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Chapter 4:

  • General Beauregard makes no material changes in the distribution of forces in Charleston.
  • -- Brigadier-General Simons in command of Morris Island. -- Brigadier-General Dunovant of Sullivan's Island. -- tone of troops. -- the first shell fired from Fort Johnson. -- the only motive actuating the South. -- at 5 A. M., April 12th, every battery in full play. -- Sumter responds at 7 o'clock. -- how our guns were served. -- engagement continued until nightfall. -- firing kept up all night by our batteries. -- no response from Sumter. -- conduct of the federal fleet. -- Fort re-opens fire on the morning of the 13th. -- burning of barracks. -- Sumter still firing.-our troops cheer the garrison. -- General Beauregard offers assistance to Major Anderson, who declines. -- hoisting of the white flag. -- terms of surrender. -- accident during the salute of the flag. -- evacuation. -- our troops enter the Fort, April 14th. -- hoisting of Confederate and Palmetto flags.

On assuming command of Charleston, General Beauregard made no material change in the distribution and location of the forces he found there, and maintained the organization previously adopted by the South Carolina State authorities.

Brigadier-General James Simons was therefore left in command of Morris Island, all the batteries of which had been placed under the immediate charge of Lieutenant-Colonel W. G. De Saussure of the Second Artillery Battalion. He was assisted, at the Trapier Battery, by Captain King, of the Marion Artillery, and, later, by Captain Russell, of the Sumter Guards. Next to the Trapier Battery, and closer to Sumter, was the Stevens or Iron Battery, of which special mention has already been made. Then came the Cummings's Point battery, at a distance of only thirteen hundred yards from Fort Sumter. To it had been attached the rifled Blakely gun, just received from England. Both of these were held by the Palmetto Guard, and commanded by Major Stevens, of the Citadel Academy; Captain Cuthbert having special charge of the Iron Battery, and Captain Thomas of the Blakely gun. Besides the above-mentioned works, there could also be seen a long line of detached batteries, guarding the entrance of Ship Channel, and extending along the whole Morris Island beach. They [42] were manned by detachments taken from Gregg's regiment, and from both the German and the Columbia Artillery, under Colonel Lamar, Major Warley, and Captains Huger, Nohrden, and Green.

Sullivan's Island was under Brigadier-General R. G. M. Dunovant; and the command of all its batteries had been assigned to Lieutenant-Colonel Ripley, of the First Artillery Battalion. Captain Ransom Calhoun was stationed at Fort Moultrie, and Captain Hallonquist at the ‘Enfilade’ or masked battery. They were assisted by Lieutenants Wagner, Rhett, Yates, Valentine, Mitchel, and Parker. Captain Butler was on duty at the mortar battery, east of Fort Moultrie. Captain J. R. Hamilton commanded his own floating battery and the Dahlgren gun. Captain Martin was at the Mount Pleasant mortars; Captain George S. Thomas at Fort Johnson; and Castle Pinckney had been placed under the charge of an officer whose name we have not been able to procure.

A few days previous to the bombardment, the general commanding had announced, in general orders, the names of the officers composing his staff. They were Major D. R. Jones, Assistant-Adjutant-General, Captain S. D. Lee, Captain S. Ferguson, Lieutenant Sydney Legare—of the Regular staff; Messrs. John L. Manning, James Chestnut, Jr., William Porcher Miles, A. J. Gonzales, and A. R. Chisolm, and Colonels L. T. Wigfall, of Texas, and Roger A. Pryor, of Virginia—of the Volunteer staff.

Though the opening of hostilities had, for the last two days, been almost hourly expected by officers and men of the various commands, and by the whole population of the city of Charleston, still, so good was the tone of the troops, so confident of the result were the non-combatants, that when the last message of the commanding general had been delivered, notifying Major Anderson that fire would open on him in an hour's time, quiet, order, and discipline reigned throughout the city and harbor.

