The Surrender of Fort Sumter; First Union Dead

Sunday, April 14, 1861

News of the bombardment had spread to Washington, Boston and New York, where Walt Whitman purchased an extra near the Metropolitan Hotel. A crowd gathered around him as he read the news. Silence fell over them in the dark morning. After a minute or two, they faded away.1

In Washington, President Lincoln attended church services at his regular New York Avenue Presbyterian while the church bells of Charleston rang out the news of surrender.

Confederate General Beauregard wired Montgomery that the fort was theirs. Though nobody was killed in the battle, the fort, especially its interior, was in ruins.2

Major Anderson had agreed to surrender after realizing there was no other recourse. Captain Hartstene of the Confederate Navy arrived at Sumter with six bags of mail for the garrison. Anderson happily distributed the mail to his men as Abner Doubleday made ready the artillery for a 100-gun salute.

Sumter’s garrison packed their belongings while dodging small fires and burning, smoldering embers strewn throughout the fort. They loaded the private and company property onto small boats and rowed them to the steam ship Isabel, anchored 70 yards off of Sumter’s wharf. The process took all morning.


Meanwhile, in Washington DC, Lincoln, aware of the bombardment and assuming the outcome, called a Cabinet meeting to issue a call for troops to be provided by the state militia system. Numbers were the key here. 100,000 were suggested, but it seemed to be too large. Would it really take 100,000 men? Where would they come from? Lincoln finally settled on 75,000.

Lincoln, however, could not raise an army. That was the job of Congress, which wouldn’t be in session until December. The Cabinet called for a special session to begin on the Fourth of July. Secretary of State Seward was against it, urging Lincoln to act on his own.

Nevertheless, the proclamation for troops was written and set to be published the following day.3


At 2:30, all was ready. The belongings were loaded onto the ship while the white flag of surrender was taken down and the tattered United States flag was fixed to the pole, waiting to be hoisted over Fort Sumter once more.

As it was raised, Lieutenant Norman J. Hall ordered his top tier batteries to fire, quickly, one after another in salute to their banner. The men not tending the pieces had formed in the parade ground, around the flag as shot after shot rang out.

There was uneasiness in Charleston over the number of shots that would be fired. Twenty-seven shots would recognize the Confederacy, the Union having only that number of states remaining. Thirty-four guns would be an insult, a complete denial that the Confederacy even existed. When the number passed both, the uneasiness lifted. Anderson was taking a high road.4

As the 47th gun sounded, an ember had jumped to some ammunition lying in wait for the coming salutes. It exploded, claiming the arm and almost immediately after, the life of Private Daniel Hough. Another, Private Edward Galloway, was mortally wounded. They became the first two Union soldiers to die in the Civil War. This “honor” was too much for Major Anderson to bear. He ordered three more guns to fire, cutting the salute in half.5

Four others were hurt in the explosion. One, too critically to be moved, was left behind to be treated by Southern doctors.

The ceremonies at an end, the Palmetto Guard marched into Sumter to accept the surrender, raise the Southern flag and officially take Sumter as their own.

The accident caused some delay in leaving. The broken Union soldiers, now veterans of the War’s first battle, filed quietly onto the Isabella. They would be taken to the Baltic for passage back to the North the following day.6

  1. Specimen Days by Walt Whitman, 1883. []
  2. Official Records, Series I, Vol. 1, p314. []
  3. Team of Rivals by Dorris Kearns Goodwin. []
  4. Allegiance by David Detzer. []
  5. Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. []
  6. Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-’61 by Abner Doubleday. []

The Firing and Fires of Fort Sumter

Saturday, April 13, 1861

The second day of the bombardment of Fort Sumter began much like the first. The Confederate fire had slacked during the night to almost nothing. But at 4am, its rapidity increased and the Union soldiers found themselves taking shelter inside their casemates, eating whatever meager breakfast they could find. Major Anderson, whose ammunition was running critically low, would again wait for first light.

