Tag Archives: Gustavus V. Fox

The Fort Sumter Surrender

April 13, 1861 – The bombardment of Fort Sumter ended when Major Robert Anderson agreed to surrender his Federal garrison.

Confederate Flag over Fort Sumter | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate Flag over Fort Sumter | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Anderson’s men in Charleston Harbor ate their final rations of rice and pork before Confederates resumed the bombardment on the morning of the 13th. Hotshot ignited three fires before dawn, with one nearly reaching the powder magazine. Federals began suffering from smoke inhalation as the shelling intensified, and their shortage of cartridges minimized their return fire. Gustavus V. Fox’s relief fleet could not enter the harbor due to the intense artillery fire. Moreover, there was no established signal code for Anderson and Fox to communicate.

In Washington, rumors abounded that Confederates had fired on Fort Sumter. President Abraham Lincoln met with Virginia officials and explained that he considered himself obligated to “hold, occupy, and possess, the property, and places belonging to the Government.” He said he had no plans to invade the Confederacy for any other reason, but “I shall hold myself at liberty to re-possess, if I can,” property seized from the Federal government, including Fort Sumter.

Back at the fort, a shot knocked down Sumter’s flagstaff at 12:48 p.m. Colonel Louis T. Wigfall, former U.S. senator from Texas, saw the flag go down and took it upon himself to row out to the fort and discuss surrender without Confederate authorization. Major Anderson agreed to capitulate, and Federals raised the white flag. But soon afterward aides of Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard arrived to inform Anderson that Wigfall’s visit had been unofficial, but they finally accepted Anderson’s surrender anyway around 2:30 p.m. The fort itself was still defensible, but Anderson felt the Federals could no longer man the defenses without supplies or ammunition.

The garrison fell after 33 hours of bombardment. Confederates had fired 3,341 shells at Sumter, destroying the barracks and the main gate, and pockmarking the fort walls. The Federals suffered no fatalities and sustained just four injuries from bricks falling from walls. The Federals fired about 1,000 shells. Four Confederates sustained injuries at Fort Moultrie; the only recorded death among Confederates was a horse. Surrender ceremonies were planned for the next afternoon.

General Beauregard telegraphed Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker: “We take possession of Fort Sumter tomorrow morning. I allow him the privilege of saluting his flag. No one killed on our side.” Walker relayed the news to President Jefferson Davis, who responded: “Thanks for your achievement and for your courtesy to the garrison of Sumter. If occasion offers, tender my friendly remembrance to Major Anderson.” Davis and Anderson were old friends, and Anderson had been Beauregard’s artillery instructor at West Point.

When Charlestonians learned of the surrender, they cheered both their success and the bravery of Anderson and his men. A participant wrote, “Thank God the day has come—thank God the war is open, and we will conquer or perish.”

The news reached Virginia this evening, prompting Richmond residents to erupt in mass celebration “in honor of the victory,” even though the state had not yet seceded. A battery fired a 100-gun salute, and the U.S. flag above the state capitol was replaced by the Confederate banner. A witness wrote that everyone “seemed to be perfectly frantic with delight, I never in all my life witnessed such excitement. Everyone is in favor of secession.” Large crowds also celebrated in various cities in Tennessee and North Carolina, two other states that had not yet seceded.

When news reached the North, a New York newspaper reported, “The curtain has fallen upon the first act of the great tragedy of our age.”

The war’s first engagement resulted in Confederate victory, but it also gave Lincoln what he sought—the Confederacy had fired first. This would help his administration galvanize northerners to the cause of preserving the Union.

On Sunday the 14th, Major Anderson formally surrendered his Federal garrison to Confederate forces at Fort Sumter. He surrendered under the terms offered on the 11th. Many people witnessed the ceremony from boats in the harbor, including General Beauregard and Governor Francis W. Pickens.

