Tag Archives: John A. Campbell

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.



  • 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

Fort Sumter: The Seward Intervention

March 15, 1861 – Secretary of State William H. Seward took it upon himself to discuss the Fort Sumter situation and other pertinent matters with Confederate envoys despite President Abraham Lincoln’s instruction not to do so.

The three Confederate commissioners whom President Jefferson Davis had appointed to establish relations with the Lincoln administration (Martin J. Crawford, John Forsyth, and A.B. Roman) arrived in Washington in early March. The men had authorization to negotiate the Federal withdrawal from Forts Sumter and Pickens, and to discuss compensating for U.S. property claims in Confederate states.

The commissioners issued a written request to meet with Lincoln and Seward in person. While awaiting a reply, they communicated with various pro-southern politicians in Washington. On March 13, Lincoln ignored pressure from his cabinet by instructing Seward to not receive the envoys because negotiating with them would acknowledge the Confederacy as a sovereign nation, not simply a region in rebellion. Such an acknowledgement would mean that secession was valid, something Lincoln had rejected in his inaugural address.

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Credit: Wikispaces.com

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Credit: Wikispaces.com

Two days later, Seward wrote a letter to the Confederate envoys that he listed as “filed” but never sent. Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell (a pro-Confederate) asserted that in a meeting with fellow Supreme Court Justice Samuel Nelson, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Seward, Nelson told the men that the executive branch of the Federal government could not coerce the southern states into returning to the Union without committing major constitutional violations.

Seward explained his dilemma: Lincoln had banned him from meeting with the Confederate envoys, which outraged southerners; but if he defied Lincoln and met with the envoys, he would outrage northerners. Nelson suggested allowing Campbell to act as an intermediary.

Seward met with Campbell on the 15th and informed him that the administration could not meet with the envoys because the Federals would soon abandon Fort Sumter, and “The evacuation of Sumter is as much as the Administration can bear.” As Campbell began writing a letter to Davis, he asked Seward, “And what shall I say to him on the subject of Fort Sumter?” Seward said, “You may say to him that before that letter reaches him—How far is it to Montgomery?” Campbell said, “Three days.” Seward replied, “You may say to him that before that letter reaches him, the telegraph will have informed him that Sumter will have been evacuated.”

Campbell also contended that Seward assured him that “the condition of Pickens was satisfactory, and there would be no change made there.” This information delighted the Confederates, unaware that Seward had no authority to give such assurances.

When Campbell relayed this news to the envoys, Crawford requested a written pledge, and Seward responded by pledging that Sumter would be evacuated within days and no change would be made at Pickens. In exchange, Seward asked the Confederacy to refrain from embarrassing the new administration by making any further demands. The envoys agreed by not following up on their request to obtain a personal interview.

Meanwhile President Lincoln, unaware of Seward’s interaction with Campbell and the envoys, held a cabinet meeting on the 15th. He requested his officers’ written opinions on the question: “Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort-Sumpter (sic), under all the circumstances, is it wise to attempt it?”

The cabinet officers submitted their responses the next day. Seward naturally opposed resupplying Sumter due to his secret dealings with the Confederates. He said that such an action would “provoke combat, and probably initiate a civil war,” and “I would not provoke war in any way now.”

Secretary of War Simon Cameron opposed resupplying Sumter because military officials advised it was “perhaps, now impossible to succor that fort, substantially, if at all.” Navy Secretary Gideon Welles opposed resupply for military and political reasons. Attorney General Edward Bates and Interior Secretary Caleb Smith also opposed such an action.

Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase supported resupplying Sumter, but only if it would not provoke a war. Only Postmaster General Montgomery Blair supported unconditional resupply. He contended that southerners believed “that the Northern men are deficient in the courage necessary to maintain the Government.” Provisioning the fort could “vindicate the hardy courage of the North and the determination of the people and their President to maintain the authority of the Government.” He also said that “measures which will inspire respect for the power of the Government and the firmness of those who administer it” could prompt southern unionists to resist the Confederacy. Blair urged Lincoln to implement the plan submitted by naval officer Gustavus V. Fox.

With five cabinet officers opposed to resupplying Fort Sumter and just two in favor, Lincoln opted to make no decision yet, instead holding more meetings and drafting a memorandum listing the pros and cons of provisioning the fort.

