Complete Works

Contents:
Author: John Gray Foster  | Date: 1880

Show Summary

Surrender of Fort Sumter (1861)

BY MAJOR JOHN GRAY FOSTER

A. FOSTER’S ACCOUNT

[April 12, 1861.]

AT

a.m. a signal shell was thrown from the mortar battery on James Island; after which the fire soon became general from all the hostile batteries. . . .

At 7 a.m. the guns of Fort Sumter replied, the first shot being fired from the battery at the right gorge angle, in charge of Captain Double-day. . . .

The supply of cartridges, 700 in number, with which the engagement commenced, became so much reduced by the middle of the day, although the six needles in the fort were kept steadily employed, that the firing was forced to slacken, and to be confined to six guns—two firing towards Morris Island, two towards Fort Moultrie, and two towards the batteries on the west end of Sullivan’s Island.

At 1 o’clock two United States men-of-war were seen off the bar, and soon after a third appeared.

The fire of our batteries continued steadily until dark. The effect of the fire was not very good, owing to the insufficient caliber of the guns for the long range, and not much damage appeared to be done to any of the batteries, except those of Fort Moultrie, where our two 42-pounders appeared to have silenced one gun for a time, to have injured the embrasures considerably, riddled the barracks and quarters, and torn three holes through their flag. . . .

The effect of the enemy’s fire upon Fort Sumter during the day was very marked in respect to the vertical fire. This was so well directed and so well sustained, that from the seventeen mortars engaged in firing 10-inch shells, one-half of the shells came within or exploded above the parapet of the fort, and only about ten buried themselves in the soft earth of the parade without exploding. In consequence of this precision of vertical fire, Major Anderson decided not to man the upper tier of guns, as by doing so the loss of men, notwithstanding the traverses and bomb-proof shelters that I had constructed, must have been great. . . .

. . . The effect of the direct fire from the enemy’s guns was not so marked as the vertical. For several hours firing from the commencement a large proportion of their shot missed the fort. Subsequently it improved, and did considerable damage to the roof and upper story of the barracks and quarters, and to the tops of the chimneys on the gorge. . . .

The night was very stormy, with high wind and tide. . . . The enemy threw shells every ten or fifteen minutes during the night. The making of cartridge bags was continued by the men, under Lieutenant Meade’s directions, until 12 o’clock, when they were ordered to stop by Major Anderson. To obtain materials for the bags all the extra clothing of the companies was cut up, and all coarse paper and extra hospital sheets used.

April 13.—At daybreak no material alteration was observed in the enemy’s batteries. The three U. S. men-of-war were still off the bar. The last of the rice was cooked this morning, and served with the pork—the only other article of food left in the engineer mess-room, where the whole command has messed since the opening of the fire. After this the fire was reopened, and continued very briskly as long as the increased supply of cartridges lasted. The enemy reopened fire at daylight, and continued it with rapidity. The aim of the enemy’s gunners was better than yesterday. . . .

It soon became evident that they were firing hot shot from a large number of their guns, especially from those in Fort Moultrie, and at nine o’clock I saw volumes of smoke issuing from the roof of the officers’ quarters, where a shot had just penetrated. From the exposed position it was utterly impossible to extinguish the flames, and I therefore immediately notified the commanding officer of the fact, and obtained his permission to remove as much powder from the magazine as was possible before the flames, which were only one set of quarters distant, should encircle the magazine and make it necessary to close it. All the men and officers not engaged at the guns worked rapidly and zealously at this, but so rapid was the spread of the flames that only fifty barrels of powder could be taken out and distributed around in the casemates before the fire and heat made it necessary to close the magazine doors and pack earth against them. . . . The whole range of officers’ quarters was soon in flames. The wind being from the southward, communicated fire to the roof of the barracks, and this being aided by the hot shot constantly lodging there, spread to the entire roofs of both barracks, so that by twelve o’clock all the woodwork of quarters and of upper story of barracks was in flames. Although the floors of the barracks were fire-proof, the utmost exertions of the officers and men were often required to prevent the fire communicating down the stairways, and from the exterior, to the doors, window frames, and other woodwork of the east barrack, in which the officers and men had taken their quarters. All the woodwork in the west barrack was burned. The clouds of smoke and cinders which were sent into the casemates by the wind set on fire many boxes, beds, and other articles belonging to the men, and made it dangerous to retain the powder which had been saved from the magazine. The commanding officer accordingly gave orders to have all but five barrels thrown out of the embrasures into the water, which was done.

