The surrender of Fort Sumter

Sunday the 14th was the day in which Major Robert Anderson would formally surrender his Federal garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.

Anderson surrendered to Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederates at Charleston, according to the terms that Beauregard had offered on the 11th. The Federals would be allowed to keep their arms and property, and they would be given transportation to any destination that Anderson selected. They would also be allowed to fire a 100-gun salute to their flag before hauling it down for the last time.

Boats in the harbor were filled with people who had come out to witness the surrender ceremony, including Beauregard and South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens. Beauregard sent an officer to the fort to give Anderson’s men all their mail that had been held back. The men read their mail, packed their belongings, and prepared for the salute. The U.S.S. Baltic was slated to take the men out of the harbor, but she drew too much water and so the transport steamer Isabel was assigned the task instead.

At 2:30 p.m., the troops assembled on the parade ground. The white flag came down the flagpole, and the tattered U.S. flag was run up in its place as the top tier guns began firing the salute. The Confederates did not know how many rounds that Anderson intended to fire; onlookers wondered if Anderson would fire 27 to denote the number of states still in the Union, or if Anderson would insult them by firing 34 to symbolize that the Confederate states still belonged to the Union. Tensions eased when the 35th shot was fired.

After the 47th round, Private Daniel Hough accidentally inserted a cartridge into his gun before swabbing out the sparks from the previous round. This caused an explosion that tore off his arm and later killed him. The wind blew more sparks to nearby cartridges and set them off, mortally wounding Private Edward Galloway and injuring four others. These were the only casualties in the battle for Sumter. Anderson, shaken by the tragedy, ended the salute at 50 guns.

Two hours later, the Federals marched out of Sumter with their colors as musicians played “Yankee Doodle.” Confederate soldiers along the beaches removed their hats in salute, and spectators observed in silence. The Federals boarded the Isabel, where they would spend the night before returning north with the rest of Captain Gustavus V. Fox’s relief fleet that had arrived too late to save them.

Celebrations and special church services took place in Charleston. Governor Pickens declared, “We have met them and we have conquered.” Reverend J.H. Elliott at St. Michael’s Church compared Sumter to a biblical battle in which the Israelites “fully achieved their object, and were now returned in safety to their tents without the loss of a single comrade.” He expressed thanks to God and concluded: “His Providence is fast uniting the whole South in a common brotherhood of sympathy and action, and our first essay in arms has been crowned with perfect success.”

Charlestonians entertained some of the Federals in the city that evening. Anderson lamented: “Our Southern brethren have done grievously wrong, they have rebelled and have attacked their father’s house and their loyal brothers. They must be punished and brought back, but this necessity breaks my heart.”

To the Confederates, the presence of a foreign military force on their soil constituted a challenge to their new national credibility and had to be confronted. To northerners, the national honor had been desecrated by rebels firing upon the Federal military. The first engagement of the war resulted in Confederate victory, but it had also given President Abraham Lincoln what he wanted—the Confederacy had fired the first shot. Anderson might have to give up the fort, but northerners would now be galvanized to the cause of preserving the Union.

On the 15th, the Federal garrison left Fort Sumter aboard the steamer Isabel, which ferried them to the warship U.S.S. Baltic of Fox’s naval fleet. The war had begun.


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