Soon afterward there entered, with a shambling, loose, irregular, almost unsteady gait, a tall, lank, lean man, considerably over six feet in height, with stooping shoulders, long pendulous arms, terminating in hands of extraordinary dimensions, which, however, were far exceeded in proportion by his feet. He was drest in an ill-fitting, wrinkled suit of black, which put one in mind of an undertaker's uniform at a funeral; round his neck a rope of black silk, knotted in a large bulb, with flowing ends projecting beyond the collar of his coat; his turned-down shirt-collar disclosed a sinewy, muscular, yellow neck, and above that, nestling in a great black mass of hair, bristling and compact like a ruff of mourning pins, rose the strange, quaint face and head, covered with its thatch of wild, republican hair, of President Lincoln.
The impression produced by the size of his extremities, and by his flapping and wide-projecting ears, may be removed by the appearance of kindliness, sagacity, and the awkward bonhomie of his face; the mouth is absolutely prodigious; the lips, straggling and extending almost from one line of black beard to the other, are only kept in order by two deep furrows from the nostril to the chin; the nose itselfa prominent organstands out from the face, with an inquiring, anxious air, as tho it were sniffing for some good thing in the wind; the eyes, dark, full, and deeply set, are penetrating, but full of an expression which almost amounts to tenderness, and above them projects the shaggy brow, running into the small, hard frontal space, the development of which can scarcely be estimated accurately, owing to the irregular flocks of thick hair carelessly brushed across it.
One would say that, altho the mouth was made to enjoy a joke, it could also utter the severest sentence which the head could dictate, but that Mr. Lincoln would be ever more willing to temper justice with mercy, and to enjoy what he considers the amenities of life, than to take a harsh view of men's nature and of the world, and to estimate things in an ascetic or puritan spirit. A person who met Mr. Lincoln in the street would not take him to be whataccording to the usages of European societyis called a "gentleman"; and, indeed, since I came to the United States I have heard more disparaging allusions made by Americans to him on that account than I could have expected among simple republicans, where all should be equals; but, at the same time, it would not be possible for the most indifferent observer to pass him in the street without notice. . . .
In the conversation which occurred before dinner, I was amused to observe the manner in which Mr. Lincoln used the anecdotes for which he is famous. Where men bred in courts, accustomed to the world, or versed in diplomacy, would use some subterfuge, or would make a polite speech, or give a shrug of the shoulders as the means of getting out of an embarrassing position, Mr. Lincoln raised a laugh by some bold west-country anecdote, and moves off in the cloud of merriment produced by his joke. . . .
The first "state dinner," as it is called, of the President was not remarkable for ostentation. The conversation was suited to a state dinner of a cabinet at which women and strangers were present, and except where there was an attentive silence caused by one of the President's stories, there was a Babel of small talk round the table.
1 From Russell's "My Diary, North and South." The author has been commonly known in this country as "Bull Run" Russell, a name bestowed upon him in consequence of his report of the battle of Bull Run, printed in the London Times, of which he was the war correspondent in America, the tone of the report being sympathetic toward the South. The first paragraphs in the passage here given are dated March 27, 1861that is, about three weeks after Lincoln was inaugurated.
April 11th.To-day at dinner there was no allusion to things as they stand in Charleston Harbor. There was an undercurrent of intense excitement. There could not have been a more brilliant circle. In addition to our usual quartet (Judge Withers, Langdon Cheves, and Trescott), our two ex-Governors dined with us, Means and Manning. These men all talked so delightfully. For once in my life I listened. That over, business began in earnest. Governor Means had rummaged a sword and red sash from somewhere and brought it for Colonel Chesnut, who had gone to demand the surrender of Fort Sumter. And patiencewe must wait. . . . April 12th.Anderson will not capitulate. Mr. Chesnut returned. His interview with Colonel Anderson had been deeply interesting, but Mr. Chesnut was not inclined to be communicative. He wanted his dinner. He felt for Anderson and had telegraphed to President Davis for instructionswhat answer to give Anderson, etc. He has now gone back to Fort Sumter with additional instructions. I do not pretend to go to sleep. How can I? If Anderson does not accept terms at four, the orders are, he shall be fired upon. I count four, St. Michael's bells chime out, and I begin to hope. At half past four the heavy booming of a cannon. I sprang out of bed, and on my knees, prostrate, I prayed as I never prayed before.
There was a sound of stir all over the house, pattering of feet in the corridors. All seemed hurrying one way. I put on my double-gown and a shawl and went, too. It was to the housetop. The shells were bursting. In the dark I heard a man say, "Waste of ammunition." I knew my husband was rowing about in a boat somewhere in that dark bay, and that the shells were roofing it over, bursting toward the fort. If Anderson were obstinate, Colonel Chesnut was to order the fort on our side to open fire. Certainly fire had begun. The regular roar of the cannon, there it was. And who could tell what each volley accomplished of death and destruction? The women were wild there on the housetop. Prayers came from the women and imprecations from the men. And then a shell would light up the scene.
