On April 14, 1861, after an extensive
bombardment, the outnumbered and outgunned Union garrison of Ft. Sumter
surrendered to the Confederate forces in and around Charleston harbor. U.S.
Army Maj. Robert Anderson insisted, as a condition of his troops' surrender,
that they be permitted to fire a 100-gun salute to the huge United States flag
that had so defiantly flown over the fort during the battle. Confederate Gen.
Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard agreed to the demand of Anderson, his former
West Point artillery instructor. The Union guns began firing the salute, but
on the 47th round, Union Army Private Daniel Hough was killed in the
accidental explosion of a pile of cartridges; five others were wounded. Hough
was the first casualty of the Civil War. The salute was promptly reduced to 50
rounds. Maj. Anderson and his troops then boarded a steamship and sailed
north, with the flag, into history.
bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor
Anderson was a Kentuckian like Abraham
Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, and like Lincoln, he remained loyal to the United
States. He wrote, "Our Southern brethren have done grievously wrong; they
have rebelled and attacked their father's house and their loyal brothers. They
must be punished and brought back, but this necessity breaks my heart."
Anderson toured the North with the 33-star
garrison flag, and men young and old flocked to the colors, eager to fight for
"Lincoln and liberty." The Ft. Sumter flag was an extraordinarily
popular and powerful symbol of the Union, and some historians trace the
beginning of our country's long admiration - if not veneration - of the
American flag to the early patriotic fervor of the Civil War. Anderson brought
the flag to New York City for an April 20, 1861 patriotic rally, where it was
flown from the equestrian statue of George Washington. More than 100,000
people thronged Manhattan's Union Square in what was, by some accounts, the
largest public gathering in the country up to that time. The flag was taken
from town to town, city to city throughout the North, where it was frequently
"auctioned" to raise funds for the war effort. Any patriotic citizen
who won the flag at auction was expected to immediately donate it back to the
nation, and it would promptly be taken to the next rally to repeat its
April 14, 1865, now General Robert Anderson raises the original Fort
Sumter flag during ceremonies at the recaptured garrison.
In time, the Confederacy faltered and Union
victory became certain. After Charleston fell and the war drew to a close,
there was a grand celebration in the former "cradle of secession."
On April 14, 1865, Union officers and dignitaries gathered at Ft. Sumter. A
band played, several nearby Navy warships fired salutes, and there were hymns
and prayers. Then, exactly four years to the day after he'd lowered the flag
in surrender, Gen. Robert Anderson raised it in triumph over the fort's
battered and shot-torn walls. The flag was transformed into a symbol of a
restored and victorious United States.
The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher was the principal
orator at the celebration, and gave a long speech, as was the custom of the
day. He said, "On this solemn and joyful day, we again lift to the breeze
our fathers' flag, now, again, the banner of the United States, with the
fervent prayer that God would crown it with honor, protect it from treason,
and send it down to our children.... Terrible in battle, may it be beneficent
in peace [and] as long as the sun endures, or the stars, may it wave over a
nation neither enslaved nor enslaving.... We lift up our banner, and dedicate
it to peace, Union, and liberty, now and forevermore." The crowd
responded with great applause.
That night, fireworks brightened the skies
over Charleston harbor. Almost five hundred miles to the north, President
Lincoln went with his wife to Ford's Theatre for the last time.
The 33-star, Fort Sumter garrison flag.
The original 33-star garrison flag is now on
display in Ft. Sumter's museum, a bookend, if you will, to the beginning and
end of America's great national tragedy. A replica of the flag flies daily
above the fort, along with other historic flags. I have a small replica of the
flag, which the Roundtable gave me at the conclusion of my term as president.
At my request, Superintendent John Tucker of the Ft. Sumter National Monument arranged for my flag to be flown above the fort on April 14, 2002, the 141st
anniversary of the flag's lowering and the 137th anniversary of its
re-raising. As Tucker wrote to me, "Through the stories behind [our]
flags, we are able to learn and remember significant people and events of the
past. This 33-star flag is one of the most historic and memorable symbols of
our nation's heritage."
He's right. Long may it wave.
| Henry Ward Beecher