Prominent Virginia secessionist Roger Pryor attended the surrender ceremony, which took place in Sumter’s hospital. Anderson was allowed to fire a 100-gun salute to the U.S. flag before lowering it the last time. After the 50th round, an accidental explosion occurred when Private Daniel Hough inserted a cartridge before swabbing out the sparks from the previous round. The blast killed Hough, and wind swept burning cloth to nearby cartridges, setting them off. These blasts mortally wounded one private and injured four. These were the only casualties in the battle for Sumter. Anderson, shaken by the tragedy, ended the salute at 50 guns.

Two hours later, the Federals marched out of Sumter with their colors as musicians played “Yankee Doodle.” Confederate soldiers along the beaches removed their hats in salute, and spectators observed in silence. The Federals boarded the transport steamer Isabel, where they would spend the night before returning north with the rest of Gustavus V. Fox’s relief fleet that had arrived too late to save them.

Celebrations and special church services took place in Charleston. Governor Pickens declared, “We have met them and we have conquered.” Reverend J.H. Elliott at St. Michael’s Church compared Sumter to a biblical battle in which the Israelites “fully achieved their object, and were now returned in safety to their tents without the loss of a single comrade.” He expressed thanks to God and concluded: “His Providence is fast uniting the whole South in a common brotherhood of sympathy and action, and our first essay in arms has been crowned with perfect success.”

Charlestonians entertained some of the Federals in the city this evening. Anderson said, “Our Southern brethren have done grievously wrong, they have rebelled and have attacked their father’s house and their loyal brothers. They must be punished and brought back, but this necessity breaks my heart.”

To the Confederates, the presence of a foreign military force on their soil constituted a challenge to their new national credibility and had to be confronted. To northerners, the national honor had been desecrated by rebels firing upon the Federal military. Lincoln had hoped that provoking the Confederacy into firing the first shot would stimulate northern patriotism, and he was right.

On April 15, the Federal garrison left Fort Sumter aboard the steamer Isabel, which ferried them to U.S.S. Baltic within Gustavus V. Fox’s Federal naval fleet. The war had begun.

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Sources

  • Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 30-32
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160-61, 163
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 34-35
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 50
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 21-22
  • Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 108-09
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 57-59
  • 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), p. 277-78
  • Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 279-80
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Fort Sumter: The Confrontation Looms

April 9, 1861 – Tension increased as three vessels left New York to relieve Fort Sumter, Confederate envoys in Washington expressed dismay with the Lincoln administration, and President Jefferson Davis felt increased pressure to address the Sumter issue.

L to R: Abraham Lincoln, Fort Sumter, Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

L to R: Abraham Lincoln, Fort Sumter, Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In New York, Gustavus V. Fox, special agent leading the naval expedition to deliver supplies to the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter, boarded the steamer Baltic along with 20 landing boats and 200 troops from Governor’s Island. The transport Illinois (carrying 500 muskets and 300 troops) and the steam-tug Freeborn accompanied Baltic.

In Washington, the three Confederate envoys (Martin J. Crawford, John Forsyth, and A.B. Roman) assigned to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Lincoln administration regarding Federal property in the Confederacy ran out of patience upon learning about the Fort Sumter relief mission. They wrote a final letter to the Lincoln administration and forwarded a copy to President Davis:

“Your refusal to entertain these overtures for a peaceful solution, the active naval and military preparations, and the formal notice… that the President intends to provision Fort Sumter by forcible means, if necessary… can only be received by the world as a declaration of war… The undersigned are not aware of any Constitutional power in the President of the United States to levy war, without the consent of Congress, upon a foreign People, much less upon any portion of the People of the United States…”

In the Confederacy, southerners pressed Davis to stop the Federal vessels from reaching Sumter. The Charleston Mercury declared that provisioning Sumter meant war. Secessionist J.G. Gilchrist advised Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker that “unless you sprinkle blood in the face of the people of Alabama, they will be back in the old Union in less than 10 days.” A Mobile newspaper opined:

“The spirit and even the patriotism of the people is oozing out under this do-nothing policy. If something is not done pretty soon… the whole country will become so disgusted with the sham of southern independence that the first chance the people get at a popular election they will turn the whole movement topsy-turvy.”

