Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Fort Sumter National Monument - Charleston, South Carolina
Early on the morning of April 12, 1861, a mortar shell rose high into the air over Charleston Harbor in South Carolina and exploded above Fort Sumter. It was the signal for the beginning of a bombardment that would tear America in two.
South Carolina, along with a number of other Southern states, had seceeded from the Union, but 127 U.S. soldiers commanded by Major Robert Anderson, a Southerner himself, clung tenaciously to their tiny island in Charleston Harbor. As they watched Confederate troops mount cannon in batteries that ringed the harbor, they worked feverishly to do the same in Fort Sumter. They were running low on food and other supplies, but the supply ship Star of the West had been driven away by cannon fire. The critical hour had come. A delegation of officers from General P.G.T. Beauregard demanded the surrender of the fort, but Anderson refused. At the same time, however, he noted that he and his men were almost out of food and would soon have to yield the fort or starve.
The Confederacy was willing to wait no longer. A telegraph had come from Montgomery, Alabama, then the capital of the Southern nation, authorizing the reduction of the fort.
For 34 straight hours, Confederate cannon battered the walls of Fort Sumter. The woodwork of the brick barracks inside the fort caught fire, filling the masonry fortification with suffocating smoke and threatening to ignite its powder.
Anderson would surrender the next day, but the war ignited by the firing on Fort Sumter would lost for four more years and claim the lives of more than 600,000 men. For most of that time, the fort in Charleston Harbor became a symbol of Confederate defiance. Battered to pieces by Union cannon, the fort held out. Even after all of its guns were dismounted by cannon fire, the fort refused to surrender. In fact, it was not until Sherman began his march into the Carolinas that the Southern troops gave up Fort Sumter. Even then they did not surrender, but simply evacuated the ruins by boat and then marched away.
To learn more about Fort Sumter, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortsumter.