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Fort Sumter

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April 12 - 14, 1861

The Battle of Fort Sumter

When South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860, United States Maj. Robert Anderson and his force of 85 soldiers were positioned at Fort Moultrie near the mouth of Charleston Harbor. On December 26, fearing for the safety of his men, Anderson moved his command to Fort Sumter, an imposing fortification in the middle of the harbor. While politicians and military commanders wrote and argued at length about the legality and appropriateness of this provocative move, Anderson’s position became perilous. Just after the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1861, Anderson reported that he had only a six week supply of food left in the fort and Confederate patience for what they viewed as a foreign army in its territory was wearing thin.

On Thursday, April 11, 1861, Confederate General 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 the next 34 hours. The firing on Fort Sumter marked the official start to the American Civil War. 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.

The firing continued all day, although much less rapidly since the Union fired aimed to conserve ammunition. "The crashing of the shot, the bursting of the shells, the falling of the walls, and the roar of the flames, made a pandemonium of the fort," wrote Doubleday. The fort's large flagstaff was struck and the colors fell to the ground and a brave lieutenant, Norman J. Hall, bravely exposed himself to enemy fire as he hoisted the Stars and Stripes back up. That evening, the firing was sporadic with but an occasional round landing on or in Fort Sumter.

On Saturday, April 13, Anderson surrendered the fort. Incredibly, no soldiers were killed in battle. The terms of surrender, however, allowed Anderson to perform a 100-gun salute before he and his men evacuated the fort the next day. The salute began at 2:00 P.M. on April 14, but was cut short to 50 guns after an accidental explosion killed one of the gunners, Pvt. Daniel Hough, and mortally wounded another. Carrying their tattered banner, the Federal soldiers marched out of the fort and boarded a boat which ferried them to the Union ships outside of the harbor. They were greeted as heroes upon their return to the North.

Nobody could have imagined at the time that the Civil War would last more than four years, and cost the lives of more than 620,000 Americans.