In Montgomery, Davis held a cabinet meeting to discuss President Lincoln’s message sent to South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens on April 8. Lincoln had declared in his inaugural address that there would be no conflict without the Confederacy being the aggressor. Now he hoped that Confederates would show that aggression by firing the first shot over Fort Sumter. Most southerners favored attacking Sumter, which played right into Lincoln’s hands.

Most of Davis’s cabinet officers not only favored attack, but some expressed fear that doing nothing or allowing South Carolina to act unilaterally would undermine the new government’s credibility. Ultimately every officer voted to attack but one. Secretary of State Robert Toombs, the lone dissenter, did not vote. But he did warn Davis:

“The firing on that fort will inaugurate a civil war greater than any the world has yet seen, and I do not feel competent to advise you… Mr. President, at this time it is suicide, murder, and will lose us every friend in the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet’s nest which extends from mountain to ocean. Legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary. It puts us in the wrong. It is fatal.”

Having received his advisors’ consultation, Davis concluded that Lincoln had caused this crisis because of his administration’s deceptive reversal on its initial pledge to evacuate Fort Sumter. Through Davis, Secretary of War Walker telegraphed Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard at Charleston:

“If you have no doubt as to the authorized character of the agent who communicated to you the intention of the Washington government to resupply Fort Sumter by force, you will at once demand its evacuation, and, if this is refused, proceed in such manner as you may determine to reduce it. Answer.”

Beauregard also received a wire from the Washington envoys informing him that negotiations with the Lincoln administration were done. They warned: “The Tribune of to-day declares the main object of the expedition to be the relief of Sumter, and that a force will be landed which will overcome all opposition.” U.S.S. Pawnee joined U.S.S. Baltic off Hampton Roads, Virginia and the fleet started for Charleston.

On the 10th, Beauregard responded to Walker, “The demand will be made to-morrow at 12 o’clock.” Walker wired, “Unless there are especial reasons (in) connection with your own condition, it is considered proper that you should make the demand at an early hour.” Beauregard replied, “The reasons are special for 12 o’clock.”

That same day, an editorial in the anti-administration New York Herald stated, “Our only hope now against civil war of an indefinite duration seems to lie in the overthrow of the demoralizing, disorganizing and destructive sectional Party, of which ‘honest Abe Lincoln’ is the pliant instrument.”

Meanwhile, Confederates continued their military buildup in Charleston by anchoring a floating battery near Sullivan’s Island and garrisoning the positions facing Fort Sumter. Former Texas Senator Louis T. Wigfall, participating in the Charleston buildup, reported: “No one now doubts that Lincoln intends war. The delay on his part is only to complete his preparations. All here is ready on our side. Our delay therefore is to his advantage, and our disadvantage …”

The Charleston Courier opined, “Let the strife begin–we have no fear of this issue.” Mass celebrations took place in Charleston on the night of the 10th, with former Congressman Roger Pryor of Virginia addressing the crowd from his hotel balcony:

“I thank you especially that you have at last annihilated this accursed Union, reeking with corruption and insolent with excess of tyranny. Not only is it gone, but gone forever. As such as tomorrow’s sun will rise upon us, just so sure will old Virginia be a member of the Southern Confederacy; and I will tell your governor what will put her in the Southern Confederacy in less than an hour by a Shrewsbury clock: Strike a blow! The very moment that blood is shed, old Virginia will make common cause with her sisters of the South.”

The Confederate envoys left Washington on the 11th, feeling deceived by the Lincoln administration. They felt particularly misled by Secretary of State William H. Seward, who had pledged several times that Fort Sumter would be evacuated. Unbeknownst to the envoys, that pledge had not been authorized by President Lincoln.

In Charleston, three Confederate representatives rowed out to Fort Sumter in a boat bearing a white flag. The men were Colonel James Chesnut, former U.S. senator; Captain Stephen D. Lee, who had resigned from the U.S. army; and Lieutenant Colonel A.R. Chisolm, representing Governor Pickens. They delivered a message to Major Robert Anderson, commanding the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter.

