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Chapter 5: Sumter.

Governor Pickens, of South Carolina, began about the 1st of January to build batteries to isolate and reduce Fort Sumter; and the newly made General Beauregard was on the 1st of March sent by the rebel government to Charleston to assume direction of military affairs and to complete the preparations for its capture. The Governor had been exceedingly anxious that the capture should be attempted before the expiration of Mr. Buchanan's presidential termthat is, between the 12th of February and the 4th of March. “Mr. Buchanan cannot resist,” wrote the Governor to Jefferson Davis, “because he has not the power. Mr. Lincoln may not attack, because the cause of quarrel will have been, or may be considered by him, as past.” But the rebel President doubtless thought it unwise to risk offending and alienating his party friends at the North by placing the responsibility of such an affront and loss upon their administration. Even when General-Beauregard came, the Governor was admonished that no attack must be attempted without mature preparation, as a failure would seriously demoralize and perhaps prematurely wreck the rebellion.

Beauregard found, as he reports, that Sumter was naturally “a perfect Gibraltar,” and that only the weakness of the garrison rendered its capture reasonably feasible. He [57] therefore set himself to work, first of all, to devise obstructions and defences against expected reinforcements, and secondly, to build batteries to breach the walls. He was himself a skilful engineer; many of the works were already well advanced; there was an ample supply of guns and mortars; he had but to make requisitions to obtain unlimited slave labor to do the drudgery of ditching and raising embankments; his improvised volunteer army could give all their time to drill and artillery practice; and, most favorable of all, this work went on in certain immunity from any molestation except through the chance of a relieving expedition to come by sea. The commander was ambitious, the men were enthusiastic, and the Governor untiring in his revolutionary ardor and impatience. It is, therefore, little wonder that, after a month of laborious effort and co-operation, Beauregard telegraphed (April 1st) to Montgomery: “Batteries ready to open Wednesday or Thursday. What instructions?”

Up to this time the rebel government indulged the pleasing hope that Lincoln would give up the for and save them the dreaded ordeal of war. Justice Campbell had ingeniously misreported the sense and purport of Seward's conversations; and the commissioners and their Washington cronies, with equally blind zeal, sent rosy despatches on the strength of exaggerated street-rumors. So confident were they of such a result that Governor Pickens, Secretary Walker, and General Beauregard found some difficulty in settling among themselves the exact conditions upon which they would permit Anderson and his garrison to depart when the order to evacuate Sumter should be sent him.

The illusion began to fade away on the 1st of April, when Commissioner Crawford telegraphed to Governor Pickens: “I am authorized to say this Government will not undertake to supply Sumter without notice to you.” This language [58] did not resemble the order for evacuation they had been impatiently expecting, and the rebel authorities at once determined to make Anderson feel the pressure of the siege. Next day, orders were issued to stop all courtesies to the garrison; to prohibit all supplies from the city; to permit no one to depart from the fort, and to establish the rigid surveillance of hostile lines.

Anderson himself, relying upon rebel rumors and Crawford's baseless despatches, appears to have made up his mind that the garrison would be withdrawn; and he expresses himself as being “greatly surprised” when on April 7th he received a confidential letter, drafted by Lincoln, but copied and signed by Cameron, under date of April 4th, informing him that a relieving expedition would be sent; requesting him to hold out, if possible, till its arrival; stating also, however, that the President desired to subject him and his command to no unusual danger or hardship beyond those common in military life, and therefore authorizing him to capitulate when in his judgment it might become necessary. One of the few faults chargeable to Anderson is that to this thoughtful and considerate instruction, framed by Lincoln himself (but which he supposed to be the language of Cameron), he replied in a petulant and ill-natured spirit, writing: “I frankly say that my heart is not in the war which I see is to be thus commenced.” His subsequent gallantry, and steadfast loyalty, however, justify his countrymen in a liberal forgiveness of the passing indiscretion. It turned out curiously enough that Anderson's letter was, through a dishonorable trick of the rebels, captured by them and sent to Montgomery, where during the whole war it remained buried in the Confederate archives, and hence the offensive sentence never came to the knowledge of the kind-hearted and generous Lincoln. [59]

Following the notice received through Crawford, the rebels were for about a week in a tantalizing fever of suspense and uncertainty. The most contradictory telegrams came from their commissioners and secret advisers in Washington; the most perplexing and misleading rumors reached them from New York. The war powers of the Union were clearly enough astir; troops were moving and ships were loading; but for what object? Was their destination Sumter or Pickens, New Orleans, or St. Domingo? Different circumstances pointed to any or either of these places, but the most subtle espionage failed to obtain the certain clue.

