The administrations in both Washington, D.C., and
Montgomery, Alabama, wanted to avoid being seen as the aggressor in the Battle of Fort
Sumter for fear of alienating the border states yet to secede.
Fort Sumter, outgunned by a large margin,
surrendered on the third day of bombardment.
Confederate actions during the attack were
dictated by the central government in Montgomery, not by the South Carolina
militia, establishing supremacy of the central government in war-related
The Battle of Fort Sumter was the first battle
of the American Civil War. Sumter was an imposing facility, designed to be one
of the world's strongest fortresses. By the fall of 1860, its construction was
almost complete. The fort was not garrisoned, housing only a single soldier, who
functioned as a lighthouse keeper, and a small party of civilian construction
workers. After seceding from the United States, Southern states
began seizing federal property in the South. By 1861, Fort Sumter in Charleston
Harbor was one of two federal possessions remaining in Southern territory. South
Carolina demanded that the U.S. federal government abandon its facilities in
Charleston Harbor. Under the cover of darkness on December 26, six days after
South Carolina declared its secession, Major Robert Anderson received orders
from the federal government to abandon the indefensible Fort Moultrie and relocate
his command to Fort Sumter.
at the fort were difficult during the winter of 1860–1861. Rations were short and
fuel for heat was limited. Because the garrison's supplies were limited, President James Buchanan
authorized a relief expedition for supplies, small arms, and 200 soldiers. To
appear less provocative, federal supplies were sent on an unarmed civilian
merchant ship, Star of the West. On January 9, 1861, as the Star of the West
approached Charleston Harbor, batteries at Morris Island and Fort Moultrie
opened fire, forcing it to withdraw. Major Anderson, unaware of the Star's
approach, declined to fire on the Confederate batteries.
Fort Sumter crisis was waiting for President Lincoln upon his inauguration on
March 4, 1861. He received news that Fort Sumter had only six weeks of rations
left. Lincoln and his new cabinet were thus faced with the decision of reinforcing
or evacuating Sumter. Lincoln decided to continue to reinforce the fort and
demand the Confederates cease contact with it.
South sent delegations to Washington, D.C., and offered to pay for the federal
properties and enter into a peace treaty with the United States. Lincoln
rejected any negotiations with the Confederate agents because he did not
consider the Confederacy a legitimate nation, and making any treaty with it
would be tantamount to recognition of it as a sovereign government. However,
Secretary of State William H. Seward, who wished to give up Sumter as a gesture
of goodwill, engaged in unauthorized and indirect negotiations that failed.
received notification from Lincoln, Governor Pickens consulted with General
Beauregard. President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis ordered Beauregard to
repeat the demand for Sumter's surrender and authorized the use of force to
complete surrender before the relief expedition arrived. The Confederate
cabinet endorsed Davis's order on April 9. Only Secretary of State Robert
Toombs opposed out of concern for appearing as the aggressor and alienating
Preparations for the Attack
March 1, President Davis appointed Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard to
command South Carolinian forces in Charleston. Beauregard was an expert in
siege operations and believed a siege of Fort Sumter might soon be required.
Ironically, Major Anderson was a particularly close friend of Beauregard’s and
previously served as his artillery instructor at West Point. Beauregard, in
turn, had served as Major Anderson's assistant in the Mexican-American War.
April 4, as Fort Sumter's lack of supplies became critical, President Lincoln
ordered the delivery of relief supplies. The relief expedition was to be led by
Gustavus V. Fox (future assistant secretary of the navy) and involve the
landing of small vessels at Fort Sumter under the cover of night.
Fort Sumter Attack
Friday, April 12, 1861, at 4:30 a.m., Confederate batteries opened fire, firing
for 34 straight hours on the fort. No attempt was made to return the fire for
more than two hours. The fort's supply of ammunition was not suited for the
task; in addition, there were no fuses for explosive shells. Only solid balls
could be used against the rebel batteries. At about 7:00 a.m., Captain Abner
Doubleday, the fort's second in command, was given the honor of firing the
first shot in defense of the fort. The shot was ineffective, in part because
Major Anderson did not use the guns mounted on the highest tier where the gun
detachments would be more exposed to Confederate fire. The firing continued all
day. The Union fired slowly to conserve ammunition. At night the fire from the
fort stopped, but the Confederates still lobbed an occasional shell at Sumter.
On Saturday, April 13, the fort was surrendered and evacuated by the Union.
During the attack, the Union colors fell.
following day, President Lincoln formally declared that the Confederate states were in
a state of rebellion.