The Battle of Fort Sumter by DuBose Heyward — Part Two, Conclusion

Part Two, Conclusion, of

The Battle of Fort Sumter

Adapted from Peter Ashley
by DuBose Heyward

 

[Publisher's Note, by Gene Kizer, Jr. : DuBose Heyward is best known for his 1925 novel, Porgy, which eventually became the famous George Gershwin opera, Porgy and Bess.

Heyward wrote Peter Ashley, and Herbert Ravenel Sass wrote Look Back to Glory, and both of those works were adapted for the shorter Fort Sumter, 1861-1865, from which this blog article comes. Citation: DuBose Heyward, Herbert Ravenel Sass, Fort Sumter, 1861-1865 (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1932).

Here is Part Two, the exciting conclusion of The Battle of Fort Sumter by DuBose Heyward!]

Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter, Confederate Batteries, April, 1861.
Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter, Confederate Batteries, April, 1861.

A SUDDEN FLASH ON JAMES ISLAND. An audible cosmic sigh from the town, lost after a moment in a deep, flat report. From the mainland a spark hurtled up into the night, executing small rapid circles as it swung up and over the harbor in a wide arc, descended, seemed to hover for a split second, then burst into flame. A rending report struck the low clouds and was hurtled downward.

Fort Johnson on James Island, from where the first shot of the War Between the States was fired April 12, 1861.
Fort Johnson on James Island, from where the first shot of the War Between the States was fired April 12, 1861.

Behind Chardon a voice said facetiously, "There goes a pill that even a Black-Republican stomach can't digest."

"Ah," Chardon thought, as he recognized the voice as that of a neighbor who was given to studied witticisms, "He's had that ready for a month."

And now the narrow streets that lay dark between the downtown mansions leapt from silence to sound. Through their confining channels torrents of humanity set out toward the water front. Doors slammed. The hooves of the night patrol rang on the cobbles, slowed down. A peremptory voice demanded passage. Voices, excited laughter, rose to the roofs. Chardon, peering down, saw in the gray half-light a world in flux, pouring out over the White Point Gardens and massing solidly along the sea wall.

Then the noise was drowned by a tremendous explosion on James Island. That would be the old frame building that had screened the Howitzer Battery, and that was scheduled for demolition as soon as the engagement commenced. To the northeast, Fort Moultrie went into action, her great guns slashing the darkness with blades of flame. So familiar was Chardon with the location of the various defenses that even in the masking blackness he had no difficulty identifying the batteries as they went into action. From Moultrie the contagion spread to Cummings Point, and thence back across the harbor to the Floating and Enfilade batteries, with the intervening stations filling in the gaps, until the harbor lay, a wide crescent of fire, the two horns resting on Sullivan's and Morris Islands, and the opening toward the sea.

The sound became deafening and continuous. You could no longer say, "There goes Moultrie" or "Now the Iron Battery is in." Caught between the low ceiling of cloud and the floor of the harbor, separate explosions were hurled back and forth until, augmented by the constantly increasing fire, they merged into a concerted roar that rose and fell like a hurricane surf but never let up into a definite break.

A Confederate battery firing on Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861.
A Confederate battery firing on Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861.

Dense clouds compounded of smoke and the acrid fumes of burning sulphur and saltpeter commenced to drift across the town. They discomposed the ladies, and they could be seen retiring from the roofs to the clearer air below stairs.

At times, a number of shells bursting together over Sumter would illumine the forbidding mass that lay unresponsive under the rain of metal.

At five-thirty Anderson made his first acknowledgement, scarcely more than a taunt flung into the teeth of his assailants. From his upper-tier two guns were discharged at Moultrie, then the fortress sank again into silence.

At seven, dramatically, Sumter entered the engagement. Looking from his vantage point, Chardon saw the fort surge up in the thinning dark and stand in silhouette against a gray and haggard dawn. Then suddenly the inert mass broke into life. Fire leaped from every embrasure. The barbette guns crowned the fortress with flame. The detonation was terrific. In the gray half-light forms on the neighboring roofs seemed to reel under the impact.

In the second that followed there was almost silence. Chardon caught a phrase from "The Star-Spangled Banner" and raised his field glasses just in time to see the flag go up over the cloud of smoke that was obscuring the fort.