The message stated that Confederate authorities “can no longer delay assuming actual possession of a fortification commanding the entrance of one of their harbors, and necessary to its defense and security. I am ordered by the Government of the Confederate States to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter… All proper facilities will be afforded for the removal of yourself and command, together with company arms and property, and all private property, to any post in the United States which you may select. The flag which you have upheld so long and with so much fortitude, under the most trying circumstances, may be saluted by you on taking it down.”

Anderson shared the message with his officers, and all of them opposed abandoning the fort. After an hour, Anderson gave his reply: “I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication demanding the evacuation of this fort; and to say in reply thereto that it is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor and of my obligations to my Government prevents my compliance.”

Anderson asked if there would be a warning before the Confederates began firing on Sumter, and Chesnut said probably so. Anderson said, “Gentlemen, if you do not batter us to pieces, we shall be starved out in a few days.”

The Confederate officials delivered Anderson’s response to General Beauregard, including Anderson’s remark about being starved out. Beauregard informed Secretary of War Walker, who telegraphed: “Do not desire needlessly to bombard Fort Sumter. If Anderson will state the time at which, as indicated by him, he will evacuate, and agree that in the mean time he will not use his guns against us unless ours should be employed against Fort Sumter, you are authorized thus to avoid the effusion of blood. If this or its equivalent be refused, reduce the fort as your judgment decides to be most practicable.”

At 11 p.m., the Confederate officials rowed back out to Fort Sumter to try getting Anderson to give them a specific time at which he would evacuate.

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Sources

  • Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 222
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4883, 5027-39, 5051-87
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 137-40
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 34
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 47-48
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 20-21
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 55-57
  • 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), p. 271-73
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 58-59
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 36-38, 47
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261

Fort Sumter: The Relief Expedition Proceeds

April 4, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln notified special agent Gustavus V. Fox that the relief expedition to Fort Sumter would go ahead.

By April 2nd, the Confederate envoys in Washington had lost faith in Secretary of State William H. Seward’s pledge that President Lincoln would evacuate Fort Sumter. After conferring with Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, the envoys telegraphed Confederate officials in Montgomery, Alabama: “The war wing presses on the President; he vibrates to that side… Their form of notice to us may be that of a coward, who gives it when he strikes.”

Abraham Lincoln, Gustavus V. Fox, and William H. Seward | Image Credit: Bing public domain, CivilWarDailyGazette.com, quod.lib.umich.edu

Abraham Lincoln, Gustavus V. Fox, and William H. Seward | Image Credit: Bing public domain, CivilWarDailyGazette.com, quod.lib.umich.edu

Meanwhile, supplies dwindled in Sumter, as Major Robert Anderson and his men no longer had access to Charleston for provisions. And the Confederates in Charleston Harbor made it clear no relief would be allowed; on the 3rd a battery at Morris Island fired on the U.S. schooner Rhoda H. Shannon as it approached.

Lincoln modified Fox’s plan before directing him to proceed on the 4th: instead of fighting their way into Fort Sumter, Fox’s naval fleet would only deliver supplies to the Federal garrison. Warships would accompany the fleet, but if the Confederates did not fire on them, the Federals would show no aggression. In this way, the Confederates would be considered the aggressors if they fired on ships merely bringing “food for hungry men.”

Lincoln informed Major Anderson at Sumter that “the expedition will go forward…” and would most likely arrive on the 11th or 12th. Lincoln left it to Anderson’s discretion whether he and his men could hold out that long, and assured him that if the Confederates resisted, the relief fleet “will endeavor also to reinforce you.” Anderson was permitted to respond to any Confederate act of aggression as he saw fit.

On the 6th, Seward notified Lincoln of his pledge to the Confederate envoys in Washington that Fort Sumter “would not be reinforced without prior notice.” Lincoln responded by dispatching State Department clerk Robert S. Chew and Captain Theodore Talbot (recently returned from Sumter) to Charleston with a message for South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens:

“I am directed by the President of the United States to notify you to expect an attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumter with provisions only; and that, if such attempt be not resisted, no effort to throw in men, arms, or ammunition, will be made, without further notice, or in case of an attack upon the Fort.”

