After considerable debate and some
disagreement, the Confederate Secretary of War telegraphed Beauregard on
April 10th that if he were certain Sumter was to be supplied by force “you
will at once demand its evacuation, and if this is refused proceed, in
such manner as you may determine, to reduce it.”
On April 11th Confederate General
Beauregard demanded that Anderson surrender Fort Sumter. Anderson refused.
At 3:20 a.m., April 12, the Confederates informed Anderson that their
batteries would open fire in one hour. At ten minutes past the allotted
hour, Captain George S. James, commanding Fort Johnson’s east mortar
battery, ordered the firing of a signal shell. Within moments, Edmund
Ruffin of Virginia, firebrand and hero of the secessionist movement,
touched off a gun in the ironclad battery at Cummings Point. By daybreak
batteries at Forts Johnson and Moultrie, Cummings Point, and elsewhere were assailing
Major Anderson withheld his fire until 7
o’clock. Though some 60 guns stood ready for action, most never got into
the fight. Nine or ten casemate guns returned fire, but by noon only six
remained in action. At no time during the battle did the guns of Fort
Sumter greatly damage Confederate positions. The cannonade continued
throughout the night. The next morning a hot shot from Fort Moultrie set
fire to the officers’ quarters. In early afternoon the flagstaff was shot away.
About 2 p.m., Anderson agreed to a truce. That evening he surrendered his
garrison. Miraculously, no one on either side had been killed during the
engagement, but five Federal soldiers suffered injuries.
On Sunday, April 14, Major Anderson and his
garrison marched out of the fort and boarded ship for transport to New
York. They had defended Sumter for 34 hours, until “the quarters were
entirely burned, the main gates destroyed by fire, the gorge walls
seriously injured, the magazines surrounded by flames.” The
Civil War had
With Fort Sumter in Confederate hands, the
port of Charleston became an irritating loophole in the Federal naval
blockade of the Atlantic Coast. In two months of 1863, 21 Confederate
vessels cleared Charleston Harbor and 15 entered. Into Charleston came
needed war supplies; out went cotton in payment.
To close the port and capture the city, it was
necessary first to seize Fort Sumter, which had been repaired and armed
with some 95 guns. After an earlier Army attempt had failed on James
Island, the job fell to the U.S. Navy, and Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont
was ordered to take the fort.
On the afternoon of April 7, 1863, nine
armored vessels steamed slowly into the harbor and headed for Fort Sumter.
For 2 ½ hours the ironclads dueled with Confederate batteries in the forts
and around the harbor. The naval attack only scarred and battered Sumter’s
walls, but the far more intense and accurate Confederate fire disabled
five Federal ships, one of which, the Keokuk, sank the next morning.
When the ironclads failed, Federal strategy
changed. Du Pont was removed from command and replaced by Rear Admiral John
A. Dahlgren, who planned to combine land and sea operations to seize
nearby Morris Island and from there to demolish Fort Sumter. At a position
secured by U.S. forces on Morris Island, Union troops under Major General
Quincy A. Gillmore began to place rifled cannon powerful enough to
breach Sumter's walls.
Meanwhile, Confederate laborers and slaves
inside Fort Sumter worked day and night with bales of cotton and sand to
buttress the walls facing the Federal guns. The fort’s garrison at this
time consisted of five companies of the First South Carolina Artillery
under Colonel Alfred Rhett. Federal troops fired a few experimental rounds
at the fort in late July and early August. The bombardment began in
earnest on August 17, with almost 1,000 shells being fired the first day
alone. Within a week, the fort’s brick walls were shattered and reduced to
rubble, but the garrison refused to surrender and continued to repair and
strengthen the defenses.
Confederate guns at Fort Moultrie and other
points now took up the defense of Sumter. Another Federal assault on
September 9th fell short; this time the attackers lost five boats and 124
men trying to take the fort from Major Stephen Elliott and fresh
Confederate troops under his command. Except for one 10-day period of
heavy firing, the bombardment continued intermittently until the end of
December. By then, Sumter's cannon were severely damaged and dismounted
and its defenders could respond with only “harmless musketry.”
