Raising the Flag at Fort Sumter


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:

Sumter Flag Raising Stereoscope

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:


5 Responses to Raising the Flag at Fort Sumter


  2. This question comes late, but oh well. I’m researching the 1865 flag reraising for my dissertation and I’ve been asked by some if it was true that Lincoln was invited. I have yet to see documentation of that, which might just mean I haven’t seen it yet. Where did you find this? I’m curious to look into it more.

  3. President Lincoln’s Cabinet began talking about “the coming end of the war” in Feb/ March 1865. The possibility of “Members of Cabinet going to Charleston to attend the Flag Raising” is specifically mentioned in Diary of Gideon Welles, Vol.2 entry for Monday 27 March 1865. It was anticipated (by Navy Secretary Welles) that Edwin Stanton “would lead the representatives of the Cabinet to Fort Sumter” and “even though we have not heard from Seward, I expect him to work into the party.” [Seward was subsequently injured in a carriage accident on 5 April; he was still at home, bedridden, recuperating on Friday 14 April.] Also on 27 March 1865, with Charleston in Union hands, President Lincoln issued General Orders No.50 “Fort Sumter Commemorations.” 9 APR: Lincoln returned to Washington in evening from fortnight-long visit with US Grant. “Lincoln signed the proclamation Closing Southern Ports to European/ Foreign Trade” [authored by Seward.] On 10 APR the Celebration of Lee’s Surrender (of 9 APR) took place in Washington: “there is belief that the war is ‘virtually over’” – Welles, from his Diary.
    The “reversal of 14 April 1861 involving the raising of one of the Flags present during the bombardment, by the Commander who braved that bombardment… exactly four years later” seems to have been President Lincoln’s idea (or possibly “theft” of the idea from Dennison and Speed – see Welles page 267.) So, President Lincoln could have “invited himself” to attend. But, he appears to have sent a surrogate, Henry Ward Beecher, instead [see “The Most Famous Man in America: the Biography of Henry Ward Beecher (2006) by Debby Applegate.]
    Also to be remembered: President Lincoln had gone south and joined General Grant in Virginia from 27 March- 9 April 1865. Perhaps President Lincoln belatedly believed his presence at the White House was more important to securing the future, at that moment, than would be his presence at Charleston.

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