1861 April 12th

April 12 1861 Friday

Outbreak of the American Civil War
Battle of Fort Sumter, SC

Fort Sumter Operations

Go to April 13 1861

USA. At the outbreak of war, the US Navy was in a demoralised state and its few were ships scattered at stations around the globe. Only 42 of its 90 ships were reported as ready for active service and only 12 were immediately ready for action. Of the US Navy’s 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.

California. The outbreak of war prompted immediate 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 so 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 of the squadron 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 was 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 Union soldiers under Captain Israel Vogdes and US Marines under Lieutenant John C Cash. The reinforcements were brought ashore 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). Their arrival assured the retention of the fort in Union control.

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 warning that a bombardment would commence in one hour. Confederate Brigadier-General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard had mounted 30 guns and 17 mortars for the attack. 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 other Confederate 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.
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 ammunition 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 losses although Sergeant 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 in casemates on the lower levels. However, the guns in these enclosed positions 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. The land-based guns 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, primarily due to a shortage of ammunition. The Fort’s guns were silent during the night and the bombardment was maintained by mortars only.
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. The ships assigned to relieve Anderson had been delayed by bad weather and administrative confusion and were too late to enter the harbour unopposed. They were nevertheless cheered by the garrison, who believed them to be a relieving force. The wooden ships were too weak to survive if they came within range of the bombardment which had already begun.  Unable to re-provision the fort under fire they abandoned the attempt and departed for their onward journey to strengthen the garrison of Fort Pickens at Pensacola.

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 to operate under the command of Captain John Berrien 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: John Berrien Montgomery

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

Brigadier-General USA

John Ellis Wool
William Selby Harney
Edwin Vose Sumner

Brigadier-General USA (Staff)

Joseph Eggleston Johnston

Confederate Generals

Major-General PACS

David Emanuel Twiggs

Brigadier-General ACSA

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
Braxton Bragg

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