The Battle of Fort Sumter | Facts and Summary

Marti Matthew, Alexandra Lutz
  • Author
    Marti Matthew

    Marti Matthew has taught junior high History for seven years. She has a Bachelor of Science in History Education from Utah State University and a Bachelor of Arts of Theatre Studies from Brigham Young University. She also has an English as a Second Language endorsement.

  • Instructor
    Alexandra Lutz

    Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

Learn about the Battle of Fort Sumter in the Civil War, the attack on Fort Sumter, and what happened at Fort Sumter. Also, read about who won the battle. Updated: 03/14/2022

Table of Contents


The Battle of Fort Sumter in the Civil War: Overview

The election of 1860 was one that would go down in history as it is said that it was a major cause of the Civil War. Just over a month after Abraham Lincoln's election, South Carolina seceded from the nation. Many other Southern States would follow. Some states held back, not wanting to secede. The South knew that it would take a major event to convince them. That event happened on April 12, 1861, at a fort called Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter is located in Charleston Harbor off the coast of South Carolina. At the beginning of 1861, the Union forces held the fort and were determined to keep it. South Carolina had other plans since it was in their harbor, and they no longer belonged to the United States of America. The Union would not give it up, so on April 12, the Confederate States of America began firing upon the fort. The bombardment would last 34 hours with little return volley. Finally, on April 14, 1861, the Union forces would surrender the fort and the Civil War began.

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The Battle of Fort Sumter: Background

On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States of America. Based on his previous campaigns, speeches, and debates, it was no secret that he was against slavery and, if he became President, would have the power to do something about it. When he became President, the South grew worried. In December of 1860, South Carolina seceded from the nation. By February of 1861, six more states had seceded, and the Confederate States of America had been created. While the states that seceded were slave states, four slave states remained in the Union. Anticipating war, Confederate forces began to amass throughout the South. One of the Confederacy's first moves was to secure federal military installations that now were located in the Confederacy. One of those was in Charleston, South Carolina at a fort known as Fort Sumter. On April 12, 1861, Fort Sumter would be attacked and the Battle of Fort Sumter would be the first of the Civil War.

Where is Fort Sumter?

Map of Charleston Harbor

Charleston Harbor

Charleston is located on the East Coast of South Carolina on the end of a peninsula. Located roughly four miles to the east of Charleston, in the middle of Charleston Harbor, is Fort Sumter. The island itself is relatively small measuring only about 2.4 acres in size, but its position, and other fortifications nearby, are important. To the north of Fort Sumter is Fort Moultrie. To the west is Castle Pinckney. Each of these three fortifications was built to protect Charleston because it was an important port. During the Civil War, it would become the Confederacy's most important port on the southeast side.

The Construction of Fort Sumter

Following the War of 1812, the United States realized that they needed to protect their eastern coast a lot more than they had been doing. So, they began the construction of 50 new forts. Fort Sumter was one of them with construction beginning in 1829. It would be specifically built, along with other forts, to protect Charleston Harbor. Before the fort could be built, they had to create a place to put it, so they built an island out of granite. Construction had to be halted a few times because of ownership disputes and lack of funds, but ultimately the fort would be three-tiered and five-sided with 5-foot-thick brick walls. It would be able to accommodate 650 soldiers and 135 artillery pieces. By 1860 the exterior was complete, but the interior and armaments were still being built.

What Happened at Fort Sumter?

When South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860 with the others following closely after, the new Confederate States of America realized that a fort's location did not determine who occupied it. This was the case in Charleston Harbor. Major Anderson and his garrison were located at Fort Moultrie and decided that their loyalties belonged to the Union. When the Confederacy demanded that all of the forts and federal military installments located in the South be surrendered, they were denied. This prompted Anderson, in the dark of night on December 25, 1860, to move his forces from Fort Moultrie, whose guns were pointed out to sea, to the better strategically placed Fort Sumter. Anderson realized that he needed more supplies, provisions, and soldiers. In early January, President Buchanan attempted to send a ship with all that was needed, but Confederate soldiers in Charleston Harbor fired upon the boat forcing it to turn back. Over the next few months, communications were being sent between the two nations and by March, Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, ordered P.G.T. Beauregard to start amassing troops in Charleston. He would ultimately amass over 500 soldiers.

Tensions came to a head on April 4, 1861, when Lincoln let the Confederacy know that he was going to resupply the forces at Fort Sumter with food. The Confederacy responded that any attempt to resupply them would be an act of war. On April 9, Davis and his cabinet decided to take the fort. Beauregard was ordered to send a peaceful entourage to the fort and politely demand surrender. When the entourage arrived, they informed Anderson of the surrender and that his men would be able to take all of their personal property and weapons with them, and that transportation would be provided to anywhere Anderson would like it to go. Anderson refused, but also informed the entourage that he believed that his supplies would run out by April 15, perhaps hoping the Confederacy would wait until then.

When Beauregard received the report, he sent the entourage back on the night of April 11, asking Anderson at what time he would be out of supplies. Anderson responded just after midnight saying that he expected they would be out of supplies at noon on the 15th unless they are resupplied. Beauregard did not like his answer and so the entourage informed Anderson, at 3:20 am on April 12, to expect bombardment from several dozen cannon and mortar in an hour. Anderson took that time to ready his garrison of 80. Unfortunately, he knew that even though they had four dozen cannon, 80 men would not be enough to be able to use them all at the same time. On April 12, 1861, at 4:30 am, the Confederacy fired the first shot.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Fort Sumter famous for?

Fort Sumter is most famous for being the battle that started the American Civil War. This battle led Abraham Lincoln to call for Union volunteers to fight and led Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee to secede from the Union.

What are three facts about Fort Sumter?

The Battle of Fort Sumter was the battle that led to the American Civil War. The battle only lasted from April 12-13 with a total of 34 hours of bombardment. There were no casualties during the actual bombardment. However, during the surrender, a round fired prematurely killing one and mortally wounding another.

Who won the Battle at Fort Sumter?

After 34 hours of bombardment on Fort Sumter the Confederacy won. They allowed the Union forces to strike their colors, fire a 100-gun salute and safely board a ship to New York.

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