Robert Anderson (June 14, 1805 – October 26, 1871) was a United States Army officer during the American Civil War. To many, he was a hero who defied the Confederacy and upheld Union honor in the first battle of the American Civil War at Fort Sumter in April 1861. The Confederates bombarded the fort 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.
Anderson was born at "Soldier's Retreat," the Anderson family estate near Louisville, Kentucky. His father, Richard Clough Anderson, Sr. (1750–1826), served in the Continental Army as an aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolutionary War, and was a charter member of the Society of the Cincinnati; his mother, Sarah Marshall (1779–1854), was a cousin of John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the United States. He graduated from the United States Military Academy (West Point) in 1825, and received a commission as a second lieutenant in the 3rd Regiment of Artillery.
A few months after graduation, he became private secretary to his older brother Richard Clough Anderson, Jr., who was serving as the US Minister to Gran Colombia. 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 once out of army service. He also was in charge of transporting Black Hawk to Jefferson Barracks after his capture, assisted by Jefferson Davis.
Returning to regular Army service 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 participated in the Siege of Vera Cruz, March 9–29, 1847, the Battle of Cerro Gordo, April 17–18, 1847, the Skirmish of Amazoque, May 14, 1847, and Battle of Molino del Rey on September 8, 1847. He was severely wounded at Molino del Rey while assaulting enemy fortifications, for which he received a brevet promotion to major.
Due to his wounds, Anderson was on sick leave of absence during 1847–48. He was then in garrison at Fort Preble, Maine from 1848 to 1849. He then served from 1849 to 1851 as a member of Board of Officers to devise "A Complete System of Instruction for Siege, Garrison, Seacoast, and Mountain Artillery," which was adopted on May 10, 1851. He then returned to garrison duty at Fort Preble from 1850 to 1853.
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.
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. 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.
Status as national hero:
Robert Anderson's actions in defense of Fort Sumter 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 in 2011, was forged by Anderson's stand at Fort 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.
Inventory Number: CDV 012