With the election of Lincoln certified, the initially slow, but rapidly accelerating secession avalanche began. On December 20, 1860, the convention in South Carolina approved a measure dissolving the connection between that state and the Union. James Petigru, a Unionist and therefore an undoubtedly lonely man in South Carolina, commented that his state was too small to survive as a nation, and too large to serve as an insane asylum. On December 21, The Charleston Mercury
published a description of Fort Sumter
. On the 22nd, South Carolina sent commissioners to the Federal government to negotiate the surrender of Federal property in the state--a very unlikely event even in Buchanan's lame duck term. James Chestnut, who had lead the South Carolina delegation from the Congress in November, 1860, was a member of the secession convention, and later, of the Provisional government of the newly seceded states. He became a military aide to Jefferson Davis, and his wife, Mary Chestnut
became a companion to Varina Davis, who was unpleasant and disliked in Richmond. Mrs. Chestnut kept a very detailed diary, which was not published until 1905 (to my knowledge), almost twenty years after her death. It is an important source document, and a very revealing view of civilian life in the Confederate capital, and in the Carolina backcountry during the war. I believe it is correct to say that this document has never been out of print, and should be easy for anyone to find.
On December 26, Major Robert Anderson
decided to abaondon Fort Moultrie, which was indefensible against attack from the mainland, and he removed to Fort Sumter with fewer than one hundred officers and men, and about an equal number of women, children, and civilian laborers. Anderson had been given the command in November, and although a pro-slavery Southerner from Kentucky, he was absolutely loyal to his oath to the Union, and like George Thomas, remained in Federal service.
On January 9, 1861, Mississippi seceded from the Union, and a vessel attempted to relieve Anderson at Fort Sumter. Buchanan's administration had contracted for the use of Star of the West
, a side-wheeler, deep water steamer which usually ran a route from New York to New Orleans. It had cleared the harbor, ostensibly for New Orleans, but troops and provisions were put on board, and the troops told to hide below decks. Star of the West
entered Charleston harbor, and was fired upon by shore batteries, and forced to retire. The entire mission was a fiasco, with the secret mission being no secret. Senator Wigfall of Texas tipped Buchanan's hand, and news to Major Anderson was sent by the regular mails, which were, naturally, opened and read before being forwarded to him.
Upon the stage now enters one of the most colorful, and militarily incompetent (he runs a close race with Braxton Bragg) officers to achieve high rank in the Confederacy. Pierre Gustave Toutant
, after entering West Point, had begun signing his name: "Pierre Gustave Toutant de Beauregard," Beauregard being the name of his family's plantation manor house. The adolescent affectation stuck, though, and he has been known as Beauregard ever since. On March 1, 1861, he was appointed by the Provisional government to command Confederate forces in the Harbor, and he took up his post on March 3--the day before Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President.
In the first week of April, Lincoln determined to relieve Forts Sumter and Pickens (see Pensacola, below). A relief squadron was dispatched, with the flag in Powhatan
, and was immediately struck by an Atlantic gale after putting to sea. Unknown to Lincoln, the commander on Powhatan
decided to head to Pensacola--i cannot say why, or if anyone has ever determined to a certainty why this officer decided to ignore Fort Sumter and steam to Pensacola. On April 8, the commissioners in Washington were told in no uncertain terms by William Seward, the Secretary of State, that the Federal government would not negotiate with, nor recognize the Provisional Government at Montgomery, Alabama, and would surrender no Federal property. On that same day, Lincoln's messengers to Governor Pickens, Mr. Chew and Captain Talbot, delivered their message--Pickens showed it to Beauregard, who the refused Captain Talbot permission to rejoin Anderson at Fort Sumter. His remark was that no communications would be allowed other than a request by Anderson to evacuate the Fort. On April 9, the ships of the Sumter relief expedition, minus the commander in Powhatan
, finally re-assembled off Sandy Hook after the storm, and began steaming to Charleston. On that day, Beauregard stopped Major Anderson's mail. On April 10, Jefferson Davis (now provisional President of the Confederacy), having been informed of the relief expedition by the simple act of reading the newspapers, ordered Beauregard to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter, and if met by a refusal, "to reduce it." On the 11th, Beauregard sent aides to request that Anderson evacuate the Fort. Anderson replied that neither his sense of duty nor of honor would allow that. He then remarked, ostensibly "off the record," that they would be starved out in a few days. This was communicated to Montgomery, and Davis instructed Beauregard to ascertain when Anderson might evactuate the Fort, and if he recieved no satisfactory reply, he was once again ordered "to reduce" the Fort. Shortly after midnight on the morning of Friday, April 12, 1861, a final attempt was made at negotiation. Failing, at 4:30 a.m., a single mortar was fired. A firebrand pro-slavery secessionist from Virginia, Edmund Ruffin, claimed to have fired that shot, and therefore, the first shot of the Civil War. Shortly thereafter, all of the batteries of the harbor opened on the Fort. After more than two hours, at about 7:00 a.m., Anderson gave the orders to his second in command, Captain Abner Doubleday
, to reply to the bombardment. At about this time, Captain Fox in Pawnee
attempted to enter Charleston harbor to resupply the Fort. He withdrew, and consulting with his fellow officers, they decided to await the arrival of Powhatan
, but to proceed to the relief of the Fort if Powhatan
did not arrive by the next day. The following day, although Powhatan
had not arrived, Captain Fox attempted to enter the harbor. There was a heavy swell, however, and a dense on-shore fog drifting to sea, and Fox's vessels grounded. At about 10:00 a.m., the flagstaff at Fort Sumter fell--although it was raised again, Beauregard had sent messages to know if Anderson had "struck" (that is, intentionally lowered his flag). This lead to negotiations for the evacuation of the Fort, which, while still defensible, was slowly crumbling into piles of brick fragments and brick dust. The comander of Pocahontas
was now the senior naval officer present with the arrival of that ship at about 2:00 p.m., and he entered into the negotiations, eventually agreeing to help evactuate the men, women and children in the Fort.
The civil war had begun in earnest.