After Lincoln was elected president 11 states seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. What circumstances surrounding this secession led to the first battle of the war, and where did the first battle take place?
After President Lincoln's election on the 6th of November 1860, the eleven Confederate states did not secede immediately. South Carolina, and then the remaining six states of the lower south (Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas) seceded from the Union between the 20th of November and 1st of February 1861, leaving Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina still loyal to the Union.
Unionists from those northern slave states made it clear that they would remain loyal so long as the incoming Lincoln administration guaranteed the safety of slavery in states where it already existed, but more ominously employed no 'coercion' against the seceded states.
Fort Sumter, a strategically important military installation in Charleston harbour, became the focal point for that question of 'coercion'.
During his inaugural address Lincoln, cognisant of the fragile loyalty of northern slave states, hoped to place responsibility for the start of hostilities on the newly elected Confederate president Jefferson Davis. He stated that the United States intended to:
This statement was deliberately vague about what 'occupy and possess' meant, since the Confederate states had long since seized almost all federal buildings in the south. Lincoln hoped that Unionist sentiment would reassert itself in the south before this question was tested with force.
Time ran out in April 1861 as supplies for the federal garrison at Fort Sumter began to dwindle. In March, having been informed by Major Anderson (the fort's commander) that supplies were running low, decided to send an unarmed transport to resupply the fort. Lincoln hoped that if Confederates around Charleston harbour fired on the ship, then the north would appear as the injured party.
Jefferson Davis decided to the pre-empt the arrival of the ship and ordered a request for the fort's surrender be sent before it arrived. Anderson refused to capitulate and at 4:30 am on the 12th of April southern guns opened fire.
Thirty six hours later, Anderson and his garrison surrendered and the following day Lincoln declared a state of insurrection and called out 75,000 militia from the northern states.
This call galvanised sentiment in the south and between the 17th of April and the 20th of May, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee all seceded. The addition of these states provided nearly 40% of the troops to Confederate armies and guaranteed a long and bloody conflict.
Quotes and references from:
Gary W. Gallagher, Stephen Douglas Engle, Robert K. Krick. The American Civil War: this mighty scourge of war. Osprey Publishing, 2003
The first battle occurred at Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861.
After its seccession, South Carolina demanded that the US withdraw its military presence from Charleston, but instead the Army commander relocated his forces to the island fortress at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. This led to a standoff, and when the fort's supplies grew thin President Lincoln sent in supply ships. At this point the Confederates demanded surrender of the fort, which was refused, and so they began artillery bombardment from the shores surrounding the harbor.
A much more detailed account of the events leading up to the battle can be found at CivilWar.org