For nearly an hour, gunners from both sides kept up a steady fire. A rebel hot-shot mortar shell, heated in a furnace until glowing red and then fired in hope of setting something ablaze, found its target in the roof of the officers’ quarters. An explosion started a fire, which grew larger, consuming wooden walls and barracks. By 8am, a large plume of black smoke rolled out from the fort.

The ships under command of Gustavus Fox could only watch. The sea was still too rough to risk a landing. As the smoke billowed into the clear sky, the rebel gunners picked up their pace, hoping to end the fight there and then.

Though the barrels gunpowder were stored in a fire-proof room with copper doors, the men sewing up extra cloth cartridges throughout the night had sloppily spilled much on the ground outside and in the doorway. If a floating cinder would find its way there, which was looking more and more likely, all of the powder would explode at once. Quickly, Anderson detailed men to move as much of the powder as they could to a safer place and then dig a moat around the powder room. This was all for naught, however, as a mortar soon landed inside the fort, hit the copper doors and rendered them locked for good.

The wind blowing from the west rushed the smoke out to sea, carrying the sounds of battle along with it. The onlookers in Charleston could see the cannons firing, but the loud reports from the first day’s fighting were noticeably missing.

The smoke, which could be seen from anywhere in the harbor, choked the men. Many tied wet cloths over their faces as others ducked their head out a port to catch a few breaths of fresh air.

Around noon, Commander Rowan of the Pawnee in Fox’s fleet decided that if the larger boats could not make it into the harbor to help Anderson, he would commandeer a smaller boat that could. Fortunately for him, a schooner from Boston with a cargo of ice for Charleston had been waiting for things to settle down a little. Rowan fired a few shots across his bow and the schooner was his. This was piracy, of course, but Rowan offered the schooner’s captain $500. With the accounts settled, they planned to send Fox and 200 men into the fort as reinforcements under cover of darkness, still six hours distant.

The firing from Sumter had ceased. Abner Doubleday, wanting to let the rebels know that they were at least still alive, ordered a few shots to be fired for that effect. A large and honorable cheer for Major Anderson was thrown up by the rebel gunners, applauding his veracity.

By now, however, the fort, still burning, was in ruins. Its walls were blackened, a tower was shattered, the sally ports were blown open, the very gates of the fort itself had burned away.

As if this emphasis needed to be punctuated, at 1pm, a shot from a rebel gun took out the flag pole, and the stars and stripes fell to the blackened parade ground.

A soldier quickly fashioned a new pole and nailed the flag to it. The damage, however, was complete.

Seeing the flag fall, General Beauregard ordered that the firing be stopped. Former US Senator Louis Wigfall, who had not even seen the General in two days, took it upon himself, as a representative of Beauregard to take a row boat to Fort Sumter under his own large, white handkerchief of truce.

Before he reached the fort, the newly fashioned flag was hoisted above the fort. Calls from Morris Island to Wigfall went unnoticed and the heavy firing resumed.

Wigfall and Anderson worked out a truce and the Federals agreed to abandon, but not surrender, the fort. That would make Sumter Confederate property with forcing Anderson to formally surrender it. Wigfall left and a few minutes later, the actual official representatives from General Beauregard arrived.

At first, Anderson was angry and told them to go back to their batteries as he (Anderson) was going back to his. But when they heard about Wigfall’s agreement, they asked Anderson to write down the conversation and they would take it to Beauregard. He did so and they did so. It seemed for awhile that the Union troops would not be allowed to salute their flag upon what was looking more and more like an official surrender.

Word, however, came back from General Beauregard. The men who had so gallantly defended their tattered flag should have the honor of saluting it as it was taken down.

