"A MOMENTARY BRIGHTNESS"
The Christmas of 1860 was filled with uncertainty rather than joy for
the families of the federal garrison of Fort Moultrie. Since South
Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, the eighty-five soldiers
and their families found themselves at the center of an impending
Within the walls of Fort Moultrie, Mary Doubleday tried to carry on a
normal life though she and her husband, Captain Abner Doubleday, were
perhaps the most hated people in Charleston. Their strong pro-Lincoln
and anti-slavery sentiment infuriated Charlestonians. Though the
Doubledays did not hold most Southerners in high regard, they did enjoy
a cordial relationship with the Kentucky-born fort commander, Major
On the day after Christmas, Mary sent her husband to request Major
Anderson's company for tea. Doubleday quickly returned to his quarters
with the unexpected news that Anderson ordered the entire garrison to
evacuate to Fort Sumter in twenty minutes. Fearing for Mary's safety,
Doubleday persuaded her to seek refuge at the Moultrieville home of post
chaplain Matthias Harris. The other officers' wives who had lodgings in
Charleston remained unaware of their husbands' fateful night
For the federal garrison's move to be successful, it had to remain a
secret. Earlier in the day a diversion was set in motion. Forty-five
enlisted mens' wives and children quietly boarded two flat-bottomed
boats and were taken across the harbor by Quartermaster Lieutenant
Norman J. Hall to the waters off Fort Johnson. Anderson informed
suspicious neighbors that this was a precaution to keep the families
out of harm's way. Under the cover of darkness, the soldiers arrived
safely at Fort Sumter that same evening. Once settled, they fired two
signal shots alerting Lieutenant Hall to reunite his precious cargo with
their loved ones.
The next morning at Fort Sumter, Major Anderson, his soldiers, and
their families said a prayer of thanksgiving for their safe arrival.
Charlestonians were shocked to see the U. S. flag raised over Fort
Sumter for the first time.
The next morning at Fort Sumter, Major Anderson, his soldiers, and
their families said a prayer of thanksgiving for their safe arrival.
Charlestonians were shocked to see the U.S. flag raised over Fort Sumter
for the first time. Soon the church bells of Charleston rang out with
the alarm. By 2:00 P.M. Charleston's Washington Light Infantry and
Meagher Guards set out to seize Castle Pinckney, an old fortification
near the mouth of the Cooper River. By the end of the day, South
Carolina militia forces had the federal garrison completely
Fort Sumter was not an inviting new home for the federal garrison in
the dead of winter. The isolated harbor fort was still under
construction. The mattresses stuffed with wood shavings were coarse and
prickly. Only a small supply of coal had been brought over and fuel was
soon rationed for cooking and hospital use. The living quarters were
heated only by breaking up and burning the sparse furnishings. Soon
there were shortages of coffee, sugar, candles, and soap. The most
plentiful supply was salt pork, which was served at nearly every
Despite the dangers and desperate to join their husbands, each of the
officers' wives tried a different strategy for getting out to Fort
Sumter. Brevet Captain John G. Foster's wife, Mary, received permission
to visit the fort from South Carolina governor Francis Pickens. On
January 3, Mary Doubleday boarded a boat of civilian workmen and refused
to disembark until they reached the fort. Louisa Seymour, wife of
Captain Truman Seymour, was rowed out to Fort Sumter at night by post
sutler Dan Sinclair and his two sons. Though Doubleday felt the women's
presence "threw a momentary brightness over the scene," Major Anderson
ordered they be returned to town for their safety.
Major Anderson's wife, Eliza "Eba" Clinch Anderson, learned of the
garrison's move to Fort Sumter while wintering in New York. Though an
invalid, Eba was determined to help her husband. She located Anderson's
friend and orderly from the Mexican War, Peter Hart, who escorted her
south. On January 6, they arrived at the fort. The Andersons' reunion
was brief for they were allowed to visit for only two hours. Mrs.
Anderson returned to Washington, D.C., by train that night. The other
officers' wives continued to be shunned by the citizens of Charleston.
Fearing for their safety, Mary Doubleday, Mary Foster, and Louisa
Seymour boarded a northbound midnight train on January 8.
The next morning, the merchant ship Star of the West arrived
at the entrance of Charleston Harbor with orders from President James
Buchanan to resupply the federal garrison. Cadets from the Military
College of South Carolina, the Citadel, stationed on Morris Island fired
on the ship as it approached. Major Anderson ordered his men to the
ramparts. Many enlisted men were followed to their guns by their wives. As
the shelling of the ship continued, the guns of Fort Sumter stood
silent. Orders authorizing Anderson's use of supporting fire failed to
reach him in time. His apparent lack of decisiveness angered the wife of
Private John H. Davis. According to one account, she seized a friction
primer, ran to a gun, and vowed to fire the first shot herself. She was
successfully dissuaded from her course of action by Captain Doubleday.
