Fort Sumter is a Third System masonry coastal fortification located in Charleston Harbour. The fort is best known as the site upon which the shots initiating the American Civil War were fired, at the Battle of Fort Sumter.
Construction: Named after General Thomas Sumter, Revolutionary War hero, Fort Sumter was built following the War of 1812, as one of a series of fortifications on the southern U.S. coast. Construction began in 1827, and the structure was still unfinished in 1861, when the Civil War began. Seventy thousand tons of granite were imported from New England to build up a sand bar in the entrance to Charleston Harbour, which the site dominates. The fort was a five-sided brick structure, 170 to 190 feet long, with walls five feet thick, standing 50 feet over the low tide mark. It was designed to house 650 men and 135 guns in three tiers of gun emplacements, although it was never filled near its full capacity.
Beauregard had been one of Anderson’s artillery students at West Point in 1837 and, while determined to evict the Federal troops from Fort Sumter, did not welcome the prospect of firing on his old friend and former instructor.
Civil War: On the 26th of December 1860, six days after South Carolina declared its secession, U.S. Army Major Robert Anderson abandoned the indefensible Fort Moultrie and secretly relocated companies E and H (127 men, 13 of them musicians) of the 1st U.S. Artillery to Fort Sumter on his own initiative, without orders from Washington. He thought that providing a stronger defense would delay an attack by South Carolina militia. The fort was not yet complete at the time and fewer than half of the cannons that should have been available were in place, due to military downsizing by President James Buchanan. Over the next few months repeated calls for evacuation of Fort Sumter from the government of South Carolina and then from Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard were ignored. Union attempts to resupply and reinforce the garrison were repulsed on the 9th of January 1861 when the first shots of the war, fired by cadets from The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, prevented the steamer Star of the West, hired to transport troops and supplies to Fort Sumter, from completing the task. After realising that Anderson's command would run out of food by the 15th of April 1861, President Lincoln ordered a fleet of ships, under the command of Gustavus V. Fox, to attempt entry into Charleston Harbour and support Fort Sumter. The ships assigned were the steam sloop-of-war USS Pawnee, steam sloop-of-war USS Powhatan, transporting motorised launches and about 300 sailors (secretly removed from the Charleston fleet to join in the forced reinforcement of Fort Pickens, Pensacola, Fla.), armed screw steamer USS Pocahontas, Revenue Cutter USRC Harriet Lane, steamer Baltic transporting about 200 troops, composed of companies C and D of the 2nd U.S. Artillery, and three hired tug boats with added protection against small arms fire to be used to tow troop and supply barges directly to Fort Sumter. By the 6th of April 1861 the first ships began to set sail for their rendezvous off the Charleston Bar. The first to arrive was the Harriet Lane, before midnight of the 11th of April 1861. The fleet arrived too late to defend the fort but were on hand to evacuate the Union troops to New York after their surrender.
First Battle of Fort Sumter: On Thursday the 11th of April 1861, Beauregard sent three aides, Colonel James Chesnut Jr., Captain Stephen D. Lee, and Lieutenant A. R. Chisolm to demand the surrender of the fort. Anderson declined, and the aides returned to report to Beauregard. After Beauregard had consulted the Secretary of War, Leroy Walker, he sent the aides back to the fort and authorised Chesnut to decide whether the fort should be taken by force. The aides waited for hours while Anderson considered his alternatives and played for time. At about 3 a.m., when Anderson finally announced his conditions, Colonel Chesnut, after conferring with the other aides, decided that they were "manifestly futile and not within the scope of the instructions verbally given to us". The aides then left the fort and proceeded to the nearby Fort Johnson. There, Chesnut ordered the fort to open fire on Fort Sumter.
On Friday th 12th of April 1861, at 4:30 a.m., Confederate batteries opened fire, firing for thirty four straight hours, on the fort. Edmund Ruffin, noted Virginian agronomist and secessionist, claimed that he fired the first shot on Fort Sumter. His story has been widely believed, but Lieutenant Henry S. Farley, commanding a battery of two mortars on James Island fired the first shot at 4:30 A.M. (Detzer 2001, pp. 269–71). 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, also there were no fuses for their 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 honour 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, the barbette 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 in Sumter. On Saturday the 13th of April, the fort was surrendered and evacuated. During the attack, the Union colours fell. Lt.Norman J. Hall risked life and limb to put them back up, burning off his eyebrows permanently. No Union soldiers died in the actual battle though a Confederate soldier bled to death having been wounded by a misfiring cannon. One Union soldier died and another was mortally wounded during the 47th shot of a 100 shot salute, allowed by the Confederacy. Afterwords the salute was shortened to 50 shots. Accounts, such as in the famous diary of Mary Chesnut, describe Charleston residents along what is now known as The Battery, sitting on balconies and drinking salutes to the start of the hostilities. The Fort Sumter Flag became a popular patriotic symbol after Major Anderson returned North with it. The flag is still displayed in the fort's museum. A supply ship Star of the West took all the Union soldiers to New York City. There they were welcomed and honoured with a parade on Broadway.
Union Siege of Fort Sumter: Union efforts to retake Charleston Harbour began on the 7th of April 1863, when Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont, commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, led the ironclad frigate New Ironsides, the tower ironclad Keokuk, and the monitors Weehawken, Pasaic, Montauk, Patapsco, Nantucket, Catskill and Nahant in an attack against the harbour’s defenses. The attack was unsuccessful, the New Ironsides never effectively engaged, and the ironclads fired only 154 rounds, while receiving 2,209 from the Confederate defenders (Wise 1994, p. 30). Due to damage received in the attack, the Keokuk sank the next day, 1,400 yards off the southern tip of Morris Island. Over the next month, working at night to avoid the attention of the Federal squadron, the Confederates salvaged the Keokuk’s two XI-inch Dahlgren guns (on of them was placed in Fort Sumter).
The Confederates, in the meantime, were strengthening Fort Sumter. A workforce of just under 500 slaves, under the supervision of Confederate army engineers, were filling casemates with sand, protecting the gorge wall with sandbags and building new traverse, blindages and bombproofs. Some of Fort Sumter’s artillery had been removed, but 40 pieces still were mounted. Fort Sumter’s heaviest guns were mounted on the barbette, the fort’s highest level, where they had wide angles of fire and could fire down on approaching ships. The barbette was also more exposed to enemy gunfire than the casemates in the two lower levels of the fort.
After the devastating bombardment, both General Quincy A. Gillmore and Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, now commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, determined to launch a boat assault on Fort Sumter for the night of the 8th-9th of September 1863. Cooperation between the Army and Navy was poor, Dahlgren refusing to place his sailors and marines under the command of an army officer. So two flotillas set out towards Fort Sumter that night. The army flotilla was detained off Morris Island by the low tide. By the time they could proceed, the navy assault had already been defeated and the army flotilla returned to shore.
The Navy’s assault involved 400 sailors and marines in 25 boats. The operation was a fiasco from beginning to end – no comment. Poor reconnaissance, planning and communication all characterised the operation. Commander Thomas H. Stevens, commanding the monitor Patapsco, was placed in charge of the assault. When Commander Stevens protested that he “knew nothing of (the assault’s) organisation “ and “made some remonstrances on this grounds and others.” Dahlgren replied “There is nothing but a corporal’s guard (about 6 - 10 men) in the fort, and all we have to do is go and take possession.” This underestimation of the Confederate forces on Dahlgren’s part may explain why he was hostile to a joint operation wishing to reserve the credit for the victory to the Navy. Less than half of the boats landed. Most of the boats that did land landed on the right flank or right gorge angle, rather than on the gorge where there was a passable breach. The Union sailors and marines who did land could not scale the wall. The Confederates fired upon the landing party and as well as throwing hand grenades and masonry. The men in the boats that had not landed fired muskets and revolvers blindly at the fort, endangering the landing party more than the garrison. The landing party took shelter in shell holes in the wall of the fort. In response to a signal rocket fired by the garrison, Fort Johnson and the Confederate warship Chicora opened fire upon the boats and landing party. The boats that could withdraw withdrew and the landing party surrendered. The Union casualties were 8 killed, 19 wounded and 105 captured (including 15 of the wounded). The Confederates did not suffer any casualties in the assault.
After the unsuccessful boat assault, the bombardment recommenced and proceeded with varying degree of intensity, doing more damage to Fort Sumter until the end of the war. The garrison continued to suffer casualties. The Confederates continued to salvage guns and other material from the ruins and harassed the Union batteries on Morris Island with sharpshooters. The Confederates mounted four 10-inch columbiads, one 8-inch columbiad rifled, and two rifled 42-pounders, in the left face, bottom tier casemates. The last Confederate Commander, Major Thomas A. Huguenin, a graduate from The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, never surrendered Fort Sumter, but General William T. Sherman’s advance through South Carolina finally forced the Confederates to evacuate Charleston on the 17th of February 1865 and abandon Fort Sumter. The Federal government formally took possession of Fort Sumter on the 22nd of February 1865 with a flag raising ceremony. One Union soldier was killed and another Union soldier was mortally wounded during the surrender ceremony. Fifty two Confederate soldiers were killed there during the remainder of the war. While a number of slaves were killed while working at the fort, the exact number is unknown.
After the war: When the Civil War ended, Fort Sumter was in ruins. The U.S. Army worked to restore it as a useful military installation. The damaged walls were re-leveled to a lower height and partially rebuilt. The third tier of gun emplacements was removed. Eleven of the original first-tier gun rooms were restored with 100-pounder Parrott rifles. From 1876 to 1897, Fort Sumter was used only as an unmanned lighthouse station. The start of the Spanish-American War prompted renewed interest in its military use and reconstruction commenced on the facilities that had further eroded over time. A new massive concrete blockhouse-style installation was built in 1898 inside the original walls. Named "Battery Huger" in honor of Revolutionary War General Isaac Huger, it never saw combat.
Fort Sumter National Monument: Encompasses three sites in Charleston: the original Fort Sumter, the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center and the Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island. Access to Fort Sumter itself is by a 30 minute ferry ride from the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center or Patriots Point. The Visitor Education Center's museum features exhibits about the disagreements between the North and South that led to the incidents at Fort Sumter. The museum at Fort Sumter focuses on the activities at the fort, including its construction and role during the Civil War. The 12th of April 2011 marked the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War. There was a commemoration of the events by thousands of Civil War reenactors with encampments in the area. A United States stamp of Fort Sumter, and first day cover, was issued that day.
ALL IN ALL A VERY POPULAR TOURIST ATTRACTION