This would happen the following day. A Sunday of peace.1

  1. As was done yesterday, this description of the battle was taken from several sources. The Official Records were very helpful, as was Doubleday’s Remembrances (though take his word on this and baseball with a grain of salt). David Detzer’s Allegiance also came in quite handy. Same goes for Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. I have used those last two books since the beginning of this project. Their time is almost at an end. They will be missed. []

The Bombardment of Fort Sumter

Friday, April 12, 1861

The small row boat carrying the three messengers sent to Fort Sumter docked on James Island around 4am. They carried Anderson’s regret that he could not surrender and orders from General Beauregard to fire upon the Federal fort at 4:30.

Orders had been given to watch for a signal shot from Fort Johnson and then the rebel batteries would fire upon Sumter in a counterclockwise fashion.

At precisely 4:30, one gun from Fort Johnson fired a shell that streaked through the dark morning sky. It trailed a shower of glowing sparks behind it. When the shell reached its apex over Fort Sumter, it burst, illuminated the flag and rained shrapnel harmlessly within its walls.

Major Anderson ordered his men to return to bed. There would be no return fire until daybreak.

As the muffled sound of the signal shot died away, all 43 artillery pieces arrayed around Fort Sumter fired, one-by-one in rhythmic succession. General Beauregard had enough ammunition for a 48 hour assault.

Much of the shot and shell soared over the fort. Some hit their mark, chipping away the brick and stone of Sumter’s walls. With all the flashes and thundering reports, the United States’ fort remained silent.

Was Anderson taking the moral high ground, refusing to fire a single shot until he was bombed into surrendering? Was he waiting for the Naval fleet to land troops on Morris Island? What was the meaning of this?

By 6am, the sun began to peek over the Atlantic and Union men formed for roll call. Another hour an a half of rebel bombardment passed without a response. The men took breakfast and split themselves up into two shifts. Finally at 7:30, the first shift, under the charge of Abner Doubleday, manned the guns facing Cummings Point, Sullivan Island and Fort Johnson.

The first shot, fired by Doubleday, bounced off an iron-reinforced shield over a battery, doing no damage at all. The fire from Sumter was slow, steady. Anderson had not much ammunition; maybe 700 rounds for his fifty-three guns.

Of those guns, twenty-seven, the heaviest of the pieces, couldn’t be used as they were too exposed to enemy fire. Of the remaining twenty-six, he could only man ten or so at any given time because of his scant garrison.

The outcome of this contest was obvious. The rebels had amassed over a thousand men, larger, more accurate guns and had the fort nearly surrounded. The question was only how long Anderson could withstand the pummeling.

The morning of regular and repeated fire was taking its toll on the fort. The wooden structures inside its walls had caught fire three times throughout the day. Shells from the more accurate rebel batteries stormed brick and wood over the men, wounding some. As the Confederates hit their mark, the men would move to another gun and then another.

By noon, Anderson knew that he would run out of ammunition at his current rate of fire, and so ordered that only six guns be manned.

Gustavus Fox’s fleet, now as assembled as it was going to be, was spotted off the bar. The fort dipped its flag as a signal and though it was returned, the ships did not dare enter the fray.

It was also spotted on the mainland and sent a momentary chill up the spines of the rebels. What if those 4,000 troops that were supposedly in the ships were landed and assailed the city? In a short time, however, it was clear that the ships would maintain a respectful distance.

The sun had slipped across the sky and now twilight fell upon the scene. Anderson had further reduced his firing to just two guns and then, by 7pm, all fire from the fort was halted until morning. The flag, however, still flew.

Beauregard’s guns were also silent, but for two batteries of mortars firing once every 15 minutes.

A storm had blown in, bringing with it strong winds, rough seas and torrents of rain. With the weather and nightfall closing any chance of a troop landing, the war’s first day of battle trickled to an anti-climatic ending.1

  1. I compiled this day’s post from Days of Defiance by Maury Klein and Allegiance by David Detzer – the latter providing more detail, the former providing more coverage of the overall story. []

Open Fire In One Hour

Thursday, April 11, 1861

Near the hour of three o’clock, an officer of Fort Sumter watched a small boat bearing a white flag make it’s way out to the fort. It landed and three gentlemen stepped walked towards him. James Chesnut, ex-Senator and now aide de camp for General Beauregard, asked if they could meet with Major Anderson. They had a letter of great importance from Beauregard.

