The Great Conspiracy

On the 8th of April, G. T. Beauregard, “Brigadier General Commanding”
the “Provisional Army C. S. A.” at Charleston, S. C., notified the
Confederate Secretary of War (Walker) at Montgomery, Ala., that “An
authorized messenger from President Lincoln has just informed Gov.
Pickens and myself that provisions will be sent to Fort Sumter
peaceably, or otherwise by force.”

On the 10th, Confederate Secretary Walker telegraphed to Beauregard: “If
you have no doubt of the authorized character of the agent who
communicated to, you the intention of the Washington Government to
supply Fort Sumter by force, you will at once demand its evacuation,
and, if this is refused, proceed, in such manner as you may determine,
to reduce it.” To this Beauregard at once replied: “The demand will be
made to-morrow at 12 o’clock.” Thereupon the Confederate Secretary
telegraphed again: “Unless there are special reasons connected with your
own condition, it is considered proper that you should make the demand
at an earlier hour.” And Beauregard answered: “The reasons are special
for 12 o’clock.”

On the 11th General Beauregard notified Secretary Walker: “The demand
was sent at 2 P. M., and until 6 was allowed for the answer.” The
Secretary desiring to have the reply of Major Anderson, General
Beauregard telegraphed: “Major Anderson replies: ‘I have the honor to
acknowledge the receipt of your communication demanding the evacuation
of this Fort, and to say in reply thereto that it is a demand with which
I regret that my sense of honor and of my obligation to my Government
prevent my compliance.’ He adds, verbally, ‘I will await the first
shot, and, if you do not batter us to pieces, we will be starved out in
a few days.'”

To this, the Confederate Secretary at once responded with: “Do not
desire needlessly to bombard Fort Sumter. If Major Anderson will state
the time at which, as indicated by himself, he will evacuate, and agree
that, in the mean time, he will not use his guns against us unless ours
should be employed against Fort Sumter, you are authorized thus to avoid
the effusion of blood. If this or its equivalent be refused, reduce the
Fort, as your judgment decides to be the most practicable.”

At 11 o’clock that night (April 11) General Beauregard sent to Major
Anderson, by the hands of his aides-de-camp, Messrs. Chesnut and Lee, a
further communication, in which, after alluding to the Major’s verbal
observation, the General said: “If you will state the time at which you
will evacuate Fort Sumter, and agree that in the mean time you will not
use your guns against us unless ours shall be employed against Fort
Sumter, we shall abstain from opening fire upon you. Col. Chesnut and
Capt. Lee are authorized by me to enter into such an agreement with you.
You are therefore requested to communicate to them an open answer.”

To this, Major Robert Anderson, at 2.30 A.M. of the 12th, replied “that,
cordially uniting with you in the desire to avoid the useless effusion
of blood, I will, if provided with the necessary means of
transportation, evacuate Fort Sumter by noon on the 15th inst., should I
not receive prior to that time, controlling instructions from my
Government, or additional supplies, and that I will not in the mean time
open my fire upon your forces unless compelled to do so by some hostile
act against this Fort or the flag of my Government, by the forces under
your command, or by some portion of them, or by the perpetration of some
act showing a hostile intention on your part against this Fort or the
flag it bears.” Thereupon General Beauregard telegraphed Secretary
Walker: “He would not consent. I write to-day.”

At 3.20 A.M., Major Anderson received from Messrs. Chesnut and Lee a
notification to this effect: “By authority of Brigadier General
Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States,
we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his
batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.” And a later
dispatch from General Beauregard to Secretary Walker, April 12,
laconically stated: “WE OPENED FIRE AT 4.30.”

At last the hour and the minute had come, for which the Slave Power of
the South had for thirty years so impatiently longed. At last the
moment had come, when all the long-treasured vengeance of the South–
outgrown from questions of Tariff, of Slavery, and of Secession–was to
be poured out in blood and battle; when the panoplied powers and forces
of rebellious confederated States, standing face to face with the
resolute patriotism of an outraged Union, would belch forth flame and
fury and hurtling missiles upon the Federal Fort and the old flag
floating o’er it.

