Sumter [The Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, the 12th and 13th of April, 1861]

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Sumter [The Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charlestown Harbor, the 12th and 13th of April, 1861]
Unknown Artist
Page 8
E.G. Squier, ed. Frank Leslie's Pictorial History of the American Civil War. New York: Frank Leslie, 1862.
Ephraim Cutler Dawes Collection
Dawes F. 834.496
Newberry Library

Cannon balls are raining down on a fort.  It is the first battle of the Civil War. This engraving depicts the explosive thirty-three hour bombardment by South Carolina soldiers on the Union’s Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. President Lincoln made the fateful decision to reinforce the fort with supplies by boat, which southern leaders saw as an act of war. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire on the fort at 4:30 A.M. on April 12, 1861.

Frank Leslie’s Magazine, in which this illustration appeared, employed sixteen artists across the country to make drawings of Civil War events as they happened. The artists sent their sketches back to the magazine in New York. There, a staff artist chose the best images to copy. Then a team of artists recreated the illustration on a block to be engraved for printing. This pioneering method of using multiple artists to illustrate the war resulted in detailed, dramatic pictures that made Leslie’s very popular with the Northern public.

The artists here depict the Union flag still flying high as the fort suffered heavy fire from the Confederates from off the South Carolina shore. When Union Major Robert Anderson was forced to surrender the fort, he took the flag with him, and from then on it was a strong patriotic symbol for the Union.

When Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to put down the rebellion in South Carolina, another four slave states seceded.  The unthinkable was happening. The country was at war with itself.

1.Compare this image to the hand-colored lithograph of the bombardment of Fort Sumpter by Currier and Ives. How would you describe the differences? Which do you like better, and why?

2. No photographs exist of this battle. Has the artist done a good job of showing the bombardment?  What else would you have added? 

3. No one was killed during this battle, though two soldiers died when a gun exploded during the surrender ceremony. It is hard to imagine that there were no deaths in the first action of what would be a long, bloody war. Why did people in both the North and South think this battle was such a big deal? 

Further reading:
Current, Richard N. Lincoln and the First Shot. First edition. J.B. Lippincott Company, 1963.

David Stephen Heidler, Jeanne T. Heidler, and David J. Coles. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2002), 770.

Newberry Library. "Our Banner in the Sky." Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North.

Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861. New edition. Harper Perennial, 1977.

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago