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The First shot against the flag.

Major General S. Wylie Crawford.
The passage of the Ordinance of Secession of the State of South Carolina found the General Government in possession of certain pieces of property ceded to the United States, in accordance with law, and mainly used for military purposes. An arsenal had been built within the corporate limits of the city of Charleston; it was a depot of supplies, and contained valuable stores. Within the same city were the custom-house and post-office. Of the three forts in the harbor, Fort Moultrie alone was garrisoned, and this by two companies of artillery, numbering about eighty men. Castle Pinckney, an old and crumbling work, close to the city, was the station of an ordnance sergeant only, whose principal duty consisted in the care of an harbor light that shone nightly from its parapet. Four miles down the bay, and commanding the channel entrance, stood Fort Sumter, in process of construction, and wholly defenseless. A large number of workmen, principally inhabitants of Charleston, were employed on its completion, which was conducted by the Engineer Department, under authority of an act of Congress. The importance of its position was early recognized by all, and the determination to possess it was, beyond all other considerations, the direct cause of hostilities. It was claimed that the State could not be said to have resumed her sovereignty until she exercised undisputed control over all the dependencies of her territory.

This question entered into every speech that was made, to keep up the spirit that was carrying the State onward, and in every [320] document drawn up defining her position and marking her course. It was presented in official argument in every demand for the surrender of Fort Sumter, and in its solution the State was brought face to face with the General Government, and at a point from which neither felt that it could retire. In order to open negotiations, it was desired by the authorities of South Carolina that the existing status in the harbor should not be disturbed, and, early in November, the Congressional delegation of South Carolina waited upon the President to secure his consent to such an arrangement. It was asserted by them that such consent was obtained, and, although the existence of any obligation limiting his freedom of action was distinctly denied by Mr. Buchanan, in his letter to the commissioners, it was, nevertheless, relied upon by the authorities of South Carolina as affording time and opportunity for the discussion, and, perhaps, peaceable solution of the difficulties. Far ahead of the people, the leaders of the movement saw the necessity for vigorous action. They knew that, to maintain the Union, there would be war; but they, nevertheless, held out to the people that there would be no collision; and, in this, they were partially justified by the reiterated assertions of the partisan press in the North, and the opinions of men high in public position. Immediately upon the passage of the Ordinance of Secession by the State of South Carolina, a commission, consisting of three gentlemen of character, standing, and well-known public service-Messrs. Adams, Barnwell, and Orr--were sent to Washington to open communications with the government for a settlement of the important questions which immediately arose upon the assumption, by the State, of her new position. They were in actual communication with the President, when an event occurred which, while it awoke the country to a realization of the actual condition of things in the State of South Carolina, served equally to remove every scruple in the minds of doubting men, and to bind the whole State together firmly in a determined purpose of resistance.

Major Anderson, the commandant of the garrison of Fort Moultrie, fearing that he would be attacked, on the night of the 26th of December, after partially dismantling the fort, moved his entire command to Fort Sumter. Without awaiting explanation or the action of their commissioners in Washington, the authorities of the State proceeded to seize and occupy the forts in the harbor and the government property in the State. Fort Moultrie was garrisoned and the flag of South Carolina raised over it. The seizure of Castle Pinckney followed; the arsenal was seized and its contents [321] appropriated. The engineers' office in Charleston was occupied and its valuable maps and records appropriated, and among them the entire details of the construction of Fort Sumter. The chief clerk was made an officer in the service of the State, and a messenger was sent to Major Anderson, by the Governor of the State, requiring him to return to Fort Moultrie. It was declined, and both sides commenced preparations for hostilities, that seemed now to be unavoidable. Whatever hopes might have been entertained by the authorities of a peaceful solution of the difficulties, were rudely shaken, if not abandoned, when it was known that the General Government acquiesced in the movement of Major Anderson, and refused to remand him to Fort Moultrie. At first the President was inclined to order Anderson to return to Fort Moultrie, and he authorized the transmission of a telegram to South Carolina that Anderson's movement was not only without, but against his orders; but he would go no further. The action of South Carolina in seizing the government property, and that specific instructions had been given by his Secretary of War authorizing just such a movement, restrained the President and rendered the restoration of the former status impossible. In vain was a “breach of faith” alleged, and the “personal honor” of the President said to be involved. In vain the commission in Washington urged their understanding of the pledge made to them. The President stood firm. “Should I return Major Anderson to Fort Moultrie,” said he, “I might go back to Wheatland by the light of my burning effigies.”