Without military support, the supply ship turned back.
After the Star of the West incident, living conditions at Fort
Sumter rapidly deteriorated. During a drill, a howitzer firing
accidentally shattered most of the windows of the officers' quarters.
The families' exposure to the bitter cold and winds of the harbor soon
forced them to double up their living arrangements. With the danger of
hostilities increasing and the food supplies dwindling, Anderson asked
Governor Pickens to allow the women and children to leave the fort.
Allegedly, Major Anderson granted one woman's request to stay behind
with the garrison. Anna Amelia Weitfieldt was the wife of the hospital
steward, Edward Weitfieldt. If she did remain at Fort Sumter, it is
probable Anna volunteered her services as a nurse.
On February 3 the soldiers' families reluctantly departed for
Charleston, where they boarded the steamer Marion, bound for Fort
Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York. As the steamer passed Fort Sumter, Major
Anderson ordered a one-gun salute in their honor. Captain Doubleday
later recalled that as the families "passed the fort outward-bound the
men gave them repeated cheers as a farewell, and displayed much feeling;
for they thought it very probable they might not meet them again for a
long period, if ever."
Deborah Osterberg and Dawn Hammer
STEAMSHIP MARION ON THE WAY TO NEW YORK CARRYING THE WIVES AND
CHILDREN OF THE GARRISON AT FORT SUMTER. (LC)|
Chaplain Harris was long gone from the fort, and a minister from
Maine offered to take his place, but rather than upset his fragile
relations with the surrounding forces Major Anderson dared not even ask
for the benign reinforcement of that lone noncombatant. With no women or
children for diversion, and no clergyman to offer spiritual solace, the
considerable tedium of life in the fort only worsened. Endless work
filled every moment of daylight, but at least one noncommissioned
officer turned some of the labor to fun.
This sergeant, understanding how time-consuming it would be to hoist
the heaviest ammunition to the barbette tier with the fort's derrick,
challenged one of his strongest subordinates to a feat of strength after
retreat one eveningbetting that be could not lift one of the solid
shot for the 10-inch Columbiads and carry it to the terreplein. The man
took the bait, however, shouldering the 128-pound projectile awkwardly
and starting up the steps with it. When he had reached the top, some of
his comrades struggled to pick up other rounds, following him to the
uppermost tier, until every man on duty had proven he could do it. Each
night thereafter, this sergeant encouraged his platoon to repeat the
feat, and the rest of the garrison followed suit until all the heaviest
ammunition had been transferred to the upper level.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA, IN THE 1860s. (LC)|
The soldiers were a motley lot. Unlike the three-year volunteers who
would soon follow them, they had enlisted for five years, and many of
them had been listed at least once. For most of them the army had been a
refuge of last resort, to which they had gravitated when their fortunes
had sunk particularly low. Though some of them were married, the
majority were single men for whom their company was their principal
family. That made them especially loyal, despite the high proportion of
the foreign-born whose names filled the roster.
Major Anderson expressed a lack of concern about desertion that was
largely borne out by his garrison's ultimate record. In January, he
reported to Washington on the men who went to the courthouse in
Charleston to attend the murder trial; despite rumors that they got
roaring drunk and tried to desert, Anderson said they made no attempt
whatever to get away, coming back perfectly sober and orderly. In fact,
Anthony McCauley and Joseph Morrison of Company H chose to remain in the
fort when they could have insisted on going home: their enlistments
expired in mid-February, and the South Carolina authorities would
readily have sent them north, but they elected to share the fate of
That degree of loyalty fell just short of unanimous, however. John
O'Grady, a private who had served more than three years in Company H,
ran into trouble with the law in Charleston and landed in jail. He
escaped from the hands of the civil authorities on February 4, and that
was the last anyone inside Fort Sumter ever saw of him.
Of the sixty-four enlisted men who served in the line companies, most
were European immigrants to the United States. A score of the garrison,
equally divided between the companies, were German, The greatest number
of them, thoughsome three dozenbore Irish names, like
Sergeant John Rinehan, Corporal Owen Maguire, and Private Daniel
THOUSANDS OF SOLDIERS LIKE THIS UNION VOLUNTEER PHOTOGRAPHED IN 1861
WOULD SOON BE THRUST INTO THE BATTLE BETWEEN THE NORTH AND SOUTH. (LC)|
CHARLESTON WAS WELL PROTECTED BY BATTERIES LIKE THIS ONE AT FORT
FORT MOULTRIE PHOTOGRAPHED TOWARD THE END OF THE CONFLICT. (LC)|
AN OFFICERS' QUARTERS AT FORT SUMTER. (HW)|
Hough was a fair sample of the antebellum Regular Army soldier.
