Ft Sumter - History

Ft Sumter - History

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Confederates firing on Ft Sumter

Ft Sumter was a Federal fort located in the middle of Charleston Harbor in the South. The Confederates demanded that the Union vacate the fort, when they refused the Confederates attacked and the war was on.

The federal government had a number of forts and military installation in the South. As Southern states seceded, many of them were quickly turned over by state forces. One of the major exceptions was the federal facilities in and around Charleston. Federal troops there were concentrated in Fort Moultrie. In the middle of Charleston harbor sat Fort Sumter, unoccupied and still under construction. On November 15th Major Robert Anderson was named commander of Federal troops in Charleston. He quickly came to the conclusion that Fort Moultrie was not defensible. The unoccupied Fort Sumter was defensible as it was situated in the middle of the harbor surrounding by deep water.

The Buchanan administration was ambivalent as what to do about the situation in Charleston. Finally the Secretary of War despatched Major Don Carlos Buell to Charleston to confer with Major Anderson. Major Buell gave Major Anderson instructions to defend Federal facilities in Charleston. He was further instructed to take action whenever he felt threatened.

The citizens of began to show increasing hostility towards the soldiers. When word reached Major Anderson that South Carolina governor Pickens was planning to seize Ft Sumter, Major Anderson took action. On the night of December 26th Major Anderson, mustered his command and moved in the stealth of night to Fort Sumter. The Southerner felt betrayed. They believed that they had an understanding with Anderson to maintain the status quo.

The issue of Ft Sumter continued to smolder. No effort was made by the Buchanan administration to resupply the fort. While the fort was almost impregnable from attack, if properly fortified and stocked, 68 soldiers were woefully too few to defend the fort. In addition unbeknown to Washington, Major Anderson's did not have the supplies to withstand a long siege.

When Lincoln took office the issue of Ft Sumter was dominating his concern. He was forced to come to grips with what increasingly seemed a difficult choice . Lincoln was afraid of using force, since this might sway those Southern states such as Virginia that had not yet seceded to secede. On the other hand Major Anderson was becoming a hero in the North. Furthermore, Lincoln was beginning to feel that if he gave up Ft Sumter, he was in fact acceding to Confederate secession. If he could not hold Ft Sumter-there was nothing he could do to hold the Union together.

Finally after receiving varied advise from his advisors Lincoln decided to resupply the fort.

The Confederate government under Davis felt that they could not allow the fort to be resupplied, and Davis despite opposition from the Confederate Secretary of State Robert Toombs - he stated "Mr. president at this time it is suicide, murder, and will lose every friend at the North" You will wantonly strike a hornets nest which extends from mountains to ocean, and legions now quiet will swarm our and sting us to death. It is unnecessary; it put us in the wrong it is fatal."

On the afternoon of April 11th, General Beaulegrad issued a formal demand of surrender to Major Anderson. When major Anderson received it he refused it, however he stated to the Confederate representatives, that if they had only waited another few day the fort would be forced to surrender, as it would be without food. Colonel Chesnut one of the Confederate representatives asked if he could include that in his report. Anderson assented. Beauregard then asked for direction from President Davis. Davis agreed to call off the bombardment if he could get a firm commitment as to the time of the surrender from Anderson. At midnight on the 12th Confederate representatives again demanded the surrender of the garrison. Anderson answered that they would surrender by the 15th, but with an important proviso, that only if the fort was not resupplied. This was not considered a sufficient answer for the Confederates. As the confederates began to leave, Anderson stated" If we never meet in this world again, God grant that we may meet in the next."

Thus on 4:30 AM confederate batteries began their bombardment of Fort Sumter. The confederate bombing was effective, and included a floating battery, in a makeshift boat. Anderson's counter fire was limited by the his lack of munitions and by his limited number of soldiers. Finally 34 hours after the bombardment began, Anderson surrendered

This is a photo of Fort Sumter taken in 1865 from the Sand Bar

This is a photo of Fort Sumter taken in 1865 showing beacon on parapet of Fort Sumter

This is a photo of the interior of Fort Sumter with the Confederate Flag flying.

This is a photo of the raising of the American Flag at Fort Sumter.

This illustration from Harpers Weekly shows the view from inside Fort Sumter during the bombardment.

This is a photo of the interior of Fort Putnam on Morris Island showing guns which fired over 1200 shots into Sumter. Cooley, Sam A. (Samuel A.) photographer

After the Capture

First Cearsefire

Magazines in Ft Sumter

Confederates Firing on the Fort

Star of the West

Confederates Firiing on the Star of the West

Ft Sumter from Ft Johnson

Interior View of Ft Sumter

Preparing Ft Sumter

Major Andersons Room in Ft Sumter

Destroyed Fort

Outside viewof Ft Sumter

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park

The city of Charleston played a key role both in the American Revolution and the American Civil War. This unique national park incorporates several sites around Charleston Harbor that help share the unique stories of the places and people that shaped our history.

Sullivan’s Island has long served as Charleston Harbor’s first line of defense. Quarantine stations, constructed to prevent the spread of disease, checked every person that came into the harbor, including Africans who were enslaved, and formal fortifications sought to defend against foreign invasion. Fort Moultrie, the first fort on Sullivan’s Island, was attacked in June 1776 by the Royal Navy while the fort was still incomplete and managed to drive out the British forces after nine hours of battle. Another fort was built in its place after the British captured Charleston in 1780, and a third brick Fort Moultrie was completed by 1809 after the second had suffered from neglect and a destructive hurricane. Fort Moultrie, named in honor of the commander who fought off the Royal Navy in 1776, was modernized throughout the latter half of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century and today the fort has been restored to portray the major periods of its complex history, from the Palmetto-log fort of 1776 to the World War II Harbor Entrance Control Post.

Exploring a Turning Point in American History: Visiting Fort Sumter

Ask most people where the Civil War started, and they'll say Fort Sumter in Charleston. It was at this US Army fort at the mouth of Charleston harbor that the first shots of the war rang out, starting one of the bloodiest and most tragic episodes of American history.

But the root causes of the Civil War stretch back far beyond that fateful early morning of April 12, 1861, and the consequences of that day extend far beyond the skirmish that saw Confederate troops overtake the small but highly strategic fort on a tiny windswept island. The Fort Sumter National Monument, part of the National Park System, attempts to tell that complicated and fascinating history. It also just happens to be one of the most lovely places in all of Charleston.

Start your visit at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square, located on the spot where Gadsden's Wharf once stood, right next to the South Carolina Aquarium. Gadsden's Wharf was once the place where enslaved Africans entered South Carolina. The visitor center tells the story of their journey, and of the economic, social and political history of slavery in the US that led up to those first shots fired at Fort Sumter. Make sure you give yourself an hour or even more to explore the exhibits. They give a context and history to the trip out to the fort that makes the experience even richer.

Admission to the fort and visitor center is free, but you'll need to buy ferry tickets to get out to the island. Fort Sumter is one of the most popular attractions in Charleston, and ferry tickets do regularly sell out, so be sure to buy your tickets in advance.

There are two places to get the ferry to Fort Sumter. One is the visitor center and the other is Patriots Point, the naval museum across the harbor in Mount Pleasant. The trip out to the island is one of the best parts of the day. There's a good chance you'll see dolphins out in the harbor, and you'll definitely get the best view of the beautiful Battery and iconic Charleston skyline, the Holy City dotted with steeples. Tour guides point out important landmarks along the way.

Once at Fort Sumter, you'll have the chance to walk and wander through the remains of the fort. Fort Sumter is now a historic site, not a working fort. Much of it is now in ruins, but it wasn't actually decommissioned until 1948. Between the Civil War and the end of World War II, various additions and changes were made to Fort Sumter, and these layers of change are visible to visitors today. Rangers are available to give overviews and answer questions. Tours aren't regularly scheduled but are often available if you ask, depending on how busy the fort is that day.

Make sure you search for the Civil War era projectiles still lodged in the five foot thick walls, the crooked arch and leaning brick walls where a powder keg accidentally exploded. Don't miss the enormous and ancient cannons still standing ready and pointing out to sea, and just know that any kids with you will want to climb onto them. Don't let them. Most things at Fort Sumter, including the bricks and cannons, are fragile and historic, and the kids could get hurt or damage the cannons without meaning to.

Before you board the ferry to return to Charleston, take a few minutes to walk out to the beach just outside the rough, thick walls and along the sandy spit into the harbor. It's possibly the most beautiful view in all of Charleston.

About Fort Sumter

The fort is named for South Carolinian Thomas Sumter, a Revolutionary War patriot. Construction on the fort began in 1829, one of a series of coastal forts built by the United States after the War of 1812. Enslaved laborers and craftsmen were among those who worked on this structure. It was still unfinished when Maj. Robert Anderson moved his 85-man garrison into the fort on Dec. 26, 1860. On Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina delegates met in a special convention and voted to break away from the Federal Union.

After Anderson moved his men to Fort Sumter, the South demanded the Union leave. The Union refused. On April 12, 1861, South Carolina Confederate troops from nearby Fort Johnson fired on the fort. The two-day bombardment resulted in the Union surrendering the fort.

On April 14, Maj. Anderson and his men marched out of the fort and boarded ships bound for New York. They had defended Sumter for 34 hours, until "the quarters were entirely burned, the main gates destroyed by fire, the gorge walls seriously injured, the magazines surrounded by flames."

The Civil War had begun.

The South held the fort until Feb. 17, 1865, when Confederates evacuated. With Charleston now in Union hands, the US flag that was lowered when the fort was surrendered in 1861, was raised above Fort Sumter. For almost two years leading up to that date, more than 7 million pounds of metal were fired at Fort Sumter. It is considered among the most significant historic monuments in the United States.

Things to Know While Visiting

Check ahead on the weather forecast. While the exhibits inside tell the story of the fort and its famous battle, the rest of the cool things to see and do are outside. If it's warm, bring sunscreen and insect repellent.

While picnics aren't allowed at the fort, there's a snack bar on the ferry. It's also smart to bring a refillable water bottle and snacks to eat while enjoying the great view. There's also a small bookstore that sells history books, Civil War memorabilia and other Fort Sumter keepsakes.

Fort Sumter: The Civil War Begins

On the afternoon of April 11, 1861, a small open boat flying a white flag pushed off from the tip of the narrow peninsula surrounding the city of Charleston. The vessel carried three envoys representing the Confederate States government, established in Montgomery, Alabama, two months before. Slaves rowed the passengers the nearly three and a half miles across the harbor to the looming hulk of Fort Sumter, where Lt. Jefferson C. Davis of the U.S. Army—no relation to the newly installed president of the Confederacy—met the arriving delegation. Davis led the envoys to the fort’s commander, Maj. Robert Anderson, who had been holed up there since just after Christmas with a tiny garrison of 87 officers and enlisted men—the last precarious symbol of federal power in passionately secessionist South Carolina.

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The Confederates demanded immediate evacuation of the fort. However, they promised safe transport out of Charleston for Anderson and his men, who would be permitted to carry their weapons and personal property and to salute the Stars and Stripes, which, the Confederates acknowledged, “You have upheld so long. under the most trying circumstances.” Anderson thanked them for such “fair, manly, and courteous terms.” Yet he stated, “It is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligation to my Government, prevent my compliance.” Anderson added grimly that he would be starved out in a few days—if the Confederate cannonthat ringed the harbor didn’t batter him to pieces first. As the envoys departed and the sound of their oars faded away across the gunmetal-gray water, Anderson knew that civil war was probably only hours away.

One hundred and fifty years later, that war’s profound implications still reverberate within American hearts, heads and politics, from the lingering consequences of slavery for African-Americans to renewed debates over states’ rights and calls for the “nullification” of federal laws. Many in the South have viewed secession a matter of honor and the desire to protect a cherished way of life.

But the war was unarguably about the survival of the United States as a nation. Many believed that if secession succeeded, it would enable other sections of the country to break from the Union for any reason. “The Civil War proved that a republic could survive,” says historian Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg College. “Europe’s despots had long asserted that republics were automatically fated either to succumb to external attack or to disintegrate from within. The Revolution had proved that we could defend ourselves against outside attack. Then we proved, in the creation of the Constitution, that we could write rules for ourselves. Now the third test had come: whether a republic could defend itself against internal collapse.”

Generations of historians have argued over the cause of the war. “Everyone knew at the time that the war was ultimately about slavery,” says Orville Vernon Burton, a native South Carolinian and author of The Age of Lincoln. “After the war, some began saying that it was really about states’ rights, or a clash of two different cultures, or about the tariff, or about the industrializing North versus the agrarian South. All these interpretations came together to portray the Civil War as a collision of two noble civilizations from which black slaves had been airbrushed out.” African-American historians from W.E.B. Du Bois to John Hope Franklin begged to differ with the revisionist view, but they were overwhelmed by white historians, both Southern and Northern, who, during the long era of Jim Crow, largely ignored the importance of slavery in shaping the politics of secession.

Fifty years ago, the question of slavery was so loaded, says Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln President-Elect and other works on the 16th president, that the issue virtually paralyzed the federal commission charged with organizing events commemorating the war’s centennial in 1961, from which African-Americans were virtually excluded. (Arrangements for the sesquicentennial have been left to individual states.) At the time, some Southern members reacted with hostility to any emphasis on slavery, for fear that it would embolden the then-burgeoning civil rights movement. Only later were African-American views of the war and its origins finally heard, and scholarly opinion began to shift. Says Holzer, “Only in recent years have we returned to the obvious—that it was about slavery.”

As Emory Thomas, author of The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 and a retired professor of history at the University of Georgia, puts it, “The heart and soul of the secession argument was slavery and race. Most white Southerners favored racial subordination, and they wanted to protect the status quo. They were concerned that the Lincoln administration would restrict slavery, and they were right.”

Of course, in the spring of 1861, no one could foresee either the four-year-long war’s numbing human cost, or its outcome. Many Southerners assumed that secession could be accomplished peacefully, while many Northerners thought that a little saber rattling would be sufficient to bring the rebels to their senses. Both sides, of course, were fatally wrong. “The war would produce a new nation, very different in 1865 from what it had been in 1860,” says Thomas. The war was a conflict of epic dimensions that cost 620,000 American lives, and brought about a racial and economic revolution, fundamentally altering the South’s cotton economy and transforming four million slaves from chattel into soldiers, citizens and eventually national leaders.

The road to secession had begun with the nation’s founding, at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which attempted to square the libertarian ideals of the American Revolution with the fact that human beings were held in bondage. Over time, the Southern states would grow increasingly determined to protect their slave-based economies. The founding fathers agreed to accommodate slavery by granting slave states additional representation in Congress, based on a formula that counted three-fifths of their enslaved population. Optimists believed that slavery, a practice that was becoming increasingly costly, would disappear naturally, and with it electoral distortion. Instead, the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 spurred production of the crop and with it, slavery. There were nearly 900,000 enslaved Americans in 1800. By 1860, there were four million—and the number of slave states increased accordingly, fueling a sense of impending national crisis over the South’s “peculiar institution.”

A crisis had occurred in 1819, when Southerners had threatened secession to protect slavery. The Missouri Compromise the next year, however, calmed the waters. Under its provisions, Missouri would be admitted to the Union as a slave state, while Maine would be admitted as a free state. And, it was agreed, future territories north of a boundary line within land acquired by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 would be free of slavery. The South was guaranteed parity in the U.S. Senate—even as population growth in the free states had eroded the South’s advantages in the House of Representatives. In 1850, when the admission of gold-rich California finally tipped the balance of free states in the Senate in the North’s favor, Congress, as a concession to the South, passed the Fugitive Slave Law, which required citizens of Northern states to collaborate with slave hunters in capturing fugitive slaves. But it had already become clear to many Southern leaders that secession in defense of slavery was only a matter of time.

Sectional strife accelerated through the 1850s. In the North, the Fugitive Slave Law radicalized even apathetic Yankees. “Northerners didn’t want anything to do with slavery,” says historian Bernard Powers of the College of Charleston. “The law shocked them when they realized that they could be compelled to arrest fugitive slaves in their own states, that they were being dragged kicking and screaming into entanglement with slavery.” In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act further jolted Northerners by opening to slavery western territories that they had expected would remain forever free.

By late the next year, the Kansas Territory erupted into guerrilla warfare between pro-slavery and antislavery forces the violence would leave more than 50 dead. The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision of 1857 further inflamed Northerners by declaring, in effect, that free-state laws barring slavery from their own soil were essentially superseded. The decision threatened to make slavery a national institution. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, in October 1859, seemed to vindicate slave owners’ long-standing fear that abolitionists intended to invade the South and liberate their slaves by force. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln, declaring his candidacy for the Senate, succinctly characterized the dilemma: “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.”

For the South, the last straw was Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860, with only 39.8 percent of the vote. In a four-way contest against Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, Constitutional Unionist John Bell and the South’s favorite son, Kentucky Democrat John Breckenridge, Lincoln received not a single electoral vote south of the Mason-Dixon line. In her diary, Charleston socialite Mary Boykin Chesnut recounted the reaction she had overheard on a train when news of Lincoln’s election was announced. One passenger, she recalled, had exclaimed: “Now that. radical Republicans have the power I suppose they will [John] Brown us all.”Although Lincoln hated slavery, he was far from an abolitionist he believed freed blacks should be sent to Africa or Central America, and declared explicitly that he would not tamper with slavery where it already existed. (He did make clear that he would oppose the expansion of slavery into new territories.)

However, the so-called Fire-eaters, the most radical Southern nationalists who dominated Southern politics, were no longer interested in compromise. “South Carolina will secede from the Union as surely as that night succeeds the day, and nothing can now prevent or delay it but a revolution at the North,” South Carolinian William Trenholm wrote to a friend. “The. Republican party, inflamed by fanaticism and blinded by arrogance, have leapt into the pit which a just Providence prepared for them.” In Charleston, cannon were fired, martial music was played, flags were waved in every street. Men young and old flocked to join militia companies. Even children delivered “resistance speeches” to their playmates and strutted the lanes with homemade banners.

In December 1860, a little more than a month after Lincoln’s election, South Carolina’s secession convention, held in Charleston, called on the South to join “a great Slaveholding Confederacy, stretching its arms over a territory larger than any power in Europe possesses.” While most Southerners did not own slaves, slave owners wielded power far beyond their numbers: more than 90 percent of the secessionist conventioneers were slaveholders. In breaking up the Union, the South Carolinians claimed, they were but following the founding fathers, who had established the United States as a “union of slaveholding States.” They added that a government dominated by the North must sooner or later lead to emancipation, no matter what the North claimed. Delegates flooded into the streets, shouting, “We are afloat!” as church bells rang, bonfires roared and fireworks shot through the sky.

By 1861, Charleston had witnessed economic decline for decades. Renowned for its residents’ genteel manners and its gracious architecture, the city was rather like a “distressed elderly gentlewoman. a little gone down in the world, yet remembering still its former dignity,” as one visitor put it. It was a cosmopolitan city, with significant minorities of French, Jews, Irish, Germans—and some 17,000 blacks (82 percent of them slaves), who made up 43 percent of the total population. Charleston had been a center of the slave trade since colonial times, and some 40 slave traders operated within a two-square-block area. Even as white Charlestonians boasted publicly of their slaves’ loyalty, they lived in fear of an uprising that would slaughter them in their beds. “People talk before [slaves] as if they were chairs and tables,” Mary Chesnut wrote in her diary. “They make no sign. Are they stolidly stupid? or wiser than we are silent and strong, biding their time?”

According to historian Douglas R. Egerton, author of Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War, “To win over the yeoman farmers—who would wind up doing nearly all the fighting—the Fire-eaters relentlessly played on race, warning them that, unless they supported secession, within ten years or less their children would be the slaves of Negroes.”

Despite its decline, Charleston remained the Confederacy’s most important port on the Southeast coast. The spectacular harbor was defended by three federal forts: Sumter tiny Castle Pinckney, one mile off the city’s Battery and heavily armed Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island, where Major Anderson’s command was based but where its guns pointed out to sea, making it defenseless from land.

On December 27, a week after South Carolina’s declaration of secession, Charlestonians awoke to discover that Anderson and his men had slipped away from Fort Moultrie to the more defensible Fort Sumter. For secessionists, Anderson’s move “was like casting a spark into a magazine,” wrote one Charlestonian, T. W. Moore, to a friend. Although a military setback for Confederates, who had expected to muscle the federal troops out of Moultrie, Anderson’s move enabled the Fire-eaters to blame Washington for “defying” South Carolina’s peaceable efforts to secede.

Fort Sumter had been planned in the 1820s as a bastion of coastal defense, with its five sides, an interior large enough to house 650 defenders and 135 guns command­ing the shipping channels to Charleston Harbor. Con­struction, however, had never been completed. Only 15 cannon had been mounted the interior of the fort was a construction site, with guns, carriages, stone and other materials stacked about. Its five-foot-thick brick walls had been designed to withstand any cannonballs that might be hurled—by the navies of the 1820s, according to Rick Hatcher, the National Park Service historian at the fort. Although no one knew it at the time, Fort Sumter was already obsolete. Even conventional guns pointed at the fort could lob cannonballs that would destroy brick and mortar with repeated pounding.

Anderson’s men hailed from Ireland, Germany, England, Denmark and Sweden. His force included native-born Americans as well. The garrison was secure against infantry attack but almost totally isolated from the outside world. Conditions were bleak. Food, mattresses and blankets were in short supply. From their thick-walled casements, the gunners could see Charleston’s steeples and the ring of islands where gangs of slaves and soldiers were already erecting bastions to protect the Southern artillery.

Militiamen itching for a fight flooded into Charleston from the surrounding countryside. There would soon be more than 3,000 of them facing Fort Sumter, commanded by the preening and punctilious Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who had resigned his position as West Point’s superintendent to offer his services to the Confederacy.

“To prove it was a country, the South had to prove that it had sovereignty over its territory,” says historian Allen Guelzo. “Otherwise no one, especially the Europeans, would take them seriously. Sumter was like a huge flag in the middle of Charleston Harbor that declared, in effect, ‘You don’t have the sovereignty that you claim.’ ”

With communications from his superiors reaching him only sporadically, Anderson was entrusted with heavy responsibilities. Although Kentucky born and bred, his loyalty to the Union was unshakeable. In the months to come, his second-in-command, Capt. Abner Doubleday—a New York abolitionist, and the man who was long credited, incorrectly, with inventing baseball—would express frustration at Anderson’s “inaction.” “I have no doubt he thought he was rendering a real service to the country,” Doubleday later wrote. “He knew the first shot fired by us would light the flames of a civil war that would convulse the world, and tried to put off the evil day as long as possible. Yet a better analysis of the situation might have taught him that the contest had already commenced and could no longer be avoided.” But Anderson was a good choice for the role that befell him. “He was both a seasoned soldier and a diplomat,” says Hatcher. “He would do just about anything he could to avoid war. He showed tremendous restraint.”

Anderson’s distant commander in chief was the lame-duck president, Democrat James Buchanan, who passively maintained that while he believed secession to be illegal, there was nothing he could do about it. A Northerner with Southern sympathies, Buchanan had spent his long career accommodating the South, even to the point of allowing South Carolina to seize all the other federal properties in the state. For months, as the crisis deepened, Buchanan had vacillated. Finally, in January, he dispatched a paddle wheel steamer, Star of the West, carrying a cargo of provisions and 200 reinforcements for the Sumter garrison. But when Confederate batteries fired on her at the entrance to Charleston Harbor, the ship’s skipper turned the ship around and fled north, leaving Anderson’s men to their fate. This ignominious expedition represented Buchanan’s only attempt to assert federal power in the waters off Charleston.

Some were convinced the Union was finished. The British vice-consul in Charleston, H. Pinckney Walker, saw the government’s failure to resupply Fort Sumter as proof of its impotence. He predicted the North would splinter into two or three more republics, putting an end to the United States forever. The Confederacy, he wrote, formed what he called “a very nice little plantation” that could look forward to “a career of prosperity such as the world has not before known.” Popular sentiment in Charleston was reflected in the ardently secessionist Charleston Mercury, which scoffed that federal power was “a wretched humbug—a scarecrow—a dirty bundle of red rags and old clothes” and Yankee soldiers just “poor hirelings” who would never fight. The paper dismissed Lincoln as a “vain, ignorant, low fellow.”

While Buchanan dithered, six more states seceded: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. On February 4, the Confederate States of America declared its independence in Montgomery, Alabama, and named Mexican War hero, former Secretary of War and senator from Mississippi Jefferson Davis, its president. “The radicals felt they were making a revolution, like Tom Paine and Samuel Adams,” says Emory Thomas. Although Davis had long argued for the right of secession, when it finally came he was one of few Confederate leaders who recognized that it would probably mean a long and bloody war. Southern senators and congressmen resigned and headed south.

Secessionists occupied federal forts, arsenals and customhouses from Charleston to Galveston, while in Texas, David Twiggs, commander of federal forces there, surrendered his troops to the state militia and joined the Confederate Army. Soon the only significant Southern posts that remained in federal hands were Fort Sumter and Florida’s Fort Pickens, at the entrance to Pensacola Harbor. “The tide of secession was overpowering,” says Thomas. “It was like the moment after Pearl Harbor—people were ready to go to war.” Buchanan now wanted nothing more than to dump the whole mess in Lincoln’s lap and retire to the quietude of his estate in Pennsylvania. But Lincoln would not take office until March 4. (Not until 1933 was Inauguration Day moved up to January 20.)

The new president who slipped quietly into Washington on February 23, forced to keep a low profile because of credible death threats, was convinced that war could still be avoided. “Lincoln had been a compromiser his whole life,” says Orville Vernon Burton. “He was naturally flexible: as a lawyer, he had always invited people to settle out of court. He was willing to live with slavery where it already was. But when it came to the honor of the United States, there was a point beyond which he wouldn’t go.”

Once in office, Lincoln entered into a high-stakes strategic gamble that was all but invisible to the isolated garrison at Fort Sumter. It was in the Confederacy’s interest to provoke a confrontation that made Lincoln appear the aggressor. Lincoln and his advisers believed, however, that secessionist sentiment, red-hot in the Deep South, was only lukewarm in the Upper South states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas, and weaker yet in the four slaveholding border states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri. Conservatives, including Secretary of State William H. Seward, urged the president to appease the Deep South and evacuate the fort, in hopes of keeping the remaining slave states in the Union. But Lincoln knew that if he did so, he would lose the confidence of both the Republican Party and most of the North.

“He had such faith in the idea of Union that he hoped that [moderates] in the Upper South would never let their states secede,” says Harold Holzer. “He was also one of the great brinksmen of all time.” Although Lincoln was committed to retaking federal forts occupied by the rebels and to defending those still in government hands, he indicated to a delegation from Richmond that if they kept Virginia in the Union, he would consider relinquishing Sumter to South Carolina. At the same time, he reasoned that the longer the standoff over Fort Sumter continued, the weaker the secessionists—and the stronger the federal government—would look.

Lincoln initially “believed that if he didn’t allow the South to provoke him, war could be avoided,” says Burton. “He also thought they wouldn’t really fire on Fort Sumter.” Because negotiating directly with Jefferson Davis would have implied recognition of the Confederacy, Lincoln communicated only with South Carolina’s secessionist—but nonetheless duly elected—governor, Francis Pickens. Lincoln made clear that he intended to dispatch vessels carrying supplies and reinforcements to Fort Sumter: if the rebels fired on them, he warned, he was prepared to land troops to enforce the federal government’s authority.

Rumors flew in every direction: a federal army was set to invade Texas. the British and French would intervene. Northern businessmen would come out en masse against war. In Charleston, the mood fluctuated between overwrought excitement and dread. By the end of March, after three cold, damp months camped on the sand dunes and snake-infested islands around Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter’s attackers were growing feverishly impatient. “It requires all the wisdom of their superiors to keep them cool,” wrote Caroline Gilman, a transplanted Northerner who had embraced the secessionist cause.

For a month after his inauguration, Lincoln weighed the political cost of relieving Fort Sumter. On April 4, he came to a decision. He ordered a small flotilla of vessels, led by Navy Capt. Gustavus Vasa Fox, to sail from New York, carrying supplies and 200 reinforcements to the fort. He refrained from sending a full-scale fleet of warships. Lincoln may have concluded that war was inevitable, and it would serve the federal government’s interest to cause the rebels to fire the first shot.

The South Carolinians had made clear that any attempt to reinforce Sumter would mean war. “Now the issue of battle is to be forced upon us,” declared the Charleston Mercury. “We will meet the invader, and the God of Battles must decide the issue between the hostile hirelings of Abolition hate and Northern tyranny.”

“How can one settle down to anything? One’s heart is in one’s mouth all the time,” Mary Chesnut wrote in her diary. “The air is red-hot with rumors.” To break the tension on occasion, Chesnut crept to her room and wept. Her friend Charlotte Wigfall warned, “The slave-owners must expect a servile insurrection.”

In the early hours of April 12, approximately nine hours after the Confederates had first asked Anderson to evacuate Fort Sumter, the envoys were again rowed out to the garrison. They made an offer: if Anderson would state when he and his men intended to quit the fort, the Confederates would hold their fire. Anderson called a council of his officers: How long could they hold out? Five days at most, he was told, which meant three days with virtually no food. Although the men had managed to mount about 45 cannon, in addition to the original 15, not all of those could be trained on Confederate positions. Even so, every man at the table voted to reject immediate surrender to the Confederates.

Anderson sent back a message to the Confederate authorities, informing them that he would evacuate the fort, but not until noon on the 15th, adding, “I will not in the meantime open my fire upon your forces unless compelled to do so by some hostile act against this fort or the flag of my Government.”

