1861 April 12th

April 12 1861 Friday

Outbreak of the American Civil War

Battle of Fort Sumter, SC

Fort Sumter Operations

USA. At the outbreak of war the US Navy was demoralised and scattered around the globe. Only 42 of its 90 ships were reported as ready for active service and only 12 immediately ready for action. Of its 1,457 officers, 137 defected to the South. By the end of the war, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and Assistant Secretary Gustavus Vasa Fox had increased the number of warships from 23 to 641, including river-based and ocean-going ironclad warships of revolutionary designs.

The outbreak of war prompted changes in the deployment of the US Navy. While most overseas stations were abandoned and their Squadrons de-activated, it was essential to guard the ports and shipping of the Pacific Coast and the Pacific Squadron remained operational. One warship was always kept on station at Panama City to protect that Pacific Terminal of the gold shipments carried by the vessels of the Pacific Mail. The remaining ships patrolled the coast between Panama and British Columbia as needed. Mare Island Naval Shipyard in San Francisco Bay was the Squadron’s permanent base. To protect the ports, especially San Francisco Bay, the shipping point of gold and silver from the Pacific Coast, from possible attacks by Confederate commerce raiders or a potential threat from British or French warships, forts were built or improved. Coastal fortifications at Fort Point and Camp Sumner were built at the edge of the Presidio, and at Fort Baker on the Marin Headlands. Fort Alcatraz, built on a rocky island just inside the Golden Gate, served as a prison for secessionists. San Francisco Bay was also protected by the Benicia Arsenal, Fort Mason at San Francisco’s Point San Jose, and Camp Reynolds on Angel Island. Two forts were later established at the mouth of the Columbia River. In 1862, a camp called Post at Cape Disappointment (later Fort Cape Disappointment) was established in Washington Territory. Fortifications were built and artillery installed to cover the mouth of the river. In 1863, Fort at Point Adams (later Fort Stevens) was established in Oregon on the south bank at the mouth of the Columbia River for a similar purpose as Fort Cape Disappointment. Posts also existed or were established at the ports of San Diego, San Pedro Bay, Santa Barbara, Noyo, Humboldt Bay, and Fort Vancouver in California. In 1864, Santa Catalina Island was seized by Federal forces, a post established and garrisoned, and the population removed to prevent it from being used as a base for privateers.

Florida. Following secret orders, Fort Pickens was reinforced by soldiers under Captain Israel Vogdes and US Marines under Lieutenant John C Cash landed from the USS Sabine (Captain H A Adams), USS Brooklyn (Captain W S Walker), USS St Louis (Commander Charles S Poor) and USS Wyandotte (Lt J R Madison Mullany).

Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Fort Sumter was a pentagonal masonry fort built on an artificial island in the middle of the main ship channel. It was about 300 to 350 feet across with walls 40 feet and between 8 and 12 feet thick. Despite having been commenced in 1829 it was incomplete, It had 48 guns ready for use out of the 140 prescribed for the fort; 21 were housed in the upper of the two tiers of casemates and a further 27 en barbette on the rampart. The garrison was commanded by Union Major Robert Anderson and counted nine officers, 68 other ranks, 8 musicians and 43 non-combatant workmen. It was intended to be garrisoned by 650 men in the event of hostilities. Discussions to demand the surrender of Fort Sumter proved futile and at 3.20 am the Confederates gave a one-hour warning that a bombardment would commence. Confederate Colonel James Chesnut gave the order to open fire at 4.20 am and at 4.30 am a single mortar round exploded over the fort, giving the signal for the Confederates batteries to open fire. This first shot of the war was fired by Captain George S James from a signal gun at old Fort Johnson on James Island. The first aggressive shot was vociferously claimed to be fired by ardent secessionist Edmund Ruffin from Stevens Point but the first actual hostile shot was fired by Lieutenant Henry S Farley, commanding two mortars on James Island. The first mortar bomb landed on the deserted parade ground of Fort Sumter. Beauregard had 30 guns and 17 mortars available for the attack. Union Captain Abner Doubleday eventually returned fire against the Ironclad Battery at Cummings Point from about 7.30 am. The Union guns were supplied with inadequate solid shot as there were no fuses for their explosive shells. It was immediately clear that the fort’s exposed guns en barbette could not be manned without unreasonable loses although Sgt John Carmody did move outside to fire some of them and gained acclaim for his effort. Fort Sumter’s garrison could only safely fire the guns on the lower levels, which by virtue of being in stone emplacements, were largely incapable of the indirect fire that could seriously threaten the Confederates at Fort Moultrie. The fort had been designed to hold out against a naval assault, and naval warships of the time did not mount guns capable of elevating high enough to fire over the walls of the fort; however, the land-based cannons manned by the South Carolina militia were capable of landing indirect fire into Fort Sumter. Although the Union forces had moved as much of their supplies to Fort Sumter as they could manage, the fort was low on ammunition and their shooting was intermittent. By the afternoon only six guns were available to answer the besiegers’ fire – largely due to shortage of ammunition. At about 1 pm the steamship Baltic (Gustavus Vasa Fox), USS Pawnee (Commander Rowan USN) and USS Harriet Lane (Captain Faunce USRM) arrived off Charleston ostensibly to reinforce Fort Sumter. They were cheered by the garrison, who believed them to be a relieving force. The ships were unable to re-provision the fort under fire and departed for the onward journey to strengthen the garrison of Fort Pickens at Pensacola. The ships assigned to relieve Anderson had been delayed by bad weather and administrative confusion. The Fort’s guns were silent overnight and the bombardment was maintained by mortars only.

