The most defining point in the United States of America would have to be the Civil War, April 12, 1861 until May 9, 1865. This war separated the Northern States from the Southern States and separated numerous families including brothers, father, and sons. The Civil War impacted how the United States viewed slavery, government control over states, and why some historians have called it the bloodiest war in American history. A starting part of this war was the battle at Fort Sumter. Fort Sumter is just a small fort located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, but with the attack it would bring on the start of the Civil War between the North and South. This attack was vital, for it being the first fire of canons and would light the fire under the people and start a very bloody 4 year war. While the attack on Fort Sumter only lasted 3 days and may not have been the initial cause of the war, but it seems to be the final poke of the bear. Why did firing on such a small fort cause such an uproar and have brother fight against brother?
Fort Sumter was built as a defensive fort and named after South Carolina’s Revolutionary war General Thomas Sumter. “Fort Sumter was one of nearly 50 forts built as part of the so-called Third System, a coastal defense program implemented by Congress in 1817. The three-tiered, five-sided fort’s coastal placement was designed to allow it to control access to the vital Charleston Harbor.” (Staff, 2009) Following President Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860, many threats were made toward Federal troops occupying forts in the South. ‘The election of the Republican Abraham Lincoln as president, without the votes of a single Southern state, convinced them that their influence within the Republic was waning and their only recourse was to leave.” (Moody, 2016, p. 3) With so many conflicts between the states and the government Major Robert Anderson found it best to take action and move his troops to Fort Sumter. Lincoln and the Republican Party had run on a platform that was against the expansion of slavery to the western states. Southern states believed that the federal government didn’t have the right to halt the slavery to other states. After Lincoln was elected, 4 southern states began to secede from the United States. South Carolina was the 1st to state if Lincoln was president they would secede from the Union. Six other states soon followed. Together, they established a new government called the Confederate States of America in Richmond, Virginia, and chose Jefferson Davis as its first president. Four slave states, however, chose to remain in the Union. These Border States would prove invaluable to the North and their attempt to win this war.
It was left up to Major Robert Anderson, to be in command of Fort Moultrie on Sullivan Island while Fort Sumter was being finished. With the threats coming Anderson was making plans to move his men to one of the fortifications on more secure islands in the harbor—Castle Pinckney closer to Charleston or the unfinished Fort Sumter near the harbor’s entrance. “Anderson’s movement to Fort Sumter was going to greatly complicate issues for the commissioners and make the resolution they wanted nearly impossible to achieve in the short time left under the Buchanan administration.” (Moody, 2016, p. 53) This was not a large fort and was not meant to hold off a major attack of any means but was built durable and strong. Shots fired on Fort Sumter April 12th and would last until the 14th of the same month. Fort Sumter was not built for battle but to be used as a first attempt of protection, “Fort Sumter was the key to a defensive system to protect Charleston from the type of naval invasion the British had launched against the United States during the Revolution and the War of 1812. This early morning attack was not by a foreign foe but from the city the fort was built to defend.” (Moody, 2016, p. 16)
The Battle of Fort Sumter was the first major engagement between the United States Army and Confederate Army of the Southern States. Fort Sumter was not even considered a threat to the Confederate Army of South Carolina. Anderson had moved his men to this fort with the hopes that not only could they hold off an attack but that the people of South Carolina would never let the United States come in and destroy this property. The fort was only stocked with enough food to last six weeks and had ammunition that was not truly fit for a battle. With the war had not started, and Anderson unware that South Carolina militia forces had already seized the city’s other forts shortly before which led Sumter the only federal outpost in Charleston. Fighting did not start right away, there would be a standoff, “January 9, 1861, when a ship called the Star of the West arrived in Charleston with over 200 U.S. troops and supplies intended for Fort Sumter. South Carolina militia batteries fired upon the vessel as it neared Charleston Harbor, forcing it to turn back to sea.” (Staff, 2009) The following is correspondence between Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard and Maj. Robert Anderson between April 11, 1861 and April 12, 1861 on how the fort should be evacuated,
” I am ordered by the Government of the Confederate States to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter. My aides, Colonel Chestnut and Captain Lee, are authorized to make such demand of you.( G. T. Beauregard)… “I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication demanding the evacuation of this fort, and to say, in reply thereto, that it is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligations to my Government, prevent my compliance.”(Anderson) “In consequence of the verbal observation made by you to my aides, Messrs. Chestnut and Lee, in relation to the condition of your supplies, and that you would in a few days be starved out if our guns did not batter you to pieces, or words to that effect, and desiring no useless effusion of blood”( G. T. Beauregard).. ‘if provided with the proper and necessary means of transportation, evacuate Fort Sumter by noon on the 15th instant, and that I will not in the mean time open my fires upon your forces unless compelled to do so by some hostile act against this fort or the flag of my Government by the forces under your command..(Anderson)… ‘By authority of Brigadier-General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.”(Chesnut ; Lee) (Anderson, n.d.)