The letter, as everyone at the fort suspected, was a demand for surrender. Though Beauregard had hoped for Sumter to have been surrendered already, the time was up. Anderson would have to surrender or be fired upon. He gave the same terms as he had before, including the allowance to salute the flag.

Anderson excused himself and called a meeting with his officers. They discussed how long they could hold out, a week, perhaps. Probably less. Though Lincoln’s orders to Anderson left him the option to surrender, it was clear that surrendering was not in the plans. He would have to wait for Gustavus Fox’s fleet to arrive.

The request for the abandonment of Fort Sumter was denied. It was due to Anderson’s “sense of honor” and “duty to my Government.” As the three messengers were returning to Charleston, Anderson said to them, “I will await the first shot, and if you do not batter us to pieces, we will be starved out in a few days.”

Anderson’s men knew what this would mean and so they readied their guns just as the men across the harbor, at Forts Moultrie and Johnson, on Cummings Point and Sullivan’s Island, were readying theirs.


Fox’s Fleet Falls Apart

The fleet of Gustavus Fox’s had fallen apart. The three tug boats that were to be used to carry supplies to the fort were gone. The first never left port, the second sprung a leak and returned (unknown to Fox) and the third soon followed the second. Of the four warships, only the Harriet Lane had made it to Charleston. Fox’s ship, the Baltic would arrive around 3am. The Pawnee would not arrive until the next morning. The Powhatan, of course, was on its way to Florida, unable to be recalled after a mix up of orders.


Walker Tries to Avoid Bloodshed; Anderson Tries to Make a Deal

Back in Charleston, Beauregard wired Anderson’s response (both verbal and written) to Confederate Secretary of War Walker and waited for a reply.

His reply must have been as maddening as the wait. Walker, who had stated not 24 hours prior that if Anderson refused the surrender, Beauregard was to “determine to reduce it, now wrote, “Do not desire needlessly to bombard Fort Sumter.” Walker then suggested Beauregard give Anderson another chance to surrender. After all, he would be starved out in a few days.

General Beauregard would place this in Major Anderson’s hands. The sun had set behind Charleston and most of Fort Sumter had bedded down for the night when the same three messengers visited again. This time they carried the dispatch from Secretary Walker.

It was after 1am when Anderson gathered his officers to sort out a reply. In his message, Walker said that if Anderson would agree to a surrender date and would not fire upon Charleston (unless fired upon), the bloodletting could be avoided. If this offer was refused, however, Beauregard could reduce the fort at will.

The problem, it seemed, was that Fox’s fleet would probably be arriving soon (unknown to Anderson, one ship had arrived and another would be there within minutes). When it did, the rebels would fire upon them. Anderson could not sit idly by and watch that happen (yet again). He asked the fort’s doctor how long the men could hold out. They could make it maybe five days.

With that, Anderson suggested a deal. If the Confederates would not fire upon the American flag, whether it be flying at Fort Sumter or on the ships in Fox’s fleet, he and his men would evacuate the fort in five days. He handed the note to one of the messengers, James Chesnut, who was authorized to determine whether Anderson accepted or rejected the offer.

This, however, did neither, and in doing neither, it didn’t accept it. So the offer was off the table and left Chesnut with one thing to say: “the shore batteries will open fire in one hour.”

Anderson checked his watch. It was 3:20am. He repeated Chesnut’s words for clarification. “Yes, in one hour.” Anderson was visibly shaken, but saw the messengers to their boat before returning to the fort to rouse his officers. The battle was upon them, but no matter how bad it got, they would not fire until dawn.

He then ordered the flag to be raised.


On Morris Island, the rebel artillerymen watched as the United States flag was raised over Fort Sumter. Suddenly, it ripped in two. An officer wondered if the tear was “emblematical.” The torn flag was soon replaced.

