Today In Charleston History: April 13


The London Frigate, a slave ship, arrived in Charleston from Guinea with small pox on board. It spread so extensively that there were not enough healthy people to take care of the ill.

1780-The Siege of Charlestown

The British had managed to mount seventeen 24-pound cannons, two 12-pounders, three 8-inch howitzers and nine mortars.  At 10:00 am the batteries in the neck, north of the American lines opened steady fire until midnight.

      Major William Croghan wrote:

The balls flew thro’ the streets & spent their fury on the houses; & those who were walking or visiting in the town, as was usual during the former quiet, now flew to their cellars, & others to their works, as the places of greatest safety.

The first day’s bombardment killed two soldiers, several women and children, two cannons were destroyed and two houses burned to the ground. 

During the day, Governor John Rutledge and a few members of privy council, including Charles Pinckney left the city, heading for the backcountry. Gen. Lincoln persuaded Rutledge to “Preserve the Executive Authority … give confidence to the people and throw in the necessary succours and supplies to garrison.” That left Lt. Governor Christopher Gadsden the leading civil authority in the city.

The governor’s entourage included a number of invalids, including Lt. Colonel Francis Marion and his broken ankle. At noon they crossed the Cooper River leaving behind the constant booming of artillery and a city covered with smoke and fire.


At a Thomas Jefferson birthday celebration in Washington, DC, Pres. Andrew Jackson toasted: “Our Federal union – It must be preserved.” V-P John Calhoun replied, “The union – Next to our liberties the most dear.”

1861 – Civil War

By 8:00 a.m.the upper story of the officer’s quarters at Sumter were burning. The most immediate danger was the 300 barrels of gunpowder stored in a magazine. At one o’clock the flagstaff at Fort Sumter was struck by a Confederate shell and crashed to the ground. The soldiers rushed to rehoist the flag before the Confederates assumed they had surrendered.

About this time, former Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas visited Fort Sumter.During the midst of the bombardment, Wigfall had himself rowed out by slaves. Soldiers at Sumter were perplexed by a man waving a white handkerchief from a sword. The Federals raised a flag of truce and Wigfall, although he had no authority to do so, told the first Federal officers he met, “Let us stop this firing. You are on fire, and your flag is down. Let us quit.”

Anderson arrived a moment later and Wigfall told him:

You have defended your flag nobly sir. You have done all that it is possible to do, and General Beauregard wants to stop this fight. On what terms, Major Anderson, will you evacuate this fort?

ft sumter - interior

Inside Fort Sumter during the bombardment. Courtesy Library of Congress

Anderson felt some relief. His soldiers were half-way starved, exhausted and down to their last three shots. The American flag was taken down and Wigfall’s white handkerchief was raised in its place. The firing from all batteries ceased – the battle over.

Church bells rang across the city. Men on horseback galloped across the city, shouting the news. Spectators on the Battery sea wall cheered hysterically, the sound carrying across the Charleston harbor to the exhausted soldiers into Fort Sumter.

Hermann Klatte, a partner in a local liquor outlet called “Lilienthal & Klatte” on East Bay Street, wrote: 

 Yesterday morning at 4:30 they began fighting at Fort Sumpter…the United States flag was not raised again….Somewhat after 2:00 Sumpter surrendered unconditionally to the southern Confederacy, and soldiers from the same government will take over soon, and the bells are playing…victory.


Henry Ward Beecher, a Northern Congregationalist minister and staunch abolitionist, arrived in Charleston to preach at Ft. Sumter. Beecher’s sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe had written the wildly popular (and universally hated in the South) Uncle Tom’s Cabin. President Lincoln had personally selected him, stating, “We had better send Beecher down to deliver the address on the occasion of raising the flag because if it had not been for Beecher there would have been no flag to raise.”

Henry Ward Beecher, Army Chaplain

Henry Ward Beecher, Army Chaplain

Today In Charleston History: April 12 – Charleston First, Fort Sumter

 1861 – Civil War – Firing on Fort Sumter – Charleston First

After contacting his superiors in Montgomery, Beauregard wrote another dispatch and about midnight, his aides rowed out to Fort Sumter again flying a white flag. His response to Anderson was:

MAJOR: In consequence of the verbal observation made by you to my aides, Messrs. Chesnut and Lee, in relation to the condition of your supplies, and that you would in a few days be starved out if our guns did not batter you to pieces, or words to that effect, and desiring no useless effusion of blood, I communicated both the verbal observations and your written answer to my communications to my Government.

If you will state the time at which you will evacuate Fort Sumter, and agree that in the mean time you will not use your guns against us unless ours shall be employed against Fort Sumter, we will abstain from opening fire upon you. Colonel Chesnut and Captain Lee are authorized by me to enter into such an agreement with you. You are, therefore, requested to communicate to them an open answer.

I remain, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. T. BEAUREGARD, Brigadier-General, Commanding.

About 1:30 a.m. Anderson assembled his officers and read the Confederacy’s latest offer. For the next ninety minutes they discussed their response. They all considered the condition that they would not fire unless Sumter was shot at to be unacceptable. If the Federal supply ship arrived no doubt Confederate batteries would open fire upon it. The Federal officers were determined not repeat their lack of response during the Star of the West episode. But they were unsure of when (or even if) the supply ship would arrive. The officers agreed they could hold out four more days. Anderson composed his next reply to Beauregard:

GENERAL: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt by Colonel Chesnut of your second communication of the 11th instant, and to state in reply that, cordially uniting with you in the desire to avoid the useless effusion of blood, I will, if provided with the proper and necessary means of transportation, evacuate Fort Sumter by noon on the 15th instant, and that I will not in the mean time open my fires upon your forces unless compelled to do so by some hostile act against this fort or the flag of my Government by the forces under your command, or by some portion of them, or by the perpetration of some act showing a hostile intention on your part against this fort or the flag it bears, should I not receive prior to that time controlling instructions from my Government or additional supplies.

