Solemn surrender: Army major turns Fort Sumter over to Confederate troops in dramatic portrayal

FORT SUMTER -- The ceremony was subdued and simple: The U.S. flag was lowered and the Stars and Bars rose to take its place.

Much the same as it happened 150 years ago.

On Thursday, Union and Confederate re-enactors relived the Fort Sumter surrender ceremony. On April 14, 1861, U.S. Army Maj. Robert Anderson and his men turned over the fort to Confederate troops one day after a 34-hour bombardment ended with the Union's surrender.

Sumter historian Richard W. Hatcher narrated the drama for crowds that assembled on the fort's parade grounds throughout the day.

"This is one of the most historic days in the history of Fort Sumter and the United States," Hatcher said at the first re-enactment.

As the Union troops stood at attention on one side of the parade ground, Confederate soldiers stood on the other side. The 33-star United States flag was lowered solemnly and carried out of the fort by the men in blue to the tune of "Yankee Doodle."

After that, the flag of the Palmetto Guard went up on one of Sumter's flagpoles. In 1861, the plan was for the Confederate flag to go up first, but Private John Styles Bird of the guard jumped the gun and put his unit's flag up on the parapet. So that's what the crews at Sumter did Thursday.

And then the Stars and Bars -- the seven-star First National Flag of the Confederacy -- was hoisted high above Fort Sumter.

Don McWaters of St. Simons Island, Ga., portrayed a Union soldier in the re-enactment. He said the ceremonies this week were a time for reflection.

"I thought about my nation first and then I thought about my two great-great grandfathers. It would be the death of them," McWaters said. "One died at Jonesboro, the other died at Chancellorsville."

That was a running theme among the men who re-created the ceremony Thursday. It was a time to remember the country's most divisive days, when a four-year war claimed 620,000 lives. It was lost on no one that the conflict began at Fort Sumter.

Jerry Morris of Barnwell, who portrayed a member of the 1st S.C. Artillery, called it an emotional event.

"When you think about those times, I think 'lest we forget' comes to mind," Morris said.

No one died during the Sumter bombardment, although U.S. Army Pvt. Daniel Hough was killed in an accident during the gun salute as the U.S. flag was lowered. Hatcher told the audience the story, but re-enactors did not portray the first casualty of the Civil War.

Union re-enactors occupied the fort on Saturday, staying the better part of the week. The hand-over ceremony left the fort occupied by Confederate re-enactors, who will be there through the weekend. Both sides have done their best to channel 1861 in their time at Sumter.

McWaters said that he and other Union re-enactors tried to do just what Anderson's men did.

"I stood guard duty and we ate what they ate," he said. "One day it was bacon and rice, the next day it was rice and bacon."

Louis Varnell of Chattanooga said it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

"We got an opportunity that just a few people got," Varnell said. "We fired the first volley at the beginning of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War."

The troops lived on the same clock as Anderson's men, which was 1:20 behind Charleston time. On Tuesday, at the exact moment Anderson got the word that Confederates would fire on the fort, Varnell and his men raised the U.S. flag, just as Anderson's men had a century and a half earlier.

The Confederates held Fort Sumter from April 14, 1861 until 1865 when Charleston was abandoned. Although Fort Sumter was hit by more than 40,000 rounds in that time, the North was never able to flush out the Southern troops.

These days, the fort stands as perhaps the ultimate monument to the war, and the men who portrayed their ancestors here said it was an important way to remember history.

"I just feel glad to be one of the few re-enactors here on the anniversary," said Randy Burbage, who portrayed Confederate Maj. David R. Jones, a recruiting officer. "It's a powerful setting when you know what happened here."

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