And whose the sacrilegious hand that dared be first raised against his
Country and his Country’s flag? Stevens’s mortar battery at Sullivan’s
Island is ready to open, when a lean, long-haired old man, with eyes
blazing in their deep fanatical sockets, totters hastily forward and
ravenously seizing in his bony hands a lanyard, pulls the string, and,
with a flash and roar, away speeds the shrieking shell on its mission of
destruction; and, while shell after shell, and shot after shot, from
battery after battery, screams a savage accompaniment to the boom and
flash and bellow of the guns, that lean old man works his clutched
fingers in an ecstasy of fiendish pleasure, and chuckles: “Aye, I told
them at Columbia that night, that the defense of the South is only to be
secured through the lead of South Carolina; and, old as I am, I had come
here to join them in that lead–and I have done it.”

[Edmund Ruffin, see p. 100. This theory of the necessity of South
Carolina leading, had long been held, as in the following, first
published in the New York Tribune, July 3, 1862, which, among other
letters, was found in the house of William H. Trescot, on
Barnwell’s Island, South Carolina, when re-occupied by United
States troops:


“My DEAR, SIR:–You misunderstood my last letter, if you supposed
that I intended to visit South Carolina this Spring. I am
exceedingly obliged to you for your kind invitations, and it would
afford me the highest pleasure to interchange in person, sentiments
with a friend whose manner of thinking so closely agrees with my
own. But my engagements here closely confine me to this city, and
deny me such a gratification.

“I would be especially glad to be in Charleston next week, and
witness the proceedings of your Convention of Delegates from the
Southern Rights Associations. The condition of things in your
State deeply interests me. Her wise foresight and manly
independence have placed her, as the head of the South, to whom
alone true-hearted men can look with any hope or pleasure.

“Momentous are the consequences which depend upon your action.
Which party will prevail? The immediate Secessionists, or those
who are opposed to separate State action at this time? For my part
I forbear to form a wish. Were I a Carolinian, it would be very
different; but when I consider the serious effects the decision may
have on your future weal or woe, I feel that a citizen of a State
which has acted as Virginia, has no right to interfere, even by a

“If the General Government allows you peaceably and freely to
Secede, neither Virginia, nor any other Southern State, would, in
my opinion, follow you at present. But what would be the effect
upon South Carolina? Some of our best friends have supposed that
it would cut off Charleston from the great Western trade, which she
is now striking for, and would retard very greatly the progress of
your State. I confess that I think differently. I believe
thoroughly in our own theories, and that, even if Charleston did
not grow quite as fast in her trade with other States, yet the
relief from Federal taxation would vastly stimulate your
prosperity. If so, the prestige of the Union would be destroyed,
and you would be the nucleus for a Southern Confederation at no
distant day.

“But I do not doubt, from all I have been able toe to learn that the
Federal Government would use force, beginning with the form most
embarrassing to you, and least calculated to excite sympathy. I
mean a naval blockade. In that event, could you stand the reaction
feeling which the suffering commerce of Charleston would probably
manifest? Would you not lose that in which your strength consists,
the union of your people? I do not mean to imply an opinion, I
only ask the question.

“If you could force this blockade, and bring the Government to
direct force, the feeling in Virginia would be very great. I trust
in God it would bring her to your aid. But it would be wrong in me
to deceive you by speaking certainly. I cannot express the deep
mortification I have felt at her course this Winter. But I do not
believe that the course of the Legislature is a fair expression of
popular feeling. In the East, at least, the great majority
believes in the right of Secession, and feels the deepest sympathy
with Carolina in her opposition to measures which they regard as
she does. But the West–Western Virginia–there is the rub! Only
60,000 slaves to 494,000 whites! When I consider this fact, and
the kind of argument which has been heard in this body, I cannot
but regard with the greatest fear the question whether Virginia
would assist Carolina in such an issue.

“I must acknowledge, my dear sir, that I look to the future with
almost as much apprehension as hope. You well object to the term
Democrat. Democracy, in its original philosophical sense, is
indeed incompatible with Slavery and the whole system of Southern
society. Yet, if you look back, what change will you find made in
any of your State Constitutions, or in our legislation–that is, in
its general course–for the last fifty years, which was not in the
direction of this Democracy? Do not its principles and theories
become daily more fixed in our practice? (I had almost said in the
opinions of our people, did I not remember with pleasure the great
improvement of opinion in regard to the abstract question of
Slavery). And if such is the case, what are we to hope in the
future? I do not hesitate to say that if the question is raised
between Carolina and the Federal Government, and the latter
prevails, the last hope of republican government, and, I fear, of
Southern civilization, is gone. Russia will then be a better
government than ours.

