“Smack! Boom! Surrender or die!” These sounds echoed off the walls of Fort Sumter as the Confederate army bombarded the Union army to start the Civil War in 1861. With hundreds of thousands of casualties, the Civil War was one of the most tragic events in our country’s history. In the words of Bernard Rostker, writer of the book, Providing for the Casualties of War, “14 percent of people who served in the war died by battle wounds, disease, or other nonbattle reasons,” equaling around 600,000 deaths (77). But, what aspect of the controversy in this American debate threw a spark onto the lighter fluid to make the entire country go into this civil war? The war was fought over whether African American people live lives as slaves or as free humans. About two thirds of the country believed that there should not be slaves and the other third believed that owning slaves was not a problem. With this tension boiling up, the entire country started taking sides. The North, also known as the Union, believed that no man should be owned or controlled by another man. Then there was the South, commonly known as the Confederacy, who believed that people should continue to own slaves. With tension continuing to rise between the two groups, many events started to develop that would push the country into a civil war. However, there are differences of opinions as to the events that created the issues which led to this war. The Civil War was triggered by many events, but the main ones are Nate Turner’s Rebellion, the Bleeding Kansas and the attack on Fort Sumter.
One of the first major events that pushed the inevitable war closer to existence was Nat Turner’s Rebellion. In the beginning of his life Nat Turner was a slave, “born in Southampton County on Oct. 2, 1800, to a slave owner by the name Benjamin Turner,” wrote Patrick Lee, a writer for the Daily Press (19). Turner was simply another slave who was working his way into a better life, a life of freedom. It seemed like Turner knew that if he could obtain an education or learn a profession of some kind, he would be able to eventually make it into a better life. For the first few years of his life he lived and worked with the same owners he was born with on the same farm he was born at. There Turner was allowed an education and he soon became the slave known as the local preacher. Turner obtaining an education showed that he was trying to make it out someway or somehow. Like many slaves he was treated poorly and wished that he could someday live a life without someone owning him. He had very minimal freedom except at the location he worked at. Throughout his lifetime, he was sold three times until he resided with his fourth and final owner by a man with the name of John Travis. This was in the year 1820. Turner labored vigorously under the ownership of Travis for eleven years.
Eventually, Turner began to get fed up about how he and some of the other slaves on the farm were treated. He had eventually figured out that becoming a preacher or a man with an education was not helping to get him out of a life of slavery. It seemed that Turner felt like he was just a pawn in another man’s game. Turner decided that he would do something to change this. Nat Turner began his elaborate plan. Frank Daniels writes: When Nat experienced the solar eclipse on Feb. 11, 1831, he saw it as the sign from God he had been seeking. He began planning to start his rebellion on July 4, but the launch day was postponed as he sought support. There was another solar event on Aug. 13 that Nat interpreted as a sign to begin the rebellion. (6)
However, as Daniels continued in his article, he elaborated how a rebellion wouldn’t succeed unless there was support. Nat Turner knew this. He gathered his followers on the farm and let the word out to the other slaves at the different farms about what was going to go down. On the night of the beginning of the rebellion, Turner got together and explained the plan to the other men. He realized that the way for him to make a statement was by taking action. So, they started by killing the Travis family on the farm that they worked at. The rebellion had begun. The group of rebels grew as they went from farm to farm killing the whites who lived at these places, gathering the slaves, thus creating the first slave rebellion in American history. The author of The Many Incarnations of Nat Turner, Elizabeth Beaulieu wrote, “The Southampton, Virginia slave insurrection lasted for two days in late August, 1831 and resulted in the deaths of approximately fifty-seven whites, mostly women and children” (150). Beaulieu goes on to explain how this event created alarm and confusion to Virginia and to the other slaveholding states in the South. It wasn’t likely that Turner enjoyed this action of killing and rebelling, but for Nat Turner in that point in his life, he was past the point of reasoning. This was a sad event, but it made a statement about what Turner thought and what America would one day fight about. This was just one of the triggering events that would eventually set the country into a civil war. Although Nat Turner’s Rebellion was one of the incidents that helped start the Civil War, another crisis started to boil up into an event that many know as Bleeding Kansas.