The peaceful stillness of the night was suddenly broken just before dawn. From Fort Johnson's mortar battery, at 4.30 A. M., April 12th, 1861, issued the first-and, as many thought, the toolong-deferred-signal shell of the war. It was fired, not by Mr. Edmund Ruffin, of Virginia, as has been erroneously believed, but by Captain George S. James, of South Carolina, to whom Lieutenant Stephen D. Lee issued the order. It sped aloft, describing its peculiar arc of fire, and, bursting over Fort Sumter, fell, with crashing noise, in the very centre of the parade. [43]

Thus was ‘Reveille’ sounded in Charleston and its harbor on this eventful morning. In an instant all was bustle and activity. Not an absentee was reported at roll-call. The citizens poured down to the battery and the wharves, and women and children crowded each window of the houses overlooking the sea-rapt spectators of the scene. At ten minutes before five o'clock, all the batteries and mortars which encircled the grim fortress were in full play against it.

Round after round had already been fired; and yet, for nearly two hours, not a shot in response had come from Fort Sumter Had Major Anderson been taken by surprise? Or was it that, certain of his ability to pass unscathed through the onslaught thus made upon him, it mattered not how soon or how late he committed his flag in the war ‘in which his heart was not’? At last, however, near seven o'clock, the United States flag having previously been raised, the sound of a gun, not ours, was distinctly heard. Sumter had taken up the gage of battle, and Cummings's Point had first attracted its attention. It was almost a relief to our troops — for gallantry ever admires gallantry, and a worthy foe disdains one who makes no resistance.

The action was now general, and was so maintained throughout the day, with vigor on both sides. Our guns were served with admirable spirit, and the accuracy of our range was made evident by the clouds of dust that flew as our balls struck the fort, and by the indentations hollowed in its walls. The precision with which solid shot and shells were thrown from our batteries, mainly Fort Moultrie, was such that the enemy was soon compelled to abandon the use of his barbette guns, several of which had been dismounted in the early part of the bombardment.

The iron-clad battery at Cummings's Point, Fort; Moultrie proper, and that end of Sullivan's Island where the floating battery, the Dahlgren gun, and the enfilade or masked battery had been placed, were the points which attracted Major Anderson's heaviest firing. No better proof could he have given us of the effects of our fire on his fort. An occasional shot only was aimed at Fort Johnson, as if to remind the battery there that the explosion of its first shell was not yet forgiven. Captain Butler's mortar battery, east of Moultrie, had also a share of the enemy's wrath.

The engagement was continued with unceasing vigor until nightfall, although Sumter's fire had evidently slackened before that [44] time, and was then confined to its casemated guns. General Doubleday, U. S. A., in his ‘Reminiscences,’ p. 154, speaking of the first day's bombardment, says: ‘They had a great advantage over us, as their fire was concentrated on the fort, which was in the centre of the circle, while ours was diffused over the circumference. Their missiles were exceedingly destructive to the upper exposed portion of the work, but no essential injury was done to the lower casemates which sheltered us.’

Noted among our mortar batteries—all so well served—was the Trapier Battery, whose skilful firing had become the subject of much admiration among officers and men. Almost every shell it threw, from the first to the last, reached its aim with relentless effect. The Stevens Iron Battery, the destruction of which the guns of Sumter sought to accomplish, paid but little attention to the fierce opening attack made upon it, and received no serious impression on its iron-coated surface; while the south and southwest faces of Sumter bore visible signs of its own effectiveness. The floating battery was not far behind in destructive usefulness. It proved of equal invulnerability, and left telling marks of its battering powers.

During the whole night which followed, in spite of rain and darkness, our batteries continued playing upon the fort with unvarying effect, but the shots were fired at longer intervals, in obedience to orders. No response was made. General Doubleday, in his work already quoted, admits the fact. He says: ‘We did not return the fire, having no ammunition to waste.’ And General Crawford, in his ‘First Shot against the Flag,’ 1 makes the following statement: ‘During the night of the 12th, the accurate range of the mortars lodged a shell in the parade, or about the work, at intervals of fifteen minutes. It was estimated that over twenty-five hundred shot and shell struck the fort during the first twenty-four hours.’

