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First Shots of the Civil War Fired at Fort Sumter

Confederate and Union troops fired at each other over one night and two days.

Confederate and Union troops fired at each other over one night and two days.

From VOA Learning English, this is The Making of a Nation. I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

And I’m Christopher Cruise.

In late 1860 and early 1861, South Carolina and other southern states withdrew from the Union. They formed a new nation called the Confederate States of America.

But Abraham Lincoln, the president of the United States, said the southern states did not have right to secede. And he said he would not accept the South’s demand to remove U.S. soldiers from South Carolina. The soldiers defended a base in Charleston Harbor called Fort Sumter.

So, Confederate leaders ordered an attack. Just before sunrise on April 12, 1861, a shell exploded above Fort Sumter. It was the first shot fired in the American Civil War.

Major Robert Anderson led the small force of U.S. soldiers at Fort Sumter. Anderson could not use his most powerful cannons to answer the Confederate attack. The cannons were in the open at the top of the fort, where the gunners were not protected. Too many of his men would be lost if his force tried to fire these guns.

So Anderson had his men fire smaller cannons from better-protected positions. These, however, did not do much damage to the Confederate guns. A big cloud of smoke rose high in the air over Fort Sumter.

U.S. Navy sailors could see the smoke a few miles outside Charleston Harbor. They were protecting a ship bringing food for the men at Sumter.

But neither the sailors nor the food could reach the fort to help Major Anderson. Confederate boats blocked the entrance to the harbor. And powerful Confederate guns could destroy any ship that tried to enter.

Confederate shells continued to smash into Sumter throughout the night and into the morning of a second day. The fires burned higher. Smoke filled the rooms where U.S. soldiers attempted to fire their cannons.

About noon, three men arrived at the fort in a small boat. One of them was Louis Wigfall, a former United States senator from Texas, now a Confederate officer. He asked to see Major Anderson.

“I come from General Beauregard," Wigfall said. Beauregard commanded the Confederate troops in Charleston.

"It is time to put a stop to this. The flames are raging all around you. And you have defended your flag bravely. Will you leave, sir?"

Anderson was ready to stop fighting. His men had done all that could be expected of them. They had fought well against a much stronger enemy. Anderson said he would surrender if he and his men could leave with honor.

Wigfall agreed. He told Anderson to lower his country’s flag and the firing would stop.

Down came the United States flag. And up went the white flag of surrender. The battle of Fort Sumter was history.

More than 4,000 shells had been fired during the 33 hours of fighting. But no one on either side had been killed – yet.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

And I’m Christopher Cruise.

This is The Making of a Nation from VOA Learning English.

Frank Beardsley and Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this report.


Words in the News

in the open – adj. located outside; not secret

neither … nor – conj. indicates two things about which something is not true

smash – v. break into many pieces; destroy

brave – adj. having no fear

honor – n. respect

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