Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Robert Anderson Hero of Fort Sumter (US24 & US123)

     Major Robert Anderson was in command of Fort Sumter on Friday, April 12th 1861 when the "first shot" of the Civil war was fired.
     Robert Anderson was born June 14th 1805 near Louisville, Kentucky.  He followed his family's military tradition by graduating from West Point Military Academy in 1825, serving in the Black Hawk and Seminole wars, serving and being wounded at the battle of Molino del Ray during the Mexican War.  He worked in various administrative and teaching capacities, helping to shape the artillery corps into a more effective branch of the American Army.

Patriotic Cover US24

     At age 57 and considering retirement, he received orders to take command of the First Artillery at Fort Moultrie, Charleston harbor, South Carolina.  Anderson's background gave him Southern sympathies, and some see his appointment as an attempt to mollify tension between the Federal government and South Carolina.  Anderson seemed sympathetic to turning forts over to the Confederacy, and also expressed hope that war might be avoided and the seceding states would return peaceable to the Union.  But when the crisis of command came, Anderson choose to follow his duty as an American officer.  In the face of Southern fire upon the relief ship Star of the West, Anderson held his fire, and choose to abandon Fort Moultrie for the more defensible, though unfinished, Fort Sumter.
     The fort was named after Gen. Thomas Sumter, a Revolutionary War hero.  It was part of a series of fortifications on the southern US coast begun in response to the War of 1812 vulnerability.  Construction of Sumter, which began in 1827, remained unfinished in 1861.  The fort, a five-sided brick structure designed to house 650 men and 135 guns in three tiers, was built to defend the entrance of Charleston Harbor.  Anderson's command of about 125 men and 60 guns had many limitations including lack of ammunition and gun placement (mostly aimed out to sea).  Anderson's retreat to Fort Sumter Dec. 26, 1860,  six days after South Carolina seceded from the Union, became the excuse for state forces to seize the harbor forts and demand Sumter be surrendered as well.
     Anderson waited patiently for the political events to play out.  Brig. Gen. Beauregard demanded surrender of the fort on April 10, 1861.  Finally on April 12th at 4:30am Southern forces opened fire.  At 2:30 pm April 13th, Anderson surrendered, evacuating the following day.  The only Union casualties were the result of a cannon exploding while firing a salute to the colors during the evacuation on the 14th.  Anderson's report read:  "Having defended Fort Sumter for thirty-four hours, until the quarters were entirely burned, the main gates destroyed by fire, the gorge walls seriously injured, the magazine surrounded by flames, and its door closed from the effects of heat, four barrels and three cartridges of powder only being available, and no provisions remaining but pork, I accepted terms of evacuation offered by General Beauregard, being the same offered by him on the 11th instant, prior to the commencement of hostilities, and marched out of the for Sunday afternoon, the 14th instant, with colors flying and drums beating, bringing away company and private property, and saluting my flag with fifty guns."
Patriotic Cover US123
     Anderson's actions made him an immediate Northern national hero.  Bringing the flag with him, he participated in a recruiting tour throughout the North starting with one of the largest patriotic rallies in New York City up to that time.  His steadfastness in remaining loyal to the Union in spite of his personal sympathies gave him positive standing among Union loyalists.  He, like Elsworth, became an early war hero appearing on many Union patriotic covers.  [I found some very helpful information about Anderson on "General G.H.Thomas & Army of the Cumberland" www.aotc.net  ]

I have reproduced two Anderson Union patriotic envelopes:
     One has only his portrait and the tag "The Hero of Sumpter" (US24).  I always enjoy this cover since it shows that spelling is relative.  I wish my 7th grade English teacher could have been a little more tolerant of spelling options, but I digress.  The tag highlights the esteem Anderson gained through his dedication to his military duty.  Fort Sumter became symbolic in the North of what needed to be "retaken".  (I have a patriotic stationery sheet with a picture of Fort Sumter being bombarded and words for a song entitled "The Union Marseillaise".)  Anderson returned to Charleston after Lee's surrender and raised again the 33-star flag he had once lowered in surrender.  Ironically it was the same day President Lincoln was assassinated, April 14th, 1865.
     The second cover Col. Anderson (US123) has a description below his portrait of Southern excitement over the surrender of Fort Sumter with its "seventy half-starved, patriotic soldiers of the Republic of the United States" to the over-whelming "thousands" of Southern rebels.  It ends with this declaration:  "It was a brave achievement [catch the sarcasm], and the good God will, no doubt, reward them for it, in his own good time" [ie God will allow us to revenge this unrighteous outrage].  (Covers exist with Anderson tagged as "Major", "Colonel" and "General" [he was promoted upon his return North in May 1861].  The rank "Colonel" most likely reflects the fact that Anderson was a colonel of Illinois volunteers during the Black Hawk War of 1832, where he had the distinction of mustering Captain Abraham Lincoln in and out of army service.)
     Either of these would add an interesting aspect to your living history display.  You could use either the US 1857 stamps or 1861 war issue stamps on them.  I have included the US24 cover in my Teacher Resource Packet because of Anderson's role in the first significant action of the war.
     [Full text under Anderson Portrait on US123 cover:  "The excitement of the brave Charlestonians on hearing the news of the surrender of Fort Sumter was immense.  The whole population were mad with joy, and clapped their hands, and shouted 'Glory to the Charleston chivalry and the Lord of Hosts!'  Horsemen galloped about the streets bellowing the tidings, and ladies -- the pretty rebels! -- waved their pocket-handkerchiefts out of every window.  The Mills House was the chief centre of these demonstrations, and crowds thronged the front of it, congratulating themselves that eighteen batteries, and from five to ten thousand men had silenced a single fort, manned by seventy half-starved, patriotic soldiers of the Republic of the United States.  It was a brave achievement, and the good God will, no doubt, reward them for it, in his own good time."]

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