Shortly after taking command of the defenses of Charleston harbor on November 21st, 1860, Major Robert Anderson requested a tour of the works of Fort Moultrie from his second-in-command, Captain Abner Doubleday of the 1st Regiment, United States Artillery. They boarded a whaleboat at the mouth of the Cooper river, and were rowed across the dilapidated front of Castle Pinckney on their way to Sullivan's Island and the cluster of batteries and bomb-proofs at Fort Moultrie. The day was very fine and mild for November; dazzling sunshine danced off the harbor and the distant roofs and windows of the city.
The oarsmen pulled the boat up to a ferry-wharf in Moultrieville, and the two officers made their way through the knot of buildings that dotted the shoreline below the Fort. A hotel and dozens of summer houses had been built all over Sullivan's Island since the construction of the Fort, and many were on a hill looking right down into it. Sand had drifted against the stones of the Fort in many places, and there was tall grass waving in front of the main gallery.
The sight of the grass made Doubleday stiffen, for he had ordered it cut that morning. He used one finger to center the collar of his long frock coat, then crossed his hands behind his back. "Again, Major, I feel I must offer my own apologies for the irregular condition of the works. I have tirelessly sought help in making repairs and improvements since assuming this post in 1858, without, honestly, any success. Quartermaster-General Johnston has opined that the repair of Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney, and the completion of Fort Sumter, are outside the concerns of his department; and your predecessor, Colonel Gardner, felt that the works were adequate."
"And you did not share that opinion?" asked Major Anderson.
The Major had a stern, intelligent face like a clergyman or teacher. He seemed to take the distressed condition of the fort without disturbance, but Doubleday suspected that every man in the command would be swinging a shovel, broom or axe within a matter of hours.
"It is plainly observable that they are not suitable to resist an attack of any kind. The wall is so low that a man may simply jump to see over it, and there is almost no protection against the effect of explosive shells. The fort was built to resist roundshot fired by British men-of-war during the Revolution, and had little enough protection to accomplish that."
Anderson and Doubleday approached the line of 24-pounder smoothbore cannon that made up the fort's main battery. Anderson walked to an opening in the casement and looked out at Charleston's main shipping channel and the blue-gray Atlantic beyond. He tried sighting along the barrel of one of the guns, but there was a better view to be had by climbing the pile of sand next to the wall.
"I can assure you that I am familiar with the history of this emplacement, Captain," said Major Anderson. "I'm honored to say that my father was one of the men who defended it and Charleston from those British men-of-war."
"You may also be assured, Captain, that it is no accident that I have been chosen for this command. Parties that plan to pass this Fort and its armaments to the secessionists hope that my southern birth and my family's history will make that goal simpler to accomplish. But it is my duty to defend this city and this harbor, even from its own inhabitants, and I intend to perform that duty as long as I am able.
"I understand that it will be nearly impossible to defend any of these facilities from determined attack from the land; they were all constructed to be water-batteries, without even a gate to protect them from the rear." He waved his hand in the direction of Moultrieville. "Even if we had kept them up to date, with newer pieces and higher walls, how do we keep the residents of the island from throwing rocks down at us? And we haven't the men to make crews for more than a half-dozen guns with any efficiency. Or the ammunition to fire them for an hour."
The garrison, spread between Moultrie and Castle Pinckney, consisted of 61 men, twelve musicians, seven officers, and one medical orderly performing the duties of a Regimental surgeon. Not one of them was visible anywhere in the vicinity of Fort Moultrie that afternoon.
Doubleday nodded in agreement as Anderson spoke; he found he was relieved that the Major had a realistic view of the situation at the Fort. He opened his mouth to offer an idea he had about removing some of the guns from their positions and placing them like carronades at the entrance to the Fort, but then the air was creased with a loud lowing sound which made both men jump with alarm. A brown and white milk cow, strayed from her pen down in Moultrieville, mooed in surprise at the sight of the two men on the parapet directly below her. The sand on the seaward side had piled up to such a degree that even a cow had little trouble carrying the walls of the fort.
The appearance of the cow seemed to cut off the Major's speculations. The two men returned to the boat, discussing the best way to assign duties to the handful of soldiers under their command, and to improvise a defense in the event of an attack from the landward side of the fort. Doubleday was happy to have a sympathetic ear for his ideas about Moultrie. But as the detachment rowed them back to the city through the wide stretch of the Rebel Roads, Abner found himself unable to resist looking back at the opening of the harbor and the dark mass of Fort Sumter dominating it to the right. Only Sumter offered any real hope of defense against a determined attack, and they would all take up posts within its walls as soon as Doubleday could effect the movement.
Compared to many coastal artillery postings, Charleston was a delightful place. Doubleday found the city charming, and his wife Mary was happy to supplement the Army's usual social calls with trips to events in Charleston proper. They shared an interest in spiritualism and theosophy, and met a number of individuals in Charleston with intriguing opinions and experiences involving the spirit world. Mary was also fond of the mild Southern climate, and often said that she would like to return there when Abner's service was over. Abner, with his experiences in Mexico and Florida behind him, was not as fond of the Carolina summer heat.
Despite the hot-headed rhetoric so common in the halls of the South Carolina legislature at the end of the 1850s, neither Abner nor Mary felt that they were personally in danger from even the fieriest proponents of secession. Although Abner was an ardent nationalist, and more than willing to argue the insupportable moral and physical costs of human bondage, he felt that most of his acquaintances in Charleston respected his views, or at least his arguments. Indeed, as the possibility of armed conflict grew closer, the people of Charleston seemed to become ever more sympathetic and exaggeratedly gallant toward the tiny Federal garrison.
Captain Chester of the 3rd US Artillery observed a perfect example of this phenomenon at a political rally in Charleston that November, and recounted it for Doubleday thereafter. Although South Carolina could hardly be said to have had two political parties, there were still almost always two applicants for any political office. Each candidate would hold a lavish barbecue or other feast for the benefit of his constituents, and offer a program of increasingly florid stump speeches. The entire electorate typically attended both rallies, and cast their votes according to the quality of the food and amusements offered there.
