The Battle of Fort Sumter


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The Battle of Fort Sumter

Civil War Pictures of Fort Sumter | Major Anderson, Commander of Fort Sumter | Governor Pickens of South Carolina | The Prayer at Fort Sumter

Sumter, FORT, a defensive work in the harbor of Charleston, S. C. Major Anderson had long urged his government, but in vain, to strengthen the military works in Charleston Harbor. The burden of the few replies was: "Be prudent; be kind; do nothing to excite the South Carolinians. It will not do to send you reinforcements, for that might bring on hostilities." At length he was satisfied that the people were about to attempt to seize Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter


This would insure the capture of all the other forts and his garrison, and he resolved to take position in Sumter before it should be too late. He was commander of all the defenses of the harbor, and, in the absence of orders to the contrary, he might occupy any one he chose. Vigilant eyes were watching him. He revealed his secret to only three or four officers, for he did not know whom he might trust. He first removed the women and children, with a supply of provisions, to Fort Sumter. This was done by deceptive movements. They were sent first to Fort Johnson (Dec. 26) in vessels, with an ample supply of provisions, where they were detained on board until evening, under the pretext of preparing accommodations for them. The firing of three guns at Moultrie was to be the signal for them to be conveyed to Sumter. In the edge of the evening the greater part of the garrison at Moultrie embarked for Sumter. The people of Charleston were aware of the women and children of the garrison being before Fort Johnson, and concluded Anderson was going there also with his troops. Then three signal guns were fired.

The voyage was short and successful; and the little garrison of seventy men, with the women and children, and several weeks' provisions, were soon safe within the strong granite walls of Fort Sumter. A few officers and men had been left at Fort Moultrie to spike the guns, destroy their carriages, and cut down the Hag-staff, when they were to follow to Sumter. The next day (Dec. 27), at noon, the stars and stripes were seen floating from the flag-staff of Sumter. The garrison wanted Anderson to hoist it at dawn. He would not do it until his chaplain, who had gone to the city, had returned. Around the flag-staff, not far from a great columbiad, the inmates of the fort were gathered. The commander, with the halyards in his hand, knelt at the foot of the staff.

The chaplain prayed reverently for encouragement. support, and mercy; and when he ceased an impressive "Amen" fell from many lips. Anderson then hoisted the flag to the head of the staff. It was greeted with cheer after cheer, and the band struck up Hail Columbia!

Governor Pickens sent a message to Anderson demanding his immediate withdrawal from Fort Sumter. The demand was politely refused, and the major was denounced in the State convention, in the legislature, in public and private assemblies, as a "traitor to the South," because he was a native of a slave-labor State. The Confederates in Charleston and Washington were filled with rage. Floyd declared the " solemn pledges of the government" had been violated by Anderson, and he demanded of the President permission to withdraw the garrison from Charleston Harbor. The President refused; a disruption of the cabinet followed. Floyd fled; and Anderson received (Dec. 31) from Secretary of War Holt —a Kentuckian like himself—an assurance of his approval of what he had done. Earlier than this words of approval had reached Anderson. From the legislature of Nebraska, 2,000 miles away, a telegram said to him, "A happy New Year!" Other greetings from the outside world came speedily; and a poet in a parody on the old Scotch song of John Anderson, my Jo, made "Miss Columbia" sing:

" Bob Anderson. my beau, Bob, when we were first aquent,
You were in Mexico, Bob, because by order sent;
But now you are in Sumter, Bob, because you chose to go ;
And blessings on you anyhow, Bob Anderson, my beau !
" Bob Anderson, my beau, Bob, I really don't know whether
I ought to like you so, Bob, considering that feather;
I don't like standing armies, Bob, as very well you know,
But I lore a man that dares to act, Bob Anderson, my beau."

