The battle of Fort Sumter, which was really more of a unilateral
bombardment by Confederate artillery, was started on April 12th, 1861,
and concluded some 2 days later on April 14th. It was the first open
conflict of the American Civil War The control of Charleston was critical
to the South's cause, and the Union garrison there effectively blockaded the
harbor. Charleston, South Carolina was an economic powerhouse, the harbor
meant continued trade with Europe and a supply line to British arms and
material. The British were only too happy to supply the South - it created a
market for their arms and had the potential to divide one of their greatest
rivals in two. The irony of this is the later messianic fervor for Victorian
England's anti-slavery efforts.
On April 10th, 1861, The commander of the CS forces, Brig. Gen. P.G.T.
Beauregard issued an ultimatum to the Union commander of the fort, Major
Robert Anderson, US Army. Anderson was asked to abandon his position and
withdraw north with his forces. Anderson refused. Earlier, the day before
Lincoln's inaugural address, MAJ Anderson
had telegraphed a request to the War Department for 20,000 men
reenforcement. It was rejected as a potentially inflammatory gesture.
Unfortunately, the Fort was designed to defend against naval assault, not
an attack from onshore. In a conventional conflict, there would have been
land-based forces to protect the inland flank of the fortress. Anderson was
cut off, but his duty was clear. He had been told to hold his position.
On the morning on the 12th, the Confederate artillery opened up. Anderson
held out for a day, then surrendered without taking a single casualty.
Holding out further, with no reenforcements inbound, seemed pointless. He
was allowed to withdraw. Firing an exit salute, one of the Union cannons
exploded, and three Union soldiers were killed.
The War had begun in earnest.