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Robert Anderson

Union Major who was forced to surrender Fort Sumter

Robert Anderson

Robert Anderson was born into a slave-holding family near Louisville, Kentucky, on June 14, 1805. He graduated 5th in his class (out of 37) from West Point in 1825, and was subsequently commissioned into the 2nd U. S. Artillery.

During the Black Hawk War of 1832, Anderson served as a Colonel of Illinois Volunteers, in which capacity he had the distinction of mustering a young Abraham Lincoln in and out of military service. He returned to regular duty, as a First Lieutenant, in 1933. During the Second Seminole War in 1837, Anderson served as an assistant Adjutant General on the staff of General Winfield Scott. During this term of service, he contracted fevers which recurred for the rest of his life. In 1839, he translated a French manual on artillery (Instruction for Field Artillery, Horse and Foot), clarifying the text and adding illustrations. This established Anderson as an authority on the subject. During the Mexican War, he was severely wounded at the Battle of Molino del Rey, in September 1847, after which he received a brevet promotion to Major.

In 1851, Anderson served on a commission which produced the U. S. Army's official textbook for siege artillery. From 1855 to 1859, in view of his precarious health, he was assigned to the light duty of inspecting the iron beams produced in a mill in Trenton, New Jersey for federal construction projects. On October 5, 1857, he received a permanent promotion to Major of the 1st U. S. Artillery in the Regular Army.In the fall and summer of 1860, he was a member of a commission which examined the curriculum of West Point and its system of discipline.

Anderson was considering retirement when, on November 15, 1860, he was ordered to relieve Brevet Colonel John L. Gardner at Fort Moultrie, at Charleston, South Carolina. Although he had little actual command experience, his superiors in Washington hoped that his Southern roots would appease South Carolina. They also expected that he would be cautious and tactful in his duties, thereby avoiding actions provocative to South Carolina. Although Anderson did indeed exercise his duties with caution and tact, South Carolinians were not appeased, and the state seceded on December 20, 1860.

The secession of South Carolina left Fort Moultrie vulnerable, so on December 26, under cover of night, Anderson moved his small garrison to Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor. On January 9, 1861, the Star of the West was fired upon by South Carolinia gunners while attempting to deliver supplies to Fort Sumter. Although Anderson's troops never returned fire, the date is now considered by many to be the official beginning of the Civil War. By April 5 Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard had deprived the fort of its daily supply of food from Charleston, and had made repeated demands that Anderson surrender. Beauregard began an artillery assault on the fort on April 12. Although the fort withstood the assault and all of his men escaped major injury, a severe shortage of food and ammunition forced Anderson to surrender the fort on April 15.

Despite having to surrender, Major Anderson was hailed as a hero for his actions. Less than a week later he was feted by 100,000 people in Manhattan's Union Square Park, who also saluted the 33-star flag he had rescued from the fort. He and the flag then went on tour across the North, recruiting military volunteers and raising funds for the war effort. He was promoted to Brigadier General on May 15, 1861, and took command of the Department of Kentucky on May 28, 1861. Continuing health issues forced Anderson to retire on October 27, 1863. Breveted Major General on February 3, 1865, Anderson had the pleasure of re-raising the infamous 33-star flag over Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865.

Major General Robert Anderson was in Nice, France, seeking a cure for his ailments when he died, on October 26, 1871. He is buried at the West Point National Cemetery.

Civil War Trust
The Latin Library

West Point
Abraham Lincoln
Winfield Scott
Mexican War
Charleston, South Carolina
Civil War
P. G. T. Beauregard

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: General History and Description >> Civil War Period, 1861-1865 >> Biography, A-Z

This page was last updated on February 22, 2018.