On April 12, 1861, a ship carrying supplies entered the port of Charleston, S.C., destined for Fort Sumter.
This may appear to have been a regular transaction, but it was not. With the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States, seven Southern states had seceded, South Carolina being the first. The state demanded that all Union facilities in Charleston Harbor be abandoned. All were, except Fort Sumter. Lincoln orchestrated this under the guise of innocence. He knew that if the Confederates attacked first, his forces would only be acting in self-defense if they attacked next.
The Confederates proceeded to bombard the fort, and the Civil War began.
The Civil War -- now marking its 150th anniversary -- was the bloodiest war fought on American soil. There was a total of 1,030,000 casualties, approximately 620,00 soldier deaths. That was 3 percent of the population - about 3 million people in this day and age. The Civil War basically affected every American. Those people who didn't serve in the war had brothers, fathers, husbands, sons, friends, and so on. We must also not forget the incalculable impact of nurses, doctors and manufacturers who, in some cases, really turned the tide of the war.
Civil War battlefields are located all across the East Coast. Some of the more famous battles include the First Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Gettysburg.
My family and I recently went on a cross-country vacation. We had a chance to spend a few hours in Gettysburg, Pa. We attended the visitors' center where there were many exhibits and war artifacts. The main attraction was the Cyclorama, a 360-degree painting of the Battle of Gettysburg featuring a narration. It was spectacular. It illustrated the battle in living color.
Regrettably, we were not able to actually go to the battlefield. We could see it through our car windows, but we couldn't walk around, smell the grass, and feel the atmosphere of the war. However, in some small measure I could feel the spirit of the place. It was quite an experience being on what I consider hallowed ground. The battlefield was everywhere. You could not avoid it.
As it says in my brief TX. bio, I am a fan of history. Being at a Civil War site is my teenage-boy version of being at a Justin Bieber concert. I understand that most teens don't have the same affinity for history. But this is your heritage. The Civil War was a revolution in American history. After the end of the war, there was a new entrepreneurial spirit that didn't exist before. People wanted to invent new technologies. The quintessential American Dream really took off afterward.
The Civil War is not just an interesting subject for nerds to study. The lessons we learned during the war are, I believe, more important today than ever before. One of my favorite quotes by Abraham Lincoln is, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." In the 1860s, that phrase was applied to free states and slave states, North and South, black and white. While we may not face the same kind of divisions today, the quote is equally applicable.
The Civil War has changed my opinion on politics. You could say I'm on the conservative side of the spectrum. I still plan on voting Republican most of the time, but I have a different perspective now. Certain groups like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street protesters are contributing to Congressional gridlock. Compromise has become a dirty word among politicians. Everyone claims to be a patriot.
But my definition of a patriot is someone who puts country above party, whether or not they completely agree with the other side. It is crucial that we remember our shared identity and demonstrate decisive leadership.
Dylan Hansen is a senior at Syracuse High. He likes playing the clarinet and piano, history, and being with friends. Email him at email@example.com.