By Robert C. Bray
R. Forest Colwell Professor of American Literature, Illinois Wesleyan University

Within hours of learning, via telegraph, of the April 12, 1861, Confederate attack on Ft. Sumter, citizens of McLean County began planning for civil war. Some with a reluctance built of a deep understanding of what internecine conflict could do to a nation, but many more, perhaps most, with a sense that it was high time that a recalcitrant and now “rebel” South got punished. As the editor of the Daily Pantagraph exulted, “War is upon us at last!”

What had been a protracted political and sectional dispute during the 1850s was suddenly a matter of southern treason, and no “Northern man will dare to stand up in our midst,” the April 13th editorial continued, “to palliate the hell-born treason of the Secessionists!” (DP 13 April 1861) In the weeks to come, more than one county citizen would find to his chagrin that the only really free speech left to him was to shout out in favor of the Union.

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