Governor Pickens, nettled by Anderson's refusal to give up Sumter, treated him as a public enemy within the domain of South Carolina. Armed South Carolinians had been sent to take possession of Fort Moultrie, where they found the works dismantled. When, the next morning, Anderson sent to inquire by what authority they were there, the commander replied, " By the authority of the sovereign State of South Carolina, and by command of her governor." From that time until the close of President Buchanan's administration, and even longer, Major Anderson was compelled, by government policy, to see the Confederates gathering by thousands around Charleston, erecting fortifications within reach of his guns, and making every needful preparation for the destruction of Fort Sumter, without being allowed to fire a shot. Major Anderson keenly felt the firing upon the STAR OF THE WEST.  He accepted it as an act of war, and sent a letter, under a flag of truce, to Governor Pickens, as to a belligerent enemy, asking him for an explanation of the outrage.

Pickens replied that it was an act authorized by the State of South Carolina, and that any attempt to reinforce Sumter would be resisted. Anderson referred the whole subject to his government, and wrote to Pickens to that effect, expressing a hope that he would not prevent the bearer of his dispatches (Lieutenant Talbot) from proceeding at once to Washington. No objection was interposed, and Talbot carried to the North the first full tidings of the failure of the expedition of the Star of the West. Two days after the attack on that vessel, Pickens sent his Secretary of State

Major Anderson's Headquarters


(Magrath) and Secretary of War (Jamieson) as commissioners to Anderson to make a formal demand for the immediate surrender of Fort Sumter to the authorities of South Carolina, They tried every art to persuade and alarm him, but in vain. He assured them that sooner than suffer such a humiliation he would fire the magazine and blow fort and garrison into the air. They perceived that the only hope of gaining possession of the fort was in an assault or the starvation of the garrison. That afternoon the authorities had four old hulks, filled with stones, towed into the ship-channel and sunk, to prevent reinforcements reaching the fort.

When the wife of Major Anderson (a daughter of Gen. D. L. Clinch) heard of the perilous position of her husband, she was very anxious that he should have a tried and faithful servant with him. She was then in New York City and an invalid; but she resolved to take an old and tried sergeant, who had served her husband in the war with Mexico, into Fort Sumter. His name was Peter Hart, and she heard that he was somewhere in New York City. After searching for him among all the Harts whose names were in the city directory, she found him connected with the police. At her request he called upon her, accompanied by his wife. After telling him of Major Anderson's peril, she said, "I want you to go with me to Fort Sumter." Hart looked towards his young wife, a warm-hearted Irishwoman, for a moment, and then said, "I will go, madam." "But I want you to stay with the major." Hart looked inquiringly towards his Margaret, and replied, "I will go, madam." " But, Margaret," said Mrs. Anderson, "what do you say?" "Indade, ma'am, it's Margaret's sorry she can't do as much for you as Pater can," was the reply. "When will you go, Hart?" asked Mrs. Anderson. " To-night, madam, if you wish." "Tomorrow night at six o'clock I will be ready," said Mrs. Anderson. In spite of the remonstrances of her physician, the devoted wife left New York on Jan. 3, 1861, for Charleston, accompanied by Peter Hart in the character of a servant, ready at all times to do her bidding. None but her physician knew her destination. They traveled without intermission, and arrived at Charleston late on Saturday night. She had neither eaten, drunk, nor slept during the journey, for she was absorbed with the subject of her errand. From Wilmington to Charleston she was the only woman on the train. Therein, and at the hotel in Charleston, she continually heard her husband cursed and threatened. She knew Governor Pickens personally, and the next morning she sought from him a permit for herself and Hart to go to Fort Sumter. Ire could not allow a man to be added to the garrison. Regarding with scorn the suggestion that the addition of one man to a garrison of seventy or eighty, when thousands of armed men were in Charleston, could imperil the " sovereign State of South Carolina," Mrs. Anderson sent a message to the governor, saying, "I shall take Hart with me, with or without a pass." Her words of scorn and her message were repeated to the governor, and he, seeing the absurdity of his objection, gave a pass for Hart. At 10 A.M. on Jan. 6, accompanied by a few personal friends, Mrs. Anderson and Peter Hart went in a boat to Fort Sumter. As she saw the banner over the fort she exclaimed, " The dear old flag!" and burst into tears. It was the first time emotion had conquered her will since she left New York. As her friends carried her from the boat to the sally-port, her husband ran out, caught her in his arms, and exclaimed, in a vehement whisper, "My glorious wife!" and carried her into the fort. "I have brought you Peter Hart," she said. "The children are well. I return tonight." In her husband's quarters she took some refreshments. The tide served in the course of two hours, and she returned to Charleston. She had reinforced Fort Sumter with Peter Hart, a more efficient power at the right hand of Major Anderson at that critical moment than a hundred soldiers would have been, for he was ever vigilant, keen, faithful, judicious, and brave, and was the major's trusted friend on all occasions. On a bed placed in the cars, and accompanied by Major Anderson's brother, the devoted wife started for New York that evening. She was insensible when she reached Washington. A friend carried her into Willard's Hotel. Forty-eight hours afterwards she started for New York, and there she was for a long time threatened with brain fever. This narrative, in more minute detail, was from the lips of Mrs. Anderson.

