April, 1861: Battle of Fort Sumter Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

On April 12, 1861, at 4:30 in the morning, Confederate forces began the Civil War with a bombardment of the large masonry fort commanding the shipping lanes into Charleston harbor. Thousands of Confederates filled the city and occupied outer islands, surrounding the installation and making escape or reinforcement nearly impossible. Defending the fort was a skeleton garrison, which lacked necessary manpower and supplies for an effective defense. Major Robert Anderson kept his men under cover and gave limited return fire. General P. G. T. Beauregard kept up the shelling from batteries carefully positioned around the harbor. For thirty-four hours, the shells rained down until a fire within the fort near the powder magazine prompted surrender. Surprisingly, neither side suffered casualties nor were any civilians hurt, and the only deaths came when a gun salute exploded at the surrender ceremony. Union President Abraham Lincoln responded to the loss of the fort by calling for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the Southerners’ rebellion.

On April 12, 1861, at 4:30 in the morning, Confederate forces began the Civil War with a bombardment of the large masonry fort commanding the shipping lanes into Charleston harbor. Thousands of Confederates filled the city and occupied outer islands, surrounding the installation and making escape or reinforcement nearly impossible. Defending the fort was a skeleton garrison, which lacked necessary manpower and supplies for an effective defense. Major Robert Anderson kept his men under cover and gave limited return fire. General P. G. T. Beauregard kept up the shelling from batteries carefully positioned around the harbor. For thirty-four hours, the shells rained down until a fire within the fort near the powder magazine prompted surrender. Surprisingly, neither side suffered casualties nor were any civilians hurt, and the only deaths came when a gun salute exploded at the surrender ceremony. Union President Abraham Lincoln responded to the loss of the fort by calling for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the Southerners’ rebellion.

Confederate gunners bombarding the Union-held Fort Sumter. (Library of Congress)

The firing on Fort Sumter meant the beginning of war between the Union and Confederacy. The Confederate victory boosted Southern morale. For the Union, the loss only strengthened resolve to preserve the Union at all costs. Across the nation, war fever swept up many men who joined the armies of both sides.

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