It is not the purpose of this paper to inquire how far the President had pledged himself to maintain the status in Charleston harbor. His great desire, as well as his intention, was, no doubt, to preserve that status until the close of his administration. This had become impossible. The South Carolina commissioners could accept nothing less, and they left Washington, after having transmitted to the President a communication, so offensive in its tone, and so personal in its character, that he declined to receive it. This decision was reached in a Cabinet council. When it was announced, the President turned to the Secretary of War, and said: “Reinforcements must now be sent.” The Secretary of War, Mr. Floyd, whose resignation had been invited by the President, was virtually out of the government. Although he had given the very instructions which justified the movement of Major Anderson, he made the refusal of the President to restore the status in Charleston harbor the pretext for his action, and vacated his office. The movement of Major Anderson, however justified in a military point of view, led directly to such measures on [322] the part of the State authorities and of its people as to greatly increase the probabilities of a collision. But while the friends of peace did not cease their exertions, work on the batteries went steadily on in the harbor of Charleston. The policy of the President had changed. Major Anderson was not only to be maintained in his position; he was to be supplied, and reinforced, if possible. A large transport, the Star of the West, left New York on the 5th of January, and arrived off Charleston on the 9th. She was unarmed and without convoy, and as she attempted to enter the harbor she was fired upon from a hastily constructed battery near the entrance. She had passed this fire when Fort Moultrie opened upon her at long range, when, lowering her flag, she proceeded northward. From the fact that there were no guns of sufficient calibre in position at that time, as well as the absence of any instructions to meet such a contingency, Fort Sumter was silent. The gauntlet was thus distinctly thrown down; South Carolina boldly avowed the hostile step she had taken and asserted her determination to defend it. And yet the efforts of those who earnestly desired peace did not slacken.

Agents from the fort, and from the State, were sent to Washington to represent to the government the exact condition of things, and to ask its interference. Increased activity was immediately visible in the harbor of Charleston; skilful engineers selected the most eligible points for batteries, and field-works were rapidly erected. Emboldened by the result of the firing on the Star of the West, a formal demand for the immediate surrender of Fort Sumter was made by the Governor of South Carolina. On the 20th of January, a boat, bearing a white flag — the only means of communication between the fort and the State-appeared off Sumter. She brought two officials, “the Secretary of State and the Secretary of War of South Carolina,” with a message from the Governor containing a demand for the immediate delivery of the work to the authorities of the State. The interview was characterized by every courtesy, and the demand sustained by earnest verbal representations. It was as firmly declined, and the matter referred to Washington. Long and elaborate discussions between the Secretary of War, Mr. Holt, and the envoy of the Governor, Colonel Hayne, followed. Lieutenant Hall, on behalf of Major Anderson, represented him as secure in his position. The envoy bore a demand for the surrender of the fort. Before this could be presented, nine of the Senators from the cotton States induced Colonel Hayne to postpone the delivery of the communication until they could ascertain whether the President would refrain from reinforcing the fort, provided the [323] Governor of South Carolina would also refrain from an attack upon it; but upon this being transmitted to the President, he at once authorized his secretary to state that Major Anderson had made no request for reinforcements, but should his safety require them, every effort would be made to supply them. On the 30th, Colonel Hayne presented his demand; but, as in the case of the commissioners originally sent by the State, the negotiations were not satisfactory, and an able and conclusive reply from the Secretary of War, Mr. Holt, was transmitted to the envoy of the Governor, which placed the whole subject beyond discussion.