The mystery was finally solved on the evening of April 8th. A government messenger arrived in Charleston, reported himself to Governor Pickens, and was immediately admitted by him to an interview at which General Beauregard was present. The messenger read to them an official communication, drafted by President Lincoln. It ran as follows:

I am directed by the President of the United States to notify you to expect an attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumter with provisions only, and that if such attempt be not resisted, no effort to throw in provisions, arms, or ammunition will be made without further notice, or in case of an attack upon the fort.

The next morning after this notice was read to Governor Pickens and General Beauregard in Charleston, the main portion of the relieving expedition, under command of Captain G. V. Fox, sailed from New York Harbor. It consisted of the transport Baltic with the provisions and contingent reinforcements, the war-steamers Pawnee, Pocahontas, Harriet Lane, and the steam-tugs Uncle Ben, Yankee, and Freeborn. The fleet had orders to rendezvous ten miles east of Charleston Harbor on the morning of April 11th. The instructions to Captain Fox were short, but explicit: “You will [60] take charge,” wrote the Secretary of War, “of the transports in New York, having the troops and supplies on board, and endeavor in the first instance to deliver the subsistence. If you are opposed in this, you are directed to report the fact to the senior naval officer of the harbor, who will be instructed by the Secretary of the Navy to use his entire force to open a passage, when you will, if possible, effect an entrance, and place both troops and supplies in Fort Sumter.”

Lincoln's notice having been communicated to the Confederate authorities in Montgomery, Jefferson Davis and his compeers in revolution resolved to begin the war without further delay. To permit provisions to be sent to Anderson, after three months of battery-building, would jeopardize the confidence and adhesion of the ultra fire-eaters, and suffer the insurrection to collapse. The notice was received on the evening of April 8th; next day, the 9th, appears to have been spent in deliberation and in verifying the situation by inquiries from the rebel commissioners in Washington; on the 10th, Beauregard was instructed to demand the evacuation of Sumter, and, in case of refusal, to reduce it. At two o'clock in the afternoon of the following day (April 11th), he sent two of his aids to make the demand, in answer to which Anderson, with the unanimous concurrence of his officers, wrote a prompt refusal. The occasion seems to have called out some general conversation, in the course of which Anderson said to the aids: “I will await the first shot, and if you do not batter us to pieces, we will be starved out in a few days.” The remark repeated to Beauregard and to Montgomery, caused the impression that Anderson desired to capitulate, and another message was sent him, offering to permit him to do so at his own convenience, if he would designate the time, and agree in the meanwhile not to use his guns against the rebels unless they should fire on Sumter. [61] Anderson was shrewd enough to see that this would leave their guns free to beat back the fleet, and shaped his reply accordingly. He stated that he would evacuate the fort by noon on the 15th of April, “and that I will not, in the meantime, open my fires upon your forces, unless compelled to do so by some hostile act against this fort or the flag of my Government, by the forces under your command, or some portion of them, or by the perpetration of some act showing a hostile intention on your part against this fort or the flag it bears, should I not receive, prior to that time, controlling instructions from my Government, or additional supplies.” This reply was, of course, unsatisfactory to the rebels.

The interchange of these several messages had consumed the afternoon and night of April 11th, and at 3:20 A. M., of the morning of April 12th, Beauregard's aids handed Anderson a note stating that he would open fire upon Sumter in one hour from that time.

The inhabitants of Charleston had now for more than three months followed the development of secession and rebellion with unflagging zeal and daily interest, until they began to regard the affairs of Sumter as their own pet and exclusive drama. It had afforded them excitement upon excitement-speeches, meetings, drills, parades, flag-raisings, bonfires, salutes, music, and banners; reaching into their social and family life, it had carried their fathers, sons, brothers, and friends away into the camps and trenches. Summer had been their daily talk and nightly dream; and this interest grew into a morbid curiosity as the drama approached its long-predicted climax. There had been little or no effort to conceal the changing aspects of preparations and orders during the last few days; and, as a result, the general populace of the city became informed, almost as well [62] as the officers, of the precise hour when the bombardment would begin. In the gray and yet uncertain twilight of this April morning, therefore, the Charlestonians of all ages and sexes came thronging down the streets to the wharves of the city, to find favorable locations for viewing the coming spectacle, in something of the spirit in which Rome of the Caesars crowded to the Coliseum to witness the savage and sanguinary combats of the arena.

At half-past 4 o'clock, on the morning of April 12th, 1861, while yet the lingering night lay upon the waters of the bay, leaving even the outline of Fort Sumter scarcely discernible, the assembled spectators saw a flash from the mortar battery near old Fort Johnson, on the south side of the harbor, and an instant after a bombshell rose in a slow, high curve through the air, and fell upon the fort. To the beholders it was the inauguration of the final scene in their local drama; to the nation and world at large, it began a conflict of such gigantic proportions and far-reaching consequence, that it will forever stand as one of the boldest landmarks in history. Gun after gun responded to the signal, until, in the course of another hour, all the encircling rebel batteries were in the heat and activity of a general bombardment.

