The Confederacy's Fatal MistakeMarch is the month that Lincoln was inaugurated for the first time. It is also the month that marks the manifestation of the Confederacy's fatal mistake. The South Carolina hot heads had tried on the secession thing on Andrew Jackson... he threatened to start hanging traitors as he crossed the border & keep at it until his horse stepped into salt water. Not even the South Carolina hot heads were out to lunch enough to not take Jackson at his word. President James Buchanan, on the other hand, was the perfect victim of their bully boy tactics. Look at it from their perspective, Buchanan was an empty suit & Lincoln was just a country lawyer from Illinois. It was a perfect opportunity.
Step one was to shower media outlets with lies about what an extremist Lincoln was. Then, having created the straw man, they went on to create a myth of victimhood. Lincoln's going to free your slaves! Lincoln wants our daughters are going to date black boys! The god given right of white men to hold black human beings as property is going to be taken away by Lincoln! I will not quote the extreme & obscene characterizations of Lincoln that filled the pages of Southern newspapers. Having created a ten foot tall ape like bug-a-boo, South Carolina & many other states used that straw man as their excuse for seceding. After all, what had they to fear from a country bumpkin lawyer who had never held office for more than a single term years ago.
Who can argue with their logic? The poor man was going to be sworn in with secession an accomplished fact. The Yankees couldn't fight & surely would not rally to a goof like Lincoln's call to arms. Everybody knew that the slaves were loyal, loved their masters & in any case were constitutionally incapable of independent thought or action. During the brief time it would take for superior Southern manhood to dispatch the Yankee shopkeepers, the loyal slaves would gladly hold down the fort at home. Neighbors who did not own slaves would be honor bound to fight to the last ditch to protect the property rights of their more fortunate neighbors. Everybody knew all this to be true.
On the face of it in March 1861, who would bet on Lincoln being able to cope with the fire hot drive for secession? There was absolutely nothing in his background to indicate that he was anything but a run of the mill Western deal making politician. The exhalation amongst the South Carolina hot heads & secessionists was one long hosanna to the highest. Their time had come at last & this ape like bumpkin was not going to get in their way. Of course, we know differently.
They had made a fatal strategic mistake of the first order. Even before he assumed power, Lincoln was writing letters & gathering his supporters. A mob of men surrounded Lincoln who were absolutely convinced that they could do a better job than Lincoln any day & only sought to make him their puppet. Generals with delusions of grandeur like MacClellan treated him with sneering disrespect. How & from where Lincoln gathered the intellectual & moral strength to reign them all in is unknowable. From what inner wellspring he gathered the spirit to grow exponentially as a Commander & Chief is unknowable.
The one thing that is knowable is that the secessionists made a profound, fatal strategic mistake when they underestimated Lincoln. The one thing they though they knew for sure turned out to be the one thing that guaranteed they would fail... history is an amazing thing, don't you know?