Tag Archives: Robert Anderson

Kentucky Disorder Continues

October 6, 1861 – Military and political turmoil continued in Kentucky, both within and among the various opposing factions.

Confederates continued building their defensive line through this important border state with divided loyalties. This line centered on three points: Columbus on the Mississippi River, Bowling Green in the center, and Cumberland Gap in the east. For the Federals to invade the South west of the Alleghenies, they had to go through Kentucky.

President Abraham Lincoln, a native Kentuckian himself, was aware of the volatile situation in the state. As such, he promoted Robert Anderson, the hero of Fort Sumter and a fellow Kentuckian, to brigadier general and gave him command of the Federal Department of the Cumberland, which focused on operations in Kentucky.

Anderson worried that Federal military forces were inciting further unrest by arresting allegedly disloyal Kentuckians “on the slightest and most trivial grounds.” He received intelligence that Unionist Home Guards had “gone into adjoining counties and arrested and carried off parties who have been quietly remaining at home under the expectation that they would not be interfered with.”

In response, Anderson issued orders “not to make any arrests except where the parties are attempting to join the rebels or are engaged in giving aid or information to them,” and arrest only those who could be convicted in a court of law. Anderson believed that “many of those who at one time sympathized with rebellion are desirous of returning to their allegiance and wish to remain quietly at home attending to their business.” Leaving them alone “will join them to our cause,” while harassing them “may force them into the ranks of our enemies.”

The strain of trying to prevent his home state from tearing apart quickly affected Anderson’s health to the point that he requested to be removed. Lieutenant General Winfield Scott complied on October 6: “To give you rest necessary to restoration of health, call Brigadier-General (William T.) Sherman to command the Department of the Cumberland. Turn over to him your instructions, and report here in person as soon as you may without retarding your recovery.”

Federal Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Federal Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Under General Orders No. 6, Anderson announced that Sherman would replace him as department commander. Anderson expressed hope that Sherman “may be the means of delivering this department from the marauding bands, who, under the guise of relieving and benefiting Kentucky, are doing all the injury they can to those who will not join them in their accursed warfare.”

Sherman eagerly accepted the assignment and took up headquarters at Louisville. He initially worked to ensure that his commanders followed the Confiscation Act, writing to a colonel who allegedly sheltered fugitive slaves: “The laws of the United States and of Kentucky, all of which are binding on us, compel us to surrender a runaway negro on application of negro’s owner or agent. I believe you have not been instrumental in this, but my orders are that all negroes shall be delivered up on claim of the owner or agent. Better keep the negroes out of your camp altogether, unless you brought them along with the regiment.”

The stress that Anderson had endured while commander transferred to Sherman almost immediately as he worried that Confederate forces would attack with superior numbers at any moment. He confided in Senator Garret Davis: “I am forced into the command of this department against my will, and it would take 300,000 men to fill half the calls for troops.” Sherman wrote to another general within the department: “We are moving heaven and earth to get the arms, clothing, and money necessary in Kentucky, but McClellan and Fremont have made such heavy drafts that the supply is scant.”

Sherman warned President Lincoln that the Confederates would “make a more desperate effort to gain Kentucky than they have for Missouri,” and the “force now here or expected is entirely inadequate.” Even worse, Kentuckians, “instead of assisting, call from every quarter for protection against local secessionists.” Troops in Ohio and Indiana were “ready to come to Kentucky, but they have no arms, and we cannot supply them arms, clothing, or anything. Answer.”

Secretary of War Simon Cameron traveled to Kentucky to inspect Sherman’s department and reported to Lincoln: “Matters are in a much worse condition than I expected to find them. A large number of Troops & arms are needed here immediately.” He then telegraphed the War Department: “Arms and re-enforcements needed here immediately. How many muskets, pistols, and sabers can be had? Is (General James S.) Negley’s brigade ready to march, and where is it?” Cameron issued orders for Negley to lead 10,000 Federals from Pittsburgh to Louisville via the Ohio River.

During a troop inspection at Lexington, Sherman “gave a gloomy picture of affairs in Kentucky, stating that the young men were generally secessionists and had joined the Confederates, while the Union men, the aged and conservatives, would not enroll themselves to engage in conflict with their relations on the other side.”

Sherman, who had 20,000 men in his department, told Cameron that 200,000 were needed to hold Kentucky. In spite of this seemingly excessive request, Cameron began working to transfer all available troops to Sherman’s command so he could “assume the offensive and carry the war to the firesides of the enemy.”