Universal wonder was created at the time, and continued curiosity has been excited since, by the fact that this bombardment, ending in the surrender of the fort, should have continued for the space of thirty-six hours without the loss of a single life in the besieged garrison. The apparent mystery is easily enough understood when we come to study and comprehend the exact conditions and course of the fight.

Fort Sumter was a work dating from comparatively recent times, built of brick upon an artificial island formed in the [63] shallows nearly midway at the entrance of Charleston harbor. It was a five-sided structure, about three hundred by three hundred and fifty feet in size; its walls were some eight feet thick and forty feet high. It was capable of mounting one hundred and forty guns, two tiers in casemates and one behind the parapet. When Anderson took possession of it the preceding Christmas, the casemates were in an unfinished condition, and only a few guns were mounted. Captain Foster, the accomplished engineer of the fort, had, however, since then, by the many expedients known to military science, and by help of a considerable force of workmen and laborers, pushed its defences forward to a state of relative completeness, even with the limited means and materials within the fort. Most of the embrasures of the lower tier of casemates were closed. A total armament of forty-eight guns was ready for use. Of these twenty-one were in the casemates, and twenty-seven on the rampart, en barbette. The garrison consisted of nine commissioned officers, sixty-eight non-commissioned officers and privates, eight musicians, and forty-three non-combatant workmen, to whom, during the last ten days, the besiegers had refused permission to depart, in order that they might help consume Anderson's small stock of provisions, and thus hasten the process of reducing the fort by starvation.

The rebels had built their siege-works on the approaching points of the islands forming the harbor. These lay in a sort of triangle about the fort: Sullivan's Island, containing Fort Moultrie, to the northeast at a distance of 1,800 yards; Cumming's Point, on Morris Island, to the south at a distance of 1,300 yards; and on James Island, near old Fort Johnson, to the west at a distance of 2,500 yards. Their total armament embraced forty-seven guns.

Thus, in numbers, the armaments appeared about equal, [64] but the existing conditions created an immense disparity. Anderson's fire was diffused; the rebel fire was concentrated. Anderson's barbette guns, more than half his pieces, were exposed; most of the rebel guns were sheltered in bombproofs of palmetto logs and sand; some protected with sloping roofs of railroad iron. Anderson had only a garrison of 128 souls all told; while a volunteer force of from four to six thousand supported the rebel batteries. The greatest difference, however, was in the quality of the ordnance. Anderson's guns could only deliver a horizontal fire against the besiegers' earth-walls and bomb-proofs. But seventeen of the rebel pieces were mortars, delivering what is termed a vertical fire; that is, throwing their bursting shells by means of a high curve through the air, so as to drop down upon the parapet and inside the walls of the besieged fort.

The garrison of Sumter, notwithstanding its tedious confinement, was in excellent spirit, and, since the long apprehended contest had finally come, was quite ready to make a manful resistance. Even the forty-three non-combatant workmen caught the impulse of fight and freely volunteered their help. The needful preparations had been already made, and since the 10th every one had by order changed his quarters into the gun casemates. Here they were securely housed when at 4.30 A. M. the rebel cannonade began. It was not yet daylight, and for some hours the fort made no reply, but lay in the morning twilight as silent and apparently as unconcerned as if it were tenantless. The rations had already become uncomfortably short; the last barrel of flour was issued two or three days before, and now there was little left to subsist upon except pork and water. On this mainly the command made a breakfast, and at about seven o'clock Captain Abner Doubleday fired the first gun from the fort at an iron-clad battery on Cumming's Point. [65] Reliefs were stationed at other guns, and soon Sumter was sending back a spirited reply.

The three hours of unopposed bombardment from the rebel batteries had by this time already determined one important phase of the fight. Carefully watching the effect of the enemy's cannonade, it was apparent, without further question, that under the concentrated missiles of their guns, and particularly because of the precision of their vertical fire, it would be folly to expose the gunners on the rampart or the open parade of the fort. Had Sumter contained a full war garrison, new men could have replaced those killed or disabled; but, with his slender force, Anderson decided that he could not afford this risk, and therefore at once ordered an abandonment of all the barbette guns and a few mounted on the parade to throw shells, restricting the men rigidly to the casemates. Thus at one swoop his fighting armament was reduced more than one-half. This, however, was not the worst; it practically annihilated the offensive strength of the fort. Of the twenty-one casemate guns but four were fortytwo pounders, the rest only thirty-twos, a weight of metal of little avail against the enemy's strong earthworks and iron roofs.