Damaris had not gone below when the other ladies had abandoned the roofs. She had remained beside Chardon, at times resting on the chair that Caesar had placed for her, now and again rising and slipping her arm through that of her companion. During the three hours of that first watch, neither spoke. By her failure to mention Peter's absence, Chardon judged that she knew that he was on duty, but he refrained from any comment that might confirm her fears, or that, by putting his apprehensions into words, might increase his own sense of impending disaster.

It was just after Sumter opened fire that Rene Berrenger arrived. Some inner sense that always functioned where Peter was concerned warned Chardon before Rene spoke. He turned quickly to meet him, to warn him that Damaris was present. But before he could reach him he was surrounded by a group of excited questioners.

Yes, he was just from headquarters. He had been given four hours off for sleep. As if he wanted to sleep now! Some fellows had all the luck. There had been some changes in plans that necessitated the delivery of dispatches to one of the batteries. The choice had lain between Peter and himself, and Peter had got it. Rene sighted Chardon then, but, full of his grievance, failed to recognize his signals.

"It was on your account, confound you, sir,---excuse me, sir," he blurted out. "The general said you were a gallant soldier. That Peter had a tradition to live up to and he was going to be given a chance."

It was too late now to stop the young fool. Of course Damaris had heard. Wake asked Rene if he knew the station to which Peter had been sent, but he couldn't tell him. They had been damned secretive about it. And of course he didn't know when he might be expected back. The boat might be caught by daylight and have to stay if the route lay under Sumter's guns.

Chardon returned to Damaris. She was sitting as he had left her, but as he approached he noticed an uncompromising rigidity about the little figure, as though the instinct to turn and look into his face were being held under deliberate control. He said with a good show of casualness, "Peter's off with dispatches, and you needn't feel alarmed. There is probably very little danger."

She looked up then. Her face was white, her composure absolute. She shook her head in negation, took his hand in her for a moment, then turned her gaze back to the harbor with its cross play of fire that was growing pallid now in the gathering light. Chardon urged her to go home, but she only shook her head again. He had not heard her voice since she had arrived at a little after four o'clock.

He sent for Proctor Gordon, who had gone below with his wife and had missed Rene's arrival. When his friend reached the roof they conferred, and Gordon went to Daramis.

"Come, little one," he bade her. "It's time to go home and get some rest."

She got up then, meekly, like an obedient small child, and preceded her father from the roof.

And now with a fine rain setting in, their ears deafened by sound, and eyes unable to penetrate the heavy atmosphere, the crowds commence to leave the water front for the bulletin boards uptown. For blocks about the office of the Mercury and the Courier the streets are packed with humanity. At headquarters there is no such thing as censorship of news. And this is proper, for, after all, this is Charleston's war, and who should be informed if not Charlestonians! Bulletins are rushed from Institute Hall to the papers, and are posted simultaneously on both boards. Analyzed, they have little of value to impart, but the temper of the crowds is such that each announcement is endowed with momentous significance and is hailed with appropriate cheers or hisses.

8 A.M. Opening shot fired from Howitzer Battery by the venerable Edward Ruffin,1 chivalric Virginian who had volunteered with the Palmetto Guard.

Esteemed Virginian Edmund Ruffin in the uniform of the Palmetto Guard, with whom he was serving.
Esteemed Virginian Edmund Ruffin in the uniform of the Palmetto Guard, with whom he was serving.

9 A.M. News that Stevens' Iron Battery and Floating Battery are breaching south and southwest walls of Sumter.

Outside view of the Confederate Floating Battery.
Outside view of the Confederate Floating Battery.
Action inside the Confederate Floating Battery.
Action inside the Confederate Floating Battery.

11 A.M. Iron Battery great success. Shot glance from sheathing like marbles thrown down by a child on the back of a turtle.

12 M. Messenger from Cummings Point reports two guns dismantled on Sumter.

12:30 P.M. The rifled cannon recently received from England and the first to be used in America proves a marvel of accuracy, the whirling projectiles playing a large part in breaching of Sumter's walls.

1 P.M. Two guns in Stevens' Battery temporarily disabled, but great havoc being wrought in return. Estimated wall of Sumter will be breached in two hours.

1:30 P.M. Three steam vessels reported off bar. Doubtless relief flotilla for Sumter.

