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Fort Sumter: How Civil War Began With a Bloodless Battle

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Ashley Washington
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« on: April 23, 2011, 05:10:43 pm »

Fort Sumter: How Civil War Began With a Bloodless Battle
A mule was its only fatality, but the Battle of Fort Sumter nevertheless led to the United States' deadliest war, as historian Mark Jenkins recounts.



Mark Collins Jenkins

for National Geographic News

Updated April 12, 2011

During the winter of 1860-61, the citizens of Charleston (map), South Carolina, were so sure that no war would follow their recent move to secede from the United States of America that the fiery editor of the Charleston Mercury supposedly vowed to eat the bodies of all who might be slain as a result.

Not to be outdone, former U.S. Senator James Chesnut, Jr., promised to drink any blood spilled. After all, "a lady's thimble," as a common saying had it, "will hold all the blood that will be shed."

Perhaps the most visible reminder to Charlestonians of the U.S. government's dominion over them was in their harbor, where atop the lonely bulk of Fort Sumter the Stars and Stripes still flew (pictures of Fort Sumter before and during the Civil War).

The November election of the notably antislavery Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States had so angered seven slave-owning states that they had chosen to secede and form their own union. Roughly five months later, on April 12, 1861, decades of high-flown oratory were reduced to a struggle for that pile of brick and mortar.

(See National Geographic Traveler magazine's top ten U.S. Civil War sites.)

Fort Sumter in First Line of Defense

Fort Sumter was only one in a series of imposing masonry fortresses, decades in the building, which studded the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from Maine to Texas.

The nation's single biggest public expenditure and traditionally its first lines of defense, these symbols of sovereignty once carried an aura of impregnability—from without, if not from within.

During the four months leading up to Lincoln's Inauguration, the seceding states, one after another, seized federal forts, arsenals, and customs houses within their borders.

There was little to oppose the breakaway forces, a caretaker and a guard or two comprising many of the garrisons. Most of the 16,000 or so regular Army soldiers had been posted to the western frontier to protect settlers against the perceived threat from American Indians.

Civil War Inevitable?

On March 4, 1861, Lincoln was inaugurated, promising the seceding states that he would use force only "to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places" belonging to the federal government.

The stage was set for the inevitable showdown.

As of March, only four Southern forts were still under federal control. Two of them, Forts Taylor and Jefferson, were remote way stations in the Florida Keys. They would remain in government hands, useful as prisons and coaling stations throughout the four years of the coming Civil War.

The other two federal forts, however, became pawns in a game of war or peace.

The Civil War might as easily have erupted at Fort Pickens, outside Pensacola, Florida, as at Fort Sumter. Seen as easier to defend than smaller bastions nearby, both forts had been hastily garrisoned early in the secession crisis. (Read "Civil War Battlefields" in National Geographic magazine.)

Though the plight of both garrisons remained in the public eye, Fort Pickens stood to the outside of Pensacola Bay, while Fort Sumter was positioned in the middle of Charleston Harbor, surrounded by hostile batteries. Sumter, therefore, became a symbol of contested sovereignty.

Neither the new President nor the new Confederacy could afford to lose face by surrendering the Charleston fort. The only question was, who would shoot first?

In early January the South Carolinians had actually done so, turning away the Star of the West, a federal supply ship, with gunfire. But those were more or less warning shots that kicked up plumes of spray but caused no damage.

(See Civil War reenactment pictures.)

The Battle of Fort Sumter

As March turned to April, Lincoln, having dispatched another relief fleet to supply the beleaguered and increasingly hungry garrison, was willing to shoot his way through if need be.

Lincoln soon thought better of it, however, instead informing the rebellious Southerners that the fleet would carry only supplies into Sumter. The warships would remain outside the harbor.

Should the Confederates choose to fire on this "mission of humanity," as Lincoln called the supply run, they would then become the aggressor.

The Confederate government, knowing that its claims to sovereignty depended on no "foreign" power occupying any of its coastal forts, decided to act before the relief expedition arrived.

Confederate leaders, therefore, ordered Charleston's chief military officer, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, a flamboyant Louisiana Creole, to demand Fort Sumter's surrender. Should that be refused, he was to open fire on the stronghold.

James Chesnut, Jr., the former U.S. senator­ who'd pledged to drink the blood of casualties, was one of two emissaries who delivered the ultimatum to an ashen-faced Anderson at 3:25 a.m. on April 12, 1861—150 years ago today.

(Related: "Civil War at 150: Expect Subdued Salutes, Rising Voices.")

An hour later a signaling shot curved high in the sky and burst directly over the fort. A cacophonous barrage erupted, as 43 guns and mortars opened up on Sumter.

The pyrotechnic uproar had soon summoned all Charleston to the rooftops, where the citizens spent a sleepless night, watching the arcs of mortar shells. They spent the following day deafened by the din, peering through the smoke.

According to Union accounts, the noise was indescribable within the Fort Sumter's brick gun enclosures, but Anderson's men gamely returned fire, discharging about a thousand rounds as opposed to the almost four thousand shells that smashed into their walls or dropped into their courtyard.

Fires were devouring the barracks and edging dangerously close to the powder magazine by the time the white flag came fluttering up Sumter's flagstaff, some 34 hours after the bombardment had begun.

The opening gunfire of the Civil War—the first shots exchanged in anger between the United States and the Confederate States—then fell silent. (Interactive Map: Battlefields of the Civil War.)

As the smoke cleared the toll of battle was taken, and it amounted to one mule. Not a single person had been killed (though one man soon died in an accidental explosion). The South had indeed won the contest over that symbol of sovereignty without spilling enough blood to fill a thimble.

Or had it?

Fort Sumter Battle a "Bolt From the Sky"

By firing first, the Confederates had allowed Lincoln to claim the high ground. On April 15, some 75,000 Union loyalists volunteered to help "repossess the forts, places, and property which have been seized from the Union."

The Northern states fell in behind Lincoln, while Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee duly tumbled into the Confederacy.

But the Battle of Fort Sumter was a call to arms for both sides. The great convulsion had come at last, releasing stresses accumulated over generations of sectional strife.

"We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky," wrote the ex-slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and the "cry now is for war, vigorous war, war to the bitter end. ... "

Huge, flag-waving crowds gathered in cities and towns across the country, flushed with a kind of mass hysteria, a contagious abandon, an almost suicidal zeal. "It is a war of purification," claimed Virginia's Governor Henry Wise, "You want war, blood, fire, to purify you."

Hundreds of thousands of young militiamen, parading by torchlight to the dazzle of fireworks and the music of bands, soon marched into the crucible. Many of them would never return, for the war that was ignited that April night would eventually cost nearly 620,000 men their lives—2 percent of the United States' population at the time, and nearly as many as those killed in all the country's other wars combined.

The shooting was practically over by April 14, 1865, when—four years to the day after the Stars and Stripes had been lowered in defeat—the U.S. flag again rose over the rubble of Fort Sumter. But one more bullet found its victim that night. While watching a play in Washington, D.C.'s Ford's Theater, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

The dislocations of the Civil War "wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character," as writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner put it in 1873, "that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations."

Nearly five generations have now passed since the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, and still their reverberations are being felt.

Mark Collins Jenkins, a historian formerly with the National Geographic Society, is co-author of the new book The Civil War: A Visual History.

MORE FORT SUMTER AND CIVIL WAR COVERAGE

    * Full Coverage: Civil War Sesquicentennial
    * Pictures: Fort Sumter—Defiance and Destruction (1862-1865)
    * U.S. Civil War Prison Camps Claimed Thousands
    * Civil War Wreck Rises Again: Restoring the Monitor
    * Hunley Findings Put Faces on Civil War Submarine
    * Gettysburg: From Battlefield to Civil War Shrine
    * Civil War Sub May Have Been Downed by Unsealed Hatch


http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/04/110412-fort-sumter-civil-war-nation-150th-anniversary-first-battle/
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Ashley Washington
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« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2011, 05:13:06 pm »



Historian Mark Collins Jenkins. Photograph by Mark Thiessen, NGS.
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Ashley Washington
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« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2011, 05:14:47 pm »

Fort Sumter in Pictures: The Civil War's First Battle


Prewar Fort Sumter

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

On April 12, 1861—150 years ago today—Confederate artillery fired the first shots of the U.S. Civil War on Fort Sumter, a Federal stronghold at the mouth of Charleston Harbor (map) in South Carolina.

(Read "Fort Sumter: How Civil War Began With a Bloodless Battle.")

With the election of Abraham Lincoln five months earlier, the long-simmering threat of disunion had finally swept across the United States. Powerful political forces in the Southern states chose to end the compromises that had held the Union together since its creation. South Carolina left first, following through on its promise to leave should Lincoln be elected president.

After South Carolina’s secession in December 1860, a Federal garrison moved to take control of Fort Sumter. Four months later, the Union would surrender the fort after a 34-hour battle with the surrounding Confederates.

The modestly fanciful Currier & Ives print above shows Fort Sumter in its peaceful, pre-war setting, positioned atop a man-made granite block island in the middle of the main entrance to Charleston Harbor. The fort served as the centerpiece of the defenses of the city’s seaward approaches.

Construction of the five-sided brick and masonry fort began in 1827 but remained partially incomplete when battle broke out in 1861. (Read "Civil War Battlefields" in National Geographic magazine.)

Between 1827 and 1861, advances in heavy artillery firepower had nearly rendered the fort’s five-foot thick walls obsolete. By the time of the Civil War, the size and velocity of guns carried on warships had increased dramatically.

This might be fairly judged as just another mismatch wrought by the Industrial Age’s arms race, but something the fort’s designers could not have foreseen was a threat from even heavier land-based guns firing from neighboring fortifications. Indeed, no military engineer could have anticipated that the other forts in the Charleston defenses would fall into hostile hands and take aim at Fort Sumter. No plans had anticipated South Carolina’s secession.

Despite this fateful miscalculation, Fort Sumter’s massive bulk would soon demonstrate a remarkable ability to take punishment. Even when reduced largely to rubble, the fort could still protect its garrison and support a handful of gun batteries that were sufficient to fend off attackers.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/04/pictures/110412-fort-sumter-civil-war-nation-150-anniversary-first-battle/
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« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2011, 05:15:27 pm »



Major Robert Anderson, Fort Sumter

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Thrust reluctantly onto center stage during one of America’s most turbulent chapters, Maj. Robert Anderson was given command of the Charleston defenses on November 15, 1860, just as the secession crisis entered its most critical phase.

A graduate of West Point and veteran of several campaigns, Anderson remained fiercely loyal to the Union despite his Kentucky roots and pro-slavery leanings. His defiant professionalism during the standoff at Fort Sumter earned him the status of the Union’s first Civil War hero.

(See Civil War reenactment pictures.)

Updated April 12, 2011
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« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2011, 05:16:03 pm »



Transport into Fort Sumter

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Artist Alfred Waud sketched this scene of the small dock and sally point used by Major Anderson on December 26, 1860, to bring all his men into the relative safety of Fort Sumter’s walls.

After South Carolina seceded on December 20, the Union commander decided he could not hold nearby Fort Moultrie because of its lightly defended landward approaches. Since the transfer took place under cover of darkness, Waud likely composed this scene while observing a typical supply or communication detail with a telescope from across the harbor.

Waud would soon become one of the Civil War’s most prolific and famous field artists. Hundreds of his sketches would be reproduced as engravings on the pages of the New York Illustrated News and Harper’s Weekly.

(Related: "Civil War at 150: Expect Subdued Salutes, Rising Voices.")

Updated April 12, 2011
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« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2011, 05:17:38 pm »



Prayer at Fort Sumter in 1860

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

A chaplain offers up a prayer as Major Anderson kneels with some of his men assembled in Fort Sumter’s parade ground on the day after all the Union forces took up residence there.

This illustration accompanies an article in Harper’s Weekly about what was fast becoming the hottest story of the day. Northern readers were already enthralled with the story of the brave commander and his men who had just staked everything on holding out in Fort Sumter.

(Interactive Map: Battlefields of the Civil War.)

Updated April 12, 2011
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« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2011, 05:18:18 pm »



Rebel Troops Occupying Fort Moultrie

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Across the harbor—and on the other side of the contest—special artist Frank Vizetelly of the Illustrated London News captured this scene of South Carolina state troops occupying Fort Moultrie not long after Anderson abandoned it to move his headquarters to Fort Sumter (visible in the distance).

An interesting detail in this picture is the distinctive “Palmetto” flag flying over the fort. Since the Confederacy was just taking shape, South Carolina used its own distinctive state colors that bore a patriotic symbol dating back to the Revolutionary War. In 1776, a force of Carolinians under the command of Colonel William Moultrie defended this same spot behind the walls of a fort made of palmetto logs.

Updated April 12, 2011
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« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2011, 05:18:19 pm »



Rebel Troops Occupying Fort Moultrie

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Across the harbor—and on the other side of the contest—special artist Frank Vizetelly of the Illustrated London News captured this scene of South Carolina state troops occupying Fort Moultrie not long after Anderson abandoned it to move his headquarters to Fort Sumter (visible in the distance).

An interesting detail in this picture is the distinctive “Palmetto” flag flying over the fort. Since the Confederacy was just taking shape, South Carolina used its own distinctive state colors that bore a patriotic symbol dating back to the Revolutionary War. In 1776, a force of Carolinians under the command of Colonel William Moultrie defended this same spot behind the walls of a fort made of palmetto logs.

Updated April 12, 2011
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« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2011, 05:19:03 pm »



Secession Cartoon with Fort Sumter

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

This cartoon from early 1861 ridicules the two opposing leaders in the rapidly escalating secession crisis against the backdrop of Fort Sumter. In late December 1860, the governor of South Carolina, Francis Pickens, sent a delegation to Washington to negotiate with lame-duck President James Buchanan for the “transfer” of Fort Sumter.

Although Buchanan had offered almost no resistance to the seizure of Federal property by the seceding Southern states, he balked at giving up Fort Sumter.

By this time it was common knowledge that Buchanan had no plan to deal with the threat to the Union and he was content to wait for President-elect Lincoln to be sworn in (Inauguration Day was on March 4 until 1933). Consequently, through January and February of 1861, Buchanan stalled while Pickens and other newly minted Confederates pushed for a showdown.

Updated April 12, 2011
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« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2011, 05:19:44 pm »



Morris Island Gun Installation Illustration

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Since no war had been declared, special artist William Waud (brother of Alfred) was free to cover the story developing in Charleston Harbor along with other Northern correspondents. In this sketch, Confederate artillery officers supervise the installation of a gun at one of the Morris Island fortifications south of Fort Sumter.

As seen here, much of the heavy labor that went into shoring up the fortifications ringing the harbor was supplied by conscripted slave crews.

Updated April 12, 2011
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« Reply #10 on: April 23, 2011, 05:20:17 pm »



Bombardment of Fort Sumter

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The dramatic battle panorama of the bombardment of Fort Sumter appeared in numerous versions across the country in the weeks and months after the fight.

This classic print clearly shows the intense crossfire unleashed against the fort from Fort Moultrie (left) and Cumming’s Point on Morris Island (right). The arcing shot trails represent mortar fire that could reach over the thick walls to hit the more vulnerable—and flammable—structures in the fort’s interior.

Among the inaccuracies that commonly show up in these illustrations are guns firing from Fort Sumter’s upper two tiers. During the actual bombardment, the Union garrison only returned fire from the well-protected lower tier.

Updated April 12, 2011
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« Reply #11 on: April 23, 2011, 05:21:00 pm »



Union Returning Fire Inside Fort Sumter

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

A romanticized scene inside Fort Sumter during the bombardment on April 12 shows Federal gunners returning fire.

To keep his men as safe as possible from Confederate fire, Major Anderson only used a handful of guns in the fort’s well-protected lower tier to hit back at the enemy batteries. Because these guns could not be elevated (they had, by design, been laid to fire directly at ships), the Union return fire did little damage to the Confederate positions.

Like Fort Sumter itself, the surrounding hostile fortifications were most vulnerable to shells that could be fired in an arc over their thick walls and earthworks.

Updated April 12, 2011
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« Reply #12 on: April 23, 2011, 05:21:38 pm »



Fort Sumter Under Heavy Bombardment

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Harper’s Weekly ran its story on the battle with this pair of illustrations: The top shows the classic scene of Sumter under heavy bombardment while the lower panel offers a somewhat fanciful interpretation of what it looked like across the harbor in a Confederate battery.

In reality, return fire coming from Fort Sumter was largely ineffective and not nearly as dangerous as the illustration suggests. Neither side had a soldier killed by enemy fire despite all the shot and shell filling the air.

Updated April 12, 2011
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« Reply #13 on: April 23, 2011, 05:22:27 pm »



Fort Sumter Flag

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

After the surrender and evacuation of the fort, the flag that flew over Fort Sumter was soon held up as a sacred patriotic relic.

During the battle, the flagpole was toppled by shellfire but was heroically remounted on a makeshift stand. Major Anderson kept the flag when he left the fort and it was soon widely reproduced for publication.

Updated April 12, 2011
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« Reply #14 on: April 23, 2011, 05:23:07 pm »



American Flag Over Sumter Poster

Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The attack on Fort Sumter and the American flag quickly became the rallying cry that Lincoln needed to mobilize Northern public opinion.

Among the thousands of patriotic broadsides and posters that soon became a common sight was this sentimental masterpiece with a rendering of the Sumter flag in the evening sky—and the even more improbable inclusion of the fort itself standing in a distant lake.

Updated April 12, 2011

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/04/pictures/110412-fort-sumter-civil-war-nation-150-anniversary-first-battle/#/patriotic-flag-sky-3g12417u_34214_600x450.jpg
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