The War of Amateurs
Fort Sumter to Manassas
During the pre-dawn hours of April 12, 1861, Major Robert Anderson of the First United States Artillery Regiment walked with three members of General Pierre Beauregard's staff to the small wharf adjoining Fort Sumter. In an emotional farewell, Anderson shook hands with Colonel James Chestnut, Lieutenant Colonel James Chisholm and Captain Stephen Lee and whispered in a choked voice, "if we never meet in this world again, God grant that we may meet in the next." The three officers of the new army of the Confederate States of America were rowed through the darkness of Charleston harbor toward the dozens of bonfires that lighted a ring of rebel artillery batteries. The Southerners manning these guns were waiting for a signal to open a bombardment against a fortress that now flew a flag that was no longer the emblem of seven former states of the American Union.
Beauregard's aides ordered their small boat to steer toward the gun emplacements at Fort Johnson and when the men alighted they advised Captain George Jones to prepare a seacoast mortar to be fired as a signal to commence the general bombardment. Soldiers fell in for roll call, guns were trundled into position and all along Charleston's rooftops, wharves and beaches hundreds of residents tried to locate the best vantage point from which to watch the unfolding drama. At 4:30 A.M., seventy minutes after the Southern officers had delivered their final ultimatum to Anderson, the signal mortar was ready to fire. One of the witnesses to this preparation was Virginia Congressman Roger Pryor, who was ready to savor a moment that he had been urging for almost a decade. However, when Jones asked the congressman if he would accept the honor of firing the first shot in the war for Southern independence, Pryor shook his head and whispered that he couldn't start the conflict himself. Thus Lieutenant Henry Farley, the gun commander, stepped forward and fired the piece and a moment later there was a flash of light and a dull explosion as the glowing red shell arched high