Letter from Charleston Six Days before Fort Sumter Attack
The Civil War began the morning of April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The entire week before the attack, Charleston had been buzzing with rumors, military preparations, and negotiations for the surrender of the fort. The nation’s eyes were turned toward Charleston as civil war loomed, and newspaper readers were anxious for news.
The following is a letter from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s correspondent in Charleston. He wrote his account on April 6 as tensions were mounting in the city; by the time the paper printed it, Fort Sumter had surrendered. The letter was printed in the April 15, 1861, issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania):
Our Charleston Letter
From our own correspondent.
Charleston, S.C., April 6, 1861.
Proper arrangements not having been made [to implement a blockade], the supplies were sent to Fort Sumter yesterday as usual, but from today, nothing will be allowed to reach him [Major Anderson, commander of the Union garrison]; matters are coming speedily to a crisis, and in a very few days I shall either have to record the evacuation of Fort Sumter or the opening of civil war; the latter is an alternative much to be lamented and dreaded, but it is a matter of doubt in every mind whether it is not the duty of Northern and those Southern States which are still true to the Union, to form an alliance for the purpose of preventing any extension of the area over which treason now stalks, and possessing themselves of those forts and arsenals which, in view of the whole civilized world, are undoubtedly the property of the Federal Government.
Feeling that, to a certain extent, I am watching over Pennsylvania interests here, I feel it my duty again to warn all your citizens against emigration to these parts. Great promises are being held out to Northern capitalists for the purpose of inducing them to settle here, and establish manufactories; the idea is supremely ridiculous, and monstrously absurd. In the first place, it is the native home, not only of yellow fever, but of broken bone and country fever; a Northern or European man seldom escapes, and if, by fortunate circumstances, he should, there are three months in the year in which it would be impossible for him to pursue those duties which the interests and existence of his family render imperative. Again, provisions, especially meat, are always bad, and generally dear; the prospects for the next year certainly favor the opinion that they will be dearer and more inferior than ever. I need scarcely suggest, because the conclusion will be natural, that employment—I mean regular employment—can never be depended upon; the demand will always be guided by the thermometer, consequent sickness and the existence of chattel labor, though the last is by no means the least obstacle in the way of the establishment of manufactories. There is no blinking the fact that labor here is dishonorable, and fails to command either consideration or common respect. To this extent there can be no doubt in the mind of a candid man that there is an irrepressible conflict. I honestly believe that a feeling of kindness to your neighbors and fellow citizens should prompt you to veto any attempts that may be made to bring white laboring men South. The great free West is open to all, and the Homestead bill is a boon to the honest and industrious laboring man. I should add, also, that no naturalized citizen can, in the present condition of affairs, settle in the South without perjuring himself, and becoming a traitor to the government he has sworn to protect and sustain against all others.
It becomes my duty to inform you that three new batteries have been erected at Mount Pleasant, which lies about a mile and a half northwest of Fort Moultrie. I visited them yesterday. They appear to have been erected for mortar batteries, the object of course being to throw shell into Fort Sumter. They have been practicing this morning, and the result is not very satisfactory to the officer in command. Of one thing I am certain, that if the Government should determine to retain the fort, and will furnish Major Anderson with mortars and shell, the united batteries on all the islands will be utterly useless as opposed to the military genius and skill of the United States troops stationed in their magnificent stronghold.
The failure of two old merchants is reported this morning; one of them desires to settle at twenty-five cents on the dollar. This, however, is only a beginning; before many months, as certain as the sun shines, a panic will be felt in Charleston, which, in its whole history, has never been approached in magnitude. Northern men who are in business here know this and act accordingly. A gentleman whose credit up to now has always been good, gave an order to a house on Thursday last, but the firm—who had supplied him for years, and always been paid promptly—declined to execute, except for cash. There is, in fact, distrust and bankruptcy staring the whole community in the face. The only course which can prevent this state of things continuing for years to come, is the possible result that the State may soon seek for that tranquility and success within the Union which outside of it she can never enjoy.
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