The Civil War Begins

Illustration from a Union patriotic envelope following the surrender of Fort Sumter.

Today, April 12th, marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, America's bloodiest and costliest war. The cannon that opened up on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor early that morning would not fall silent for four years.  When the war ended over 600,000 Americans had died and the South faced years of rebuilding and recovery.

As we begin the commemoration of this watershed event in United States history, it is worth noting the very close connection that the bombardment of Fort Sumter had to Kentucky and Louisville. Yes, native Kentuckians Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were the respective presidents of the U. S. and Confederacy, but a native Kentuckian and Louisvillian was the commander of Fort Sumter.

Robert Anderson (1805-1871) was the son of Colonel Richard C. Anderson, Revolutionary War veteran and Clark family in-law.   The Anderson home was Soldier’s Retreat in eastern Jefferson County along today’s Hurstbourne

Robert Anderson. Taken in probably late spring or summer of 1861 by Edward Klauber while Anderson was in Louisville serving as commander of the Department of Kentucky.

Parkway. (The replica house and original outbuildings and family cemetery can be seen from the road. Go to for the specific location.) It was here that Robert was born and raised. He graduated from West Point and served at various postings as he rose in rank. In April 1861 he commanded Fort Sumter. Essentially under siege, the fortress was undermanned and running short of supplies. Lincoln’s announcement that the government intended to resupply the fort proved the spark that set off actual hostilities. South Carolina demanded the immediate surrender of the Sumter which Anderson refused.

Robert Anderson to Adjutant General Col. Samuel Cooper from Fort Sumter, February 9, 1861, updating him on the deteriorating situation.

At 4:30 in the morning on April 12, Confederate forces under the command of P. G. T. Beauregard opened fire on the fort. The Union garrison returned fire but was heavily outgunned and the fortification was slowly being pounded into rubble. On the afternoon of April 13, faced with no choice other than complete destruction, Anderson agreed to surrender. The next day, the Stars and Stripes were lowered and Anderson officially surrendered Fort Sumter.

The Confederacy cheered its first victory and the North promised retribution and to return. Anderson was proclaimed a hero in the North for his brave defense and quickly promoted to general. He returned to Sumter four years to the day after its surrender, April 14, 1865, and raised the same flag  he'd been forced to lower.

The images shown here are from The Filson's excellent Civil War collection and are a sampling of just some of our Fort Sumter and Robert Anderson related material.

The inspiration for another musical composition.

Confederate forces firing on Fort Sumter as depicted in Harper's Weekly.

The Hero of Fort Sumter as inspiration for a march.

"The gallant Mr. Hart of New York, nailing the flag of Sumter to the mast...." Patriotic cover with poem.

"The gallant Mr. Hart of New York, nailing the flag of Sumter to the mast...." Patriotic cover with poem.

James J. Holmberg

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