The War Begins!
Fort Sumter
(Confederate Military History, Volume 5, Chapter I)

       The secession of South Carolina having dissolved her connection with the government of the United States, the question of the possession of the forts in the harbor and of the military post at the arsenal became at once a question of vital interest to the State. Able commissioners, Robert W. Barnwell, James H. Adams and James L. Orr, were elected and sent by the convention of the State to treat with the government at Washington for an amicable settlement of this important question, and other questions growing out of the new relation which South Carolina bore to the Union. Pending the action of the commissioners in Washington, an unfortunate move was made by Maj. Robert Anderson, of the United States army, who commanded the only body of troops stationed in the harbor, which ultimately compelled the return of the commissioners and led to the most serious complications. An understanding had been established between the authorities in Washington and the members of Congress from South Carolina, that the forts would not be attacked, or seized as an act of war, until proper negotiations for their cession to the State had been made and had failed; provided that they were not reinforced, and their military status should remain as it was at the time of this understanding, viz., on December 9, 1860.
       Fort Sumter, in the very mouth of the harbor, was in an unfinished state and without a garrison. On the night of the 26th of December, 1860, Maj. Robert Anderson dismantled Fort Moultrie and removed his command by boats over to Fort Sumter. The following account of the effect of this removal of Major Anderson upon the people, and the action of the government, is taken from Brevet Major-General Crawford's "Genesis of the Civil War." General Crawford was at the time on the medical staff and one of Anderson's officers. His book is a clear and admirable narrative of the events of those most eventful days, and is written in the spirit of the utmost candor and fairness. In the conclusion of the chapter describing the removal, he says:
       The fact of the evacuation of Fort Moultrie by Major Anderson was soon communicated to the authorities and people of Charleston, creating intense excitement. Crowds collected in streets and open places of the city, and loud and violent were the expressions of feeling against Major Anderson and his action ... [The governor of the State was ready to act in accordance with the feeling displayed.] On the morning of the 27th, he dispatched his aide-de-camp, Col. Johnston Pettigrew, of the First South Carolina Rifles, to Major Anderson. He was accompanied by Maj. Ellison Capers, of his regiment. Arriving at Fort Sumter, Colonel Pettigrew sent a card inscribed, "Colonel Pettigrew, First Regiment Rifles, S.C. M., Aide-de-Camp to the Governor, Commissioner to Major Anderson. Ellison Capers, Major First Regiment Rifles, S.C. M." . . . Colonel Pettigrew and his companion were ushered into the room. The feeling was reserved and formal, when, after declining seats, Colonel Pettigrew immediately opened his mission: "Major Anderson," said he, "can I communicate with you now, sir, before these officers, on the subject for which I am here?" "Certainly, sir," replied Major Anderson, "these are all my officers; I have no secrets from them, sir." The commissioner then informed Major Anderson that he was directed to say to him that the governor was much surprised that he had reinforced "this work." Major Anderson promptly responded that there had been no reinforcement of the work; that he had removed his command from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, as he had a right to do, being in command of all the forts in the harbor. To this Colonel Pettigrew replied that when the present governor (Pickens) came into office, he found an understanding existing between the previous governor (Gist) and the President of the United States, by which all property Within the limits of the State was to remain as it was; that no reinforcements were to be sent here, particularly to this post; that there was to be no attempt made against the public property by the State, and that the status in the harbor should remain unchanged. He was directed also to say to Major Anderson that it had been hoped by the governor that a peaceful solution of the difficulties could. have been reached, and a resort to arms and bloodshed might have been avoided; but that the governor thought the action of Major Anderson had greatly complicated matters, and that he did not now see how bloodshed could be avoided; that he had desired and intended that the whole matter might be fought out politically and without the arbitration of the sword, but that now it was uncertain, if not impossible.
