Fort Sumter is located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina and is famous as the place that the US Civil War began. Its name was taken from General Thomas Sumter and the fort was built after the War of 1812. It was part of a larger string of forts along the southern coast and was still not entirely completed in 1860 when the first shots of the Civil War rang out. It was built on an artificial sandbar reinforced with granite and looms over the harbor. With five sides and walls that are five feet thick, around 650 men can live there and man the 135 guns of its emplacements.
The fort was occupied only seven days after South Carolina chose to secede by US Army Major Robert Anderson who relocated from Fort Moultrie to what he considered a far more defensible position, even though the fort was unfinished and lacked more than half of its cannons.
Anderson's presence at Fort Sumter was seen as a provocation and the South Carolina legislature and Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard himself demanded that Anderson vacate the premises; the demands were ignored. Instead, the United States attempted a resupply. Early in 1861, shots were fired by cadets from The Citadel to discourage the effort. These have been called the first shots of the Civil War, though they are not considered to be so by historians.
Anderson's situation grew grimmer; supplies would dwindle to nothing by April. President Abraham Lincoln ordered a convoy of supply ships to Fort Sumter. At nearly the same time, Beauregard sent aides requesting the fort's formal surrender. Anderson initially declined and then, when another parley was organized, his further "temporizing" led to the conclusion that negotiations were "manifestly futile." Soon after the first recognized shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter from nearby Fort Johnson.
The action, when it commenced, soon grew quite substantial. Confederate batteries were active for a full day-and-half. On April 13, Anderson finally surrendered. He had not been able to put up an effective resistance. No soldiers were killed in active battle. Ironically, two union soldiers died during a 100-gun salute that the Confederates allowed after the surrender.
Plenty of controversy surrounds the battle at Fort Sumter even today. Historians have speculated whether Lincoln himself and his generals contrived to start the war through what was widely seen as a provocation. And Southern historians have questioned why the South opened fire, thus igniting those hostilities. The South was far smaller than the North, not industrialized and over a long war it was likely to be ground down.
The South's only hope was to fight a kind of Indian-style guerilla war. American Indians had successfully fought against US cavalry using these tactics and survived for years against much superior forces. For some reason the leaders of the Southern Secession, both political and military, chose to fight a regular war with regular armies. Perhaps this was due in part to the education that most of the South's generals had received at West Point – where the North's generals were educated as well. The result, of course, was the South's predictable defeat, an inevitability that began with the firing on Fort Sumter.