Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bloodless 34 Hour Battle at Fort Sumter

South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. United States Major Robert Anderson and his 85 soldiers suddenly found themselves behind enemy lines in a foreign land. Fearing for the safety of his men he moved them Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter. Fort Moultrie was in a more vulnerable position at the mouth of Charleston Harbor while Fort Sumter was in the middle of the harbor.

By inauguration day March 4, 1861 Anderson reported that they only had a six week supply of food left. A previous attempt to send a to send supplies on January 9, 1861 by order of President James Buchanan on the merchant ship Star of the West was thwarted when the ship was fired upon. There was an initial warning shot across the bow before three shots hit the ship. The damage was not major but the ship's captain John McGowan deemed it too dangerous to continue and abandoned the mission.

The Confederates were also making it known that his force was not welcome. Several other Federal forts in seceded states had already been seized by respective state troops. All other federal federal properties had already been seized within South Carolina except Fort Sumner.

President Abraham Lincoln made another attempt to supply Fort Sumter. He notified South Carolina Governor Francis W Pickens on April 6 that supply ships were being sent. The notification was made directly to the Governor rather than the Confederate government because he did not recognize it. A fleet of ships under the command of Gustavus V. Fox. The ships included the USS Pawnee, the USS Powhatan, the USS Pocahontas, the cutter Harriet Lane, the steamer Baltic which was transporting 200 troops and three tug boats. The supply ship would carry the supplies to the fort while the warships remained outside the harbor. President Lincoln figured if his ship was fired upon first the Confederacy would be the aggressor and he could rally support from the other states.

In reaction the Confederates knew they had to act before the ships arrived and General P.G.T. Beauregard who was the Confederate commander at Charleston was ordered to demand evacuation of Fort Sumter or to force its evacuation. The request to surrender the Fort was made on April 11 but refused. The Harriet Lane arrived the evening of April 11.

The first mortar round was fired by the Confederacy on Fort Sumter at 4:30am on April 12. It was the start of 34 continuous hours of bombardment. Major Anderson held return fire because their supplies were low and at 7am allowed his second in command Captain Abner Doubleday the honor of firing the first shot in defense of the Fort. To conserve ammunition the return of fire was sporadic. Shells were bursting all around the Fort and some walls crashed down. But Anderson had chosen not to utilize some of the mounted guns so not to put his men in harm's way. 

Fox arrived on the April 12 on the Baltic but most of the rest of the fleet did not arrive until hours later. Landing craft were sent toward the Fort but had to turn back due to artillery fire. The next day the choppy waves in the sea made it too difficult to load the small boats for another attempt and Fox postponed with the hope Anderson could hold the Fort until dark on the 13th. 

At 1pm on April 13 Confederate Colonel Louis Wigfall, a former U.S Senator approached the Fort and asked Anderson if they were ready to evacuate. Nearly out of ammunition and food with his men hungry and exhausted Anderson agreed to a truce at 2pm. The Fort had endured over 3000 shells and Anderson had no casualties or wounded. The confederacy made the same claim. 

The terms of the surrender allowed Anderson to make a 100 gun salute to the U.S. flag before he and his men would evacuate. However they were only half way through before an accident caused an explosion killing one man immediately, mortally wounding another and left four others seriously wounded. Anderson and his men marched out of the Fort and boarded a Confederate steamer that took them out to the Baltic where Fox awaited. Anderson took the Fort Sumter flag with him on the trip north.

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