       To this Major Anderson replied, that as far as any understanding between the President and the governor was concerned, he had not been informed; that he knew nothing of it; that he could get no information or positive orders from Washington, and that his position was threatened every night by the troops of the State. He was then asked by Major Capers, who accompanied Colonel Pettigrew, "How?" when he replied, "By sending out steamers armed and conveying troops on board ;" that these steamers passed the fort going north, and that he feared a landing on the island and the occupation of the sand-hills just north of the fort; that 100 riflemen on these hills, which commanded his fort, would make it impossible for his men to serve their guns; and that any man with a military head must see this. "To prevent this," said he earnestly, "I removed on my own responsibility, my sole object being to prevent bloodshed." Major Capers replied that the steamer was sent out for patrol purposes, and as much to prevent disorder among his own people as to ascertain whether any irregular attempt was being made to reinforce the fort, and that the idea of attacking him was never.. entertained by the little squad who patroled the harbor.
       Major Anderson replied to this that he was wholly in the dark as to the intentions of the State troops, but that he had reason to believe that they meant to land and attack him from the north; that the desire of the governor to have the matter settled peacefully and without bloodshed was precisely his object in removing his command from Moultrie to Sumter; that he did it upon his own responsibility alone, because he considered that the safety of his command required it, as he had a right to do. "In this controversy," said he, "between the North and the South, my sympathies are entirely with the South. These gentlemen," said he (turning to the officers of the post who stood about him), "know it perfectly well." Colonel Pettigrew replied, "Well, sir, however that may be, the governor of the State directs me to say to you courteously but peremptorily, to return to Fort Moultrie." "Make my compliments to the governor (said Anderson) and say to him that I decline to accede to his request; I cannot and will not go back." "Then, sir," said Pettigrew, "my business is done," when both officers, without further ceremony or leavetaking, left the fort.
       Colonel Pettigrew and Major Capers returned to the city and made their report to the governor and council who were in session in the council chamber of the city hall. That afternoon Major Anderson raised the flag of his country over Sumter, and went vigorously to work mounting his guns and putting the fort in military order. The same afternoon the governor issued orders to Colonel Pettigrew, First regiment of rifles, and to Col. W. G. De Saussure, First regiment artillery, commanding them to take immediate possession of Castle Pinckney and Fort Moultrie. Neither fort was garrisoned, and the officers in charge, after making a verbal protest, left and went to Fort Sumter, and the Palmetto flag was raised over Moultrie and Pinckney. In the same manner the arsenal in Charleston was taken possession of by a detachment of the Seventeenth regiment, South Carolina militia, Col. John Cunningham, and Fort Johnson on James island, by Capt. Joseph Johnson, commanding the Charleston Riflemen. The governor also ordered a battery to be built for two 24-pounders on Morris island, bearing on Ship channel, and his order was speedily put into execution by Maj. P. F. Stevens, superintendent of the South Carolina military academy, with a detachment of the cadets, supported by the Vigilant Rifles, Captain Tupper. This battery was destined soon to fire the first gun of the war. In taking possession of the forts and the arsenal, every courtesy was shown the officers in charge, Captain Humphreys, commanding the arsenal, saluting his flag before surrendering the property.
       By the possession of Forts Moultrie and Pinckney and the arsenal in Charleston, their military stores fell into the hands of the State of South Carolina, and by the governor's orders a careful inventory was made at once of all the property and duly reported to him. At Moultrie there were sixteen 24-pounders, nineteen 32-pounders, ten 8-inch columbiads, one I o-inch seacoast mortar, four 6-pounders, two 12-pounders and four 24-pounderhowitzers and a large supply of ammunition. At Castle Pinckney the armament was nearly complete and the magazine well filled with powder. At the arsenal there was a large supply of military stores, heavy ordnance and small-arms. These exciting events were followed by the attempt of the government to succor Major Anderson with supplies and reinforce his garrison.
       The supplies and troops were sent in a large merchant steamer, the Star of the West. She crossed the bar early on the morning of January 9, 1861, and steamed up Ship channel, which runs for miles parallel with Morris island, and within range of gulls of large caliber. Her course lay right under the 24-pounder battery commanded by Major Stevens and manned by the cadets. This battery was supported by the Zouave Cadets, Captain Chichester; the German Riflemen, Captain Small, and the Vigilant Rifles, Captain Tupper. When within range a shot was fired across her bow, and not heeding it, the battery fired directly upon her. Fort Moultrie also fired a few shots, and the Star of the West rapidly changed her course and, turning round, steamed out of the range of the guns, having received but little material damage by the fire.
       Major Anderson acted with great forbearance and judgment, and did not open his batteries. He declared his purpose to be patriotic, and so it undoubtedly was. He wrote to the governor that, influenced by the hope that the firing on the Star of the West was not supported by the authority of the State, he had refrained from opening fire upon the batteries, and declared that unless it was promptly disclaimed he would regard it as an act of war, and after waiting a reasonable time he would fire upon all vessels coming within range of his guns.
