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Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie

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Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie
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Author(s): Abner Doubleday
Date Published: 2009/12
Page Count: 132
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-871-1
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-872-8

The first shots destined to tear a nation apart

This is an essential and riveting book by one who was literally at the heart of the events that heralded the great conflict between the states. Although Doubleday was certainly a Union soldier from his perspective, for many of the events he tells of, he was simply an officer of the United States Army—since there was no other. The action takes place, of course, beyond Charleston in what would become the Confederacy. Doubleday and his men garrisoned Fort Moultrie on the mainland before the 'phoney war' with its antipathy from the local community began to escalate into open hostilities making their position increasingly untenable and compelling them to secretly retreat to the island stronghold of Fort Sumter. The war then started in earnest as a terrible artillery battle began between Doubleday and his troops within the isolated Sumter (still unsupported by central government attempting to avoid the confirmed outbreak of Civil War) and 'rebel' forces now in possession of Moultrie and other battery positions. Fascinating material for the Civil war historian.

“It is a fine evening, Crawford.” He replied in a hesitating and embarrassed manner, showing that his thoughts were elsewhere. I saw plainly that something unusual had occurred. Anderson approached me as I advanced, and said quietly, “I have determined to evacuate this post immediately, for the purpose of occupying Fort Sumter; I can only allow you twenty minutes to form your company and be in readiness to start.”<br>
I was surprised at this announcement, and realized the gravity of the situation at a glance. We were watched by spies and vigilance-committees, who would undoubtedly open fire upon us as soon as they saw the object of the movement. I was naturally concerned, too, for the safety of my wife, who was the only lady in the fort at that time, and who would necessarily be exposed to considerable danger. Fortunately, I had little or no property to lose, as, in anticipation of a crisis, I had previously sent everything of value to New York. Some of the other officers did not fare so well. The doctor, not expecting so sudden a dénouement, had necessarily left his medical stores unpacked. Foster, who had taken a house outside for his family, was wholly unprepared, and lost heavily.<br>
I made good use of the twenty minutes allowed me. I first went to the barracks, formed my company, inspected it, and saw that each man was properly armed and equipped. This left me ten minutes to spare. I dashed over to my quarters; told my wife to get ready to leave immediately, and as the fighting would probably commence in a few minutes, I advised her to take refuge with some family outside, and get behind the sand-hills as soon as possible, to avoid the shot. She hastily threw her wearing-apparel into her trunks, and I called two men to put her baggage outside the main gate. I then accompanied her there, and we took a sad and hasty leave of each other, for neither knew when or where we would meet again. As soon as this was accomplished, I strapped on my revolver, tied a blanket across my shoulders, and reported to Major Anderson that my men were in readiness to move.<br>
In the meantime Lieutenant Jefferson C. Davis, of my company, who had been detailed to command the rear guard, aimed the guns, which were already loaded, to bear upon the passage to Fort Sumter, and Captain Foster and Assistant-surgeon Crawford, with two sergeants and three privates, remained with him, and took post at five columbiads, in readiness to carry out Major Anderson’s design, which was to sink the guard-boats, should they attempt to fire into us or run us down while en route. Certainly the major showed no lack of determination or energy on this occasion.<br>
If we were successful in crossing, Davis was to follow with the remainder of the men. Foster and Mr. Moale agreed to remain behind until morning. They also volunteered to place themselves at the guns, and cover the retreat of the rear guard under Davis, in case an attempt was made to intercept them.<br>
The chaplain, the Rev. Matthias Harris, being a non-combatant, and having his family in the village, was not notified. Neither was Surgeon Simons, of the army, who was living in a house adjoining the fort, and directly in line with our guns. When he saw the movement in progress, he hastened out with his family, to shelter them behind the sand-hills as soon as possible.<br>
Everything being in readiness, we passed out of the main gates, and silently made our way for about a quarter of a mile to a spot where the boats were hidden behind an irregular pile of rocks, which originally formed part of the sea-wall. There was not a single human being in sight as we marched to the rendezvous, and we had the extraordinary good luck to be wholly unobserved. We found several boats awaiting us, under charge of two engineer officers, Lieutenants Snyder and Meade. They and their crews were crouched down behind the rocks, to escape observation. In a low tone they pointed out to me the boats intended for my company, and then pushed out rapidly to return to the fort.<br>
Noticing that one of the guard-boats was approaching, they made a wide circuit to avoid it. I hoped there would be time for my party to cross before the steamer could overhaul us; but as among my men there were a number of unskilful oarsmen, we made but slow progress, and it soon became evident that we would be overtaken in mid-channel. It was after sunset, and the twilight had deepened, so that there was a fair chance for us to escape. While the steamer was yet afar off, I took off my cap, and threw open my coat to conceal the buttons. I also made the men take off their coats, and use them to cover up their muskets, which were lying alongside the rowlocks. I hoped in this way that we might pass for a party of labourers returning to the fort.<br>
The paddle-wheels stopped within about a hundred yards of us; but, to our great relief, after a slight scrutiny, the steamer kept on its way. In the mean time our men redoubled their efforts, and we soon arrived at our destination. As we ascended the steps of the wharf, crowds of workmen rushed out to meet us, most of them wearing secession emblems.<br>
One or two Union men among them cheered lustily, but the majority called out angrily, “What are these soldiers doing here?” I at once formed my men, charged bayonets, drove the tumultuous mass inside the fort, and seized the guard-room, which commanded the main entrance.