Question of the Week
On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, thus beginning the Civil War. How many soldiers were killed in this battle?
The most deadly conflict in the United States, lasting four years with more than 620,000 deaths, began with a battle in which no one was killed. After decades of social, political, and economic disagreements, hostilities between northern states and southern states finally erupted at Fort Sumter off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina in April 1861.
President Abraham Lincoln, determined to preserve the Union, ordered a shipment of supplies and reinforcements to Fort Sumter, a bastion of federal authority in the South, which was interpreted by secessionists as an act of war. Confederate forces called for Union Major Robert Anderson’s surrender of Fort Sumter. After an hour and no sign of surrender, Confederate troops under Confederate Brigadier-General Pierre G. T. Beauregard were ordered to seize the fort by force.
On April 12, 1861 at 4:30 a.m., the Confederate army fired the first shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter. Confederate guns around Charleston Harbor bombarded the fort for the next 34 hours from 12 batteries and fortifications. Union Major Anderson’s forces numbered only 85 soldiers equipped with a limited supply of cartridge bags.
On the second day of fighting, the fort had been set ablaze and Union forces were unable to fight both the fire and the Confederates. Major Anderson officially surrendered Fort Sumter to South Carolina on the afternoon of April 14. Despite the fact that Union soldiers were outgunned and outnumbered, there were no causalities.
HSP’s collections contain images related to Fort Sumter, as well as books on the history of the the Civil War, such as Major Anderson and Fort Sumter (Tl .2025), The Genesis of the Civil War: The Story of Sumter (Tl .202), and Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-'61 (Tl .203).
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.