It was not the Union that would fire the first shot, “(Capt. Abner Doubleday, the 41-year-old second in command at Fort Sumter, Fired the first shot in defense of the fort.” (Abner Doubleday, 1861) President Lincoln aware of the lack of supplies and food sent General Beauregard to receive Anderson’s surrender, “On Thursday, April 11, 1861, Confederate Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard dispatched aides to Maj. Anderson to demand the fort’s surrender. Anderson refused. The next morning, at 4:30 a.m., Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter and continued for 34 hours. The Civil War had begun! Anderson did not return the fire for the first two hours. The fort’s supply of ammunition was not suited for an equal fight and Anderson lacked fuses for his exploding shells–only solid shot could be used against the Rebel batteries. At about 7:00 A.M., Union Capt. Abner Doubleday, the fort’s second in command, was afforded the honor of firing the first shot in defense of the fort.” (Fort Sumter, n.d.) The many occupants on this island and other island near by knew of the upcoming conflict and actually set up pinic areas to watch this battle, “There stands the bold defiant fort, as quiet as death. No light is seen, not a sign of life appears, not even a sentinel can be distinguished, but high above her floats her proud banner, the Stars and Stripes, the flag which for 75 years has never quailed before an enemy or fallen in disgrace.” (Parker, 1961) After many hours of bombardment, Anderson realized that he had no chance to win the battle. He was almost out of food and ammunition and his forces were badly outnumbered. He surrendered the fort to the Southern Army. No one died in the Battle of Fort Sumter. This was largely because Major Anderson did everything he could to keep his men out of harm’s way during the bombardment. “Anderson ordered his men to be very careful, and to remain in the casemates where they would be safe. This order had been greeted with disappointment by many of the officers and men…The garrison would be fighting with one hand tied behind its back. Anderson had a few reasons for this order. There were one hundred and twenty eight men in the fort, forty three were loyal workmen that Pickens had refused to allow to leave so they would help eat the garrison’s meager supplies. Anderson could not take casualties and continue to hold out. He was also a humanitarian who wanted to limit death.” (Moody, 2016, p. 126) This says a lot for Anderson’s leadership, even in the face of defeat, Anderson was not willing to risk the lives of his men.
The Battle of Fort Sumter didn’t have short terms effects, but one long lasting effect of starting the Civil War which was the bloodiest war in United States history. The battle had other effects as well, “after the Battle of Fort Sumter several new states seceded from the Union giving the Confederacy 11 states in total.” (Effects of the Battle, n.d.) After the battle citizens of the North were outraged by the attack on Fort Sumter and Major Anderson. Major Anderson would fly the flag from the fort at a rally in New York City’s Union Square on April 20, 1861. In the South feelings also ran high, the men who fired the cannons at Fort Sumter were considered heroes and the newly formed Confederate government was emboldened to form an army and plan for war. While the action at Fort Sumter had not amounted to much militarily, the symbolism of it was enormous and intense feelings over what had happened propelled the nation into a conflict that would not end for four long and bloody years. Even though the battle of Fort Sumter no one died, the Civil War was one of the bloodiest battle, “Nearly as many men died in captivity during the Civil War as were killed in the whole of the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands died of disease. Roughly 2% of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty.” (American Battle Field Trust, n.d.)The Battle of Fort Sumter is one of the most important events in not only South Carolina’s history but in the United Sates history.
Abner Doubleday. (1861). FORT SUMTER FALLS. American Heritage.
American Battle Field Trust. (n.d.). Retrieved from Civil War Casualties: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/civil-war-casualties
Anderson, G. P. (n.d.). Retrieved from Civil War Trust: https://www.civilwar.org/learn/primary-sources/gen-p-g-t-beauregard-maj-robert-anderson
Effects of the Battle. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Battle of Fort Sumter: https://kingscottonfortsumter.weebly.com/battle-of-fort-sumter.html
Fort Sumter. (n.d.). Retrieved from Civil War Trust: https://www.civilwar.org/learn/articles/fort-sumter
Moody, W. (2016). The Battle of Fort Sumter: The First Shots of the American Civil War. aylor & Francis Group,.
Parker, F. (1961). The Battle of Fort Sumter as Seen from Morris Island. The South Carolina Historical Magazine, 62(2), , 65-71.
Staff, H. (2009). Retrieved from History.com: https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/fort-sumter