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The Civil War Begins

Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration as 16th president of the United States on March 4, 1861, came and went without a shot being fired and the dire predictions of imminent hostilities from earlier in the year appeared to many to have been an overreaction.  In Massachusetts, business owners criticized Governor Andrew, who had warned that war was imminent, for fostering a climate of fear that stifled industry.  He was also condemned by his Abolitionist friends for not moving aggressively enough towards the attainment of their objectives.  Unfriendly newspapers pointed out that Ben Butler had personally profited from the war scare since the cloth for the militia’s new overcoats had been purchased from Lowell’s Middlesex Mills of which Butler was a major stockholder.  On March 13, the Lowell Courier reported that the Lincoln administration was resigned to the loss of Fort Sumter and on April 11, the Massachusetts legislature canceled the $100,000 gubernatorial contingency fund it had earlier passed.  To many, it seemed that the crisis had passed.

This was not the view in the White House or at the gun batteries that besieged Fort Sumter.  For more than a month, President Lincoln and the secessionist leaders of South Carolina had engaged in a high stakes chess match over the fate of Fort Sumter. 

The South Carolina coast is characterized by numerous islands that sit astride the mainland like the border-pieces of a puzzle waiting to be snapped into place.  Several of these islands, Sullivan’s and Morris especially, form the shoulders of the nautical gateway into the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina.  Since the American Revolution, the northern edge of this opening had been guarded by Fort Moultrie, the southern edge by several smaller forts.  But the gap between the fortresses was too large, so in the early 19th Century, the US government built Fort Sumter atop a small pile of rock that sat in the middle of the harbor entrance.  Any hostile ship trying to pass between Sumter and Moultrie would be caught in a deadly crossfire.

In the fall of 1860, the Federal fortifications were held by just two companies – less than 100 men – of the US Army, all under the command of Major Robert Anderson.  Since the construction of Sumter had never been fully completed and because of its isolation in the middle of the harbor.  Anderson and his men occupied Fort Moultrie.  But Moultrie was designed to withstand attack from the sea, not from the land, and it would be extremely vulnerable should the South Caroline militia attempt to capture it.  Consequently, on Christmas night 1860, Anderson snuck his entire force across the harbor entrance, occupying Sumter and abandoning Moultrie, a move that infuriated the South Carolina authorities.

While Anderson’s move was tactically sound, it also placed a limit on his ability to hold the fort without resupply.  By early April, the troops at Fort Sumter were nearly out of food, a situation that compelled both the Lincoln administration and the still-new Confederate government to act.  A former Naval officer from Lowell named Gustavus Fox (who would soon become Assistant Secretary of the Navy) came to Lincoln with a plan to resupply and reinforce the Sumter garrison by sea.  In light of the scarcity of military resources – Fox’s fleet consisted primarily of rented civilian vessels and had only 100 Army recruits pulled out of basic training – the odds of success were almost non-existent.

But the South Carolina authorities did not know of the feebleness of Fox’s fleet; they only knew it was coming.  Determined to prevent any resupply of the fort, the Confederate leadership ordered the local commander, Pierre Beauregard (who had been Major Anderson’s student at West Point) to capture the fort.  Beauregard sent an ultimatum to Anderson on April 11, 1861 demanding that he surrender the fort immediately.  Anderson formally refused, but as the Confederate emissaries were departing, Anderson blurted out that if they just waited a few days, starvation would force them to abandon the fort.  This caused Beauregard to reconsider, and he sent his messengers back to Sumter in the middle of the night for clarification.  During this meeting with Anderson at the fort at 3:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, it became clear to the Confederates that further negotiations were pointless, so they informed Major Anderson that their attack would commence in one hour.  They wished each other well and boarded their boat back to Charleston.

At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, a Confederate mortar on Morris Island opened fire, lobbing a shell high in the air towards Fort Sumter.  The forty-three Confederate cannon arrayed around the harbor opened fire and began pounding the fort.  With limited amounts of ammunition on hand, Anderson waited until daybreak to return fire.  He started shooting at 6:30 a.m., but only with the smaller cannons located inside the walls of the fort.  Knowing that his biggest guns on the fort’s highest level were fully exposed to the Confederate fire, Anderson ordered his men to stay away from them lest they become quick casualties.  About 1 p.m., lookouts at Sumter spotted ships out to sea near the mouth of the harbor.  Fox’s ships had arrived, but they loitered out to sea.  Maybe they were waiting for darkness to attack, everyone thought.  Regardless, the Union garrison ceased firing for the evening at 7 p.m. 