On the 18th, Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote to South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens informing him that Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard’s command over Charleston had been expanded to Beaufort and vicinity. Davis shared Pickens’s concern for the safety of the South Carolina coast, particularly Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter. He told Pickens that although he doubted “the enemy would retire peaceably from your harbor,” Davis hoped the Federals would evacuate Sumter on their own.

The next day, special agent Gustavus V. Fox left Washington to study the situation at Fort Sumter and determine whether the garrison could be resupplied. Fox’s mission conflicted with Seward’s assurances to the Confederate envoys through Justice Campbell that Sumter would soon be evacuated.



  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4682-752, 4776
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133-35
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6019
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 45-46
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 17-18
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 340-43
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 49-50
  • 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. 268
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 55

The Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln

March 4, 1861 – Abraham Lincoln became the 16th U.S. president in Washington.

President James Buchanan arrived at Willard’s Hotel at noon on a breezy, partly cloudy day. Lincoln emerged from the hotel and accompanied Buchanan in an open barouche pulled by four white horses. The Marine Band played “Hail to the Chief” as the carriage moved past thousands of cheering spectators lining cobblestoned Pennsylvania Avenue. Flags and bunting decorated buildings along the way. Military bands and units marched by, along with a float pulled by white horses bearing 34 girls representing the 34 states.

The procession resembled a military exercise more than a parade, partly because General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, fearing an assassination attempt by one of the many southern sympathizers in Washington, employed sharpshooters on rooftops and in windows along the route. Scott also stationed cavalry on side streets and artillery on the Capitol grounds. He threatened to “manure the slopes of Arlington” with the blood of anyone trying to harm the incoming president.

Some 30,000 people gathered at the Capitol for the ceremony. The presidential carriage entered through a boarded passageway to avoid detection. The participants first entered the Senate chamber, where outgoing Vice President John C. Breckinridge administered the oath of office to his successor, Hannibal Hamlin. Buchanan and Lincoln witnessed the ceremony before the party then moved to a special outdoor platform on the east portico of the Capitol.

Edward D. Baker, a close friend of the Lincolns, introduced the president-elect. Lincoln stepped forward to deliver his inaugural address and looked for a place to set down his stovepipe hat. Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who had been Lincoln’s opponent in the presidential election and a longtime political rival from Illinois, stepped forward to hold it. Douglas said, “If I can’t be the president, at least I can hold his hat.”

Lincoln's inauguration | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln’s inauguration | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln’s half-hour speech featured a balance between offering conciliation to the Confederate states and gratifying his party. He provided no policy details. Regarding slavery he said, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” He voiced support for the recently passed Corwin amendment:

“I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service… holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

Lincoln did not acknowledge the new Confederate government, implying that the southern states had been taken over by people rebelling against the U.S. He asserted his right to enforce Federal laws in the states and declared, “No state, on its own mere action, can get out of the Union.” The new president pledged to “hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the government,” including Federal forts and garrisons in Confederate territory.

In addition, Lincoln pledged to use force “to collect the duties and imposts,” or tariffs, in the South. This angered southerners because they had regularly opposed tariffs, especially the recently enacted Morrill Tariff Act which had more than doubled the average rate. Southerners resented Lincoln’s promise to enforce the tax increases considering that they had left the Union and had not voted on them.

Lincoln said to southerners: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war… We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies… The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney administered the oath of office, officially replacing Buchanan with Lincoln. Cannon boomed and the Marine Band played in celebration of the new administration.

Lincoln’s inaugural address aimed to ease southern fears of a Republican administration. It had initially been less conciliatory, but moderate Republicans such as his new Secretary of State William H. Seward had persuaded him to modify the text. They feared that any expression of hostility toward the Confederacy might compel Virginia and Maryland to secede, leaving Washington isolated from the U.S.

Despite its attempt at moderation, the speech did little to induce southern states to return to the Union. Moreover, many spectators who were moved by Lincoln’s eloquence also expressed disappointment that the address contained few specifics on how he would handle the southern secession.

Following the inauguration, the festivities moved to the White House, where attendees included military officers, judges, congressmen, governors, civilians, and military veterans dating as far back as the War for Independence. It did not take long for Lincoln to become deluged by thousands of job seekers hoping to benefit from the first Republican administration in history. That evening, the Lincolns attended the traditional inaugural ball, finally returning to the White House at 1 a.m.