       The governor promptly replied, justifying the action of the batteries in firing upon the vessel, and giving his reasons in full. He pointed out to Major Anderson that his removal to Fort Sumter and the circumstances attending it, and his attitude since were a menace to the State of a purpose of coercion; that the bringing into the harbor of more troops and supplies of war was in open defiance of the State, and an assertion of a purpose to reduce her to abject submission to the government she had discarded; that the vessel had been fairly warned not to continue her course, and that his threat to fire upon the vessels in the harbor was in keeping with the evident purpose of the government of the United States to dispute the right of South Carolina to dissolve connection with the Union. This right was not to be debated or questioned, urged the governor, and the coming of the Star of the West, sent by the order of the President, after being duly informed by commissioners sent to him by the convention of the people of the State to fully inform him of the act of the State in seceding from the Union, and of her claim of rights and privileges in the premises, could have no other meaning than that of open and hostile disregard for the asserted independence of South Carolina. To defend that independence and to resent and resist any and every act of coercion are "too plainly a duty," said Governor Pickens, "to allow it to be discussed."
       To the governor's letter Major Anderson replied, that he would refer the whole matter to the government at Washington, and defer his purpose to fire upon vessels in the harbor until he could receive his instructions in reply. Thus a truce was secured, and meanwhile active preparations for war were made daily by Major Anderson in Fort Sumter and by Governor Pickens on the islands surrounding it. War seemed inevitable, and the whole State, as one man, was firmly resolved to meet it.
       The legislature had passed a bill on December 17th providing for the organization of ten regiments for the defense of the State, and the convention had ordered the formation of a regiment for six months' service, to be embodied at once, the governor to appoint the field officers. This last was "Gregg's First regiment," which was organized in January, 1861, and on duty on Sullivan's and Morris islands by the 1st of February following. The governor appointed Maxcy Gregg, of Columbia, colonel: Col. A. H. Gladden, who had been an officer of the Palmetto regiment in the Mexican war, lieutenant-colonel; and D. H. Hamilton, the late marshal of the United States court in South Carolina, major. On March 6, 1861, the adjutant-general of the State reported to Gen. M. L. Bonham, whom the governor had commissioned major-general, to command the division formed under the act of December 17, 1860, that he had received into the service of the State 104 companies, under the said act of the legislature, aggregating an effective force of 8,836 men and officers; that these companies had been formed into ten regiments and the regiments into four brigades.
       These regiments were mustered for twelve months' service, were numbered respectively from 1 to 10, inclusive, and commanded by Cols. Johnson Hagood, J. B. Kershaw, J. H. Williams, J. B. E. Sloan, M. Jenkins, J. H. Rion, T. G. Bacon, E. B. Cash, J. D. Blanding, and A.M. Manigault.
       The brigadier-generals appointed by the governor under the act above referred to, were R. G. M. Dunovant and P. H. Nelson. By an act of the legislature, January 28, 1861, the governor was authorized to raise a battalion of artillery and a regiment of infantry, both to be formed and enlisted in the service of the State as regulars, and to form the basis of the regular army of South Carolina. The governor appointed, under the act, R. S. Ripley, lieutenant-colonel in command of the artillery battalion, and Richard Anderson, colonel of the infantry regiment. The artillery battalion was afterward increased to a regiment, and the regiment of infantry converted, practically, into a regiment of artillery. Both regiments served in the forts and batteries of the harbor throughout the war, with the greatest distinction, as will afterward appear. These troops, with the Fourth brigade, South Carolina militia, were under the orders of the government and were practically investing Fort Sumter. The States of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, having left the Union during the month of January, and the Confederate government having been organized early in February, at Montgomery, President Davis, on the 1st of March, ordered Brigadier-General Beauregard to Charleston to report for duty to Governor Pickens. Thenceforward this distinguished soldier became the presiding genius of military operations in and around Charleston.
       Repeated demands having been made upon Major Anderson, and upon the President, for the relinquishment of Fort Sumter, and these demands having been refused and the government at Washington having concluded to supply and reinforce the fort by force of arms, it was determined to summon Major Anderson to evacuate the fort, for the last time. Accordingly, on April 11th, General Beauregard sent him the following communication:

