following year from almost the exact same spot, sand bags and a more desolate interior show a fort being prepared for war.  At right, note the cannon turned toward distant Fort Sumter.

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Key Players    

From Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis on down through their cabinets and the ranks of their armies, the key players in the sectional dispute could have no idea what the hardening attitudes of both sides would lead to.  Only the most extreme advocates on either side expected all-out war.  Many of the political leaders served with each other in Congress, and many of those who would face off as top military commanders went to West Point together, or served side by side in the Mexican War.  Loyalties were torn right down to the family level, including the family of Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, a Kentucky socialite whose half-sister's husband became a Confederate general.  Countless Southerners who were otherwise loyal to the Union, including Robert E. Lee, would eventually have to choose which side to support.

lincoln portrait

Abraham Lincoln, shown here in 1864, was a one-term Congressman and a failed Senatorial candidate before he won the Republican nomination for president in 1860.  His victory was a testament to his oratory and writing skills.


jeff davis

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, shown here in a wartime engraving created from a photograph, was a Kentucky native and a veteran of the Mexican War serving in the U.S. Senate at the time of Secession.


In both the North and the South, one man would emerge above all others as the transcendent military leader.  In the North, it was Ulysses S. Grant, a mediocre cadet at West Point and a failed farmer and businessman, but a brilliant writer and military commander.



Robert E. Lee, the South's greatest hero, was a career soldier who had distinguished himself in the Mexican War and also served in western Texas.

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View Part I | View Part II

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