Fort Sumter was built after the War of 1812, as one of a series of
fortifications on the southern U.S. coast. Construction began in 1827, and the
structure was still unfinished in 1860, when the conflict began. Seventy
thousand tons of granite were imported from
England to build up a sand bar in the entrance to Charleston harbor, which
the site dominates; The fort was a five-sided brick structure, 170 to 190 feet
(58 m) long, with walls five feet thick, standing 50 feet (15 m) over the low
tide mark. It was designed to house 650 men and 135 guns in three tiers of gun
emplacements, although it was never filled near its full capacities.
December 26, 1860,
five days after
South Carolina declared its secession,
Major Robert Anderson abandoned the indefensible
Fort Moultrie and secretly relocated his two companies (127 men, 13 of them
musicians) of the 1st U.S. Artillery to Fort Sumter without official
authorization or obedience to orders from Washington.
He thought that providing a stronger defense would delay a Rebel attack. The
Fort was not yet complete at the time and fewer than half of the cannons that
should have been there were available due to military downsizing by
James Buchanan. Over the next few months, repeated calls for the United
States evacuation of Fort Sumter
from the government of South Carolina and later
P.G.T. Beauregard were ignored. United States attempts to resupply and
reinforce the garrison were repulsed on January 9, 1861 when the first shots of
the war prevented the steamer
Star of the West, a ship hired by the United States to transport troops
and supplies to Fort Sumter, from completing the task. After realizing that
Anderson's command would run out of food by April 15, 1861,
President Lincoln ordered a fleet of ships, under the command of Gustavus V.
Fox, to attempt a forced entry into Charleston Harbor to reinforce Fort Sumter.
The ships assigned were the steam sloop-of-war USS Pawnee, steam
sloop-of-war USS Powhatan, transporting motorized launches and about 300
sailors (secretly removed from the Charleston fleet to join in the forced
reenforcement of Fort Pickens, Pensacola, Fla.), armed screw steamer USS
Pocahontas, Revenue Cutter USS Harriet Lane, steamer Baltic
transporting about 200 troops, composed of companies C and D of the 2nd U.S.
Artillery, and three hired tug boats.
By April 6, 1861 the first ships began to set sail for their rendezvous off the
Charleston Bar. The first to arrive, the Harriet Lane, arriving before
midnight of April 11, 1861.
On April 12,
1861, at 4:30 a.m.,
Confederate batteries opened fire, firing for 33 straight hours, on the fort.
Edmund Ruffin, noted Virginian agronomist and secessionist, claimed that he
fired the first shot on Fort Sumter. His story has been widely believed, but
Lieutenant Henry S. Farley, commanding a battery of two
James Island fired the first shot at 4:30 A.M. (Detzer
2001, pp. 269–71). The garrison returned fire, but it was
ineffective, in part because Major Anderson did not use the guns mounted on the
highest tier, the barbette tier, where the gun detachments would be more exposed
to Confederate fire. On
the fort was surrendered and evacuated. During the attack, the Union colors
fell. Lt. Norman J. Hall risked life and limb to put them back up, burning off
his eyebrows permanently. No Union soldiers died in the actual battle though a
Confederate soldier bled to death having been wounded by a misfiring cannon. One
Union soldier died and another was mortally wounded during the 27th shot of a
100 shot salute, allowed by the Confederacy. Afterwards the salute was shortened
to 50 shots. Accounts, such as in the famous diary of
Mary Chesnut, describe Charleston residents along what is now known as
The Battery, sitting on balconies and drinking salutes to the start of the
A special military decoration, known as the
Gillmore Medal, was later issued to all Union service members who had
performed duty in Fort Sumter during the opening battle of the American Civil
Fort Sumter Flag became a popular patriotic symbol after Maj. Anderson
returned North with it. The flag is still displayed in the fort's museum.
Before the attack
Model of Fort Sumter as it appeared in 1861 before the attack
The Confederates, in the mean time, were strengthening Fort Sumter. A
workforce of just under 500 slaves, under the supervision of Confederate army
engineers, were filling casemates with sand, protecting the gorge wall with
sandbags, and building new
bombproofs. Some of Fort Sumter’s artillery had been removed, but 40 pieces
still were mounted. Fort Sumter’s guns that weighed the most were mounted on the
barbette, the fort’s highest level, where they had wide angles of fire and could
fire down on approaching ships. The barbette was also more exposed to enemy
gunfire than the
in the two lower levels of the fort.
Two 10-inch (250 mm) columbiads, two 8-inch (200 mm) columbiads, four
Left face, first tier casemates
Two 8-inch (200 mm) shell guns
Right face barbette
Two 10-inch (250 mm) columbiads,
five rifled and banded 42-pounders
Right face, first tier casemates
Right flank barbette
One XI-inch Dahlgren, four 10-inch (250 mm) columbiads, one 8-inch
(200 mm) Columbiad, one rifled 42-pounder,
one 8-inch (200 mm) Brooke
Five rifled and banded 43-pounders,
Salient, second tier casemates
Three rifled and banded 42-pounders
Two 10-inch (250 mm) seacoast mortars
After the devastating bombardment, both General
Quincy A. Gillmore and
John A. Dahlgren, now commanding the
South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, determined to launch a boat assault on
Fort Sumter for the night of September 8–9, 1863. Cooperation between the Army
and Navy were poor, Dahlgren refusing to place his sailors and
marines under the command of an army officer. So two flotillas set out
towards Fort Sumter that night. The army flotilla was detained off
Morris Island by the low tide. By the time they could proceed, the navy
assault had already been defeated and the army flotilla returned to shore.
Navy’s assault involved 400 sailors and marines in 25 boats. The operation
was a fiasco from beginning to end. Poor reconnaissance, planning and
communication all characterized the operation.
Thomas H. Stevens, commanding the
monitorPatapsco, was placed in charge of the assault. When Commander Stevens
protested that he “knew nothing of [the assault’s] organization “ and “made some
remonstrances on this grounds and others.” Dahlgren replied “There is nothing
but a corporal’s guard [about 6–10 men] in the fort, and all we have to do is go
and take possession.” (Stevens
1902, p. 633). This underestimation of the Confederate forces on
Dahlgren’s part may explain why he was hostile to a joint operation wishing to
reserve the credit for the victory to the Navy. Less than half of the boats
landed. Most of the boats that did land landed on the right flank or right gorge
angle, rather than on the gorge where there was a passable
breach. The Union sailors and marines who did land could not scale the wall.
The Confederates fired upon the landing party and as well as throwing hand
grenades and masonry. The men in the boats that had not landed fired muskets and
revolvers blindly at the fort, endangering the landing party more than the
garrison. The landing party took shelter in shell holes in the wall of the fort.
In response to a signal rocket fired by the garrison, Fort Johnson and the
Chicora opened fire upon the boats and landing party. The boats that
could withdraw withdrew, and the landing party surrendered. The Union casualties
were 8 killed, 19 wounded, and 105 captured (including 15 of the wounded). The
Confederates did not suffer any casualties in the assault.
After the unsuccessful boat assault, the bombardment recommenced and
proceeded with varying degree of intensity, doing more damage to Fort Sumter
until the end of the
war. The garrison continued to suffer casualties. The Confederates continued
to salvage guns and other material from the ruins and harassed the Union
Morris Island with
sharpshooters. The Confederates mounted four 10-inch (250 mm)
one 8-inch (200 mm) columbiad rifled, and two rifled 42-pounders, in the left
face, bottom tier casemates. These guns did not fire in anger. Fort Sumter did
not fall until General
William T. Sherman’s advance through South Carolina finally forced the
Confederates to evacuate Charleston on
17, 1865. The
Federal government formally took possession of Fort Sumter on
22, 1865 with a
gala flag raising ceremony
View of Fort Sumter, 1865
Interior View of Fort Sumter, taken by a Confederate photographer, 1864.
Exterior view of Fort Sumter, 1865. Banded rifle in foreground,
fraise at top.
View of Fort Sumter from the sandbar, 1865.
When the Civil War ended, Fort Sumter was in ruins. The U.S. Army worked to
restore it as a useful military installation. The damaged walls were re-leveled
to a lower height and partially rebuilt. The third tier of gun emplacements was
removed. Eleven of the original first-tier gun rooms were restored with
Fort Sumter view from webcam mounted to cupola of Calhoun Mansion, 5 Dec.
From 1876 to 1897, Fort Sumter was used only as an unmanned lighthouse
station. The start of the
Spanish-American War prompted renewed interest in its military use and
reconstruction commenced on the facilities that had further eroded over time. A
new massive concrete blockhouse-style installation was built in 1898 inside the
original walls. Named "Battery Huger" in honor of Revolutionary War General
Huger, it never saw combat.
World War I, a small garrison manned the two twelve-inch (305 mm) rifles at
Battery Huger. Until
War II, the fort was unused except as a tourist destination; two 90 mm
antiaircraft guns were then installed. Fort Sumter became a
U.S. National Monument in 1948.
Today, administered by the U.S.
National Park Service, Fort Sumter is a popular tourist attraction, reached
by a thirty-minute boat ride from Charleston.
Record Series 1- Volume 1- Chapter 1- page 117
Records Series 1 - Volume 1- Chapter 1- Page 103
Anderson to Rev. R. B. Duane, December 30, 1860
Anderson to Robert N. Gourdin, December 27, 1860.
Records Series 1 - Volume 1- Chapter 1- Page 13
Records Series 1 - Volume 1- Chapter 1- Page 240
Records of the Union and Confederate Navies Series I - Volume 4- Pages
Records Series 1 - Volume 1- Chapter 1- Page 304
Detzer, David R.
(2001), Allegiance: Fort Sumter, Charleston and the Beginning of the Civil
War, New York: Harcourt.
Elliott, Stephen, Jr. (1902). "Detailed
report, September 12, 1863". Official Records of the Union and
Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I.14: 637–9.
Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
Retrieved on 2007-11-18.
(1984), Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, Charleston, S.C.: The
Stevens, Thomas H.. (1902). "Delayed
report, September 28, 1865". Official Records of the Union and
Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I.14: 633.
Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
Retrieved on 2007-11-18.
Turner, John W. (1890). "Reports".
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union
and Confederate Armies, Series I.XXVIII (Part I): 212–25.
Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
Retrieved on 2007-11-05.
Wise, Stephen R.
(1994), Gate of Hell: Campaign for Charleston Harbor, 1863, Columbia,
S.C.: University of South Carolina Press.
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