America's bloodiest war was initially hilarious

Battle of Fort Sumter

Battle of Fort Sumter

The Battle of Fort Sumter kicked off one of the bloodiest wars in American history and, for the most part, was itself the opposite of bloody.  Actually, in hindsight there were some pretty funny moments.

When South Carolina seceded from the United States on December 20, 1860, all federal forces in the state were put on alert – they were now in unfriendly territory.  In Charleston, Union Major Robert Anderson saw the situation deteriorating and moved his small force of 85 soldiers from Fort Moultrie – on the mainland overlooking Charleston Harbor – to Fort Sumter in the middle of the harbor.  Fort Sumter was unfinished when Anderson’s men occupied it and by the time of Lincoln’s inauguration a few months later on March 4, 1861, the men were running low on supplies.

Anderson and Beauregard

Union Major Robert Anderson (L) and Confederate Brigadier General PGT Beauregard (R)

Across the water, Confederate Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant (PGT) Beauregard saw the Union men running low on supplies and demanded their surrender on April 11.  Anderson refused and the next morning at 4:30am, the Confederate forces took the first shots of the Civil War.  What followed was a 34-hour exchange of artillery fire, most of which came from the Confederate side.  Guess how many people died.  Zero.  Actually, according to Mark  Collins Jenkins, more animals died than people – one mule.

After 34 hours, Anderson decided he had had enough and agreed to surrender.  The first casualty of the war was nearly Roger A. Pryor, an emissary from Virginia who visited Fort Sumter shortly after the battle.  Pryor sat with Union officers and got up to pour himself a drink without asking, which would have been a pretty badass move.  However, instead of pouring what he thought was whiskey, he actually poured a glass of iodine and drank it all in one gulp.  Fortunately for him, Union doctors quickly pumped his stomach and saved his life.

Roger Atkinson Pryor

Roger Atkinson Pryor

The first casualty of the war came shortly after Pryor’s incident and occurred during the Union surrender ceremony, which generously included a 100-gun salute.  The salute was cut short, however, after the Union soldiers accidentally placed their stockpile of ammunition too close to their cannon.  High winds were blamed for carrying sparks from the cannon to the ammunition, which set off a large explosion that killed one Union soldier and mortally wounded another.  The ceremony ended and the next day, the Union troops withdrew from the fort.

It would’ve been nice if the rest of the war went the same way, but by the time the war ended four years later, between 700,000 and 900,000 soldiers and civilians were dead on both sides, making it the bloodiest war in American history by some estimates.  Bummer.

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