On April 12th 1861, the U.S. Civil War formally began. As in the first shots fired at Fort Sumter. One can argue technicalities. Washington tried to resupply the fort on 9 January 1861, and the unarmed merchant ship was fired upon by South Carolina shore batteries. And even earlier "[o]n December 26, 1860, U.S. Major Robert Anderson surreptitiously moved his small command from the indefensible Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island to Fort Sumter" (Geeked from Wikipedia), so things were already in motion.
Some argue that the Civil War began with the election of Abraham Lincoln. Maybe. Or perhaps it was James Buchanan's failure to do anything. Personally, I think it goes deeper and earlier.
Watch 1776 -- you can see the seeds of conflict embedded in Philadelphia in July 1776. Take a look at the text, and look to see what's in it -- and what isn't.
And I'm not talking just about slavery. Some people say the Civil War was all about slavery. Some argue it was about state's rights. Some say it's about the union, and whether once assembled, it could be dissolved or seceded from. I suppose it's about all of these things. And what was important in 1861, changed and evolved over the years to 1865.
And as I mentioned the other day, we watched a number of episodes of the recent PBS rerun of Ken Burn's definitive The Civil War. After the series aired the first time, we went to two talks that Ken Burns gave locally. I was always struck by something he said then, and was also featured in his documentary. That before 1861 people said "The United States are..." And after 1865, people said "The United States is..."
Mention "The Civil War" to an American and they immediately link to 1861-1865.
This has happened with other events. Before 15 April 1912, it was "RMS Titanic" and after... "The Titanic".
One could argue that the Civil War was necessary to anneal and forge America. Alas, it did not rid us of the scourge of slavery. It only redistributed things, especially as an impatient nation threw itself into the work of rebuilding and expanding and blasting their way towards the 20th century.
There are some who would like to throw away much of what we've built since 1776 and 1865. Even some talk of a new round of secession. Sigh. We've been down that road, it wasn't pretty, and the people talking this talk are a majority only in their own minds. We don't need the Second Civil War, CW II, Civil War - The Sequel. We've moved our wars offshore. We don't want modern warfare inside these borders. Anyone who does is a fool. I'm pretty sure that North and South didn't know what they were getting into in 1860-1861.
Growing up in the North, upstate New York, the Civil War was more of historical interest. It took on a different meaning when we moved to North Carolina. As fascinating as it is intellectually, it was a traumatic event for those involved. A chunk of a generation killed. And to some, the adventure of a lifetime.
It is ironic that April 11th includes "the most boring day in the 20th century". And April 12th includes this event, albeit in the 19th century, and the anniversaries noted previously. Arbitrary to be sure, but that's history.