1 From Mrs. Chesnut's "Diary from Dixie." By permission of the publishers, D. Appleton & Company. Copyright, 1905. Mrs. Chesnut was a daughter of Stephen Decatur Miller, Governor of South Carolina in the Nullification period, and afterward a United States Senator from that State. She became the wife of General James Chesnut, a United States Senator from South Carolina just before the Civil War, who became afterward a brigadier-general in the Confederate Army, and a member of the Confederate Cabinet, General Chesnut's home was at Mulberry, near Camden, South Carolina, where his father, a very rich planter, lived during the entire war period. General Chesnut, in a small boat, in April, 1861, carried the ultimatum of the Governor of the State to Major Anderson, commanding Fort Sumter.
Mrs. Chesnut spent a considerable part of the war period in Richmond, where she became a close friend of Mrs. Davis. Her "Diary" sheds much vivid light on the social life of the city during that time. Near the close of the war, she removed to Camden and then to Columbia. She left the latter place during the exodus that ensued on the approach of General Sherman's army, and lived in North Carolina until the fall of Richmond, when she returned to Mulberry. She and her husband survived the war many years.
By the 6th or 7th of April, nearly a dozen vessels had left New York and other Northern ports, under sealed orders. Lieutenant Talbot, who had arrived at Washington on the 6th, from Fort Sumter, bearing a message from Major Anderson that his rigidly restricted supplies of fresh food from Charleston market had been cut off by the Confederate authorities, and that he must soon be starved into surrender, if not relieved, returned to Charleston on the 8th, and gave formal notice to Governor Pickens that the fort would be provisioned at all hazards. General Beauregard immediately telegraphed the fact to Montgomery2; and, on the 10th, received orders from the Confederate Secretary of War to demand the prompt surrender of the fort, and, in case of refusal, to reduce it.
The demand was accordingly made in due form at 2 P.M., on the 11th, and courteously declined. But, in consequence of additional instructions from Montgomerybased on a suggestion of Major Anderson to his summoners that he would very soon be starved out if not relievedGeneral Beauregard, at 11 P.M., again addrest Major Anderson, asking him to state at what time he would evacuate Fort Sumter, if unmolested; and was answered that he would do so at noon on the 15th, "should I not receive, prior to that time, controlling instructions from my Government, or additional supplies. " This answer was judged unsatisfactory; and at 3:20 A.M. of the 12th, Major Anderson was duly notified that fire would be opened on Fort Sumter in one hour.
Punctual to the appointed moment, the roar of a mortar from Sullivan's Island, quickly followed by the rushing shriek of a shell, gave notice to the world that the era of compromise and diplomacy was endedthat the Confederacy had appealed from sterile negotiations to the "last argument" of aristocracies as well as kings. Another gun from that island quickly repeated the warning, waking a response from battery after battery, until Sumter appeared the focus of a circle of volcanic fire. Soon the thunder of fifty heavy breaching cannon, in one grand volley, followed by the crashing and crumbling of brick, stone, and mortar around and above them, apprized the little garrison that their stay, in those quarters must necessarily be short. Unless speedily relieved by a large and powerful fleet, such as the Union did not then possess, the defense was from the outset utterly hopeless.
It is said that the Confederate leaders expected to reduce the fort within a very few hours; it is more certain that the country was disappointed by the inefficiency of its fire and the celerity of its reduction. But it was not then duly considered that Sumter was never intended to withstand a protracted cannonade from batteries solidly constructed on every side of it, but to resist and repel the ingress of fleets from the oceana service for which it has since proved itself admirably adapted. Nor was it sufficiently considered that the defensive strength of a fortress inheres largely in its ability to compel its assailants to commence operations for its reduction at a respectful distance, and to make their approaches slowly, under conditions that secure to its fire a great superiority over that of the besiegers. But here were the assailants, in numbers a hundred to one, firing at short range from batteries which had been constructed and mounted in perfect security, one of them covered with iron rails so adjusted as to glance the balls of the fortress harmlessly from its mailed front.
Had Major Anderson been ordered, in December, to defend his post against all aggressive and threatening demonstrations, he could not have been shelled out of it by a thirty hours' bombardment. But why officers' quarters and barracks of wood should ever have been constructed in the center of such a fortor rather, why they should have been permitted to stand there after the hostile intentions of the Confederates had been clearly proclaimedis not obvious. That shells and red-hot balls would be rained into this areathat the frail structures which nearly filled it would inevitably take fire, and not only imperil magazines, cartridges, and everything else combustible, but prevent the working of the guns, was palpable from the outset. To have committed to the surrounding waves every remaining particle of wood that was not essential to the defense, would seem the manifest work of the night which preceded the opening of the bombardment, after the formal demand that the fort be surrendered. To do this while yet unassailed and unimperiled, instead of rolling barrel after barrel of precious powder into the sea under the fire of a dozen batteries, with the whole center of the fortress a glowing furnace, and even the casemates so hot that their tenants could only escape roasting by lying flat on the floor and drawing their breath through wet blankets, would seem the dictate of the simplest forecast.
So, when we read that "the guns, without tangents or scales, and even destitute of bearing-screws, were to be ranged by the eye and fired 'by guess, '" we have an ample explanation of the inefficiency of their fire, but none of the causes of this strange and fatal lack of preparation for a contest that had so long been imminent. It might seem as if Sumter had been held only that it should be assailed with impunity and easily taken.
