On April 14, 1861—today, one hundred and fifty-nine years ago—Maj. Robert Anderson marched his garrison out of Fort Sumter after weathering a barrage that began two days previously. The assault on Fort Sumter started the Civil War.
On April 14, 1865—today, one hundred and fifty-five years ago—Maj. Gen. Robert Anderson returned to the fort, once again in Federal hands, and raised the flag he had taken with him when he surrendered four years earlier.
Here’s a quick look at the flag:
Known as the “storm flag” because it was made of heavier-duty material than a typical flag, Anderson’s flag is now on display in the museum at Fort Sumter.
The Civil War is packed with poetic ironies and unbelievable coincidences, and the Sumter story is one of the best. The flag-raising on this date in 1865 was hardly a coincidence: Lincoln himself chose the date specifically because it was the anniversary of the fort’s surrender, and he saw it as an opportunity to create a symbolic end of the war. Although the war was not yet over, Lee had surrendered and Joe Johnston was on the run from Sherman. The statement the ceremony made would have been delicious had it not been overshadowed by more tragic news later that evening.
Lincoln had pushed for the April 14 ceremony and was invited to attend, but with the break-neck speed of events in Virginia following the fall of Richmond, the president opted to stay in Washington instead. The flag ceremony went on without him. That evening, at Ford’s Theater, John Wilkes Booth put a bullet in Lincoln’s head. Had the president gone to Charleston, how different might things have played out.
As an added layer of the Sumter story’s coincidental alignments was Anderson’s relationship to Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard. The Creole general had once been Anderson’s artillery student at West Point; Beauregard then used artillery to open the war by firing upon his old instructor.
Here’s a photo from the day, captured by photographer W. E. James:
According to the Library of Congress, “Photograph shows the ceremonial raising of the Fort Sumter flag on April 14, 1865, four years to the day after the Confederate surrender, as part of a celebration of the Union victory.”
You can read the New York Times‘ coverage of the flag-raising ceremony here. For the Sesquicentennial, the Charleston Post & Courier ran a story by Robert Behre about the anniversary of the flag raising, what it meant in 1865, and what it meant in 2015.
To commemorate the anniversary of the first shots on Sumter, I posted an “On Location” video on ECW’s YouTube page yesterday. You can watch it here: