The events leading up the Civil War were tumultuous and revolved around the argument of the rights of individual States to govern themselves without interference from the Federal Government. In the early days of the Republic, most people didn’t see themselves as Americans, but as Virginians, Marylanders, Pennsylvanians or New Yorkers. Political leaders of the time, such as Democrats John Calhoun and Preston Brooks, had used this to inflame regional and national passions in support of the institution of slavery, and many pro-slavery voices had cried for secession. On the outbreak of war in 1861, South Carolina had the highest percentage of slaves of any U.S. State at 57% of its population enslaved; while 46% of its families owned at least one slave.

For decades, South Carolinian political leaders had promoted regional passions with threats of nullification and secession in the name of southern states’ rights and protection of the interests of the slave power.

Alfred P. Aldrich, a South Carolinian politician from Barnwell, stated that declaring secession would be necessary if a Republican candidate were to win the 1860 U.S. presidential election, stating that it was the only way for the state to preserve slavery and diminish the influence of the anti-slavery Republican Party, which, were its goals of abolition realized, would result in the “destruction of the South”:

“If the Republican party with its platform of principles, the main feature of which is the abolition of slavery and, therefore, the destruction of the South, carries the country at the next Presidential election, shall we remain in the Union, or form a separate Confederacy? This is the great, grave issue. It is not who shall be President, it is not which party shall rule – it is a question of political and social existence.”

So on November 6, 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected President over a deeply divided and fractured Democratic Party, while only receiving 40% of the popular vote, the die was cast in the breakup of the Union. Just three short days later, on November 9, 1860 the South Carolina General Assembly passed a “Resolution to Call the Election of Abraham Lincoln as U.S. President a Hostile Act” and stated its intention to declare secession from the United States.

In December 1860, amid the secession crisis, former South Carolinian congressman John McQueen wrote to a group of civic leaders in Richmond, Virginia, regarding the reasons as to why South Carolina was contemplating secession from the Union. In the letter, McQueen claimed that U.S. President-elect Abraham Lincoln supported equality and civil rights for African Americans as well as the abolition of slavery, and thus South Carolina, being opposed to such measures, was compelled to secede.

On November 10, 1860 the South Carolina General Assembly called for a “Convention of the People of South Carolina” to consider secession. Delegates were to be elected on December 6th. The secession convention convened in Columbia on December 17th and voted unanimously, 169-0, to declare secession from the United States. The convention then adjourned to Charleston to draft an ordinance of secession. When the ordinance was adopted on December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first slave state in the south to declare that it had seceded from the United States. James Buchanan, the United States president, declared the ordinance illegal but did not act to stop it.

A committee of the convention also drafted a Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina, which was adopted on December 24th. The secession declaration stated the primary reasoning behind South Carolina’s declaring of secession from the Union, which was described as:

…increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery.

These events would eventually lead up to the bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12, 1861 and the commencement of hostilities in the American Civil War.

One quote that I found on the matter of secession that really is interesting. This quote comes from Alexander Stephens, the future Vice President of the Confederacy in January, 1861 and is a true portent to what was about to occur.

“This step, secession, once taken, can never be recalled. We and our posterity shall see our lovely South desolated by the demon of war.” 

I have always marveled at the events that led up to secession. Having only won their independence from England less than one hundred years earlier, the Union didn’t last as long as the Founding Fathers had envisioned, as regional differences in thinking, mostly in the area of economics, led to this fracture in the country and ultimately to the bloody Civil War that would ravage the nation over the next 5 years. The secession crisis was almost inevitable but really is the result of a failure to compromise. I am not advocating for one side or the other. But see fault with both ways of governing the fledgling Union.

My mother is a proud southerner, having been born and raised in Cordova, South Carolina, a little town outside of Orangeburg and about 40 miles from Columbia. When William Tecumseh Sherman marched through the state ending in the devastation of Columbia in early 1865, my great grandmother Elizabeth Knight told stories to my mother of how her family had to hide themselves in the woods with their animals when she was only 5 years old as Union troops marched through their town burning and foraging. She retained a burning hatred for the North and I witnessed that in my childhood as when we would visit relatives we were often referred to as Yankees. The pain over this fracture is real, even today as these wounds have not yet healed, and most likely never will.

Fort Sumter The Secession Crisis 1860-1861 from GMT Games

Fort Sumter Banner

Fort Sumter: The Secession Crisis, 1860-61, from famed and very productive designer Mark Herman, is the perfect game for this topic as it deals with all of the various issues that led up to the ultimate secession of South Carolina. I love Mark Herman games and own several including Washington’s War, Fire in the Lake,  South Pacific: Breaking the Bismark Barrier and Pericles and have played and love others including Empire of the Sun. He is enamored with the use of the Card Driven Game (CDG) mechanic in his games and I also love it as it truly provides a great experience both in game play and in the experience of learning about history through the game and the event cards. Following in the footsteps of his previous designs, Fort Sumter is a two-player CDG portraying the 1860 secession crisis that led to the bombardment of Fort Sumter and the ultimate start of the American Civil War.

Fort Sumter is a small footprint game (11×17” mounted map) that takes approximately 25-40 minutes to play. The game pits a Unionist versus a Secessionist player. Each player uses the area control mechanic pioneered in Mark Herman’s We The People design and immortalized in Twilight Struggle to place, move, and remove political capital. This aspect is one of my favorite parts of the Mark Herman designed games that I’ve played and I really love the mechanic in Washington’s War. The location of political capital determines who controls each of the four crisis dimensions (Political, Secession, Public Opinion, and Armaments). After three rounds of play, the game culminates in a Final Crisis confrontation to determine the winner. There also is a new unique mechanic that will be utilized in future Final Crisis Series games where you may elect to accelerate the crisis by breaching zones (escalation, tension, final crisis) that yield bonus political capital. This mechanic can be beneficial but it will set you back at least initially as you will lose victory point ground through its use. A fascinating set of mechanics that are sure to create a tense tug of war aspect to each game.  The game ends with a Final Crisis, where cards set-aside during the three rounds complete your final political maneuvers that determine the winner.

Fort Sumter Map x5.pdf

Fort Sumter is now in its final testing and as mentioned above, it will be the first of a new fast-playing Final Crisis Series, covering topics as diverse as the Berlin Airlift, the Gulf of Tonkin, Remember the Maine, Martin Luther’s Reformation, and the Assassination of Julius Caesar. One other final point I’d like to comment on. I love wargames but have always been hampered by their long setup and play times. Don’t get me wrong. We love to play a good detailed 8 hour simulation on the Eastern Front of World War II or the sweeping conflict in the Pacific Theater, but a game that can be played in 25-40 minutes, yet is tense and strategic, and gives me a similar feeling is right up my alley. I am also excited to hear that there are other such games in development.  If you are interested in ordering Fort Sumter, it is available on P500 for the reasonable price of $29.00. Here is the link to the game page:

We also did an interview with Mark in July over Fort Sumter.