function glblLinkHandler(lobj, attr, val) {[attr] = val; } function onLoadFinished() { onLoadComplete(); onloadfx(); } var js_gvPageID = 44582; function gotoDiffLang(url) { window.location = url + '&pageid=44582'; }
NPS History E-Library

Civil War Series

Five Flags Over Fort Sumter



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 national crisis.

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 Robert Anderson.

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 maneuvers.

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 surrounded.

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 meal.

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


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 evening—betting 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.


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 their comrades.

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, though—some three dozen—bore Irish names, like Sergeant John Rinehan, Corporal Owen Maguire, and Private Daniel Hough.





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 eight years.

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 Christmas.

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 men—and denied to the officers altogether.


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 another.

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 city.

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 itself.


James Chester—a veteran sergeant in Company E who would make the leap to commissioned rank and end the coming war as a staff officer—watched an experimental round fired from this makeshift mortar. The loader dropped only a two pound bag of powder down the muzzle—much smaller than the standard charge—but 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.



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.


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 posts.


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 graduated.

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, and—while there remained any hope for a peaceful resolution—no 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 Bars.

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.



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 Fox—his brother-in-law—to President Lincoln.

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 support.

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.



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 true.

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 general—whose 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 Governor Pickens.

"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."


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 of it.

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 11.

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.


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.



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 anyway.

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 reply—much longer than the three envoys thought proper—and 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 bombardment—and, 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 a time.



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 ironwork.


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.

Previous Top Next

History and Culture