Bleeding Kansas was a nickname for the state of Kansas during the time of 1854-1859. All the states in America were dividing up and figuring out which states would hold slaves, and which would not. The problem was that each side wanted as many people as possible for their side for the argument. Because Kansas, was undecided statewide whether they were for slavery or not, the neighboring states flooded Kansas to try to sway the state towards their side. The people of Nebraska, hoping to control Kansas for the benefit of the North, had people coming from all over to sway the government of the state towards their side. Notice how this controversy was so important to these people that they paused their lives for this political battle. At the same time the people of Missouri were doing the same exact thing but for the South.
“Hundreds of people gathered from the surrounding states to the border of Kansas and Missouri continuing to complicate the issue” (James Fuller 2). As can be imagined, two gathering forces that strongly disagree about such a large issue can start to spark some tension. The forces started to grow larger and crowds of people slowly became more and more aggressive towards each other. Eventually, violence started to erupt between the two organizations of people. The crowds, who were tearing to do something other than just protest, began to fight and blood was drawn. Lives were taken and opinions were stated. The amount of lives that were taken at Bleeding Kansas was nothing compared to what the Civil War would soon bring. “The controversy only fanned the flames of the national debate over slavery” (History.com 3). This catastrophic event that happened in Kansas impacted the start of the Civil War that much more. Eventually, the North was able to defeat the South and stop their efforts of making Kansas a slave state. In the words of Albert Castel, the author of Civil War Kansas and the Negro, “Bleeding Kansas had played a key role in defeating the South’s attempt to expand slavery into the western territories” (125). The conflict that the North and South demonstrated here was relatively minor. However, this small victory did not take the wind out of the sails for the South. Eventually the crowds dispersed, leaving behind the lives of the people they’d hoped to win toward their side of the dispute. Yet, somehow this could not stop the inevitable from happening.
On top of how this extremely sad event that happened in Kansas of 1854, another of the main reasons that many people today know and think caused the start of the Civil War was the attack at Fort Sumter. The fort itself was never really a finished fortification. For years and years, the construction project took an extremely long time. It was extraordinarily difficult to get thousands of pounds of rocks from land to an island. The combination of a lack of funds and the difficulty of having minimal materials caused the fort to be never really end up getting finished. Brandi Oswald states in her post Building Fort Sumter, “By 1860, Fort Sumter consisted of an unfinished five-sided stone masonry fort” (7). Even though the fort was never really finished, it was an extremely strong base that easily withheld the first attack with minimal damage. In fact, according to the Washington Post, “No one in the fort was killed during the 34-hour bombardment” (5). That was how well secured Fort Sumter was. However, the lives that would be lost after the attack on Fort Sumter showed the great significance of this attack. The tension that was in the air between the two sides before the attack was obvious, but there was no declaration of war, yet. “Then at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter. After a day and a half of relentless shelling, the commanding officer of the fort, Major Robert Anderson, surrendered on April 13” (Savanah Morning News 9). Thirty-four hours was a long time to be under attack! It was especially amazing that nobody was killed during the initial attack that started the war since it was the cause of death to thousands upon thousands of people during the entirety of the war. The reason why the Union gave up the fort after such a short time was because of a shortage of supplies. The problem was because they had little ammunition or food and the fort was on an island. As imagined, the South was letting no boat aid the Northern troops in the fort. This initial attack by the Confederate army was just the beginning to the amount of fighting that would happen during the entirety of the Civil War.
Imagine if Nat Turner had received an education and had been given the opportunity to help benefit the society he worked in, rather than to just be a slave in it. Imagine if someone was able to stop the people in Kansas from starting a massacre. Imagine if the South had not attacked Fort Sumter. What would have happened then? Well, a civil war most likely would not have erupted within one of the most powerful countries in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people would not have lost their lives. Businesses and business owners would not have had to leave their jobs to fight in a war. If only someone were to have stopped any one of these events, would one of the greatest tragedies known to our country have occurred? Or, was this an inevitable conflict to stop our nations’ greatest evil?
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