April 12, 1861 from the Diary of Mary Chestnut

Pyrrha by S. Merrill 2009

"I do not pretend to go to sleep. How can I? If Anderson does not accept terms at four, the orders are, he shall be fired upon. I count four, St. Michael's bells chime out and I begin to hope. At half-past four the heavy booming of a cannon. I sprang out of bed, and on my knees prostrate I prayed as I never prayed before.

Ghosts of the past #4 by Jamie Ribisi-Braley
There was a sound of stir all over the house, pattering of feet in the corridors. All seemed hurrying one way. I put on my double-gown and a shawl and went, too. It was to the housetop. The shells were bursting. In the dark I heard a man say, "Waste of ammunition." I knew my husband was rowing about in a boat somewhere in that dark bay, and that the shells were roofing it over, bursting toward the fort. If Anderson was obstinate, Colonel Chesnut was to order the fort on one side to open fire. Certainly fire had begun. The regular roar of the cannon, there it was. And who could tell what each volley accomplished of death and destruction?

The Bombardment of Fort Sumter, artist unknown courtesty of Learnnc.org
The women were wild there on the housetop. Prayers came from the women and imprecations from the men. And then a shell would light up the scene. To-night they say the forces are to attempt to land. We watched up there, and everybody wondered that Fort Sumter did not fire a shot.

The House-Tops in Charleston During the Bombardment of Sumter, Harper's Weekly from sonofthesouth,net
To-day Miles and Manning, colonels now, aides to Beauregard, dined with us. The latter hoped I would keep the peace. I gave him only good words, for he was to be under fire all day and night, down in the bay carrying orders, etc.

Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Harper's Weekly - from sonofthesouth.net
Last night, or this morning truly, up on the housetop I was so weak and weary I sat down on something that looked like a black stool. "Get up, you foolish woman. Your dress is on fire," cried a man. And he put me out. I was on a chimney and the sparks had caught my clothes. Susan Preston and Mr. Venable then came up. But my fire had been extinguished before it burst out into a regular blaze..." - from the diaries of confederate bride & author Mary Chestnut

Fort Sumter Storm Flag 1861 from WikiMediaCommons

Mary Chestnut viewed the Fort Sumter attack 150 years ago today.  Most historians believe these were the first shots fired in the Civil War. You can read Mary's story,  A Diary From Dixie online by clicking here. This excerpt starts around pg 35.

Mary Boykin Miller Chestnut from WikimediaCommons

For other eyewitness accounts, CivilWarHome.com has a great selection of  links  with a variety of perspectives on this historic attack.

I also recommend Adam Good's interview that played on NPR tonight. Adam wrote 1861 The Civil War Awakening . One of the more interesting programs I've listened to in a while -  you can catch it here.

All images (except the first two) are floating around the web in the public domain. I've linked to where I found them in the captions. Some of the links also have additional interesting info or images on this fateful day. The top digital collage is mine.

The 2nd image is an encaustics painting, Ghosts of the past #4, by the talented Jamie Ribisi-Braley.  Back in 2009 when I discovered Jamie's blog she was in the middle of a Civil War / soldiers series. These powerful pieces have stayed with me and are some of the first images that come to mind when anyone mentions this conflict. You can see more of this artist's work on her website jamieribisi.com as well as her online shop jamieribisi.etsy.com and blog jamieribisi.blogspot.com.


  1. Thank you so much, Stacey! That is so kind of you. And what a thoughtful and beautiful post!

  2. What an amazing excerpt. And I love your piece and Jamie's is fabulous!!

  3. Mary Chestnut told the story of war so well and your ppowerful digital collage set the stage for this heart pounding post! I loved the encaustic and thanks to you I found another wonderful blog to follow.

    Your digital collage is powerful, beautiful and thought provoking -wonderful- a feast for the eyes!

  4. Sweet pictures, the Pyrrha look so dreamy. Jaime's picture give you the feeling of anticipation. Sounds like Mary Chestnut has a ruff life.