For many years now the narrative of a looming civil war has been seeded into the public consciousness. The media has been trying to coax the public with civil war bait as one story of hate thy neighbor after another makes the front pages while politicians divide and conquer with their fiery rhetoric of upheaval and discontent. More recently martial law has been put forward as a way to quell unrest, and with a society under pressure, one small spark could start the fire of the Second American Civil War. It could be argued that not only is balkanization long overdue but would actually be a good thing for the country but not at the expense of tearing it apart at the seams.
Perhaps the most frightening part of this scenario is that the ruling class has pulled this trick off once already in this short nation’s history. The catalyzing moments of the American Civil War were brought about through the state’s coercion and deception. This storyline, largely left out of history textbooks, is one worth remembering at a time like this especially if we wish to avoid history repeating itself.
The Attack on Fort Sumter
For as long as the United States has existed the federal government has lied to drag the American people into war. Just 23 years after the Constitution was ratified the American people were deceived into supporting the War of 1812 and before the nation would celebrate it’s centenary Washington would bait the Confederacy into taking the first shots of the ghastly American Civil War.
South Carolina seceded from the U.S. on December 20, 1860 amid a continued push by the north to financially devastate the southern states, not over a desire to uphold slavery as is the commonly held belief. This decision came less than two months after Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed suit and the Confederate States of America was formed in February 1861. On March 4, 1861 Lincoln gave his inaugural address and made it clear that he found secession to be an insurrectionist act and that unless the government was given all control of “property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts” there would be bloodshed.
Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, had made offers to Washington to pay for the Federal property in these states in order to avoid a conflict. This proposal included Fort Sumter just outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Lincoln refused to view Davis or the Confederacy as legitimate so the offers were never considered seriously which left war as the only viable option in the eyes of the administration. However, the federal government could not appear to be waging war in the name of collecting taxes so they needed another excuse. It was decided that tricking the Confederacy to take the first shot would give them the excuse they needed for all out war.
The administration managed to do this by continuing to provoke the Confederacy. In January of 1861, a U.S. ship had entered Charleston Harbor in order to re-provision Fort Sumter which was still considered federal property. The ship was fired upon from The Citadel, a military college very near to Fort Sumter, as a warning to keep away. Lincoln, knowing this would likely happen again if another Union ship was sent into Charleston Harbor, did just that in early April 1861. Francis Pickens, governor of South Carolina, and Confederate general, P. G. T. Beauregard were aware of the incoming vessel and made repeated attempts to get commander Robert Anderson to abandon the fort to avoid an attack but were unsuccessful. Unfortunately the Confederacy ultimately took Lincoln’s bait and fired upon the fort on April 12, marking the start of war.
The Pratt Street Massacre
Miraculously there was no loss of life at Fort Sumter. The first deaths of the American Civil War would come a week later when troops clashed with civilians in the streets of Baltimore.
The lines between the Union and Confederacy are not as cut and dry as history textbooks make them out to be. Maryland, a slave state, had many citizens who sympathized with the southern states and a sizeable portion of the state wished to join them in secession from the United States. So when militiamen from Massachusetts were making their way south through Baltimore on April 19 tensions between soldiers and a group of anti-war and pro-Confederacy citizens flared up.
On April 17 the 6th Massachusetts Militia departed from Boston and pulled into President Street Station on the morning of April 19. In order to reach Camden Station, where another train was waiting to take them further south, the rail cars carrying the troops needed to be pulled along ten city blocks by horses. A group of citizens who had gotten wind of their arrival blocked this path midway to Camden Station forcing the militiamen to walk the remaining five blocks.
They tried to maintain formation en route to the station but the crowd of citizens, about a thousand strong, intimidated and harassed them every step of the way and the troops broke rank just two blocks from the station. Fighting ensued which led to the death of four soldiers and at least twelve civilians. These men became the first casualties in the civil war.
Don’t Take The Civil War Bait
The current social landscape reveals a deeply politically divided nation yet again and the state’s fingerprints all over this division. FBI agents took part in the botched kidnapping plot against governor Gretchen Whitmer to portray the rightwing as becoming increasingly militarized. It can’t be forgotten that over the summer agent provocateurs were used in demonstrations across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death which amplified the destructive nature of these largely leftwing movements. As the election neared, politicians called on the public to violently attack the opposition.
History is also repeating itself in the growing discontent that the public holds for the nation’s political apparatus. Police departments across the country are waging a PR battle against public distrust now more than ever. The results of the presidential election are still being contested and no matter the results there are vast swaths of the population who will not respect the outcome. The brutality of lockdowns are still a crushing reality for many and it is the state who is responsible for each and every hostile measure taken in the name of fighting a novel virus.
A number of daunting questions arise as a result of this. Can we really be assured that the state won’t devise an attack on Fort Sumter for the 21st century? Will secession, which is once again being floated by politicians in Texas, remain an idle threat? If not, how will Washington respond? Will soldiers and civilians clash, as they did in Baltimore all those years ago, and leave dead on both sides? Will the public shoot back if martial law is evoked?
With those questions still unanswered the only thing that can be said for sure is this: even during these demoralizing times do not take the civil war bait. The state only knows violence and will absolutely respond in kind should the public take up arms. What they cannot handle is the peaceful disobedience of opting out of their system and ignoring their mandates. Let that be the lesson we learn from history so we are not doomed to repeat it.