Tuesday, April 12, 2016


JFK+50:  Volume 5, No. 1917


Charleston, South Carolina (JFK+50) One century and fifty-five years ago, April 12, 1861, Confederate shore batteries began to bombard Fort Sumter* in Charleston Harbor.  The firing on Sumter, which began at 4:30 a.m. local time, came after United States commander Robert B. Anderson refused to surrender.

Confederate authorities argued that the fort, garrisoned by Federal troops and located in their territory, was rightly the property of the Confederate States of America.  The bombardment continued throughout the day.

The first cannon shot of the war, fired from a 10 inch Confederate mortar, "burst immediately over the fort...about 100 feet above."  An eyewitness later wrote...

"That shot was a sound of alarm that brought every soldier in the harbor to his feet, and every man, woman and child in the city of Charleston from their beds."

Confederate batteries all around then opened up sending "shot and shell...screaming over Sumter as if an army of devils were swooping around it." Meanwhile back in Charleston, "citizens raced to their rooftops or the Battery waterfront and watched the shells exploding."

Major Anderson, who decided his only option was to fight a defensive battle, ordered Captain Abner Doubleday to fire the first Union cannon shot at 7 a.m. It flew harmlessly over the Confederate Ironclad Battery at Cummings Point. After four hours of returning fire, the Union gunners managed only seven hits resulting in little damage.

The following day brought worse news for the Union.  By noon, Fort Sumter was "burning wherever there was wood to catch fire."  At 1:30 p.m., Major Anderson ran up a white flag and the garrison would evacuate their fort on April 14, 1861.

CSA soldier Augustus Dickert wrote..."A shout of triumph rent the air for the thousands of spectators on the islands and the mainland."

The 33 hour bombardment resulted in no deaths.  Four men from each side were wounded.  The only death at Fort Sumter ironically came when a Union cannon manned by Private Daniel Hough, exploded prematurely during a post-battle salute.

Thus, a virtually bloodless battle marked the beginning of the most bloody conflict in American history.

*Fort Sumter was begun in 1829 but remained incomplete in 1861.  It was named after Revolutionary War General Thomas Sumter.  70,000 tons of granite were brought from New England to build up a sandbar in the harbor of Charleston, SC.  The fort, which had five sides made of brick, was built to protect the city. 


"Brother Against Brother:  The War Begins," by William C. Davis, Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1983.

"Fort Sumter," CWSAC Battle Summaries, The American Battlefield Protection Program,

"The First Shot of the Civil War:  The Surrender of Fort Sumter," Eyewitness To History,

Union Battery
Fort Sumter National Monument
Photo by John White (2012)

Fort Sumter National Monument
Charleston, SC
Photo by John White (2012)

Fort Sumter National Monument
Charleston, South Carolina
Photo by John White (2012)