On April 13, 1861, the second day of the Civil War, the Confederate batteries ringing Charleston Harbor resumed firing on Fort Sumter at dawn and continued at a slow, methodical pace with the fort firing back only occasionally to conserve dwindling ammunition.  At 7:30 a.m., an explosive mortar shell fell atop one of the wooden barracks buildings inside the fort and a blaze erupted.  From the shore, Sumter seemed engulfed by an inferno; within the fort, soldiers struggled to breath in the thick, acrid smoke.  The sight of the flames caused the Confederate gunners to quicken the pace of the shelling, and soon the fort’s flag pole was knocked down by a shell.  

While the fort’s occupants raced to re-erect the flag, viewers on the shore interpreted the disappearance of the flag as surrender and Colonel Louis Wigfall, a political appointee on General Beauregard’s staff, commandeered a small row boat and headed to the fort.  While Wigfall was in mid-harbor, Sumter’s flag re-emerged from the smoke and firing resumed. Col Wigfall made it to the fort, however, and spoke with Major Anderson, urging him to surrender.  Anderson replied that if granted the terms offered before the firing had begun – departure from the fort with all men, weapons, equipment and the right to fire a salute to the American flag – he would cease firing.  Wigfall agreed; Sumter replaced the US colors with a white flag; and all firing stopped.  

On the shore, there was confusion since no one knew of Col Wigfall’s mission to the fort.  Wigfall was soon at Beauregard’s headquarters, however, and the General ratified the agreement and gave instructions that Anderson be allowed to fire his salute and evacuate the fort the next morning (April 14). Out beyond the sand bars, Gustavus Fox and the naval commanders of the relief squadron were still unready to attack due to their lack of organization, assets and high seas.  They did plan to mount a relief effort to the fort that night, but were perplexed when the firing stopped.  They sent a lieutenant in a small boat under a flag of truce into Charleston to investigate.  He returned with news of Sumter’s surrender and plans for the night assault were abandoned.  Inside the fort, the garrison slept soundly.  Ashore, the inhabitants of Charleston celebrated wildly. 

The Federal troops inside Fort Sumter were up well before daybreak on April 14, 1861, packing their undamaged gear for the voyage north.  Throughout the morning, a flotilla of small boats from Charleston gathered around the fort, anxious to view the departure of the Federal troops and the raising of the South Carolina flag.  At 2:30 pm with everything packed and ready to go, Major Anderson gave the order to commence the cannon salute tom the American flag, one of the non-negotiable terms he insisted upon before surrendering the fort.  Anderson had ordered a 100-gun salute, but when reloading after the 47th shot, a bag of gunpowder being rammed into one of the cannon exploded prematurely, fatally injuring Private Daniel Hough and wounding the rest of the gun crew, one of whom died the next day.  Anderson’s men rapidly fired off three more shots from other guns, and the salute ceased at 50.  

At 4:30 pm, Anderson marched his men out the front gate of Sumter and boarded a small steamer that would ferry the men and their equipment out to the US fleet waiting beyond the sandbars.  They had waited too long, however, and low tide had grounded their ferry, so the men from Sumter spent another night in Charleston Harbor, forced to listen to the speeches and salutes of the triumphant Secessionists from within the fort.  

Back in Lowell, there was no newspaper on April 14 – it was a Sunday – but the paper of Saturday, April 13 contained the following:

THE WAR BEGUN.  By the accounts which we elsewhere publish, it will be seen that hostilities have actually commenced by the rebels of the Southern States.  Here is now no longer a doubt as to their purpose, or as to the duty of the National Administration.  The accounts thus far give no details by which it can be judged which party had the advantage yesterday, although the dispatches are undoubtedly colored by the telegraph operators at Charleston.  The success in this conflict, one way or the other, does not establish anything.  Government has undertaken to supply its starving soldiers with provisions, when the traitors make it the excuse for the commencement of hostilities.  This was expected, and probably ample preparations have been made for it.  No sensible person will doubt the right of the Government to put down the rebellion, and no one will doubt that it is able to do so.  We hope and pray that there will be no delay or child’s play in this matter.  Maj Anderson, it is believed, can sustain himself till succored by the Government, but should he be compelled to surrender, the victory will be a dear one, and will be no means end the contest.  The greatest anxiety is felt in the matter by all we meet, and the hopes of all are that Mr. Lincoln has not sent a fleet to Charleston that will be thwarted in its purpose.   

 After sunrise on April 15, 1861, Major Anderson and his men were shuttled from Fort Sumter to the ships of the US Fleet patrolling outside Charleston Harbor.  Once aboard, the flotilla set sail for New York City.  

In Washington, President Lincoln issued a proclamation which read in part:

. . . now, therefore that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power vested in me by the constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several states of the Union to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress said combination, and to cause the laws to be duly executed.

In Lowell, the Daily Courier reported

The proclamation of the President is received with favor by everybody and all with whom we have conversed say that the Government must be sustained, and the traitors punished for their treason.  The various military companies have meetings this evening, and we trust a spirit will be evinced of readiness to aid in upholding the President, by volunteering their services if necessary.

Later that day, the commander of the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment received the following order from the state’s Adjutant General: “Col. Jones: Sir, I am directed by His Excellency, the Commander-in-Chief, to order you to muster your regiment on Boston Common, forthwith, in compliance with a requisition made by the President of the United States.  The troops are to go to Washington.” That night, the soldiers assembled at their armories and were busy all night preparing for their departure. 

Sandra Yannone reads from “Boats for Women”

As Trasna continues to celebrate National Poetry Month, we also note that this week marked the one-hundred and ninth anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. The ship was constructed by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and its last port of call was Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland. Its loss was one of the most sensational events of the twentieth century, and it remains the third most written-about subject of all time. Here, poet Sandra Yannone, and self-proclaimed Titaniac, reads four of her poems from ‘Boats for Women.’ Published by Salmon Press in 2019, the opening poems in this collection are dedicated to the Titanic.

 

Sailing Day, Southampton, 10 April 1912

 

Most of the city makes its way to the quay to help launch Southampton into nautical history. Everyone knows a crew member on board. As departure time inches closer, families dressed in their Sunday finest run willy-nilly through the streets. Fathers hoist their cargo up onto their shoulders; mothers tug at their little ones’ sleeves. Everyone wants to be able to declare “I was there” when the Titanic breaks free from White Star Dock, berths 44 and 43 at twelve o’clock. On board the crew and provisions are ready: sweetbreads, sausages, fish, and meats, fresh cream, fresh milk, eggs, and butter. 2,000 pounds of coffee, hundreds of barrels of flour, thousands of quarts of ice cream, 8,000 cigars.

 

A Night to Remember Your Beautiful Gone

14 April 2017

 

And there were no more.

Never again could the world

fall apart, off-duty,

put to sea, outdated.

An absurd capacity.

 

This worked out. This meant

she had to carry nobody.

Even so this took care

of only everybody.

The end of class

 

denied anything of investigators,

evidence that hundreds

were kept crawling

from ladders

to escape.

 

They were so hard to find.

The statistics suggest

casualty — not to mention

the chance to be better

but not perfect.

 

Remembered at the gate,

May we pass, they asked.

No. In fairness,

these distinctions

set policy

 

as if from no policy at all –

barred the way

but didn’t tell anyone.

Left to shift,

enterprising,

 

no one seemed

neither anything,

just proud of

covering

arrival.

 

Maiden Voyage

 

I remember this now, a Sunday

as they mostly always were, late fall,

bending over into the back seat of the car

to rearrange the automotive landscape.

 

Her fingers reached over, gently pressing

my spine like silver flute keys.

I heard the solo even as I felt it, fingered

for a long time, and by long I mean

 

still. I wish I had straightened up, turned

and kissed her, a new song,

a tender response to everything

I’ve felt since and after and before

 

her play. Or was her hand

just warming up, practicing,

before it would leave,

needing a stable place to tap out

 

its questions, send telegraphs into the sky

like Jack Phillips and Harold Bride sent for days,

the new Marconi operators so busy tapping out

jovial wishes from Titanic’s first-class passengers

 

that the two could barely keep up

with the news flooding in

of impending ice like the fall before a brutal

winter. Except it was spring, as it is now,

 

just weeks away from the anniversary

of her sinking. I wish I had made a move

that afternoon, used the binoculars to see

the iceberg in time to turn the ship, to turn

 

around and look back to kiss her

one first time. But I stayed half

open in the car, folded

like a nautical chart, asleep at the helm,

 

while her hand circumnavigated my back.

