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Fort Sumter
As each state seceded from the Union, it seized the virtually undefended federal
forts, arsenals, customs houses (where tax money was collected and stored), mints, and
other federal property within its borders. But still in federal hands were two remote forts
in the Florida keys, another on an island off Pensacola, and Fort Moultrie in Charleston
harbor. In December 1860, the self-proclaimed republic of South Carolina demanded the
84-man garrison of the US Army at Fort Moultrie to evacuate. On the day after
Christmas 1860, Major Robert Anderson, commander at Moultrie, moved his men to Fort
Sumter, an uncompleted but immensely strong fort on an artificial island in the channel
leading into Charleston Bay. Anderson hoped that moving the fort would ease tensions
by reducing the possibility of attack. Instead, it lit a fuse that eventually set off the war.
South Carolina sent a delegate to President James Buchanan to negotiate a
withdrawal of the federal troops but Buchanan said no. On January 9th, Buchanan even
tried to send 200 soldiers to Fort Sumter but they were driven away by the South Carolina
artillery. Although they were fired upon by the Confederates in Charleston, Anderson
ordered his men not to fire back. He did not want to start a war. The Confederate
government then sent General Pierre P.T. Beauregard to take command of the troops at
Charleston Bay and point their cannons at the fort.
When Abraham Lincoln took office, he reassured southerners that, “We are not
enemies, but friends.” At the same time, though, he said that the federal government
would “hold, occupy, and possess the property, and places” that belonged to it. Soon,
Lincoln received a cable from Anderson that the men at Fort Sumter were running out of
supplies and food. Lincoln knew that any attempt to bring them provisions would
probably provoke an attack from the Confederate guns at Charleston. Lincoln finally
decided to sent in unarmed ships with supplies but to also hold troops and warships
outside the harbor with authorization to fight only if the Confederates used force to stop
the supply ships. With this, he shifted the responsibility of starting the war to
Confederate President Jefferson Davis. If the Confederate troops fired on the unarmed
supply ships, the South would look like they were starting a war by attacking “a mission
of humanity” bringing “food to hungry men.”
Davis did not hesitate to take action. He ordered General Beauregard to force
Sumter’s surrender before the supply ships got there. He didn’t want to look the bad guy.
At 4:30 am on April 12, 1861, Confederate guns set off the Civil War by firing on Fort
Sumter. After a 33 hour bombardment in which the rebels (Confederate soldiers) fired
4,000 rounds while the soldiers within the fort fired 1,000 rounds (with no one killed or
injured on either side), the burning fort lowered the flag in surrender. Thus the first shots
of the Civil War, in which there would eventually be over 1 million casualties (wounded
and dead), had begun.
Directions: Please answer the following questions in complete sentences on a separate
sheet of paper.
1. As each state seceded (left) the Union, what types of places did they seize?
2. Why did Lincoln have to send supplies to Fort Sumter?
3. Do you think Lincoln’s idea to keep the troops at Fort Sumter and provide them
supplies with unarmed ships was a smart idea? Why?
4. What did Jefferson Davis do when he heard of Lincoln’s plan?
5. Describe what happened on April 12, 1861. How did this lead to the start of the Civil