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Robert Anderson
Lithograph of Major Robert Anderson
Born (1805-06-14)June 14, 1805
Died October 26, 1871(1871-10-26) (aged 66)
Place of birth Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Place of death Nice, France
Place of burial West Point Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch U.S. Army
Union Army
Years of service 1825 – 1863
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Brevet Major General
Commands held Fort Sumter
Department of the Cumberland

Robert Anderson.(June 14, 1805 – October 26, 1871) was an American Civil War hero who defied the Confederacy and upheld Union honor in the first battle of the war at Fort Sumter in April 1861. The Confederates bombarded it and forced its surrender to start the war. After Sumter fell, Anderson was promoted to brigadier general and given command of Union forces in Kentucky, but was removed late in 1861 and reassigned to Rhode Island, before retiring from military service in 1863.

Early life[]

Robert Anderson was born in "Soldier's Retreat," near Louisville, Kentucky. He graduated from the United States Military Academy (West Point) in 1825 and received a commission as a second lieutenant in the 2nd Regiment of Artillery. He served in the Black Hawk War of 1832 as a colonel of Illinois volunteers, where he had the distinction of twice mustering Abraham Lincoln in and out of army service. Returning to the Army as a first lieutenant in 1833, he served in the Second Seminole War as an assistant adjutant general on the staff of Winfield Scott, and was promoted to captain in October 1841. In the Mexican-American War, he was severely wounded at Molino del Rey, for which he received a brevet promotion to major. He eventually received a permanent promotion to major of the 1st Regiment of Artillery in the Regular Army on October 5, 1857. He was the author of Instruction for Field Artillery, Horse and Foot in 1839.[1]

Civil War[]

Fort Sumter[]

Major Robert Anderson is honored with his likeness inscribed in a monument atop Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor.

When South Carolina seceded In December 1860, Major Anderson, a pro-slavery, former slave-owner from Kentucky, remained loyal to the Union. He was the commanding officer of United States Army forces in Charleston, South Carolina, the last remaining important Union post in the Confederacy. Acting without orders, he moved his small garrison from Fort Moultrie, which was indefensible, to the more modern, more defensible, Fort Sumter in the middle of Charleston Harbor. South Carolina leaders cried betrayal, while the North celebrated with enormous excitement at this show of defiance against secessionism. In February 1861 the Confederate States of America was formed and took charge. Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President, ordered the fort be captured. The artillery attack was commanded by Brig. Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard, who had been Anderson's student at West Point. The attack began April 12, 1861, and continued until Anderson, badly outnumbered and outgunned, surrendered the fort on April 14. The battle began the American Civil War. No one was killed in the battle on either side, but one Union soldier was killed and one mortally wounded during a 50-gun salute.

National hero[]

Robert Anderson's actions in defense of American nationalism made him an immediate national hero. He was promoted to brigadier general, effective May 15. Anderson took the fort's 33-star flag with him to New York City, where he participated in a Union Square patriotic rally that was the largest public gathering in North America up to that time.

Symbolism of the American flag[]

The modern meaning of the American flag, according to Adam Goodheart (2011), was forged by Anderson's stand at Ft Sumter. During the war the flag was used throughout the North to symbolize American nationalism and rejection of secessionism. Goodheart explains the flag was transformed into a sacred symbol of patriotism:

"Before that day, the flag had served mostly as a military ensign or a convenient marking of American territory...and displayed on special occasions like the Fourth of July. But in the weeks after Major Anderson's surprising stand, it became something different. Suddenly the Stars and Stripes flew...from houses, from storefronts, from churches; above the village greens and college quads....[T]hat old flag meant something new. The abstraction of the Union cause was transfigured into a physical thing: strips of cloth that millions of people would fight for, and many thousands die for."[2]

Robert Anderson's telegram announcing the surrender of Fort Sumter.

Civil War roles[]

Anderson then went on a highly successful recruiting tour of the North. His next assignment placed him in another sensitive political position, commander of the Department of Kentucky (subsequently renamed the Department of the Cumberland), in a border state that had officially declared neutrality between the warring parties. He served in that position from May 28, 1861. Historians commonly attribute failing health as the reason for his relinquishment of command to Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman, on October 7, 1861. But a letter from Joshua Fry Speed, Lincoln's close friend, suggests Lincoln's preference for Anderson's removal. Speed met with Anderson and found him reluctant to implement Lincoln's wishes to distribute rifles to Unionists in Kentucky. Anderson, Speed wrote to Lincoln on October 8, "seemed grieved that [he] had to surrender his command . . . [but] agreed that it was necessary and gracefully yielded."

In 1862 Anderson was elected an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati. Anderson's nephew, Ambassador Larz Anderson, was highly active in the Society.

General Anderson's last assignment of his military career was as commanding officer of Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island, in August 1863. By coincidence, Fort Adams had been General Beauregard's first assignment after his graduation from West Point. Anderson officially retired from the Army on October 27, 1863, and saw no further active service.

Later life[]

Maj. Robert Anderson, photo by Mathew Brady

After Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox and the effective conclusion of the war, Anderson returned to Charleston in the uniform of a brevet major general (ranking as of February 3, 1865) and, four years after lowering the 33-star flag in surrender, raised it in triumph over the recaptured but badly battered Fort Sumter during ceremonies there on April 14, 1865, mere hours before Lincoln's assassination.[3]

In 1869, he discussed the future of the U.S. Army with the "father of the United States Military Academy," Major General Sylvanus Thayer. An outcome of that visit was establishment of the Military Academy's Association of Graduates (AoG).[4]

Gravesite at the West Point Cemetery

Anderson died in Nice, France, and is interred at West Point Cemetery.


Major Robert Anderson with family

Anderson's mother Sarah Marshall was first cousin to Chief Justice John Marshall.[5] Anderson's brother, Charles Anderson, served as Governor of Ohio from 1865 to 1866. Another brother, William Marshall Anderson, was a Western explorer and Ohio attorney. A zealous Catholic and Confederate sympathizer, he briefly moved to Mexico during the reign of Emperor Maximilian in hopes of establishing a Confederate colony there.[6][7] W. Marshall Anderson's son, Thomas M. Anderson, was a brigadier general who fought in the Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War.

See also[]


  1. Eicher, p. 105.
  2. Adam Goodheart (2011). 1861: The Civil War Awakening. Vintage Books. p. 22. 
  3. Anderson poster, Fort Sumter National Monument, Charleston, South Carolina
  4. Kershner, James William, Sylvanus Thayer – A Biography, Arno Press, New York, 1982, p. 329.
  6. Anderson, William Marshall (edited by Ramon Eduardo Ruiz), An American in Maximilian's Mexico, 1865-1866; the diaries of William Marshall Anderson, Huntington Library, San Marino, 1959, 132p.
  7. This and other Anderson family papers are kept at the Huntington Library in California:Anderson Family Papers 1810-1848.


External links[]

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