“I fear that the confusion and interruptions amid which I write
have made this rather a rambling letter. Do you visit the North in
the Summer? I would be very happy to welcome you to the Old

“I am much obliged to you for the offer to send me Hammond’s Eulogy
on Calhoun, but I am indebted to the author for a copy.

“With esteem and friendship, yours truly,


“WM. H. TRESCOT, ESQ.”] Next morning’s New York herald, in its Charleston dispatch of April 12,
announced to the World that “The first shot [fired at Fort Sumter] from
Stevens’s battery was fired by the venerable Edmund Ruffin, of
Virginia,” and added, “That ball will do more for the cause of
Secession, in Virginia, than volumes of stump speeches.”

“Soon,” says Greeley in his History, “the thunder of fifty heavy
breaching cannon, in one grand volley, followed by the crashing and
crumbling of brick, stone, and mortar around and above them, apprized
the little garrison that their stay must necessarily be short.”

Says an eye-witness of the bombardment: “Shells burst with the greatest
rapidity in every portion of the work, hurling the loose brick and stone
in all directions, breaking the windows and setting fire to whatever
woodwork they burst against. * * * The firing from the batteries on
Cumming’s Point was scattered over the whole of the gorge or rear of the
Fort, till it looked like a sieve. The explosion of shells, and the
quantity of deadly missiles that were hurled in every direction and at
every instant of time, made it almost certain death to go out of the
lower tier of casemates, and also made the working of the barbette or
upper (uncovered) guns, which contained all our heaviest metal, and by
which alone we could throw shells, quite impossible.

“During the first day there was hardly an instant of time that there was
a cessation of the whizzing of balls, which were sometimes coming half a
dozen at once. There was not a portion of the work which was not taken
in reverse from mortars. * * * During Friday, the officers’ barracks
were three times set on fire by the shells and three times put out under
the most galling and destructive cannonade.

“For the fourth time, the barracks were set on fire early on Saturday
morning, and attempts were made to extinguish the flames; but it was
soon discovered that red-hot shot were being thrown into the Fort with
fearful rapidity, and it became evident that it would be impossible to
put out the conflagration. The whole garrison was then set to work, or
as many as could be spared, to remove the powder from the magazines,
which was desperate work, rolling barrels of powder through the fire. *
* * After the barracks were well on fire, the batteries directed upon
Fort Sumter increased their cannonading to a rapidity greater than had
been attained before.”

“About this time, the shells and ammunition in the upper service-
magazines exploded, scattering the tower and upper portions of the
building in every direction. The crash of the beams, the roar of the
flames, and the shower of fragments of the Fort, with the blackness of
the smoke, made the scene indescribably terrific and grand. This
continued for several hours. * * * ”

=== Gutchecked to here

“There was not a portion of the Fort where a breath of air could be got
for hours, except through a wet cloth. The fire spread to the men’s
quarters on the right hand and on the left, and endangered the powder
which had been taken out of the magazines. The men went through the
fire, and covered the barrels with wet cloths, but the danger of the
Fort’s blowing up became so imminent that they were obliged to heave the
barrels out of the embrasures.”

Major Anderson’s official report tells the whole story briefly and well,
in these words:


“April 18, 1861, 10.30 A.M., VIA NEW YORK.

“Having defended Fort Sumter for thirty-four hours, until the quarters
were entirely burnt, the main gates destroyed by fire, the gorge walls
seriously injured, the magazine surrounded by flames, and its door
closed from the effects of heat; four barrels and three cartridges of
powder only being available, and no provisions remaining but pork, I
accepted terms of evacuation offered by General Beauregard–being the
same offered by him on the 11th inst., prior to the commencement of
hostilities–and marched out of the Fort on Sunday afternoon, the 14th
instant, with colors flying and drums beating, bringing away company and
private property, and saluting my flag with fifty guns.

“Major 1st Artillery, Commanding.

“Secretary of War, Washington.”
During all this thirty-four hours of bombardment, the South rejoiced
with exceeding great joy that the time had come for the vindication of
its peculiar ideas of State and other rights, even though it be with
flames and the sword. At Charleston, the people were crazy with
exultation and wine-feasting and drinking being the order of the day and
night. But for the surrender, Fort Sumter would have been stormed that
Sunday night. As it was, Sunday was turned into a day of general
jubilation, and while the people cheered and filled the streets, all the
Churches of Charleston celebrated, with more or less devotional fervor
and ceremony, the bloodless victory.

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