On the day on which President Lincoln was inaugurated (March 4, 1861), a letter was received at the War Department from Major Anderson, dated Feb. 28, in which he expressed an opinion that reinforcements could not be thrown into Fort Sumter within the time specified for his relief, and rendered necessary by the limited supply of provisions, and with a view of holding possession of the same, except with " a force of not less than 2,000 good and well-disciplined men." This letter was laid before the cabinet March 5. General Scott was called in. The letter was considered, and Scott concurred in the opinion of Anderson. No sufficient force was at hand under the control of

the government, nor could they be raised and taken to Charleston Harbor before Anderson's supplies would be exhausted. The President, anxious for peace, was in favor of abandoning the fort, as there seemed to be no power in the government to save it. Nearly every member of the cabinet agreed with him. GUSTAVUS V. Fox, who had been a lieutenant in the navy, and had already through Secretary Holt presented (Jan. 7) to President Buchanan a plan for provisioning and reinforcing Sumter, was sent for. The plan was to have supplies put up in portable packages;


to have vessels appear with them and troops off Charleston Bar in a large ocean steamer; to have three or four men-of-war as a protecting force; to have this vessel accompanied by three fast New York tugboats, and, during a dark night, to send in supplies and troops in these tugs or in launches, as should seem best after arrival and examination. Fox convinced the President of the feasibility of this plan. The President believed, if there seemed even a small chance of success, that it would be better to attempt sending aid to Anderson whether it should succeed or not. He thought that to abandon the position, under the circumstances, would be ruinous. Fox was sent to visit Charleston Harbor. With Captain Hartstene of the navy, who had joined the Confederates, he visited Fort Sumter, March 21, by permission of Governor Pickens, and ascertained that Anderson had supplies that would last him until April 15. On his return, Fox reported to the President that any attempt to reinforce Anderson must be made before April 15. The President yearned for peace. He sent for a professed Union man in the Virginia convention then in session, and told him that if the convention would adjourn, instead of staying in session menacing the government, he would immediately order the evacuation of Fort Sumter. Instead of showing a willingness to preserve peace, the professed Unionist said to the President, " The United States must instantly evacuate Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens, and give assurances that no attempts shall be made to collect revenues in Southern ports." This demand for the national government to recognize the Provisional Confederate government at Montgomery as a sovereign power decided President Lincoln that all temporizing must end. He had said at Trenton, on his way to Washington, "It may be necessary to put the foot down firmly." He did so at once. Overruling the persistent objections of General Scott and other military authorities, he verbally authorized Mr. Fox to fit out an expedition according to his former plan for the relief of Fort Sumter. A written order to that effect was given to Fox April 4. In order that faith might be kept "as to Sumter," the President notified Governor Pickens that he was about to send a supply of provisions only to the garrison, and that if these provisions were allowed to enter, no more troops should be sent there. This must he done peaceably if possible; if not, by force, as the governor might choose. In spite of all official hindrances, Fox, with wonderful energy and skill, fitted out the expedition at New York, and sailed with it for Charleston Harbor on the 9th in the steamship Baltic with 200 recruits. The entire relief squadron was composed of the United States ships Pawnee, Powhatan, Pocahontas, and Harriet Lane, and three tugs. The Powhatan was the flag-ship of the expedition. While passing down New York Bay, the Powhatan was boarded by Lieutenant (afterwards Admiral) Porter, and by order of the President went directly to Fort Pickens, then, like Sumter, threatened by the Confederates. A terrible storm on the way deprived the expedition of all the tugs, and only the Baltic, Pawnee, and Harriet Lane arrived in a heavy storm off Charleston Bar. Before the storm abated it was too late to relieve the fort. The judgment and energy displayed by Sir. Fox on this occasion caused him to be appointed assistant Secretary of the Navy, and as such he performed important services during the war.

