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As early as October 1, 1860, the Ordinance Officer in Charleston was expressing concern to Secretary John Floyd of the War Department. The officer’s concern was not about the safety of the forts in Charleston Harbor but with the safety of the ordinance. He reported doubts that civilian contractors working on the forts could be trusted. Pro-Republican elections a week later increased his fears.
As he looked across the parapets of Fort Moultrie shortly after his arrival on November 17, Major Anderson was worried. His position at Moultrie was near the mainland and the talk of rebellion in Charleston made him uneasy. A seasoned military officer with more than 35 years experience, Anderson had fought, taught and written about warfare throughout his extensive military career. His reassignment to command Fort Moultrie (Charleston Harbor) on November 15, 1860, put Anderson in a role that would forever would associate his name with the start of the Civil War.
Anderson studied his options in the situation. Moultrie was strong, but its proximity to land made its occupation untenable. Anderson's attention immediately turned to Fort Sumter, built on a shoal in the center of Charleston Harbor. The five-sided fort offered a clear line of both sight and fire on all sides and it would be impossible for a Rebel assault to go undetected. Resupplying either fort would be problematic because of the heavily guarded entrance to Charleston Harbor.
An early initiative of Anderson's was making repairs to Fort Sumter. By mid-December the fort was habitable. Anderson, who had been ordered to communicate only with the Secretary of War Floyd or his adjutant-general, was worried because of Floyd's pro-secession stance. With Floyd's resignation on December 25, Anderson felt the time had come. On December 27 Charleston awoke to an abandoned Fort Moultrie, its cannon spiked, and a force of federal soldiers commanding the harbor at Fort Sumter. The Buchanan Administration decided on a relief mission to Fort Sumter. They prepared a man-of-war (the Brooklyn) with 250 troops and supplies for the fort. At the last minute, Winfield Scott decided to substitute the Star of the West in place of the heavily armored Brooklyn. The Brooklyn was then ordered to travel with the Star to Charleston.
Arriving on January 9, 1861, the Star came under fire from Morris Island as it entered Charleston Harbor. As she came about, Fort Moultrie also opened up cannon fire. The Star left the harbor, unable to unload her cargo. On January 12, South Carolina Governor Pickens sent state attorney-general Hayne to Washington D. C. to demand the surrender of the fort. The trip brought some relief to the situation. Anderson's wife would visit the fort regularly, staying locally in Charleston. Early in February, Hayne found his mission had been a failure. Fort Sumter would not be surrendered. During February the government of the Confederate States was forming, but Pickens still wanted the fort. He was urging that Anderson be attacked before March 4, so the attack occurred before the end of the Buchanan Administration, but politicians felt it would be best to wait for Lincoln to be inaugurated. On March 3, 1861 General P. G. T. Beauregard arrived in Charleston with orders to prepare to take the fort.
Beauregard's arrival seems unusual in many aspects. Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker began by referring to the Creole as Peter G. T. Beauregard and the South Carolina citizens seemed preoccupied with his dark olive-toned skin color. He was popular with the local ladies who kept his second floor office in a home on Meeting Street four blocks from The Battery supplied with flowers. According to tradition, they would ask for a locket of Beauregard's hair.
Old Bory slowly relocated artillery placements so as not to alienate the local militia, who had created the original alignment. He ordered the cannon spread move evenly along the harbor from Fort Morris to Cummings Point, where it had been concentrated.
On April 1, Beauregard was ready. He telegraphed Montgomery (then capitol of the Confederacy) and requested orders. He also cut off all communication with the fort, including visits by Anderson's wife. Beauregard would wait 10 days for Montgomery to respond. On April 8th President Abraham Lincoln informed Governor Pickens that he intended to re-provision Fort Sumter. If the boat, continued Lincoln, was interfered with, the federal government would land troops.
Jefferson Davis wired his Creole general on April 10 to demand the evacuation of the fort and reduce it in case of refusal. Of Davis's cabinet only Georgian Robert Toombs objected. Beauregard could not immediately carry out his orders-he did not have enough powder. The following day, after gunpowder arrived from the arsenal in Augusta, Georgia, Beauregard demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter. Anderson refused. At 4:30am on April 12, 1861 a mortar at Fort Jackson belched a single shot rocketing towards the sky. Clearly visible from the entire harbor, the shell arced and began to fall. The rebellion had begun.
On the morning of the 13th, the situation in the fort was bleak. Fires were burning and Confederate gunners had ranged the magazine. About that time former U. S. Senator Louis Wigfall appeared on the island, white flag in hand. The senator had seen the flag of the fort fall and he came over to the island without authorization. Wigfall discussed the possibility of surrender, first with a junior officer, then with Anderson himself. Anderson decided to capitulate, but when Beauregard's men appeared moments later and told the major that Wigfall did not have the authority to negotiate a treaty, he sat down with them and ended the fighting.
Surprisingly, not a single person had been hurt on either the Union or Confederate side during the bombardment. During the surrender of Fort Sumter, Anderson, with Beauregard's agreement, fired a salute to the Union flag. Halfway through the salute a cannon exploded giving the Civil War its first casualties: 1 dead, 5 wounded. The battle for Fort Sumter was over. The Civil War had started.
Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor
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Fort Sumter was last changed on - January 3, 2008
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