Already gray-haired at thirty-five, he had first enlisted nearly a dozen
years before, shortly after his arrival from Ireland. A native of
starving Tipperary, where homeless peasants had gone into revolt in
1848, Hough made his way to New York the next year. The city was ravaged
by cholera brought by immigrants like himself, and there was no work to
be had. Hough approached an officer in Fort Lafayette, signed his name,
and before long found himself in Florida, where he would spend the next
At first Hough was stationed at Fort Brooke, on the Gulf coast, but
after a couple of years he was transferred to Fort Capron, on the
Atlantic side. There he was discharged in May 1854, but after six months
as a civilian he eeenlisted for another five years.
Late in 1855 trouble developed with the Seminole Indians who remained
in southern Florida, and fighting erupted on a small scale from time to
time over the next two years. Private Hough's company seems to have
taken no part in the hostilities, however, and in 1857 he was assigned
to Fort Moultrie.
Hough suffered periodically from bouts of depression that manifested
itself in a stubborn refusal to perform his duty and a tendency to rage
when confronted, striking out at those who attempted to touch him. At
last the post commander, who thought Hough "quiet, sober, and well
disposed," relented under the insistence of the post surgeon and had
Hough committed to Saint Elizabeth's Hospital for the Insane, in
Washington, early in the summer of 1857.
Released on September 17, Hough returned to Fort Moultrie but joined
a new company. His behavior had improved, and he not only completed his
enlistment in November 1859 but reenlisted the next month. It was
Lieutenant Davis who signed him up. Hough had been one of those who
accompanied the first three boats to Fort Sumter on the day after
Inside Sumter, Hough endured conditions as bad as any he had
experienced since his days in Florida. Garrison soldiers like these
heavy artillerymen were accustomed to warm barracks and sufficient food,
at least in such well-established installations as Fort Moultrie. Things
were different in the new fort. Food supplies had not yet reached
critical levels, but in the middle of January coffee and sugar rations
were cut in half for the menand denied to the officers
THIS 10-INCH COLUMBIAD IS MOUNTED AS A MORTAR INSIDE FORT SUMTER. (HW)|
In a chivalric gesture of personal goodwill the South Carolina
secretary of war, David F. Jamison, offered to send fresh provisions to
the fort, and the first boatload of fresh meat and vegetables drew up at
the wharf before Major Anderson could respond. Soldiers began carrying
it into the fort, but when the major learned of the shipment he ordered
it back to the boat; after all the insults South Carolina had inflicted
upon him and his country, Anderson reasoned that he could not accept
such condescending charity, The supplies all went back to Charleston.
save a few vegetables that the disappointed artillerymen had stashed
away for themselves. Eventually deliveries of fresh meat resumed from a
Charleston butcher with whom the post had a long-standing contract, but
without fresh vegetables it would take only a few months for the
garrison to begin showing signs of scurvy.
The only firewood in the fort consisted of lumber, a dismantled
construction shed on the parade ground, and ultimately the unused gun
carriages, all of which were sacrificed to the stoves at one time or
Coal was especially scarce, and the weather was miserable. For six
straight days in late January Surgeon Crawford recorded cold and rain,
and the damp chill invaded all the living quarters because the number of
fires was strictly limited. The only firewood in the fort consisted of
lumber, a dismantled construction shed on the parade ground, and
ultimately the unused gun carriages, all of which were sacrificed to the
stoves at one time or another, Captain Doubleday later recalled chopping
up a mahogany table to feed a fire during one of his wife's visits from
The worst privation, for those who had acquired the addiction, was
the shortage of tobacco. An attempt to buy tobacco through the mail was
foiled when the militia officer who monitored the mail refused to let
the package go through.
The most difficult task encountered by the engineer officers was that
of lifting the 10-inch Columbiads to the barbette tier. The tubes of
these pieces alone weighed nearly eight tons, and although there were
ropes thick enough to stand the strain there was no block-and-tackle
large enough to accommodate the ropes. For that reason they initially
planned to use them as mortars. Finally, though, someone looked at the
seasoned oak of an unused gun carriage, realized that it could be
fashioned into a block, and began hacking at the wood with chisels and
knives. Soon the improvised block hung from the derrick on the parade
and dozens of hands inched the huge black gun into the air, swinging it
to the parapet.
The second attempt nearly ended in disaster. The block snapped and
the gun tube plummeted to the parade, burying itself to its trunnions.