Union Organisation

USA: The African Squadron of the US Navy was suspended for the duration of hostilities.

USA: The Brazil Squadron of the US Navy was suspended for the duration of hostilities.

USA: The East Indian (or Asiatic) Squadron of the US Navy was suspended for the duration of hostilities.

USA: The European Squadron of the US Navy was suspended for the duration of hostilities.

USA: The Home Squadron of the US Navy was suspended for the duration of hostilities.

USA: The Mediterranean Squadron of the US Navy was suspended for the duration of hostilities.

USA: The Pacific Squadron of the US Navy continued under the command of Captain John B Montgomery USN.

Commander in Chief: President Abraham Lincoln

Vice-President: Hannibal Hamlin

Secretary of War: Simon Cameron

Secretary of the Navy: Gideon Welles

  • Pacific Squadron USN: Captain John B Montgomery USN

General–in-Chief: Winfield Scott

  • Department of the East: John Ellis Wool
  • Department of New Mexico: William Wing Loring
  • Department of the Pacific: Albert Sidney Johnston interim Edwin Vose Sumner awaited
    • District of Oregon: George Wright
  • Department of Texas: Carlos Adolphus Waite
  • Department of Utah: Philip St George Cooke
  • Department of Washington: Charles Ferguson Smith
  • Department of the West: William Selby Harney

Confederate Organisation

Commander in Chief: President Jefferson Finis Davis

Vice-President: Alexander Hamilton Stephens

Secretary of War: Leroy Pope Walker

Secretary of the Navy: Stephen Russell Mallory

  • Department of Louisiana: David Emanuel Twiggs
    • “Forces in New Orleans” “Army of Louisiana”: Braxton Bragg
  • Department of South Carolina: Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
    • “Forces in Charleston”: Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
  • Department of Texas: Earl Van Dorn awaited
  • Department of West Florida: Braxton Bragg
    • “Forces in Pensacola”: Braxton Bragg
  • Forces in Harper’s Ferry”: Kenton Harper

Union Generals

  • Major-General USA Winfield Scott 5 July 1841 to rank from 25 June 1841 General-in-Chief
  • Brigadier-General USA John Ellis Wool 25 June 1841 Department of the East
  • Brigadier-General USA William Selby Harney 14 June 1858 Department of the West
  • Brigadier-General USA Joseph Eggleston Johnston 28 June 1860 Quartermaster-General
  • Brigadier-General USA Edwin Vose Sumner 16 March 1861 Department of the Pacific awaited
  • Colonel George Wright 3 March 1855 District of Oregon
  • Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston 3 March 1855 Department of the Pacific interim
  • Colonel William Wing Loring 30 December 1856 Department of New Mexico
  • Colonel Philip St George Cooke 14 June 1858 Department of Utah
  • Colonel Carlos Adolphus Waite 5 June 1860 Department of Texas temporary
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Ferguson Smith 3 March 1855 Department of Washington
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Ferguson Smith Department of Washington

Confederate Generals

  • Major-General PACS David Emanuel Twiggs March 22 1861 Department of Louisiana
  • Brigadier-General ACSA Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard March 1 1861 Department of South Carolina & Forces in Charleston
  • Brigadier-General ACSA Braxton Bragg March 7 1861 Forces in Louisiana & Department of West Florida & Forces in Pensacola
  • Colonel Earl Van Dorn 16 March 1861 Department of Texas awaited
  • Colonel Kenton Harper Forces in Harper’s Ferry



%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close