FIVE FLAGS OVER FORT SUMTER
The sun had just burned away behind the city of Charleston on the day
after Christmas 1860 when a depleted company of United States soldiers
marched down the sandy shore of Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, and
climbed into three boats. They lay their muskets below the gunwales.
and with six men at the oars of each boat they began pulling for Fort
Sumter, a mile away across the main ship channel. As the tiny flotilla
glided into the still winter water, the shadow of Fort Moultrie rose low
and ominous behind them, along with an assortment of seaside lodgings
including the big Moultrie House, to which Carolina planters had been
wont to send their families in the heat of summer.
The enlisted men in those boats belonged to Company F, First U.S.
Artillery, whichwith Company H and the regimental
bandcomposed the garrison of Fort Moultrie. Most of them had spent
more than three years here, and they treasured the place as one of the
most desirable assignments in the country. The resort community on the
beach and the proximity of the city offered amusements unknown to most
army posts: many of these men had served on the swampy, isolated coast
of Florida or on the frontier, so they doubtless left Moultrie with
MAJOR ROBERT ANDERSON (BL)|
Leading the expedition was Major Robert Anderson, a
fifty-five-year-old Kentuckian who had spent nearly four decades serving
the flag that he now carried tucked beneath his arm: His father had done
so before him and had also held the rank of major when, during the
Revolution, he served in another Fort Moultrie on this same spot. Behind
Anderson, the second boat was commanded by Lieutenant Richard Kidder
Meade, Jr., a young Virginian who within six months would exchange his
blue uniform for a gray oneand die wearing it. Captain Abner
Doubleday sat in the third boat, which eventually took the lead.
Doubleday, the man once credited with organizing the modern version
of baseball, watched nervously as a small steamboat approached on a
course that would intersect his. That steamboat was manned by South
Carolinians who now considered themselves hostile to the United States
government and for whom the migration of these boats to Fort Sumter was
an act of war to be stopped by force of arms. Back at Fort Moultrie,
Company H stood ready to follow. A couple of officers and a handful of
men stood at the lanyards of heavy guns trained on the channel if the
guard boat opened fire, they had orders to blast it out of the water.
Major Anderson wanted to avoid such bloodshed if possible, and he
directed his own boat behind the steamer. Meade followed, but Doubleday
tried to race across the path of the faster vessel. His men bent their
backs willingly, but their skill with the oars left something to be
desired and Doubleday realized that even in the growing darkness the
South Carolinians would come close enough to make them out. Despite the
winter chill, he ordered his men to doff their greatcoats and cover
their muskets with them and to remove their tall black uniform hats.
This gave them more of a civilian appearance, and Doubleday hoped they
might pass for workmen on their way back to the unfinished fort. The
ruse succeeded, and the steamer passed on.
Doubleday's was the first boat to reach the wharf at Fort Sumter. He
marched his company through the gate with their muskets at the ready and
collected scores of masons, carpenters, and ironworkers who lived
inside. Most of them were local tradesmen and therefore disloyal to the
United States, the captain reasoned, so he herded them into the barracks
and placed a guard over them. Major Anderson soon arrived with the rest
of Doubleday's company, and the boats returned for the balance of the
FORT SUMTER BEFORE THE WAR. PAINTING BY SETH EASTMAN. (LC)|
The events that drove these soldiers into Fort Sumter had been
rumbling for decades. Most of Major Anderson's men had not been born
when Missouri petitioned for statehood and Northern abolitionists sought
to limit slavery there. For the first time in American history the slave
and the free states clashed over the conflicting moral and economic
issues, but in 1820 the Missouri Compromise settled those differences
temporarily: Maine was admitted as a free state and Missouri was allowed
to come in with slavery. That maintained the balance of slave and free
states, assuring an equal number of Senate representatives from each,
but under the compromise there would be no more slave states allowed
north of Missouri's southern border.
Friction between North and South arose again in the final years of
that decade, when the federal government imposed a protective tariff on
the importation of manufactured good's. Specifically designed to protect
Northern industry, the tariff proved costly to the South, whichas
a result of its dependence upon slave-labor agriculturerelied
heavily on importation for such products. Vice-President John Calhoun,
of South Carolina, expressed the opinion that his state had the right to
nullify the tariff, and when the crisis came to a head in 1832 he
resigned his office and became the spokesman for resistance to the
national government. President Andrew Jackson viewed Calhoun's theory of
nullification as nothing short of treason and threatened military action
if any state attempted to flout federal laws or leave the Union: the
Force Act of 1833, combined with a conciliatory reduction in the tariff,
ended the Nullification Crisis.
JOHN C. CALHOUN (HW)|
UNITS LIKE THE FREE-STATE BATTERY FOUGHT TO KEEP KANSAS SLAVE FREE.
(KANSAS STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, TOPEKA, KANSAS)|
Calhoun remained the chief spokesman for the slave South until his
death in 1850, and South Carolina became the crucible in which Southern
sentiment burned brightest. Calhoun lived just long enough to see
another sectional crisis when California sought admission to the Union
as a free state. He and other radicals recognized that the old political
balance would be lost and that their peculiar economy would be seriously
threatened by the admission of free state's from the territories ceded
by Mexico: for many Southerners, the Mexican War had seemed an
opportunity to gain more territory for the expansion of slavery. The
governor of South Carolina was among the loudest of those who called for
a convention of Southern states at Nashville, which many believed would
lead to the withdrawal of those states from the Union. It took another
complicated compromise to smooth over this difficulty, as Southerners
accepted California in return for a strict Fugitive Slave Act aimed at
preventing their chattel from escaping into free territory.
It was the turn of Northern radicals to bridle in 1854, when passage
of the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise and allowed
residents of the two territories to determine for themselves whether
they would apply for admission as free or slave states. Abolitionists
stirred themselves to assure that Kansas came in free, some of them
migrating there themselves while others supported immigration
movements. The factions fell into guerrilla warfare there, and it was in
Bleeding Kansas that John Brown found his calling, slaughtering settlers
from slave states. The sectional conflict never really subsided
thereafter, and Brown himself fueled it to fever pitch with his
ill-conceived crusade to Harpers Ferry in 1859.
FORT MOULTRIE BEFORE THE WAR. (BL)|
The turmoil over Kansas led Northern opponents of slavery to form the
Republican party, through which they dedicated themselves to preventing
the extension of slavery into the territories. The Republican candidate
for president lost to Democrat James Buchanan in 1856, but four years
later the party fielded Abraham Lincoln, a relatively unknown Illinois
lawyer who had served one term in Congress. During that term, Lincoln
had opposed the Mexican War, which tainted him in the eyes of militant
Southerners, but the Republican platform of 1860 proved even more
distasteful to the South than the party candidate. Republicans stood
against the expansion of slavery, for the hated tariff, and they
promised a homestead act that could only assure the population of the
territories by antislavery settlers.
Southern sectionalists, particularly in South Carolina, threatened to
secede from the Union if Lincoln won. There was little question that he
would win, either, for the Democratic party divided itself between
Stephen Douglas of Illinois and John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, the
sitting vice president. Still more Southern sympathizers were siphoned
off by the nomination of John Bell, of Tennessee, who ran on a
compromise Union ticket. Though he drew barely two-fifths of the popular
vote, Lincoln won the election.
After it became clear that Lincoln had won, but before the
secessionists began gathering, the Buchanan administration looked
solicitously to its military posts in the South, and especially in South
Carolina. An inspector who had visited Charleston in early November
reported that the harbor defenses consisted of Fort Sumter, which was
unfinished, Castle Pinckney, manned by a single ordnance sergeant, and
Fort Moultrie. The garrison at Moultrie consisted of five company
officers, sixty-four artillerymen, nine musicians, and a hospital
steward, all under Lieutenant Colonel John L. Gardner, who had begun his
military career in 1813.
Fort Moultrie did not invite confidence, the inspector noted. It had
been designed to withstand assaults from seaward; it lay vulnerable to
fire from sand hills and vacation houses behind the fort, and the
hospital and storehouses lay outside, where they could readily be
burned. There was little room inside the fort to store supplies. To make
matters worse, the garrison was woefully small and in failing
discipline. The enlisted men remained sufficiently obedient, but they
betrayed a certain lethargy.
The inspector's report reached the desk of the adjutant general, in
Washington, on November 13. Two days later, after consultation with the
secretary of war, the adjutant general ordered Major Anderson to relieve
Colonel Gardner. Anderson arrived on November 21, fully aware that he
had undertaken a delicate, difficult, and potentially dangerous
PRESIDENT JAMES BUCHANAN (BL)|
Anderson was chosen not only for his military competence but for his
Southern birth and his discretion. Fearful of inciting the South
Carolinians to any overt act that would require him to respond,
President Buchanan needed a soldier who was as diplomatic as he was
disciplined. His secretary of war felt that Anderson would do.
At first, Anderson attended to the defenses at Fort Moultrie,
mounting new guns and establishing a new routine of exercise and target
practice, both with the big guns and muskets. He asked for
reinforcements in Moultrie and a couple of companies for Fort Sumter, as
well as half a company to lodge in Castle Pinckney and a half dozen
ordnance men to prepare fixed ammunition from the loose powder and
projectiles. From the reports of his officers and the comments of
visitors, Anderson believed that the citizens of Charleston burned to
take either Moultrie or Sumter, which commanded Moultrie, and that the
attempt would be made as soon as the state seceded, if not before. And
while no formal action had yet been taken toward secession, there seemed
no question that it would happen.
The War Department declined to send any reinforcements, doubting
that Charleston forts would be attacked.
The War Department declined to send any reinforcements, doubting that
the Charleston forts would be attacked. Supplementing the garrison would
only aggravate the situation, thought Secretary of War John B.
Floyd was a Virginian. He would die in bed three years hence as a
Confederate general and a bad one at that. Neither did he show much
merit as a cabinet officer. He had already engaged in some shady
shifting of funds for which the president had requested his resignation,
and he had recently sold a goodly number of surplus army muskets to
Southern states; some of those weapons had landed in South Carolina,
where they were carried by militiamen hostile to the United States.
Floyd was more reluctant to augment the forces under his own authority,
and he made no protest about the state militia that positioned itself
around the U.S. arsenal in Charleston, preventing removal of ammunition
or arms by soldiers from Moultrie. Among other deficiencies, the
secretary suffered from a measure of sympathy for the secessionists who
threatened his soldiers, and his hesitation satisfied the timorous
policy of his chief executive. The only reinforcement offered for Major
Anderson's garrison was Lieutenant Meade, who was ordered down by the
Engineer Department to assist in supervising construction.
In lieu of reinforcements, Anderson sought authority early in
December to hire some discharged soldiers for police and fatigue duty
inside Moultrie, while the senior engineer officer in the harbor,
Captain John G. Foster, considered arming some of his laborers in Fort
Sumter and Castle Pinckney. The crews inside Sumter then numbered 115
men, most of whom were foreign-born, and at Pinckney there were 30
employed, besides a temporary work force of 125 at Moultrie. Foster
asked if he could not draw a hundred smoothbore muskets to divide among
the Sumter and Pinckney men. The officer in charge of the arsenala
South Carolinian who would also become a Confederate
generaldeclined to issue the muskets. Foster gave up the idea
after a few days, deciding that even the immigrant workmen had been too
thoroughly infected with secessionist doctrine to be trusted.
CAPTAIN JOHN G. FOSTER (HW)|
THIS MAP OF CHARLESTON HARBOR ILLUSTRATES THE IMPORTANCE OF FORT SUMTER
IN PROTECTING THE CITY AND SURROUNDING AREA. (BL)|
Foiled in every attempt to strengthen his position, Anderson began to
wonder whether he would be allowed to defend his post at all, asking
whether he would be able to burn down the buildings that commanded the
fort from behind, or whether it would even be permissible to fire upon
an armed force that approached the fort. If he were attacked he doubted
that he would be able to hold out very long, and he advised ordering the
engineer work stopped, lest the attacking forces reap the benefits of
the improvements. He remarked that he had refrained from mounting most
of the guns in Fort Sumter because, if it was not to be occupied by
friendly troops, its ordinance could be used against Moultrie.
A few days later an envoy from the adjutant general arrived at Fort
Moultrie, bringing verbal instructions that he put to paper once safely
inside the fort. Major Don Carlos Buell expressed Floyd's belief that
the South Carolinians would never try to take the Charleston forts by
force, but if they did Anderson was to defend those bastions "to the
last extremity." Recognizing that the size of the garrison would not
allow him to defend all three forts, Floyd allowed Buell to say that
Anderson could occupy any of the three he chose if the secessionists
moved against them. "You are also authorized to take similar steps
whenever you have tangible evidence of a design to proceed to a hostile
act," Buell wrote, in concluding his memorandum on Floyd's instructions.
That sentence offered the only evidence that Floyd did not intend to
sacrifice the men of Fort Moultrie, and Anderson remembered it. Three
days after Buell's visit Anderson apprised Washington that it was
generally believed the Carolinians would take Sumter first and use the
guns there to pound Moultrie into submission.
ST. ANDREWS' HALL WOULD BE RECHRISTENED SECESSION HALL AFTER DECEMBER
20, 1860. (BL)|
"I shall, of course, prepare here for the worst," he promised.
As Christmas neared, delegates gathered for a secession convention.
Fearful of mob action, Captain Foster finally drew forty muskets from
the arsenal to defend Sumter and Pinckney. He did so under an old
requisition, bypassing the officer who had refused him earlier, but
citizens who learned of it demanded that he return the weapons. Under
the pressure of those citizens, the military storekeeper at the arsenal
asked Foster to do so, but Foster forwarded the question to Washington.
It seemed that the South Carolina authorities had been promised that no
weapons would be taken by the U.S. garrison, so in a midnight decision
Floyd directed that Foster return the old smoothbores. He did so on
THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF SOUTH CAROLINA'S ORDINANCE OF SECESSION. (LC)|
That same day, South Carolina newspapers announced that the
convention had adopted an ordinance of secession. At least as far as
South Carolina authorities were concerned, their state had become an
independent nation. Faced with that development and the agitation over
Captain Foster's muskets, John Floyd apparently reconsidered his
confidence in the restraint of Charleston mobs and militia, and he
modified his instruction that Anderson should hold his position "to the
"It is neither expected nor desired that you should expose your own
life or that of your men in a hopeless conflict in defense of these
forts," Floyd said. He neither reiterated nor retracted his permission
to occupy whichever facility Anderson deemed most defensible, but that
may have been an oversight; it happened that President Buchanan had
implied a promise that no such changes would be made.
U.S. TROOPS SPIKE THE GUNS IN FORT MOULTRIE BEFORE ITS EVACUATION. (LC)|
Commissioners traveled to Washington from South Carolina to discuss
the status of the forts, and Charleston steamers began patrolling both
Castle Pinckney and Fort Sumter. Major Anderson detected one steamer
lying between Moultrie and Sumter, as though to resist any transfer of
troops, and he heard that some of the workmen inside Sumter were wearing
the blue secession cockade.
Writing separately to his own superiors at the Engineer Department,
Captain Foster asked what to do about his work on the forts. He had
masons hard at work on Moultrie, preparing it for an assault from land,
but Sumter was defended by a single enlisted man and his efforts there
would prove futile if it were assailed. The engineer in charge at
Washington referred a copy of Foster's letter to the secretary of war
with an "earnest request" for instructions, but Floyd did not reply. Two
days later the engineer took Foster's letter to Floyd's office and read
it to him personally, but the secretary declined to offer any direction
and refused even an offered copy of the letter.
By then it no longer mattered. Anderson had spirited his garrison
away to Fort Sumter, and in the resulting furor Floyd would leave office
without bothering to submit a resignation, claiming that he did not wish
to be a party to coercion. That sounded more appealing than a departure
compelled by his mishandling of funds.
By the morning of December 27, smoke rose from the smoldering gun
carriages in Fort Moultrie. At noon that day, Major Anderson gathered
his little force on the parade ground inside Fort Sumter. He brought his
men to attention while his aging chaplain, Matthias Harris, voiced a
prayer, then Anderson raised his cherished flag with its thirty-three
stars while the band bellowed a salute. He was interrupted shortly
thereafter by a visit from Colonel James J. Pettigrew, an aide to
Governor Francis Pickens, who asked him to return to Fort Moultrie and
reprimanded him for violating the agreement against reinforcing Fort
Sumter. Anderson denied knowledge of any such agreement, pointed out
that he had merely transferred his garrison rather than reinforcing
anything, and said he could not and would not return to Moultrie.
In the afternoon Colonel Pettigrew approached Castle Pinckney with
some South Carolina infantry, scaled the wall, and demanded possession
in the name of the governor. Lieutenant Meade, who had returned during
the night, yielded the place and proceeded to Fort Sumter. The rear
guard at Fort Moultrie, including Surgeon Samuel W. Crawford, Captain
Foster, and Mrs. Foster, departed at sundown in the last lighter, and
that evening most of a South Carolina regiment appeared on Sullivan's
Island to wrest Moultrie from the lone engineer sergeant who had been
left in charge. In Charleston, troops seized the arsenal, the post
office, and the customs house.
MAJOR ANDERSON'S MEN ENTER FORT SUMTER (LC)|
RAISING OF THE STARS AND STRIPES AS DEPICTED IN FRANK LESLIE'S
ILLUSTRATED NEWSPAPER. (LC)|
In Washington, members of the Buchanan administration viewed the news
with either dismay or glee, depending upon their political sentiments.
Floyd raged over the allegedly broken pledge and insisted that Anderson
be ordered back to Moultrie, but Northern cabinet officers held firmly
against such a course. Buchanan cringed under the criticism of both his
militant department secretaries and the South Carolina commissioners,
vexed at the necessity of making a decision. Winfield Scott, the
enormous old general in chief, stirred himself from a sickbed to advise
the administration not only to sustain Anderson's actions but to support
him with troops and ships.
To the surprise of many, the equivocating Buchanan took Anderson's
side however reluctantly. On the last day of 1860 the president wrote a
long letter to the Carolina commissioners explaining the
miscommunication that led Anderson, on Floyd's independent instructions,
to an apparent violation of the assurances that Buchanan had given. He
refused to remove the garrison from Sumter and promised to defend the
fort. What was more, when General Scott asked for presidential
permission to send Anderson reinforcements secretly without notifying
Floyd, Buchanan agreed.
Major Anderson found himself within a veritable castle on a
reinforced sandbar between Sullivan's Island and James Island. The work
had been begun in 1829, just as the first secession sentiment took root
in South Carolina, but most of the first two decades had been spent
building up the artificial island on which it sat. The thick masonry
walls of the fort did not begin to take shape until the 1840s, and they
had climbed slowly over the intervening years until they hovered nearly
forty feet above the water. Two tiers of embrasures stared from four of
the fort's five faces, and a third, "barbette," tier was planned for the
terreplein along the parapet.
