At two o’clock today it will be the 155th anniversary of Major Robert Anderson’s surrender of Fort Sumter to hostile forces. His men were starving and down to their last rounds of artillery. The Officers Quarters were burning and there was concern that the Powder Magazine would blow and take out everyone and everything on the man made island. The news of the surrender resulted in jubilation in the streets of Charleston.
Happy Fort Sumter Day?
That arrogant generation, those politicians of the slave owning class, were certain that the Federal Government had not the will to fight to retain the southern states that were falling away. If there was a war, it would be a short and glorious one, with victory pre-ordained. Remember that these were men who had grown up as absolute lords of their estates with unquestioned control over a class of people. Who dare question their motives or their methods now?
Of course, their assumptions were incorrect, and what ensued was the bloodiest war in American history with over 700,000 dead. The vast majority never owned a slave. They were there to defend their families and their homeland. As we ponder the great tragedy that was the War Between the States, I ponder the service of my own great-grandfather Richard Jaques. He was personal Secretary to General Robert E Lee during his brief stint in Charleston in 1861 – 1862. He then went on to serve as personal Secretary and aide to General Ambrosio Gonzales when Gonzales was Chief of Artillery for the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. His was a desk job, and despite the siege of the city, he slept in the family home on Society Street. After the War, he put away his uniform and never spoke of it.
I do honor his service. He served because it was the honorable thing to do. He was there to defend the homeland. But the politics that brought on the war and the reasons behind it, those I cannot honor. We can honor our ancestors and still disagree with their politics.Richard Jaques, like so many others, was pulled into a conflict that had long term consequences that they could never have anticipated.
So, Happy Fort Sumter Day? I think not.