The Dramatic Events of April, 1861 and the Beginning of Lincoln’s War: An Annotated Chronology

Remember that there is now a hostile fleet of seven sail off your harbor, directed by bitter and malignant foes. They have come here proudly scorning and contemning your position. They may attempt to enter, but I say to them this night in defiance, let them come, let them come. If they do, although we may not wrap them in flames, as we have Sumter, we will wrap them in the waves and sink them too deep ever to be reached by pity or mercy.

South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens,
Charleston, April 13, 1861.

The Dramatic Events of April, 1861
and the Beginning
of Lincoln's War:
An Annotated Chronology

by Gene Kizer, Jr.

The 750,000 deaths, and million men maimed for life in the War Between the States, exceed casualties in all other American wars combined with room to spare. The "overall mortality rate for the South exceeded that of any country in World War I and that of all but the region between the Rhine and the Volga in World War II" writes James M. McPherson in his book, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam. Drew Gilpin Faust in This Republic of Suffering, Death and the American Civil War, says that the rate of death in the War Between the States "in comparison with the size of the American population, was six times that of World War II. A similar rate, about 2 percent, in the United States today would mean six million fatalities."

(This post comes from "An Annotated Chronology of the Secession Debate in the South," which runs from February 24, 1860 to June 8, 1861 in Part II of my book, Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument., available on this website. Please see Page 141 of Slavery Was Not the Cause... for bibliographical information on the many sources used in this chronology.)

Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument. by Gene Kizer, Jr. - front cover - slavery not the cause of the Civil War

April 1, 1861

Lincoln signs orders for U.S.S. Powhatan to go to sea with sealed orders. There was confusion and the Powhatan ended up going to Fort Pickens instead of Fort Sumter.

Seward sends Lincoln a list of his opinions/positions and scolding Lincoln in the process. Seward states he would favor starting a foreign war to reunite the country. Lincoln writes back that the decision was his to make and not Seward's.

April 3, 1861

Lincoln's cabinet meets again over Fort Sumter. Allan B. Magruder sent to Richmond to talk to Virginia unionists, on behalf of Lincoln.

April 4, 1861

Virginia Secession Convention rejects secession 89 to 45, for the time being.

Lincoln meets secretly with Virginia unionist John B. Baldwin. It was reported he had hoped to exchange a state for a fort, meaning he hoped to keep Virginia in the Union in exchange for evacuating Fort Sumter.

Lincoln informs Fox the resupply/reinforcement mission would go. Lincoln drafts letter to Anderson letting him know and saying he hoped Anderson could make it until April 11 or 12 when the expedition, if resisted, "will endeavor also to reinforce you."

April 5, 1861

U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles orders U.S.S. Powhatan, Pawnee, Pocahontas, and Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane to Charleston to resupply/reinforce Fort Sumter.

April 6, 1861

Lincoln sends Robert S. Chew, a State Department clerk, and Capt. Theodore Talbot, to Charleston to inform Gov. Pickens that Fort Sumter would be resupplied and if no resistance was given by the Confederates, then no troops would be thrown in. Otherwise, the fort would be reinforced as well as resupplied.

Lincoln learns that Fort Pickens had not been reinforced. A messenger was sent the next day to Fort Pickens ordering the fort's immediate reinforcement.

Lincoln meets with at least seven and perhaps nine Republican governors including the governors of Indiana, Ohio, Maine, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan, as well as with Virginia unionists.

April 7, 1861

Gen. Beauregard, suspecting that the Southerners were being misled by Seward's continued assertions that Fort Sumter would be evacuated, ends Anderson's cordial intercourse between the fort and city of Charleston, as the situation intensifies.

Lincoln meets with John Minor Botts, a Virginia unionist.

April 8, 1861

Virginia secession convention votes "to send a three-man commission to ask President Lincoln for a clear expression of his policy regarding the forts."

Lincoln representative Chew arrives in Charleston and reads Lincoln's message to Gov. Pickens and Gen. Beauregard.

Seward continues to mislead Confederate commissioners in Washington, so much so that they wired Gov. Pickens that they believed Fort Sumter would be evacuated.

Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane departs from New York loaded with supplies amidst much publicity.

April 9, 1861

Gustavus V. Fox departs from New York aboard the steamer Baltic, headed for Fort Sumter.

April 10, 1861

South Carolina secession convention approves Jefferson Davis as president and Alexander H. Stephens as vice-president of the Confederate States of America, then adjourns, pending recall later by President Jamison.

Confederate Secretary of War Walker wired Beauregard in Charleston and told him if he was certain Fort Sumter was to be resupplied, then he was to demand its surrender and if it refused, "reduce it." Since all of Lincoln's representatives had lied to the Confederates for weeks about evacuating the fort, Southerners were unsure if it was finally a true statement that the fort was only to be resupplied.

The U.S.S. Pawnee departed Hampton Roads for Fort Sumter.

Lincoln meets with representative of the Chiriqui Improvement Company to discuss colonization of Negroes in what is today Panama, near Costa Rica.