Headquarters Provisional Army, C. S. A.
Charleston, April 11, 1861.

       Sir: The government of the Confederate States has hitherto foreborne from any hostile demonstrations against Fort Sumter, in hope that the government of the United States, with a view to the amicable adjustment of all questions between the two governments, and to avert the calamities of war, would voluntarily evacuate it.
       There was reason at one time to believe that such would be the course pursued by the government of the United States, and under that impression my government has refrained from making any demand for the surrender of the fort. But the Confederate States can no longer delay assuming actual possession of a fortification commanding the entrance of one of their harbors and necessary to its defense and security.
       I am ordered by the government of the Confederate States to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter. My aides, Colonel Chestnut and Captain Lee, are authorized to make such demand of you. All proper facilities will be afforded for the removal of yourself and command, together with company arms and property, and all private property, to any post in the United States which you may select. The flag which you have upheld so long and with so much fortitude, under the most trying circumstances, may be saluted by you on taking it down. Colonel Chestnut and Captain Lee will, for a reasonable time, await your answer.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. T. BEAUREGARD,
Brigadier-General Commanding.

Major Anderson replied as follows:

Fort Sumter, S.C.,
April 11, 1861.

       General: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication demanding the evacuation of this fort, and to say, in reply thereto, that it is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligations to my government, prevent my compliance. Thanking you for the fair, manly and courteous terms proposed, and for the high compliment paid me,

I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
ROBERT ANDERSON,
Major, First Artillery, Commanding.

       Major Anderson, while conversing with the messengers of General Beauregard, having remarked that he would soon be starved into a surrender of the fort, or words to that effect, General Beauregard was induced to address him a second letter, in which he proposed that the major should fix a time at which he would agree to evacuate, and agree also not to use his guns against the Confederate forces unless they fired upon him, and so doing, he, General Beauregard, would abstain from hostilities. To this second letter Major Anderson replied, naming noon on the 15th, provided that no hostile act was committed by the Confederate forces, or any part of them, and provided, further, that he should not, meanwhile, receive from the government at Washington controlling instructions or additional supplies.
       The fleet which was to reinforce and supply him was then collecting outside the bar, and General Beauregard at once notified him, at 3:20 a. m. on the morning of the 12th of April, that he would open fire on the fort in one hour from that time.        The shell which opened the momentous bombardment of Fort Sumter was fired from a mortar, located at Fort Johnson on James island, at 4:30 on the morning of the 12th.
       For over three months the troops stationed on the islands surrounding Fort Sumter had been constantly employed building batteries, mounting guns, and making every preparation for the defense of the harbor, and, if necessary, for an attack on the fort if the government at Washington persisted in its refusal to order its evacuation. Lieut.-Col. R. S. Ripley, an able and energetic soldier, commanded the artillery on Sullivan's island, with his headquarters at Fort Moultrie, Briga-dier-General Dunovant commanding the island. Under Ripley's direction, six 10-inch mortars and twenty guns bore on Sumter. The guns were 24, 32 and 42 pounders, 8-inch columbiads and one 9-inch Dahlgren. The supports to the batteries were the First regiment of rifles, Colonel Pettigrew; the regiment of infantry, South Carolina regulars, Col. Richard Anderson; the Charleston Light Dragoons, Capt. B. H. Rutledge, and the German Flying Artillery, the latter attached to Col. Pettigrew's command, stationed at the east end of the island. These commands, with Ripley's battalion of South Carolina regular artillery and Capt. Robert Martin's mortar battery on Mount Pleasant, made up the force under General Dunovant.
       On Morris island, Gen. James Simons was commanding, with Lieut.-Col. W. G. De Saussure for his artillery chief, and Maj. W. H. C. Whiting for chief of staff. The infantry supports on the island were the regiments of Cols. John Cunningham, Seventeenth South Carolina militia, and Maxey Gregg, Johnson Hagood and J. B. Kershaw, of the South Carolina volunteers. The artillery was in position bearing on Ship channel, and at Cummings point, bearing on Sumter. The fleet making no attempt to come in, the channel batteries took no part in the bombardment of Sumter.
       On Cummings point, six i o-inch mortars and six guns were placed. To the command and direction of these guns, Maj. P. F. Stevens was specially assigned. One of the batteries on the point was of unique structure, hitherto unknown in war. Three 8-inch columbiads were put in battery under a roofing of heavy timbers, laid at an angle of forty degrees, and covered with railroad T iron. Portholes were cut and these protected by heavy iron shutters, raised and lowered from the inside of the battery. This battery was devised and built by Col. Clement H. Stevens, of Charleston, afterward a briga-dier-general and mortally wounded in front of Atlanta, July 20, 1864, leading his brigade. "Stevens' iron battery," as it was called, was "the first ironclad fortification ever erected," and initiated the present system of armor-plated vessels. The three mortars in battery at Port Johnson were commanded by Capt. G. S. James. The batteries above referred to, including Fort Moultrie, contained fifteen 10-inch mortars and twenty-six guns of heavy caliber.
       For thirty-four hours they assaulted Sumter with an unceasing bombardment, before its gallant defenders consented to give it up, and not then until the condition of the fort made it impossible to continue the defense. Port Moultrie alone fired 2,490 shot and shell. Gen. S. W. Crawford, in his accurate and admirable book, previously quoted, thus describes the condition of Sumter when Anderson agreed to its surrender:

"It was a scene of ruin and destruction. The quarters and barracks were in ruins. The main gates and the planking of the windows on the gorge were gone;the magazines closed and surrounded by smouldering flames and burning ashes; the provisions exhausted; much of the engineering work destroyed; and with only four barrels of powder available. The command had yielded to the inevitable. The effect of the direct shot had been to indent the walls, where the marks could be counted by hundreds, while the shells, well directed, had crushed the quarters, and, in connection with hot shot, setting them on fire, had destroyed the barracks and quarters down to the gun casemates, while the enfilading fire had prevented the service of the barbette guns, some of them comprising the most important battery in the work. The breaching fire from the columbiads and the rifle gun at Cummings point upon the right gorge 'angle, had progressed sensibly and must have eventually succeeded if continued, but as yet no guns had been disabled or injured at that point. The effect of the fire upon the parapet was pronounced. The gorge, the right face and flank as well as the left face, were all taken in reverse, and a destructive fire maintained until the end, while the gun carriages on the barbette of the gorge were destroyed in the fire of the blazing quarters."

       The spirit and language of General Beauregard in communicating with Major Anderson, and the replies of the latter, were alike honorable to those distinguished soldiers. The writer, who was on duty on Sullivan's island, as major of Pettigrew's regiment of rifles, recalls vividly the sense of admiration felt for Major Anderson and his faithful little command throughout the attack, and at the surrender of the fort. "While the barracks in Fort Sumter were in a blaze," wrote General Beauregard to the secretary of war at Montgomery, "and the interior of the work appeared untenable from the heat and from the fire of our batteries (at about which period I sent three of my aides to offer assistance), whenever the guns of Fort Sumter would fire upon Moultrie, the men occupying the Cummings point batteries (Palmetto Guard, Captain Cuthbert) at each shot would cheer Anderson for his gallantry, although themselves still firing upon him; and when on the 15th instant he left the harbor on the steamer Isabel, the soldiers of the batteries lined the beach, silent and uncovered, while Anderson and his command passed before them."
       Thus closed the memorable and momentous attack upon Fort Sumter by the forces of South Carolina, and thus began the war which lasted until April, 1865, when the Southern Confederacy, as completely ruined and exhausted by fire and sword as Fort Sumter in April, 1861, gave up the hopeless contest and reluctantly accepted the inevitable.

This page last updated 02/17/02

RETURN TO ATTACK ON FORT SUMTER OFFICIAL RECORDS PAGE