This message sought to assure the South Carolinians that the Federals had no aggressive intentions, but it wiped out any chance that the Federals at Sumter could be secretly supplied or reinforced.

Secretary of War Simon Cameron delivered Lincoln’s letter to Anderson on the 7th, informing the major that relief was on the way and “You will therefore hold out, if possible, till the arrival of the expedition.” Meanwhile, Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard prohibited Anderson from any further interaction between his Federals at Fort Sumter and the people of Charleston. The fort could now only be reached by sea.

Justice Campbell wrote to Seward, asking if a naval fleet had been dispatched to relieve Sumter, and if Seward’s past assurances had been disingenuous. Seward wrote back, “Faith as to Sumter fully kept. Wait and see.” Campbell believed this meant that Seward’s pledge to evacuate Sumter would be kept, but Seward meant that Sumter would not be relieved without prior notification. This delay in interpretation gave the Lincoln administration more time to build up military forces. Campbell forwarded Seward’s reply to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

On the morning of April 8, the Federal revenue cutter Harriet Lane left New York to join the relief fleet. That same day, Chew and Talbot arrived at Charleston and delivered Lincoln’s message to Governor Pickens. Pickens forwarded the message to General Beauregard, who telegraphed Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker in Montgomery: “An authorized messenger from President Lincoln just informed Governor Pickens and myself that provisions will be sent to Fort Sumter peaceably, or otherwise by force.”

Beauregard placed all forts in the harbor on alert, and Confederate forces in Charleston began mobilizing for defense. An erroneous report appeared in a city newspaper announcing that war had begun.

That same day, Major Anderson wrote to Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas protesting the relief mission in an attempt to prevent war. Anderson asked Thomas to destroy the letter once received because it could be seen as insubordinate to Lincoln. Confederates intercepted this letter and forwarded it to President Davis, a friend of Anderson’s, who saw that he was not part of the administration’s scheme to resupply the fort.

The Confederate envoys in Washington, after receiving assurances from Seward that Sumter would be evacuated, sent a dispatch to Beauregard through Martin J. Crawford: “Accounts uncertain, because of the constant vacillation of this Government. We were reassured yesterday that the status of Sumter would not be changed without previous notice to Governor Pickens, but we have no faith in them. The war policy prevails in the Cabinet at this time.”

Seward unofficially informed the envoys that the administration sought peace and would only fight if their possessions were attacked. At the same time, the relief expedition was on its way to Sumter.

—–

Sources

  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 36-38
  • Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 30-32
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4812-25, 4872, 4986, 5022-27
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 135-41, 146-69
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 32-33
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6143
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 47
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 19-20
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 53-55
  • 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), p. 270-71
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 56, 58-59
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 36-38
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161-Q261

Fort Sumter: The Lincoln Administration Vacillates

March 21, 1861 – Special Federal agent Gustavus V. Fox arrived at Charleston, South Carolina to assess the situation at Fort Sumter.

On March 20, the Confederate envoys seeking to negotiate a peaceful settlement of disputes over Federal property on Confederate soil (Martin J. Crawford, John Forsyth, and A.B. Roman) telegraphed Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard at Charleston. The envoys asked if the Federals were preparing to evacuate Fort Sumter, as Secretary of State William H. Seward had pledged on the 15th. Beauregard replied that the Federals were building defenses and showed no sign of evacuating.

Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, intermediary between the Lincoln administration and the Confederate envoys, brought this news to Seward. The secretary assured both him and fellow Justice Samuel Nelson that the administration’s policy would be peaceful coexistence with the Confederacy, and any delay in evacuating the fort was unintentional. Seward did not reply to two notes written by Campbell accusing him of overreaching his authority and vacillating. Meanwhile, officials released some correspondence between Seward and the Confederate envoys to the press, which caused indignation in the North.

Gustavus V. Fox | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Gustavus V. Fox | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fox reached Charleston the next day. South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens, skeptical of Fox’s mission but reluctant to spark a diplomatic issue by expelling him, permitted Fox to visit the Federal troops at Fort Sumter and notify Washington of their condition. Permission depended “expressly upon the pledge of ‘pacific purposes.’”

