And I’m Christopher Cruise.
In late 1860 and early 1861, South Carolina and other southern states withdrew from the Union. They formed a new nation called the Confederate States of America.
But Abraham Lincoln, the president of the United States, said the southern states did not have right to secede. And he said he would not accept the South’s demand to remove U.S. soldiers from South Carolina. The soldiers defended a base in Charleston Harbor called Fort Sumter.
So, Confederate leaders ordered an attack. Just before sunrise on April 12, 1861, a shell exploded above Fort Sumter. It was the first shot fired in the American Civil War.
Major Robert Anderson led the small force of U.S. soldiers at Fort Sumter. Anderson could not use his most powerful cannons to answer the Confederate attack. The cannons were in the open at the top of the fort, where the gunners were not protected. Too many of his men would be lost if his force tried to fire these guns.
So Anderson had his men fire smaller cannons from better-protected positions. These, however, did not do much damage to the Confederate guns. A big cloud of smoke rose high in the air over Fort Sumter.
U.S. Navy sailors could see the smoke a few miles outside Charleston Harbor. They were protecting a ship bringing food for the men at Sumter.
But neither the sailors nor the food could reach the fort to help Major Anderson. Confederate boats blocked the entrance to the harbor. And powerful Confederate guns could destroy any ship that tried to enter.
Confederate shells continued to smash into Sumter throughout the night and into the morning of a second day. The fires burned higher. Smoke filled the rooms where U.S. soldiers attempted to fire their cannons.
About noon, three men arrived at the fort in a small boat. One of them was Louis Wigfall, a former United States senator from Texas, now a Confederate officer. He asked to see Major Anderson.
“I come from General Beauregard," Wigfall said. Beauregard commanded the Confederate troops in Charleston.
"It is time to put a stop to this. The flames are raging all around you. And you have defended your flag bravely. Will you leave, sir?"
Anderson was ready to stop fighting. His men had done all that could be expected of them. They had fought well against a much stronger enemy. Anderson said he would surrender if he and his men could leave with honor.
Wigfall agreed. He told Anderson to lower his country’s flag and the firing would stop.
Down came the United States flag. And up went the white flag of surrender. The battle of Fort Sumter was history.
More than 4,000 shells had been fired during the 33 hours of fighting. But no one on either side had been killed – yet.
I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
And I’m Christopher Cruise.
The First Shot of the Civil War
The Surrender of Fort Sumter, 1861
Printer Friendly Version >>>
The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 provoked the secession of the Southern States from the Union. South Carolina was the first to leave. By the time of the convening of a constitutional convention to establish the Confederacy in February 1861, six other states had joined her. The majority of the Southern leaders who attended the convention expected a peaceful secession; they did not anticipate that their action would lead to bloody conflict. They were wrong. Fort Sumter, lying in the harbor off the city of Charleston, South Carolina, would prove the point.
Lincoln learned that the garrison at Fort Sumter was in trouble on the day he took office in March 1861. The garrison was running out of food and supplies and had no way of obtaining these on shore. The President ordered a relief expedition to sail immediately and informed the Governor of South Carolina of his decision. Alerted, General P.G.T Beauregard, commander of the Confederate military forces, realized he had to quickly force the evacuation of the fort before the relief expedition's arrival. He would try threats first, and if these failed he would bombard the fort into submission.
On the afternoon of April 11, waving a white flag, two members of General Beauregard's staff were rowed across Charleston's harbor to Fort Sumter carrying a written demand for surrender. One of the emissaries - Stephen D. Lee - wrote of the experience after the war:
"This demand was delivered to Major Anderson at 3:45 P.M., by two aides of General Beauregard, James Chesnut, Jr., and myself. At 4:30 P.M. he handed us his reply, refusing to accede to the demand; but added, 'Gentlemen, if you do not batter the fort to pieces about us, we shall be starved out in a few days.' The reply of Major Anderson was put in General Beauregard's hands at 5:15 P.M., and he was also told of this informal remark. Anderson's reply and remark were communicated to the Confederate authorities at Montgomery. The Secretary of War, L.P. Walker, replied to Beauregard as follows:"
" The same aides bore a second communication to Major Anderson, based on the above instructions, which was placed in, his hands at 12:45 A.M., April 12th. His reply indicated that he would evacuate the fort on the 15th, provided he did not in the meantime receive contradictory instructions from his Government, or additional supplies, but he declined to agree not to open his guns upon the Confederate troops, in the event of any hostile demonstration on their part against his flag. Major Anderson made every possible effort to retain the aides till daylight, making one excuse and then another for not replying. Finally, at 3:15 A.M., he delivered his reply. In accordance with their instructions, the aides read it and, finding it unsatisfactory, gave Major Anderson this notification:"
"The above note was written in one of the casemates of the fort, and in the presence of Major Anderson and several of his officers. On receiving it, he was much affected. He seemed to realize the full import of the consequences, and the great responsibility of his position. Escorting us to the boat at the wharf, he cordially pressed our hands in farewell, remarking, 'If we never meet in this world again, God grant that we may meet in the next.'
It was then 4 A.M. Captain James at once aroused his command, and arranged to carry out the order. He was a great admirer of Roger A. Pryor, and said to him, 'You are the only man to whom I would give up the honor of firing the first gun of the war'; and he
The boat with the aides of General Beauregard left Fort Johnson before arrangements were complete for the firing of the gun, and laid on its oars, about one-third the distance between the fort and Sumter, there to witness the firing of 'the first gun of the war' between the States. It was fired from a ten-inch mortar at 4:30 A.M., April 12th, 1861. Captain James was a skillful officer, and the firing of the shell was a success. It burst immediately over the fort, apparently about one hundred feet above.
The firing of the mortar woke the echoes from every nook and corner of the harbor, and in this the dead hour of the night, before dawn, that shot was a sound of alarm that brought every soldier in the harbor to his feet, and every man, woman and child in the city of Charleston from their beds. A thrill went through the whole city. It was felt that the Rubicon was passed. No one thought of going home; unused as their ears were to the appalling sounds, or the vivid flashes from the batteries, they stood for hours fascinated with horror."
How To Cite This Article: