The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

April 12, 1861 -- The Brothers' War Begins

Today, we commemorate the sesquicentennial of the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor.  On that date, 12 April 1861, William Gray Brooks, a Boston merchant and diarist, writes "The evening papers gave us a telegraph announcing 'Fort Sumter has been provisioned and not a shot fired' no particulars & the report may well be doubted."  Yet by the following day reports of the attack were available -- if still questionable.  Below is a transcription of Brooks' diary entry from 13 April 1861, where he summarizes the events in Charleston as he has heard them reported and reflects on the start of the conflict that would become known as the American Civil War. 

Saturday. We are at last at War accounts came last night &
this morning by telegraph giving accounts of the attack on
Fort Sumter by the Confederate powers, and have been con-
tinued through the day causing the greatest excitement through
out the country as well as here. The newspaper offices have
been thronged - by these reports the rebels opened a fire on
Fort Sumter yesterday morning from four different points
and the tenor of the whole up to this evening that of complete
success by the confederate troops and the perilous situation
of Col. Anderson these telegrams are not confidently relied
upon as correct, as it is known the telegraph at Charlestown
is in the hands & under the control of the rebels - it is almost
impossible that all the vessels, five in number sent by our
government, should be as reported lying outside the harbour
& our troops at Fort Sumter receiving no assistance - none are
reported as killed on either side after a whole days fighting.
The greatest anxiety exists regarding the safety of Washington
& the capital as it is supposed in case the Confederation
is successful Virginia and the Border States will join it &
make a descent there. Troops are concentrating there and
as we are now fairly engaged in a civil war where is it to
end. Can it be that, all this war is going on in the south
and all their slavery will remain quietly – We are fallen
upon evil times – our glorious & so much exalted & boasted
Union sent in pieces and brothers engaged against brothers.
I never expected to live to see this day.

Transcription by Sabina Beauchard

permalink | Published: Tuesday, 12 April, 2011, 8:00 AM