top of page
  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Abner Doubleday’s Notes on Forts Sumter and Moultrie

by Gordon Thorsby

Ft. Moultrie (courtesy of NPS)

Abner Doubleday had a book published through Harper’s named “Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1876. His reminiscences are interesting, and unique in many respects. Some may disagree with what he saw. Maybe it was point of view but he was second in command of the defenses of Charleston Harbor so his recollections should be considered.

“The First indication of danger came from Richmond, VA in the shape of urgent inquiries as to strength of our defenses and the number of available troops in the harbor.” This may have been information acquired at the time or information researched in the writing of his book. He does not source that was typical for the day.

“The Secretary of War [John Floyd] hastily telegraphed reversal of removal and allocated an additional 2000 muskets to SC. By this move, it was evident that the Administration had no intention of sustaining us.” John Floyd was later General and Confederate commander of the Ft. Donelson battle and its surrender. His poor performance there ended his military career. Two-thousand muskets is an odd order for a small garrison at Charleston unless it was to make the arms accessible to Secessionist forces?

Ft. Johnson side of Ft. Sumter

“On Dec. 1, Major Anderson made a full report to Secretary Floyd to our conditions and resources of military material. On 11th of December, we were able to get our provisions from town without exciting observation. On the same day the enemy began to build batteries at Mt. Pleasant and at Sullivan’s Island, guns having already been sent there. The proposed attack was no longer a secret.” Doubleday continued a few pages later, “In the meantime, they [South Carolina Militia] kept two steamers on guard to patrol the harbor and keep us from crossing. These boats contained 120 soldiers under an ex LT. James Hamilton USN.”

“The Brooklyn under Captain Farragut was ordered to take 300 veteran soldiers from Ft Monroe and proceed to Charleston [by President Buchanan].”

P93. “Gen Scott, seized with doubts that Ft. Monroe would be endangered by their removal induced Pres. Buchanan to change the order and substitute the Brooklyn for an unarmed merchant vessel loaded with 250 recruits.”(Star of the West.)

“I [Doubleday] was on the parapet on the morning of the 9th(Jan) with my spy glass for I fancied a signal from a ship in the harbor with an ordinary United States [flag up],and as it did not belong to the Navy, it must be the Star of the West. No other officers were at post at this time. Anderson was in bed. When the vessel came opposite the new battery on shore, I saw a shot fired to bring her to.” This could be considered the first shot by some South Carolina enlistees from the “Lancaster Greys.”

A drum roll beaten in the fort and men went to their gun stations.

“The battery was still firing but the transport had passed by. At the same time, it was approaching within gun-shot of Ft Moultrie. The latter immediately opened fire from one or two guns. Anderson would not allow us to return fire and the ship, struck twice, turned about, and left the harbor.”

"During the final surrender with sparks still floating about in the air, smoke blowing about from smoke clearing from the various batteries," Doubleday even as Maj. Robert Anderson prepared to give the flag a final salute. ”In that portion of the line commanded by Lt. Hall, some fire had probably lodged inside the piece which the sponging did not extinguish for, in loading it, it went prematurely went off, blowing off the right arm of the gunner, Daniel Hough, who was an excellent soldier. His death was almost instantaneous. …The damage did not end here, for some of the fire from the muzzle dropped on the pile of cartridges below and exploded them all. Several men were blown in the air, and seriously wounded. Their last names were Fielding, Irwin, Pinchard, Galway, and I think Hayes. The first named was very badly hurt and was left behind to be cared for by the rebels."

From Ft. Chatfield, Sullivan's Island

Was April 12-14 bloodless? No, according to Doubleday. Could it be considered bloodless because the casualties were a result of a weapon mishap? If this was the case, this would be the only instance in the Civil War of factoring casualties that way. The issue is reporting the actual casualties would alter present day history’s narrative. Ft. Sumter was not a harmless incident and Elmer Ellsworth would not be the first killed. The symbol of individual sacrifice would be buried in pile of brick rubble in Charleston Harbor. Was it Doubleday’s way of raising the importance of his contributions in the war? This is for you to judge.

Upon completion and transfer to awaiting support vessels, Doubleday continued. “We reached the Baltic and were received with great sympathy and feeling by the army and navy officers present. Among the latter was captain Fox (later Assistant Secretary of the Navy.)” Later upon returning to New York, “It was impossible for us to venture into the main streets without being ridden on the shoulders and torn to pieces by hand-shaking. Henry Ward Beecher came down to the fort to make a ringing speech full of fire and patriotism.” His statements were factual but it seemed a list of well known characters of the Civil War story and great for selling books.

Doubleday provided this summary of what happened to the officers at Sumter; at the conclusion of his book:

“George W. Snyder was the first to leave us. He was present in the battle of Bull Run, attained a brevet of captain and died in Washington, District of Columbia on November 17, 1861.

Theodore Talbot became assistant adjutant general, with the rank of major, and died April 22, 1862.

Richard K. Meade was …pressured to resign from the army. He became a rebel officer and died at Petersburg in July,1862 (during the Peninsula Campaign.)

Norman J. Hall became colonel of the Seventh Michigan Volunteers, along with three brevets, one for Gettysburg [Cemetery Ridge, July 3]. He died on 26th of May, 1867 in Brooklyn, New York.

John L. Gardner received a brevet of brigadier general, and was retired at the commencement of the war. He died in Wilmington, Delaware in 1869.

For Robert Anderson, he was made a brigadier general, and after a brevet major general for his service at Ft. Sumter. He served a few months as Commander of the Department of Kentucky and was obliged to leave due to ill health. He retired from service on October 27, 1863, and died in Nice, France on the 26th day of October, 1871.

The Civil War essentially began before 4/12. It was simply that the United States just didn’t recognize it. History can only be recognized when it is viewed as the years advance.


Forts Sumter and Moultrie, by Doubleday, Abner, published by Harper Publishing,1876.

22 views0 comments


bottom of page