In this way the cannonade went actively on during the forenoon of April 12th, without much damage or effect, except upon the buildings in both Sumter and Moultrie, ordinarily occupied as barracks and quarters. Sumter suffered most in this respect: the balls striking the face of its walls merely buried themselves in the brick-work, without passing through; but those which nearly or quite grazed the parapet, in their fall took the buildings or wall in reverse, coming as they did from three sides. The men, however, while sheltered in casemates, were beyond the reach of these missiles. So too of the bombs. Falling on the parapet and the [66] open parade of Sumter and exploding, their destructive force spent itself upon mere inanimate material.

About noon Anderson's men found they had been working with too much ardor; that their stock of 700 cartridges would soon be exhausted. They set themselves to work to remedy this deficiency, though with small speed, for they had only six needles in the fort with which to sew up cartridge-bags.

Toward one o'clock a new hope cheered them; they saw two ships, and soon after a third, bearing the stars and stripes, appear off the harbor; it was a part of the relieving expedition they had been warned to expect. Unfortunately, it proved unable to succor the fort either on that or the succeeding day. Through a confusion of orders, the flagship of the squadron with its commanding officer, and the instructions for this emergency, and having on board also the sailors who were required to man the boats to carry the supplies and soldiers to Sumter, had been detached from this duty and sent to the Gulf of Mexico. A severe storm delayed some of the vessels, and prevented the tugs from reaching the harbor; and this storm also prevented the officers from making use of the limited resources remaining. Therefore, to their chagrin, they and their men were forced by these untoward circumstances, and through no neglect of their own, to remain for twenty-four hours little else than spectators of the bombardment to its close.

During the afternoon of the first day Sumter kept up its fire, though with greatly slackened speed. Only six guns were kept in action for the remainder of the day: two against Cumming's Point on the south, and four against Fort Moultrie and other batteries on Sullivan's Island to the north. At nightfall even these ceased, as also did most of the guns in the rebel batteries; their mortars, however, keeping up a sullen and steady discharge of bombs upon [67] the fort at intervals of about ten minutes, the whole of the dark and stormy night which followed.

On the morning of the second day, April 13th, the rebels began their general cannonade with both increased vigor and increased precision; to which the garrison, after its breakfast of pork and water, and having somewhat replenished its stock of cartridges, again made a “spiteful” reply. It is impossible to estimate how long this mere interchange of shot and shell might have continued, had not other elements intervened to bring the combat to a close.

On three of the five sides of Sumter, just inside the walls, stood long and substantial buildings used as barracks, officers' quarters, and for other purposes. These had been several times set on fire by hot shot during the first day, though as often readily extinguished by the garrison. The rebels had not failed to notice the effect; and on the second morning their use of these missiles became more frequent. About nine o'clock of the second day these buildings were once more in a blaze, and this time the fire caught in a portion of the roof of the officers' quarters which it was not immediately possible for the men to reach. The flames were quickly beyond control; and now the serious problem was to remove as much powder from the magazine as might be needed for use, before that proceeding should become impossible. Fifty barrels were thus obtained and distributed about the casemates, when it was necessary to close and secure the door of the magazine.

Thus, by noon of the second day, the inmates of the fort were exposed, not alone to the peril of the enemy's shot and shell, but also to the immediate discomfort and danger of a serious conflagration. Within the limited area of the fort the heat became intense; the air was filled with floating cinders; and, blown downward by the current of the seabreeze, [68] a stifling, blinding smoke finally drove the men into the casemates, and even to these retreats the floating fireflakes pursued them. The situation became too dangerous to keep the fifty barrels of powder rescued from the magazine; by order of Anderson, all but five were rolled out of the embrasures into the sea.

About one o'clock the flagstaff of the fort was shot away, having been hit a number of times previously; and, although the flag was soon after again raised on a jury-mast on the parapet, the clouds of smoke concealed it from the rebel view. Seeing the great conflagration, the disappearance of the flag, and a total cessation of fire from Sumter's guns, they not unreasonably concluded that the garrison was ready to surrender. The eccentric Senator Wigfall, doing duty as a volunteer aid on one of the islands, was sent by a subordinate officer to ascertain the fact; and, being brought before the commander, with more grandiloquence than au thority, offered to permit Anderson to name his own terms of evacuation. Anderson replied that he would accept the terms offered him by Beauregard at the time of his first summons, on the 11th. Wigfall thereupon returned to his post, where, in turn, with more enthusiasm than memory, he reported an unconditional surrender. Meanwhile, three aids arrived direct from Beauregard, with an offer of assistance to extinguish the flames, and the misunderstanding became apparent. Anderson, in some anger, was disposed to renew his fight; upon suggestion of the aids, however, he waited till the blunder could be referred to Beauregard. This commander reconciled all difficulty by agreeing to Anderson's proposal; and at noon of the following day, Sunday, April 14, 1861, the faithful commander and his faithful garrison, with an impressive ceremony of prayer and salute, hauled down the flag of the United States, and evacuated Fort Sumter.

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