For three months after the expulsion of the Star of the West from Charleston Harbor, Major Anderson and his little garrison suffered and toiled until their provisions were exhausted, and a formidable army and forts and batteries, all prepared for the reduction of that fort, had grown up around them. The Charleston newspapers and politicians at public gatherings were constantly inflaming the public mind with political excitement, calling the fort the " Bastile of the Federal Union," and declared that "the fate of the Southern Confederacy hung by the ensign halyards of Fort Sumter." The legislature of South Carolina authorized the organization of 10,000 men, and M. L. Bonham, late member of Congress, was appointed major-general of the State forces. Volunteers from every part of the Confederacy flocked into Charleston, and at the close of March not less than 7,000 armed men and 120 pieces of cannon, mounted on logs and earthworks. were menacing Major Anderson and his garrison. These were under the general command of PIERRE G. T. BEAUREGARD, who had been commissioned a brigadier-general by Jefferson Davis. He had arrived at Charleston on March 4. Fort Sumter had been built for defense against external, not internal, foes. Its strongest sides were towards the sea; its weakest side was towards Morris Island, three-fourths of a mile distant. On that side were its sally-ports and docks. On that island the insurgents erected a formidable battery, shielded by railroad iron, making it bomb-proof. Two other batteries were erected on the same island, and armed with columbiads and mortars. They were all fully manned. At Fort Moultrie and other points were batteries bearing on Sumter. The insurgents had also created a curious monster for the water, in the form of a huge floating battery, made of pine and palmetto logs, and plated with railway-iron. Major Anderson's bearing had won for hirer the most cordial esteem of the civil authorities in Charleston. The faithful Peter Hart was his judicious messenger on all occasions, and his trusted caterer for the garrison in fresh provisions in the Charleston market. A source of great anxiety had been removed when, on Feb. 3, the women and children (twenty in number) were removed from the fort and taken to New York. During March rumors were everywhere afloat that the government was about to give up Fort Sumter. Anderson was perplexed by these rumors, but held firmly to his determination to defend it. Beauregard made (March 25) a proposition for its surrender on degrading terms, to which the major replied with warmth, " If I can only be permitted to leave on the pledge you mention, I shall never, so help me God, leave this fort alive." Beauregard apologized.

