Now Let the Sword Do the Work

Early this month, Confederate President Jefferson Davis signed a congressional resolution declaring that a state of war existed between the United and Confederate States. The bill acknowledged the failure of “earnest efforts to establish friendly relations” with the U.S. government. This assumed that Confederate independence was final, and that the Confederate government would use all its power to keep from being forced to return to the Union. The president was authorized “to meet the war thus commenced,” which included:

  • Issuing letters of marque to private armed vessels to engage in privateering against Federal shipping in accordance with Davis’s proclamation of April 17 (by this time, over 3,000 applications had been submitted, mostly from Charleston and New Orleans);
  • Deploying land and naval forces to meet the threat of Federal invasion;
  • Accepting volunteer services in addition to the volunteer forces already raised as needed.

Davis signed a bill into law authorizing him to enlist 400,000 volunteers for three years’ military service or the war’s duration, at the president’s discretion. Hoping for a short victory, Davis initially accepted only one-year enlistments. The call for service was enthusiastically received. On the 14th, Congress approved a measure requesting the president to declare a national day of fasting and prayer.

The Provisional Congress issued a vote of thanks to “General (Pierre) Gustave T. Beauregard and the army under his command for their conduct in the affair of Fort Sumter.” This was the first congressional thanks to be published in its Journal. Legislation was also approved enabling the Confederate government to promote major generals to full generals.

An informal agreement was reached in the southern press to limit reporting of military movements, but this agreement was soon violated (there was a same type of agreement in the North that was violated just as quickly). The Provisional Congress approved a measure assigning government agents to monitor and censor telegraphic messages in telegraph offices. Those sending uncensored messages could be fined or imprisoned.

Congress enacted provisions to organize the Confederate government and to hold a general election of national officials in November. Until then, President Davis and members of Congress were serving on a provisional basis without being subject to a popular vote.

Legislation was approved prohibiting Confederate citizens from trading with the U.S. This was part of a larger effort to deprive not only the U.S. but the entire world of southern cotton in the hopes that they would face economic ruin unless Confederate independence was acknowledged.

Financial measures were considered and approved this month. A loan of $30 million in bonds was authorized “to be sold for specie, military stores, or for the proceeds of sales of raw produce or manufactured articles, to be paid in the form of specie or with foreign bills of exchange.” The bonds would be payable after 20 years at eight percent interest. They could not be exchanged for Treasury notes or notes from any bank, corporation, or individual.

In addition, $20 million in Treasury notes was authorized to be issued. The notes would be payable after two years in specie, and were good for all debts or taxes except the export tax on cotton. They could also be converted into bonds after 10 years at eight percent interest. Treasury Secretary Christopher Memminger hoped that patriotic citizens would fund the government by buying bonds, and a strong early response made him optimistic.

Texas militia seized Fort Washita in the Indian Territory, and pro-Confederates seized Federal ordnance at Kansas City, Missouri. President Davis signed a bill into law admitting North Carolina into the Confederacy dependent upon North Carolinians approving the ordinance of secession and ratifying the Confederate Constitution. Virginia Governor John Letcher issued a call for volunteers to defend his state. Leaders of the Alabama chapter of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese announced they had withdrawn from the U.S. Protestant Episcopal Church. Delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention met at Savannah, Georgia and pledged their faith in the Confederacy.

Maryland remained divided, as pro- and anti-secession meetings took place in the state. President Jefferson Davis responded to a suggestion by a committee representing the Maryland legislature. The committee members had asked both Davis and President Abraham Lincoln to suspend hostilities until the U.S. Congress convened on July 4. Davis expressed gratitude for the members’ support of “the right of Self-Government,” and added:

“In deference to the State of Maryland, it again asserts in the most emphatic terms that its sincere and earnest desire is for peace; but that, while the Government would readily entertain any proposition from the Government of the United States tending to the peaceful solution of the present difficulties, the recent attempts of this Government to enter into negotiations with that of the United States were attended with results which forbid any renewal of proposals from it to that Government… Its policy can not but be peace—peace with all nations and people.”

Workers cast one of the first guns for the Confederate navy at Gretna, Louisiana, and Confederates converted merchant vessel Star of the West into a receiving ship at New Orleans. Justice John A. Campbell resigned from the U.S. Supreme Court to join the Confederacy, and southern ladies began forming organizations to make and donate items for hospital use.

William Russell interviewed President and Mrs. Davis, Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker, and General P.G.T. Beauregard for the London Times. Russell offered his opinion of the political situation after the interviews: “(Northern leaders think) that they can coerce the South and I am not prepared to say they are right or wrong; but I am convinced that the (Confederates) can only be forced back by such a conquest as that which laid Poland prostrate at the feet of Russia.”

However, others did not see the Confederacy maintaining her independence without a fight. Major General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Virginia militia, predicted: “I foresee that the country will have to pass through a terrible ordeal, a necessary expiation perhaps for our national sins.”

An editorial in the Richmond Examiner seemed to indicate that the Confederacy could gain independence, but only at the cost of the principles for which it broke from the Union in the first place:

“No power in executive hands can be too great, no discretion too absolute, at such moments as these. We need a dictator. Let lawyers talk when the world has time to hear them. Now let the sword do its work. Usurpations of power by the chief, for the preservation of the people from robbers and murderers, will be reckoned as genius and patriotism by all sensible men in the world now and by every historian that will judge the deed hereafter.”


  • Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), The Coming Fury: Centennial History of the Civil War Book 1. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1961.
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Kindle Edition 2008, 1889.
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press (Kindle Edition), 1988.
  • Smith, Dean E. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

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