The Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, under the command of Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, opened fire on Fort Sumter at 4:30 A.M. April 12, 1861.
Before the attack on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln had been in the uncomfortable position of seeking support in order to make war on fellow Americans. Opening fire on Fort Sumter was a disastrously bad idea. Offensive action initiated by the Confederacy placed the federal government in the position of the innocent victim wrongfully attacked and provided a compelling justification for President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops to defend the government.
It would have been far more difficult to obtain support to initiate a war of conquest of fraternal states. The majority of Northerners deplored secession, but initially favored allowing “the erring sisters to go in peace.”
Ironically, the South Carolina firebrands who insisted on asserting that state’s sovereignty over the forts in Charleston harbor inadvertently supplied the moral leverage to their own great adversary that allowed him to begin the process of defeating them.
President Lincoln’s call for troops resulted in the secessions of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas, all of which chose to leave the Union rather than supply troops to be used to invade and occupy their fellow states.