2 P.M. Capt. R. S. Parker reports Moutrie and Enfilade Battery giving good account of themselves.

2:30 P.M. Stevens' Iron Battery most formidable. Effect of Dahlgrens and 64-pounders terrific. Clouds of brick dust and mortar rise from fort as the "shot hiss on their errand of death."

3 P.M. Southwest wall of Sumter reported breached.

 

Nine o'clock Friday morning found Chardon and Wake standing in the rain before Institute Hall. Neither the prestige of the older man nor the uniform of the younger had been able to win them admittance to the building. Only staff officers and messengers were allowed to pass the sentries.

There were surprisingly few people about. The policy of giving out news from the offices of the papers had concentrated the crowds away from headquarters. Those who were waiting in such cover as they could find in adjacent doorways were, Chardon surmised, like themselves, facing the realization that War, while a master showman, was a prompt and inexorable bill-collector.

Across the street he saw his cousin Bull-Smith, taking the weather in stolid indifference to discomfort, and he remembered with a pang of pity that his booming relative had two sons on Morris Island. Certainly there was no bluster about him now, as he stood waiting for news in the sulphurous drench of smoke and rain, with the shattering concussions from the harbor rocking the unclean atmosphere about him.

At eleven Rene Berrenger appeared for duty. Wake and Chardon fell upon him eagerly. He promised to return at once with such news as he could gather. It was half an hour before he descended the steps and approached them. His face was grave. Chardon gripped his stick and stood waiting.

"He's still out," Rene told them. "No one seems to know where he was sent. It was some private mission of the general's." Chardon's questions elicited the additional information that Peter had gone out on the dispatch boat Antelope. That the boat had returned and been sent up the river out of the range of fire, and that Peter had not been aboard when she had touched town on her way up.

"But you needn't have the slightest fear for Peter," Rene assured them, a trace too hastily. "I have it on good authority that no casualties have been reported."

Chardon thought with a sinking heart that Beauregard was much too good a general to post losses at the beginning of an engagement. Wait until there was a victory to show for it, then publish the cost.

They stationed a servant near the Hall, and Rene promised to send any word that came in. Then with no end that could be served by waiting longer they turned their steps downtown.

At seven Friday evening the fire slackened, then settled into a routine of a discharge every twenty minutes. There was no wind, and the air, loaded with smoke and moisture, pressed heavily and muffling upon the town. It produced a silence that was singularly lifeless, and across this three times in every hour came the blam! of a discharge from Moultrie, caught up and hurled back like an echo from one of Sumter's barbette guns.

Looking back, Chardon always remembered this ominous interlude as the most trying phase of the engagement. It was like that period following the delirium of fever, when one lies counting slow heartbeats, and waiting for the crisis with its verdict of life or death.

In the streets now there was no laughter, no noisy boasting. The roofs were deserted. Night fell before its appointed time. By seven, the darkness was an impenetrable wall that circled each separate light, isolating families from the sustaining presence of their neighbors, destroying that confidence which is bred of crowds, and without which only the truly courageous can face destiny. In looking back Chardon always recalled that time with an involuntary shudder, for he knew that it was then that the Dark Angel had first touched the spirit of his beloved city, prophetically, with a hovering wing.

By eight o'clock a small company had assembled at the Chardon residence. The spirit of the gathering was different from that of the early morning. Chardon could scarcely believe that this was the same day as the one on which he had stood looking at Wake while watch in hand he was counting off the minutes for the opening gun.

Proctor and Mrs. Gordon were there, and Damaris; Thomas and Emily Ashley, who had heard the guns and had driven down, arriving just before dark; Wake, and Chardon. Caesar had made them comfortable in the master's room, from the windows of which one commanded a limited view of the harbor. There was a tea table with a cold supper, a decanter of sherry and one of brandy, and a bowl of ice from the last ice schooner down from New England.

No one seemed to be hungry. Under the candelabra the crystal and silver lay in an orderly pattern of high lights against sleek dark mahogany. Wake had been rattling ice absently in an empty glass. Ashley broke a long silence with, "For God's sake, stop that noise."

Emily Ashley was tatting, the small precise circles of the fancywork falling from under her busy fingers and coiling upon her lap. At each stroke, the small bone shuttle struck her wedding ring, and so absolutely was the silence that the sound was plainly audible, insistent, cadenced, progressive, like the ticking of a watch.

