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.

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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.

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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.

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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. []

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2 thoughts on “Open Fire In One Hour

  1. Sir,
    You have captured the axniety, treachery and heroism of the moment. This reads like a CNN report. Well done. Look forward to reading over the next five years.
    One can only imagine the sense of duty that sustained Anderson and his officers at 0320hrs in the morning. It will always be our Armed Forces that confront the crisis at 0320hrs.

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