As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, many Americans who were then older than ages 7 or 8 can recall where they were upon learning that terrorists had flown hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Besides killing 3,000 people, that attack launched a 20-year war that America lost on August 31, 2021. Bad news still flows from Afghanistan; the final American casualty count remains uncertain.
Sixteen centuries ago — that time frame sounds longer than “160 years” — millions of Americans learned suddenly about another war, one much closer to home. Confederates opened fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor at 4 a.m., Friday, April 12, 1861. The telegraph wires hummed immediately, and Mainers soon heard the news about impending war.
“At a late hour that day the news reached Bangor, causing consternation and indignation,” noted R.H. Stanley and George O. Hall. “Although the daily papers had kept our citizens informed of the doings of the government as well as the Southern States, and although war had been declared inevitable, yet our people could hardly realize that the blow had fallen.”
“WAR! WAR!” shouted the Piscataquis Observer, published in Dover in rural Piscataquis County. Grabbing snippets from Charleston, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, and even Norwich, Conn., the paper presented a confusing, yet informative page 2 layout identifying the patriotic fervor sweeping the loyal states.
“WAR BEGUN!” the Belfast-published Republican Journal proclaimed. “Fort Sumter cannonaded for a day and a half, disabled and Surrendered!”
Initially publishing “the correspondence between the [Confederate] War Department at Montgomery [Ala.] and Gen. [Pierre G.T.] Beauregard, the Republican Journal added ongoing dispatches from Charleston that detailed the deteriorating Fort Sumter, “which was now beyond a doubt on fire.”
As with Americans clustered around TVs on Sept. 11, 2001 and to a lesser extent glued themselves to computers and TVs since the Taliban drove their upgunned pickups into Kabul in mid-August 2021, large crowds watched the Sumter bombardment. “The whole [Charleston] population is in the streets,” the Republican Journal reported.
“Every available space facing the harbor is filled with anxious spectators,” the paper noted.
The dispatches described Maj. Richard Anderson surrendering the fort and evacuating his troops.
War had begun. President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to help put down the rebellion, as he considered the Fort Sumter attack to be. Other Southern states (most notably Virginia) responded to Lincoln’s request by seceding from the Union.
War was on. Bangoreans realized “that the soil of the South that for years had yielded bountiful harvests, was soon to be made red with the life blood of thousands ere peace again spread her white wings over our land.”
“The white winged angel of peace dwells with us no longer, and the demon of war, civil war, flits over the land,” wrote William H. Simpson, the RJ’s “Editor and Proprietor.”
“It is doubtful if a prolonged conflict can be avoided,” he opined. “If those only of the extremists north and south who have provoked it were to suffer thereby, it would be little regretted by conservative men.
“But into the vortex of war will be dragged the lives, the property and the dearest interests of all,” Simpson commented.
North and South plunged into a war with no promised closure, despite early expectations on both sides that the conflict would be short, sweet, and victorious. While Simpson foresaw the horror to come, few people thought the war would last four long, bloody years.
Given our own experiences with 9/11, we can safely assume that people back then would remember forever where they were — and perhaps what they were doing — when they heard the news about Fort Sumter.
That war, like ours’ against the Taliban, would produce a winner and a loser.
Source: R.H. Stanley and George O. Hall, Eastern Maine and the Rebellion: Being an Account of the Principal Local Events in Eastern Maine during the War, R.H. Stanley & Company, Bangor, Maine, 1887, pp. 2; Piscataquis Observer, Thursday, April 18, 1861; Republican Journal, Friday, April 19, 1861
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Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.