At the start of the Civil War, Major Robert Anderson commanded the U.S. Army garrison at Fort Sumter. When Southern forces commanded by P. G. T. Beauregard demanded that Anderson surrender the fort, Anderson refused. Four years after Anderson was forced to surrender and leave the fort, he triumphantly returned to raise the American Flag. The day was April 14, 1865. Later that night, Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.
The Civil War begins at Fort Sumter
At 4:30 a.m., April 12, 1861, the South Carolina Artillery fired a mortar shot over Fort Sumter, signaling the commencement of the bombardment of Fort Sumter. The American Civil War was underway.
During the battle, the Fort Sumter flagpole was destroyed by Confederate artillery. Second Lieutenant Norman J. Hall retrieved the flag and mounted it on a makeshift flagpole. Following the surrender of the fort, Anderson lowered the flag and took it with him when he left the fort on April 14, 1861.
Anderson suffers from poor health
In recognition of his service to his country, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Anderson to the rank of Brigadier General in the Regular Army, effective May 15, 1861. On May 28, the War Department ordered Anderson to take command of the newly created Department of Kentucky. Soon after, Anderson became ill, and he was replaced by William Tecumseh Sherman. Due to his health issues, Anderson spent the next two years in New York awaiting orders. However, none came and he retired from active service on October 27, 1863.
Anderson promoted to Major General
On February 3, 1865, as the war approached its end, Anderson was promoted to Major General “for gallant and meritorious service in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., in the defense of Fort Sumter.” Three weeks later, on February 22, Union forces recaptured Fort Sumter.
Anderson’s triumphant return to Fort Sumter
With the Civil War in its final days, and the restoration of the Union seemingly imminent, it was determined that a ceremony should be held at Fort Sumter — four years to the day Anderson was forced to leave. Both Anderson and his second-in-command, Abner Doubleday, were invited to attend.
On April 14, 1865, Anderson returned to the fort, carrying the same flag he left carried with him in 1861. Accompanied by Doubleday, Anderson raised the flag over Fort Sumter and his triumphant return was complete.
Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, a famous abolitionist, was the main speaker at the ceremony and said:
On this solemn and joyful day, we again lift to the breeze our fathers’ flag, now, again, the banner of the United States, with the fervent prayer that God would crown it with honor, protect it from treason, and send it down to our children.... Terrible in battle, may it be beneficent in peace [and] as long as the sun endures, or the stars, may it wave over a nation neither enslaved nor enslaving.... We lift up our banner, and dedicate it to peace, Union, and liberty, now and forevermore.
According to historian Shelby Foote, Anderson remarked:
I thank God that I have lived to see this day.
John Wilkes Booth assassinates Abraham Lincoln on the same day
The date for the ceremony was chosen by President Lincoln, and the flag-raising was meant to serve as a symbolic end to the war. According to some accounts, Lincoln wanted to attend the ceremony himself, but there was too much business for him to deal with in Washington.
Later that night, he attended a performance of “My American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater. During the show, John Wilkes Booth forced his way into the box the President was sitting in and shot him in the back of the head. Booth escaped and went on the run. Lincoln was carried to a house across the street where he died on April 15.
Anderson’s later years
In 1870, Anderson traveled to southern France, hoping the mild climate might would be good for his health. Unfortunately, he died in Nice, France, on October 26, 1871. His remains were returned to the United States, and his remains were buried with full military honors at the United States Military Academy Post Cemetery, West Point, New York.
The Fort Sumter Flag Returned
The Fort Sumter Flag was returned to Anderson’s wife, Eliza. Following her death in 1905, the flag was returned to the fort, where it is still on display today.