One such party was held on Sullivan's Island at the end of October, and the fort's regimental band were invited to help entertain the crowd. The band were regarded as being the best martial musicians in the state at the time, and were popular guests at many occasions. And because of the proximity of the fort, several members of the garrison attended the rally, and took full advantage of the free food and drink offered there.
The band had played its concert, the supper was over, and the stump speeches had begun. Almost everything on the long serving table had been consumed, except for a large chunk of ham that was still sitting on a platter in front of the party's host and chairman, who was just beginning his remarks for the evening. At the far end of the table, a soldier from Moultrie (in a state of partial undress) spent some minutes studying that piece of ham, and when a storm of applause broke at the candidate's promise to secure South Carolina's right to self-determination, he made his move. Mounting the table from the seat of his chair, the man carefully picked his way between all the empty dishes until he was directly to the left of the speaker, then drove a fork into the morsel of ham and began to make his way back across the table to his seat.
The man was drunk, of course; but before the astonished crowd could fall upon him and throw him out of the hall, the candidate produced a revolver from his coat, and pointed it in the air, promising to "shoot the first man who interferes with that soldier!" The trooper was allowed to retain his ham, and retreated to the darker fringes of the hall without injury.
The presence of several other soldiers and the regimental bandsmen might have made the crowd hesitate a moment longer, but Doubleday and Chester agreed that the man would have received a serious beating had he tried the same thing in 1859.
This giddy atmosphere served to make the typically stolid Doubleday nervous, and so he reluctantly suggested that Mary might leave to live with relatives in the North shortly before the Presidential election. She indignantly refused, insisting that she preferred whatever fate might have planned for her in Charleston to sitting safely in Ballston Spa with no knowledge of what had befallen her husband. They compromised by partially packing her trunks in case it was necessary to leave on short notice.
December 25th of 1860 was bleak and drizzly, but Abner felt a warm excitement that had nothing to do with Father Christmas. The plan for evacuation was his, but he had allowed two junior officers, Lieutenant G.W. Snyder, and Brevet-Captain Truman Seymour, to propose it to Major Anderson. The tricky part was dealing with the builders and workmen who were trying to complete Sumter; if any of them were killed or had to be interned in the fort, it would give State authorities a reason to seize their killers or captors.
Sumter sat empty for more than two years while Abner begged for permission to make just one of its batteries ready for service. But within one week of Mr. Lincoln's election, the outgoing Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, sent more than $100,000 in emergency funds toward the completion of Fort Sumter, under the argument of preparing for a potential war against England! The sheer idiocy of this pretense made Doubleday's blood burn, and he sent off damning letters to powerful friends in several corners of government. All to no effect, of course.
Under the cover of Christmas celebration, Major Anderson combined his mess with Doubleday's, which served to concentrate all the officers together at the eve of the action. The men were not informed of the plan in advance; although all proved to be extremely loyal in the event, many had local family connections that would have provided a chance for the militia to learn of their plans.
At dusk, Lt. Davis and his wife brought in a dozen children who belonged to the cooks and laundresses of the garrison, and Captain Foster played Santa Claus for them. Foster was chosen for the luxuriance of his beard, and dressed up in a long seal coat over a pair of enormous teamster's boots.
Doubleday watched him carefully as he spoke to each child; he wondered again where the man's loyalties lay. Foster had appeared two weeks before at the head of a column of 250 construction workers, They were sent from Baltimore by Secretary Floyd to complete Fort Sumter. Although almost all of those workers were secessionists who openly sympathized with the Charlestonians, Foster himself appeared to be a solid Union man. But just to be safe, his role was to aim one of Moultrie's Columbiads, and provide cover fire in case the secessionist guard boat decided to intervene. By the time he entered Sumter, most of his former detail would be ashore in Charleston.
The day after Christmas was hazy and somnolent. The patrols of secessionist militia and freelance hotheads that had bedeviled the garrison for weeks were thin and infrequent, then disappeared altogether about an hour before dusk. The Moultrie garrison were given orders to make ready for marching within one hour; Doubleday used the time to help Mary move her baggage outside the sally port. She moved in with the family of the garrison chaplain, Parson Harris, who had a house safely behind the sand hills of Sullivan's Island from the fort.
The men were loaded with knapsacks, canteens and muskets, but they were remarkably quiet as they made their way along the narrow road through Moultrieville. It would have been much easier to depart from the eastern tip of the island, but the only available craft capable of carrying the majority of the garrison in a single trip were the boats that the Sumter workmen used to cross to and from the fort. As the column approached, Lieutenants Snyder and Meade stood casually by the boats with their sidearms still holstered at their sides. Sent to aid Foster in the supervision of the workers, they made two or three trips per day with the boats, so there was nothing to alarm anyone about their presence. They divided the column between the three boats, and within a minute of their arrival, the Fort Moultrie garrison had abandoned their post completely unobserved.
Doubleday placed himself at the tiller of the lead boat. Running with the outgoing tide, the amateur oarsmen still made slow progress. To his horror, Doubleday soon saw the notorious secessionist guard boat bearing down on his little flotilla. He ordered the men to remove their coats and use them to cover up their muskets, then opened his own uniform coat and flopped over his lapels to conceal the bright row of brass buttons.
The guard boat hallooed and shone a lantern at Doubleday, but the crew had put on so much steam to close with the rowboats that even though they stopped her paddles, the boat simply shot by a hundred yards still ahead of Doubleday's bow. It appeared that they were satisfied that the boats contained the usual parties of workers crossing to Sumter, and turned back into the main ship channel and steamed back toward the militia-held batteries at Ft. Johnson.
Doubleday's boat, wallowing along with more than twenty men aboard, was still the first to reach Fort Sumter. There was a long wooden dock at the front of the fort, leading straight up to the main sally port. The men clambered on to the planks and put their coats and caps back on, making enough noise to attract the attention of the workmen in the fort, who began to appear on the wharf by the dozen. When the landing party's identity became clear, the men in the fort began shouting: "What do you want? What's the meaning of this?" There were a handful of sympathizers in the crowd, for Doubleday could hear a plaintive cry of "Hurrah for the Union! We're with you boys!" But the rest were overwhelmingly hostile, and Doubleday could see that some of them had pistols. He had to act quickly, before someone got up the courage to take a shot at his little band, and they were overwhelmed.
