In 1784, not long after his service to the fledgling United States was finished, Virginia Militia Colonel Richard C. Anderson moved to Kentucky – at the time still part of Virginia. He settled in an area about ten miles east of Louisville. He called his homestead Soldiers Retreat.
Anderson had served as an aide de camp to General Lafayette and also as an aide to General Nelson during the siege of Yorktown. Wounded at Trenton and more seriously wounded at Savannah, he retired to Soldiers Retreat and lived the life of an honored citizen in Kentucky.
The Second Generation Warrior
But even more auspicious was the career of his son. Robert Anderson was born at Soldiers Retreat in 1805. He graduated from West Point in 1831, but almost immediately resigned his commission in the regular army. He accepted the position of colonel of volunteers in the Illinois State Militia in 1832, with the goal of fighting in the Black Hawk War.
One of Anderson’s first acts as colonel was to swear in new volunteer officers. One of these, a young lawyer from Springfield named Abraham Lincoln, was sworn in as a captain.
After the Black Hawk War, Anderson returned to the regular army, eventually attaining the permanent rank of major. In this, he played a pivotal role in American history.
For it was Major Robert Anderson who commanded the garrison at a small outpost called Fort Moultrie at Charleston, South Carolina in 1861.
South Carolina had seceded from the Union in December 1860, and the secession sentiment in that state was as strong as anywhere in the south. As tensions mounted, Anderson decided to move his garrison to the more defensible Fort Sumter, located on an island in Charleston harbor.
On April 11, 1861, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard sent three messengers to Anderson demanding the surrender of the fort. Anderson refused. At 4:30 am on April 12, 1861, the Confederate batteries in Charleston began shelling the fort.
By Saturday, April 13, Major Anderson determined that he could not hold out without supplies. A Union supply ship sent days earlier sat just off-shore out of shell range. But Confederate shelling kept it from moving in.
So on April 14, 1861, Anderson surrendered. The garrison was allowed to evacuate the fort. In one of his last acts, the commander took the garrison flag, which he carried back to the north.
The Union Returns
Fort Sumter came under Union bombardment on April 7, 1863, but the Confederates were able to continually resupply the fort from Charleston until 1865. In February, General William Sherman‘s march through the Carolinas – following his famous March to the Sea in Georgia – effectively cut off supplies.* On February 17, the Confederates abandoned Fort Sumter.
On April 14, 1865, now Brigadier General Robert Anderson returned to Fort Sumter. He carried the same flag which he had removed in 1861. Four years to the day since he had left with the flag, he was able to again see those tattered colors flying over the rubble of what had once been a formidable fortress in Charleston Harbor.
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had hoped that the publicity of Anderson raising the same flag over Fort Sumter would be a positive note for the Union. However, the incident received little press coverage – it was overshadowed by the assassination of President Lincoln only a few hours later that day.
*My great-grandfather, ZC Worley, was part of Sherman’s army on the March to the Sea and the March through the Carolinas.