But the Confederacy would tolerate no further delay. The envoys immediately handed Anderson a statement: “Sir: By authority of Brigadier-General Beauregard, commanding the provisional forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.”

Anderson roused his men, informing them an attack was imminent. At 4:30 a.m., the heavy thud of a mortar broke the stillness. A single shell from Fort Johnson on James Island rose high into the still-starry sky, curved downward and burst directly over Fort Sumter. Confederate batteries on Morris Island opened up, then others from Sullivan’s Island, until Sumter was surrounded by a ring of fire. As geysers of brick and mortar spumed up where balls hit the ramparts, shouts of triumph rang from the rebel emplacements. In Charleston, families by the thousands rushed to rooftops, balconies and down to the waterfront to witness what the Charleston Mercury would describe as a “Splendid Pyrotechnic Exhibition.”

To conserve powder cartridges, the garrison endured the bombardment without reply for two and a half hours. At 7 a.m., Anderson directed Doubleday to return fire from about 20 guns, roughly one half as many as the Confederates. The Union volley sent vast flocks of water birds rocketing skyward from the surrounding marsh.

At about 10 a.m., Capt. Truman Seymour replaced Doubleday’s exhausted crew with a fresh detachment.

“Doubleday, what in the world is the matter here, and what is all this uproar about?” Seymour inquired dryly.

“There is a trifling difference of opinion between us and our neighbors opposite, and we are trying to settle it,” the New Yorker replied.

“Very well,” said Seymour, with mock graciousness. “Do you wish me to take a hand?”

“Yes,” Doubleday responded. “I would like to have you go in.”

At Fort Moultrie, now occupied by the Confederates, federal shots hit bales of cotton that rebel gunners were using as bulwarks. At each detonation, the rebels gleefully shouted, “Cotton is falling!” And when a shot exploded the kitchen, blowing loaves of bread into the air, they cried, “Breadstuffs are rising!”

Humor was less on display in the aristocratic homes of Charleston, where the roar of artillery began to rattle even the most devout secessionists. “Some of the anxious hearts lie on their beds and moan in solitary misery,” trying to reassure themselves that God was really on the Confederate side, recorded Chesnut.

At the height of the bombardment, Fox’s relief flotilla at last hove into sight from the north. To the federals’ dismay, however, Fox’s ships continued to wait off the coast, beyond range of rebel guns: their captains hadn’t bargained on finding themselves in the middle of an artillery duel. The sight of reinforcements so tantalizingly close was maddening to those on Sumter. But even Doubleday admitted that had the ships tried to enter the harbor, “this course would probably have resulted in the sinking of every vessel.”

The bombardment slackened during the rainy night but kept on at 15-minute intervals, and began again in earnest at 4 a.m. on the 13th. Roaring flames, dense masses of swirling smoke, exploding shells and the sound of falling masonry “made the fort a pandemonium,” recalled Doubleday. Wind drove smoke into the already claustrophobic casements, where Anderson’s gunners nearly suffocated. “Some lay down close to the ground, with handkerchiefs over their mouths, and others posted themselves near the embrasures, where the smoke was somewhat lessened by the draught of air,” recalled Doubleday. “Everyone suffered severely.”

At 1:30 p.m., the fort’s flagstaff was shot away, although the flag itself was soon reattached to a short spar and raised on the parapet, much to the disappointment of rebel marksmen. As fires crept toward the powder magazine, soldiers raced to remove hundreds of barrels of powder that threatened to blow the garrison into the cloudless sky. As the supply of cartridges steadily shrank, Sumter’s guns fell silent one by one.

Soon after the flagpole fell, Louis Wigfall, husband of Charlotte Wigfall and a former U.S. senator from Texas now serving under Beauregard, had himself rowed to the fort under a white flag to call again for Anderson’s surrender. The grandstanding Wigfall had no formal authority to negotiate, but he offered Anderson the same terms that Beauregard had offered a few days earlier: Anderson would be allowed to evacuate his command with dignity, arms in hand, and be given unimpeded transport to the North and permission to salute the Stars and Stripes.

“Instead of noon on the 15th, I will go now,” Anderson quietly replied. He had made his stand. He had virtually no powder cartridges left. His brave, hopelessly outgunned band of men had defended the national honor with their lives without respite for 34 hours. The outcome was not in question.

“Then the fort is to be ours?” Wig-fall eagerly inquired.

Anderson ordered a white flag to be raised. Firing from rebel batteries ceased.

The agreement nearly collapsed when three Confederate officers showed up to request a surrender. Anderson was so furious at having capitulated to the freelancing Wigfall that he was about to run up the flag yet again. However, he was persuaded to wait until confirmation of the terms of surrender, which arrived soon afterward from Beauregard.

When news of the surrender at last reached the besieging rebels, they vaulted onto the sand hills and cheered wildly a horseman galloped at full speed along the beach at Morris Island, waving his cap and exulting at the tidings.

Fort Sumter lay in ruins. Flames smoldered amid the shot-pocked battlements, dismounted cannon and charred gun carriages. Astoundingly, despite an estimated 3,000 cannon shots fired at the fort, not a single soldier had been killed on either side. Only a handful of the fort’s defenders had even been injured by fragments of concrete and mortar.

Beauregard had agreed to permit the defenders to salute the U.S. flag before they departed. The next afternoon, Sunday, April 14, Fort Sumter’s remaining artillery began a rolling cannonade of what was meant to total 100 guns. Tragically, however, one cannon fired prematurely and blew off the right arm of a gunner, Pvt. Daniel Hough, killing him almost instantly and fatally wounding another Union soldier. The two men thus became the first fatalities of the Civil War.

At 4:30 p.m., Anderson handed over control of the fort to the South Carolina militia. The exhausted, blue-clad Union soldiers stood in formation on what remained of the parade ground, with flags flying and drums beating out the tune of “Yankee Doodle.” Within minutes, the flags of the Confederacy and South Carolina were snapping over the blasted ramparts. “Wonderful, miraculous, unheard of in history, a bloodless victory!” exclaimed Caroline Gilman in a letter to one of her daughters.