Everything was ready. 1

  1. This post has been compiled from Official Records, Allegiance by David Detzer, Days of Defiance by Maury Klein and Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-’61by Abner Doubleday. I figured that using as many sources as I could might be better. []

The Treachery of Mr. Fox

Tuesday, April 9, 1861

The mail going to and from Fort Sumter had been cut off. However, not only was it stopped, the last bag of mail was seized and read by the Confederates.

The bag was brought to Governor Pickens’s office where he, General Beauregard and Judge Andrew Gordon Magrath were gathered. It was opened and revealed sealed letters, some addressed to Washington. They passed the bag first to Judge Magrath.

“No,” said Magrath. “I have too recently been a United States’ Judge, and have been in the habit of sentencing people to the penitentiary for this sort of thing.” Passing the bag, he passed the buck, “Governor, let General Beauregard open them.”

But Beauregard declined as well, “Certainly not: Governor, you are the proper person to open these letters.”

Pickens slowly picked up one of the official correspondence to Washington, turned it over and said, “Well, if you are all so fastidious about it, give them to me.”

He paused for a moment. And then another until Judge Magrath prodded, “Go ahead. Governor, open it.”

With that, all official mail was opened, but only the official mail.1

Official letters could often be very boring and dry. The letters from Sumter usually contained locations of the batteries and some notes on supplies. This bag, however, contained Major Anderson’s letter written the day before.

Pickens, who, of course, already knew of the plan to resupply Sumter, was shocked to find out that the plan had been dreamed up by Gustavus Fox. Fox had personally assured him that his mission to Fort Sumter was pacific in nature.2

Beauregard sent a short letter to Anderson informing him that the private letters were to be sent on, but that he had read the official ones and was none too happy about the “treachery of Mr. Fox.” In return for this, he forwarded the official letters to the Confederate government in Montgomery.

Governor Pickens took this time to write to both President Davis and Secretary of War LeRoy Walker, sending along Anderson’s correspondence.

You will see by these letters of Major Anderson how it is intended to supply the fort; but by God’s providence we will, I trust, be prepared for them; and if they approach with war vessels also, I think you will hear of as bloody a fight as ever occurred.

There were 3,700 men at various posts and batteries around the harbor. Anderson expected the United States to attempt to land 2,600 troops on Morris Island. If so, “we will have a fine rifle regiment to give them a cordial welcome from behind sand hills.”

Pickens considered that “a state of war is now inaugurated by the authorities at Washington.”3


The Confederate Chorus Swells

The Confederate government in Montgomery was in full debate. News of the plan to resupply Fort Sumter had reached them, but there was no clear idea of what to do.

President Davis had warned against firing upon Fort Sumter, but that was back in January. The chorus was swelling for attack and Davis was found at its head. Secretary of State Robert Toombs was the sole voice against it.

“The firing upon that fort will inaugurate a civil war greater than any the world has yet seen,” warned Toombs, adding, “at this time, it is suicide, murder and will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet’s nest which extends from mountains to ocean, and legions, now quiet, will swarm out and sting us to death.”4


Fox’s Fleet

Gustavus Fox, author of the plan to resupply Fort Sumter, left New York Harbor (actually Sandy Hook, NJ) at 8am aboard the unarmed Baltic. He was accompanied by the Uncle Ben and Yankee, two unarmed tug boats. Another tug, the Freeborn, was commissioned to be used, but her owners thought the mission too dangerous and kept her in port.

Three warships would meet him there: the Harriet Lane (setting sail on the 8th), the Pawnee, and the Pocahontas (which wouldn’t sail until the 10th). None of the ships were especially daunting and, since all were too large to enter the harbor, they would be there more for moral support than anything else.

The fleet (most of it) was now on its way to Sumter.5

  1. The Genesis of the Civil War by Crawford. []
  2. Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. []
  3. Official Records, Series I, Vol. 1, p249; 291-293. []
  4. Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. []
  5. The Genesis of the Civil War by Crawford. []