Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Tar Heel's view on Fort Sumter, pt. 2

A fleet of steamers arrived off the bar early in the day and came to anchor. The number was afterwards increased, for on Sunday, when we went down the harbor, we saw seven.

We were told by gentlemen from Morris Island that Anderson had signal lights burning constantly, and that his flag was at half-mast a part of the time. The vessels did not seem to take any notice of him.

The conduct of this fleet is enough to bury the stars and stripes forever in infamy. They had witnessed the fight all day, riding quietly at anchor in sight of the wharves and not more than three miles from Fort Sumter. When night came every one confidently expected the attempt would be made to come it, or land troops, and if they had their own time to choose out to five years, they could not have been favored with so many advantages. There was a splendid tide, the wind was in their favor, it was as dark as pitch, rainy and misty and there were no lights burning on the old hulks in the harbor as there had been the night before. Their attempt was regarded as so certain that preparations were redoubled at every point. Every one looked to see a general engagement—Thus the night wore away.

Early Saturday morning the fire was resumed, and in a very short while the cry went through the city, “Fort Sumter is on fire,” and so it was. A dense volume of smoke rose from the fort, and lurid flames leaped up visible to the naked eye.—Anderson still kept up his fire on the Floating Battery and Fort Moultrie, but it evidently became slower and weaker. The boys on Morris Island gave him three cheers for every gun he fired. And now there comes a tremendous explosion in the fort, resembling the blowing up of a house, and throwing smoke and flame high in the air. Some said the magazine had exploded; others that he was blowing up the barracks to stop the flame; but the truth was that a shell or hot shot had struck some hand-grenades and loose ammunition, causing the explosion. Anderson’s fire ceased altogether, as the devouring element enveloped the fort; but the shell from his enemies burst around him with increased rapidity and fury as he endeavored to extinguish the flames. At last, a yell from the whole line of spectators along the wharves and battery announced the fall of the flag which had been defiantly floating throughout the engagement, but which had been shot away. It was so long before the flag was raised again that the opinion became general that his men were exhausted or smothered with smoke, or killed, and that he could not raise the flag again, and accordingly, Col. Wigfall started in a small boat from Morris Island, bearing a white flag for Fort Sumter. Before he reached the fort, however, Maj. Anderson had showed the stars and stripes again, together with a white flag; but the firing continued at the sight of the former, and Col. Wigfall entered the fort through a storm of shell and shot, and asked for Major Anderson. – When he made his appearance, Col. Wigfall said that seeing his distress, his utter inability to hold out, and the his flag was not raised, he, as aid to Gen. Beauregard, claimed a surrender. Major Anderson wish to know upon what terms he was expected to surrender, to which Col. Wigfall gracefully replied, that Gen. Beauregard was a gentleman and a soldier, and know how to treat as brave an enemy as Major Anderson; whereupon an unconditional surrender was made to Gen. Beauregard in behalf of the Confederate State. The stars and stripes were then hauled downed and the batteries on Sullivan’s Island ceased their fire.

At the first appearance of the white flag, the enthusiasm and excitement became very great all over the city and among the troops, and when the Palmetto and Confederate flags were raised on the parapet, the ordnance from all points of the harbor pealed forth their joyful thunder. The water was alive with craft of all sorts. The details of surrender were made. Major Anderson was allowed to carry out his property and side arms and to salute his flag. The Isabel went down from the city, at his own request, to take him to New York.

And we would be glad to close this brief narrative here—but the worst and the best thing connected with the battle of Fort Sumter, happened subsequently. The hand of Providence seemed to be in this flight. History records no where the fact that skilful artillerist on both sides have fired for 33 hours without killing, or seriously wounding a man. Major. Anderson’s men were so small in number that, notwithstanding the fort is a scene of desolation inside, they could all be safely stowed away in the casemates and thus escape the iron hail. The sand batteries and iron batteries protected the South Carolinians wonderfully. The only loss of life was experiences occurred when Major Anderson’s men were saluting his flag immediately previous to leaving the fort. In firing one of the guns, some shells of loose ammunition lying on the parapets caught and exploded, killing one man instantly, and mortally wounding three or four others, two of whom have since died. Gen. Beauregard ordered that the one that was killed should be buried with military honors, which was done.

From the Wilmington Herald
Reprinted The Daily Register, April 20, 1861.

1 comment:

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.