A steamboat lent by a local businessman carried Anderson’s battle-weary band out to the federal fleet, past hordes of joyful Charlestonians gathered on steamers, sailboats bobbing rowboats and dinghies, under the eyes of rebel soldiers poised silently on the shore, their heads bared in an unexpected gesture of respect. Physically and emotionally drained, and halfway starved, Anderson and his men gazed back toward the fort where they had made grim history. In their future lay the slaughter pens of Bull Run, Shiloh, Antie-tam, Gettysburg, Chickamauga and hundreds more still unimaginable battlefields from Virginia to Missouri. The Civil War had begun.

Fergus Bordewich’s most recent book is Washington: The Making of the American Capital. Photographer Vincent Musi is based in Charleston, South Carolina.

Fort Sumter

On April 12th, 1861 the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter, which led to the outbreak of America’s bloodiest war.  Fort Sumter is a fascinating place to visit and only accessible by taking a 30 minute boat ride through the Charleston Harbor. After arriving at the fort, guests will have the opportunity to learn about the major events that led to the outbreak of the American Civil War. Historians will provide detailed information about the fort and its pivotal role in the war between the states.

The park also has a museum and small gift shop. After exploring the fort, cruise back to port, enjoying panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Charleston's bustling harbor. The fort is quite large and requires a significant amount of walking and climbing stairs, so make sure you wear a comfortable pair of shoes. You should allow a minimum of one hour travel time and another hour to tour the fort. Buying tickets in advance either online or at the departure locations is highly recommended. The Fort Sumter ferry departs from the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center in Liberty Square next to the South Carolina Aquarium and also from Patriots Point Maritime Museum.

Fort Sumter Hotel

The Fort Sumter House is a seven-story condominium building located at 1 King St., Charleston, South Carolina, originally built as the Fort Sumter Hotel. Work began on April 1, 1923, and guests were accepted starting in April 1924, but the formal opening was on May 6, 1924. The hotel cost $850,000 to build. [1] The 225-room hotel was designed by G. Lloyd Preacher of Atlanta, Georgia. [2]

The hotel was the site of a tryst between John F. Kennedy and a Danish woman with connection to the Nazis. On February 6, 1942, just after Kennedy arrived in Charleston for service with naval intelligence, he spent three nights at the Fort Sumter Hotel with a former Miss Denmark, Inga Arvad. The FBI was monitoring Arvad and taped the encounters. The information was then passed to Kennedy's father, Joseph Kennedy, who, in an effort to separate his son from Arvad, had him reassigned to a PT boat in the Pacific, the now famous PT-109. John F. Kennedy remarked, "They shipped my ass out of town to break us up." [3]

Starting on July 22, 1942, [4] the hotel was used as the headquarters for the sixth naval district for $80,000 per year. [5]

It was refurbished and reopened as a hotel in 1946. [6]

In April 1947, Tennessee Williams and agent Audrey Wood met with Irene Selznick at the Fort Sumter Hotel to discuss her producing his newest play A Streetcar Named Desire (just recently renamed from the original title Poker Night). Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr, 2014, p. 127.

In 1956, the hotel considered an expansion of 60 to 100 rooms to accommodate the increase in convention business seen in Charleston. [7]

The hotel was sold to Sheraton Hotels in 1967 for $435,000. The chain spent a further $500,000 on renovations and renamed the property the Sheraton-Fort Sumter Hotel. [8] Sheraton sold the hotel to a group of local investors in 1973 for $850,000. They closed the hotel and spent $2 million converting the 225-room hotel into a 67-unit condominium complex. [9] The condo units were expected to sell from $36,000 to $120,000 for a penthouse unit. The addition of the penthouse units resulted in the creation of an eighth floor, but the change was barely noticeable from outside since it was done by reworking the roof of the building. [10]


The surrender of Fort Sumter sent shockwaves throughout the United States and Confederate States alike. Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers which was filled immediately by some states while others were still reluctant to get involved. Patriotism on both sides had reached a high and young men began preparing for a full-scale war. While the Battle of Fort Sumter did not have any casualties it led to the bloodiest war in American History.

Fort Sumter would remain in Confederate hands throughout the war and would be the only hole in the Union Blockade. Several attempts were made to recapture the fort, but ultimately failed until General Sherman outflanked the Fort in his march up the coast. The Confederates then abandoned the fort and Major Anderson would return to raise the American flag that he had lowered.


Union losses in the battle numbered two killed and the loss of the fort while the Confederates reported four wounded. The bombardment of Fort Sumter was the opening battle of the Civil War and launched the nation into four years of bloody fighting. Anderson returned north and toured as a national hero. During the war, several attempts were made to recapture the fort with no success. Union forces finally took possession of the fort after Major General William T. Sherman's troops captured Charleston in February 1865. On April 14, 1865, Anderson returned to the fort to re-hoist the flag he had been forced to lower four years earlier.

Fort Sumter Articles

Explore articles from the History Net archives about the Battle Of Fort Sumter

During the secession crisis that followed President Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860, many threats were made to Federal troops occupying forts in the South. Anderson, in command at the difficult-to-defend Fort Moultrie on Sullivan Island across the harbor from Charleston, began asking the War Department for reinforcements and making plans to move his men to one of the fortifications on more secure islands in the harbor—Castle Pinckney closer to Charleston or the unfinished Fort Sumter near the harbor’s entrance.

Following South Carolina’s secession on December 20, 1860, Governor Francis Pickens was pressured to do something about Anderson and his men since many believed that Anderson would not stay at Fort Moultrie but would take a better position at another of the harbor’s forts. On December 24, Pickens sent proxies to Washington to negotiate what would be done about the occupied forts and to ensure Anderson remained at Fort Moultrie. However, on December 26 Anderson put his plan into action: he assembled his men, loaded them and their families onto boats, and rowed to Fort Sumter. What followed was basically a siege of Fort Sumter, with supplies and communication controlled by Pickens.

On January 9, 1861, the Star of the West, a side-wheel merchant steamer that had been sent from New York with supplies and reinforcements for Anderson, was unable to reach Fort Sumter because Pickens had built up the harbor defenses and fired on it. Anderson, under orders to fire only in defense, could only watch as the ship was turned back.

