By the time Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th President, seven Southern slaveholding states had already seceded from the Union and formed a new national government.
One of the new Confederacy’s first acts was to seize most Federal arsenals that were located within their territory.
One such facility that remained in Northern hands was located at Ft. Sumter, South Carolina, on an island in Charleston harbor.
Lincoln had barely finished taking the oath of office when he was informed that a crisis was imminent at Ft. Sumter, which was badly in need of supplies.
Lincoln chose to resupply the troops rather than to capitulate to Southern demands for surrender of the fort. After an ultimatum was rejected by U.S. Major Robert Anderson, the Union commander at Ft. Sumter, the Confederate bombardment began at 4:30 AM on April 12, 1861 – 150 years ago today.
The war was on.
Just as someone squeezed off “the shot heard ‘round the world” that kicked off the Revolutionary War, somebody also fired the first shot of the Civil War. Who was it?
History credits many people as having had the “honor” of firing the first shot. One such individual was named Edmund Ruffin, a slaveholder and poster child for state’s rights, who was hanging around South Carolina because he was angered that his native Virginia hadn’t yet left the Union. (Something the state would do a few days later.)
When he wasn’t busy preaching secessionism, Ruffian was a noted agronomist who made valuable contributions to agricultural productivity in the South.
The first return shot fired from the fort came from Union Capt. Abner Doubleday – the same guy who somehow got woven into baseball’s creation myth.
The outgunned Union forces were pummeled from artillery batteries located on shore for 34 hours before surrendering. Miraculously, not a single Union life was lost during the shelling. Two soldiers did die later when a cannon exploded firing a volley during the surrender ceremonies. (Within months, formalities like “surrender ceremonies” would be forgotten in the war as chivalry quickly gave way to carnage.)
Four years to the day after Anderson lowered the American flag over Ft. Sumter, he was back to raise it again over the recaptured fort.
The defeat of the Confederacy didn’t sit well with firebrand Ruffin. Two months after Lee’s defeat at Appomattox Court House, Ruffin wrapped himself in a Confederate flag and blew his brains out with a shotgun.