It was expected that the Federal fleet, alluded to by Mr. Lincoln's special messenger to Governor Pickens and General Beauregard, would arrive that night, and might attempt to throw troops, ammunition, and supplies into Fort Sumter. To guard against such an untoward event, the keenest watchfulness was observed at our beach batteries and by the forces on Morris and Sullivan's [45] islands. The details of men at the Drummond lights were also on the alert, and ready at a moment's notice to illuminate the channels; while Captain Hartstein, with his cruising vessels, actively patrolled the outer harbor. The fleet arrived on the morning of the 13th, an hour or two after the action had been renewed, and remained spectators off the bar.

Very early on that morning all our batteries re-opened on the enemy, who responded with vigor for a while, concentrating his fire almost exclusively on Fort Moultrie. The presence of the fleet outside the bar, now visible to all, no doubt inspired both officers and men of the garrison with additional courage and a renewed spirit of endurance.

General Crawford, in his above-quoted essay, says: ‘Major Anderson was directed, if possible, to hold out until the 12th of April, when the expedition would go forward, and, finding his “flag flying,” an effort would be made to provision him, and to reinforce him, if resisted.’ 2

Major Anderson, with his officers and men, followed the instructions received. They did hold out; their flag was ‘flying’ on the 12th of April, and again on the 13th; and they were fighting in all earnest. The fleet outside thought proper, nevertheless, to abstain from all participation in the engagement.

‘By morning,’ says General Crawford, ‘the fleet sent to our assistance appeared off the bar, but did not enter.’ 3 And General Doubleday adds, in his characteristic manner: ‘After the event much obloquy was thrown upon the navy, because it did not come in and engage the numerous batteries and forts, and open for itself a way to Charleston; but this course would probably have resulted in the sinking of every vessel.’ 4

At about 8 o'clock A. M., in the thickest of the bombardment, a thin smoke was observable, curling up from Fort Sumter. It grew denser and denser as it steadily rose in the air; and it soon became apparent that the barracks of the fort had been set on fire by forty rounds of red-hot shot, thrown from an 8-inch Columbiad at Fort Moultrie, by a detachment of Company B, under Lieutenant Alfred Rhett. This sight increased the vigor of our attack; both officers and men feeling now that the garrison would [46] soon be brought to terms. In spite, however, of this new and terrible element against which it had to contend, the fort still responded to the fire of our batteries, though at long and irregular intervals only.

Appreciating the critical position of the enemy, and carried away by their own enthusiasm, our troops, mounting the parapets in their front, cheered Major Anderson at each successive discharge that came from the fort, deriding and hooting, the while, what to them seemed the timorous inaction of the fleet outside the bar.

Matters had evidently reached a crisis for the men within the walls of Sumter. Fearing that some terrible calamity might befall them, and being informed that the United States flag no longer floated over the fort, General Beauregard immediately despatched three of his aids with offers of assistance to Major Anderson, who thanked him for his courtesy, but declined to accept aid. Before General Beauregard's aids could get to the fort, the United States flag, which had not been hauled down, as we supposed, but had fallen from the effects of a shot, was hoisted anew. It did not fly long, however, but was soon lowered, and a white flag substituted for it. The contest was over. Major Anderson had acknowledged his defeat.

Now occurred an incident which was in no way surprising, being the natural result of inexperience in military matters and a lack of discipline, among some of the officers commanding the various points around the harbor. Seeing the fall of the flag, and the fort in flames, Brigadier-general Simons, actuated by the best of motives, but without authority from the commanding general, allowed Colonel Wigfall to cross from Cummings's Point to Sumter in a row-boat, to ascertain whether the absence of the flag over the fort indicated a desire to surrender. The proximity of Morris Island to Sumter enabled him to reach the fort before the aids, who had been sent directly from general headquarters, could do so.

A short interview took place between Colonel Wigfall and Major Anderson, during which a demand of surrender was made by the former and acceded to by the latter, but upon terms not clearly defined between them.