Confederate floating battery is moved to a position near Sullivan's Island. Confederate troop activity around Charleston Harbor intensifies. All forts are manned.

April 11, 1861

Three Confederate representatives row over to Fort Sumter under a white flag of truce and demand its surrender. They are Col. James Chesnut, a former United States senator and husband of diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut; Capt. Stephen D. Lee, later an effective and beloved Confederate general; and Lt. Col. A. R. Chisolm, representing Gov. Pickens. Anderson refused to surrender but commented that he would be starved out in a few days if not battered to pieces. The Confederates, wanting to avoid war to the very last, wired Secretary of War Walker and told him of Anderson's comment. Walker telegraphed back, "Do not desire needlessly to bombard Fort Sumter. If Anderson will state the time at which, as indicated by him, he will evacuate, and agree that in the mean time he will not use his guns against us unless ours should be employed against Fort Sumter, you are authorized thus to avoid the effusion of blood. . . .".

The three Confederate commissioners left Washington after realizing they had been lied to and misled by Seward.

April 12, 1861

Chesnut, Lee and Chisholm row back to Major Anderson arriving at Fort Sumter at 12:45 a.m. with Walker's message. At 3:15 a.m. they got Anderson's reply stating he would evacuate on the 15th but only if he did not receive supplies or additional instructions from his government. This response was unsatisfactory, with a hostile flotilla rapidly approaching Charleston. Chesnut, Lee and Chisholm wrote a reply to Anderson stating that they had the honor of informing him that Gen. Beauregard would commence firing in one hour, then they rowed over to Fort Johnson, arriving at 4:00 a.m. At 4:30 a.m., from Fort Johnson on James Island, a signal shot was fired by troops under Capt. George S. James alerting the other batteries to begin firing according to orders. Some of Fort Sumter's guns returned fire after daybreak but the small number of men under Anderson's command could do little more. The Confederate bombardment continued heavy all day. There were no deaths on either side.

In Pensacola, Union troops were landed at Fort Pickens.

April 13, 1861

Fort Sumter surrenders at 2:30 p.m. after four thousand shells had been fired in thirty-four hours of bombardment. The federal fleet, now consisting of the U.S.S. Baltic, U.S.S. Pawnee, and Harriet Lane, stayed just out of danger and did not attempt to help Anderson.

April 14, 1861

Anderson formally surrenders and salutes his colors with drums beating and a fifty gun salute. An accidental explosion kills a man, the first to die in the war.

Lincoln's Cabinet approves of "his call for 75,000 militia" and a special July 4 session of Congress.

Virginia's three-man commission which had sought from Lincoln a statement of clear policy regarding the forts, returns and states that Lincoln was "firm in his resolve to hold the forts."

April 15, 1861

Lincoln issues public proclamation calling for seventy-five thousand volunteers to invade the South, and calling a special secession of Congress to meet July 4th.

April 17, 1861

Virginia secedes with its Ordinance to repeal ratification of the U. S. Constitution and resume all rights and powers granted under said Constitution. Vote was 88 - 55. Virginia's secession had absolutely nothing, whatsoever, to do with slavery. Virginia and the states that followed her out of the Union - North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas - seceded because they were outraged that the Federal Government, that was supposed to be the agent of the states, would dare invade a sovereign state and kill its citizens to force them back into a government they had rejected. There was nothing in the Constitution in 1861 that gave Lincoln the authority or obligation to invade an American state.

April 19, 1861

Maryland Gov. Hicks calls convention after Baltimore mob fights with Massachusetts troops.

Lincoln calls for blockade of first seven Confederates States. It was later extended to include Virginia and North Carolina.

The blockade was Lincoln's purpose all along so he could chill military and trade alliances between the South and Europe as quickly as possible. The South with European aid would be unbeatable just as French aid in the American Revolution had turned the tide in favor of the Colonists.

Every day that went by, the South had been getting stronger, and the North, on the verge of economic collapse, weaker, so Lincoln had no reason whatsoever to wait. He needed his war as quickly as he could get it started. There had been a loud clamor for war among Republicans and the business community in the North for a while as hundreds of thousands of Northerners became unemployed and businesses shut down amidst the impending economic disaster. The North was on the verge of panic, and governments know that an economic panic will progress geometrically into anarchy. War is always preferable.

The astronomical Morrill Tariff, which had recently taken effect, was the second of a one-two punch because now, in addition to losing its Southern manufacturing market, the North was about to lose its shipping industry in one fell swoop. The Morrill Tariff made entry of goods into the North 37 to 50% higher than entry into the South. This threatened to redirect trade away from the high-tariff North and into the South where protective tariffs were unconstitutional. The world was beating a path to the South while goods rotted on New York docks. Even Northern ship captains were leaving the North for Southern ports.

The Morrill Tariff was the result of extreme Northern greed as well as ignorance of basic economics. They passed it in knee-jerk fashion thinking the South would have to pay it, as in the past, but the South was out of the Union and no longer had to pay high Northern tariffs. This one fell on them alone, and it contributed mightily to the feeling in the North that war was their only way out. As Tennessee Representative Thomas A. R. Nelson, who had submitted the Minority Report of the House Committee of Thirty-three, said in his speech entitled "Speech of Hon. Thomas A. R. Nelson, of Tennessee, On the Disturbed condition of the Country"

Commercial disaster and distress pervade the land. Hundreds and thousands of honest laboring men have been thrown out of employment; gloom and darkness hang over the people; the tocsin of war has been sounded; the clangor of arms has been heard.1 (Bold emphasis added.)

Charles W. Ramsdell proves in his famous treatise, Lincoln and Fort Sumter, that Lincoln knew that attempting to reinforce the fort would start the war. He had it first hand from his friend, Ward H. Lamon, whom he had sent to Charleston a few days earlier to make sure his reinforcement attempt would start the war. Lamon had spoken face-to-face with Confederate leaders and they told him point blank that a reinforcement attempt meant war.

The Fort Sumter crisis was the tensest hour in American history. There is no way Lincoln's reinforcement mission would not start the war and Lincoln knew it.

Northern newspapers knew it too. The Providence, Rhode Island Daily Post, in an editorial April 13, 1861 entitled "WHY?", wrote:

Mr. Lincoln saw an opportunity to inaugurate civil war without appearing in the character of an aggressor.

Abraham Lincoln got the war started and announced his blockade before the smoke had cleared from the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

Saving the country and working on ending slavery were not even on Lincoln's radar. He was the first sectional president in American history, president of the North, and he was out to establish the North, once and for all, as the dominant economic and political power in the American nation along with the Northern majority that would be enriched. He also had to save the rapidly splintering Republican Party that had so successfully used hatred and terrorism to get into power.

Even Lincoln's commander, Major Robert Anderson, inside Fort Sumter, emphatically blamed Lincoln for starting the war. Anderson was at ground zero on April 12, 1861 and this is what he wrote to Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron when informed that Fort Sumter would be resupplied and possibly reinforced:

. . . a movement made now when the South has been erroneously informed that none such will be attempted, would produce most disastrous results throughout our country. . . . We shall strive to do our duty, though I frankly say that my heart is not in the war which I see is to be thus commenced. . . . (Bold emphasis added.)

Anderson's assessment from ground zero is irrefutable.


1 Thomas A. R. Nelson, "Speech of Hon. Thomas A. R. Nelson, of Tennessee, On the Disturbed condition of the Country", Washington: H. Polkinhorn, 1861, 1-12.

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    • Norman,

      I love a timeline too. It is good to know everything else going on at the time of an historic event, especially one as complex as the beginning of the War Between the States, which was carefully orchestrated by Abraham Lincoln. Charles W. Ramsdell’s “Lincoln and Fort Sumter”, and Huger Johnstone’s The Truth of the War Conspiracy of 1861, prove it.

      The blog post just covered April, but the “Annotated Chronology of the Secession Debate in the South” in my book Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument., is just like the blog post but covers a year-and-a-half.

      I was, and still am, extremely interested in the secession debate in the South. I read every speech and document I could lay my hands on from that year-and-a-half period. It is unbelievably enlightening, especially on America’s founding.

      Southerners quoted the Founding Fathers constantly and in great detail when debating secession. The most widely quoted phrase from the entire secession debate in the South is from the Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

      Lincoln’s party that had so successfully used hatred of Southerners to rally their votes, and that was draining gargantuan sums of money out of the South by tariffs, bounties, subsidies, monopolies, etc. for Northern businesses, no longer had the consent of the government in the South.

      Southerners would have ended slavery in a much better way than what happened. It was in their best interest to do so, with good will toward all. Once machines could pick cotton, there was no need for slavery. Southerners wanted to be able hire and fire based on business demand like in the North.

      Just look at what happened with the six Union slaves states. Three had slavery just about the entire war – Maryland, Missouri and West Virginia – and did not abolish it until near the end. West Virginia had come into the Union as a slave state during the war.

      Three other Union slave states – Delaware, Kentucky and New Jersey – still had slavery after the war. Their slaves were not freed until the 13th Amendment went into effect in December, 1865, eight-and-a-half months after the war.

      It is a fascinating debate. You are right. A chronology really helps. I plan to publish a lot more on the secession debate in the South in the near future.

      Thanks for writing!


  1. Mr Kizer sir. I enjoy very much your writings of the truth which has been so little told. Thank you for your facts and not fiction in these matters. Keep up this good works. I have bought you book about slavery and I would like to purchase copies of these latest writings. Respectfully yours Wayne Justice

    • Wayne, Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement! I have a lot more coming over the next few months including a new one by author and historian, Michael Bradley entitled: The Last Words, The Extant Farewell Addresses of Union and Confederate Commanders to Their Men at the End of the War Between the States. I will keep you informed on all of it. Good luck with all! Gene

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