It was now clear that the government at Washington intended to relieve Fort Sumter at its option. For the State, but one course, consistent with the attitude assumed by her, was to be pursued, and that was to close the harbor to all relief to the fort. Increased activity prevailed everywhere, and the scene that was daily presented from the parapet of Fort Sumter was well calculated to discourage all hope of peace. Troops and munitions of war moved to various points, and the garrison earnestly watched the daily progress of works intended for their destruction. The buoys had been taken up; the lights were extinguished, and pilots forbidden to bring ships bearing the United States flag into the harbor. Within Fort Sumter, as far as their limited means would allow, a similar activity was manifested by the garrison. Guns of heavy calibre were raised to the parapet, and placed in position; others were mounted in the casements below, and every resource was made use of to strengthen and arm the work, and to make effective the scanty material in their possession. Meantime, a provisional government had been organized by the States which had passed the Ordinances of Secession. Jurisdiction over the public property in the harbor of Charleston was assumed by it, and Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard, an officer of engineers, who had resigned his commission in the Army of the United States, was commissioned by the Confederate Government, and sent to Charleston to take command of the military operations. Daily reports were sent to Washington, by Major Anderson, of the condition of Fort Sumter and its garrison, and the government was fully informed of their pressing wants. On the 1st of February, 1861, in anticipation of the future, the women and children belonging to the garrison were sent northward. And thus, openly, without disguise of any sort, warlike preparations went on, from day to day, until the fort was surrounded by batteries, all bearing upon it and upon the channel by which any relief could reach it, and ready to open at any moment. [324]

The month of March had come, and with it the close of the administration of President Buchanan. Congress had adjourned without an effort to avert the dangers threatening the nation. Whatever may be thought of the vacillating policy of President Buchanan, it is nevertheless true that he never at any time contemplated the surrender of the forts in Charleston harbor, however anxious he was to avoid a collision that would alarm the Border States, and precipitate war. His administration closed with the issues still unsettled, and the country steadily drifting to war. Up to the last moment the Confederate authorities had hoped that Sumter would be voluntarily evacuated, and they had at one time reason for the belief. An accredited agent from President Lincoln had visited the fort for the purpose of arranging for the removal of the garrison. An intermediary between the Secretary of State and the Confederate authorities, Associate Justice John A. Campbell, of the Supreme Court of the United States, had telegraphed on the 15th of March that he felt perfect confidence in the belief that Fort Sumter would be evacuated in five days that no measure changing the existing status was contemplated; that the demand for the surrender should not be pressed; and again on the 21st and 22d of March he telegraphed that his “confidence” in the decision was unabated. In the meantime, however, other agencies were at work, of which he was probably ignorant, and which largely contributed to an immediate precipitation of hostilities. Soon after the occupancy of Fort Sumter, and up to the earlier days of President Lincoln's administration, Major Anderson had reported to his government that he was not in need of reinforcements, that he was secure in his position, that he could not be relieved without a struggle, and, in a later report, that in his opinion twenty thousand men would be necessary to take the batteries, and relieve him But as time passed, while reporting daily to his government, he brought finally the facts of his position so plainly to their notice, in a communication of the 1st of April, that action upon their part was imperative. He reported that his provisions were nearly exhausted, that his command would be without food in a few days, and that his condition was such that some measures for his relief must be taken. His communication engaged the immediate attention of the President and his Cabinet.

Yielding to the argument of a “military necessity,” the written opinions of every member of the Cabinet, except the Postmaster General, Mr. Montgomery Blair, was in favor of the withdrawal of the garrison from the harbor of Charleston, when, suddenly, the [325] whole purpose was changed, and an expedition to reinforce the fort was ordered. A dispatch of the following purport was forwarded to Major Anderson: he was told that his report had caused great anxiety to the President. It was hoped from his previous communication, and the report of the special messenger, Captain Fox, that he could hold out until the 15th of April, when an expedition was to have gone to his relief. He was directed, if possible, to hold out until the 12th of April, when the expedition would go forward, and, finding his “flag still flying,” an effort would be made to provision him, and to reinforce him if resisted. As soon as this dispatch was sent to Major Anderson, it was followed by a messenger, Mr. Chew, the chief clerk of the State Department, to the authorities of South Carolina, informing them that an attempt to provision and relieve the fort would now be made. The messenger accomplished his mission, and barely escaped from the city of Charleston without molestation. Upon receipt of the message from the State Department, not a moment was lost by the officer in command of the Confederate forces in the harbor of Charleston. A telegram was at once sent to the Confederate Government, at Montgomery, with the information brought by the messenger, and instructions asked for. The reply betrayed no appreciation of the long and terrible war it inaugurated: “If you have no doubt of the authorized character of the agent,” was the reply, “you will at once demand the evacuation of the fort, and, if this is refused, proceed in such manner as you may determine to reduce it.”