He reached for his own pistol, and realized that he had neglected to load it in all the discussions and estimations of the previous two days. Putting it back in his holster, he gave a command in a voice loud enough for everyone outside the fort to hear: "Detachment! Fix bayonets!"
There was a swish and clatter as the 20 men followed his command. "Form column of twos!" The workmen were already running now, trying to reach the security of the sally port and the guard room beyond. "At double time — advance!" The soldiers all kept in step for perhaps two strides, then broke into a desperate dash, holding their muskets high to avoid stabbing the man in front of them. Had their been any command or organization to the workmen, they could have easily locked the sally port's doors and forced Doubleday's group to find another way inside; instead, the blind and panicked mob was overtaken by the detachment, and driven straight through the guard room and into the center of the fort.
As they dashed over the cinders and gravel of the main yard, the soldiers were shocked by the Sumter's size. Across the expanse of the harbor, Sumter looked like a little red-brown box on the horizon; from the inside, it seemed to be big enough to hold a town within its walls. They quickly retreated to the safety of the guardroom and kept their guns trained on the milling, confused laborers until Seymour's detachment, and then the rest of the troops arrived. After about 30 minutes, Major Anderson arrived, chuffing along in the little engineering steam launch with several more officers.
As it became clear that there had been no general alarm, the boats were sent back to pick up more supplies, and the men who had stayed behind to cover their crossing with a single cannon. When a column of thick smoke began to rise from the parapets at Fort Moultrie, the workmen at Sumter were allowed to climb into their own boats, and made their way back to Charleston. Then the alarm really did sound, with whistles, signal rockets and blue lights flashing, and the guard boat's paddlewheel pounding the water as she steamed back to the fort in a fury.
At dawn, just in case anyone had slept through the noise in the night, messengers were sent through the town door to door to let everyone know what Anderson and his command had done. The Governor sent a party of aides to demand that Anderson and his troops return to Moultrie, still smoldering in the morning light. He let them diplomatically damn his provocations and those of President Lincoln for a reasonable span of time, and when they sputtered to a stop, he said, "Gentlemen, my orders are simple. I have been assigned the defense of Charleston Harbor, and I intend to defend it."
The Governor's aides were easily dealt with. It was not as simple when the workmen returned to the fort, and demanded their back wages.
The differences between life at Moultrie and life at Sumter were substantial. The barracks had not been occupied for many years as at Moultrie, so the wind whistled through all the chinks in the masonry until the men could find and fill them. The walls were higher and the city more distant, so a man within the fort seldom saw a view of Charleston unless he was actually walking the parapet. And that duty felt safer than it had at Moultrie. Even if the secessionists brought their boats close by the Fort, the strong, steady winds made aiming a musket difficult, even for a man standing on solid ground.
On December 27 th, the guard boat that brought the indignant foremen back to Sumter also carried a far more welcome passenger. Mary Doubleday had conspired with the former post sutler at Fort Moultrie to carry a huge box of candles and hand matches with her on the boat, and Abner embraced her proudly, saying "You are always bringing light into my world." A few hours later, Captain Seymour's wife arrived in a small boat rowed by two boys, and their reunion was equally joyous. But because Major Anderson expected trouble at any time, he ordered his officers to send their dependents away to safer quarters. The three ladies were carried to Moultrieville and then Charleston, where they took up residence in a hotel. But owing to the feelings in the city, they were obliged to be very quiet, and to take their meals in their rooms. Within a few days, all three departed for the North.
Despite these departures, and the loss of Moultrieville's many comforts, morale within the little company was high. There was no end of work to be done inside the huge fort, and Doubleday arranged daily details that involved everyone in the command, even the bandsmen. Captain Foster was able to convince several dozen of his former employees to rejoin the work inside the fort, after weeding out the most vocal secessionists among them. When it became clear that Anderson intended to stay at Sumter indefinitely, South Carolina declared that it would not allow the fort to be resupplied by the Federal government. But this blockade did not extend to the harbor guard boats, which delivered fresh meat and vegetables to Sumter daily, and continued to carry Doubleday's correspondence to the North.
He wrote to numerous parties within the War Department, to powerful abolitionists in Congress like Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio, frequently emphasizing the need for a show of force to convince the secessionists that the Union would fight to preserve itself. Finally, almost out of despair, he wrote a letter to President Lincoln, detailing the basic situation at Charleston, and his assessment of their needs. To his astonishment, Lincoln replied within the week. He encouraged Doubleday to continue his correspondence, promising his "dispatches" would receive immediate attention, but stopped well short of suggesting that the defenders of Sumter could expect relief in the immediate future.
Doubleday was aware that his correspondence with the president was considered direct insubordination toward Major Anderson, but once begun he felt bound to maintain it. Despite the Major's decisive withdrawal to Fort Sumter, Doubleday had doubts about his commander's ability to withstand a protracted siege. When South Carolina was the only state openly threatening secession, Anderson thought they could be convinced to reconsider; but as the weeks passed and so many other states voted to leave the Union, he came to doubt that the whole citizenry of the South could be coerced into returning. Still, he directed the work on the fort to continue at the quickest possible pace, aware of similar efforts underway at their old haunts in Fort Moultrie and at distant Fort Johnson.
Shortly after sunrise on January 9 th, 1861, a large sidewheel steamer, the Star of the West, passed the bar and entered the Morris Island channel. Abner was up and walking the parapet with his spyglass, and saw the morning sun flashing off the ship's fast-turning wheel. As the ship approached the neck of Cummings Point, there was a puff of smoke from one of the batteries placed there, and a splash shot up across the steamer's bow. The report of the gun reached him several seconds later.
At this, Doubleday dashed down the parapet stairs and ran to Major Anderson's room. Once roused, the Major ordered Doubleday to sound the long roll and man the barbette guns that faced Morris Island. The positions at Cummings Point were inside the firing arc of two of Fort Sumter's three 15,000 pound ten-inch Columbiad guns, and several of the smaller eight-inch Columbiad and 32-pound guns could also easily reach the secessionist positions.
