Fort Sumter — a man-made island some four miles from Charleston, South Carolina — was a symbol well beyond its strategic value in the tensions leading up to the Civil War. Since December 1860, South Carolina officials had been demanding the surrender of the fort as state property. To Northerners, surrendering the fort meant surrendering the very idea of the Union.
When Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861, he was informed that the small garrison at Fort Sumter was running out of supplies. By April, he ordered a relief expedition and informed the Governor of South Carolina that it would be “with provisions only,” not men, arms or ammunition. This put the next move into the hands of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Davis ordered that the fort be reduced before the supplies arrived.
The Confederacy opened fire at 4:30 AM on April 12, 1861. The Union garrison surrendered after 33 hours, and the American flag was lowered at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1861.