Damaris sat looking out of a window. She was fanning herself with an ivory fan that Peter had given her. The slow, unfaltering rhythm made Chardon think of a mechanism that someone had started and had forgotten to stop. At each discharge of the guns, a slight shudder ran through her body. She was perfectly composed, and for the first time Chardon noticed that she was wearing rouge. He wondered whether it was customary, and was only now apparent against her pallor, or whether it was a brave front she was putting up. He wished that she hadn't. There was something of her behind it that had been extinguished, and that made it seem strangely incongruous.

They had just got word from Berrenger. At six-thirty Peter had not returned, and Rene had been unable to discover his whereabouts.

At eight o'clock a rush of clean cold rain passed over the town, setting the stagnant air in motion, and purging it to a momentary clarity. Lights emerged from the murk. It had been assumed that with the coming of night and the tide at the flood, the fleet would attempt to enter and establish contact with Anderson, and a heavily augmented harbor patrol was out. The red and yellow of petroleum flares, and the harsh white of calcium burners, kept passing and repassing in the outer harbor, and streaming along the horizon in a continuous line. They reminded Chardon more than anything else of a distant water carnival.

He rose from his chair and filled a sherry glass, then he crossed to where Damaris was sitting and presented it to her. She looked up and their eyes met. Then she drained the glass and returned it. He was turning away when she caught his hand and pressed it silently to her cheek. Then she let him go and resumed her vigil.

At ten, a violent rain storm commenced, and simultaneously the bombardment was reopened. The effect was spectacular in the extreme. From horn to horn the crescent of fire bore down on Sumter. The upper dark was latticed by a cross fire from the mortar batteries, the shells taking the air like giant rockets, curving, hovering, and exploding over the fort. At times the sheeted rain would obscure details, and illuminated by the explosions, would lie over the mass of Sumter with an effect like that of vapors flung upward from a caldron of molten ore.

For hour after hour the bombardment continued with unabated fury, with Anderson replying from every gun at his command. Then, just before dawn, it commenced to slacken. The wind veered to the westward and blew strong, tonic and unsullied from the St. Andrews fields. It tumbled the clouds out over the Atlantic, and swept the harbor clean. Dawn was a taut crimson backdrop against which the fleet showed in spidery outline. Then the sun lifted, wet and shining, and deluged the bay, the forts, the town with light.

Instantly the mercurial spirits of the old city responded. Trap doors banged open and the roofs commenced to take on life. The scattered spectators along the sea wall were joined by returning crowds refreshed by a few hours' sleep. Judge Magrath was back with an April rose in his lapel.

Charlestonians on rooftops watching the fight amidst the deafening roar of almost non-stop cannon fire.
Charlestonians on rooftops watching the fight amidst the deafening roar of almost non-stop cannon fire.

Chardon noticed that some of his neighbors were preparing to breakfast informally on their roofs, so that they need miss nothing that was taking place, and thinking that the invigorating upper air would prove refreshing to the ladies, who had been resting below, he had Caesar carry up a card table and a few chairs, and tell Daphne to prepare a light breakfast.

At eight o'clock, with only a desultory fire taking place, it became apparent that Fort Sumter was on fire. A dense smoke rose from the ramparts into the sky, hanging there like a great thunder cloud with exploding shells vibrating like lightning at its heart.

Excitement along the sea wall and on the roofs ran high. Telescopes and field glasses were leveled upon the fortress, and those who were fortunate enough to possess them reported to avid bystanders. A fantastic rumor ran from mouth to mouth that Anderson was signaling to the fleet to enter the harbor and come to his assistance. Jeers followed. "Poltroons if they stay out." "Yes, but Davy Jones' locker if they attempt to enter." Then one of Sumter's barbette magazines exploded, hurling debris and dense white smoke upward, and proving the genuineness of the fire.

U.S.S. Pawnee, one of three ships Lincoln sent to Charleston to start the war.
U.S.S. Pawnee, one of three ships Lincoln sent to Charleston to start the war.
The Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane. Of course Lincoln wanted his taxes.
The Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane. Of course Lincoln wanted his taxes.
S.S. Baltic, the third to Charleston. Other ships were sent to Pensacola to start the war there too.
S.S. Baltic, the third to Charleston. Other ships were sent to Pensacola to start the war there too.