Shortly after, on January 11, Pickens demanded surrender and Anderson refused. By January 20, the food shortage had become acute enough that Pickens was under criticism from moderates and sent food to the fort, which was refused by Anderson. Shortly after, Pickens allowed the evacuation of 45 women and children to provide some measure of relief.

On March 1, Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard arrived in Charleston. He had been appointed by Confederate president Jefferson Davis to take command of the military situation in Charleston. In the sort of twist of fate that would happen frequently during the war, Beauregard had been one of Anderson’s artillery students at West Point. Beauregard continued strengthening the harbor defenses and gun emplacements facing Fort Sumter.

Following his inauguration on March 4, 1861, Lincoln sent unofficial emissaries to observe the situation and report back to him while official negotiations with the Confederate government took place in Washington. He learned that Anderson would probably be out of food by mid-April. Anderson had indicated he needed supplies and reinforcements in early March and again on April 3, but did not received news or further instruction until April 8, when he received a letter from Washington informing him of that a relief expedition was being mounted. The Lincoln administration left the question of war up to the Confederates, which would be determined by whether or not they fired on the Federal supply ship and the fort, which the Federals did not intend to give up.

Ft Sumter - History

View of Fort Sumter in 1865 from a sand bar in Charleston harbor. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Associate Pages

Visitor Statistics Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie NHP

877,894 visitors
#86 Most Visited National Park Unit

Source: NPS 2019 Visitor Attendance, Rank among 378 National Park Units.

Park Size

231 acres (Federal) 235 acres (Total)

Park Fees

There is no entrance fee to visit Fort Sumter, however, there are charges for the 35 minute ferry ride to and from the fort through a private concessionaire. The total tour takes approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes.

$22 - Adults
$20 - Seniors
$14 - Children
Free - Under Three
Tours run at various times throughout the year, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in summer from two departure points, Patriots Point and Liberty Square. Check Spiritline Cruises for specific times.

Fort Moultrie, a unit of Fort Sumter, on Sullivan Island, is accessible by car, and has a small entrance fee. $3 adults (over 16), $5 (family up to four adults), $1 seniors. Under 16, free.

Fees subject to change without notice.


The sketch above shows the bombardment of Fort Sumter and Charleston harbor by Confederate gunboats, originally published in Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War, 1894. Right: Lithograph of Fort Sumter. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Fort Sumter

There were many causes to the Civil War. Causes of state's rights, hinging on the the predominant debate of whether slavery would be expanded into new territories of the United States and whether that expansion would give one side or the other, south or north, an advantage in that debate on new legislation. But no matter the actual underlying rationale for why the nation would go to war over the issues of the day, there is no denying the fact that when Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election of 1860 in a four way contest with three Democratic candidates, who split the vote and gave victory to the Illinois Republican, that the nation, as we knew it, would be doomed, without a conflict to resolve those issues. Lincoln did not believe in the expansion of slavery into the new territories, stating, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free."

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Fort Sumter Then

Fort Sumter was the location where that debate came to its initial head. The first shot should have been directed toward Fort Moultrie, another Charleston harbor fort in Union hands when South Carolina announced its secession, but Anderson moved his defense to Sumter in the days following Confederate proclamations by General Pierre G.T. Beauregard that the Union surrender the forts. The first shot of the Civil War was fired into Fort Sumter at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861 by a Confederate battery.

Four months after the state of South Carolina to secede from the Union, the decision of Union commander Major Robert Anderson to hold firm and not surrender this fort would secure the movement toward war. The next four years would be spent in a deathly struggle to answer the questions posed, test the will of a people on what that answer would be, and secure the fate of a nation.

Fort Sumter Dates of Importance

December 20, 1860 - 169 South Carolina delegates vote to secede from the United States of America.

April 12, 1861 - First shot fired into Fort Sumter, starting the Civil War.

April 14, 1861 - Fort Sumter evacuated by Union troops after 34 hours of shelling. Major Anderson and his command were allowed to keep their weapons and flag.

February 1865 - Union regains command of Fort Sumter.

April 14, 1865 - Anderson raises U.S. flag over Fort Sumter.

Aftermath of the Battle - Not only did the bombardment lead to the capture of Charleston harbor by Confederate forces, but it left a shambled fort behind. The Union bombardment of the location for the twenty months after April 1861 did not help as well. End of the War - On April 14, 1865, two days after the surrender by Robert E. Lee at Appommatox Court House, the United States held a flag-raising ceremony at Fort Sumter with now General Robert Anderson returning to the fort where he began the war in defense of the forts.

Image above: Fort Sumter before the battle from the direction of Fort Johnson. Courtesy National Park Service. Photo below: Ruins of the officer's quarters and powder magazine at Fort Sumter today. Courtesy National Park Service.

Fort Sumter Now

Fort Sumter - Start your tour of Fort Sumter at the Visitor Education Center downtown. This will help put the battle there in context prior to boarding the ferry for your actual visit to the fort. At the fort, museum exhibits, cannons, and a walk around this historic fort at the entrance to the harbor offers a chance to visualize the battle that started four years of Civil strife. Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie were part of that four years of strife, too, withstanding a twenty month bombardment by Federal ironclads and shore guns from April 1863 forward. Confederate defenses held during that span, but southern troops would eventually evacuate the city of Charleston in February of 1865, leaving both forts behind.

Fort Moultrie - This fort is a unit of Fort Sumter and located on Sullivan's Island. It is accessible by car and contains exhibits, ranger guided tours, and a whole lot of history dating back to the Revolutionary War when this first fort on Sullivan Island was attacked by the British and repulsed by Colonial forces. Its history contains the story of American defenses of the coast from 1776 to World War II. This was the fort, in disrepair and less defensible that Fort Sumter, that Union Major Anderson and his men abandoned on the night of December 26, 1860 to take up the defense of the harbor from Fort Sumter. Unfortunately, access to Fort Sumter itself is not available from Fort Moultrie.

Watch the video: Fort Sumter The American Civil War