I kept the memory of that and wrote this

poem instead. And Jack Phillips will go down

with his ship, and Harold Bride will survive,

 

and I’m not sure which one I am

and which one is she or which relics of what

we are to each other will be recovered

years from now from the depths of this sea,

 

placed under glass in an exhibit

never called wreckage, although

that’s what all this is, and maybe

all a maiden voyage is ever meant to be.

 

Boats for Women

Yes, the boat sank. Yes, it broke in two like a stereotypical heart before it plummeted to depths no one could measure until seventy years later technology caught up and looked its ancestor in the face. Yes is the way the years oxidize the steel, and yes wipes the name Titanic off the bow. Yes are the lifeboats, the davits, the call for women and children first. Yes are the men who cry from the decks.  Sometimes when I kiss her, I am leaving a yes on her lips to remind her that I will go down with the ship. Sometimes when she whispers yes, she is staying on board. But there is always room in the lifeboats for two more women. Yes is the fact that if we were alive on that night, we would have lived.

 

 

Sandra Yannone grew up near the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, where the mouth of the Connecticut River meets Long Island Sound. Her interest in the Titanic disaster of 1912 sparked a dialogue with Ireland, the country where Titanic was built (Belfast) and her final port of call (Cobh, formerly known as Queenstown at the time of the disaster). Salmon Poetry (Co. Clare) published her debut collection Boats for Women in 2019 and will publish The Glass Studio in 2022. Her poems and reviews have appeared in print and online journals including Ploughshares, Poetry Ireland Review, The Stony Thursday Book, Impossible Archetype, The Blue Nib, Live Encounters, Women’s Review of Books, and Lambda Literary Review and have been nominated for the Best of the Net and Pushcart Prizes. She currently hosts Cultivating Voices LIVE Poetry on Facebook via Zoom on Sundays. Visit her at www.sandrayannone.com.

Biden to exit the “Graveyard of Empires.” What’s next? by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

The April 9, 2010 cover of Time Magazine still shocks. Eighteen-year-old Aisha, her nose cut off, was an all-too-common example of why we were told then that the United States should not leave Afghanistan. After Aisha had run away from home to escape an abusive husband and in-laws, they caught her, sliced off her ears and nose and left her to bleed to death on an isolated mountainside. Eleven years later, the Taliban may be at least as strong in Afghanistan as it was then. Despite our military presence and the loss of more than 2300 American lives (52,000 wounded) and the deaths of 3500 of our allies and 100,000 civilians, we surely have not succeeded in bringing peace and stability to that country. Nor have we succeeded reversing the circumstances that deprive Afghan women of their rights to safety, education, the ability to go about freely and avoid being forced into marriages or prostitution. Their equal rights exist largely on paper.

Listening to President Biden yesterday announce full US military withdrawal from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I  thought of the late Sally Goodrich, whose son Peter was killed on UAL Flight 175 that crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Vermont educator translated her consuming grief into building a school for girls in Afghanistan. She raised more than $300,000, made several dangerous trips there, and, in 2006, opened a K-8 school for 500 girls in a village in Logar. (Its enrollment would grow to 700.) The Peter Goodrich Memorial Foundation also funded wells, dental services, library collections, and tricycles for those who had lost limbs in landmine explosions. Other humanitarian efforts grew from there, but eventually the Taliban took over, and Sally Goodrich’s dream could not be fulfilled.

Nor could the dreams of those misguided policymakers whose good intentions and misreading of history led to a self-defeating mission creep. We destroyed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden (in Pakistan) and much of his core operation.  But terrorism still exists in Afghanistan and has grown elsewhere, especially Somalia, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula and Syria. And for too long we’ve underestimated our immediate threat, domestic terrorism.

I understood why we invaded in the first place: to stop plots to attack our homeland. But it’s baffling why we remain there. To do endless nation-building thinking we’d nip future terrorism in the bud? Was it simple hubris thinking we could replace a brutal fundamentalist theocracy with a sustainable Central Asian variant of a Western secular democracy? How did that serve our national interest, especially when we have so much work to do at home on strengthening the same democratic norms, reconciling partisan tribalism and implementing fair power-sharing arrangements that we‘ve been preaching to the Afghanis and Taliban.

Our primary goals were achieved. Time proved that mission creep was a failure. But achieving those secondary objectives to establish a sustainable democracy that protected human rights and respected Western norms of rule of law was, despite some minimal gains, simply impossible. There’s a reason that Afghanistan is known as the “graveyard of Empires? “ Who were we to believe that we would succeed where others had failed?