With all these pieces loaded and ready to fire, all Anderson had to do was offer a single word, and Sumter would have issued a truly memorable salvo to open hostilities. But Anderson felt his orders didn't allow him to be the first to open fire. Nor were South Carolina's gunners eager to begin by sinking an unarmed commercial vessel, packed though it may have been with supplies and reinforcements for Sumter. Several more crews on Morris fired their initial charges, with some shot falling very close to the steamer, but still the majority of the guns remained silent.
Doubleday watched Anderson carefully, waiting for an order of any kind. He had aimed one of the 8-inch guns himself, and stood ready to seize its lanyard and fire. But Anderson's order never came. As the Star of the West drew closer and closer to the batteries, her captain made the decision for both sides. He turned his ship around and steamed away to the Southeast.
For hours after the ship disappeared from sight, Major Anderson had Doubleday keep the men at their posts, suspecting some kind of raid by the militia might be imminent. But it was clear that neither side was willing to be the first to fire; and this seemed to lower the spirits of everyone inside the Fort. Doubleday reported to Anderson later, expecting some rationale for their failure to open fire. Instead, Anderson complained bitterly that General Scott and the War Department had been the ones in the wrong, for sending an unarmed merchant vessel, instead of a ship of war.
Doubleday described the events in detail for both Wade and Lincoln, and felt no need to embellish his own readiness or perspicacity of command. For once, it seemed completely clear that Major Anderson was simply unwilling to fire on his fellow Southerners.
After the incident with the Star of the West, Major Anderson became noticeably less involved with the day-to-day operation of the fort. The positive regard he had gained for the celerity shown in "his" evacuation of Moultrie was largely lost with the failure to reply to the warning shot from the secessionists. Doubleday took to composing the orders of the day himself and consulted with Anderson only as long as necessary to receive his signature. At first, most of the garrison had to spend at least 6 hours per day on guard duty, and the constant anticipation of imminent attack left everyone perpetually exhausted. But days went by without any further attack, and life at Sumter settled back into a routine of hard labor, boredom and bad coffee.
There were two entertainments favored by the men of the garrison. First was the music of the regimental band, whose members continued to split their time between laying bricks and new flagstones in the courtyard, and practicing their instruments. The second pastime was baseball, played against the southeast corner of the pentagonal walls. Several of the younger officers knew the game from their school days, while most of the Carolinians and other Southerners were playing it for the first time.
Doubleday typically took the commencement of a ballgame as an opportunity to catch up on his reports and letters. But one afternoon in late February, he took his portable desk out to Barbette #3 in order to pick up the late afternoon light, and found himself fascinated by the ball playing instead.
One of the men from Chester's section, Sergeant Ahearn, was a master at pitching the ball. He could throw it very hard and fast, making it difficult to see the dingy brown sphere, let alone hit it. He could take back just some portion of the force of his pitch, so that it would literally drop at the batter's feet. And he could induce a batter to actually fall down with the force of his swing, by pitching the ball just a few inches beyond his reach. It came to him that the batter's greatest weakness was his overwhelming desire to swing, such that he couldn't resist even when the pitch was obviously not a strike.
Four strikes made and out, while a total of six pitches outside the striking zone awarded the batter a free base. But very few players had the patience to wait through six bad pitches, so nearly everyone swung and made contact before that could happen. And if a batter could make solid contact, he had a better than even chance to reach base, because the fielders had many misadventures simply trying to handle the ball.
And once, when Ahearn's man at the third position fielded the ball cleanly with a runner charging toward the second base, he wound up and pegged the ball right into the other man's face, leaving him stunned on his back in the dirt. This brought a cry of protest from Doubleday's lips, and he sprang down the parapet stairs to be sure the man was not seriously hurt. "Here now," said Abner, "that's a fine way to play! Surely grown men can do better than soaking each other like angry schoolboys! Where's the style in that?"
Sergeant Ahearn put his left hand on his hip. "Beg yer pahdon, Captain, but this is the way we play Town Ball in Boston."
Doubleday suddenly felt ridiculous, a 42-year-old man remonstrating over a game of ball. But his desire to see things done right by his own definition was even stronger. "Sergeant, I meant no defamation to the city of Boston or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But the New York game is surely the most up-to-date version of the rules of baseball, is it not? The most successful club teams from Philadelphia and Rochester have all taken up the Knickerbocker Rules."
Ahearn snorted in derision, then remembered he was addressing an officer and straightened slightly. "Captain, half of these fellows have never picked up a ball before. Do you really expect them to learn the New York game? Knowing which station to throw to, when to run on a ball in the air and when to sit tight?"
Abner found himself smiling a little. "I trust these men to operate complex ordnance and perform difficult and dangerous tasks to keep them firing. I think I we can expect them to throw to another player instead of plugging the batter in the head."
"But sir, the New Yorkers pitch the ball underhand. I throw strictly over the tahp."
"It doesn't matter, Sergeant, no one here will know the difference. You should go on and throw overhand. But the main thing to be fixed is the form of this field."
Lieutenant Snyder, who had been waiting a turn at bat, now wandered over to the conversation between Doubleday and Ahearn, and at this signal, all the players slowly walked in to hear Doubleday speak. "What's wrong with the field?" asked Snyder.
Doubleday gestured at the Southeast wall of the fort. "It's pushed too far into the corner of the fort, and it isn't nearly square. The post for the third station is in too close, and the distance to the first station is ten feet too far. But that's not what you want anyway. Ahearn, you can confirm this — what we want is a diamond shape, with the home base tucked back in the corner close to where Private Lane is standing."
He retuned to the barbette to retrieve his writing stand, then flipped over his unfinished letter to Congressman Wade in order to draw a diamond shape with his pen. "You stand in a box right here. The batter stands here at the bottom of the diamond, which is also the home base. It's about forty-five feet between them" He drew eight more circles on the diamond, including one for a roving shortstop who lurked just behind and to the side of the pitcher. "The other three stations are all at the points of the diamond, and you measure ninety feet between each of them. Outside the bottom arc of the diamond, to the right and left, is considered foul ground — balls hit there are counted as a strike instead."
"So we don't have to worry about playing the ball off the wall anymore," said the soldier who had been soaked with the ball. There was a purple mouse darkening over his left eye, but he was otherwise unharmed.
