Anderson and his men soon found themselves under siege. After seceding, South Carolinians had placed artillery around Charleston Harbor to prevent ships from bringing supplies to Fort Sumter. Secessionist hotheads called for action. A Virginia politician begged a Charleston crowd to "strike a blow!" so that Virginia and the other still neutral Southern states would join the Confederacy. The Charleston Mercury agreed: "Border southern States will never join us until... we have proven that a garrison of seventy men cannot hold the portal of our commerce...The Fate of the Southern Confederacy hangs by the ensign halliards of Fort Sumter." Such inflammatory language initially failed to provoke conflict.
On April 6, 1861, Lincoln ordered a naval expedition to relieve Fort Sumter. He informed the governor of South Carolina that this expedition was only carrying food. There would be no attempt to reinforce the fort with men or weapons. Lincoln had shrewdly put Confederate leaders in a bind. Either they would have to back down from their threats or fire at a ship carrying food to hungry men.
At 4:30 a.m. on Friday, April 12, 1861, the first gun fired. Soon there were 47 artillery pieces bombarding Fort Sumter. The defenders could survive only by staying inside the brick casemates where the smoke was so thick that they had to breathe through wet handkerchiefs. The defenders fired back to show defiance even though they knew their return fire was ineffective. Confederate gunners pounded Fort Sumter with more than 4,000 shots.
There could be no doubt about the outcome. Having satisfied honor, Anderson surrendered the fort. No one had been killed in the fighting. An accident after the surrender, however, caused an explosion that killed a Union private named Daniel Hough. Hough's death was the first fatality in a war that would claim more than 620,000 soldiers' lives.
Northern states quickly enrolled the required number of militia and more. Lincoln asked Indiana for 6 regiments; the governor offered 12. Ohio's governor telegraphed Lincoln to plead for permission to enlist additional units because so many men were volunteering. More than 100,000 volunteers responded to Lincoln's initial call.
However, Lincoln's request backfired in the South. It caused a bitter outcry from the four southern states that had yet to secede. The governor of Virginia replied that Lincoln had chosen to begin civil war; he would send no troops. The governor of Arkansas answered that his people "will defend to the last extremity their honor, lives, and property" against the North. In response to Lincoln's call, Virginia (April 17, 1861), Arkansas (May 6, 1861), North Carolina (May 20, 1861), and Tennessee (June 8, 1861) joined the Confederacy. James R. Arnold and Roberta Wiener Roberta Wiener is a contributor to several ABC-CLIO encyclopedias, including The Encyclopedia of North American Colonial Conflicts to 1775, and managing editor of The Journal of Military History.
James R. Arnold and Roberta Wiener
James R. Arnold is a military historian and the author of more than 20 books, including Grant Wins the War: Decision at Vicksburg and Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the Philippines to Iraq. His newest books, The Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902–1913 and Napoleon's Triumph: The 1807 Friedland Campaign, will be released in 2011.
Boatner, Mark Mayo, III. The Civil War Dictionary. New York: David McKay Co., 1959; Bostick, Douglas W. The Union is Dissolved!: Charleston and Fort Sumter in the Civil War. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009; Bowman, Shearer Davis. At the Precipice: Americans North and South during the Secession Crisis. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010; Burton, E. Milby. The Siege of Charleston 1861–1865. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1970; Catton, Bruce. The Coming Fury. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961.
James R. Arnold and Roberta Wiener
Roberta Wiener is a contributor to several ABC-CLIO encyclopedias, including The Encyclopedia of North American Colonial Conflicts to 1775, and managing editor of The Journal of Military History.