No one was harmed, so carpenters reassembled the block and eventually
this gun, too, peered over the top of the fort. The engineers placed
them at the corners of the gorge wall, where the fort was most
vulnerable. The third Columbiad remained on the parade, however, buried
in the earth at an angle that would allow it to fire on Charleston
THIS INTERIOR VIEW OF FORT SUMTER WAS DRAWN BY AN OFFICER IN MAJOR
ANDERSON'S COMMAND. (HW)|
James Chestera veteran sergeant in Company E who would make the
leap to commissioned rank and end the coming war as a staff
officerwatched an experimental round fired from this makeshift
mortar. The loader dropped only a two pound bag of powder down the
muzzlemuch smaller than the standard chargebut this light
load sent the 128-pound ball soaring toward the city. The witnesses atop
Sumter feared the shot would reach the crowded streets or smash into the
vessels docked at the wharves, but the long arc ended in the harbor,
well short of any South Carolinians.
Major Anderson ordered the flagstones picked up around the interior
of the fort. Sumter had not been designed to withstand mortar attacks,
and shells lobbed into the interior could do bloody work among the
defenders; Anderson reasoned that without the stone paving any shell
would sink into the ground, where its concussion and shrapnel would be
absorbed. The big granite slabs were instead stood upright behind the
casemates as splinter-proof armor. Bricklayers, meanwhile, were put to
work filling in the embrasures in the second tier and the empty ones in
the first tier.
Over the lips of the walls, Captain Foster arranged a pair of
machicoulis galleries, consisting of armored boxes with musket
loopholes, projecting over the sides of the fort. For further
protection, Foster devised primitive hand grenades from shells of
different sizes, in which he inserted friction primers and attached
lanyards, the other ends of which were tied off to solid objects. He cut
the lanyards to a length that would reach within four feet of the
riprapping around the fort or the esplanade under the gorge wall, and
the shells had only to be thrown over the side to explode at breast
height among any troops who might attempt to scale the walls.
Foster also mined the wharf and extended fuses into the fort, from
which the mine could be blown to pieces in case of a landing. He
fashioned "fougasses" on the esplanade itself, burying gunpowder beneath
a pile of granite rubble, Lieutenant Seymour devised a "flying fougasse"
that included a powder charge in the middle of a barrel of stone shards,
detonated by a friction primer strung from a fixed lanyard, like the
grenades. With so few men to resist a storming party, the defenders had
to rely on such contraptions if they were to have any hope of holding
out against so many assailants, and Anderson intended that those who
coveted Fort Sumter would pay dearly if they tried to take it.
Major Anderson's confidence in his ability to defend the fort waxed
and waned. His reports to Washington grew hopeful as the assorted
defensive devices were completed and successfully tested, but early in
February he heard that the opposing batteries had been augmented by some
imported rifled artillery. Until that point he had believed that Fort
Sumter's walls could not be breached, but he suspected that the masonry
parapet could not long withstand the penetration of rifled projectiles.
A floating battery under construction at the harbor end of Sullivan's
Island also worried him, and for a time he feared it would be moved
steadily forward until it came within close range.
THE CONFEDERATE FLOATING BATTERY. (USAMHI)|
THE GEORGE COOK PHOTOGRAPH OF ANDERSON AND HIS OFFICERS. SEATED (L-R):
CAPTAIN ABNER DOUBLEDAY, ANDERSON, SURGEON SAMUEL W. CRAWFORD, AND
CAPTAIN JOHN G. FOSTER. STANDING (L-R): CAPTAIN TRUMAN SEYMOUR,
LIEUTENANT G. W. SNYDER, LIEUTENANT JEFFERSON C. DAVIS, LIEUTENANT R. K.
MEADE, AND CAPTAIN T. TALBOT. (USAMHI)|
By now intercourse with the city was about ended. The only
communication came through the daily mail transfer and the occasional
passage of a boat bearing messages to the South Carolina officials,
which approached the city under what amounted to an unofficial truce.
The defenders of Fort Sumter therefore became a matter of curiosity to
the citizens of Charleston, by virtue of their sudden absence from the
city. On February 8 a Charleston photographer, George S. Cook, arrived
with a camera and an assistant to capture the officers with his lens,
and he spent most of the day immortalizing individual officers. Major
Anderson finally obliged him by gathering everyone for a group portrait.
Anderson and the three captains sat in front while five of the
lieutenants gathered behind them; Lieutenant Hall was on his way back to
the fort from Washington and would return in two days.
The officers monitored events in Montgomery as closely as they could
through Charleston newspapers. They assumed that no attack would be made
against them until the Confederate government was established. Some
inside the fort anticipated an assault as soon as that government was
seated, while others supposed that Washington and Montgomery would begin
negotiations for the peaceful delivery of Sumter. The Southerners
provided the garrison with some grist for amusement when their
convention elected as its president the former senator from Mississippi
Jefferson Davis. Inside the fort in Charleston Harbor, Lieutenant
Jefferson C. Davis began to endure the jibes that would follow him the
rest of his life.
CONFEDERATE PRESIDENT JEFFERSON DAVIS (NA)|
The isolated soldiers needed a little humor by this time, for the
tension of their situation had begun too tell. On the night of February
12 a harbor steamer approached a little closer to the fort than the
sentinel liked, and he leveled his musket; when the boat came closer
still, the private fired into it and drove it away. The next day, as
Major Anderson and Mr. Jamison exchanged explanations for the incident,
Captain Foster and Lieutenant Seymour fell into argument over the
propriety of cutting the parapet away so a gun could be depressed
against targets closer to the walls. Ill will survived between them for
days over it, despite Anderson's mediation.
On Washington's birthday the garrison heard cannon fire resounding
from the Citadel, in the city. Thirteen times the guns boomed
methodically, and after a pause they sounded seven more times. The
demonstration turned out to be a salute for the original thirteen
colonies and for the seven new states of the Confederacy, which had just
inaugurated its new president.
With that the Southern government began official business, and talk
inside the fort turned almost entirely to the fate of those who held it.
Some felt that Washington and Montgomery might come to a negotiated
settlement with a peaceful withdrawal, but most doubted it. They
speculated that a short fight would be sufficient to sustain the
national honor, and in anticipation of that barrage everyone
reconnoitered Sumter for the safest off-duty niches.
By the end of February, the fort had reached an agreeable state of
defensibility. Officers constantly pondered revisions to their plans,
and there were still a few guns too mount, but as the days grew longer
the men found a little leisure here and there. They cast lines into the
harbor, drawing in blackfish and eels to supplement their monotonous
diets, and on the parade they played leapfrog, as well as what may have
been Captain Doubleday's version of "base ball," finding a suitable ball
somewhere and extemporizing bats from the scrap lumber. Their games and
morale benefited from the weather, which turned "delightful" early in
March. Colds circulated through the garrison, though, and Surgeon
Crawford put several of the little battalion on the sick list.
While the men played, the officers calculated for the benefit of the
Washington authorities just how many troops it would take to defy the
Confederates and reinforce or resupply Fort Sumter. Lieutenant Snyder
supposed that 2,000 would be necessary; Lieutenants Davis and Talbot
supposed it would take 3,000, Surgeon Crawford 4,000, Lieutenant Meade
5,000, and both Doubleday and Captain Foster guessed it would take
10,000 men. Major Anderson gave the most pessimistic estimate of all: he
said he would not risk fewer than 20,000 troops. If Foster and Doubleday
were not discouraging enough, Anderson's opinion meant that resupply was
virtually impossible, since the U.S. Army at that moment numbered only
16,000 officers and men, most of whom were stationed at western
BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE BEAUREGARD (BL)|
March brought Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard to
Charleston at the behest of the Confederate secretary of war. Beauregard
was to command the South Carolina troops around the harbor, which were
soon mustered into Confederate service.
Beauregard's arrival illustrated the nature of civil war. Two months
before, he had been an officer in the U.S. Army, newly installed as
commandant of the military academy at West Point where the government
had educated him. One of his instructors in the use of artillery had
been the same Robert Anderson who now commanded inside Sumter, and the
two had taught the subject together there for some time after Beauregard
Beauregard's resignation and defection to the Confederacy was but one
of many instances that the Sumter officers noted in local newspapers,
and the sundering of their old brotherhood saddened them. When
Lieutenant Hall returned from Washington with words of goodwill and
encouragement from General Scott and with the private messages of other
comrades and classmates, the officers turned cheerful for a day or two,
but for the most part they felt abandoned and ignored by their
superiors, who still hesitated to resupply them. Commissioners from
Montgomery had arrived in Washington to discuss both Sumter and Fort
Pickens, andwhile there remained any hope for a peaceful
resolutionno politician wanted to jeopardize it.
Only a couple of days after Beauregard's arrival, Abraham Lincoln
took the oath of office and James Buchanan went home to Pennsylvania.
The change in chief executives seemed to make little difference to the
soldiers in Charleston Harbor, for Lincoln had yet to articulate a
policy. Surgeon Crawford noted that the new president seemed to do
nothing but make speeches, and once he entered the White House even the
speeches ceased. The only policy toward the Sumter garrison, thought
Crawford, was starvation.
For a time on March 6 it looked as though help had come, for a ship
hove to off the bar with a red, white, and blue flag at its masthead
that looked for all the world like Old Glory. It bore broad red and
white stripes on its field and a blue union with seven stars, causing
the Sumter officers to rest their glasses on it for hours. At last they
discovered that this was the newly adopted flag of the Confederate
States of America, which they would come to know as the Stars and
If it was not clear to the officials in Washington, it was obvious to
Major Anderson and his men that something would have to be done soon or
he would be forced by sheer starvation to surrender. Groceries and meat
stopped coming from the city, and the garrison had to rely on its stores
of food to survive. They dwindled quickly with more than ten dozen men
subsisting them, and by now the fare had been reduced to salt pork, some
hardtack and flour for soft bread, and a little rice. With some economy,
the food could be stretched to last about a month.
A GROUND PLAN OF FORT SUMTER. (BL)|
ABRAHAM LINCOLN SHORTLY AFTER HIS NOMINATION. (LC)|
Several people had ideas on reinforcing and supplying Sumter, though
none supposed the job would take as many men as the fort's own officers
did. One former naval officer, Gustavus Vasa Fox, had the connections to
bring his plan before the right people. At a time when even General
Scott was considering evacuation as the only alternative, Postmaster
General Montgomery Blair introduced Foxhis brother-in-lawto
Fox proposed taking a couple of hundred men in a steam transport, a
few steam tugs with their machinery padded by cotton bales, and two
warships as escort. Once off the bar, he would shift the troops to the
three tugs, put them belowdecks for safety, and dash in under cover of
darkness. Lincoln considered the plan and some of the others that
flooded his office, but for the moment he made no decision and rumors
about a planned evacuation spread across the country.
The rumor that the forts would be given up came from assurances that
Secretary of State William Seward gave to the Confederate commissioners.
Seward, who considered himself the diplomatic expert and the power
behind the throne, hoped to persuade the inexperienced president to give
the order. He probably based his hope on the lack of enthusiasm among
cabinet members for holding out, for which only Blair showed unqualified
Lincoln gave no instructions for an evacuation, however. He had said
that his government would hold the forts and that if war erupted over
them it would be as a result of Southern aggression. Perhaps he harbored
a hope that this might happen, for once Sumter and Pickens were
abandoned there would be no symbol of national integrity with which to
inspire the public sentiment.
At Blair's insistence, Lincoln sent Fox to Charleston to assess the
situation himself. Fox entered the fort on March 21, accompanied by a
former comrade in the U.S. Navy who now held a commission under the
Confederate flag. Fox consulted with Anderson about his supply of food,
which the major thought could last until April 10 or a little longer. He
might stretch another week out of his pork, flour, and bread if the
laborers were allowed to leave. The remaining work force helped to
strengthen the garrison, but it might serve the South as much inside the
fort as out of it, since a peaceful withdrawal would be hastened by the
added burden to the commissary's stores.
GUSTAVUS V. FOX (USAMHI)|
A CONFEDERATE MORTAR BATTERY ON MORRIS ISLAND. (BL)|
Anderson felt that the only way to relieve Sumter now was by landing
an army on Morris Island. The visit only heightened Fox's optimism, for
the darkness in the harbor prevented him from seeing an arriving boat
until it had nearly docked.
Fox reported to Washington a few days later, and Lincoln listened a
little more closely this time. An old friend of the president's, Ward
Hill Lamon, followed Fox into the fort a few days later on the pretense
of preparing for the withdrawal. Even Major Anderson believed that he
would have his orders soon, but the new administration seemed as
indecisive as the old one. The days passed, the food disappeared, and
everyone in and around Charleston Harbor grew impatient.
At last, on March 29, Lincoln issued orders for the ships to be ready
by April 6, with two hundred men and a year's supply of provisions for
one hundred. The need for secrecy prevented any word of the expedition
going to Anderson, who anxiously awaited instructions to withdraw his
garrison. On April 1 he reminded the War Department that his provisions
were growing scarce, and two days later he reported that there was only
enough bread left for four or five days.
"I must," he wrote, ". . . most respectfully and urgently ask for
instructions what I am to do as soon as my provisions are exhausted." To
this plea the major received no direct reply. One of the Confederate
commissioners suggested that Lincoln intended to shift the political
responsibility for evacuating Sumter to Major Anderson, by allowing him
to be starved out. Anderson might have wondered whether that were not
Anderson's sick list was beginning to grow, with two men suffering
ruptures from the heavy work and two down with dysentery, besides
the usual respiratory ailments. And now he was to lose Lieutenant
Talbot, as well, for the doomed young man had been promoted and ordered
to Washington for a desk job. It was a well-deserved assignment, but it
came just early enough to rob him of the chance to share in the glory of
Fort Sumter and too late to save his weakened lungs.
Anderson complained of Confederate mortar batteries firing too close
to the fort as they practiced and of being unable to reply to such an
"insult," which did not constitute an actual attack.
"The truth is," he wrote the adjutant generalwhose predecessor
had just gone south and was now Beauregard's superior"that the
sooner we are out of this harbor the better."
The day that Anderson wrote those words, April 6, the same Lieutenant
Woods who had led the unsuccessful January relief expedition was called
upon for another two hundred recruits from Fort Columbus. With a few
lieutenants and noncommissioned officers, they pulled out in boats for
the steamer Baltic.
