Page images

and delivered his vessel over to the State authorities, carrying with lira a majority of his men.

These proceedings at Fort Sumter resulted in the withdrawal of John B. Floyd, of Virginia, from Mr. Buchanan's counsellors, and ultimately in breaking up his cabinet only a few weeks before his term of office expired; for there, as elsewhere, arose a conflict of opinion, northern members taking one side and Southern members another. Howell Cobb, of Georgia, Secretary of the Treasury, and Jacob Thompson, of the Interior, soon followed Floyd, and after them went General Cass, of Michigan. Their places were supplied for the brief time of Buchanan's term by Holt, of Kentucky, Stanton, of Pennsylvania, Dix, of New York, and Horatio King, who had been a leading mind in the Post Office Department for twenty years.

The military authorities of South Carolina, strengthened by volunteers and contributions from other States, commenced the siege of Fort Sumter in earnest. They planted heavy batteries on James Island, Morris Island, and Cummings Point. In every spot where guns could be brought to bear on the fort, powerful earthworks were erected, and an immense floating battery of unexampled construction was planned. This, anchored within short range when the day of attack should arrive, was expected to work terrible execution.

Thus encircled by bristling guns at every point, forbidden all intercourse beyond the walls, and denied the privilege of procuring fresh provisions almost entirely, Major Anderson and his noble band could only wait for the help which was slow in coming. , Thus day by day the isolated fort stood like a solitary rock, against which the angry surges of an ocean were stormfully mustering. Girdled in by an army that grew stronger every moment, its noble commander and his scarcely less heroic men, stood firmly by the flag that floated above its battlements, the only stars and stripes now visible from horizon to horizon.

The God of heaven, and that small handful of men, only know the anxieties that beset them. With no means of intelligence, no certainty of support, if an emergency arose demanding an assumption of prompt responsibility, with nothing but gloom landward or seaward, Anderson and his little forces stood at bay. Every hour, every moment, restricted their privileges and consumed their stores; they began to look forward to a lack of food, and many an anxious eye was turned toward the ocean, in a wistful search after the succor that did not come.

The government in Washington was painfully aware of the peril which hung over these brave men. Still, some hope of an amicable adjustment lingered, and President Buchanan hesitated in taking measures that might inaugurate a civil war. But his obligations to these Buffering men were imperative. The heroic band, so faithfm to their trust, so true to their national honor, must not be left to starve or fall for lack of food and re-enforcements.

On the 5th of January the Star of the West set sail from New York, laden with stores, ammunition, and two hundred and fifty men. Fort Sumter was at length to be relieved. But the North abounded with secession sympathizers, and in a few hours after the steamer sailed, the people of Charleston were informed of her destination by telegraph. Preparations were promptly made for her reception. Captain McGowan had intended to enter Charleston harbor at night, hoping to veil himself in darkness, and reach Fort Sumter undiscovered. But the buoys, sights and ranges had been removed, and, thus baffled, he was compelled to'lie outside the harbor till day-Hght.

At half-past 7, A.m., January 9th, the Star of the West started for the fort. A shot from Morris Island cut sharply across her bows. She run up the stars and stripes, sending that first aggressive shot a noble answer, in red, white and blue, but keeping steadily on her course.

Again and again the audacious guns on Morris Island ploughed up the waters in her path, and, thus assailed, she slowly changed her course, and left the besieged fort without succor.

The little garrison in Fort Sumter watched these proceedings with keen anxiety; though ignorant of the nature and errand of the steamer, this attack aroused the patriotism in every heart. They saw the stars and stripes deliberately fired upon. Seventeen guns sent their iron messages from Morris Island, and then, ignorant of the cause, ignorant of everything, save that the old flag had been assaulted, the garrison fell to work. The guns of Fort Sumter were run out ready for action, but just then the steamer veered on her course and moved seaward.

Had Major Anderson known that the Star of the West was struggling to give him succor, those seventeen shots would never have been fired with impunity.

While the steamer was yet hovering on the horizon, Anderson sent a flag to Governor Pickens, mquiring if a United States steamer had been fired upon by his authority. Governor Pickens replied that it was by his authority. Immediately on the receipt of this answer, Lieutenant Talbot left Fort Sumter with despatches for Washington, asking for instructions.

From that time the garrison remained in a state of siege, until the 5th of April, one month after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.

