Fort Sumter

President Jefferson Davis took the view that after a state seceded, federal forts became the property of the state. On 12th April, 1861, General Pierre T. Beauregard demanded that Major Robert Anderson surrender Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour. Anderson replied that he would be willing to leave the fort in two days when his supplies were exhausted. Beauregard rejected this offer and ordered his Confederate troops to open fire. After 34 hours of bombardment the fort was severely damaged and Anderson was forced to surrender.

Primary Sources

(1) William Seward, memorandum to Abraham Lincoln (1st April, 1861)

My system is built upon the idea as a ruling one, namely, that we must change the question before the public from one upon slavery, or about slavery, for a question upon union or disunion. In other words, from what would be regarded as a party question to one of patriotism or union.

The occupation or evacuation of Fort Sumter, although not in fact a slavery or a party question, is so regarded. Witness the temper manifested by the Republicans in the free states, and even by the Union men in the South.

I would therefore terminate it as a safe means for changing the issue. I deem it fortunate that the last administration created the necessity. For the rest, I would simultaneously defend and reinforce all the ports in the Gulf and have the Navy recalled from foreign stations to be prepared for a blockade. Put the island of Key West under martial law.

(2) Mary Boykin Chesnut, Charleston, South Carolina, diary entry (13th April, 1861)

Fort Sumter has been on fire. Anderson has not yet silenced any of our guns. So the aides, still with swords and red sashes by way of uniform, tell us. But the sound of those guns makes regular meals impossible. None of us go to table. Tea trays pervade the corridors going everywhere. Some of the anxious hearts lie on their beds and moan in solitary misery.

(3) Walt Whitman wrote about his thoughts on hearing about the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Specimen Days (1881).

Even after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the gravity of the revolt, and the power and will of the slave States for a strong and continued military resistance to national authority, were not at all realized at the North, except by a few. Nine-tenths of the people of the free States looked upon the rebellion, as started in South Carolina, from a feeling of one-half of contempt, and the other half composed of anger and incredulity. It was not thought it would be joined in by Virginia, North Carolina, or Georgia. A great and cautious national official predicted it would blow over "in sixty days" and folks generally believed the prediction.

(4) Mary Livermore was staying in Boston with her father when the American Civil War started in 1861.

My own home had been in Chicago for years, but my aged father was thought to be dying, and the stern speech of the telegram had summoned me to his bedside. The daily papers teemed with the dreary records of sucession. The Southern press blazed with hatred of the North, and with fierce contempt for her patience and her avowed desire for peace. Northern men and women were driven from Southern homes, leaving behind all their possessions, and thankful to escape with life.

The day after arrival, came the news that Fort Sumter was attacked, which increased the feverish anxiety. The telegraph, which had registered for the astounded nation the hourly progress of the bombardment, announced the lowering of the stars and stripes, and the surrender of the beleaguered garrison, the news fell on the land like a thunderbolt.