"That's correct. Nor the ball that rolled under the door of the shot furnace a few innings ago. Both of those would be out of the play area."
"Awww, no, that's how we scored our only ace!" All the players laughed. Abner felt good. The engineering officers in the group began debating how to measure the angle of the diamond's legs, and pulled up the stakes that had measured the previous field, while Sergeant Ahearn explained with evident glee that from now on, only three strikes were needed to put the batter out, not four.
In the midst of the happy clatter, Doubleday saw Assistant Surgeon Crawford come out of Major Anderson's hut. Leaving the drawing board in Lt. Snyder's hands, he walked briskly to intercept the doctor as he returned to the infirmary.
Anderson's condition slowly grew worse as February became March, and March dragged along into April. Captain Crawford told Doubleday that he thought Anderson had symptoms of softening of the brain, but all Doubleday observed was a persistent cough that frequently left the Major doubled over and gasping for breath. On April 2 nd, he began to suffer from a high fever, and at 6 pm that night, Crawford came to tell Doubleday that if the Major could not be moved to a hospital in Charleston, he was unlikely to survive.
Doubleday felt it was unlikely that the Major would survive in either location, but he ordered Lt. Davis to find him eight volunteers to take a boat across to Moultrieville. Anderson was still well-regarded in Charleston, despite his obstinate effort to follow his ill-defined orders. As an instructor at West Point, he had taught the local commander of the nascent Confederate States armed forces, the immaculate Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, newly minted as a general officer. Doubleday knew that Beauregard would make a great show of caring for his old teacher, despite the injuries the latter had perpetrated upon the South. He would probably buy a pair of new gloves just to wear to the hospital.
The only problem was getting Anderson safely there. The tension in and around the harbor had begun to rise again as both the South Carolina and Confederate legislatures issued ever more stern pronouncements, authorizing the use of force to protect and take possession of military facilities within their sovereign borders. Soldiers at Cummings point now tended to take shots at any traffic coming in or out of Sumter, and far worse from Doubleday's perspective, the guard boats had finally cut off all mail service in or out of the Fort.
In all honesty, there were probably a dozen men who should have followed Anderson to the hospital. With rations running low, and the effects of constant exposure to the marine elements, several of the soldiers could heard coughing as loudly as the Major. It would not be long now before their position became impossible through attrition.
After the boat was safely away from the wharf, Doubleday went down to the sheltered mess where the band was performing their nightly concert. By now, the men had heard every song the bandsmen knew more than a dozen times, and many slept soundly through the performance. But whenever more than two nights passed without a recital, the grumbling in the narrow ranks of the fort's defenders was clearly audible. And there were frequent requests for the band to "play louder" from the lookouts in the casemates, as the wind and the rumbling of guns being placed on Morris Island were loud enough to drown the music out.
Abner took the officers aside one or two at a time and told them of Major Anderson's departure. After this, he asked the concert master to yield him the floor. "Men, I have the sad duty to inform you that our commanding officer, Major Anderson, has become seriously ill. Assistant Surgeon Crawford has deemed it necessary for him to go to receive medical care in the city of Charleston. So, please join with me now in asking almighty God to watch over our commander and to protect him from harm in this dangerous hour. Amen." The company joined him on the last syllable. The band struck up a popular hymn, "My Faith Looks Up To Thee."
And with that, Doubleday took command of Fort Sumter.
Abner knew that the men expected him to do something upon assuming Anderson's place. He also realized that Governor Pickens' patience was nearly at an end. With more than ten regiments of troops newly raised for the defense of South Carolina alone, there was now little chance of actually averting war. The rickety defenses on Morris Island, which might have been blown into atoms in January, were now reinforced tenfold.
In fact, Sumter was now faced with a unique innovation in the history of warfare. At the northeastern knuckle of Cummings point, three eight-inch Columbiads were put into a battery under a roofing of heavy timber, laid at an angle of forty-five degrees, which was then covered in railroad iron. Through his spyglass, Doubleday could see that the battery had portholes for spotting and ventilation, which could be protected with heavy iron shutters on the inside. This armored emplacement was known as "Stevens' Iron Battery," after its inventor, Colonel Clement Stevens of Charleston. Doubleday believed that it was far more merely than a threat to his own command. With it, the Confederates could certainly smash any ship currently afloat, while remaining almost completely impervious to any gun those ships might carry.
This admitted a new variable to his plans, but it also represented an opportunity to materially affect the strength of the enemy in a way that would be of inestimable moral value to those who remained loyal to the Union. He wondered if that Moultrieville milk cow could still find its way up into the sand hills of Morris Island, now that they could really use a flying cow or two.
On the afternoon of the 8 th of April, General Beauregard sent another brace of young officers to see if Doubleday was any more approachable on the subject of surrender than Anderson. Doubleday received them in the post commander's office, which he had wasted no time in occupying.
Beauregard's staff party consisted of three men: A lieutenant of the artillery, a lieutenant of the Carolina militia, and a lieutenant of the Confederate navy. Their uniforms were of three different shades of gray, with smart-looking frogs across the breast and splashes of gold on their hats and epaulettes. The lieutenant of artillery had command of the party; he presented a card that identified him as Lieutenant Ellison Cardew, Adjutant, German Flying Artillery Battery, South Carolina Militia. While Doubleday digested these titles, Cardew began to list the reasons for immediate capitulation.
"This is a symbolic motion, sir. Whether you are starved out or blown out, you will be put out. Your Mr. Lincoln is not going to do anything to provoke the Confederate States of America, except what he has done — allow you and commanders of other Federal States forts to be penned up to decompose of starvation and ennui.
"They value you so much, sir, that you have a compliment of one-tenth your requirements — though, if I may add, a fine band nonetheless - no resupply for months, only vague orders to hold the forts — one of which you have thoughtfully given over to us already."
"That was Major Anderson's decision," said Abner, "though if I were the commander, I would have done exactly the same thing. As you know, sir, it devolves upon the commander of the fortress defense to best decide how forces are to be deployed."