Confederates escorted Fox to the fort in the harbor. Unbeknownst to them, Fox used the visit to gather intelligence on how best Sumter could be resupplied. The escorts tried preventing Fox from meeting privately with Major Robert Anderson, commanding at Fort Sumter. Fox could only hint to Anderson that help may be on the way. After touring the fort, Fox informed Lincoln that Sumter could be reinforced by sea.

As Lincoln approved Fox’s reinforcement plan and authorized Fox to assemble a transport fleet in New York, Seward again assured Campbell that Fort Sumter would be evacuated. This helped ease Confederate fears that the Federals may try reinforcing the garrison.

Two more Federal agents, Colonel Ward Hill Lamon and General Stephen A. Hurlbut (both Illinois friends of President Lincoln), met with Governor Pickens and General Beauregard in Charleston on the 25th. Lamon conceded that reconciliation was impossible and said he was authorized to arrange for Sumter’s evacuation. He asked Pickens to allow a Federal warship into Charleston Harbor to evacuate the Federal garrison, but Pickens refused, asserting that permitting a foreign war vessel to enter the harbor could compromise his state’s sovereignty.

The men agreed that the Federals could be evacuated aboard a regular steamship, which Lamon said that Major Anderson preferred anyway. The meeting ended with Lamon expressing hope that he could return in a few days to direct the evacuation. Meanwhile, Fox continued assembling a naval fleet to reinforce Fort Sumter, despite Lamon’s pledge and Anderson’s strong urging to evacuate the fort.

In Washington, Republican Lyman Trumbull of Illinois introduced a resolution in the Senate declaring that “it is the duty of the President to use all means in his power to hold and protect the public property of the United States.” A Republican caucus met with Lincoln and warned him that surrendering Sumter would be disastrous for the new party.

Lincoln continued consulting with advisors about the mounting crisis. Hurlbut returned from Charleston on the 27th and reported: “Separate Nationality is a fixed fact… there is no attachment to the Union…positively nothing to appeal to.” Hurlbut opined that any effort to resupply Fort Sumter would be considered an act of war; even “a ship known to contain only provisions for Sumpter (sic) would be stopped and refused admittance.” Reinforcing Hurlbut’s opinion, Governor Pickens notified delegates to the South Carolina Convention that 600 men were needed to defend the Charleston Harbor forts.

On March 28, Lincoln received a message from General-in-Chief Winfield Scott advising him to abandon both Forts Sumter and Pickens (in Florida). Scott noted that he and his officers had already assumed Sumter would be evacuated, but the “evacuation of both the forts would instantly soothe and give confidence to the eight remaining slave-holding States, and render their cordial adherence to the Union perpetual.” Scott acknowledged that Lincoln would have the final say.

The idea of abandoning both forts shocked Lincoln, but he concealed his emotions until after holding an official state dinner. Then he summoned his cabinet officers into an emergency meeting, where they expressed “blank amazement” as Lincoln read Scott’s dispatch.

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair accused Scott of playing politics, especially since the Confederates could not possibly seize Fort Pickens by force. In a reversal of their vote two weeks ago, four of the six officers present (Secretary of War Simon Cameron was absent) now supported reinforcing Sumter, with only Seward and Interior Secretary Caleb B. Smith opposed. The cabinet unanimously supported reinforcing Pickens.

—–

Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4752, 4776-88, 4847-59
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133, 135
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 31
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6053-64
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 46
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 51
  • 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), p. 269
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 53, 56
  • White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Q161
  • Wikipedia: Timeline of Events Leading to the American Civil War

Lincoln Inherits the Fort Sumter Dispute

March 5, 1861 – Arriving at his office on his first full day as president, Abraham Lincoln found an ominous dispatch on his desk from Major Robert Anderson at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor | Image Credit: Learnnc.org

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor | Image Credit: Learnnc.org

On March 1, the Confederate government assumed authority over military matters at Charleston, including the harbor where Fort Sumter was located. President Jefferson Davis commissioned P.G.T. Beauregard as a brigadier general and placed him in command of the vicinity. Davis instructed Beauregard to assemble militia for a potential attack on Major Anderson’s Federal garrison at Sumter.