The message of the President to Governor Pickens produced a crisis. It caused intense excitement throughout the Confederacy, and especially at Charleston. Beauregard received a dispatch from the government at Montgomery (April 10), conditionally authorizing him to demand the surrender of Fort Sumter. He determined to make the demand at 12:00 the next day. All the military and the batteries around Charleston Harbor were made ready for action. Politicians had been urging this blow for some time. ROGER A. PRYOR, lately a member of Congress from Virginia, and Edmund Ruffin were among the foremost in urging an attack upon Fort Sumter. They wished it for its effect on the politics of the State. The Virginia Convention was yet full of Unionists. On the night of the 10th, while Charleston was rocked with excitement, Pryor harangued the multitude on the occasion of his being serenaded. He thanked the Carolinians for having " annihilated this cursed Union, reeking with corruption, and insolent with excess of tyranny. Thank God," he said, " it is at last blasted and riven by the lightning wrath of an outraged and indignant people." Referring to the doubtful position of Virginia, he said: " Do not distrust Virginia. As sure as tomorrow's sun will rise upon us, just so sure will Virginia be a member of the Southern Confederacy. And I will tell you, gentlemen, what will put her in the Southern Confederacy in less than an hour by Shrewsbury clock—Strike a blow! The very moment that blood is shed, Old Virginia will make common cause with her sisters of the South."

This cry for blood, sent to Montgomery by telegraph. was repeated at the capital of the Confederacy. Mr. Gilchrist, a member of the Alabama legislature, said to Davis and his compeers, " Gentlemen, unless you sprinkle blood in the faces of the people of Alabama, they will be back in the old Union in less than ten days." The order went to Beauregard to strike the blow. At noon, on April 11, he sent messengers to demand the surrender of the fort. Anderson promptly refused, but told the messengers that, unless his government sent him relief before the 15th, he would be compelled to evacuate the fort for want of supplies. Towards midnight, after communicating with Montgomery, Beauregard sent the same messengers to Anderson, telling him if he would agree to evacuate the fort on the 15th it should not be attacked. He promised to do so, unless he should be relieved. This answer was given at 2 A.M. on the 12th. Anderson did not know what his government was doing for him, for a messenger from Washington had been detained in Charleston. The Confederates did know. On the previous evening scouts had discovered the Pawnee and Harriet Lane outside Charleston Bar, battling with the storm. Their report startled the Charleston authorities. No time was to be lost, for relief for Anderson was nigh. At midnight the discharge of seven heavy guns had given a signal for all the reserves to congregate. The people rushed to the streets and were scarcely in repose again, when they were awakened by another alarm.

Word had been sent to Anderson that a bombardment of the fort was about to commence. Suddenly the dull booming of a mortar at Fort Johnson was heard, and a fiery shell went flying through the black night. The Bombardment of Fort Sumter had begun, and the Civil War was officially underway.

Ft. Sumter in 1864

Fort Sumter in 1864

Then the great guns on Morris Island opened upon Fort Sumter, and a furious attack began. At his own request, the venerable Virginian Edmund Ruffin fired the first shot at Sumter. Other batteries opened. Fort Sumter remained silent. The men were in the bomb - proofs, for there were not enough to man the guns properly. The officers and men were arranged in three reliefs. The first was commanded by Captain Doubleday. the second by Surgeon Crawford, and the third by Lieutenant Snyder. Thus prepared, Anderson ordered, at 7 A.M., a reply to the attack. The first shot was sent by Captain Doubleday at the strong battery on Morris Island, then all the other batteries were assailed by shots from Fort Sumter. The first shot sent against Fort Moultrie was fired by Surgeon (afterwards Major-General) Crawford. It was caught in the sand-bags, and afterwards sent as a present to George P. Kane, chief of police of Baltimore.

For four hours this combat lasted, when the firing from the batteries became more concentrated, and told fearfully upon the walls and parapets. Some of the barbette guns were dismounted and otherwise disabled, and the barracks were set on fire. The garrison had heard rumors of approaching relief, and when the storm of shot and shell beat hardest Surgeon Crawford ascended to the parapet and beheld the relief vessels through the misty air. They could not get over the bar, for its sinuous channel was uncertain. The workmen at the guns in the fort received food and drink while at their posts, and they toiled on wearily until dark, when the port-holes were closed. The ensuing night was dark and stormy, with high wind and tide. A slow bombardment of the fort was kept up all night. The storm ceased before the dawn. The sun rose in splendor. The cannonade and bombardment was fiercely renewed. Red-hot shot were hurled into the fort. The barracks and officers' quarters were consumed. The powder-magazine was shielded as well as possible. On the morning of the 13th no food was left for the garrison to eat but salted pork. The flames spread, and the sally-port was consumed. To prevent explosion ninety barrels of gunpowder were rolled into the water.