"But sir!" said the lieutenant, "gainst what are you defending the harbor? Itself? The surrounding city and state are in the hands of duly-elected officials who have simply voted to no longer be part of your Federation. Nothing may get to your harbor without running a gauntlet of South Carolina and Confederate states ships!"
"I have received no orders abrogating our original mission here. No orders relieve me of my command."
"And you won't, neither. Damn, sir! I beg your pardon, but your President hopes some fool from the South Carolina Militia will touch off a two-pounder and bring the thing to a fine point, the wrong all on our side. We in the army are doing all we can to satisfy the legislature, and the cabinet of the Confederate States, and keep them from ordering us to to go to direct war against you. They say we need but give you a whiff of the grapeshot and you'll all pack up. Your black abolitionist executive officer will see a blinding light of reason and recognize our right to secede and be an independent nation, and we shall all go about our various businesses in our incompatible ways.
"We know a hell of a lot better than they; we've hotheads enough in the militia and the army who have the same idea, and are in charge of a battery across the harbor there. General Beauregard has sent us to try to reason our way out of this, sir. He fears he will be ordered to proceed to direct action as early as tomorrow morning, something neither you nor he wants. It is as if the legislature of South Carolina and your president were looking over each other's shoulders, and hurrying toward the same goal, with us now mere spectators, and soon victims.
"General Beauregard is at this moment meeting with Major Anderson, in an effort to persuade him to use his personal influence to come to some resolution. He fears his entreaties will be to no avail."
"He knows his man, gentlemen," said Abner. "First, he would do no different were he still here. Secondly, even were he convinced differently, he knows his personal pleading would have no more effect on me than mine on him were the command and circumstances exactly reversed. Third, and quod erat demonstratum, there's no way a message from him, of either kind, could reach me."
Cardew gently shook his head. "I assure you, sir, your argument contains a flaw in the third posit; that should such a message be written, it would be in your hand with the greatest dispatch, by the fastest rider and rower."
"I can almost assure you that your General Beauregard will tell you there will be no message from the major to me after his meeting. I also promise that if this thing comes to what you see as the President and the State Legislature's designed ends, I and my command will do our utmost to deter you. And you are correct, lieutenant, we shall have dandy music while doing so, when the orchestra is not busy powder-monkeying.
"My compliments to General Beauregard for his efforts in this matter, and for his personal concern. And to you gentlemen for your patience and careful reasoning in this fraught matter. I can only ask you to take this back to your commander: What would he do were I out there and he in here? Without further orders? It's the first thing they teach at the Point — it was the first thing he taught: Duty."
Cardew tuned very slightly purple at this remark, but swallowed his reply and remained cordial. "The general has told us, should matters come to a head, we shall endeavor to give one warning, if in daylight by flag semaphore, and if by night, with three lanterns atop the facing wall of Moultrie, so you might have a moment or two to find suitable shelter."
"One if by land, two if by sea, three if by canister and shell, eh?" asked Doubleday. He laughed, then stood. "I appreciate the sense of fair play, gentlemen. And I assure you, should by some miracle I receive further orders in the next day or so, I shall signal your men in Moultrie and send out a stout boater under flag of truce forthwith."
They stood and saluted. Abner saluted back. They began putting on their gloves. Abner looked down at the tide chart on his desk.
"A few moments, and your oarsmen won't have to do a thing but steer," said Doubleday. "Could I interest you gentlemen in some coffee? It's pretty bad but we have a lot of it. And I can offer you a cigar if you care for one — the last load of workers left a half-barrel behind when they quit the Fort last December."
The same afternoon, General Beauregard did in fact visit Major Anderson in his hospital room. Anderson had now developed walking pneumonia, after suffering one or more heart attacks during his command of the harbor defenses. His prognosis was very serious, if not grave.
Beauregard, known in his academy days as "The Little Napoleon," looked like a jeweled miniature as he stood beside the much larger Anderson. He took off his brand new gloves in order to find Anderson's feverish hand with his own. "Professor," he said, "it gives me pain to see you in such sorrowful circumstances."
Anderson smiled wanly. "I am sure I share much of that pain, general. I had rather hoped to give a very different reception to your visit."
Beauregard bowed his head slightly. "Indeed, Major, I must congratulate you on the tenacious gallantry of your defense. The boldness of your escape to Sumter. Your refusal to return our fire, even in defense of the Star of the West. I must confess, we had begun to prepare you a hero's welcome, to follow the inevitable capitulation of your command. Now our likely course of action seems much less clear."
"Captain Doubleday has his orders from the War Department, and he will follow them - you should have no doubts on that account."
"I imagine that you are correct, Major. Captain Doubleday's abolitionist sympathies are well-known to everyone in Charleston. Should he be picked alive from the rubble of the Fort, I'm sure there will be those who want to hang him."
"And I'm sure there are plenty in the War Department who would be happy to give them the rope." Both men laughed, Anderson more carefully; but he broke into a coughing fit anyway.
Beauregard waited sympathetically until the coughing had passed. "Major, I cannot ask you to order him to surrender, or even to suggest that he do so. But if there were some way for you to simply say he has done his duty as long as anyone might be asked to, or to say that the garrison ought to be allowed to surrender for humanitarian reasons - surely these things are entirely true, and you would give no particular aid to the Southern cause by saying so."
Anderson's eyes narrowed. "If it is no particular aid to the Southern cause, why ask me to do it in the first place?"
Beauregard looked over his shoulder theatrically to make sure that no nurses or orderlies could hear their conversation. "Professionals shouldn't have to pay the price for the mistakes of amateurs, especially political amateurs. I hate to see anyone from the Point get hurt by this affair, even a damned plebe like Doubleday."
Anderson scowled in response. "I'm quite convinced that Abner deserves anything that may befall him. And I'm not certain that any of us deserves to come out of this in anything other than disgrace."
"Don't you think that God wants the Southern people to be free?"
Anderson closed his eyes, and fought off the urge to cough one more time. "For the great mass of the Southern people, it may be that this war may eventually bring some good - independence, freedom, even wealth. But I cannot imagine it will bring these things to men such as you and I, General Beauregard."
"And why should we be excluded from sharing in this victory, Major?"
