The Face in the Flag – The Bombardment of Fort Sumter

01 Sgt. Peter Hart Hanging the Storm Flag

Sgt Peter Hart Hanging the Storm Flag (Coffin, 1915)

I’ve heard that the appearance of ghosts is often caused by untimely or violent deaths.  If that’s true, then Charleston is likely a hotbed for war ghosts.  Charleston has seen its share of war.  From the American Revolution to the Civil War, the city is chock full of the ghosts of war.

Construction began on Fort Sumter in 1827.  Named for Revolutionary War hero, Thomas Sumter (a.k.a. the Gamecock), this Third System, five-sided fort still sits on a sandbar at the entrance to the Charleston Harbor.  It was a serious stronghold in the harbor, with walls five feet thick and 50 feet high.

The fort was still unfinished at the end of 1860, when Major Robert Anderson commanded the United States Army forces in South Carolina.  Anderson, along with 127 men, were initially stationed at Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island.

Maj. Robert Anderson

Maj. Robert Anderson (Brady, 1860-65)

But Anderson deemed Fort Moultrie too large to be adequately defensible.  It required a garrison of at least 300 men.  So, on Christmas night, 1860, Anderson began readying his men for the evacuation to Fort Sumter.  By the next day, he’d loaded his men onto two schooners with all of the ammunition and provisions that could be transported.  He had his staff destroy the guns and armaments remaining at Fort Moultrie, and sailed the short distance to Fort Sumter.

Needless to say, the Confederacy didn’t like Anderson’s forces taking hold of Fort Sumter.  Not at all.  On December 30, 1860, the Charleston Courier printed an article condemning Anderson for having “achieved the unenviable distinction of opening civil war between American citizens by an act of gross breach of faith.”  The article was reprinted by the New York Times on December 31, 1860.

On April 11, 1861, Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard sent a notice to Maj. Anderson, demanding the removal of U.S. forces from Fort Sumter:

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard (Brady, 1860-65)

I am ordered by the government of the Confederate States to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter. My aides, Colonel Chestnut and Captain Lee, are authorized to make such demand of you. All proper facilities will be afforded for the removal of yourself and command, together with company arms and property, and all private property, to any post in the United States which you may select. The flag which you have upheld so long and with so much fortitude, under the most trying circumstances, may be saluted by you on taking it down. Colonel Chestnut and Captain Lee will, for a reasonable time, await your answer.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. T. BEAUREGARD,
Brigadier-General Commanding.

That same day, Maj. Anderson refused, stating:

General: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication demanding the evacuation of this fort, and to say, in reply thereto, that it is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligations to my government, prevent my compliance. Thanking you for the fair, manly and courteous terms proposed, and for the high compliment paid me,

I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
ROBERT ANDERSON,
Major, First Artillery, Commanding.

At 3:20 a.m. on April 12, Gen. Beauregard sent word to Maj. Anderson that the Confederacy would begin to open fire on Fort Sumter…in one hour.  True to his word, Beauregard ordered his forces to fire on Fort Sumter at 4:30 a.m., the first shots of the War Between the States.

The Bombardment of Fort Sumter

The Bombardment of Fort Sumter (Currier & Ives, 1861)

Beauregard’s forces pummeled Fort Sumter, raining hell-fire down on Anderson’s men.  Charlestonians sipped cocktails while hooting and hollering from their balconies, cheering the Confederacy.  Anderson’s forces did return fire, but they were simply out-gunned and running low on ammunition.  The U.S. flag, the Garrison Flag, was torn and had fallen during the battle.  A U.S. soldier, Sgt. Peter Hart, bravely hung the much smaller Storm Flag in its place…symbolic, perhaps, of Anderson’s waning resolve to stay vigilant under the threat of total annihilation.  But miraculously, despite 34 hours of near-constant shelling, the only casualty was a Confederate horse.  Beauregard again asked Anderson to surrender.  This time, Anderson complied, provided Beauregard’s offer to allow an honorable surrender was still valid.  It was.

The interior of Fort Sumter after bombardment.