It was at 7 o'clocknearly three hours after the first shot came crashing against her wallsthat Sumter's garrison, having deliberately eaten their breakfastwhereof salt pork constituted the staplefired their first gun. They had been divided into three squads or reliefs, each in succession to man the guns for four hours, and then be relieved by another. Captain Abner Doubleday3 commanded the first on duty, and fired the first gun. Only the casemate guns were commonly firedthose on the parapet being too much exposed to the shot and shell pouring in from every quarter to render their use other than a reckless, bootless waste of life. The fire of the fort was so weak, when compared to that of its assailants, as to excite derision rather than apprehension on their part. It was directed at Fort Moultrie, the Cummings' Point battery, and Sullivan's Island, from which a masked battery of heavy columbiads, hitherto unsuspected by the garrison, had opened on their walls with fearful effect. The floating battery, faced with railroad bars, tho planted very near to Sumter, and seemingly impervious to her balls, was far less effective. A new English gun, employed by the Confederates, was remarked by the garrison as wonderfully accurate and efficient; several of its shots entering their embrasures, and one of them slightly wounding four men. But the casemates were shell-proof; the officers constantly warned their men against needless exposure; so that, tho the peril from fire and from their own ammunition was even greater than that from the enemy's guns, not one was seriously hurt. And, tho Fort Moultrie was considerably damaged, and the little village of Moultrievillecomposed of the summer residences of certain wealthy citizens of Charlestonwas badly riddled, it was claimed, and seems undisputed, that no one was mortally wounded on the side of the assailants. So bloodless was the initiation of the bloodiest struggle that America ever witnessed. . . .
The fleet from New York, laden with provisions for the garrison, had appeared off the bar by noon of the day on which fire was opened, but made no effort to fulfil its errand. To have attempted to supply the fort would have, at best, involved a heavy cost of life, probably to no purpose. Its commander communicated by signals with Major Anderson, but remained out of the range of the enemy's fire till after the surrender; when he returned as he came.
Meantime, the boom of heavy ordnance and the telegraph had borne far and wide the eagerly awaited tidings that the war for which South Carolina had so long been impatient had actually begun; and from every side thousands flocked to the spectacle as to a long expected holiday. Charleston herself was drunk with excitement and joyous exultation. Her entire white population and her gay crowds of well-drest visitors thronged her streets and quays, noting the volume and resonant thunder of the Confederate cannonade, and the contrasted feebleness of that by which it was replied to.
Champagne flowed on every hand like water; thousands quaffed and feasted on the richest viands, who were ere long to regard rancid pork as a dainty and tea and coffee as faintly remembered luxuries. Beauregard shot up like Jonah's gourd to the altitude of the world's greatest captains; and "Damnation to the Yankees!" was drunk with rapture by enthusiastic crowds whose heads were sure to ache to-morrow with what they had drunk before. Already in the ardent imagination of her chivalry, the Confederacy had established its independence beyond dispute, and was about to conquer and lay waste the degenerate, cowardly North. . . .
Major Anderson ordered his flag, which had been lowered, to be raised again; but his visitors (Senator Chesnut, Roger A. Pryor,4 and W. Porcher Miles), requested that this be delayed for further conference; and, having reported to Beauregard, returned two or three hours afterward with a substantial assent to Major Anderson's conditions. The latter was to evacuate the fort, his garrison to retain their arms, with personal and company property, and march out with the honors of war, being conveyed to whatever port in the loyal States they might indicate. Considering his hopeless condition, these terms were highly honorable to Major Anderson, and hardly less so to General Beauregard; tho it was the manifest interest of the Confederates not only to stop their prodigal expenditure of ammunition at the earliest moment, but to obtain possession of the coveted fortress in as effective a state as possibleeach day's additional bombardment subtracting seriously from its strength and efficiency, as a defense of Charleston after it should have fallen into their hands.
While Charleston resumed and intensified her exulting revels, and the telegraph invited all "Dixie" to share the rapture of her triumph, the weary garrison extinguished the fire still raging, and lay down to rest for the night. The steamboat Isabel came down next morning to take them off; but delay occurred in their removal by tug to her deck, until it was too late to go out by that day's tide. When the baggage had all been removed, a part of the garrison was told off as gunners to salute their flag with fifty guns; the Stars and Stripes being lowered with cheers at the firing of the last gun. Unhappily, there was at that fire a premature explosion, whereby one of the gunners was killed and three more or less seriously wounded. The men were then formed and marched out, preceded by their band, playing inspiring airs, and taken on board the Isabel, whereby they were transferred to the Federal, steamship Baltic, awaiting them off the bar, which brought them directly to New York.
1 From Greeley's "American Conflict."
2 Montgomery, Ala., was then the Confederate capital.
3 Afterward a major-general. He served through the war and distinguished himself at Gettysburg and Antietam.
4 Roger A. Pryor, after serving in the Confederate army through the war, settled in New York for the practise of law, and for many years was a judge in the Court of Common Pleas. He was still living in New York in December, 1911.