On the morning of the 11th of April, the dawn of day disclosed an activity at once unusual and significant. over the entire harbor. The waters were covered with vessels hastily putting to sea. An iron-clad floating-battery of four guns, the construction of which in Charleston had been watched by the garrison for months, was towed down the bay to a point at the western end of Sullivan's Island, where its guns bore directly upon Fort Sumter. A wooden dwelling on the beach, near the end of the island, was pulled down and unmasked a land work, mounting four guns, hitherto unknown to the garrison. Its fire would enfilade the most important battery of Fort Sumter, which was upon the parapet of the right flank of the work, and whose guns were mainly relied upon to control the fire from the heavy guns on Cumming's Point, that would take the fort in reverse. Bodies of troops were landed, and the batteries on shore fully manned, and every preparation completed, when, at four o'clock P. M., a boat under a white flag approached the fort. Two officials, aides-de-camp of the general commanding the Confederate forces in [326] the harbor, Colonel Chesnut and Captain S. D. Lee, were admitted to the guard-room just inside the main entrance to the work. They bore a communication from the military commandant at Charleston, and to the following effect: It stated that the Government of the Confederate States had hitherto forborne from any hostile demonstration against Fort Sumter, in the hope that the General Government would voluntarily evacuate it in order to avert war, and that there was reason to believe that such would have been the course pursued, but that the Confederate Government could no longer delay “assuming actual possession” of a fortification so important to it. The evacuation of Fort Sumter was demanded in the name of the Government of the Confederate States. All proper facilities were tendered to Major Anderson for the removal of himself and his command. He was to take with him his company and private property, and to salute his flag upon taking it down.

Calling the officers of the garrison into his private room, he laid the communication before them, and then, for the first time, made known to them the confidential dispatch from the government, received a few days previously, in which their determination to relieve the fort was expressed, and instructions in regard to it conveyed. In this communication authority was given him to capitulate when the necessity of the case required it. The conference of the officers was long and earnest. There was no thought for a moment of acceding to the demand for the evacuation of the fort, and the following reply was returned by Major Anderson: “That the demand for the evacuation of the fort was one with which he regretted that his sense of honor and his obligations to his government prevented his compliance.” On receiving this communication the Confederate officers left the fort. The entire interview was characterized by every courtesy, though more distant and formal than in previous conferences. They were followed to the main gate of the work by Major Anderson, and the writer of this article. As they were about to embark, Major Anderson remarked in their hearing that he would be starved out any way in a few days, if their guns did not batter him to pieces, and this was repeated more specifically to the Confederate officers in reply to their inquiries on the subject. As the boat returned, the batteries around were covered with spectators all anxiously watching the result of the mission.

Renewed activity prevailed. Inside the fort powder was taken from the magazines, which were now closed, ammunition was served to the batteries and the details of the men made to serve them. Careful instructions were given to use the utmost economy in regard [327] to what food was left, and the officers in command of the batteries were directed not to unnecessarily expose their men. Outside the fort, steamers, large and small, were plying in every direction. The buoy which marked the turn in the harbor from the main channel, and, which alone had been suffered to remain, was taken up at about five o'clock in the afternoon. Its place was supplied by three hulks loaded with combustible material, the evident object of which was to light the channel should the fleet, whose arrival was now hourly anticipated, attempt to enter by night. They were anchored directly under the guns of Fort Moultrie. In this state of preparation the night of the 11th of April closed upon the harbor. Toward midnight the officers of the garrison were aroused by the report of the officer of the day, that a boat under a white flag had arrived, and that two messengers from the Confederate authorities had again come to the work. It was now one and a half o'clock in the morning, when the aides of the military commandant of the Confederate forces, accompanied by Colonel Chisholm and Mr. Roger A. Pryor, of Virginia, entered the work. They bore a letter from Brigadier General Beaureguard, commanding Provisional Army Confederate States of America, to Major Anderson, to the effect, that in consequence of the verbal observation made to his aides in relation to the condition of his supplies, and that he would soon be starved out, he had communicated the same to his government. The proposition was then made to him, that if he would state the time at which he would evacuate the fort, and that meanwhile he would agree not to use his guns against the Confederate forces unless theirs should be employed against Fort Sumter, General Beaureguard would abstain from opening fire upon him, and that his aides were authorized to enter into such an arrangement.

