Part of the USA Today Network

Civil War Voices: Part 1 – First shots at Fort Sumter bring war’s reality to county

– Excerpted from ‘Civil War Voices from York County’

The American Civil War, though rooted in decades of dissension and violence over slavery, westward expansion, and states rights, erupted in the dark on April 12, 1861.

At 4:30 a.m., Secessionist forces in Charleston, S.C., fired artillery at Federal-held Fort Sumter.

A succession of heavy shells arced through the pre-dawn coastal sky, and the lengthy political hatred and fiery partisan rhetoric gave way to weaponry.

The masonry bastion in Charleston Harbor capitulated several hours later, sending shock waves through both the North and South.

President Abraham Lincoln and his controversial anti-slavery Republican Party had captured the White House in 1860, sparking several Southern “Cotton States” to secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America.

It was the CSA’s newly formed provisional army that lit the fuse early that fateful morning in Charleston.

No one could have imagined the suffering and pain that was to result.

* * *

Long before Fort Sumter fell, the seeds of discord had been sown.

Among the many points of contention was the Underground Railroad, with several York County and other south-central Pennsylvania residents playing important roles in trafficking escaped slaves to freedom.

The controversial Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 declared that all runaway slaves must be returned to their owners.

Those who worked in the Underground Railroad now risked fines and imprisonment. For many Northerners, that unpleasant possibility did not outweigh betraying their values and beliefs.

Fugitive William Parker, late of an Anne Arundel County, Md., plantation, was in York in the summer of 1839 or 1840.

“Once in York, we thought we would be safe,” he believed, “but our ideas of security were materially lessened when we met a friend during the day, who advised us to proceed further, as we were not out of imminent danger.”

He moved farther east to Columbia that night.

Twenty years later another fugitive, Osborne Perry Anderson, escaped Federal forces that quelled his leader John Brown’s occupation of Harpers Ferry, Va.

“At night, I set out and reached York,” the freedman wrote, “where a good Samaritan gave me oil, wine and raiment.”

Neither man named former slave and York merchant William C. Goodridge as their “friend” or “good Samaritan.” But scholars believe Goodridge aided both as an agent on the Underground Railroad.

– Scott Mingus and James McClure