Civil War Prisoners · Fort Sumter · Military families · This Week in the War

Women of the Company

As the men of Fort Sumter prepared to board the Baltic on April 14, 1861, one woman joined the evacuation from Charleston. Matilda Anne (Annie) Davis, the sister of Lieutenant Jefferson C. Davis, was a student at Madame Bounetheau’s Charleston Ladies Seminary where her classmates included the daughters of prominent Charleston families. In early March, her classmates sent bouquets of flowers to welcome General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard to the command of Confederate forces in Charleston. Annie defiantly sent a bouquet of flowers to the garrison at Fort Sumter.

Madame Bounetheau’s seminary was located near the Charleston battery where Annie’s classmates probably joined other Charleston citizens as they cheered the attack on Fort Sumter. Annie watched the attack with fear and dread, anxious not only about her brother’s life but also the lives of the other sixty-seven soldiers at the Fort. Annie and her classmates both rejoiced when the battle ended without the loss of any lives.

But Annie, more than her classmates, may have realized the changes this event would bring to their lives. The war meant that Annie would have to abandon her studies at the Seminary and leave her friends in Charleston. On April 14, 1861, an aide to General P. G. T. Beauregard accompanied Annie to Fort Sumter from where she and the remainder of the garrison sailed to New York City.

Annie was one of thirty Union women whose role in the opening days of the Civil War has been largely lost to history. The women and children of Castle Pinckney and of the Federal Garrison in Charleston, which were overtaken by the South Carolina Militia in the waning days of 1860, were among the first prisoners of the Civil War. Officer’s wives, who left Charleston early in January, provided information to Presidents Buchanan and Lincoln about the conditions at the Fort. A Charleston seamstress, originally from Boston, was overheard criticizing secession and was imprisoned for months as the South prepared for war. And, as has been true for military families throughout our history, the women and children of Fort Sumter suffered from lack of support and appreciation both during the war and for the 160 years since those fateful months at the cusp of war.