In the summer of 1864, after Major General
John G. Foster replaced Gillmore as commander of land operations and the
Federals made one last attempt to take Fort Sumter. Foster, a member of
Anderson’s 1861 garrison, believed that “with proper arrangements” the
fort could be taken “at any time.” A sustained two-month Union
bombardment, however, failed to dislodge the 300-man Confederate garrison
and Foster was ordered to send most of his remaining ammunition and
several regiments of troops north to aid Grant’s overland campaign against
Desultory fire against the fort continued
through January, 1865. For 20 months Fort Sumter had withstood Federal
siege and bombardment, and it no longer resembled a fort at all. But,
defensively it was stronger than ever. Big Federal guns had hurled seven
million pounds of metal at it, yet the Confederate losses during this
period had been only 52 killed and 267 wounded.
The Confederacy never surrendered Fort Sumter,
but General William T. Sherman’s advance through South Carolina finally
forced the Confederates to evacuate Charleston on February 17, 1865 and
abandon Fort Sumter. The Federal government formally took possession of
Fort Sumter on February 22, 1865 with a flag raising ceremony.
Civil War ended,
presented a very desolate appearance. Only on the left flank, left face,
and right face could any of the original wall be seen. The right flank
wall and the gorge wall, which had taken the brunt of the Federal
bombardments, were now irregular mounds of earth, sand, and debris forming
steep slopes down to the water’s edge. The fort bore little resemblance
to the impressive work that had stood there when the war began in 1861.
During the decade following the war, the Army
attempted to put Fort Sumter back into shape as a military installation.
The horizontal irregularity of the damaged or destroyed walls was given
some semblance of uniformity by leveling jagged portions and rebuilding
others. A new sally port was cut through the left flank; storage magazines
and cisterns were constructed; and gun emplacements were located. Eleven
of the original first-tier gunrooms at the salient and along the right
face were reclaimed and armed with 100-pounder Parrott guns.
From 1876 to 1897 Fort Sumter was not
garrisoned and served mainly as a lighthouse station. During this period
maintenance of the area was so poor that the gun platforms were allowed to
rot, the guns to rust, and the area to erode. The impending
Spanish-American War, however, prompted renewed activity that resulted in
the construction of Battery Huger in 1898 and the installation of two
long-range 12-inch rifles the following year.
Fortunately, the war ended quickly and the
guns were never fired in anger. During World War I, a small garrison
manned the rifles at Battery Huger. For the next 20 years, however,
although maintained by the Army, the fort was not used as a military
establishment. But it did become a destination for tourists until World
War II brought about the fort’s reactivation. The Battery Huger rifles,
long since outmoded, were removed about 1943.
During late World War II, 90-mm antiaircraft
guns were installed along the fort’s right flank and manned by a company
of Coast Artillery. In 1948, transferred from the War Department to the
National Park Service, Fort Sumter became a national monument.
The Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center,
located at 340 Concord Street in Charleston, provides extensive exhibits
which tell the story of growing sectionalism and strife between the North
and the South, and how these problems ultimately erupted into Civil War at
Fort Sumter. The museum also tells the story of the construction of the
fort and island, the events leading to the April 12-13, 1861 battle, and
the subsequent bombardment and reduction of Fort Sumter by artillery later
in the war.
Fort Sumter National Monument is located in Charleston Harbor and can be reached only by boat. The fort is open 10
a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily between April 1 and Labor Day. At other times of
the year the hours vary.
Tour boats operated by a National Park Service
concessionaire leave from the Fort Sumter Tour Boat Facility at Liberty
Square in downtown Charleston. Liberty Square is located on the Cooper
River at the eastern end of Calhoun Street.
Fort Sumter of today bears only a
superficial resemblance to its original appearance, there is still much history to see
and experience. Battery Huger, built across the parade ground at the time
of the Spanish-American War, dominates the interior. A walking tour also
provides peeks at the sally port built in the 1870’s, the ruins of the
officers quarters, enlisted men’s barracks, gunrooms, and more.
of America, updated January, 2017.
Fort Sumter National
Fort Sumter National
1214 Middle Street
South Carolina 29482