Despite the secrecy with which the transport and its escort were
gathered, rumors of an attempt to resupply Sumter flew south. Those
rumors escalated the angry atmosphere in Charleston Harbor, and on April
7 Beauregard told Anderson that no more supplies of any kind would be
allowed in the fort.
The mail was allowed to continue until the next day, when Lieutenant
Talbot, now a captain, returned to Charleston with a State Department
employee and a letter for his former commander. They provided a copy to
"I am directed by the President of the United States," it read, "to
notify you to expect an attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumter with
provisions only, and that if such attempt be not resisted no effort to
throw in men, arms, or ammunition will be made without further notice,
or in case of an attack upon the fort."
CHARLESTON WAS ONE OF THE BUSIEST PORTS IN THE SOUTH. THESE COTTON BALES
AWAIT SHIPMENT. (WESTERN RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, CLEVELAND, OH)|
That single sentence ended Major Anderson's communications with the
outside world, save through General Beauregard, who immediately
interrupted mail service. The major asked for the return of his last bag
of mail, but Beauregard explained that the private letters had been sent
north and the official correspondence had been opened. Those official
letters included Anderson's reply to Talbot's message, in which the
horrified old soldier begged his superiors to reconsider. Even if Fox
and his reinforcements could reach the fort uninjured, he argued, so
many would be killed unloading his supplies that no advantage could come
To the Confederates, who had been so happy to believe Seward's
unauthorized assurances of a peaceful evacuation, the sudden shift in
policy seemed like sheer treachery.
"Diplomacy has failed," one of the commissioners wrote to General
Beauregard. "The sword must now preserve our independence." The
Confederate secretary of war, Leroy P. Walker, telegraphed Beauregard on
April 10 with instuuctions to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter as
soon as he was certain that the resupply order was genuine. If the
demand were refused, the general was to "reduce" the fort. Beauregard
replied that the demand would be presented at noon the next day, April
Anticipating trouble, Major Anderson instructed his men to sleep in
the bombproofs that night. Writing reports that he could no longer send
to Washington, he noted that the men were in fine spirits, but he added
that they were not strong enough to withstand much exertion. They had
been on half rations for two days already, and by such economy he hoped
to keep at least some food on hand until noon on April 12. The evening
meal on April 10 consisted of rice and coffee. Hardtack supplies had
sunk so low that each man was allowed only a single cracker at morning
and evening, with none at the midday meal, and Anderson chastised
Captain Doubleday for leaving a corner of his hardtack uneaten.
PREWAR MILITIA COMPANIES SOON BECAME REGIMENTS IN THE UNION OR
CONFEDERATE ARMIES. THIS PHOTO OF THE SUMTER LIGHT GUARDS WAS TAKEN IN
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA, IN APRIL 1861. (LC)|
The final preparations at Sumter consisted of arranging a safe place
for the wounded, distributing ammunition to the guns, and digging
latrines inside the fort. With little hope for using it, Anderson
directed the enlargement of one first-tier embrasure on the left-flank
wall to accommodate the supplies Fox intended to bring in what the
doubting major called Fox's "attempted landing."
The rest of the fort's exterior was sealed tight against the expected
attack. In the pitch darkness of a new moon Captain Foster kept the men
working until 10:00 P.M., filling sand bags and piling them on the
parapet for protection against a new battery on Sullivan's Island. It
was this moonless night on which Gustavus Fox would have enjoyed his
greatest chance of success.
That evening and the next morning Confederate reinforcements landed
at all the islands surrounding Fort Sumter, and all these troops arrived
on boats that Sumter's guns might have blown out of the water. During
the darkness they brought the floating ironclad battery out and anchored
it off the west end of Sullivan's Island, from which it bore on the
fort's left flank. Breakfasting on pork, a little rice, and some cracker
remnants the officers inside Sumter observed that this put an end to any
hope of Fox's tugs surviving long enough against that wall to unload
supplies or troops. Only then did Beauregard feel comfortable issuing
Major Anderson an ultimatum.
After more than an hour's pull across the harbor, a boat flying a
white flag pulled up to the wharf behind Fort Sumter sometime before
4:00 P.M. and discharged three of General Beauregard's aides: James
Chesnut, A. R. Chisholm, and Stephen D. Lee. Lieutenant Davis met them
and escorted them into the guardroom, where they delivered the general's
message to Anderson.