Newspapers reacted to Lincoln’s inaugural address the next day, and the reactions varied based on political and geographical affiliation. Most Confederate newspapers asserted that Lincoln had revealed his true intention to force them back into the Union. The Montgomery (Alabama) Weekly Advertiser declared: “War, and nothing less than war, will satisfy the Abolition chief.”

Fire-eater Robert Rhett, editor of the Charleston Mercury, stated, “It is our wisest policy to accept the Inaugural as a declaration of war.” Another Mercury editorial opined, “A more lamentable display of feeble inability to grasp the circumstances of this momentous emergency, could scarcely have been exhibited.” A correspondent considered the address from “the Ourang-Outang at the White House” to be “the tocsin of battle” and “the signal of our freedom.”

Editorials from states still considering secession proved even more troubling. The Arkansas True Democrat stated, “If declaring the Union perpetual means coercion, then LINCOLN’S INAUGURAL MEANS WAR!” The Baltimore Sun asserted that the address “assumes despotic authority, and intimates the design to exercise that authority to any extent of war and bloodshed. If it means what it says, it is the knell and requiem of the Union and the death of hope.”

In crucial Virginia, the Richmond Enquirer labeled the address “the cool, unimpassioned, deliberate language of the fanatic… The question ‘Where shall Virginia go?’ is answered by Mr. Lincoln. She must go to war.” And the Richmond Dispatch stated the address “inaugurates civil war.”

Reaction was mixed among pro-U.S. Democrats. North Carolinian John Gilmer had declined Lincoln’s offer to join his cabinet, but he said of the president’s address, “What more does any reasonable Southern man expect or desire?” Stephen A. Douglas also supported Lincoln: “I am with him.” But the pro-Douglas Albany Atlas and Argus called the address a “rambling, discursive, questioning, loose-jointed stump speech.”

Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, preparing to join the Confederacy, called it a “stump speech not an inaugural message,” and “incendiary.” The Columbus Daily Capital City envisioned that under Lincoln “blood will stain the soil and color the waters of the entire continent—brother will be arrayed in hostile front against brother.” The New York Herald dismissed the speech as making the country “no wiser than it was Before.”

The Democratic Providence Daily Post opined: “If the President selected his words with the view of making clear his views, he was, partially at least, unsuccessful. There is some plain talk in the address; but… it is immediately followed by obscurely stated qualifications.”

Most Republicans naturally commended Lincoln’s “firmness” and moderation,” and Republicans newspapers generally praised the address. The New York Tribune stated, “Every word of it has the ring of true metal.” The Indianapolis Daily Journal called it “strong, straightforward and manly.” And the Detroit Daily Tribune found it “able, firm, conciliatory, true to principle and of transparent honesty.”

While the press and public weighed in on his inaugural address, Lincoln made his cabinet appointments:

  • William H. Seward of New York as secretary of state
  • Salmon P. Chase of Ohio as treasury secretary
  • Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania as secretary of war
  • Montgomery Blair of Maryland as postmaster general
  • Gideon Welles of Connecticut as navy secretary
  • Edward Bates of Missouri as attorney general
  • Caleb B. Smith of Indiana as interior secretary

Lincoln made various political deals to form this body. He chose nobody from the South, partly because the Republican Party did not exist in that region and partly because those states had joined the Confederacy. But Lincoln did choose two men—Blair and Bates—from border slave states that had not yet seceded.

Seward, Cameron, Chase, and Bates had sought the presidential nomination that Lincoln won. Most cabinet members had more executive experience than Lincoln, and several privately believed that they could do a better job than Lincoln. Thus, Lincoln entered office under heavy scrutiny from the press, the public, and even his own cabinet.



  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 32-34
  • Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 56
  • Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2008), p. 6-7, 28-29, 31-32
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5918, 5928-39, 5951, 5963-75
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 40
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 327
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 45-47
  • 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. 260-61, 263
  • Nevins, Alan, “He Did Hold Lincoln’s Hat: Senator Douglas’ act is verified, at last, by first-hand testimony,” American Heritage Magazine, Vol 10, Issue 2 (February 1959)
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 50-51
  • Ward, Geoffrey C.; Burns, Ric; Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 34, 36
  • 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: Corwin Amendment