By ten o'clock the fortress presented the appearance of an inferno, belching dense clouds of smoke and sheets of flame into the sky, while the Confederates poured a terrific cannonade into the structure. One by one Anderson's guns had ceased to reply. But at the height of the conflagration a spasm of firing broke from the fort. Only five guns were engaged, all that Anderson had left in commission. It was a tremendously gallant gesture. Sumter was dying, but dying with its boots on. Instantly the Confederate fire ceased, and after each discharge from the fort a burst of cheering went up from the encircling batteries.

Fort Sumter on fire.

Chardon, standing on his roof, heard the cheers, a slight, silvery not in the brazen clamor of war, a spontaneous tribute to a gallant opponent. One by one Sumter's guns fell silent as the flames drove the gunners back. Then when the last one was abandoned, the Confederates resumed the offensive, attempting to hasten a conclusion that had now become inevitable.

 

At twelve-forty-five Sumter's flag was shot away. An adjacent Confederate battery had been gunning for it since daybreak, and at last a ball had passed cleanly through the staff, carrying away its upper half and plunging the colors headlong into the smoke and flame.

Now, shoot away the flag in the midst of an engagement and you have a hero. The situation is as inevitable in its cause and effect as thunder and lighting, and like lightning there is no telling where the bolt will strike. The master brain that has built up the elaborate plan of attack will be forgotten. Of the scores of soldiers who are standing in the vicinity, there are doubtless dozens whose courage is equal to the emergency, but who are destined never to emerge from the obscurity of the mass. But somewhere near by there is always one whose brow has been shaped by Destiny to wear the laurel wreath. He may never have distinguished himself before; he may be destined immediately after to return to his native obscurity. But in that fleeting, white-hot moment the event and the man are fused into a single glorified symbol. The populace has its darling, war its justification, history its hero.

And up to this point the battle of Fort Sumter had been desperately in need of a hero. The engagement had presented a magnificent spectacle. Confederate cannon had pounded their way through the walls of the fortification, but except under the stimulus of the actual firing the items posted upon the bulletin boards would have made pathetically sterile reading.

And then suddenly the moment---and, inevitably, the man. But not, as might be supposed, the Union soldier who was groping through the flames to find and replace the fallen colors; not General Beauregard, whose genius had created the elaborate system that had produced the situation; but one whose temperament, personality, and appearance had so supremely prepared him that instinctively he gathered the moment to his breast and made it his own: in short, Colonel Louis T. Wigfall.

Former Texas U.S. Senator Louis Trezevant Wigfall.
Former Texas U.S. Senator Louis Trezevant Wigfall.

General Beauregard had stationed the doughty colonel with General Simons on James Island, probably concluding that the temperament of his aide better fitted him for the dangers of the bombardment than the more delicate task of conducting negotiations with Anderson when the fortress should fall, as inevitably it must. And the colonel was at his post on James Island when the flag went down. General Simons was away at the time. General Beauregard was five miles distant at headquarters, and---the moment had arrived. It was obvious that Anderson could not hold out in his present dire straights, and before he should attempt to replace his flag was the psychological moment for offering him an opportunity to surrender.

With that complete independence of spirit which is characteristic of those who are cognizant of their own greatness, Colonel Wigfall determined to act at once. The fact that the bombardment was at its height and that only by a miracle could one hope to reach the fort alive merely added that tang of adventure without which duty to the colonel was always an unappetizing morsel on the tongue.

At some distance behind the batteries, out of the range of fire, the negro laborers were stationed during the engagement. Had they exposed themselves, they would have been punished, for the companies using them were financially responsible to their owners in case of their loss, and they represented a heavy cash liability. It was accordingly the custom during action to station them at a safe distance, and such repairs and were necessary under fire were made by the private soldiers.

Into the midst of the recumbent blacks strode the terrifying figure of the colonel. With the thunders of the bombardment behind him, his great eyes under their shaggy brows lit by excitement, and his sword flashing, he must have seemed the incarnation of Africa's great god, Mabiali Mundembi. With an utter disregard for expense, he ordered two negroes who would have fetched a thousand dollars each, to precede him to the beach and take their places at the oars of a waiting skiff. When the party was on the point of embarking, Private W. Gourdin Young approached and volunteered to accompany the colonel. Young was a modest hero. He materialized, was given a seat in the stern, and was immediately lost in the glare that beat about him from the presence that placed itself before him, and that towered sword in hand above the cowering blacks.

