This is again some information I would have rather had in this blog last year, but alas, I was not writing it back then … so here it is for today. This is an excerpt of some of what I’ve written in my proposed book on Abner Doubleday – this segment speaking of events at Fort Sumter on 4/13/1861, the day after the initial attack (the italicized words are from Abner Doubleday).


On the 13th, the battle continued. Heated shot from Moultrie set several fires, and ultimately a large blaze in the officer’s quarters. Before long, the fires could no longer be contained. The soldiers had a difficult time of relocating powder and ammunition in a safe manner. After a time, a shot disabled the door to the magazine, setting a definite limitation as to the amount of ammunition and powder available to continue the fight. The fire and smoke now “. . . was terrible and disastrous. One-fifth of the fort was on fire, and the wind drove the smoke in dense masses into the angle where we had all taken refuge. It seemed impossible to escape suffocation. Some lay down close to the ground, with handkerchiefs over their mouths, and others posted themselves near the embrasures, where the smoke was somewhat lessened by the draught of air. Every one suffered severely.”

Sumter under Confederate Control

The pounding of Sumter continued, with crashing shells and the explosions of fortress shells within burning rooms. The massive wooden gates had burned completely, opening the installation to the potential of invasion. At 12:48 the flag fell, only to be replanted on the parapet by a Peter Hart, who under great fire effectively used a spar for a temporary flagpole—an act of heroism that would be celebrated throughout the North. The garrison at Sumter was now able to only answer with an occasional shot. Amazingly, under such an onslaught, there was no loss of life in the fort. Sumter was actually the safest place for Doubleday to be. “While the battle was going on, a correspondent of the New York Tribune, who was in Charleston, wrote that the populace were calling for my head. Fortunately, I was not there to gratify them.”

Doubleday could not resist taking a shot at a particular building on Sullivan’s Island. It was a very fine resort hotel near the shore. During the time of the increased hostilities, Doubleday could see that it was being used as a barracks for troops, and decided to send two forty-two pounder balls through the upper story. Through his glass, Doubleday could see masses of people tumbling out of the building. Later, during negotiations for the surrender of Fort Sumter, a South Carolina officer on the side raised the question with Doubleday as to the reason for firing upon this building. Doubleday wrote, “Not caring to enter into a discussion at that time, I evaded it by telling him the true reason was, that the landlord had given me a wretched room there one night, and this being the only opportunity that had occurred to get even with him, I was unable to resist it. He laughed heartily, and said, ‘I understand it all now. You were perfectly right, sir, and I justify the act.’”

A white flag was of necessity flown and a series of negotiations begun between Major Anderson and the agents of Beauregard. The terms involved the evacuation of the fort with their personal arms and belongings (leaving all other war material behind), and with permission to salute the flag, along with the honors of war. All of this was arranged to occur the next morning.

Doubleday recorded a near fatal incident during the negotiation. Roger A. Pryor, a former Virginia senator and future officer for the Confederacy, was with the negotiating party and seated at a hospital table in a dark area (this location being about the only place on Sumter safe from the flames). Near his right hand was a tumbler of drink, as well as a dark bottle. While mechanically reaching to pour a drink, he instead accidentally poured the contents of the bottle into a glass and swallowed what turned out to be iodide of potassium. The doctor, Samuel Wylie Crawford (who would give up medicine during the war to eventually become a general) took him outside to apply a stomach pump. Doubleday later told the doctor that if the leaders of secession wanted to come over from Charleston and commit suicide by poisoning themselves, he could think of no reason “to interfere with such a laudable intention.” Crawford responded with similar humor, reasoning that he was responsible for government property, and could not allow it to be taken away in Pryor’s stomach.

<Back to the blog>>>  Roger Pryor was an officer of the Confederacy who fought at Bloody Lane at Antietam, and I’ll save that info for some better research and writing on another day. (And Crawford was at Antietam also – along with quite a number of other Union officers at Sumter.)

And check back tomorrow for some additional words of the turning over of the Fort to the Confederates.

Sumter today as seen from the Harbor Cruise

About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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