Much sooner than we might think. If the Civil War had started in 1841, rather than 1861, it might have taken three weeks for the news to reach all parts of the nation. Thanks to the electric telegraph, however, the news reached all the major cities within twelve hours and most of the countryside areas within forty-eight. North and South, Union and Confederacy alike, there was a profound sense of relief. The tension had lifted, and action had begun. The New York Times put it succinctly: “The ball has opened. War is inaugurated.”
The attack on Fort Sumter by Confederate ships on April 12, 1861, is what started the actual exchange of gunfire in the Civil War, though some historians feel the war was inevitable for quite some time before that.