Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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April 12th
The Civil War Begins
On April 12, 1861, at 3:30 a.m., one old friend received a message from another: surrender at once, or be fired upon “in one hour from this time.”

The sender of the message was General P. G. T. Beauregard, a Louisianan who had been ordered by the newly formed Confederate government to take Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, South Carolina. Beauregard had trained at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and gone on to become superintendent there, but had resigned after his home state seceded from the Union.

Commanding Fort Sumter was Beauregard’s old instructor at West Point, Major Robert Anderson, a Kentuckian who felt heartsick at the thought of war between North and South. Beauregard had been one of his finest pupils, and the two had grown fond of each other. Yet Anderson would not surrender, at least not without a fight. His commander in chief, Abraham Lincoln, had pledged to “hold, occupy, and possess” the fort. “If we do not meet again on earth, I hope we may meet in Heaven,” Anderson told Beauregard’s emissaries.

At 4:30 a.m., the Civil War began as Beauregard’s batteries let loose, encircling the fort with a ring of fire, pounding it with more than 4,000 shells. When they shot the American flag off its staff, Sergeant Peter Hart climbed up and nailed it on again. But after thirty-three hours of furious bombardment, Anderson was forced to surrender.

With the victors’ permission, Anderson gave the Stars and Stripes a fifty-gun salute before hauling it down. During the salute, an accidental explosion killed a soldier – the only fatality of the seige. Major Anderson carried the shredded flag with him as he boarded a ship and headed north. Beauregard waited until he had gone before entering Fort Sumter, as “it would be an unhonorable thing . . . to be present at the humiliation of his friend.”

American History Parade
1811
Settlers sponsored by John Jacob Astor establish the first American outpost in the Pacific Northwest near present-day Astoria, Oregon.

1861
The Civil War begins at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.

1934
The strongest wind gust on record, 231 miles per hour, hits Mount Washington, New Hampshire.

1945
Franklin D. Roosevelt dies of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia.

1981
The first manned space shuttle flight begins as Columbia blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

2009
The U.S. Navy rescues Captain Richard Phillips after Somali pirates seize the cargo ship Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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