Tag Archives: Fort Sumter

April 14, 1865: The war turns full circle as “the same dear flag” is raised over Fort Sumter

By all contemporary accounts, April 14, 1865 was a momentous day at Fort Sumter.  For weeks, Federal authorities planned a ceremony at the fort, timed to the fourth anniversary of the surrender which started the Civil War.  Dignitaries, reporters, sketch artists, and photographers gathered for the much anticipated moment.  And, thanks to the latter, we have a wealth of photographs dated to April 1865 from the Charleston area.

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As I draft this post, the Library of Congress’ website is throwing some odd errors with thumbnails.  Otherwise I’d fill this post with images taken on, or about, April 14, 1865 at Charleston.

One of those photographs, taken at Fort Strong, a.k.a. Battery Wagner, captured members of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery going through inspection.

Wagner3b

On Morris Island, members of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery prepared to play a role in the ceremonies.  Having served through the long siege of Fort Sumter and Charleston, the 3rd was aptly tasked to provide details of honor guards and, most prominently, manned the guns to fire ceremonial salutes.

The 3rd Rhode Island regimental history recorded the day’s events:

April 14. At the hour named the army, the navy, the national authorities of Washington, dignitaries of every civil and professional rank, and eminent strangers – a multitude of notables – by war-ships, transports, and boats, landed on the war-swept walls.  Full 3,000 persons, men and women, crowded on the ruin.  And now commenced the services: –

I. Prayer by Rev. Matthias Harris, Chaplain United States Army, who offered the prayer at the raising of the flag when Major Anderson removed his command from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, Dec. 27, 1860.

II. Reading the Scriptures by Rev. R. S. Storrs, Jr., D.D., and the audience alternately, from sheets prepared at The New South office, and distributed for use. The selected portions were [Palms 126, 47, 98, and part of 20]; closing with a doxology. A profound impression was made by this reading, following the Chaplain’s prayer, that recalled the past.

III. Reading of Major Anderson’s dispatch to the Government, dated Steamship Baltic, off Sandy Hook, April 18, 1861, announcing the fall of Fort Sumter. The reading was by Brevet Brig.-Gen. E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant General, United States Army.

IV. At the full hour of noon – all things in readiness – the battlements thronged with excited beholders – Major Anderson again lifted to its lawful place on the walls and to the breath of heaven, the same dear flag that floated during the assault of 1861.  Who can describe the scene? Who can utter the deep feelings that choked the bravest men and wet the eyes of all the thousands present.

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1556

V. And now came the eloquence of artillery. Rhode Island opened the ponderous lips and spoke the thundering notes. Lieut. J.E. Burroughs and his men (Company B), pronounced the “one hundred” with the guns of Sumter. Capt. J.M. Barker and his command, Company D, answered with the national salute from Morris Island. Lieut. C.H. Williams and his men, Company B, responded from Sullivan’s Island.  And the air-reading chorus came in from the guns of Fort Johnston. Meanwhile, what cheers and tears, what joys and shouts, what waving of flags, hats, and handkerchiefs. Memorable hour!  Exultantly did our veterans emphasize it, and count it an honor to handle the captured heavy guns in avenging the flag of the free and the brave.

We need not ask how this music sounded to the Charlestonians. Where now was historic disgrace and shame?

VI. The band – the joyous band – struck and played as never before, while the host of army, navy, and citizens present, joined in singing The Star Spangled Banner.

“O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light” –

…. …. ….

Like a billow of inspiring sound rolled the chorus: –

“And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

Such a rapturous hour was worth fighting for. How the hearts of all soldiers, and of the loyal millions in our land, beat with a thankful unutterable joy that our flag’s humiliation was now canceled.

Aloft, behold their banner rose!

Fit the ensign for the land we prize;

A flag the breezes fond, caress,

The flag that freemen ever bless,

And stars of heaven delight to kiss;

Henceforth in spotless fame to wave,

The pledge of freedom to the slave,

The standard of the free and brave.

A history, Dear Flag, is thine,

Sung on the mountain and the sea;

Thy folds, like heaven’s pure stars, shall shine

Till earth is lit with Liberty.

VII. Now followed the eloquent, patriotic, inimitable address by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher; the vast multitude hanging on his lips, and well-nigh the fort itself, rocking to the greatness of his thoughts and the grandeur of the occasion.

VIII. The whole host, led by the band, in the grand tune of Old Hundred, then lifted up to the heaven the doxology: –

“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”

IX. The closing prayer of thanksgiving and the benediction were by Rev. R. S. Storrs, Jr., D.D.

Poets have been moved to sing of sieges. We wonder if, in the bright years to come, a poet will not arise to celebrate in melodious phrase, the scenes of Sumter and the siege of Charleston.

At least to my knowledge, no poet has done so.  And the reason was not to any failing of the moment.