In addition to summoning Negley’s troops, Cameron looked into pulling troops from western Virginia. He also directed General Ormsby M. Mitchel in eastern Kentucky to report to Sherman and “be governed by such further orders as he may give.” Mitchel was to go to Camp Dick Robinson near Lancaster, and “prepare the troops for an outward movement, the object being to take possession of Cumberland Ford and Cumberland Gap, and ultimately seize the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad and attack and drive the rebels from that region of country.”

By that time, General Felix Zollicollifer’s 5,400 Confederates had advanced 60 miles on the Wilderness Road from Cumberland Gap. This advance was stopped by 7,000 Federals led by General Albin Scheopf, who repelled an attack at an outpost called Camp Wildcat. After Zollicoffer withdraw back to Laurel Bridge, Schoepf requested permission to seize Cumberland Gap and the railroad connecting Manassas to Memphis. Sherman replied that he could spare no reinforcements for such an operation.

Meanwhile, the press began reporting what Cameron called Sherman’s “insane request” for 200,000 more troops. The story quickly became distorted to the point that Sherman was labeled insane himself, with various newspapers calling him a “visionary lunatic” and a “military imbecile.” Sherman resented Cameron for not clarifying his statement to the press, calling the secretary “simply unbearable.” Sherman’s relations with his department and the administration deteriorated as the strain of the job took its toll.

Politically, Kentucky continued being pulled in several directions. The Unionist Kentucky legislature approved various anti-secessionist measures, including imposing penalties for encouraging enlistment in the Confederate army, prohibiting display of the Confederate flag, and requiring teachers and court officials to swear allegiance to the U.S.

On the secessionist side, John C. Breckinridge, former U.S. vice president and current U.S. senator, issued a proclamation to his fellow Kentuckians in response to Unionist infringements on their rights:

“Fellow citizens, you have to deal now, not with this fragment of a Legislature, with its treason bills and its tax bills, with its woeful subservience to every demand of the Federal despotism, and its woeful neglect of every right of the Kentucky citizen; but you have to deal with a power which respects neither the Constitution nor laws, and which, if successful, will reduce you to the condition of prostrate and bleeding Maryland

“In obedience, as I supposed, to your wishes, I proceeded to Washington, and at the special session of Congress, in July, spoke and voted against the whole war policy of the President and Congress; demanding, in addition, for Kentucky, the right to refuse, not men only, but money also, to the war, for I would have blushed to meet you with the confession that I had purchased for you exemption from the perils of the battle-field, and the shame of waging war against your Southern brethren, by hiring others to do the work you shrunk from performing.

“During that memorable session a very small body of Senators and Representatives, even beneath the shadow of a military despotism, resisted the usurpations of the Executive, and, with what degree of dignity and firmness, they willingly submit to the judgment of the world. Their efforts were unavailing, yet they may prove valuable hereafter, as another added to former examples of many protest against the progress of tyranny…

“General Anderson, the military dictator of Kentucky, announces in one of his proclamations that he will arrest no one who does not act, write, or speak in opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s Government. It would have completed the idea if he had added, or think in opposition to it.

“Look at the condition of our State under the rule of our new protectors. They have suppressed the freedom of speech and of the press. They seize people by military force upon mere suspicion, and impose on them oaths unknown to the laws. Other citizens they imprison without warrant, and carry them out of the State, so that the writ of habeas corpus can not reach them…

“The Constitution of the United States, which these invaders unconstitutionally swear every citizen whom they unconstitutionally seize to support, has been wholly abolished. It is as much forgotten as if it lay away back in the twilight of history. The facts I have enumerated show that the very rights most carefully reserved by it to the States and to individuals have been most conspicuously violated…”

Taking Breckinridge’s words to heart, States’ Rights Party leaders from 32 Kentucky counties met at Russellville on October 29. Denouncing the Unionist legislature, they declared that the state constitution gave the people “at all times an inalienable and indefensible right to alter, reform, or abolish their (state) government, in such a manner as they may think proper.”

Delegates also condemned the Republican Party: “Absolute and arbitrary power over the lives, liberty, and property of freemen exists nowhere in a republic—not even in the largest majority.” The leaders approved a motion to assemble a Kentucky Sovereign Convention on November 18.

Kentucky would remain in military and political turmoil for the time being.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 142-43; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 7023-68; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 86; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 71, 75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 125, 130-31; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 196; 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), Q461

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Turmoil in Kentucky

September 24, 1861 – Federal Brigadier-General Robert Anderson, hero of Fort Sumter, tried calming tensions in Kentucky, but the state was quickly being torn apart by both sides.

Brig-Gen Robert Anderson | Image Credit: cenantua.wordpress.com

Brig-Gen Robert Anderson | Image Credit: cenantua.wordpress.com

Kentucky’s neutrality had been compromised by Federals for several months before Confederates officially broke it by occupying Hickman and Columbus. To make matters worse, the state government was divided between a Unionist legislature and a governor with Confederate sympathies. The legislators applauded a visit from General Anderson on September 7, the same day that the Kentucky Senate approved a resolution:

“Resolved… That the special committee of the Senate, raised for the purpose of considering the reported occupation of Hickman and other points in Kentucky by Confederate troops, take into consideration the occupation of Paducah and other places in Kentucky by the Federal authorities, and report thereon when the true state of the case shall have been ascertained. That the Speaker appoint three members of the Senate to visit southern Kentucky, who are directed to obtain all the facts they can in reference to the recent occupation of Kentucky soil by Confederate and Federal forces, and report in writing at as early a day as practicable.”

Confederate General Leonidas Polk | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Confederate General Leonidas Polk | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General Leonidas Polk, commanding the Confederates occupying the Columbus area complied with orders to explain his actions to Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin by informing the governor that he had entered the state based on “information upon which I could rely that the Federal forces intended and were preparing to seize Columbus.” Polk also pledged “to withdraw if the Federal troops would leave the State and promise not to occupy any part of it in the future.”

Of course, the Federals would not leave Kentucky, as they had worked for months to keep the state in the Union by running guns and recruiting volunteers there. An article in the Kentucky Yeoman described the situation: “Who did not know that the establishment of (military) camps in our State, by one of the belligerent powers, would necessarily lead to the seizure of strategic points by the other?… If Kentucky suffers one of the belligerents to occupy our soil, she cannot expect the other to keep off.”

Some Confederate officials urged Polk to follow the letter of the law and leave Kentucky. But President Jefferson Davis ordered him to stay put. This did not satisfy the legislature. State Senator J.M. Johnson, chairman of the committee appointed to investigate the invasions, wrote to Polk on September 9:

“The people of Kentucky, having with great unanimity determined upon a position of neutrality in the unhappy war now being waged, and which they had tried in vain to prevent, had hoped that one place at least in this great nation might remain uninvaded by passion, and through whose good office something might be done to end the war, or at least to mitigate its horrors, or, if this were not possible, that she might be left to choose her destiny without disturbance from any quarter. In obedience to the thrice-repeated will of the people, as expressed at the polls, and in their name, I ask you to withdraw your forces from the soil of Kentucky.”

Polk quickly responded:

“The first and only instance in which the neutrality of Kentucky has been disregarded is that in which the troops under my command, and by my direction, took possession of the place I now hold, and so much of the territory between it and the Tennessee line as was necessary for me to pass over in order to reach it. This act finds abundant justification in the history of the concessions granted to the Federal Government by Kentucky ever since the war began, notwithstanding the position of neutrality which she had assumed, and the firmness with which she proclaimed her intention to maintain it… We are here… not by choice, but of necessity, and as I have had the honor to say, in a communication addressed to his Excellency Governor Magoffin, a copy of which is herewith inclosed and submitted as a part of my reply, so I now repeat in answer to your request, that I am prepared to agree to withdraw the Confederate troops from Kentucky, provided she will agree that the troops of the Federal Government be withdrawn simultaneously, with a guarantee (which I will give reciprocally for the Confederate Government) that the Federal troops shall not be allowed to enter nor occupy any part of Kentucky for the future.”

Not only was Polk staying, but more Confederates would soon enter Kentucky. Brigadier-General Felix Zollicoffer, commanding 7,000 Confederates at Knoxville, received orders from Richmond: “The neutrality of Kentucky has been broken by the occupation of Paducah by the Federal forces. Take the arms.” Zollicoffer notified Governor Magoffin:

“The safety of Tennessee requiring, I occupy the mountain passes at Cumberland, and the three long mountains in Kentucky. For weeks, I have known that the Federal commander at Hoskins’ Cross Roads was threatening the invasion of East Tennessee, and ruthlessly urging our people to destroy our own road and bridges… Tennessee feels, and has ever felt, towards Kentucky as a twin-sister… If the Federal force will now withdraw from their menacing position, the force under my command shall immediately be withdrawn.”

A portion of Zollicoffer’s force advanced from eastern Tennessee and scattered 300 Unionist home guards from Camp Andrew Johnson at Barboursville, Kentucky. The Confederates burned anything that the Federals could use so they would not return.