While the exterior of Fort Sumter was complete, a great deal remained
to be done inside. The Engineer Department had increased the work force
to over a hundred men in August 1860, by which time the disintegration
of the Democratic party had all but assured the Republican victory on
which South Carolina had promised to secede. Over the summer and fall
the masons had finished the casemate arches to support the second tier
of guns, laid the granite flagstones for part of the second tier, and
put down the tracks for the first-tier guns. The floors and stairways in
the east barracks were finished when the garrison moved in, and
bricklayers had begun work on the embrasures of the second tier.
In the days before the evacuation of Fort Moultrie Captain Foster's
assistant, First Lieutenant George W. Snyder, drove the workmen to mount
Sumter's guns as quickly as possible. Major Anderson had objected to
that, arguing that they could be used against Moultrie, but now he had
cause to appreciate Snyder's efforts. Of the eighty-one guns within the
fort, fifteen sat on carriages ready for use, including eleven
32-pounders aimed at Moultrie from the first tier. One more 32-pounder
had been placed on the only portion of the second tier that had been
floored, along the right flank, while three 24-pounders peered over the
left gorge angle from the barbette tier.
CHARLESTON MILITIA UNITS TOOK OCCUPATION OF CASTLE PINCKNEY IN DECEMBER
1860. THIS GARRISON OF SOUTH CAROLINA TROOPS WAS PHOTOGRAPHED AT THE
CASTLE IN 1861. (LC)|
For all Snyder's diligence, most of the first tier and all but one
unfinished embrasure in the second offered potential assailants
vulnerable apertures rather than the ominous mouths of cannon. Sixty-six
more dismounted guns and their carriages littered the parade, among them
several 42-pounders, ten 8-inch guns, and some huge 10-inch
Columbiads. Powder and shot sufficient for 5,600 rounds lay piled
alongside this disassembled ordinance. Snyder resumed work as soon as
the new inhabitants had settled in, and on December 29 alone he
supervised the mounting of three more guns. Meanwhile. Carolinians
occupied Fort Johnson, on James Island, and began throwing up gun
emplacements on Morris Island, at the entrance to the harbor.
Designed for a garrison of 650, the place seemed crowded with barely
half that many people because of the unfinished quarters and the
encumbrances on the parade. With the engineers, the troops from
Moultrie, and Ordnance Sergeant James Kearney, who had stood guard over
Sumter, Major Anderson counted nine officers and seventy-seven enlisted
men, not all of whom were ready for duty. Forty-six women and children
lodged with these soldiers; it was customary in those days for garrison
soldiers to house their families on the post. Between the employees from
Moultrie and those already within Sumter there were also 205 laborers.
Anderson housed the laborers in the completed barracks building and
moved both the officers and the enlisted men, with all the women and
children, into the officers' quarters. The forts stores could not last
long with that many mouths to feed.
SOUTHERNERS MOUNTING CANNON ON MORRIS ISLAND. (LC)|
It was the intention of Winfield Scott that Anderson should have more
provisions, as well as a couple of hundred more men to share them. On
the evening of January 5, 1861, under the direction of First Lieutenant
Charles R. Woods, three officers and 200 recruits from Fort Columbus
transferred from a tugboat to the steamer Star of the West in New
The next day, Major Anderson was called to the wharf at Fort Sumter
to greet a boat carrying his wife, his brother, and Peter Hart, who had
served as a sergeant in Anderson's company during the Mexican War. He
learned from them, finally, that the administration did not intend to
order him back to Moultrie. The visitors knew nothing of the mission
undertaken by the Star of the West, however, for that was still
supposed to be secret. Corrupted rumors of the ship's departure had
leaked out nonetheless, and Charleston authorities would be on the
lookout for it.
That evening Mrs. Anderson and the major's brother returned to
Charleston for the long trip north. Peter Hart, whose presence Mrs.
