As we approach the 150th Anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, it will once again be prominently mentioned that the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.
While no doubt the hostilities and all-out war that followed make Fort Sumter a seminal event, the start of the Civil War arguably happened in the State of Florida without the firing of shots. With Florida days away from joining South Carolina in seceding from the Union, a United States Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer determined Fort Pickens in Pensacola should be occupied by troops. This happened in January 1861, a full three months before shots were fired at Fort Sumter.
Two days later on January 10, 1861 Florida seceded from the union. Slemmer occupied Fort Pickens with almost 100 troops. During the following two weeks, the Florida Militia demanded the fort be handed over. Slemmer refused and waited for reinforcements. When the Confederacy was organized and did finally attack around the time of the Fort Sumter events (April 1861), the Union garrison held out and Fort Pickens was one of the few southern outposts that remained in United States hands throughout the war.
While shots were not fired at Fort Pickens until around the same time as Fort Sumter it can be argued the occupation and resulting standoff over Pickens was in fact the actually start of military hostilities between north and south.
“Bastion of Fort Pickens” by Notneb82 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bastion_of_Fort_Pickens.jpg#/media/File:Bastion_of_Fort_Pickens.jpg