My oldest son, Jake can tell people about the minute details of political elections, World War II, and almost every battle that was fought during the American Civil War.
While he has battles memorized, there is one battleground that he has wanted to see for himself since he was a boy; Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
As he and his brother sleep in this morning, I am reflecting on our visit to the fort yesterday and what it meant to all of us. It clearly qualifies as a top five experience with my sons.
This is how Jake and I described the historical significance of Fort Sumter during our discussion afterwards:
November 6th, 1860 – A tall skinny man with a tall black hat is elected president of the United States. As the election results spread, the people brace themselves for war.
November 9th – South Carolina passes a “Resolution to Call the Election of Abraham Lincoln as President a Hostile Act” and states its intention to secede from the United States.
On the 17th, South Carolina legislators voted unanimously, 169-0, to secede from the Union.
James Buchanan, perhaps the weakest United States president in history, declares the ordinance illegal. But, the lame duck president takes no action.
As expected, Mississippi secedes several weeks after South Carolina. Five other states soon follow. Meanwhile, Upper Southern states such as Virginia and North Carolina, which had initially voted against secession, call for a peace conference. It is a waste of time and energy.
Nothing will prevent the suffering and bloodshed on the horizon.
December 26, 1860 – Major Robert Anderson, commander of the U.S. troops in Charleston, withdraws his men to the island fortress of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. South Carolina militia troops swarm over the abandoned mainland batteries and mobilize artillery positions toward Fort Sumter.
Sumter is the key position for preventing a naval attack upon Charleston. So, the militia is determined not to allow U.S. forces to remain there indefinitely. More importantly, South Carolina’s claim of independence would look empty if U.S. forces controlled its largest harbor.
January 9, 1861 – the U.S. ship Star of the West approaches to resupply the fort. Cadets from The Citadel fire upon the vessel striking the ship three times and causing it to retreat back to New York.
April 1861 – Lincoln advises South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens that the ships were sent to resupply the fort, not to reinforce it. At this point, the South Carolina militia could no longer wait if they hoped to take the fort before the U.S. Navy arrived.
At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, after two days of intense negotiations, and with Union ships approaching the harbor, South Carolina militia units begin their artillery barrage. 34 hours later, Anderson’s men raise the white flag and are allowed to leave the fort with colors flying and drums beating, saluting the U.S. flag with a 50 gun salute before taking it down. During this salute, one of the guns exploded, killing a young soldier.
This young soldier was the first casualty of the War and the only person who died at Fort Sumter during the battle.
Over the next four years, 620,000 men will suffer a similar fate. This is 215,000 more American casualties than during WWII.
Now that we have explored where the War began, our next trip will take us through the rolling hills of the Shenandoah. We will travel, and I will revisit, a small village with massive oak trees overlooking endless fields where the War ended; Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.