THE FLOATING BATTERY IS ANCHORED OFF THE FORT'S LEFT FLANK. (LC)|
A CONFEDERATE GUN IN BATTERY MARION. (LC)|
If Anderson marched his men out of the fort, Beauregard said, they
could take their arms and private property. He might also fire a salute
to his flag, and Beauregard would supply him with transportation to any
U.S. Army post that he chose. Anderson read the demand and asked for
time to consult with his officers. They joined him in unanimous
defiance, and the major drafted a polite refusal. As he handed it to the
three aides, he remarked that if the Confederates did not batter the
fort to pieces the garrison would be starved out in a few days
Chesnut, Chisholm, and Lee carried back both the written message and
the oral communication, which they supposed Anderson might have meant as
an unofficial plea for time. Beauregard digested the news with his
dinner, consulted with officials in Montgomery, and late that night he
sent his emissaries back to the fort with another proposal. If Anderson
would specify an hour when hunger would force him to evacuate and would
promise not to fire unless fired upon, the Confederates would not open
on the fort.
This message reached Anderson after midnight. The major took his time
formulating a replymuch longer than the three envoys thought
properand in the wee hours of April 12 he presented them with his
answer: he calculated that he would evacuate at noon on Monday, April
15, unless he were resupplied by that time. That proved perfectly
unsatisfactory, as he must have expected, for it was the supplies and
the resulting prolongation of the crisis that the Confederates
specifically wished to prevent. The South Carolina officers left the
fort at 3:20, warning Anderson that the bombardmentand,
inevitably, civil war would begin in one hour.
Captain Fox had arrived off Charleston in the steamer Baltic
just twenty minutes before, finding only the revenue cutter Harriet
Lane to serve as his armed escort. In a sharp gale he waited, twelve
miles east of Charleston, for the rest of his little armada. The South
Carolinians, meanwhile, had dragged some old hulks out to the mouth of
the harbor where they lay ready for the torch in case Fox tried to come
in under cover of darkness.
Some six thousand Confederate troops encircled Charleston Harbor
that morning. Scores of guns peered from the various islands; of these,
several dozen cannon and mortars bore on Fort Sumter. In the fort, Major
Anderson had 127 officers, enlisted men, and laborers. His fort boasted
more than four dozen usable guns, but he could man only a few of them at
THE BOMBARDMENT OF FORT SUMTER AS DEPICTED IN A CURRIER AND IVES PRINT.
ANDERSON'S MEN RETURN CONFEDERATE FIRE FROM INSIDE THE FORT. (LC)|
On their way back from Sumter, the aides Chesnut, Chisholm, and Lee
stopped at Fort Johnson to apprise Captain George S. James that he might
fire a signal gun at the specified time. At 4:30 in the morning, in Fort
Johnson, a gunner in James's mortar battery pulled the lanyard on a
ten-inch mortar. The projectile arched high over the harbor, bursting in
midair over the pentagonal fort. Major Anderson's men leisurely made
their way to shelter, rather than waste their ammunition in the dark,
and the citizens of Charleston began climbing to their rooftops for a
better view of the contest. A few more guns opened up here and there,
and within half an hour every battery in the harbor that could reach
Fort Sumter was throwing iron at it.
The Sumter garrison stood to reveille that morning in the bombproofs
instead of on the parade. The hungry defenders downed a breakfast of
salt pork and water, for everything else had given out. Anderson divided
his men into three reliefs, each of which was to work the guns for two
hours. Anderson could count only seven hundred cartridges in the entire
fort, and six men were already busy sewing new ones from blankets and
spare uniform parts.
Because of the shell fragments flying about the parapet, Anderson
decided against using the guns on the barbette tier, for his little
command would have been whittled down quickly despite Captain Foster's
sandbag precautions. The decision severely hampered the fort's ability
to respond, for all the big guns lay on the barbette.
The first shift stood to its guns at 7:00 A.M. Captain Doubleday
aimed the first gun, choosing one of the 32-pounders in the right gorge
angle. He trained it against the armored battery on Cummings Point, and
the solid shot flew accurately enough, but it bounced harmlessly off the
A PERIOD ENGRAVING OF THE BOMBARDMENT. (LC)|
For half an hour Doubleday persisted against the three big guns of
the iron battery, but with little effect beyond bending a few sheets of
railroad iron. At one point Sumter's guns brought down the flagpole on
the iron battery, the artillerymen taking a pride in that feat although
it inflicted no damage.
When Doubleday's fire failed to produce anything there, he turned his
guns a little to the left, where a crew from the Citadel manned a
Blakely rifle that bored some deep holes in Sumter near the gorge
angles. Only a shortage of ammunition kept this gun from punching a hole
in the right flank wall.
From Fort Moultrie the shot and shell all flew high at first, but the
enlisted men's barracks inside the fort began to suffer once the novice
South Carolina gunners found the range. The chimneys came down, the
walls and the water cisterns inside were riddled, and one shell set the
quarters on fire. The building was soaked from the perforated cisterns,
so the wood did not catch well, and a few men were able to put that
blaze out. Rounds from the batteries on the western end of Sullivan's
Island arched in and struck against the inside of the gorge wall,
punching holes through the officers' barracks as well.