Anderson believed to be a great personal consolation to her husband,
remained behind at the sufferance of South Carolina officials, but not
as a soldier. He was permitted to stay in the fort as a civilian
workman, and Captain Foster put him to work as a carpenter.
On the night of January 8, aboard the Star of the West,
Lieutenant Woods issued his men arms and ammunition, and at midnight
the ship appeared off Charleston. South Carolina officials had
extinguished the lighthouse lamps, but the pilot took his bearings with
the light from Fort Sumter. Just before daylight of January 9 a patrol
boat appeared off the main channel and signaled the stranger before
turning back to spread the alarm. Rockets soared upward from the guard
boat, but the Star of the West steamed toward the harbor, hugging
the channel off the shore of Morris Island and flying the U.S. ensign
from the fantail. On the island sat a crude coastal battery manned by
cadets from the Citadel. A seventeen-year-old gunner tightened one of
the lanyards, giving it a sharp pull at the word of his commander.
THE STAR OF THE WEST (HW)|
SOUTHERN GUNS ON MORRIS ISLAND FIRE ON THE STAR OF THE WEST. (HW)|
The shot flew across the bow of the steamer, and an angry Lieutenant
Woods ran up a larger flag. That merely invited more gunfire. A few
rounds flew over the ship, one lodged near the rudder, and one skimmed
off the water to strike just above the waterline and just below the
leadsman, who was testing the depth of the water.
On the ramparts at Sumter, a sentinel called for Major Anderson.
Every officer in the fort soon stood on the parapet, watching the
unarmed steamer defy the Morris Island battery and cruise into the
harbor. At less than a mile's distance Fort Moultrie opened on her, too,
and as the Sumter gun crews stood ready their officers fell into debate
over whether to return the fire. The captains and lieutenants Truman and
Snyder, Northerners all, urged Anderson to open his guns on Moultrie, at
least. Meade the Virginian and Lieutenant Theodore Talbot, a native of
Kentucky, advised against it in fear that it would inaugurate civil war;
they were joined by First Lieutenant Jefferson C. Davis, who suggested
that the major demand first whether Governor Pickens had ordered the
batteries to fire on the flag. Anderson, who had promised to avoid any
action that might precipitate war, decided to take that course.
Perceiving that no one at Sumter was going to help him and that
patrol boats might cut off his escape, Lieutenant Woods ordered the
captain to turn about and make for the open sea again. The Morris Island
battery kept up a futile fire until the Star of the West scraped
back across the bar, after which the Citadel cadets and the garrison of
Fort Sumter both watched the ship sail out of sight.
Major Anderson sent a messenger to Pickens, asking him to disclaim
any complicity. If the governor failed to do so, Anderson warned that he
would fire on any vessel that came within range of his guns. Pickens
instead took full credit for the incident. Anderson then put off his
threat long enough to communicate with his government, asking Pickens
for permission to send an envoy. Late that night Lieutenant Talbot,
weakened by the tuberculosis that would kill him and Snyder within
months, started for Washington.
Lieutenant Talbot reached Washington within the week. The new
secretary of war, Joseph Holt, replied to Talbot's rendition of the
affair by remarking that the attack was an unprovoked act of war which,
if undertaken by a foreign power, would have merited immediate and
overwhelming retaliation. But he approved of Anderson's restraint on the
grounds that the ship was fired upon by "the government of South
Carolina, which is a member of this confederacy," thus refusing to
recognize the secession resolution. Holt nevertheless avoided anything
that smacked of aggression in return; he mentioned that the garrison did
not appear to be in any immediate danger and therefore decided not to
attempt any more reinforcements for the moment. He instructed the major
to report frequently on his situation, and especially on any apparent
preparations to attack the fort or block aid from Washington.
