On The Eve of War: An Introduction

What was it like in cities and town or what it it look like at soon-to-be-famous landmarks and sites in 1861 before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter? Over the next few weeks, the ECW authors will be highlighting stories or locational details about specific locations “on the eve of war.” We have well-known and lesser-recognized sites on the list and look forward to sharing the series with you.

Sometimes it can be difficult to think back to the weeks before the war started since we look at the period with hindsight. The people living in that time and these places did not know that the coming conflict would last four bloody years and result in nation-changing events beyond the imagination of most in the spring of 1861. This series will try to set the stage of those final peaceful moments and capture some of the thought patterns in the North and South.

The storm, passions, and excitement of “going to war” were brewing, but the time had not fully arrived. In the words of Major Thomas J. Jackson when he helped disband overly enthusiastic cadets from Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia: “The time for war has not yet come, but it will come and that soon, and when it does come, my advice is to draw the sword and throw away the scabbard.”

How each community or location poised itself on the eve of war and what was or had happened to “set the stage” for conflict will the topic for this blog series…

3 Responses to On The Eve of War: An Introduction

  1. In celebration of the coming attraction, “On the Eve of War,” here is my contribution: a diary, available online through UNC. We know about James Chesnut, a mover and shaker in South Carolina politics, through the writings of Mary Chesnut. And we know about the Duncan Family of Hardin County Tennessee and their too-close experience with the Battle of Shiloh via the diary of Elsie Duncan.
    An under-appreciated diary was initiated in 1859 and details a 3-month vacation that took place just prior to the Secession Crisis of 1860; a diary initiated by 16 year old Sarah Lois Wadley of Amite, Louisiana. The Father/ Daughter journey was conducted by steamboat and railroad, and was joined and left by extended family along the way. First stop: Vicksburg Mississippi in August 1859. From that future Gibraltar of the Confederacy, the trip continued via paddle steamer to Memphis; then on to St. Louis. Horse-drawn wagon and ferry boats were used to reach Columbus Kentucky, and Cairo Illinois. Then the Illinois Central Railroad carried the pair to Chicago via Centralia. Detroit was visited; and Niagara Falls. The St. Lawrence River was descended by steamer to Montreal Canada, where Sarah and her Father arrived September 20th a month after leaving Amite. With a side trip to Toronto, the next stop was Portland Maine (where the Navy Yard was visited.) And a stay with relatives in the area until October. Then on by rail to Boston; New York City (with mandatory stop at Barnum’s Museum); and brief visits in Baltimore and Washington D.C. (as the short stops due changing of trains permitted.) Steamer down the Potomac to Aquia, Virginia; transfer to R F & P Railroad for leg to Richmond. Then railroad connections south to Augusta Georgia, with visit to family at Scarboro Georgia. Side trip to Savannah. Boarded the Georgia R.R. to Washington County and visit to ancestral home (NOV 1859). Railroad to Montgomery Alabama (or vicinity) and at head of navigation for Alabama River transferred to steamer “Coquette” and continued down Alabama River, arriving Mobile on November 7. Mobile & Ohio R.R. north to Meridian; change trains to Jackson, Mississippi; change trains to New Orleans… and return to Amite 19 NOV 1859.
    What makes this diary, and record of hotels in cities visited and transport used, especially compelling: Sarah’s Father was William Morrill Wadley, a railroad superintendent for Louisiana who in 1862 became the Superintendent of Confederate Rail Road Transportation.
    [Available online, part of the UNC collection, “Documenting the American South.”]

    1. Wow! I would like to know how they figured out all of those connections! And we think getting to the airport an hour early is terrible.

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