The National Park at Fort Sumter is having a pretty impressive program that, sadly, I will not be able to attend.
What's more interesting is the drama leading up to those first fatal shots. Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis captured some of the drama of those days in their respective Inaugural Addresses.
In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.....Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible...Jefferson Davis took a slightly different view:
In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it." I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
An agricultural people, whose chief interest is the export of a commodity required in every manufacturing country, our true policy is peace, and the freest trade which our necessities will permit. It is alike our interest, and that of all those to whom we would sell and from whom we would buy, that there should be the fewest practicable restrictions upon the interchange of commodities. There can be but little rivalry between ours and any manufacturing or navigating community, such as the Northeastern States of the American Union. It must follow, therefore, that a mutual interest would invite good will and kind offices. If, however, passion or the lust of dominion should cloud the judgment or inflame the ambition of those States, we must prepare to meet the emergency and to maintain, by the final arbitrament of the sword, the position which we have assumed among the nations of the earth. We have entered upon the career of independence, and it must be inflexibly pursued.What's really interesting is that Fort Sumter was not the most likely place to begin the war. In fact, on April 11, when speaking to representatives of the Provisional Confederate forces surrounding the harbor, Major Robert Anderson, the U.S. Army garrison commander, had communicated that he would likely have to surrender the fort in 2 or 3 days for lack of provisions. But the Confederates, learning that Lincoln was sending a supply ship to the fort, decided that 2 or 3 days was too long to wait and opened fire.
There are, of course, those conspiracy theorists who think that Lincoln provoked the South to fire first, knowing that support for raising the armies that would be needed to subdue the rebellious states would be tough to come by without some provocation.
The evidence does not support this assertion since the the previous Buchanan Administration had also tried to send a supply ship in January 1861 which turned back when fired upon by other South Carolina militia forces.
Nonetheless, it is interesting to ponder what might have happened if the Confederates had again fired on the ship instead of the port, causing the fairly peaceable surrender of the garrison. Would the border states have still seceded? What would the various other state governors done when requested to provide militia troops, especially the Northwest states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio?
More than likely the war would have begun somewhere else, but would the North have been as united?