The heat and vapor became stifling in the fort, yet the exhausted garrison kept the old flag flying. Eight times its staff had been hit without serious injury; but at near 2 P.M. that day the staff was shot off near the peak, and, with the flag, fell among the gleaming cinders. Lieutenant Hall rescued the precious bunting before it took fire. Peter Hart carried it, with the piece of the staff, and fastened it, where the soiled banner was kept flying defiantly. Not far off, eighty-five years before, a flag had been planted by Sergeant Jasper, battling for the establishment of American nationality; now defenders of the flag were battling for its maintenance. At about this hour Senator Wigfall appeared at the fort to persuade Anderson to surrender, but failed. Soon afterwards aides came from Beauregard for the same purpose; and then other deputations appeared; but Anderson refused to surrender the fort.

Fort Sumter Flag


Finally, when shot and shell and flame and lack of food had rendered the garrison helpless, he agreed to evacuate the fort, the garrison departing with company arms and property and all private property, and the privilege of saluting and retaining the old flag. Not one of the garrison had been killed or seriously injured. That night they enjoyed undisturbed repose. The bombardment had lasted thirty-six hours, and over 3,000 shot and shell had been hurled at the fort. The evacuation took place the following day—the Sabbath (April 14, 1861) —and the garrison was carried in a small steamboat out to the Baltic, and all sailed for New York.

The fort had been evacuated, not surrendered. Anderson bore away the flag of Sumter, which was used as his winding-sheet, and was buried with him. As soon as the garrison were on board the Baltic, the flag of Sumter was raised to the mast-head and saluted with cheers and firing of great guns from the other vessels. The vessel (the Isabel) that conveyed the garrison to the Baltic did not leave Fort Sumter, on account of the tide, until Monday morning, April 15. The Baltic sailed for New York.


 The praises of Major Anderson and his little band were upon every lip, while the people of the country were deeply moved by the out-rage in Charleston Harbor. Before the evacuation, the citizens of Taunton, Mass., impressed with his prowess and patriotism, had voted him an elegant sword; the authorities of New York gave him the freedom of the city in an elegant gold box. The citizens also presented him with a gold medal, suitably inscribed. The citizens of Philadelphia gave him an elegant sword, and societies and legislative bodies presented him with tokens of the good-will of his countrymen. Finally, the Chamber of Commerce of New York ordered (June 6, 1861) the execution of a series of medals to be presented to Major Anderson and to each man of the garrison.

When news reached Washington of the evacuation of Charleston, in February, 1865, the President appointed the anniversary (April 14) of the evacuation of the fort when the old flag which Anderson took with him should be again raised over the fortress by his hand. A large number of citizens left New York in the steamer Oceanus to assist in the ceremonies. When the multitude were assembled around the flag-staff, the songs of Victory  at Last and Rally round the Flag were sung. Rev. Mr. Harris, who made the prayer at the raising of the flag over Fort Sumter, Dec. 27, 1860, now offered prayer and pronounced a blessing on the old flag. Rev. Dr. Storrs read selections from the Psalms. General Townsend read Major Anderson's dispatch announcing the fall of Sumter. Then the faithful Sergeant Hart appeared with a carpet-bag containing the flag. It was attached to the halyards, when General Anderson, after a brief and touching address, hoisted it to the peak of the flag-staff amid loud huzzas, followed by singing The Star-spangled Banner. Six guns on the fort were then fired, and were responded to by all the batteries that took part in the bombardment in 1861. Henry Ward Beecher, the orator of the day, pronounced an address. So, four years from the time of the evacuation of Fort Sumter it was "repossessed" by the government.

From Harper & Brother United States History, 1905, Volume VIII



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