The Civil War #3
By Daniel J. Vance
Major Robert Anderson and Brigadier General G.T. Beauregard were close friends when Anderson was artillery instructor at West Point and Beauregard his assistant. Both men had been born into wealthy, politically connected Southern families (Anderson in Kentucky and Beauregard, Louisiana), both were West Point graduates (Anderson, 1825, and Beauregard, 1838), and both served in the Mexican-American War.
Their career paths parted ways in 1860-61 however, when Anderson chose to stay in the Union Army and Beauregard resigned as West Point superintendent to join the Confederacy.
At the election of Lincoln in November 1860, Anderson was commanding officer of United States military forces in Charleston, South Carolina. In anticipation of South Carolina secession, which would happen that December, Anderson began consolidating his South Carolina-based troops into nearby Fort Sumter.
Principled Anderson said he had needed only three documents to guide his life: the U.S. Constitution, the Ten Commandments, and the book of army regulations. On the other hand, Brig. Gen. Beauregard was full of braggadocio and nicknamed “Little Napoleon.” He also was the Confederate artillery commander Jefferson Davis chose in April 1861 to shell Fort Sumter and Anderson into submission and raise the Confederate flag.
On April 11, Anderson sent his friend Beauregard this note: “I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication demanding the evacuation of this fort, and to say, in reply thereto, that it is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligations to my Government, prevent my compliance. Thanking you for the fair, manly and courteous terms proposed, and for the high compliment paid me. I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant, Robert Anderson,
Major, First Artillery, Commanding.”
On April 12, a 34-hour Confederate artillery barrage began the Civil War. Anderson and his men bravely held out longer than expected.
Before surrendering on April 14, Anderson asked his friend a special favor. In response, Beauregard wrote, “Apprised that you desire the privilege of saluting your flag on retiring (surrendering), I cheerfully concede it, in consideration of the gallantry with which you have defended the place under your charge.”
The Confederates sent Anderson and his men north with the fort’s tattered American flag and Anderson took the flag to New York City, where a patriotic rally of 100,000 spontaneouslygathered to cheer on the Union. In the South, the Confederate victory moved four additional states to secede. Both men became heroes in their respective nations.
When the Civil War ended in 1865, then Major General Robert Anderson had the last word when he was chosen to hoist that same American flag over Fort Sumter once again. He died in 1871 and was buried at West Point, his body wrapped in the Fort Sumter flag. After the war, Anderson’s friend Beauregard headed up two railroads, supervised the Louisiana Lottery, was New Orleans commissioner of public works, and in 1887 personally laid the cornerstone for Richmond’s monument to Robert E. Lee, which became a magnet for protests in 2017.
[Daniel J. Vance was editor of Connect Business Magazine from 1996-2015. He wrote the newspaper column Disabilities from 2003-17. He lives in Vernon Center, Minnesota.]