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Evacuation of Fort Moultrie.


January/February 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Friday, January 4, 1861.




Occupation of Fort Moultrie by South Carolina Troops.

[From the Charleston Courier of Friday.]

Throughout the city yesterday the greatest excitement prevailed in relation to the news from Forts Moultrie and Sumpter. As early as eight o’clock in the forenoon the rumors of the destruction of the former of these military posts, and the occupation of the latter by the forces of the United States, were circulated. It was at first currently reported and believed that Fort Moultrie had been laid in ruins, that the guns were spiked, and the carriages, &c., together with the barracks, burned, and that the post had been entirely abandoned. The reports spread like wild fire, and soon gained currency in every part of the city. Crowds of citizens anxiously inquired of each other the latest intelligence in relation to the affair—squads collected on every corner of the streets, and in front of the public resorts, to canvass the subject.

The newspaper offices were besieged, the hotel halls were thronged, and even the grave and serious gentlemen composing the State Convention shared in the general excitement. On all hands anger and indignation was expressed at the supposed perfidious conduct of the Federal authorities, at whose instance it was at first thought the movement was made. The people were greatly incensed at the idea of a willful breach of the assurances of non-action which had been volunteered by the government at Washington, and upon which so much reliance and confidence had been placed by the entire population that every impulse to take the necessary precautions for their own safety had been restrained.

Instinctively men flew to arms. Orders were immediately issued to the following companies to hold themselves in readiness for service: Washington Light Infantry, Capt. C. H. Simonton; Carolina Light Infantry, Capt. B. G. Pinckney; Meagher Guards, Capt. Ed. McCready, Jr., all together forming a portion of the Regiment of Rifles, commanded by Col. J. J. Pettigrew and Major Ellison Capers; also to the Marion Artillery, Capt. J. J. Pope, Jr.; Washington Artillery, Capt. G. H. Walter; German Artillery, Capt. C. Nohrden, all under command of Lieut. Col. W. G. De Saussure; Adjutant, James Simmons, Jr.; Sergeant Major, E. Prioleau Ravenol; Quartermaster Sergeant, J. R. Macbeth; Surveyor, A. Barbot; Surgeons, P. Gervais Robinson and Middleton Mitchel. Also, the Palmetto Guard, Capt. Thomas Middleton, and Cadet Riflemen Capt. W. S. Elliott.

All the military forces thus ordered out promptly obeyed the summons, and the streets were soon enlivened by individual members of the different organizations in their uniforms. About noon the excitement in the streets had attained the highest pitch. The Convention was known to be in secret conclave, and it was believed that this was the subject matter of their deliberations. The streets swarmed with people. Additional flags were displayed from the stores and houses on the principal streets. The Custom House and other buildings formerly in the possession of the United States Government, displayed the bunting of the infant Republic of South Carolina. Every one looked upon the “war actually begun,” and all seemed to feel that their brethren were in the field, and themselves began to grow restless at the prospect of inactivity and suspense.

Later in the day, however, the excitement was somewhat abated when it became known that the movement on the part of the forces of the United States at Fort Moultrie was not at the instance of the Administration at Washington, but was merely a precautionary measure taken by Commander Anderson, under conviction that his position within the fortress on Sullivan’s Island would not be tenable if attacked in it by well-organized and disciplined troops. The contradiction of the first reports in relation to the damage done the fort by the troops that had evacuated it, also had a tendency to allay the excitement of the occasion.


In order to ascertain truthful statements of the actual damage done to the fort, of the causes of the movement, and of the state of affairs generally, reporters were dispatched to the scene during the forenoon. On the way across the harbor the hoisting of the American flag from the staff of Fort Sumpter at precisely 12 o’clock, gave certain indication that the stronghold was occupied by the troops of the United States. On a nearer approach the fortress was discovered to be occupied, the guns appeared to be mounted, and sentinels were discovered on duty, and the place to give every sign of occupancy and military discipline. The grim fortress frowned defiance on every side—the busy notes of preparation resounded through its unforbidding recesses, and everything seemed to indicate the utmost alacrity in the work on hand


Turning towards Fort Moultrie, a dense cloud of smoke was seen to pour from the end facing the sea. The flag staff was down, and the whole place had an air of desolation and abandonment quite the reverse of its busy look one week ago, when scores of laborers were engaged in adding to its strength all the works, skill and experience could suggest.

