Battle of Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter Battle / Fort Sumter Flag / Fort Sumter

The Battle of Fort Sumter was the first in a long list of civil war battles. U.S. Army Major Robert Anderson commanded a small group of men in defense of Fort Sumter, a fortress-like structure which controlled the entrance to Charleston harbor in South Carolina.

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President James Buchanan made several attempts to resupply the men at Fort Sumter in December 1860 but the supplies did not get through. Instead they were seized by southern forces as were all other northern holdings in the area. All that remained was Fort Sumter.

Major General P.G.T. Beauregard was put in charge of forces in Charleston for the new southern republic, the Confederate States of America. The situation quickly changed into that of a siege and Beauregard tightened his hold on the fort and the men inside.

Confederate batteries were aimed at the fort as Union supplies of food, artillery and manpower ran very low. Anderson did his best to shore up the fort and use what he had for defense but didn’t have the necessary resources to properly defend the fort.

Newly-elected President Abraham Lincoln made it a top-priority to resupply the fort but before he could put plans into effect, the Confederate command issued and ultimatum. Union forces were to evacuate the fort immediately or hostilities would be intitiated. When Major Anderson refused, the Confederate batteries were ordered to open fire.

* Map by Hal Jespersen,

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The Battle

On April 12, 1861 at 4:30am, the first shots of the American Civil War were fired and the Battle of Fort Sumter had begun. Initially just the Confederate batteries fired on the fort and it was some time before Anderson and his men returned fire. They needed to conserve their limited ammunition so it was some hours before they fired back.

After realizing their dire situation with no hopes of winning the engagement, Major Robert Anderson and his men evacuated the fort. They had held out for 34 hours and this act of evacuation had officially ended the Fort Sumter battle.

Before they left they took down the Fort Sumter flag and this acted as a rallying symbol for the recruitment of troops up north. Today the flag has taken its rightful place as part of the Fort Sumter museum.

The Aftermath

On both sides there was only one death which took place not during the actual battle, but in the surrender ceremony on April 14 following the engagement. A U.S. army cannon fired prematurely and Private Daniel Hough is officially listed as the first casualty of the conflict.

The Battle of Fort Sumter marked the official start to the American Civil War and within days, President Lincoln would call for 75,000 volunteers to quell the Confederate rebellion.

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