The American Civil War Erupts: The Attack on Fort Sumter
Teaser Image

Notes on the Surrender of Fort Sumter

Although Major Robert Anderson and his Union troops had been stationed in defense of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor since late December 1860, they had regular contact with Confederate envoys, who repeatedly asked them to vacate the fort. Here, a Confederate colonel relates his experiences at the fort both before and after the bombardment in April 1861 that led to the Union surrender of the fort. Although the Civil War would subsequently become a highly divisive conflict, it is interesting to note here the respectful, even amiable, terms the colonel uses when discussing Anderson and his men.

NOTES ON THE SURRENDER OF FORT SUMTER.
BY A. R. CHISOLM, COLONEL, C. S. A.

VERY soon after Major Robert Anderson moved with his command into Fort Sumter from Fort Moultrie, Governor Francis W. Pickens sent James Fraser, of the Charleston Light Dragoons, to me at my plantation, fifty miles south of Charleston, with the request that I would assist with my negroes in constructing batteries on Morris Island. Taking my own negro men and others from the plantation of my uncle, Robert Chisolm, and that of Nathaniel Heyward, I was engaged in this work when General Beauregard arrived to take command. I then informed the governor that it would be necessary for General Beauregard to have an aide-de-camp who was familiar with the harbor and with boating; that I was the owner of a large six-oared boat and six superior oarsmen, that were at his service free of cost. I was thereupon commissioned lieutenant- colonel, and ordered to report to General Beauregard.

Having visited Fort Sumter five times under a flag of truce, and once after the surrender, I became well acquainted with most of its officers. During a visit in company with Captain Samuel W. Ferguson, the officers jokingly complained of being short of cigars and like luxuries. With General Beauregard's approval, the next time duty called us to the fort we presented them with several cases of claret and boxes of cigars.

April 12th, 1861, I visited the fort in company with James Chesnut, Jr., and Captain Stephen D. Lee with the demand for its surrender, and heard Major Anderson say in conversation with us, "I shall await the first shot, and if you do not batter us to pieces we shall be starved out in a few days." These words being communicated to General Beauregard, we were again sent to the fort, arriving there about 1:30 a. m., April 12th. After waiting nearly two hours for a reply, we sent word to Major Anderson that our orders did not admit of our waiting any longer. He came to where we were in the guard-room, and informed us "that we had twice fired on his flag, and that if we did so again he would open his fire on our batteries." Under our instructions this reply admitted of no other answer than the one dated April 12th, 1861, 3:20 a. m., which was dictated by Chesnut, written by Lee, and copied by me. Roger A. Pryor was with us on the second visit, but did not enter the fort, giving me as a reason that his State, Virginia, had not yet seceded. For the same reason he declined to fire the signal shot. Moreover, I believe he was then a member of Congress, and may have been unwilling to compromise himself.

The facts of the surrender of Fort Sumter to ex-Senator Wigfall are these: General Beauregard, seeing the fort on fire, sent me with a note to General James Simons, commanding on Morris Island, in which he directed him, if he could do so without risk to his command, to offer assistance in extinguishing the .fire. I passed down between Fort Sumter and our batteries ; delivering my dispatches, I volunteered to go to Fort Sumter, which offer was accepted. Colonel Wigfall, of Texas, volunteered to accompany me. While bringing my boat from its moorings in a creek, Wigfall, who was very much excited, jumped into a small skiff. The flag of the fort, which had been shot away, reappeared, and Wigfall was ordered to return, but he was out of hearing. I was ordered to return, and obeyed. Colonel Wigfall climbed through an embrasure, and, assuming authority from General Beauregard, called upon Major Anderson to surrender. Major Anderson did not realize the unauthorized nature of Wigfall's mission until the arrival of Captain Stephen D. Lee, William Porcher Miles, and Roger A. Pryor with an offer direct from General Beauregard, similar to the one Greneral Simons was authorized to make. Major Anderson was about to renew the action, when Major David R. Jones arrived with the offer of terms for the surrender of the fort, which were virtually almost anything that Anderson might ask, in order that we might get possession before the fleet could reenforce and provision the garrison.

I have always been of the opinion that Major Anderson should not have surrendered when he did. The fire only consumed the officers' and mens quarters; the two magazines were uninjured, only one man had been wounded, the walls were secure, and he still had provisions which would have sustained his small command until the fleet could both have provisioned and reenforced him. I was present with Captain Hartstene during the evacuation, and was astonished to see barrels of pork\ being rolled out and shipped on board the Isabel, the steamer furnished by General Beauregard to transport Anderson's men to the fleet. My duty often required that I should pass Fort Sumter and our guard-boats at night to visit Hartstene, who commanded the poor boats we used. 1 was rarely seen and had such a contempt for our guards that on one occasion, having a strong tide in my favor, we did not halt when shots were fired at us. In fact, we were seldom seen until close to the guards of the boat we sought. Captain Hartstene was well aware how easy it was to pass to Fort Sumter and expressed to me his uneasiness on this point; in fact, one bold officer in command of a navy barge, armed with a boat howitzer, could have easily cleared the way for a hundred barges with men and supplies to pass to the fort. The night but one previous to the surrender was very dark. I was ordered to Hartstene between the fort and the fleet in the main ship-channel, and my boat touched his guards before it was seen. Later in the war, when Beauregard defended the fort, one of the bravest officers in his command pronounced the work untenable. Beauregard then informed me that if necessary he would go there and hold the fort with his staff; that on no condition would he consent to give it up to General Gillmore. It was after this that General (then Major) Stephen Elliott made his gallant defense of the ruins ; when, with the exception of some guns buried under the ruins of the casemate facing Fort Moultrie, but one small gun remained mounted, and that was pointed toward the city, being used merely to fire the salutes.

Johnson, Robert Underwood, ed. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. New York: The Century Co., 1887, Vol. 1.

 

©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

  Maps
  Reference
  Documents
  Images
ABC-cLIO Footer