Fort Sumter: How Not to Start a War

By Robert Crowe

If the outbreak of the Civil War was not so tragic, the opening salvo at Fort Sumter might read like a slapstick comedy. The first cannon shot at the fort by Confederate soldiers was an accident about a month prior to opening hostilities … and the confederates rowed to the Fort and apologized. A Confederate emissary sent to request surrender from the Union defenders, drank from a bottle he thought was whiskey but it was actually iodine. He had to have his stomach pumped by Union doctors. The Confederates fired 3000 artillery shells at the Fort and didn’t kill anyone. The only deaths in the Union Army were caused by Unions soldiers after they had surrendered the Fort.

South Carolina was the first state to succeed from the United States on December 20, 1860. Anticipating the worst, Major Robert Anderson, who was stationed in the harbor at Charleston, SC, decided to move his Union garrison from Fort Moultrie over to Fort Sumter on December 26, 1860. Fort Sumter was an empty major fortress that provided a superior position for his 85 troops. He made this move without orders.

The Union garrison was essentially left alone for 3 or 4 months suffering only verbal threats. In March of 1961 an inexperienced Confederate gunner accidentally discharged his cannon. He said he didn’t know it was loaded. The shot was fired from Morris Island and the cannonball bounced off the wharf in front of Fort Sumter. The gunners rowed to the Union stronghold and apologized.

A Confederate group under the command of Officer Richard Pryor went to the Fort to demand surrender. While there, Pryor helped himself to a glass of what he though was whiskey. The content of the bottle was actually iodine and he had to have his stomach pumped by Union doctors.

The confederate troops were under the command of P.G.T. Beauregard who was once a student at West Point under Union Major Anderson. Anderson refused to surrender, so at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, the Southerners began shelling the Fort. Because of a short supply of shells, the Union did not shoot back for many hours. Finally, under the command of U.S. Captain Abner Doubleday (erroneously accused of inventing the game of baseball) the Northerners began to return fire.

Beauregard’s 19 coastal batteries fired an estimated 3000 shots on Fort Sumter in 34 hours. None of the shots caused a death.

Running low on ammunition and food with no chance of being resupplied, Major Anderson surrendered the Fort. One of the conditions of surrender was that the Union troops be allowed to fire a 100 gun salute to the Union flag and Beauregard agreed. On shot 47 by the Union gunners an ammunition magazine caught fire, exploded and two Union soldiers, private Daniel Hough and private Edward Galloway, died. They were the first casualties of the Civil War and their deaths were caused by their own troops after the surrender.

After a ragged start … the war was on.

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