“If you will state the time at which you will evacuate Fort Sumter we will abstain from opening fire upon you.” That message was sent by Brigadier General G. T. Beauregard of the Confederate States Army and delivered to Major Robert Anderson, commander of U.S. Army forces in Charleston, S.C., at forty-five minutes past midnight on April 12. Anderson, a former instructor of Beauregard’s at West Point, refused an immediate surrender and within four hours the first shot of the Civil War was fired across the harbor at Fort Sumter.
150 years later, the ruins of Fort Sumter still stand in Charleston Harbor. Since 1948, the National Park Service has preserved the fort as a public memorial commemorating this crucial moment in American history.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Civil War military engagements began in South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union in December 1860, declaring that President-elect Lincoln held “opinions and purposes…hostile to slavery.” When Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861, he was greeted by a newly formed Confederate States of America that considered U.S. garrisons like Fort Sumter as fortifications of a “foreign” army.
Remarkably, this inaugural battle of the bloodiest war in American history was fought without a single casualty from enemy fire. Out gunned and surrounded by cannon fire, Major Anderson kept his men away from the most exposed fortress walls and he refused open fire on the city of Charleston and its civilian residents. He surrendered Fort Sumter 34 hours after the fighting commenced.
Today, many of the Civil War’s most memorable places are protected as national parks and all of us are called upon to ensure that future generations may visit them for inspiration, reflection and remembrance. The National Park Foundation yesterday announced a partnership with HISTORY channel which is launching a massive educational and fund-raising initiative titled “GIVE 150” to enhance Civil War education nationwide, and to protect and preserve battlefields and other key sites from this pivotal period in American history. As part of this initiative, HISTORY will direct donations to the Civil War Trust and the National Park Foundation, so that an important and course-changing chapter in the story of our country can be kept alive in the consciousness of future generations. To show your support and to learn more visit www.give150.com.
To learn more about the 150th commemoration of the Civil War, visit the National Park Service at www.nps.gov/civilwar.