April 12, 1861 – The American Civil War Began With the Attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina

In 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States. As more states followed suit and the Confederate States of America took shape, many federal installations in the South were taken over by state governments. Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, continued to fly the U.S. flag, even as Confederate forces surrounded it. President Lincoln had just taken office and no shots had yet been fired when he received an urgent appeal from Major Robert Anderson, the commander at Fort Sumter in the Charleston harbor. They were running low on supplies, and the Confederates had so ringed the fort with military batteries that it seemed impossible any provisions could get through with anything less than “twenty thousand good and well disciplined men.” President Lincoln notified Governor Francis Pickens of South Carolina that he needed to send provisions – food only – to the men stranded in the middle of the harbor at Fort Sumter. Pickens contacted Jefferson Davis, who directed communications to be exchanged between Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and Major Anderson.

Major Robert Anderson

Major Robert Anderson

As it turned out, Anderson had been Beauregard’s teacher at West Point. Beauregard was extremely courteous in his demand that Anderson evacuate the fort. Anderson thanked him for his communications, and declined with “regret.” The next day, April 12, at 3:20 in the morning, Anderson received this message:

Sir:
By authority of Brigadier-General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time. We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servants.”

One hour later, the Civil War began.

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One Response

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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