"Whenever," Holt wrote, "in your judgment, additional supplies or
reenforcements are necessary for your safety, or for a successful
defense of the fort, you will at once communicate the fact to this
Department, and a prompt and vigorous effort will be made to forward
them." Yet in that same letter Holt admitted that such an attempt
"would, no doubt, be attended by a collision of arms and the effusion of
FORT JOHNSON AS SEEN FROM FORT SUMTER. (HW)|
MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA, IN FEBRUARY 1861. (HW)|
Talbot returned to the fort on January 19. His news cheered Major
Anderson and his officers, as did a warm message from General Scott,
which was read to the garrison at the evening parade.
The political situation began to change rapidly now. On the same day
the guns opened on the Star of the West, Mississippi seceded from
the Union. The next day Florida went out and Alabama the day after that.
By the end of the month Georgia and Louisiana followed suit, and Texas
announced its independence on the first of February. Within another week
delegates from the seven states convened at Montgomery, Alabama, and
adopted a constitution. Acting as the provisional government of the
Confederate States of America, on February 15 that convention passed a
resolution to take both Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens, on Florida's Gulf
coast, and to do it by force if necessary.
All the while, Major Anderson applied himself as though it were up to
him to hold the fort as long as possible against the entire Confederacy.
He sent away all but the fifty-five most trustworthy of his workmen,
sought permission to remove the women and children to New York, and
argued with South Carolina authorities about the delivery of meat and
vegetables from the city. As January waned be counted thirty-eight
barrels of pork in the storehouse, with thirty-seven barrels of flour,
thirteen barrels of hardtack, two barrels of beans, one of coffee, and
half a barrel of sugar. By the end of the month the labor force had
been further reduced to forty-three men, and the women and children were
packing to leave.
Half the women and all the children were supposed to be fed from the
groceries delivered from Charleston, which had to be purchased privately
from the individual soldier's pocket. Some of the enlisted men's wives
worked as laundresses for the garrison, though, and were therefore
eligible to draw rations from the government supply; once they were
gone, Major Anderson was confident that he would at least have plenty of
bread and pork to last until spring.
Those who remained toiled steadily on the defenses. By January 21
Anderson could boast that fifty-one of his guns were in place, including
three huge howitzers aimed at the gate. Three of the 10-inch Columbiads
and four of the 8-inch version lay on the parade, waiting to be buried
at sharp angles as mortars; no carriages were available for them, so the
engineers intended to fix them in permanent positions aimed at Morris
Island, Fort Moultrie, and toward the city. At the same time, South
Carolinians strengthened their batteries on Sullivan's Island, at Fort
Johnson, and on Cummings Point, the nearest end of Morris Island.
Anderson estimated that the governor had two thousand men under arms
around the harbor.
Relations between the garrison and the secessionists had not
deteriorated completely, however. Officers' boats still plied back and
forth between the fort and the city, a Charleston butcher continued to
supply the soldiers with fresh beef, and on one occasion in January
Lieutenant Davis accompanied a number of the enlisted men to the
courthouse to observe a murder trail. Fort Sumter still received its
mail from an officer of the militia, but Major Anderson felt so isolated
from the city that when he sent another envoy to Washington he asked the
adjutant general to supply that officer with some stationery.
THIS SKETCH SHOWS REBELS ON CUMMINGS POINT BUILDING FORTIFICATIONS TO
BOMBARD FORT SUMTER. (LC)|
Anderson wrote daily to the War Department, numbering his letters so
Secretary Holt could detect missing correspondence and observe any
interruption of the service. Although gummed envelopes had come into
common use by 1861, the major sealed his letters with wax, hoping that
the Washington officials would be able to determine whether unauthorized
persons had inspected his correspondence.
On the first of February the women and children boarded a lighter at
the wharf, transferring later to a steamer. The officers' wives had
already departed the fort for lodging in Charleston, but twenty women
and twenty-two children left with this last contingent. Surgeon Crawford
counted five infants among them, although no one recorded any births
taking place inside Fort Sumter. Fierce weather prevented their ship
from starting for New York until the afternoon of February 3.