Anderson's eyes shot open, and he gripped Beauregard's soft hand, "Because we're traitors, General. We took an oath — an oath before God — to protect the American Union even at the cost of our own lives. And now look at us — choosing to defend only what we call our home, at the expense of the nation we swore to preserve. Even I — I could have secured this whole city if we had acted in November. But I couldn't fire on my own country. It was my own country, General."
This time when the coughing returned, Anderson was unable to stop it, and nurses came running with tinctures and warm compresses for his heaving chest. They told Beauregard that he would have to leave for now — if Major Anderson was well enough to see him, he could return tomorrow. But Beauregard was quite sure that he would never see the Major alive again.
He stopped at the nurse's table and wiped his hands with a towel before putting his kidskin gloves back on. He would tell Governor Pickens that he had exhausted his last avenue of negotiation, and that he was ready to begin the bombardment of Sumter at any time.
On the morning of April 11 th, Doubleday suspended all details so the entire camp could watch the ball game between two teams drawn from the 1st and 3rd U.S. Artillery. Sergeant Ahearn pitched for the 3rd, while Captain Truman Seymour threw for the 1st. Two balls were called home runs when they rolled into the large pit in the center of the fort, where a mass of carriage-less guns had been propped up as improvised mortars. Again, Ahearn was the master of the field, driving several hitters from the 1st to swing so hard that they hurled their bats halfway across the field. The team from the 3rd won the game, 16 runs to 2.
After the game, he told Captain Seymour, Lt. Snyder and Lt. Davis to gather the majority of the men into three pre-arranged detachments, and had them make preparations for departure from the Fort. Meanwhile, Doubleday and several picked men with mechanical or engineering experience began spiking guns around the fort, and packing bags of powder under the many wooden galleries and structures inside it.
Just at dusk, Captain Seymour lead his men onto the smallest of the fort's three seaworthy whaleboats. His detachment included all the healthiest men left in the Fort. They rowed well out into the channel and well past Moultrieville before they came about and returned to the back side of Morris Island.
Two hours after that, as the tide began to run into Charleston, Lt. Davis took his boat out on a Northwesterly course. His crew was made up of men that were neither particularly brave nor robust nor obedient, and Davis' job was simply to make safe landfall anywhere possible. If he could keep the men together and ask for repatriation to the North, that would be best; but if his men chose to scatter, on no account were they to resist inevitable capture by the Confederates. Doubleday was still trying to avoid provocation.
As Davis rowed out from the fort, he could see two lights immediately appear at Point Cummings and pull away from the pier there. But since the guard boats were running against the tide, and Davis' boat was only crossing it, they were not able to close with him until he had nearly reached the mainland.
All this left Doubleday and Assistant-Surgeon Crawford as the only commissioned officers in the Fort. Doubleday had all the motley leftovers of the garrison to help him, including the band; he made sure they carefully gathered up their instruments before heading for the last boat.
As the walked across the esplanade for the final time, Abner explained. "I apologize for not informing you of my intentions sooner. Had you any stretcher cases that required more care, I would have let you know that you had to be ready to move them."
"I understand completely Captain. But what about your own orders? Don't you fear you'll face a court-martial for failing to follow them?"
"I am following them, Captain Crawford. I am doing the only thing I can to protect Charleston harbor. Think for a moment — we have not seen a single Federal ship since the beginning of January. In all that time, there has been only one threat to the safety of Charleston."
"And what was that? The Carolina militia?"
"No, doctor. We are the only threat to the safety of this harbor. We, in this fort, manning those guns, are the only possible catalyst for war in this entire state! If we simply take the target of ourselves and Fort Sumter away, what threat do the guns at Moultrie and Fort Johnson pose to anyone?
"What about the danger to shipping?"
"I sincerely expect it may be some time before any Federal ships return to the vicinity. But we're going to do our best to address at least part of that problem before we go."
They reached the guard room inside the main sally port, the same room through which Doubleday's detachment had made their bayonet charge four months earlier. Doubleday grabbed a small trunk filled with his papers and reports, and pushed it through the two foot hole in the inner retaining wall that limited access to the wharf. They he crawled through, emerging on the other side to the welcome sight of the engineering launch building up steam with the last of the whaleboats attached by a tow rope. The men on the launch grabbed Doubleday and Crawford's trunks, then lifted the men onboard as well.
Doubleday turned and saw there was only one man left on the dock, holding a torch in his right hand. Doubleday pointed back to the sally port door: "Light it!" The torch fell into a huge pool of coal oil spreading across the guard house floor, and the inside of the building was immediately engulfed in flame.
Inside the fort, long snakes of fire crawled out of the conflagration in the guard room and spread in a dozen directions toward the waiting piles of powder bags. As each magazine ignited, the light grew brighter and brighter, until there was a column of gold and green fire flaring a hundred and fifty feet above the walls of the Fort.
The steam launch seemed to almost jump away from the pier as they cast off; even with the dead weight of the whaleboat behind, they steadily bore into the channel and away from the burning fort. As they got far enough from the fort to hear anything over the roaring of the fire, Doubleday stepped to the fantail and called back to the bandsmen in the whaleboat, "Gentleman! "The Bonnie Blue Flag," if it would please you!
The musicians complied. Along with the roar of the flames and the growing sounds of alarm from around the harbor, the clear tones of the best brass band in the state of South Carolina began to ring across the surface of the water. Doubleday shouted a series of requests: "Nearer My God to Thee" in honor of Major Anderson, and "We are Coming, Sister Mary," in honor of his own wife. And then, the band began to play "Dixie," bringing a smile to everyone on both boats.
The gunners at Cummings point, and in particular those serving Stevens' Ironclad Battery, found the sight of the steam launch slowly towing a brass band across Charleston harbor an almost irresistible target. But arrangements had been made by General Beauregard for a Methodist Bishop to target and fire the first gun in the planned bombardment, so there was still no one who wanted to be the first to fire on his own initiative.
Finally, Captain P.F. Stevens, no relation despite his command of Stevens' Ironclad Battery, could take no more. He ordered the crew to aim one of the Columbiads right at the bow of the boat with the band, and when he was satisfied with his shot, he jerked the cord to ignite the friction primer.
