The American Civil War Erupts: The Attack on Fort Sumter
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Border States: American Civil War

The border states were Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri and were identified by the Abraham Lincoln administration as such. West Virginia, admitted to the Union in 1863 after it seceded from Virginia, is sometimes considered a border state. These states were considered border states because of their geographical location, divided political loyalties, and strong ties to both the North and the South. These ties were economic as well as cultural and familial. When the Civil War began in 1861, slavery existed in Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri, albeit on a scale much diminished from the states in the Deep South. President Lincoln strove mightily to keep the border states loyal to the Union.

Maryland was a state of deep divides, with a distinctively Southern cultural bias and many families with Southern bloodlines. Many pro-Confederate Marylanders pushed for recognition of the Confederacy and abhorred radical abolitionists. By the same token, however, most did not support secession. In March 1861, rioting occurred in Baltimore when pro-Southern sympathizers attempted to stop Union troops from passing through the city on their way to Washington, D.C. Much property was destroyed, and dozens of people were killed or wounded.

In response, the federal government arrested and imprisoned the city's mayor, police chief, and a number of Maryland legislators who were deemed to be pro-Confederate. Martial law was imposed on Maryland, and Baltimore was treated as an occupied city until the end of the war in 1865. Federal troops continuously garrisoned the state as well. On April 27, 1861, the Maryland legislature voted to reject secession, but Lincoln was constantly wary of Maryland's sharply divided loyalties.

In Delaware, loyalties were not nearly as divided. In the winter of 1861 when the Confederacy asked the state to join it, the state's legislature overwhelmingly rejected the proposal. Thereafter, Delaware remained loyal to the Union, and its many industries contributed to the Union war effort. Although there were small pockets of Southern sympathizers in the state, Delaware never posed a serious threat to the Union, and Lincoln worried least about Delaware of all of the border states.

Kentucky, like Maryland, was a state sharply bifurcated by conflicting cultures and political loyalties. Lincoln was most concerned about keeping Kentucky out of the Confederates' grasp, once remarking that "to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor Maryland." Kentucky never officially seceded from the Union, but a group of pro-Southern sympathizers did form their own government, which the Confederacy officially recognized. When the war began in April 1861, pro-Southern governor Beriah Magoffin refused to heed Lincoln's call for troops, which outraged the state's pro-Union factions. In May 1861, the state declared its neutrality, which proved to be short-lived. By the early fall of 1861, Confederate troops had moved into western Kentucky, and Union troops occupied Paducah. As a result of the incursions, the Kentucky legislature ordered Confederate, but not Union, troops to withdraw from the state immediately. Magoffin tried to block the resolution but to no avail.

Pro-Southern factions in Kentucky were dismayed by the legislature's actions, and in November 1861 a delegation gathered at Russellville, Kentucky, to form a shadow government, based in Bowling Green. The Russellville Convention witnessed the election of an alternate governor and the ratification of the Confederate Constitution. In December 1862, the Confederacy admitted Kentucky into the Union. The Confederate government in Bowling Green never seriously threatened Kentucky's overall loyalty to the Union, but the war that saw Kentuckians fighting on both sides tore the society apart and resulted in much fratricide.

In Missouri, there were also sharply divided loyalties. In February 1861, a state convention defeated a measure to secede from the Union and declared the state's neutrality. But when Union troops moved into the state, first moving against a pro-Southern militia encamped at St. Louis, the state was neutral in name only. Indeed, the Union incursion pushed a good number of Missourians into supporting the Confederate cause.

In June 1861, the pro-Southern governor of Missouri, Claiborne F. Jackson, fled the state capital at Jefferson City as Union forces marched toward it. That autumn Jackson set up a pro-Southern government, which passed a secession ordinance and was admitted into the Confederacy in November. Meanwhile, the federal government installed a provisional governor at Jefferson City in the person of Hamilton Gamble. Missourians served in the armies of both North and South, which resulted in sons fighting fathers and brothers fighting brothers. Guerrilla warfare paralyzed parts of the state and wrecked its economy.

President Lincoln had to tread delicately in regard to the border states lest he push one or all into the Confederate camp. He did not, for example, include any of the states in his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which angered many abolitionists and Radical Republicans. Slavery would not be officially abolished in the border states until the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in 1865. Federal troops in the border states were circumscribed in their activities for fear of creating an anti-Union backlash.

Paul G. Pierpaoli Jr.


Further Reading
Hansen, Harry. The Civil War: A History. New York: Signet Classics, 2001; McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988; McPherson, James M. For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
 

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