The interior of Fort Sumter after bombardment (Anderson, 1861)

Enter Pvt. Daniel Hough.  Hough was born in Tipperary, Ireland, and emigrated to the United States sometime in the 1840s.  He was a Regular, not militia, despite the fact that pre-Civil War soldiering was not a glamorous job.  He enlisted in 1859, then re-enlisted in January of 1861, and was assigned to Battery E of the 1st United States Artillery Regiment, and stationed at Fort Sumter.

The explosion of gun #47.

The explosion of gun #47 (Osborn, 1861)

Pvt. Hough was assigned to gun #47 for Anderson’s honorable surrender–a 100-gun salute to the U.S. Flag on April 14, 1861.  It’s unclear whether a hot ember ignited a pile of cartridges, or if his gun prematurely sparked.  What is known is that when Pvt. Hough tamped down the gun, it exploded, killing him almost instantly, mortally wounding Edward Galloway, and injuring four others.  Anderson’s salute was cut short to 50 guns, and Pvt. Hough was buried on the parade grounds.  His remains were relocated–some say to Magnolia Cemetery, some say to New York–but Hough’s legacy was forever cemented as the first human casualty of the Civil War.

Today, visitors to Fort Sumter have reported seeing a source-less smoke, as if a weapon were fired.  Some report having smelled gunpowder while in the fort.  But every visitor to Fort Sumter can see the face in the flag.

The Storm Flag flown at Fort Sumter

The Storm Flag flown at Fort Sumter (Boondog’s World, 2011)

The Storm Flag, still standing when Anderson surrendered, was taken to New York with the rest of Anderson’s men.  Soon after the surrender, the flag went on a national tour to drum up support for Union forces.  On that tour, the flag began to fade, and a face appeared just to the right of the center star.  Men who served in Battery E of the 1st U.S. Artillery Regiment had identified the face as the bearded Daniel Hough’s, still wearing his U.S. Army cap.

A face in the flag just to the right of the center star?

A face in the flag just to the right of the center star? (Boondog’s World, 2011)

True? Maybe.  Weird?  Definitely!  Check it out for yourself.  Today, the flag is displayed in the museum at Fort Sumter.  You can visit the fort during regular operating hours, and admission is free.  The fort is only accessible by boat, however.  If you don’t have access to your own vessel, you can take a ferry from either Mt. Pleasant or Liberty Square for less than $20, round trip.  Contact Spiritline Cruises for more information about the ferry.

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Image Credits:

Bombardment of Fort Sumter:
Currier & Ives (1861).  Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, April 12 and 13, 1861.  Retrieved from: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm117.html

Explosion of Gun #47:
Osborn, B.S. (1861).  Explosion of the Gun Whilst Saluting the U.S. Flag at Fort Sumter.  Retrieved from: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/mssc/ftsumter/explosion.htm

Face in the Flag:
Boondog’s World (2011). Battle flag that was flown over Fort Sumter in April 1861. Retrieved from: http://boondogsworld.phanfare.com/5263223#imageID=137615999

Interior of Fort Sumter after Bombardment:
Anderson, R. (1861). Interior view of Fort Sumter, taken April 1861, Charleston, S.C, by Anderson, Robert, 1805-1871.  Retrieved from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Interior_view_of_Fort_Sumter,_taken_April_1861,_Charleston,_S.C,_by_Anderson,_Robert,_1805-1871.png

Robert Anderson
Brady, M. (ca. 1860 – ca. 1865). Maj. Robert Anderson. Retrieved from: http://www.archives.gov/research/military/civil-war/photos/images/civil-war-160.jpg

PGT Beauregard:
Brady, M. (ca. 1860 – ca. 1865). Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard, C.S.A.  Retrieved from: http://www.archives.gov/research/military/civil-war/photos/images/civil-war-138.jpg

Sgt. Peter Hart Hanging the Storm Flag:
Coffin, C. C. (1915).  Sergeant Hart nailing the colors to the flagstaff of Fort Sumter.  Retrieved from: http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/67200/67288/67288_hall_sumter.htm

Storm Flag flown at Fort Sumter:
Boondog’s World (2011). Battle flag that was flown over Fort Sumter in April 1861. Retrieved from: http://boondogsworld.phanfare.com/5263223#imageID=137615991

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~ by scareschs on February 11, 2013.

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