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150 years ago: The scene from Sumter

By Kenton Robinson

Publication: The Day

Published April 19. 2011 4:00AM   Updated April 27. 2011 11:36AM
library of congress
This Currier & Ives hand-colored lithograph depicts Union troops in the interior of Fort Sumter, S.C., during the bombardment of April 12, 1861, the day the Civil War began.
NL newspaper paints picture of bombardment that started the Civil War

While there were early reports of the shelling of Fort Sumter, S.C., in New London's newspapers, it wasn't until April 16, 1861, that The Daily Chronicle gave a full account "by telegraph" of the fort's bombardment, which signaled the beginning of the Civil War.

Here are excerpts of that account:

"Charleston, April 14

"The reporter for the Associated Press did not arrive in this city until yesterday (Saturday) morning, consequently he lost the opportunity to give a description of the pyrotechnic display on Friday night which was, according to the testimony of eye witnesses, truly grand. The terrific firing reached an awful climax at ten o'clock at night. The heavens were obscured by rain clouds and it was as dark as Erebus...

"All the clouds which had rendered the night so dark and dismal disappeared as day began to break, while the air became most delightfully balmy and refreshing. The streets were again filled with persons, male and female, old and young, white and black. Some went to the battery, some to the wharves, and some to the steeples of the churches...

"Soon it became evident that Sumpter was on fire and all eyes were fixed upon it. The dense smoke that issued from it was seen gradually to rise to the ramparts. Some supposed that this was merely a signal from Major Anderson to draw in the fleet to his aid. At this time the squadron was in the offing quietly riding at anchor, and could clearly be distinguished...

"Four vessels were arranged in line directly over the bar apparently blockading the port. Their long thick hulls and smoke stacks proved them to be Federal steamers. Every one anxiously awaited to see what they would do. The suspense was very exciting. On all side could be heard 'Will the vessels come in and engage the batteries? If they do not they are cowardly poltroons...'

"Three times Maj. Anderson's barracks were set on fire, and twice he succeeded in putting out the flames: and to do this he was obliged to employ all his force in passing along water ... At noon the flames burst from every quarter of the fort, and the destruction of it was complete..."

The Chronicle also reported that the attack had provoked riots in some cities, including this news from Philadelphia:

"The lawless proceedings to-day caused much alarm to order loving citizens. The mob was mostly composed of youths belonging to fire companies. After visiting newspaper offices and government property, they marched in a body up Market St, bearing a bag. Well known Vnion men ... at all points on their route were obliged to procure something red, white and blue, to protect their property.

"Search was made for the publication rooms of the Southern Monitor, but as that paper has suspended, the mob was unable to carry out their intention of destroying the forms, and satisfied themselves with breaking the signs to pieces. The ringleaders were provided with ropes to hang the editor if caught."

k.robinson@theday.com

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