From the point at which the skiff left the shore it was impossible to see the diminished flag pole on Sumter. It was also impossible for most of the Confederate batteries to see the skiff, and they continued to hurl a terrific fire over the fort and into the water that the colonel must traverse. Behind the receding boat, the James and Morris Island Batteries saw what was happening, ceased firing, and fell to cheering.

But the colonel was as oblivious in that moment to the cheers as he was to the hail of metal. Life had risen on a tedious crescendo of duels of words and affairs of honor, to this transcendent moment of realization, and the death which rowed with him in the skiff was not the lugubrious companion of the storybooks, with his narcotics and mumbled prayers, but a very good fellow indeed who held to his lips the ultimate, the supreme intoxicant.

The colonel had affixed his pocket handkerchief to the end of his sword and held it aloft as the skiff advanced, although in the smoke and the spray from flying projectiles it could not possibly have been visible to the fort. To his two oarsmen he must have presented a terrifying spectacle. His hair, which was thick and raven-black, fell almost to his shoulders, and his eyes of a golden-brown color gave under the heat of emotion the illusion of dilating and glowing like those of enraged lion. He was wearing his red sash, and his huge Texas spurs, and at regular intervals he would wave his bared sword with its pocket handkerchief flag, and send his enormous voice roaring toward the fort with a demand that it surrender.

From time to time a ball would take the water immediately before the advancing bow, causing the skiff to rock violently and deluging the occupants. At first when this happened it produced a temporary paralysis in the oarsmen. They would fall forward in a babblement of prayers and entreaties, addressed impartially to God and the colonel. But if centuries of servitude had taught the negro anything, it was to accept the inevitable, and after the initial shock they settled with a frenzy of physical effort into their task. Under the arch of the colonel's legs as he balanced himself Collossus-wise in the skiff, they could see the peaceful shore line of James Island receding into the distance. At their backs, as they bent to the oars, annihilating thunders roared, but they kept at it; there was no way out but through, because it had become obvious that even their last resort---that of reminding the gentleman tactfully, yet with a becoming blend of modesty and pride, of the fact that they were worth a thousand dollars apiece---would fall upon deaf ears. It had evidently pleased the gentleman to go on a perfectly magnificent bust, and there was nothing for it but to row.

 

In town at headquarters the fame of war was proceeding quite according to schedule. With Anderson's surrender imminent, Beauregard had summoned his staff to a conference. It was important that an immediate decision be reached as to the terms upon which Anderson would be allowed to evacuate. There was every disposition to treat Anderson like the soldier and gentleman that he was but, after all, he had invited the battle by remaining, and he had been vanquished.

When he had asked to vacate peaceably three days before, he had been offered the opportunity of marching out with all supplies, flags flying, band playing, and with a fifty-gun salute to the flag. Now, obviously, since he had remained and fought, the terms must be somewhat modified. The people expected it, and it was their right. It was finally concluded that the original terms should stand but with one exception. The flag would have to do without its fifty-gun salute.

 

With his skiff half full of water but, miraculously, no casualties, Colonel Wigfall finally reached the narrow beach from which the wall of the fort rose precipitously. At the moment their keel grounded, Anderson blew up his barracks in the hope of stopping the fire.

The detonation caught them with a physical impact so terrific that it was stupefying. They stood dazed for a moment, while a shattered heaven poured its debris down upon them. Then, when the universe rocked back to its balance, the colonel bade his crew await his return, and left them, to parley with Anderson. The negroes promptly turned the boat over and crawled beneath it, and Private Young demonstrated the superior courage of the Caucasian by seating himself fully exposed upon its upturned bottom.

While Wigfall had been in transit, the Stars and Stripes had been replaced upon the ramparts, and at this signal of defiance the Confederate cannonade had broken out with redoubled fury.

It was now that the colonel faced his greatest danger. He knew that his only hope of making his presence known to the defenders was to skirt the northern face of the fort to a small door at the rear. He did not hesitate a moment. His progress was of necessity very slow, for the tide was well in and the strip of beach was narrow and cluttered with unstable heaps of debris. Above him the wall was giving way under the merciless pounding, and from time to time landslides of masonry came crashing down the fifty-foot drop. Into the wall above him, roundshot crashed dull, metallic, like blows from a sledge in the hands of a Titan.