We deem it best to transcribe the very words made use of by General Beauregard, in his ‘Final Report of Operations against Sumter,’ as forwarded April 27th, 1861, to the Hon. L. P. Walker, Secretary of War at Montgomery, Alabama: [47]

Major Anderson understood him [Colonel Wigfall] as offering the same conditions on the part of General Beauregard as had been tendered him on the 11th instant,5 while Colonel Wigfall's impression was that Major Anderson unconditionally surrendered, trusting to the generosity of General Beauregard to offer such terms as would be honorable and acceptable to both parties. Meanwhile, before these circumstances had been reported to me, and, in fact, soon after the aids I had despatched with the offer of assistance had set out on their mission, hearing that a white flag was flying over the fort, I sent Major Jones, chief of my staff, and some other aids, with substantially the same proposition I had made to Major Anderson on the 11th instant, excepting the privilege of saluting his flag. Major Anderson replied that “it would be exceedingly gratifying to him, as well as to his command, to be permitted to salute their flag, having so gallantly defended the fort under such trying circumstances, and hoped that General Beauregard would not refuse it, as such a privilege was not unusual.” He furthermore said “he would not urge the point, but would prefer to refer the matter again to General Beauregard.”

* * * * * * * *

I very cheerfully agreed to allow the salute as an honorable testimony of the gallantry and fortitude with which Major Anderson and his command had defended their post, and I informed Major Anderson of my decision about half-past 7 o'clock, P. M., through Major Jones, my chief of staff.

A melancholy occurrence took place during the salute of the United States flag—the death of one of the garrison, who had his right arm blown off and was almost instantaneously killed, by the premature discharge of the piece he was loading. A spark, also, it was alleged, having ‘dropped on a pile of cartridges below, exploded them all,’6 and severely wounded five other men.

While final arrangements were being made for the withdrawal of the garrison, and before it was effected, the general commanding, who had twice attempted, but in vain, to assist Major Anderson in quenching the fire in the fort, ordered a company of Regulars with two fire-engines from Sullivan's Island, to repair to Fort Sumter, to put out the conflagration which, not entirely subdued, had broken out afresh. This was a harder task than was at first supposed. The two engines proved insufficient, and others had to be brought from Charleston, with additional firemen. It was only towards dawn that the fire was at last brought under control, and the powder-magazine secured from explosion.

Owing to unavoidable delays resulting from the state of confusion [48] existing in the fort, its formal transfer to our troops did not take place until four o'clock in the afternoon of Sunday, the 14th of April. At that hour Major Anderson and his command marched out of the work, and we entered it, taking final possession. Then it was, that, amid deafening cheers and with an enthusiastic salute from the guns of all the batteries around the harbor, the Confederate and the Palmetto flags were hoisted side by side, on the damaged ramparts of the fort. To Captain Hallonquist, of the 1st Artillery Regulars, with his worthy Lieutenants Rhett, Mitchel, and Blake, and to the gallant Captain Cuthbert, with his Lieutenants, Brownfield, Holmes, and Buist, was confided the keeping of Fort Sumter, under Lieutenant-Colonel Ripley as commander, and the Regulars remained there.

General Beauregard was not present at this imposing ceremony. Prompted by the feeling of delicacy which so distinguishes all his social and official relations, he abstained from meeting Major Anderson, his former friend and professor, now his defeated foe, lest his presence, at such a juncture, might add to the distress and natural mortification of a gallant officer.

Not until the steamer Isabel, which was placed at the disposal of Major Anderson, had conveyed him and his command to the Federal fleet, riding at anchor outside the bar, did General Beauregard enter the fort, which, in obedience to orders from his government, he had successfully reduced.

1 ‘Annals of the War,’ p. 328.

2 ‘Annals of the War,’ p. 325.

3 Ibid. p. 329.

4 General Doubleday's ‘Reminiscences,’ p. 150.

5 See Chapter III., pp. 40, 41; also Report of General Beauregard, in Appendix to this chapter.

6 Gen. Doubleday's ‘Reminiscenses,’ p. 171.

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