Fort Sumter, SC – Where the US Civil War started.
Silent puffs of smoke rise on the distant shores. Sailors gather at the rails to watch the cannonballs splash harmlessly into the water. Not even near enough to get their shirts wet. Laughing, they sail into the city and pillage.
With the American Revolution and the War of 1812 still fresh in America’s collective conscience, this was the Army’s nightmare scenario in 1829. The mouth of Charleston Harbor is about four miles wide but, with a range of only 1.5 miles, cannon of that era could not protect one of America’s busiest and most important seaports.
Construction of Fort Sumter was to last about five years. Thirty-one years later, in 1860, the fort was still only 90% complete.
After the election that year, South Carolina seceded from the union. Major Robert Anderson, recognizing his position at Fort Moultrie as indefensible, moved his garrison of 85 men to Fort Sumter, the most defensible position available to them.
Only 15 of the fort’s cannons were operational. Under guidance from Major Anderson, one of the foremost artillery experts of his day, the men cobbled together another 45 cannon. Although he now had 60 working cannon, Major Anderson had only enough men to use about 10-12 of them at a time.
South Carolina amassed militia at nearby Forts Moultrie and Johnson, preparing an assault on Major Anderson‘s men.
In an effort to end the standoff peacefully, one of Major Anderson’s former West Point students, Brigadier General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, was sent to negotiate his surrender.
Major Anderson refused, saying he and his men would be starved out in a matter of weeks. (He didn’t know that a fleet of supply ships was on its way.) Beauregard was forced to begin a bombardment that would last 34 hours.
Those were the first shots of the American Civil War.
During that first bombardment, not a single life was lost on either side.
Major Anderson’s surrender included two provisions that would become historic: he was allowed to take his flag with him and he was allowed to fire a 100 cannon salute.
On the 43rd shot, an errant spark caused a cannon to misfire and kill Private Daniel Hough, making him the first casualty of the war.
The Confederacy would hold the fort for almost the entire duration of the war.
In February 1865, after 20 months of bombardment — the longest in American history and one of the longest in all of military history — Confederate forces quietly abandoned Fort Sumter upon learning that Savannah had fallen and General Sherman’s forces were marching on Charleston.
The war lasted only another two months before General Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865. Almost exactly four years after Major Anderson’s surrender.
Because of its symbolic importance, arrangements were made to raise Major Anderson’s flag once again over Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865. President Lincoln was invited to the ceremony but declined because he already had tickets to the theater.
He was shot while the ceremony took place.
The Department of the Army turned Fort Sumter over to the National Parks Service in 1948 – four score and seven years after those opening shots of the Civil War were fired.
Visitors to Fort Sumter today can’t help but notice Battery Huger, which dominates the old parade grounds in the center of the Fort. Because it resembles a WWII battleship in appearance, many assume that Battery Huger is from that era.
It may come as a surprise to learn that Battery Huger was constructed in 1899 as part of a “modernization” of Fort Sumter during the Spanish-American War.