April 1861: The war’s first casualties
On Saturday, April 13, Major Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter to General Beauregard’s forces. A white flag replaced the Stars and Stripes on the fort’s flagpole at 2.30 p.m. It was agreed that the formal surrender would take place the following day. Some 4,000 shells had been fired from both sides but no casualties sustained, except for minor injuries caused by falling bricks and one Confederate horse killed by an exploding shell. Anderson wrote: “Our Southern brethren have done grievously wrong, they have rebelled and have attacked their father’s house and their loyal brothers. They must be punished and brought back, but this necessity breaks my heart.”
Sunday, April 14: With colors flying, drums beating and 50 guns firing in salute, the defeated garrison of Fort Sumter marched out of the crumbling fort and boarded ships which would take them north. On the 50th and last salute, a shell exploded. The blast killed Pvt. Daniel Hough, Battery E, 1st U.S. Artillery. He was the very first of some 620,000 Americans who were to die in the following 49 months of the bloodiest war this nation has fought. (The last fatality was Pvt. James Jefferson Williams, Co. B, 34th Indiana Infantry, who was killed in the fighting at Palmito Ranch, Texas, on May 13, 1865.)
President Lincoln heard the news of Fort Sumter on April 14, and convened his cabinet. They approved his request to call up 75,000 militia to put down the insurrection. The next day Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring that an insurrection existed, calling for the Congress to convene in special session on July 4, and calling on the Northern states to send 75,000 troops to quell the rebellion. Ohio was to asked to furnish 18 regiments; New York, 17; Pennsylvania, 16. Virginia was asked for three regiments, Kentucky four, Maryland four and Massachusetts two. North Carolina Gov. John Ellis wired Washington: “I regard the levy of troops made by the Administration for the purpose of subjugating the States of the South as in violation of the Constitution and a usurpation of power. I can be no party to the wicked violation of the laws of the country, and to this war upon the liberties of a free people. You can get no troops from North Carolina.”
On April 16, the Virginia Convention met in Richmond and went into secret session so that its deeply divided delegates could speak freely. Unionist delegate Robert E. Scott’s proposal to give voters a referendum was defeated, 77-64. Kentucky Gov. Beriah Magoffin refused Lincoln’s call for troops: “Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern States,” he wired Washington. By war’s end, Kentucky had furnished 78,540 men to the Union Army. In Montgomery, President Jefferson Davis expressed thankfulness that no blood had been shed, and told his cabinet that separation was not necessarily final. Throughout the North and South, word of Fort Sumter was greeted with wild celebration, though for different reasons.
The Virginia Convention on April 17 adopted an Ordinance of Secession by a vote of 88-55, and ordered a referendum by the voters to take place May 23. Gov. John Letcher was instructed to call up as many volunteers as needed to protect Virginia from Federal encroachment. While strong Union sentiment existed in Virginia, particularly in the western counties, Fort Sumter clearly moved many Virginians and delegates to the convention to the side of secession. The same day, Davis called for “Letters of Marque & Reprisal”―authorizing privateers to attack enemy shipping.
On April 19, Massachusetts troops passing through pro-Southern Baltimore on their way to Washington clashed with civilians on Pratt Street. Twelve civilians and four soldiers were killed. The same day, Lincoln declared: “Whereas an insurrection against the Government of the United States has broken out in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana and Texas, therefore a blockade of the ports of those states has been declared.”
This was a part of Gen. Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan to defeat the Confederacy by squeezing the life out of the South. In Virginia, several thousand state troops began moving towards the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, and Lieutenant Jones ordered the destruction of the facility to prevent some 15,000 small arms and ammunition from falling into pro-Southern hands. On April 20, the Union Navy burned and evacuated the Norfolk Navy Yard. In Alexandria, a Union colonel writes, “I cannot raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, and my children.” With that, Robert E. Lee tendered his resignation from the U.S. Army he had served for almost 30 years.