An Update from Fort Sumter

Sunday, January 27, 1861

The situation at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor had settled into a routine. The weather had been abysmal for over a week and very little had been accomplished because of it.

Major Anderson’s second in command, Captain John G. Foster, wrote to Chief Engineer General Joseph Totten, bringing him up to date.

Foster related that the South Carolinians had completed the mortar battery southeast of Fort Johnson (on James Island), enlarged the battery on Cummings Point and added a battery, called Fort Morris, along the shore, south of Cummings Point.

South Carolina had been regularly patrolling the Harbor with two or three guard boats. Also, the steamer Columbia had ran aground and all efforts by the Charlestonians to free her had failed.

It had been storming for a week or more, so, Foster told, not much had been going on inside the fort. A 10-inch Columbiad had been placed in the parade ground to throw shells into Fort Moultrie, should it be called upon to do so. As far as strengthening the fort, all cement and bricks had been used up and Foster now had to resort to “dry stone.”

There had been rumors of mutinies and desertions, but those were all unfounded. “The soldiers are in excellent spirits… In fine, the morale, at present, is very fine.”

There had been some trouble in the past “which resulted in a rapid thinning out of the force,” but it had “long since ceased.”

Other rumors, such as men jumping from windows in the fort to escape and of a boat from Sumter “attempting to reconnoiter the battery on Morris Island” only to be fired upon (wounding one man), were utterly baseless.

Foster also tells of the rumor that they had been resupplied with food by the South Carolina authorities. This was not true. “One lot was sent down on the 20th by the State authorities, which Major Anderson declined to receive. His proposition to get them from the regular contractor, and to pay for them, was accepted; but up to this time (10 a. in. of the 27th) we have not received anything from the contractor in town.”

This was the state of things at Sumter. Preparations were very slowly continuing and rumors were being squashed almost as rapidly as they were bubbling up.1

  1. Official Records, Vol. 1, p. 155-157. []
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