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Battle for Fort Sumter – Start of the American Civil War – Part 1

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South Carolina announced secession shortly after Lincoln’s victory in the presidential election of 1860, and by February 1861 six more southern states had made similar statements. On February 7, seven states passed the interim constitution of the Confederate States of America and declared the temporary capital city ​​of Montgomery, Alabama. In February, a peace conference gathered in Washington, which unsuccessfully tried to resolve the crisis. The remaining slave states rejected the proposal to join the Confederation.

Confederation troops occupied all four federal forts (except Sumter); President Buchanan made an official protest, but did not take military action and did not begin serious military preparations. However, the governors of the states of Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania took the initiative in their hands, starting to buy weapons and train the militia.

On March 4, 1861, Lincoln took the presidential oath. In his inaugural speech, he stated that although the Constitution takes precedence over the earlier “Articles of Confederation and Eternal Union,” but the articles established the eternity of the Union, therefore secession cannot be legal. He promised not to use force against the southern states and not to abolish slavery in the territories where it existed, but warned that he would use force to protect federal property.

The southern states sent a delegation to Washington that offered to pay for the confiscated federal property and conclude a peace agreement with the United States. Lincoln refused to enter into negotiations with the ambassadors of the Confederation on the grounds that the Government of the Confederation is not legitimate, and to negotiate means to recognize their sovereignty and legitimacy. However, Secretary of State William Seward began informal talks that led nowhere.

The Siege

At the time of the separation of South Carolina in the Charleston harbor there were several forts, but the federal garrisons almost ceased to exist. President Buchanan appointed Major Robert Anderson as the new garrison commander. Not a random choice: on the one hand, Anderson is a Kentucky man, married to a Georgian and even a supporter of slavery. It was assumed that he would try not to provoke South Carolina. On the other hand, he is “the man of Winfield Scott ” from the time he served as his adjutant during the Seminole Wars. In addition, he was personally acquainted with Lincoln: in 1832 he was a Colonel of Illinois volunteers, and Lincoln was the captain of the same volunteers.

By the fall, the leaders of South Carolina had come to the conclusion that the confiscation of federal property in the Charleston Harbor does not tolerate delay. Tension increased, and the fort little by little turned into an actual blockade.

Several forts were built in the harbor, including Sumter and Moltri. Moltri – the oldest, was the headquarters of the garrison. However, it was created more like an artillery battery to protect the harbor, and from the land side it was practically not protected. Fort Sumter, by contrast, was considered the most powerful fort in the world at the time of construction. By the autumn of 1860, the works were almost over, but the garrison consisted of one soldier who served the lighthouse. Yet Sumter was stronger than Fort Moltri, and most importantly, it was adapted to repel attacks from the land.

When Anderson arrived at the harbor, only 85 people and Fort Moltri were at his disposal. In the dark of the night of December 26, 1860, Anderson riveted the guns of Moltri and transferred his squad to Sumter. The government of South Carolina found these actions illegal and demanded the evacuation of the fort. President Buchanan was still on duty, he refused to evacuate the fort, and in January he organized a supporting expedition.

In the fort soldiers were running out of food and drinking water. On January 9, a large passenger ship, the Star of the West, entered the bay of Charleston with food for Sumter and about 200 soldiers to reinforce his garrison. But when the battery from the fort at Cummings Point gave several volleys across a completely unarmed steamer, he turned around and swam away. The battery was staffed by cadets from the Citadel South Carolina military college – the only trained gunners on staff. Anderson did not support the “Star of the West” with his artillery fire, as US Secretary of Defense J. Floyd sent instructions which recommended him “to avoid any action that would lead to unnecessary provocation of aggression”.

The next day, another important event occurred: on January 10, Florida withdrew from the Union. One of the federal detachments went to Fort Pickens, and another analogue of Sumter was formed on the American coast.

Immediately after the formation of the Confederation among its members, disputes arose over whether to consider the liquidation of the fort as an internal affair of South Carolina, or whether this issue should be decided by the government in Montgomery. South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens (Eng.) Rus. (in 1858–1860, the ambassador to Russia, where he communicated with Alexander II ) was a supporter of “state rights” and believed that property in the Charleston harbor should be transferred to the state. The question also arose – how aggressively does it make sense to act. Jefferson Davis, like Lincoln, believed that it was important not to get charges of aggression. Both sides believed that the party that first applied force would lose the support of neutral states. After the inaugural speech of Lincoln, five states voted against secession, including Virginia, and Lincoln openly offered to evacuate Fort Sumter if this would ensure Virginia’s loyalty.

Fort Sumter before the battle

In March, General Beauregard was appointed commander of the South Carolina forces in Charleston. On March 1, President Davis upgraded him from a brigadier to a full general, made him commander-in-chief of the Confederation army and directly ordered him to command the blockade of Fort Sumter. Beauregard repeated the evacuation requirements of the fort and took measures to stop the supply of food from Charleston to the fort. The fort’s own food reserves were almost at an end by that time. Beauregard was engaged in intensive training of the personnel of his troops, focusing on the training of artillerymen. Ironically, Anderson was an artillery instructor for Beauregard at West Point, and the two officers at that time communicated very closely, so that at one time Beauregard was Anderson’s assistant. Both sides spent March in drill and fortification work.

On March 4, President Lincoln learned that the reserves at Fort Sumter are much smaller than he thought. Almost a month was given to the president to make a decision, and only on March 29 it was taken: he decided to organize a sea convoy of several merchant ships under the guise of warships of the federal fleet. The expedition commander was appointed Gustav Waza Fox . On April 6, 1861, Lincoln notified the governor Francis Pickens that “an attempt would be made to supply the fort only with food, and there would be no attempts to bring people, weapons or equipment there without prior notice, unless the fort was attacked.”

However, at the same time, Lincoln organized a secret expedition with the aim of occupying Fort Pickens in Florida. The operation was assigned to John Worden. The expeditions to Sumter and Pickens were being prepared at the same time, because of which the organizational overlays came out: the flagship of the “Samterskaya” expedition, the steamer “ Powhatan ”, mistakenly went in the direction of Fort Pickens. The secret order for the occupation of Fort Pickens gives reason to believe that the expedition to Fort Sumter also had a military and secret character.

The Confederation Government did not believe Lincoln’s words about the peaceful nature of the “Samter expedition,” nor did it want the blockade to drag on indefinitely. One way or another, the government gathered on April 9 in Montgomery for a meeting where it was decided to open fire on the fort to force it to surrender before the release of the unblocking fleet. Only Secretary of State Robert Tumbs opposed such a decision: he told President Davis that the attack “will deprive us of any friends in the north.”

The government hesitated in choosing a solution. The military secretary Leroy Pope Walker sent a telegram to Beauregard: if Beauregard is convinced that the fort is receiving military reinforcements, he should immediately demand evacuation, and if the failures continue, he should resolve the situation in the way he considers necessary.

On April 11, Beauregard sent a patrolman to Fort Sumter with the announcement of an ultimatum. He either knew or guessed about the approach of Fox squadron. Confederation Vice President Alexander Stevens later wrote: “General Beauregard did not open fire on Fort Sumter until the federal fleet was, in his opinion, very close to Charleston harbor … he did not want to be under a double blow – from the fort and the federal fleet [4] “.

Anderson refused. It seems that he replied: “If you do not smash the fort to pieces, we will still die here from hunger in a few days.” It is difficult to say what Anderson was guided by, knowing that there would be enough ammunition in the fort for only one day of fighting. Perhaps he relied on the arrival of Fox’s squadron — according to the plan it was supposed to appear just in the morning — but it is not known whether Anderson knew about these plans.


Burin S. N. On the battlefields of the civil war in the United States
Kuropyatnik G.P. Second American Revolution
Ivanov R. F. Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War
Foote S. The Civil War: A Narrative
Boatner MM The Civil War Dictionary
Nevins A. The War for the Union
Long EB Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861–1865
Davies WC The Imperial Union: 1861-1865 .
McPherson GM Battle Cry of Freedom. The Civil War Era
Mal KM The American Civil War 1861-1865


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