Fort-Sumter--51K

At last he turned the corner and came out on the western face of the fort, which was covered by his own battery. They must have picked him up at once with their glasses, for a distance cheer penetrated the din, precipitating him into that state of exaltation for which the profession of soldiering has no adequate term, and which we can convey only by borrowing from the vocabulary of the poet his magnificent and all-embracing "divine afflatus."

In that moment Colonel Wigfall became omnipotent. The destinies of nations lay quiescent in the hollow of his hand. He strode to the nearest embrasure and met the gaze of a smoke-begrimed soldier. Even after he had spoken, demanding to be shown in to the presence of Major Anderson, the man stood goggling at him, frankly skeptical of the evidence of senses. Finally, at the colonel's repeated demand, he disappeared and returned presently with an officer. The door was unbarred and the colonel strode majestically within.

Twenty minutes later, at exactly one-thirty on the afternoon of April thirteenth, to be historically accurate, Colonel Wigfall, the "Lion of Fort Sumter," emerged from the fort and returned to his skiff and simultaneously, high on the ramparts, a white square climbed the flag pole and flattened in the breeze.

*  *  *  *  *

With the approach of evening, the Gordons, who had gone home earlier in the day, returned to the Chardon residence. They were all back now. Emily had remained indoors all day. Thomas, Wake, and Chardon had just returned from their last unsuccessful visit to headquarters.

Chardon said, "We can learn nothing. Beauregard and his staff are locked up at headquarters. Everything is at a standstill. No word has been given out even as to when Anderson will evacuate."

Damaris said, "Some of our boys are already up in town. I saw some of the Cadets from Morris Island. They called out that there had been no casualties in their battery."

Thomas Ashley's voice, overemphatic almost to the point of argument, flung out: "That's what I've been telling you. Of course there's nothing official yet, but it's all over town that there have been no losses. There can't be a rumor like that unless it has some foundation."

Caesar appeared, to announce supper. He had opened the door, shuffled his foot to attract his master's attention. No one noticed him and he cleared his throat discreetly. It was very still.

Then suddenly the silence was shattered by the slamming of the front door. In the room everyone jerked erect. Boots rang staccato on the piazza floor, on the planking of the hall. In the doorway Caesar's jaw dropped, his eyes widened, then he was nearly thrown off his balance, and Peter was there in the middle of the room with Damaris in his arms.

 

"You know, of course, there were no casualties on either side," he told them later. "Yes, that's official. And you heard, I suppose, what Anderson said when he heard. It is the sort of thing that entirely changes your conception of war. Major Jones gave him the news when he went out on seeing the flag of truce. Anderson grasped his hand and exclaimed devoutly, 'Thank God!'---and mind you, we're supposed to be his enemies. Major Jones extended General Beauregard's congratulations on the fact that Sumter had experienced no losses. They say the two of them sat there like two gentlemen at a club. By God, it makes you feel proud, doesn't it?"

Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard.
Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard.
Union Major Robert Anderson.
Union Major Robert Anderson.

Peter was tremendously enthusiastic over Wigfall's exploit. Captain Tucker, with whom he had left headquarters, had taken him into Mills House on this way home and introduced him to the colonel. Peter launched into a detailed account of the spectacular harbor excursion.

Chardon sipped his Madeira absently and watched his nephew as he rattled on. He shrewdly suspected Beauregard of having deliberately sent the boy to the Floating Battery as a kindness to himself, and as a means of breaking Peter gently into the game of war. It was the sort of surprising little personal courtesy that, knowing the general, he might have expected.

But he wondered now whether it had actually been a kindness. Whether the comfort of a present illusion was worth the terror of the ultimate tragic awakening. The Battle of Fort Sumter! Good God, it wasn't a battle at all. It was little more than an exchange of civilities between gentlemen; a bloodless duel with pistols fired into the air. Commanding officers thanking God that their enemies had been spared! War was never war until men had been taught to hate.

Confederates in Fort Sumter the day after Anderson evacuated.
Confederates in Fort Sumter the day after Anderson evacuated.

NOTES:

1 Heyward is referring to "Edmund" Ruffin, not Edward Ruffin.

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