Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter. This event is the first large scale military operation that would officially launch the American Civil War. The firing was precipitated by Abraham Lincoln’s announcement, to South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens, that he was going to send in “supplies only” to the beleaguered garrison commanded by US Major Robert Anderson. CSA Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, commander of the Rebel forces at Charleston, demanded the immediate evacuation of the fort. Anderson refused.
At 4:30 a.m., on April 12, 1861, Beauregard ordered his heavy artillery to begin the bombardment of the Federal fortress. The first shot was from a heavy 10-inch mortar which exploded over the fort. This shot signaled the general artillery bombardment to begin. For the next 30+ hours the Confederate artillery would pound the fort. The masonry walls were not designed to withstand the force of the large seacoast guns and their power quickly began to cause significant damage. Anderson’s gunners did respond, but they were overpowered and low on ordnance. He would be forced to evacuate the fort at 2:30 p.m. on April 14 after agreeing to a truce the previous afternoon. The fort had sustained the bombardment, of over 3,000 shells, with no fatalities. Based on the evacuation agreement Anderson was able to fire a 100 gun salute to the United States flag. During this peaceable activity, two Federal soldiers would be killed – the first casualties of the Civil War.
Beauregard would become the “Napoleon” of the Confederacy while Anderson, and his garrison, would be elevated to hero status. Lincoln now had a war to prepare for. On April 15 he would call for 75,000 state militia troops, to serve for 90 days, to put down the rebellion. This move caused four more states to quickly secede from the Union and patriotic fervor, north and south, to grow out of control. Meanwhile, around Washington City, patriotism quickly turned to fear. Citizens, federal employees and politicians all believed Beauregard would march his Provisional Army on Washington – a city now surrounded by by recently seceded Virginia and Maryland a pro-Confederate border state – and capture the capital. The city’s only fortification was Fort Washington – which garrisoned one soldier. Throughout the city were roughly 1,500 militia, federal soldiers and marines – certainly not enough to defend a large scale attack. Fortunately the threat never materialized or the Civil War may have ended much differently.(i)
The soldiers in the Provisional Confederate Army, which fired on Fort Sumter, had no idea of the ramifications of the launch of that single 10-inch mortar shell at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861. Over the next four years the two sides would fight a fratricidal war beyond anyone’s imagination that spring day in 1861. The final butcher’s bill would be 600,000 dead Americans in a country with a total population, north and south, of 30,000,000. The numbers are beyond comprehension. With today’s population of the United States we would have to suffer 6,000,000 deaths to equal the proportions of the American Civil War.
(i) Lockwood, John & Lockwood Charles, The Siege of Washington: The Untold Story of the Twelve Days That Shook the Union, published on April 11, 2011 by Oxford University Press, Pg. 6.