A Currier & Ives lithograph depicting the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, April 1861.
On December 20, 1860, fearing the consequences of Abraham Lincoln’s election as president the previous month, South Carolina withdrew from the Union. But federal forces still held Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, and a tense standoff ensued as Confederate forces massed along the shore.
A month into the standoff, the Connecticut-born journalist John William De Forest ventured south to Charleston, where he wandered the streets, took note of the mood, and asked South Carolinians for their thoughts, recording his observations for the pages of The Atlantic. The month his piece was published, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter and the Civil War began.—Sage Stossel
On Saturday morning, January 19, 1861, the steamer Columbia, from New York, lay off the harbor of Charleston in full sight of Fort Sumter. It is a circumstance which perhaps would never have reached the knowledge of the magazine-reading world, nor have been of any importance to it, but for the attendant fact that I, the writer of this article, was on board the steamer. It takes two events to make a consequence, as well as two parties to make a bargain.
The sea was smooth; the air was warmish and slightly misty; the low coast showed bare sand and forests of pines …
And here, in the midst of all things … at the entrance of the harbor proper, and nearly equidistant from either shore, though nearest the southern, frowned Fort Sumter, a huge and lofty and solid mass of brickwork with stone embrasures, all rising from a foundation of ragged granite boulders washed by the tides. The port-holes were closed; a dozen or so of monstrous cannon peeped from the summit; two or three sentinels paced slowly along the parapet; the stars and stripes blew out from the lofty flag-staff … Its whole air is massive, commanding, and formidable.