Prominent Kentuckian Simon B. Buckner, who had declined offers from President Lincoln to become a Federal general, accepted a commission as a Confederate brigadier-general. He urged his fellow Kentuckians to “defend their homes against the invasion of the North.” General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding Confederate Department No. 2 (i.e., the Western Theater) directed him to take 5,000 troops by train from Nashville to Bowling Green.

Buckner’s Confederates took Bowling Green on the 18th, as Buckner proclaimed the region the Central Division of Kentucky. Bowling Green was the strongest point from which the Confederates could protect the vital transportation and manufacturing resources of Nashville, with the Green and Barren rivers hindering a Federal advance from the north.

Buckner issued a proclamation “To the People of Kentucky,” in which he urged his fellow Kentuckians to defy their state officials who “have been faithless to the will of the people.” Legislators had used the “guise of neutrality” to allow “the armed forces of the United States” to “prepare to subjugate alike the people of Kentucky and the Southern States.”

Buckner declared that his force, “made up entirely of Kentuckians,” would only use Bowling Green “as a defensive position.” Moreover, all Confederate forces in the state “will be used to aid the government of Kentucky in carrying out the strict neutrality desired by its people whenever they undertake to enforce it against the two belligerents alike.”

Thus, Johnston created a skeletal line across Kentucky hinged on Columbus in the west under Polk, Bowling Green in the center under Buckner, and Cumberland Gap in the east under Zollicoffer. This line was intended to defend against any Federal attempts to invade Tennessee and the Deep South. However, the Confederates were outnumbered two-to-one, with two Federal departments operating in Kentucky: a detachment of the Department of the West under Brigadier-General Ulysses S. Grant at Paducah, and General Anderson’s Department of the Cumberland based at Louisville.

Meanwhile, the Unionist legislature approved a resolution urging Federals to drive the Confederates out of Kentucky. The legislators overrode Governor Magoffin’s veto to make it law. It declared that since the state had been “invaded by the forces of the so-called Confederate States… the invaders must be expelled.”

By a three-to-one margin, the legislators voted for General Anderson to raise a volunteer militia force and Magoffin to mobilize existing militia units to expel the Confederate forces. Magoffin vetoed the measures, arguing that the legislature was illegally trying to usurp his authority as militia commander in chief. The legislature approved another resolution assuring Confederate sympathizers that their rights and views would be respected.

Anderson received orders on the 20th to move his headquarters from Cincinnati to Louisville and begin recruiting Federal forces in Kentucky. Anderson was to organize volunteers and oversee their armament and training despite Magoffin’s veto. Federal forces advanced and compelled Confederates to abandon Mayfield. He issued his proclamation on the 23rd, seeking to assure loyal Kentuckians their rights would be protected. However, the warning to arrest anyone helping the opposition led to a surge in arrests.

Federal authorities arrested several prominent Kentuckians for aiding “secessionists,” including James Clay (son of Henry Clay), Reuben Durrett, and former Governor Charles Morehead. Durrett and Morehead were imprisoned at Fort Lafayette, New York. Leading politicians were arrested in Harrison County, and employees of the Louisville Courier were also seized and the newspaper closed for alleged anti-Unionist sentiments.

While Kentucky was being pulled in both directions, a “peace convention” was organized in the hope of finding some middle ground. The delegates, mostly exiled States’ Rights Party members, demanded that Federals close their military camps and that Confederates withdraw from the state so Kentucky could remain neutral. They also denounced the Lincoln administration for provoking war and condemned Major General John C. Fremont’s emancipation proclamation in Missouri.

The battle for Kentucky was far from over.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6885-907, 6918-65; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 74-77; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 88; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 63-69; Harrison, Lowell H., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 123; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 117-21; 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. 296; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 53-54; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 200-02; 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), Q361

Federals Threaten Kentucky’s Neutrality

August 19, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln received a letter from Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin urging the removal of Federal troops from the state to in an effort to maintain neutrality in the conflict.

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Federal military presence in Kentucky continued to threaten that state’s tenuous neutrality. It also helped Unionists get elected to the Kentucky legislature, as Unionists won majorities in the August 5 elections of 76-24 in the House of Representatives and 27-11 in the Senate. This was a greater Unionist victory than the June 20 election. Prior to this contest, Lincoln had resisted banning trade with the Confederacy through Kentucky in fear of forcing that state to go Confederate. But this election emboldened Lincoln to issue a proclamation banning trade with all “rebellious” states.

Meanwhile, Unionists established Camp “Dick Robinson” near Lexington. The camp attracted recruits from Ohio, as well as mountaineers from eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. Although they declared that they were simply “Home Guards” organizing only for defense, secessionists and neutralists argued that the camp blatantly violated Kentucky’s neutrality.

