Sectional pressure and the unresolved issue of slavery had existed even before the construction of Fort Sumter had begun in the 1820s. A growing sense of identity to a certain section of the nation, a commitment to or defense of differing economic systems, an abhorrence or devotion to slavery, the question of expanding slavery westward, the position of state versus federal authority, the eloquent debates and fiery rhetoric expressed upon the floor of the United States Congress, the effusion of blood in Kansas, the beating of a United States senator by a South Carolina congressman, and John Brown’s failed attempt to instigate a servile insurrection escalated the tensions in the United States just as Fort Sumter was constructed, brick by brick, and slowly rose some 60 feet above Charleston Harbor.
What do we hope to accomplish from this observance? That is the question we should ask ourselves, and for each individual the answer is different, as different, perhaps, as to why each man fought during the Civil War.
For me, I hope to reflect, evaluate, and educate. As we live in one of the most historically important cities in the United States, we are keepers of our city’s past. We can neither gloss over the evils of slavery, nor can we outright condemn those who fought for Southern independence. On the anniversary of this historically significant event, let us each in our own way embrace the complexity surrounding the firing on Fort Sumter and recognize the sacrifices that were made by our forbearers.
While I’m not saying that everyone should necessarily be at the Battery at dawn on the 12th — although I think you should — there are so many events, films, exhibits, living historians, and lectures that we Charlestonians should take the opportunity to enjoy and learn from. We’re better for having the discussion. We have a chance to do history justice. By educating oneself and engaging history, you do both past and future generations justice.
In the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, Charlestonians gathered on rooftops to cheer Confederate artillery fire and toast the courage of the federal defenders inside Fort Sumter. They watched as a “perfect sheet of flame” engulfed the harbor producing “a rumbling, deadening sound” announcing the onset of the war. One hundred and fifty years later, let us not gather on rooftops to celebrate the beginning of war. Let us instead come together as a city to better understand the war that defined us as a nation.
Daniel Gidick is a history teacher at Wando High School. In his free time, he is also a member of the Palmetto Guard living history unit. To learn more about the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, visit Morris Island, where the Palmetto Guard will be encamped and demonstrating life during the opening days of the war.