On April 10, 1861, knowing that resupplies were on their way from the North to the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, provisional Confederate forces in the city demanded the fort’s surrender. The fort’s commander, Major Robert Anderson, refused. On April 12, the Confederates opened fire with cannon. At 2:30 p.m. the following day, Major Anderson surrendered.
On April 15, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the Southern rebellion, a move that prompted Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina to reverse themselves and vote in favor of session. (Most of the western section of Virginia rejected the session vote and broke away, ultimately forming a new, Union-loyal state, West Virginia.)
The United States had always maintained only a small professional army; the nation’s founders had feared a Napoleon might rise up and use a large army to overthrow the government and make himself a dictator. Many graduates of the U.S. Army’s military academy, West Point, resigned their commissions in order to fight for the South—this was especially true in the cavalry arm, but no members of the artillery “went South.” The Lincoln Administration had to rely on large numbers of volunteers from the states and territories.
In Richmond, Virginia, the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, faced a similar problem in raising and equipping armies. Neither side expected a war of long duration. Volunteers were asked to serve for 90 days. “One big battle, and it’ll be over,” was the commonly expressed belief on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Southerners thought Northerners too weak and cowardly to fight. Northerners thought a dependence upon slave labor had rendered Southerners too weak both physically and morally to present a serious battlefield threat. Both sides were due for a rude awakening.