Again the officers of the garrison were assembled in consultation, and a long deliberation followed. The question which engaged the most serious consideration was in regard to the provisions in the fort, and how far the men, who were now without sufficient or proper food, could be relied upon for resistance. The bread supplies of the garrison were exhausted; nothing remained but short rations of pork and coffee. Still it was earnestly desired that the utmost expectations of the government should be realized, and it was determined to hold out to the period desired by them, the 15th instant. It was agreed that the terms proposed, which would tie the hands of the garrison and neutralize its fire, could not be acceded to, and a reply to the following effect was made by Major Anderson: “That if provided with proper means he would evacuate the fort at noon on the [328] 15th instant, provided he should not receive controlling instructions or additional supplies from his government; that he would not open the fire of his batteries unless compelled to do so by some hostile act or demonstration by the Confederate forces against his fort or the flag it bore.” No sooner had Colonel Chesnut, the officer to whom it was handed, read the reply of Major Anderson than he pronounced it unsatisfactory, and made the following reply in writing:

Fort Sumter, S. C., April 12, 1861-3.20 A. M.
Sir: By authority of Brigadier General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries upon Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.

We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servants,

James Chesnut, Jr., Aide-de-camp. Stephen D. Lee, Captain C. S. and A. D. C. To Major Robert Anderson, U. S. A., commanding Fort Sumter.

Positive instructions from the Confederate Government had been sent to their agent in Charleston harbor that if this last proposition to Major Anderson was refused by him, he should reduce the fort as his judgment decided to be most practicable. But little conversation followed the delivery, to the aides, of the reply of Major Anderson. An inquiry as to the exact time in the morning was made, which was found to be 3.30 A. M.

The Confederate officers left the fort without any formal leave-taking, and their boat soon disappeared, in the darkness. Upon their arrival in Charleston, and the delivery of Major Anderson's response, a telegram was sent to Montgomery, informing the authorities that Major Anderson “would not consent.” Inside the work, the men were informed of what had happened, and directed to await the summons to the guns. No fire was to be returned until daylight. The night was calm and clear, and the sea was still. Fires were lighted in all the Confederate works, when, at 4.30 A. M., the silence was broken by the discharge of a mortar from a battery near Fort Johnson, within easy range of the work; a shell rose high in the air, and burst directly over Fort Sumter; its echo died away, and all was still again; when, suddenly, fire was opened from every battery of the enemy. At daylight, all the guns of Fort Sumter opened, and the fire steadily continued all day. 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 [329] fort during the first twenty-four hours. By morning, the fleet sent to our assistance appeared off the bar, but did not enter. At 8.30 on the 13th, the quarters took fire, from the effect of hot shot, and could not be extinguished, and soon the entire barracks were in a blaze. The barrels containing powder were thrown into the sea. At 1.20 on the 13th, the flagstaff, having been struck four times, was shot away, and the flag replaced upon the parapet. The firing upon the work was severe and continued; the return from the fort slow and feeble, sounding like signals of distress to the nation, and, finally, ceased altogether. Seeing the condition of things, a Colonel Wigfall pushed out in an open boat from Cumming's Point-unauthorized it is true-and, learning from Major Anderson that he would evacuate the fort upon the terms originally proposed to him, returned and communicated with General Beauregard, who immediately sent a commission authorized to arrange terms for the evacuation, which were soon agreed upon. The garrison was transferred to the large transport lying off the bar, and was soon on its way to the North. Many an eye turned toward the disappearing fort, and as it sunk at last upon the horizon the smoke-cloud still hung heavily over its parapet.

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