Biden’s decision does not mean we won’t stay engaged in the area. It just means the phase of direct American military involvement is over. Back in 1980, we aided Bin Laden’s Mujahedin against the Russians. Our track record hasn’t improved. Still, US humanitarian aid alone and through international organizations should continue.

In the next five months, while ensuring the safe withdrawal of our troops, we must prioritize planning the extrication of certain Afghanis. Learning from the Vietnam and Iraq aftermaths, we must provide expeditious asylum for all Afghani interpreters, helicopter pilots and others whose support of our efforts there make them targets for extermination by the Taliban immediately upon our departure.

Our diplomatic efforts shouldn’t depend on having boots on the ground in perpetuity in a failed Afghanistan war. Looking ahead, we must focus on strengthening our position in the international arena, facing larger threats posed by China and Russia, and putting down domestic terrorists within our own borders. Salvaging democracy on our home front can’t be overlooked while taking our message of “exceptionalism” to the rest of the world.

City Walk: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Market Basket

City Walk: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Market Basket

By George Chigas

A funny thing happened during my city walk a week ago Sunday. It started off like any another day during Covid. After several chilly days of rain, the temps had warmed up and the sun was out in all its glory; a good day for a city walk. While pleasant enough, there was nonetheless a steady headwind that I had to lean into with no little effort as I made my way to the Tsongas Center. Having arrived at the Center, I decided to take a short break and sit on the greening grass (a first for me since the winter melt). What a luxury! I took out a bag of mixed nuts and a bottle of juice from my backpack and sat cross-legged in the sun to watch a father and his two teenage daughters learn by trial and error (mostly error!) how to skateboard in the empty parking lot across the street. What fun they were having!

After this amusing interlude, I carried on to University Crossing, planning to turn up Fletcher Street as usual to get to the Market Basket on Broadway. But after the previous days of rain, during which I remained couped up inside my apartment, I wanted to take advantage of the good weather and decided to go for a longer walk than usual. I thought I might even go as far as South Campus and turn onto Broadway from there. But when I arrived at the intersection of Pawtucket and School Street, I suddenly felt the urge to stop. For the first time in my life and after many years of living in Lowell, I decided to walk the Fourteen Stations of the Cross at the old Franco-American School, now converted to “luxury apartments for lease” according to the large to me unsightly advertisement that has replaced the school’s solid iron sign that had stood like a classic Lowell landmark on that corner for so many years.

The Fourteen Stations are being completely renovated now as part of the school’s transfiguration into luxury apartments, such that in its current state of repair I had to start incongruously at the last station, where Jesus is being removed from the cross and placed in the sepulcher, and follow the stations of the crucifixion in reverse. Nonetheless, at each station, I admired the excellent renderings of Jesus and the other figures arranged in the handsome glass cases, each topped with a white cross. The face of Jesus is full of love and mercy, while the expression on the other figures is one of profound grief, in contrast to the scowling grimaces of the Roman workmen charged with ignominious task of nailing the son of God to the cross and dragging him forward with ropes.

After reaching the last stations, the first chronologically, where Jesus is condemned to death and ordered to take up his cross, I came to the steps of the large concrete hill topped with its magnificent crucifix. I climbed to the top and looked up at the cross and large statue of Jesus with its traces of blood dripping from the iron spikes ran into his hands and feet and body. In the background, “the frothing Merrimack” swelled and roared with spring thaw as it surged forward. But below the cross, it was relatively serene and calm. There was also an old oak stool at the foot of the cross for visitors to kneel and pray. I wondered if the stool was always there or just put there for that day for some reason. Remarkably, I still hadn’t realized what day it was.

Leaving the grounds of the old school, instead of going all the way to South Campus, I decided to walk up School Street to get to Broadway. I felt a second wind filling me, and with renewed strength and vigor I quickly reached the top of the street then descended to the intersection with Broadway on the other side. I turned left and walked briskly towards Market Basket, but as I got closer I was surprised to see that the parking lot was empty. How strange! I was certain the store was open 7 days a week. Indeed as I approached the entrance, the large sign in the store’s front window confirmed the same. It wasn’t until I read the small temporary sign taped to the automatic door that I finally understood: “Closed all day Easter Sunday, April 4.”

I was shocked. How could I have not known what day it was? Has being quarantined in my apartment all winter so completely cut me off from the world and people around me? Thank God, it’s almost over! Let’s hope and pray we’ve learned something from this ordeal and are ready to do better next time.

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