The First Shot of the Civil
The election of
Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 provoked the secession of the Southern
States from the Union. South Carolina was the first to leave. By the time
of the convening of a constitutional convention to establish the
Confederacy in February 1861, six other states had joined her. The
majority of the Southern leaders who attended the convention expected a
peaceful secession; they did not anticipate that their action would lead
to bloody conflict. They were wrong. Fort Sumter, lying in the harbor off
the city of Charleston, South Carolina, would prove the point.
secession from the Union, South Carolina perceived herself as a sovereign
state - the presence of Union forces in an armed fortress whose guns
commanded her principal harbor was intolerable as it belied her
independence. For President Lincoln the voluntary abandonment of this
fortress was equally intolerable as it would be a tacit acknowledgment of
South Carolina's independent status.
that the garrison at Fort Sumter was in trouble on the day he took office
in March 1861. The garrison was running out of food and supplies and had
no way of obtaining these on shore. The President ordered a relief
expedition to sail immediately and informed the Governor of South Carolina
of his decision. Alerted, General P.G.T Beauregard, commander of the
Confederate military forces, realized he had to quickly force the
evacuation of the fort before the relief expedition's arrival. He would
try threats first, and if these failed he would bombard the fort into
was a sound of alarm that brought every soldier in the harbor to his
On the afternoon
of April 11, waving a white flag, two members of General Beauregard's
staff were rowed across Charleston's harbor to Fort Sumter carrying a
written demand for surrender. One of the emissaries - Stephen D. Lee -
wrote of the experience after the war:
"This demand was delivered to Major Anderson at 3:45 P.M., by two aides of General Beauregard, James Chesnut, Jr., and myself. At 4:30 P.M. he handed us his reply, refusing to accede to the demand; but added, 'Gentlemen, if you do not batter the fort to pieces about us, we shall be starved out in a few days.' The reply of Major Anderson was put in General Beauregard's hands at 5:15 P.M., and he was also told of this informal remark. Anderson's reply and remark were communicated to the Confederate authorities at Montgomery. The Secretary of War, L.P. Walker, replied to Beauregard as follows:"
'Do not desire needlessly to bombard Fort Sumter. If Major Anderson will state the time at which, as indicated by him, he will evacuate, and agree that in the meantime he will not use his guns against us, unless ours should be employed against Fort Sumter, you are authorized thus to avoid the effusion of blood. If this, or its equivalent, be refused, reduce the fort as your judgment decides to be most practicable.'
" The same aides
bore a second communication to Major Anderson, based on the above
instructions, which was placed in, his hands at 12:45 A.M., April 12th.
His reply indicated that he would evacuate the fort on the 15th, provided
he did not in the meantime receive contradictory instructions from his
Government, or additional supplies, but he declined to agree not to open
his guns upon the Confederate troops, in the event of any hostile
demonstration on their part against his flag. Major Anderson made every
possible effort to retain the aides till daylight, making one excuse and
then another for not replying. Finally, at 3:15 A.M., he delivered his
reply. In accordance with their instructions, the aides read it and,
finding it unsatisfactory, gave Major Anderson this notification:"
'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 on 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. Army, Aide-de-camp.'
"The above note
was written in one of the casemates of the fort, and in the presence of
Major Anderson and several of his officers. On receiving it, he was much
affected. He seemed to realize the full import of the consequences, and
the great responsibility of his position. Escorting us to the boat at the
wharf, he cordially pressed our hands in farewell, remarking, 'If we never
meet in this world again, God grant that we may meet in the next.'
It was then 4
A.M. Captain James at once aroused his command, and arranged to carry out
the order. He was a great admirer of Roger A. Pryor, and said to him, 'You
are the only man to whom I would give up the honor of firing the first gun
of the war'; and he offered to allow him to fire it. Pryor, on receiving
the offer, was very much agitated. With a husky voice he said, 'I could
not fire the first gun of the war.' His manner was almost similar to that
of Major Anderson as we left him a few moments before on the wharf at Fort
Sumter. Captain James would allow no one else but himself to fire the gun.
The boat with
the aides of General Beauregard left Fort Johnson before arrangements were
complete for the firing of the gun, and laid on its oars, about one-third
the distance between the fort and Sumter, there to witness the firing of
'the first gun of the war' between the States. It was fired from a
ten-inch mortar at 4:30 A.M., April 12th, 1861. Captain James was a
skillful officer, and the firing of the shell was a success. It burst
immediately over the fort, apparently about one hundred feet above.
Source: "The First Shot of the Civil War: The Surrender of Fort Sumter, 1861" EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2006).