Angered by the election of Abraham Lincoln, on December 20, 1860 South Carolina passed an ordinance of secession. By that act the forts guarding Charleston Harbor changed, in Southern minds, from protectors to possible aggressors. Of these four forts, only Moultrie was actually garrisoned, and that merely by a skeleton force of seventy-five artillerymen under Major Robert Anderson. Of the other three, Johnson and Castle Pinckney were, like Moultrie, land-based. Only Sumter, still under construction, was surrounded by water, with the further advantage of being in the harbor mouth and thus easily accessible for outside aid.
On December 26, Anderson surprised the Confederates by transferring his garrison to Fort Sumter. only the smoke of burning gun carriages at Moultrie notified Charlestonians that he now held an almost impregnable position, which he proceeded to strengthen still more. The Southerners promptly constructed a ring of batteries covering Sumter from all but the seaward side. However, Anderson lacked food and munitions. He notified Washington, but when the unarmed transport Star of the West attempted on January 9 to bring in troops and supplies, she was driven off by Confederate fire. So matters stood until April 12, when a second relief expedition of tugboats was forced to circle helplessly outside the harbor.
But by that time it did not matter. Anderson had rejected a demand for surrender and Confederate guns opened on Sumter's half-starved defenders. The fort replied slowly, hoarding its scanty supply of ammunition. On the 13th, his men exhausted, hungry, blinded and choked by powder fumes and the smoke of burning wooden barrack, Anderson surrendered to General Pierre G. T. Beauregard.
The two-day bombardment had been spectacular but bloodless. The first casualty was a Union gunner's accidental death during Anderson's 100-gun salute to the flag before evacuation next day. South Carolina troops promptly took over the fort, and though it stood Federal siege beginning in 1863 until reduced to rubble and, finally, abandonment, it was never again surrendered.
Four years later to the day, Anderson, now a brigadier general, raised his flag again over the ruins of Sumter.