Fort Sumter

by Samuel Samson and Matthew Walsh

Fort Sumter: The point of no return leading to the US Civil War

Although the events in "Bleeding Kansas" were the first example of violence between the north and the south over the issue of slavery, the battle at Fort Sumter was the first instance of formal armies going to war. An attempt to resupply the fort instigated the first violent reaction by the southern army. After the first formal battle between two official armies, there was no possibility of peaceful dialogue and discourse, the first formal shots meaning that there was no way to turn back from full-out war. In early 1861, at the Union fort off the shore of newly-seceded South Carolina, After the first shots were fired, any chance to reach a diplomatic solution went out the window, as one nation had spilled the blood of another. While “Bleeding Kansas” was fighting amongst groups over different ideas on slavery, it was nowhere near on a nationwide scale. The battle at Fort Sumter was direct action on a national scale, with multiple formal armies getting involved. Long term, the battle, and ensuing southern victory, caused the Union to loose a key fort in the south. Short term, however, the actions at Fort Sumter were the direct instigation, first battle, and tipping point, guaranteeing the fighting of the US Civil War.


Previous to the battle at Fort Sumter, there was fighting between the North and South, but never organized between two armies like at Fort Sumter. According to historian Charles W. Ramsdell, Lincoln provoked the first shot from the South in order to paint them as rebels. Lincoln decided to supply the fort by way of long sea route so Major Anderson would have to remain in the fort until he was relieved in close quarters with a fiery General P.G.T. Beauregard. The Southerners demanded the fort be abandoned immediately as it was in the South and President Buchanan made a promise to the South that union forts in the South would no longer be restocked. Lincoln hoped that the fighting at Fort Sumter would show the South how violent war would be and split and or discourage the South from fighting. However, as seen in F.L. Parker’s journal from when he watched Fort Sumter burn, the Confederates rallied around the fighting and celebrated their victory. The confederate soldiers gained a hunger for fighting and a desire to defeat the North. Lincoln’s plan to open the eyes of the South completely backfired and resulted in the South calling more and more for open war. Lincoln had hoped to gain the “good guy” card so he could paint the South as rebellious and violent, but in actuality he pushed the South to the point of no return. As Lincoln later stated in an open address about the issue at Fort Sumter specifically It is thus seen that the assault upon and reduction of Fort Sumter was in no sense a matter of self-defense on the part of the assailants. They well knew that the garrison in the fort could by no possibility commit aggression upon them...By the affair at Fort Sumter, with its surrounding circumstances….the Government began the conflict of arms...this issue embraces more than the fate of these United choice was left but to call out the war power of the Government and so to resist force employed for its destruction by force for its preservation.”