On April 12, 1861 began the Battle of Ft. Sumter. This has been commonly referred to as the opening shots of the American Civil War. The battle resulted in a Confederate victory.
Before we even begin to go over the actual battle I think that a little bit of background information needs to be covered first.
The causes of the Civil War are quite lengthy and would take a lot of time. I will just go over the background required to explain this battle. Civil War causes are for another time.
On December 20, 1860 South Carolina seceded from the Union. On December 26th, Major Robert Anderson abandoned the indefensible Ft. Moultrie and secretly redeployed Companies E and H (127 men) of the 1st U.S. Artillery to Ft. Sumter without orders from Washington on his own imitative. Major Anderson felt that Ft. Sumter was easier to defend and its location would delay an attack by the South Carolina Militia.
Bear in mind that Ft. Sumter was still under construction and had only half of its cannons. The fort wasn’t completed yet because President James Buchannan had been actively downsizing the military throughout his entire term in office.
Over the next few months the government of South Carolina and finally Brigadier General P.T.G. Beauregard were continually demanding that Union forces abandon the fort. These demands were ignored by the Federal government.
The Federal government attempted to resupply and reinforce the garrison on January 9, 1861. They were repulsed by forces compromised of cadets from the Citadel also known as the Military College of South Carolina.
They fired upon a steamer named Star of the West which was hired by the Union for this purpose. Because of the attack on the ship the fort was not resupplied.
President Abraham Lincoln was informed after his inauguration on March 4, 1861 that the fort would run out of food by April 15th. Something decisive had to be done and quickly.
President Lincoln ordered a fleet of ships under the command of Gustavus V. Fox to attempt to enter Charleston Harbor and resupply and reinforce Ft. Sumter.
The ships assigned to this task were the following: sleep sloops of war USS Pawnee and USS Powhatan as well as armed screw steamers USS Pocahontas and USRC Harriet Lane, also the steamer Baltic carrying 200 troops from Companies C and D from the 2nd U.S. Artillery. Three added tug boats also were deployed to provide additional protection from small arms fire.
The ships left on April 6, 1861 and the first to arrive at the rendezvous point was the Harriet Lane just before midnight of April 11, 1861.
On April 11, 1861 Gen Beauregard sent three aides, Colonel James A. Chesnut, Jr, Captain Stephen D. Lee and Lieutenant A.R. Chisolm to demand the surrender of the fort. Major Anderson declined and they went back to Beauregard to report.
Beauregard then consulted with Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Walker. He then sent the aides back to the fort and authorized Colonel Chesnut to decide whether or not the fort should be taken by force.
Major Anderson stalled the Confederate aides for several hours before he announced his decision. At 3 A.M. he delivered his conditions to the Confederate aides.
Colonel Chesnut replied that Major Anderson’s terms were “manifestly futile and not within the scope of the instructions verbally given to us”.
At that point the aides left the presence of Major Anderson and proceeded to nearby Ft. Johnson where Colonel Chesnut gave the orders to fire upon Ft. Sumter.
On Friday, April 12, 1861 at 4:30 A.M. Confederate batteries began firing on Ft. Sumter. They fired continuously for thirty-four straight hours.
No attempt to return fire was made for two hours because there were no fuses for their explosive shells and only solid balls could be used against the Rebel batteries. To put it simply, they were just not up to the task.
Around 7A.M. Union Captain Abner Doubleday was given the “honor” of firing the first shot at Confederate forces. His shot was ineffective because he did not use the upper tier of cannons which were more exposed to Confederate fire.
The firing continued all day but the Union batteries fired slowly in order to conserve ammunition.
By nightfall, the firing from the fort stopped and only an occasional lob from Confederate forces towards the fort was fired.
On Saturday, April 13, 1865, Ft. Sumter was surrendered and the fort was evacuated the following day.
During the entire battle there were no casualties on the Union side although there was one casualty after the battle during a salute permitted by the Confederates. There was one Confederate casualty. A soldier bled to death after being injured by a misfiring cannon.
After the fort was evacuated, the supply ship Star of the West took all evacuated soldiers to New York City where there was a parade on Broadway in their honor.
The ships deployed to reinforce and resupply Ft. Sumter were unable to do this task because of the bombardment.
The bombardment of Ft. Sumter was in essence the first military engagement of the Civil War. After the battle, Northerners rallied behind President Lincoln’s call for the states to send troops to recapture the fort and preserve the Union.
With the scale of the rebellion so small at this point Lincoln requested 75,000 troops to be called up for ninety days.
This call for troops caused four more states to secede from the Union. Notably Virginia who would give the Confederacy it’s most competent officers.
The Civil War would continue for another four long years culminating with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865.