Fort Sumter re-enactors wind down with surrender
FORT SUMTER NATIONAL MONUMENT, S.C. -- Re-enactors played "Yankee Doodle" as they took away the Union flag and recreated Fort Sumter's surrender to Confederate attackers 150 years ago Thursday, winding down a commemoration of America's plunge into the Civil War.
Some 100 Union defenders, haggard from the 34 hours of Confederate artillery bombardment, gave up the fort in Charleston Harbor on April 14, 1861, a singular event marking the outset of the nation's bloodiest war.
Hundreds watched a 15-minute surrender reenactment as those playing Union forces marched away with a flag bearing 33 stars, including those of states splintering away in secession. The nationally watched re-enactment began before dawn Tuesday with the first shots of mock bombardment as an authentic coastal mortar sounded out and Confederate cannons ringing the harbor joined in.
"These were the first shots of a civil war that would stretch across four years of tremendous sacrifice," President Barack Obama said Tuesday in a proclamation on the start of sesquicentennial events commemorating battles to come. "The meaning of freedom and the very soul of our Nation were contested in the hills of Gettysburg and the roads of Antietam, the fields of Manassas and the woods of the Wilderness."
The war, over four bloody years to follow, claimed more than 600,000 lives.
"When the guns fell silent and the fate of our nation was secured, blue and gray would unite under one flag and the institution of slavery would be forever abolished from our land," Obama said.
The state's Palmetto Guard was the first Confederate unit to occupy Sumter after the Union surrender of 1861.
The Confederate flag would fly over the fort nearly four years until Sumter was abandoned in early 1865 after Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman captured Columbia about 120 miles away, flanking the Confederates and forcing them to withdraw from Charleston.
Rick Hatcher, the historian at Fort Sumter, told visitors who arrived on the last tour boat of the day that the surrender was "one of the most historic and significant days in the history of this fort.'
The only casualty of the bombardment, which rained shells on Fort Sumter nearly without pause for 34 hours, was a Confederate officer's horse. But two Union soldiers died as the result of a cannon misfiring during a salute marking the surrender ceremonies. The two men are considered by many the first casualties of the war and there is a memorial in their honor in a corner of the Sumter parade ground.
There will be an event to honor the soldiers Saturday while other events here conclude Sunday.
Jeff Antley of Charleston, who coordinated arrangements for hundreds of re-enactors who came to Charleston for ten days of events, was pleased with what the re-enactors did, paying their way and giving of their time to teach others about the war.
"It was great. The guys are tired but they are persevering on and they will see it to the end," he said, adding the commemoration was an important way of remembering.
"We don't want to forget these men. They are our families and they are our blood," he said.
Veteran re-enactor Randy Burbage said the mood of the events was solemn, befitting the war that ensued.
"It should be considering the tragic ending this war had and the number of lives lost," he said.
Renee Adams, a retiree from Crestview, Fla., was in Charleston this week taking a bus tour of sites important to the Gullah culture of slave descendants on South Carolina's sea islands. She also planned to visit Fort Sumter.
"It's just a different part of history and a history we should all learn," she said.
Parks Service officials plan another event in four years to re-create the raising of the American flag over Fort Sumter after the conclusion of the bloody conflict.