But because the men of Seymour's detachment had crept inside the battery while the crew was eating their evening meal, the gun in question had four bags of powder loaded inside it instead of the usual one. All of the guns in Steven's Ironclad Battery had received this treatment. So when the primer struck, the force of the blast inside the breach was enough to shatter the thick iron bands around it, and tear open the trap door that lead down into the battery's ready magazine. The explosion that this created was enough to lift away thirty feet of the hilltop, as well as the entire mass of Stevens' Ironclad Battery, which plunged sizzling into the ship channel like a locomotive falling off a bridge. The blast shook several members of Seymour's detachment, now in and out of civilian clothes at various establishments in Moultrieville, right out of bed.
Although Doubleday did temporarily pre-empt a formal declaration of war by his actions in Charleston, the War of Secession began only a few days later, when the Virginia militia were fired on as they attempted to occupy Fort Monroe.
In the end, the War Department did not agree with Doubleday's definition of his duty; and coming as it did only a few hours before Major Anderson's death, his breakout from Sumter was seen as the desperate resort of an envious coward. To avoid scandal, Doubleday was allowed to resign his commission, and left the army for good.
Through the nineteen long months of the war, Abner and Mary lived with relatives in upstate New York, and prayed for the safety of their many friends and enemies in the service. Not all returned home alive, of course, and these were the object of dozens of séances and consultations with spiritual mediums over the rest of Abner's life. And at the end of each such session, he would ask the guide or trancer if he could identify the spirit of Major Robert Anderson; and if so, could he ask the Major if he felt Doubleday had done the right thing by burning his command.
If he ever got an answer, he never shared it with anyone else.
Afterword to: "Look Away" by Col Andrew Hooper, GAR (ret.)
By Howard Waldrop
Sometimes, ideas for other people's stories come to me, and of course I give them to them instantly.
One was Leigh Kennedy's "The Silent Cradle," which appeared in one of Charlie Grant's Shadows anthologies.
One was my own "Ike at the Mike" — but not before I'd tried to give it to Lew Shiner and the late Chad Oliver as a collaboration. Lew knew everything about Elvis, and Chad knew, I mean, everything about jazz. Things broke down when Chad finally said, "I can't make Eisenhower a jazzman! Ike was the biggest square who ever lived!" And Lew was busy. So I had to read about 50 books and listen to a thousand hours of music and then write the story myself. It should have been theirs.
I gave Mike Bishop my title, "Help Me, Rondo," when I found out he was actually writing a story about Rondo Hatton, whereas I had been carrying around the title and a vague, blurry wonderland-kind of an idea for 25 years or so. It's a swellstory he wrote, too, with an image that will stay with you for the rest of your life after you've read the story…
Which brings us to "Look Away."
According to my story log (yes, I have a story-log, and for a guy who's supposed to be some intuitive savant idiot writer, I have 14 boxes of stuff archived in the Texas A&M Special Collections Library and another 9 I need to have sent to them when I croak), there's the following:
(Abner Doubleday at Sumter)
notes — May 2001
Andy wanted this published as a collaboration.
No way, José.
My memory: I scribbled down a half-page of notes, a line of plot, and mailed it to Andy Hooper in Seattle, a hop, skip and a jump from where I was living at the time.
Andy insists there are 4 pages of story and dialogue, of some superior kind, along with the notes. Handwritten, of course, as all my first drafts are.
If there are, here's what happened: I dashed off some scene just to show Andy how I would have approached it were I to have been so foolish as to write what was obviously hisstory, which had happened to come to me, rather than him, a miss by Clio of less than 60 miles…
To paraphrase Sir Thomas More (via Sir Robert Bolt): "It was, from first to last, Hooper's own work."
See, Andy knows everything about, not one but two things: baseball and the Civil War (the War for Southern Independence as some of us say around here in Texas…).
This is a story about Abner Doubleday (who, in the real world before becoming the father of baseball, was second-in-command at Sumter).
This is the story about the start of the Civil War.
Was I supposed to write this story about baseball and Parrott guns? — I don't think so. Not without having to read a couple of hundred books on two different complex subjects. Andy's sitting there in Seattle and knows all this stuff off the top of his head, due to a lifetime of reading already. It would have been a lot like reinventing the wheel for me to try this…
I mean, do I know that modern baseball comes from the "Knickerbocker Rules" as Doubleday explains them to the boys playing rude "town ball" at Sumter? Do I know that there were Columbiads in the South Carolina batteries in Charleston?
Andrew knew all this and could therefore go right to the story. The Civil War, given the hotheads and morons in South Carolina and the Confederacy, was going to happen, no matter what. Lincoln was going to start it. Sumter wasn't going to get resupplied (the Carolinans knew this; in real life Anderson was going to have to surrender the fort soon, as they would be out of food and water, without a shot being fired). The only choice facing both sides was where the war would start, in a narrow window of when.
So in Andy's world Doubleday's in charge and makes the great grand gesture that lets the South be the ones who just can't stand it and go meshugganeh.
And he faces the same kinds of questions Anderson did for the rest of his life. Whoever was in charge of Sumter was in a lose/lose situation — if the war didn't start here, it would have been at one of the Federal forts off Florida, or as Andy has it here, an attempt on Ft. Monroe.
By then, it was indeed, the Irrepressible Conflict.
And now, Andy has written, as he should have from the first, the Irrepressible Story.
Feb. 1, 2006
Andy Hooper is a 1992 graduate of Clarion West. He has been nominated seven times for the Hugo award for best fan writer, and is publisher (with Randy Byers and carl juarez) of the science-fiction fanzine Chunga (currently a Hugo nominee, and short-listed in 2005, as well), and a contributing editor of the popular fannish webzine TrueFen. He also co-edited the Hugo-award-winning Apparatchik.
Andy is an expert collector of more things than I can easily recall, but toys, games, baseball cards, and fanzines come immediately to mind. He wrote over a thousand columns, such as this one on tabletop baseball games, for CollectingChannel.com in 1999 and 2000.
This is his first professional fiction sale.
Howard Waldrop is, of course, Howard Waldrop, Master of Alternate Universes and Living National Treasure.
Doubleday and Sumter, on the Web:
Abner Doubleday's account of what actually happened at Fort Sumter
Charleston Under Arms