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

ROBERT ANDERSON, Major, First Artillery, Commanding.

The Confederate aides, Chesnut, Chisholm and Lee, read the reply immediately. Chesnut, following Beauregard’s orders, composed the following note:

SIR: By authority of Brigadier-General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.

We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servants.

JAMES CHESNUT, JR., Aide-de-Camp.
STEPHEN D. LEE, Captain, C. S. Army, Aide-de-Camp.

Chesnut delivered the message to Anderson. After reading it, Anderson pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time – it was 3:20 a.m. He asked Chesnut, “I understand you, sir, then, that your batteries will open in an hour from this time?”

Chesnut replied, “Yes, sir. In one hour.”

Anderson walked the Confederate officers to their boat. It was beginning to rain. He shook hands with each of them. “Gentlemen, if we do not meet again in this world, I hope we may meet in a better one,” he told them.  

Inside Fort Sumter Anderson ordered his men to prepare to receive an attack within the hour. He urged them to sleep if possible, that they would be returning fire at dawn.

The Confederate officers made the one-mile journey from Fort Sumter to Fort Johnson within half an hour. Col. Chesnut told Captain George James, battery commander at Johnson, they had given Anderson a deadline, and it was to be met. He as to fire a signal shot at 4:30 a.m.  

Chestnut, James and Chisholm, anxious to return to Beauregard as soon as possible, then got back in their boat and began to row across the harbor to Charleston. Out in the middle of the water, in the drizzling rain, not a single star was visible against the dark forbidding sky.  At exactly 4:30, Lt. Henry S. Farley pulled a lanyard on one of the cannons at the beach battery on James Island. A mortal shell arced high across the water, heading for Ft. Sumter, its glowing fuse leaving a glowing contrail, illuminating the sky. It exploded just above the fort like Fourth of July fireworks, spreading an orange-red glow across the horizon.

firing on sumter

 Confederate batteries at Fort Johnson fire on Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861. Courtesy Library of Congress

Within a minute of the signal shot, another shell screamed across the harbor and exploded within Fort Sumter. Beauregard had given precise orders on the firing rhythm. The forty-three guns that faced Sumter were each to fire in turn, in a counterclockwise circle, with two minutes between each shot, in order to save shot and powder.

In Charleston, Chesnut’s wife, Mary, was having a restless night. As she wrote in her diary:

I do not pretend to sleep. How can I? If Anderson does not accept terms at four, the orders are he shall be fired upon. I count four, St. Michael’s bells chime out and I begin to hope. At half-past four the heavy booming of a cannon. I sprang out of bed, and on my knees prostrate  prayed as I have never prayed before … I knew my husband was rowing about in a boat somewhere in that dark bay, and that the shells were roofing it over, bursting toward the fort. The women were wild out there on the housetop. 


Watching the bombardment from Charleston rooftops. Courtesy Library of Congress

In Charleston, the bombardment was a spectacle. As dawn broke, the streets were filled with people rushing in the rain to find a vantage point to watch the battle. The sea wall along the Battery was quickly crammed with ladies and gentlemen in their finest clothes. Boys scampered around, climbing on anything in an attempt to have a better view of the harbor.

There was not a single person who believed the Yankees would win.

14. battery party

TOP: Watching the bombardment from the Battery. Courtesy Library of Congress

 Anna Brackett, a school teacher, described the scene in Charleston:

Women of all ages and ranks of life look eagerly out with spyglasses and opera glasses. Children talk and laugh and walk back and forth in the small moving place as if they were at a public show.

As dawn broke just after six, the Federal garrison at Sumter mustered for roll call and breakfast, which consisted mainly of salt pork. Private Joe Thompson wrote, “Our supply of foodstuffs are fast giving out. Yesterday our allowance was one biscuit.”

At 6:30 Capt. Doubleday ordered the first Federal shot in reply aimed at the Iron Battery at Cummings Point. It landed beyond the battery and into the marsh.  

James Petigru, while sitting in his office at 8 St. Michael’s Alley wrote:

All the world is gone to witness the bombardment of Fort Sumter by the collective forces of South Carolina. Our politicians have succeeded in evoking the spirit of hostility on both sides.

By full light the rain had stopped and for the next two days, Fort Sumter was hammered from three sides by Confederate batteries, with more than 2,500 shots fired the first day. Overnight the bombardment slackened but resumed in full force the next morning.

Charleston (and America) would never be the same again. 

Today In Charleston History: April 10

1693 – Religion

The Huguenots complained to the Lords Proprietors about threats made upon their estates. The Proprietors replied to the Carolina governor:

The French have complained to us that they are threatened to have their estates taken from their children after their death because they are aliens. Now many have bought the land they enjoy of us … God forbid that we should take advantage …

They also complain that are required to begin their Divine Worshipp at the same time that the English doe, which is inconvenient to them in regard that severall of their congregations living out of Towne are forced to come and go by water; & for the convenience of such they begin their Divine Worshipp earlier or later as the tide serves, in which we would have them not molested. 

1780 – The Siege of Charlestown

General Henry Clinton issued a summons of surrender for delivery to Continental Gen. Lincoln who replied that “Duty and Inclination point to the propriety of supporting it [Charlestown] to the last extremity.”

1861 – Civil War

Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard received word from Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker to require the surrender of Fort Sumter from the Federals. All around Charleston, Confederate troops prepare for conflict; a rebel floating battery is stationed off Sullivan’s Island. 


Floating Battery, Charleston, SC – Ft. Sumter in the background left