Today In Charleston History: April 11

1842 – Deaths.

Bishop John England died.

Bishop_John_EnglandEngland was an Irish-born American Roman Catholic (1786) who became the first bishop of Charleston. Ordained in 1808, England became an instructor at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Cork, where in 1812 he was made president. His outspoken opposition to governmental intervention in the selection of Irish and English bishops displeased some of his superiors.

He was named bishop of the new diocese of Charleston—comprising the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia—and was consecrated in Ireland (Sept. 21, 1820). Seeing that the first need of his diocese was education, he prepared and printed a catechism and a missal for Americans. He founded the United States Catholic Miscellany, the first Roman Catholic newspaper in the United States. An eloquent orator, he was also the first Roman Catholic clergyman invited to speak before the U.S. Congress (1826), where for two hours he described the doctrines of his church. He became a U.S. citizen in the same year.

1861 – Civil War

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard sent a letter to Major Anderson demanding the surrender of Fort Sumter. The letter was carried by Col. James Chesnut, Alexander Chisolm and Stephen Dill Lee. Their boat, carrying a white flag, landed at Ft. Sumter at 3:34 p.m. They were escorted to the guardroom, just inside the gate. The note from Beauregard read:

SIR: The Government of the Confederate States has hitherto forborne from any hostile demonstration against Fort Sumter, in the hope that the Government of the United States, with a view to the amicable adjustment of all questions between the two Governments, and to avert the calamities of war, would voluntarily evacuate it.

There was reason at one time to believe that such would be the course pursued by the Government of the United States, and under that impression my Government has refrained from making any demand for the surrender of the fort. But the Confederate States can no longer delay assuming actual possession of a fortification commanding the entrance of one of their harbors, and necessary to its defense and security.

I am ordered by the Government of the Confederate States to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter. My aides, Colonel Chesnut and Captain Lee, are authorized to make such demand of you. All proper facilities will be afforded for the removal of yourself and command, together with company arms and property, and all private property, to any post in the United States which you may select. The flag which you have upheld so long and with so much fortitude, under the most trying circumstances, may be saluted by you on taking it down.

Colonel Chesnut and Captain Lee will for a reasonable time, await your answer.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
 G. T. BEAUREGARD, Brigadier-General, Commanding. 

Anderson read the note to his officers and they agreed to reject the Confederacy’s ultimatum. About 4:30 p.m. Anderson handed his response to Chesnut and the Confederate aides boarded their boat to carry it back to Beauregard in Charleston.

Federal officers at Fort Sumter. BACK ROW, L-R: Capt. Seymour, 1st Lt. Snyder, 1st Lt. Davis, 2nd Lt. Meade, 1st lt. Talbot. FRONT ROW, L-R: Capt. Doubleday, Major Anderson, Asst. Surgeon Crawford, Capt. Foster. Courtesy Library of Congress

Federal officers at Fort Sumter. BACK ROW, L-R: Capt. Seymour, 1st Lt. Snyder, 1st Lt. Davis, 2nd Lt. Meade, 1st lt. Talbot. FRONT ROW, L-R: Capt. Doubleday, Major Anderson, Asst. Surgeon Crawford, Capt. Foster. Courtesy Library of Congress

As they were leaving Anderson asked, “Will General Beauregard open his batteries without further notice to me?”

Col. Chesnut, a former U.S. Senator, and therefore the most senior of the aides answered, “No, I can say to you that he will not, without giving further notice.”

Anderson replied, “Gentlemen, if you do not batter the fort to pieces about us, we shall be starved out in a few days.”  Anderson was sending Beauregard, a friend and former colleague, a subtle message: that if the resupply effort from Washington was unsuccessful, Anderson was going to have to decide whether to surrender the fort.

James Chesnut and Stephen Dill Lee, Confederate Aides-de-Camp to Gen. Beauregard. Courtesy Library of Congress

James Chesnut and Stephen Dill Lee, Confederate Aides-de-Camp to Gen. Beauregard. Courtesy Library of Congress

While these events on at Fort Sumter were playing out, in downtown Charleston, rumors had spread that something was going to happen. Emma Holmes described it in her diary:

 A day never to be forgotten in the annals of Charleston … the whole afternoon & night the Battery was thronged with spectators of every age and sex, anxiously watching and awaiting with the momentary expectation of hearing the war of cannon opening on the fort or on the fleet which was reported off the bar. Everybody was restless and all who could go were out.

At approximately 5:30 p.m., Chesnut delivered Anderson’s note to Beauregard in Charleston. It read:

GENERAL: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication demanding the evacuation of this fort, and to say, in reply thereto, that it is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligations to my Government, prevent my compliance. Thanking you for the fair, manly, and courteous terms proposed, and for the high compliment paid me.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

ROBERT ANDERSON, 
Major, First Artillery, Commanding.