In the immediate vicinity of the rear or land side entrance, however, greater activity was noticeable. At the time of our visit a large force of hands had been summoned to deliver up their implements of transportation to Fort Sumpter. Around on every side were the evidences of labor in the fortification of the work In many places a portion of the defences were strengthened by every appliance that art could suggest or ingenuity devise; while in others, the uncompleted works gave evidences of the utmost confusion. On all hands the process of removing goods, furniture and munitions was yet going on. The heavy guns upon the ramparts of the fort were thrown down from their carriages and spiked. Every ounce of powder and every cartridge had been removed from the magazines; and, in fact, everything like small arms, clothing, provisions, accoutrements and other munitions of war, had been removed off and deposited—nothing but heavy balls and useless cannon remained.

The entire place was, to all appearances, littered up with the odd ends and fragments of war’s desolation. Confusion could not have been more complete had the late occupants retired in the face of a besieging foe. Fragments of gun-carriages, &c., broken to pieces, bestrewed the ramparts. Sand-bags and barrels filled with earth, crowned the walls, and were firmly imbedded in their bomb-proof surface, as an additional safeguard—and not withstanding the heterogeneous scattering of materials and implements, the walls of the fort evinced a vague degree of energy in preparing for an attack. A ditch some fifteen feet wide and about the same in depth surrounds the entire wall on three sides. On the south side, or front, a glacis has been commenced and prosecuted nearly to completion, with a rampart of sand-bags, barrels, &c.

On one side of the fort a palisade of Palmetto logs is extended around the ramparts as a complete defence against an escalading party New embrasures have been cut in the walls so as to command the faces of the bastions and ditch. These new defences are all incomplete, and are evidence of the haste with which they were erected. Considering the inferior forces, in point of numbers, under his command, Major Anderson had paid particular attention to strengthening only a small part of the fort.

A greater portion of the labor expended was spent upon the citadel or center of the west point of the position. This he had caused to be strengthened in every way; loop holes were cut and everything was so arranged that in case a well concerted attack was made he would have retired from the outer bastions to the citadel, and afterwards blow up the other portions of the fort. For this purpose mines had already been sprung and trains had been laid ready for the application of the match. The barrack rooms and every other part of the fort that was indefensible would have gone at a touch.

On the ramparts of the fort fronting Fort Sumpter were nine eight-inch Columbiads, mounted on wooden carriages. As soon as the evacuation of the fort was complete the carriages of these guns were fired, and at the time of visiting the fort yesterday, were nearly consumed, and the guns thereby dismounted. These guns, as well as those constituting the entire armament of the fortress, were spiked before it was abandoned. This is the only damage done the fortifications, further than cutting down the flag staff, and the breaking up of ammunition wagons to form ramparts on the walls of the fort.


The fort was found to be in charge of two officers and four men, who had been left behind merely to act as a watch. The place was sealed to all but the watch, and none but these were allowed to enter.

From the officers in charge it was learned that the evacuation of the fort commenced a little after sundown on Wednesday evening. The men were ordered to hold themselves in readiness, with knapsacks packed at a moment’s notice, but up to the moment of their leaving had no idea of abandoning the post. They were reviewed on parade, and were then ordered to two schooners lying in the vicinity, where they embarked, taking with them all the necessaries, stores, &c., requisite in their evacuation.

Several trips were made during the night, and a great part of the provisions and camp furniture were transported under cover of night. The brightness of the moon, however, afforded but slight concealment to their movements, and in one of the trips, Lieut. Davis in command, a schooner full of soldiers and baggage passed directly under the bow of the guard boat Nina. The officer who made the statement expressed himself to be ignorant whether the watch on board the Nina discovered the movement or not—at all events, he said they did not signify any cognizance of the fact.


From conversations held with the gentlemen in possession of the fort yesterday, it was ascertained that the first impetus given to the work of strengthening the fort was after the speeches of Messrs. Magrath, Memminger and others, when fears were aroused that the time would shortly come which would call into exercise the use of force in protecting public property. Upon this all the energies of the officers and men were called forth to render the position as strong as possible. Attacks were expected only from the land side, and to the strengthening of these points all the available force was put. The officers expressed themselves to be able, after preparations, &c., to make a successful resistance against any mob or undisciplined force, but against organized troops the small garrison could make no stand.

