This Day in the Law
April 12

American Civil War Begins (1861)

On April 12, 1861, the American Civil War began when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Tensions had been building for years, and things came to a head when Abraham Lincoln was elected in the 1860 presidential race. Lincoln's victory triggered South Carolina's declaration of secession from the Union, and six more Southern states made similar declarations. In February 1861, seven states adopted a constitution for the Confederate States of America and established their capital in Montgomery, Alabama.

In March 1861, the South sent delegates to Washington and offered to enter into a peace treaty with the United States. Lincoln rejected any negotiations with Confederate agents because the Confederacy was not a legitimate government.

At this time, the North held Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina and Lincoln was determined to hold the fort. For several weeks, weapons and supplies were transferred to Fort Sumter under cover of darkness. On April 12, 1861, under orders from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, troops bombarded the fort with artillery, signaling the start of the American Civil War. The battle lasted two days, after which the Union surrendered. The Confederacy won the first battle of the Civil War.

After the battle, four more southern states declared their secession and joined the Confederacy. The Confederate capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia. The war lasted until 1865, when, despite their strong start at Fort Sumter, the Confederacy surrendered.