When South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860, United States Maj. Robert Anderson and his force of 85 soldiers were positioned at Fort Moultrie near the mouth of Charleston Harbor. On December 26, fearing for the safety of his men, Anderson moved his command to Fort Sumter, an imposing fortification in the middle of the harbor. While politicians and military commanders wrote and screamed about the legality and appropriateness of this provocative move, Anderson’s position became perilous. Just after the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1861, Anderson reported that he had only a six week supply of food left in the fort and Confederate patience for a foreign force in its territory was wearing thin.
On Thursday, April 11, 1861, Confederate Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard dispatched aides to Maj. Anderson to demand the fort’s surrender. Anderson refused. The next morning, at 4:30 a.m., Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter and continued for 34 hours. The Civil War had begun! Anderson did not return the fire for the first two hours. The fort's supply of ammunition was not suited for an equal fight and Anderson lacked fuses for his exploding shells-only solid shot could be used against the Rebel batteries. At about 7:00 A.M., Union Capt. Abner Doubleday, the fort's second in command, was afforded the honor of firing the first shot in defense of the fort.
The firing continued all day, although much less rapidly since the Union fired aimed to conserve ammunition. "The crashing of the shot, the bursting of the shells, the falling of the walls, and the roar of the flames, made a pandemonium of the fort, " wrote Doubleday. The fort's large flag staff was struck and the colors fell to the ground and a brave lieutenant, Norman J. Hall, bravely exposed himself to enemy fire as he put the Stars and Stripes back up. That evening, the firing was sporadic with but an occasional round landing on or in Fort Sumter.
On Saturday, April 13, Anderson surrendered the fort. Incredibly, no soldiers were killed in battle. The generous terms of surrender, however, allowed Anderson to perform a 100-gun salute before he and his men evacuated the fort the next day. The salute began at 2:00 P.M. on April 14, but was cut short to 50 guns after an accidental explosion killed one of the gunners and mortally wounded another. Carrying their tattered banner, the men marched out of the fort and boarded a boat that ferried them to the Union ships outside the harbor. They were greeted as heroes on their return to the North.