At this time the fort had become more closely besieged. The little garrison was refused fresh provisions from the city, and its supplies by the Government were almost consumed. Starvation or surrender lay before Major Anderson and his handful of men. Though cut off from communication with the fort, the Government was not unmindful of its needs. From the 5th to the 11th of April three vessels of war, three transports, and three steamers sailed from New York and Norfolk, with men, horses, and munitions of war. The destination of these vessels was kept secret, and public curiosity became intensely excited. The Confederate Government, now assembled at Montgomery, Alabama, was promptly notified, by its secret emissaries, of these movements. Indeed, it is doubtful if Jefferson Davis was not better informed, regarding the destination of this expedition, than the people of the North. The result was, a formal demand on Major Anderson for the surrender of Fort Sumter by General Beauregard, commander of the Confederate forces investing the fort, which now numbered 7,000 men, protected by batteries mounting 140 siege guns. President Lincoln had notified Governor Pickens that provisions would be sent to the garrison of Fort Sumpter, peaceably, if possible, if necessary, by force. General Beauregard, commander of the Confederate forces, knew of the succor at hand, but deeming Anderson ignorant of its coming, hoped that the state of semi-starvation to which the garrison was reduced, might enforce the surrender before help arrived. But the astute rebel found himself matched by a soldier, cautious in negotiation as he afterwards proved himself heroic in battle. On Thursday, the 11th of April, a boat was seen approaching the work, with Colonel Chesnut, Colonel Chisholm and Captain Lee, aids to General Beauregard. They handed Major Anderson a communication from General Beauregard, which was a summons to evacuate the fort. It was to this effect: that the Confederate authorities had re'frained from any hostile act against Fort Sumter in anticipation that the government of the United States would withdraw its troops from that fort; that it appeared probable at one time that this would have been done, but that the authorities of the Confederate States could no longer refrain from taking possession of a fort that commanded the entrance to one of their principal harbors, and that the order to evacuate the fort was now made upon the following terms: The troops to be allowed to carry with them their arms, all personal baggage and company property of every description, and the flag which had been maintained with so much fortitude, might be saluted when hauled down. Major Anderson replied, that his word of honor, and the duty he owed to his government, forbade his compliance with the demand These gentlemen then left the fort, displaying a red flag.

At half-past 1 A. M., on Friday, a boat containing Colonel Chesnut, Captain Lee and Colonel Roger A. Pryor, approached the work with a communication from General Beauregard, making inquiry as to what day Major Anderson would evacuate the work, and asking if he would agree not to open his batteries unless Fort Sumter was fired upon. Suspecting from the urgency of this midnight negotiation, some strong necessity on the part of his opponent, but convinced that an evacuation would be inevitable, Major Anderson made a written reply, stating that he would evacuate the fort at noon, on the 15th, provided he did not receive supplies or controlling instructions from his government to the contrary. That he would not open his batteries unless the flag of his country was fired upon, or unless some hostile intention on the part of the Confederate forces should be manifested. Being in hourly expectation of the arrival of a United States fleet with reinforcements of the harbor, and urged to instant action by dispatches from Montgomery, General Beauregard had prepared his messengers for this answer. Anderson's communication was handed to Colonel Chesnut shortly after 3 o'clock, who, after a short consultation with the officers who had accompanied him, handed a communication to Major Anderson, and said, “General Beauregard will open his batteries in one hour from this time, sir.” Major Anderson looked at his watch, and said, “It is half-past three. I understand you, sir, then, that your batteries will open in an hour from this time?” Colonel Chestnut replied, “Yes, sir, in one hour.” They then retired.


Fort Sumter is a pentagonal structure, built upon an artificial island at the mouth of Charleston harbor, three and three-eighths miles from the city of Charleston. The island has for its base a sand and mud bank, with a superstructure of the refuse chips from several northern granite quarries. These rocks are firmly embedded in the sand, and upon them the present fortification is reared. The island itself cost half a million dollars, and was ten years in construction. The fortification cost another half million dollars, and at the time of its occupancy by Major Anderson, was so nearly completed as to admit the introduction of its armament. The walls are of solid brick and concrete masonry, built close to the edge of the water, and without a berme. They are sixty feet high, and from eight to twelve feet in thickness, and are pierced for three tiers of guns on the north, east and west exterior sides. Its weakest point is on the south side, of which the masonry is not only weaker than that of the other sides, hut it is unprotected from a flank fire. The wharf and entrance to the fb'rt are on this side.

The work is designed for an armament of one hundred and forty pieces of ordnance of all calibres. Two tiers of the guns are under bomb-proof casements, and the third or upper tier is open, or, in military parlance, en barbette; the lower tier for forty-two pounder paixhan guns; the second tier for eight and ten-inch columbiads, for throwing solid or hollow shot; and the upper tier for mortars and twenty-four pound guns. The full armament of the fort, however, had not arrived when Major Anderson took possession; but after its occupancy by him, no efforts had been spared to place the work in an efficient state of defence, by mounting all the available guns and placing them at salient points. Only seventy-five of the guns were in position at the time of the attack. Eleven paixhan guns were among that number, nine of them commanding Fort Moultrie, which is wfthin easy range, and the other two pointing towards Castle Pinckney, which is well out of range. Some of the columbiads, the most effective weapon for siege or defensive operations, were not mounted. Four of the thirty-two pounder barbette guns were on pivot carriages, which gave them the entire range of the horizon, and others have a horizontal sweep of fire of one hundred and eighty degrees. The magazine contained seven hundred barrels of gunpowder, and an ample supply of shot, powder and shells for one year's siege, and a large amount of miscellaneous artillery stores. The work was amply supplied with water from artificial wells. In a defensive or strategical point of view, Fort Sumter radiates its fire through all the channels from the sea approach to Charleston, and has a full sweep of range in its rear or city side. The maximum range of the guns from Sumter is three miles; but for accurate firing, sufficient to hull a vessel, the distance would require to be reduced one-half of that figure. The war garrison of the fort is six hundred men, but only seventy-nine were within its walls at the time of the attack, exclusive of laborers.

Fort Sumter is three and three-eighths miles from Charleston, one and one-fourth mile from Fort Moultrie, three-fourths of a mile from Cummings Point, one and three-eighths mile from Fort Johnson, and two and five-eighths miles from Castle Pinckney. The city of Charleston is entirely out of range of the guns of Fort Sumter.

« PreviousContinue »