Battle Of Fort Sumter

Background: Battle of Fort Sumter (April 12-14 1861) was a turning point in the American history. It was the first armed conflict between Union loyal forces and Confederate army. It also triggered the civil war and secession of four more slave states, thus bringing up the number of rebel states to eleven. South Carolina was the first state to announce secession from the union in December, 1860 and was followed by seven more states by February, 1861.

In December, 1860 after the announcement of secession by South Carolina, an army garrison loyal to Union, commanded by Major Robert Anderson in Charleston, South Carolina moved out of its relatively smaller indefensible fortification at Sullivan Island and moved into the bigger and strategically important Fort Sumter that controlled the entrance to Charleston harbor. Confederate forces soon took over all the area around the fort and laid siege around Major Anderson’s garrison.

The Siege: Anderson’s occupation of Fort Sumter was viewed negatively by Confederate authorities and they occupied all other important positions around it. US President Buchanan decided to replenish Anderson’s supplies by sending a civil merchant ship, ‘Star of the West’ to Charleston. However, as the ship approached harbor it was fired upon by Confederate artillery positions on the shore and it had to withdraw. In January, 1861 Governor of South Carolina demanded from President Buchanan that Fort Sumter be vacated as presence of a garrison loyal to the union was a threat to state’s security and against its dignity.

Preparing for War: After the failure of ‘Star of the West’ to reach Fort Sumter, Major Anderson was very clear about the intentions of Confederate forces. He knew that very soon his position would be attacked. He busied himself in improving the defenses of the fort. Fort Sumter was designed to accommodate 135 guns. However, Anderson’s garrison had only 85 men so he could not man so many artillery pieces.

His men installed 60 guns in total.  Incidentally, Confederate authorities had appointed one of Anderson’s pupils, Brig Gen Beauregard as the commander of the siege. Beauregard strengthened the Confederate positions around Fort Sumter and repeatedly asked Anderson to surrender or retreat. He effectively choked all supply routes to the Fort from the city. The supply situation inside the Fort worsened on 4th April, after which President Lincoln decided to send critical supplies through transporters escorted by Union naval vessels. He informed Governor Pickens of his intentions and told him that only supplies and not arms and men would be supplied.

The Bombardment Commences: Following Lincoln’s message, Confederate President Jefferson Davis who had himself appointed Beauregard to the job told him to repeat his warning to Anderson and if he did not listen, to destroy the fortification before Lincoln’s intended relief expedition arrived. Confederate cabinet approved Davis’ order and on 12th April at around 4 am Confederate artillery started the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

The union garrison defended their position with courage but they did not have enough ammunition and men to hurt enemy. The bombardment continued for almost 34 hours and was stopped at 2:30 am on 14th April, 1861 after Anderson and his men agreed to surrender the fort to Confederate forces.

After effects: Although no one from both sides died during the fighting and the battle lasted only 34 hours, the event was very important as it started the civil war. After the battle Lincoln called out all the Union states to contribute in establishing a 75000 strong militia to fight Confederation. His call had a mixed response among Union states. However, 4 more slave states decided to secede after his call.