Major Anderson had been ordered to hold the fort, to protect the work, and he intended to do it at every hazard. He denied that either the President or Secretary of War had given any orders for the evacuation of the post. Major Anderson had done this on his own responsibility—thinking that by such a step he would make himself secure against attack, protect the lives of his soldiers, and could better guard the public property, for, in his position at Fort Sumpter he could easily command, and if necessary, silence the batteries of Fort Moultrie.


At twenty minutes to eight o’clock the troops on board the Nina and Gen. Clinch landed on the wharf at Sullivan’s Island. Rapidly forming, they proceeded under the command of Col. DeSaussure towards the walls of Fort Moultrie. A sergeant and ten men held possession of the place. On the approach of Col. DeSaussure’s command, the detachment of United States troops retired without offering any resistance.

The gates were not closed, even, and forty minutes after the steamer touched the wharf the Palmetto flag, mounted on a hastily prepared staff, (as the original one had been cut away), was flung to the breeze amid the hurrahs of the occupants. Active preparations were immediately commenced to render the place defensible.

The spiked guns, and those dismantled by the burning of the carriages, will soon be in a position to respond to any hostile demonstration made against the place.

At 12 o’clock last night, when our reporter left the island, all was quiet and orderly. Sentries were pacing the ramparts, and the hail of “All well” resounded at regular intervals from the several posts.

At Castle Pinckney the same quiet prevailed up to the hour of going to press. The spirited commands in possession are active in their vigilance, and perfectly competent to take care of themselves.


The Charleston Mercury gives the following account of the storming of Castle Pinckney by the State troops:

The rifle battalion, under command of Col. J. J. Pettigrew, assembled promptly upon Citadel Green. They were substantially equipped in winter uniform, with blankets, knapsacks and revolvers. The battalion numbered some one hundred and fifty men, and consisting of detachments from the Meagher Guards, the Carolina Light Infantry and the Washington Light Infantry. Shortly after four o’clock the word was given, and the companies advanced in double quick time, without music, towards Cooper river. None of them, we believe, excepting the officers, were aware of their destination. They embarked on the steamer Nina, which immediately headed for Castle Pinckney, and the surmise soon became confirmed that the destination of the command was to take possession of that fortress.

On nearing the fort, a number of men were observed on the wharf, one of whom, in advance of the others, was observed holding what appeared to be a paper in his hand. This was said to have been the riot act. As soon as the Nina touched the wharf, the storming party who had been detailed for that duty sprung ashore, and rushed round to the rear of the fortress where the gate is situated. This was found closed, and a cry for storming ladders was soon answered by a detachment bearing a dozen or more of them. These were instantly planted, and, under cover of the rifles of the battalion, the walls were escaladed, and the gates thrown open.

On entering the fort it was found to be tenanted only by an officer of engineers and a small party of laborers, none of whom made any resistance. The officer was informed that he was at liberty to leave, and remove his personal effects, and in a few minutes he set out in a boat belonging to the fort, accompanied by four other men. From the direction in which he steered it is supposed that he went to Fort Moultrie.

The flag of the Nina, consisting of a white star on a red ground, was then hoisted amid loud cheers, and when our reporter left a strong guard had been mounted, and preparations for garrisoning the fortress were well advanced.


The Wilmington (N. C.) Herald says:

After Major Anderson removed to Fort Sumpter, Gov. Pickens sent Col. Pettigrew and Major Capers down to him with a dispatch. The Courier says his reply had not transpired, but we learn that a gentleman who arrived here yesterday from Charleston says that Major Anderson received the above named gentlemen courteously, and stated to them that he had acted upon his own responsibility, and for security; that he deprecated the necessity for it, and hoped that no attack would be made upon him; that he should hate to turn his guns upon his countrymen, but, unless commanded by the Government of the United States, he would never surrender the post while he lived, and that if an attack was made upon him, he hoped the first shot fired at the fort would pierce his heart. It is said he has one year’s provisions in the fort, and over two hundred men.