The ceremony was designed from the start to celebrate the grand victory over the rebellion and showcase the triumph of the Union.  This was, with all the bunting and bands, a “Mission Accomplished” moment. The scene was perfect.  And there were ample number of scribes, artists, and photographers to record the moment.  The ceremony was intended to serve notice for all – the rebellion was crushed.  This was to be the “big news” of the week.

But at 10:15 that evening, everything changed.  What happened at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865 was eclipsed to rate only passing comment.

(Citation from Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, page 308-9.)

March 25, 1865: General Robert Anderson heading back to Fort Sumter to raise the flag

On March 25, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was visiting the lines at Petersburg and the Confederates were making quite a show around Fort Stedman.  But, in spite of the push made by the Army of Northern Virginia, dispatches on the Federal side seemed routine.  Among the routine traffic passed from Washington to City Point that day was this message from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton:

I have invited Henry Ward Beecher to deliver an address on raising the flag upon Fort Sumter, and will give direction to General Gillmore to make all suitable military arrangements for the occasion and fire a salute of 500 guns. The flag will be raised by General Anderson. Please let me know if these arrangements have your approval.  What does General Grant say about Yeatman?  I congratulate you and General Grant on the operations of t0-day.

As I’ve pulled this note out of context, let me walk it backwards into context.  The last line references the successful defense against the Confederate attack launched earlier in the day.  But standing in stark contrast to the desperate fighting on the lines, Stanton was planning a grand ceremony for Fort Sumter.

James Yeatman was a St. Louis businessman, president of the Western Sanitary Commission, and very much active politically.  Yeatman was under consideration to head the commission organizing the ceremony.  But more back-and-forth over that selection would follow.

Though weeks away, Stanton already selected particular details to serve a symbolic purpose – Beecher to speak, Major-General Robert Anderson to raise the US flag, and a 500 gun salute.  Not specifically mentioned in the message to Lincoln, but the plan called for the ceremony to occur on April 14, 1865 – on the anniversary of the fort’s surrender in 1861.  Further details went into General Orders No. 50, issued on March 27 from the War Department:

First. That at the hour of noon on the 14th day of April, 1865, Brevet Major-General Anderson will raise and plant upon the ruins of Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, the same U.S. flag which floated over the battlements of that fort during the rebel assault, and which was lowered and saluted by him and the small force of his command when the works were evacuated on the 14th day of April, 1861.

Second. That the flag, when raised, be saluted by 100 guns from Fort Sumter, and by a national salute from every fort and rebel battery that fired on Fort Sumter.

Third. That suitable ceremonies be held upon the occasion, under the direction of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, whose military operations compelled the rebels to evacuate Charleston, or, in his absence, under the charge of Maj. Gen. Q.A. Gillmore, commanding the department.  Among the ceremonies will be the delivery of a public address by the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.

Forth. That the naval forces at Charleston, and their commander on that station, be invited to participate in the ceremonies of the occasion.

Recall that before evacuating the fort in 1861, Anderson received permission to fire a 100 gun salute from the fort’s batteries.  That 1861 salute ended with fifty shots when an accidental explosion mortally wounded two privates.  Embrace the intended symbolism at many different levels in regard to that salute.

The ceremony at Fort Sumter was intended to cement in the public mind the victory – complete or pending – over the Confederacy.  Reporters, sketch artists, and photographers were invited to cover the event.  April 14 was the date that, regardless of what was going on at the front lines, the people of America would be told the Federal Union has won this Civil War… even as the messy details were being worked out.  To tread upon a modern analogy at my own peril, this was intended to be a “Mission Accomplished” banner:

However, fate often plays tricks with the plans laid by man.  Events on April 15 would leave this ceremony somewhat a footnote to history.

Closing note here.  Fort Sumter National Monument has a number of events scheduled through April to observe the end of the war in Charleston.  If you are, like me, trying to catch every last minute of the sesquicentennial’s last hours, these are worth adding to the calendar.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 18 and 34.)

February 18, 1865: “The City of Charleston and its defenses came into our possession this morning”

While Federal attention was focused on attracting Confederate attention to Bull’s Bay, on Morris Island, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig remained alert to the possibility that the Confederates would, as many assumed, slip out of Charleston. As had been the case since 1863, the Federal signal officers on Morris Island were watching, transcribing, and deciphering messages sent to Confederate posts around Charleston.  On February 16, 1865, those messages gave indication that something was in the air with respect to an evacuation –   “Be ready to move at a moments notice. Save all the most valuable Government property. Orders and messages burnt.”

I will focus on the details of the Confederate evacuation of Charleston in a separate post (when my hurried schedule allows!).  But I will point out the Confederates practiced some good and bad operations security.  While intercepted messages and other indicators pointed to a withdrawal, the Confederates maintained the lines up to the end.  The rear guard departed Charleston during the night of February 17.

At daybreak on February 18, there was no Confederate flag flying from the staff over Fort Sumter.  The monitor USS Canonicus fired two rounds at Fort Sumter to ensure this was not a trick.  Those were the last shots fired at Fort Sumter, of so many fired during the war.

Federals on Morris Island immediately took note.  Several officers prepared boats to investigate the situation.  Lieutenant-Colonel Augustus G. Bennett, 21st USCT and commanding forces on the north end of Morris Island, directed Captain Samuel Cuskaden, one of Bennett’s staff, to secure a US flag and proceed to Fort Sumter.  At the same time Major John A. Hennessy, 52nd Pennsylvania, lead a boat out to the fort.  Captain R. M. Bannatyne, of the 52nd, later recalled the event:

The 52d Pa. at this time was doing duty as boat infantry, and had 41 or 42 boats of all kinds and descriptions, and the camp was on the west or harbor side of the island. There were no boats on our side of the island except our own.

Col. Bennett says that the regiments were under orders to be ready, but the first order we received was after we were marching to the boats.  When the men took their places we were soon going toward the harbor, with Major Hennessy ahead.  Coming out of the narrow channel into the harbor at what was then known as Paine’s dock, our course would bring us to the north point of the island, at Fort Gregg, where we were ordered to report; but part of the boats did not report there.

The last of the regiment was passing Paine’s dock not later than 9:50 a.m., and Major Hennessy was then going directly past Fort Gregg to Fort Sumter, 1440 yards distant, and his was the first boat to reach that fort and display the flag of the regiment on its parapet.

Corporal Johnson, Co. G, was the first man to land, followed by Major Hennessy and Lieut. Burr….

Thus, the 52nd Pennsylvania, veterans of the long campaign on Morris Island, were the first into Fort Sumter.

JohnAHennessy

While Hennessy took possession of Fort Sumter, other boats moved toward Sullivan’s Island and other points.  While passing Fort Sumter, Bennett encountered a boat full of Confederate musicians, who’d been left behind as their armies abandoned the city.  Hennessy, who’d returned to his boat, and others joined Bennett moving into the harbor.   One by one, small detachments took control of batteries and forts.  Bennett and Hennessy proceeded to downtown Charleston, with Bannatyne indicating the latter was again the first ashore.

But not all the Confederate forces had left Charleston, as Bannatyne noted:

Just as we landed several of the Confederate ironclads in the harbor were blown up, with loud reports.  The streets were crowded with contrabands anxious to see the army.  We stayed at the citadel but a short time, and were ordered to the armory, which was reported on fire, but this proved to be a false alarm.  We saw no men in the city except Col. Bennett and staff and Major Hennessy… and detachments of the 3d R.I.

Flags went up all around Charleston.  Bennett was most concerned about security of the city and reports of Confederate rear guards:

I landed at Mills’ Wharf, Charleston, at 10 a.m., where I learned that a part of the enemy’s troops yet remained in the city, while mounted patrols were out in every direction applying the torch and driving the inhabitants before them.  I at once addressed the mayor of the city….

Bennett’s message to Mayor Charles Macbeth was to the point:

In the name of the United States Government I demand a surrender of the city of which you are the executive officer.  Until further orders all citizens will remain within their houses.

With the small force at his disposal, Bennett could not secure the city and would wait reinforcements.  While waiting, several explosions rocked the city.  At least two were from the Confederate rams being destroyed.  A magazine on Sullivan’s Island went up.  But the most disruptive was an explosion at the Northeastern Railroad depot.  There civilians were gathering food from abandoned Confederate commissary stores.  Children found quantities of gunpowder stored in nearby warehouses, and began playing with it in the smoldering cotton fires.  After a while, the children had left a perfect “train” back to the gunpowder stocks, with disastrous results.  As Bennett reported, “… not less than 200 human beings, most of whom were women and children, were blown to atoms.”  That one accident claimed more civilian lives than all the Federal bombardments of the city combined.

Mayor Macbeth readily surrendered the city and only expressed concern about maintaining law and order.  By afternoon, reinforcements from Morris Island arrived and Bennett’s focus was assisting the city’s fire companies attempting to keep the flames from spreading.  Fortunately, there was no repeat of Columbia in Charleston that evening.

That afternoon, Major-General Quincy Gillmore sent a dispatch north to Major-General Henry Halleck:

The city of Charleston and its defenses came into our possession this morning, with over 200 pieces of good artillery and a supply of fine ammunition.  The enemy commenced evacuating all the works last night, and Mayor Macbeth surrendered the city to the troops of General Schimmelfennig at 9 o’clock [sic] this morning, at which time it was occupied by our forces….

The last major port city of the Confederacy was in Federal hands.  And the place where the crisis which lead to the war had started was now firmly in Federal hands. Three years, ten months, and five days after it had been taken down, the United States flag flew over Fort Sumter at nightfall, February 18, 1865.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 1019; Part II, Serial 99, pages 469 and 483; The Campaigns of the Fifty-second Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, compiled by Smith B. Mott, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1911, pages 170-2.)