Meanwhile, Anderson informed his superiors at Washington that Sumter would soon need to be either reinforced or abandoned. Relations between Anderson’s men and the South Carolinians had been amiable, but state militia were assembling, training, drilling, and building defensive works in the harbor. The supplies that South Carolinians had allowed the Federals to receive from Charleston were quickly running out.

The day before Lincoln’s inauguration, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott informed Secretary of State-designate William H. Seward that a major effort to relieve Fort Sumter was impracticable. The next day, outgoing Secretary of War Joseph Holt announced he would relay the message from Anderson about the situation at Sumter to incoming President Lincoln.

Lincoln read the message on the 5th. Anderson stated that Sumter could not be held without at least 20,000 reinforcements, and even then his garrison could starve before the reinforcements arrived because he and his men would run out of supplies within weeks. Confederate defenders in Charleston prevented the Federals from leaving Fort Sumter, and several ships had been sunk in Charleston Harbor to prevent Federal vessels from delivering provisions.

Lincoln, who knew of this crisis from outgoing President James Buchanan, did not know its extent until the 5th. Lincoln did not even have his full complement of advisors and cabinet officers yet; William H. Seward had not yet agreed to withdraw his resignation from the 2nd, and Salmon P. Chase had not yet been notified that Lincoln nominated him as treasury secretary.

Scott advised the president that Sumter could not be reinforced before Anderson’s garrison starved. And even if they could, a battle over Fort Sumter would result in heavy casualties. Moreover, the regular army did not even have 20,000 effectives at this time, and the navy did not have the vessels to transport them. Scott met with army and navy leaders on the 6th and informed them that the navy would have to deal with Sumter because the army could do nothing to relieve the garrison.

Lincoln, who had no executive experience or knowledge of his presidential duties, spent several days contemplating what to do about Fort Sumter until his advisors could assume their roles. He held his first in-depth cabinet meeting about the situation on the 9th. He explained to his cabinet officers how dire the situation was, and the men debated whether to resupply or evacuate the fort.

Both Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and Secretary of War Simon Cameron adopted Scott’s advice to evacuate. Seward also advised evacuation, asserting that such a move could appease the border states and embolden unionists in the Confederacy. Only Postmaster General Montgomery Blair advised holding on. His father, influential statesman Francis P. Blair, Sr., stormed into Lincoln’s office and declared that surrendering Fort Sumter was “virtually a surrender of the union,” which was treasonous. The next day Blair apologized for saying “things that were impertinent.”

Although outnumbered, Lincoln was not yet ready to give up Sumter. He wrote to Scott asking how long the Federal garrison could stay in the fort without reinforcements, and whether the army could resupply the fort. But it seemed unlikely that a mission requiring at least 20,000 men could be accomplished by an army numbering only 16,000 total effectives.

Responding to Lincoln’s query on the 11th, Scott stated he did not know how long the Federals could survive in the fort, and the fort could not be reinforced by the army for several months because it would require warships, transports, and 25,000 troops (5,000 regulars and 20,000 volunteers).

Two days later, Lincoln met with former naval officer Gustavus V. Fox at Montgomery Blair’s behest. Fox had proposed a plan to former President Buchanan to resupply Fort Sumter, and Blair wanted Fox to share that plan with Lincoln and refute Scott’s claim that the fort could not be resupplied.

After Lincoln heard Fox out, the men called on Scott and explained the plan to him. Scott replied that such a plan would have been effective last month, but by this time the Confederates had built defenses strong enough to make it impracticable. Fox offered to go to Charleston to inspect the defenses himself, and when Scott and Cameron did not object, Lincoln agreed.

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Sources

  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 35-36
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4764-76
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 132-33
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5975-85, 6008
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 16-18
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 43-49
  • 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), p. 264
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161
  • Wikipedia: Timeline of Events Leading to the American Civil War