The small stock of cartridges now only allowed a gun to be fired at intervals of ten minutes. . . .

At 1 o’clock the flagstaff, having been struck twice before this morning, fell. The flag was immediately secured by Lieutenant Hall, and as soon as it could be attached to a temporary staff, hoisted again upon the parapet at the middle of the right face by Lieutenant Snyder, Corps of Engineers, assisted by Hart, and Davey, a laborer.

About this time information was brought to the commanding officer that Mr. Wigfall, bearing a white flag, was on the outside, and wished to see him. He accordingly went out to meet Mr. Wigfall, passing through the blazing gateway, accompanied by Lieutenant Snyder. In the mean time, however, Mr. Wigfall had passed to an embrasure on the left flank, where, upon showing the white flag upon his sword, he was permitted to enter, and Lieutenant Snyder entering immediately after, accompanied him down the batteries to where some other officers were posted, to whom Mr. Wigfall commenced to address himself, to the effect that he came from General Beauregard to desire that, inasmuch as the flag of the fort was shot down, a fire raging in the quarters, and the garrison in a great strait, hostilities be suspended, and the white flag raised for this object. He was replied to that our flag was again hoisted on the parapet, that the white flag would not be hoisted except by order of the commanding officer, and that his own batteries should set the example of suspending fire. He then referred to the fact of the batteries on Cummings Point, from which he came, having stopped firing, and asked that his own white flag might be waved to indicate to the batteries on Sullivan’s Island to cease also. This was refused; but he was permitted to wave the white flag himself. . . .

At this moment the commanding officer, having re-entered through an embrasure, came up. To him Mr. Wigfall addressed nearly the same remarks that he had used on entering, adding some complimentary things about the manner in which the defense had been made, and ending by renewing the request to suspend hostilities in order to arrange terms of evacuation. The commanding officer desiring to know what terms he came to offer, Mr. Wigfall replied, "Any terms that you may desire—your own—terms the precise nature of which General Beauregard will arrange with you."

The commanding officer then accepted the conditions, saying that the terms he accepted were those proposed by General Beauregard on the 11th, namely: To evacuate the fort with his command, taking arms and all private and company property, saluting the United States flag as it was lowered, and being conveyed, if he desired it, to any northern port. With this understanding Mr. Wigfall left, and the white flag was raised and the United States flag lowered by order of the commanding officer.

Very soon after a boat arrived from the city, containing three aides of General Beauregard, with a message to the effect that, observing the white flag hoisted, General B. sent to inquire what aid he could lend in extinguishing the flames, &c. Being made acquainted with the condition of affairs and Mr. Wigfall’s visit, they stated that the latter, although an aid of General Beauregard, had not seen him for two days.

The commanding officer then stated that the United States flag would be raised again, but yielded to the request of the aides for time to report to their chief and obtain his instructions. They soon returned, with the approval of all the conditions desired except the saluting of the flag as it was lowered, and this exception was subsequently removed after correspondence. In the morning communication was had with the fleet, and Captain Gillis paid a visit to the fort. . . .

The War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, First Series, (Washington, 1880) I, 12–24 passim.

Contents:

Related Resources

American Civil War

Download Options


Title: Complete Works

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options


Title: Complete Works

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: John Gray Foster, "Surrender of Fort Sumter (1861)," Complete Works in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed December 7, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=RDRMBB5RVT4MLSP.

MLA: Foster, John Gray. "Surrender of Fort Sumter (1861)." Complete Works, Vol. I, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 7 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=RDRMBB5RVT4MLSP.

Harvard: Foster, JG, 'Surrender of Fort Sumter (1861)' in Complete Works. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 7 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=RDRMBB5RVT4MLSP.