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20 December 1860 - 14 April 1861

Fort Sumter, South Carolina

Fort Sumter, S. C., April 12-14, 1861.

Detachments of the 1st U. S. Artillery. Fort Sumter stood upon a small artificial island at the entrance to Charleston harbor, and was the strongest of the defenses about the city. It was a five-sided structure, with walls 8 feet thick and 40 feet high, provided with two tiers of casemates and enclosing a space about 300 by 350 feet. Quarters were provided for a garrison of 650 men, with an armament of 140 guns, though in the early winter of 1860 it was garrisoned by a storekeeper and 14 men. About a mile distant, on Sullivan's island, was Fort Moultrie, garrisoned by 78 officers and men of the 1st U. S. artillery under command of Maj. Robert Anderson, who was also in command of all the harbor defenses. On Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina passed the ordinance of secession, Anderson soon became convinced that it was the intention of the state authorities to seize Fort Moultrie, and decided to remove the garrison and stores to Fort Sumter, which was better equipped for defense.

The change was made on the night of Dec. 26, and was regarded as an act of hostility by the secessionists, who were already organizing and drilling troops about Charleston. They immediately took possession of Fort Moultrie and commenced the construction of two sand batteries at the entrance to the harbor. Early in January the Federal government decided to send reinforcements and supplies to Anderson, and on the night of the 5th the merchant vessel Star of the West left New York with a large stock of provisions and 250 men on board. On the morning of the 9th she entered Charleston harbor where she was immediately fired upon by the guns of the newly constructed batteries and compelled to put back to sea. This incident resulted in some spirited correspondence between Anderson and Gov. Pickens, in which the latter demanded the formal surrender of Fort Sumter. The matter was "referred to Washington," but nothing further was done until April 8, when a messenger from President Lincoln arrived in Charleston to notify Gov. Pickens that an attempt would be made to reinforce the garrison. In the meantime the Confederates had organized and equipped a considerable force, which was placed under the command of Gen. Beauregard. Lincoln's message was delivered to Pickens and Beauregard on the evening of the 8th, and the next morning the relieving expedition left New York. It consisted of the transport Baltic with the provisions and reinforcements, the war steamers Pawnee, Harriet Lane and Pocahontas, the steam tugs Uncle Ben, Freeborn and Yankee, all under command of Capt. G. V. Fox. As soon as the Confederates saw that the government was determined to reinforce the fort they assumed the offensive. On the 10th, Beauregard was instructed to demand the surrender of the fort, and in case of refusal to reduce it.

Several messages were exchanged and at 3:20 a. m. on the 12th Beauregard notified Anderson that he would open fire upon the fort within an hour. At 4:30 the first shot of the Civil war, after an open declaration of such an intention had been made, went crashing against the solid walls of Fort Sumter. It was fired by Edmund Ruffin, an old white-haired Virginian, who had been a personal and political friend of John C. Calhoun, and who was at the time the oldest member of the Palmetto Guard of South Carolina. This first shot came from the battery near old Fort Johnson.

The guns of the other batteries promptly responded to the signal and within an hour Fort Sumter was the center of a general bombardment. At 7 o'clock the first gun from the fort was fired by Capt. Abner Doubleday, and was directed against the battery on Cummings' point. In a short time all the guns in the casemates were sending back a spirited reply, but owing to the accuracy of the enemy's aim no attempt was made to work the guns on the barrette, where the men would be too much exposed.

By noon it became evident that the stock of ammunition was not sufficient to keep up the fire at the rate it was then being conducted and for the remainder of the day only 6 guns were kept in action. During the night bombs were thrown at intervals of 1O or 15 minutes by the Confederate batteries and on the morning of the 13th the bombardment was renewed with increased vigor and greater accuracy of aim.

The barracks were several times set on fire by hot shot on the 12th, and the enemy now sent in a greater number of this class of missiles. About 9 o'clock the barracks were once more in blaze and the men turned their attention to removing the powder from the magazine. The flames made headway, in spite of the efforts of the garrison to extinguish them, and when, about 1 p. m., the flagstaff of the fort was shot away, the Confederates concluded that Anderson was ready to surrender.

The flag was soon raised again on a jury-mast on the parapet, but the smoke prevented its being seen by the enemy, and about 1:30 Anderson was notified that a flag of truce was outside, the bearer of which wished to see him. After some negotiations, Anderson agreed to evacuate the fort, provided he was permitted to take with him all arms, private and company property, etc.; to salute the United States flag as it was lowered, and to be conveyed, with his command, to some northern port. These terms were acceded to by Beauregard and at noon on Sunday, the 14th, Stars and Stripes were lowered to a salute of 50 guns, the garrison marched out with music and flying colors, and on the 17th reached New York. During the bombardment 5 men in the fort were wounded, and while saluting the flag 1 was killed and four wounded by the premature discharge of a gun and the explosion of a pile of cartridges. These were the only casualties on either side.

Source: The Union Army, vol. 5


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