Soon afterward Brigadier General Robert Anderson, the Federal commander at Fort Sumter who had been in command of Federals in Kentucky, was given command of the Department of the Cumberland. This encompassed not only Kentucky but also Tennessee, except for the part of Kentucky bordering Cincinnati belonging to the Department of the Ohio and a part of western Tennessee along the Mississippi River belonging to the Department of the West.

As a native Kentuckian, Anderson set up headquarters in Cincinnati to avoid embarrassing his “neutral” home state. The growing tensions between the Unionists and the neutralists and secessionists ultimately afflicted Anderson, already in frail health, with nervous exhaustion.

To stop any further Federal encroachment on Kentucky neutrality, two commissioners delivered a letter from Governor Magoffin to President Lincoln on the 19th. Magoffin wrote:

“From the commencement of the unhappy hostilities now pending in this country, the people of Kentucky have indicated an earnest desire and purpose, as far as lay in their power, while maintaining their original political status, to do nothing by which to involve themselves in the war. Up to this time they have succeeded in securing to themselves and to the State peace and tranquillity as the fruits of the policy they adopted. My single object now is to promote the continuance of these blessings to this State…

“Now, therefore, as Governor of the State of Kentucky, and in the name of the people I have the honor to represent, and with the single and earnest desire to avert from their peaceful homes the horrors of war, I urge the removal from the limits of Kentucky of the military force now organized and in camp within the State. If such action as is here urged be promptly taken, I firmly believe the peace of the people of Kentucky will be preserved, and the horrors of a bloody war will be averted from a people now peaceful and tranquil.”

Lincoln responded five days later:

“I may not possess full and precisely accurate knowledge upon this subject; but I believe it is true that there is a military force in camp within Kentucky, acting by authority of the United States, which force is not very large, and is not now being augmented… In all I have done in the premises, I have acted upon the urgent solicitation of many Kentuckians, and in accordance with what I believed, and still believe, to be the wish of a majority of all the Union-loving people of Kentucky…”

Lincoln asserted that “While I have conversed on this subject with many eminent men of Kentucky, including a large majority of her Members of Congress, I do not remember that any one of them, or any other person, except your Excellency and the bearers of your Excellency’s letter, has urged me to remove the military force from Kentucky, or to disband it.” Lincoln went on:

“Taking all the means within my reach to form a judgment, I do not believe it is the popular wish of Kentucky that this force shall be removed beyond her limits; and, with this impression, I must respectfully decline to so remove it. I most cordially sympathize with your Excellency in the wish to preserve the peace of my own native State, Kentucky. It is with regret I search for, and can not find, in your not very short letter, any declaration or intimation that you entertain any desire for the preservation of the Federal Union.”

That same day, George W. Johnson delivered a letter from Magoffin to President Jefferson Davis:

“Recently a military force has been enlisted and quartered by the United States authorities within this State… Although I have no reason to presume that the Government of the Confederate States contemplate or have ever proposed any violation of the neutral attitude thus assumed by Kentucky, there seems to be some uneasiness felt among the people of some portion of the State, occasioned by the collection of bodies of troops along their southern frontier. In order to quiet this apprehension, and to secure to the people their cherished object of peace, this communication is to present these facts and elicit an authoritative assurance that the Government of the Confederate States will continue to respect and observe the position indicated as assumed by Kentucky.”

Davis responded to Magoffin on the 28th:

“In reply to this request, I lose no time in assuring you that the Government of the Confederate States neither desires nor intends to disturb the neutrality of Kentucky… The Government of the Confederate States has not only respected most scrupulously the neutrality of Kentucky, but has continued to maintain the friendly relations of trade and intercourse which it has suspended with the United States generally.

“In view of the history of the past, it can scarcely be necessary to assure your Excellency that the Government of the Confederate States will continue to respect the neutrality of Kentucky so long as her people will maintain it themselves. But neutrality, to be entitled to respect, must be strictly maintained between both parties; or, if the door be opened on the one side for the aggressions of one of the belligerent parties upon the other, it ought not to be shut to the assailed when they seek to enter it for purposes of self-defense. I do not, however, for a moment believe that your gallant State will suffer its soil to be used for the purpose of giving an advantage to those who violate its neutrality and disregard its rights, over others who respect both.”

It would be only a matter of time before the two warring factions brought their conflict onto Kentucky soil. A prelude to that clash came on August 22, when U.S.S. Lexington, a Federal side-wheeled steamboat-turned-timberclad gunboat, captured the Confederate steamer W.B. Terry at Paducah. Confederates fled aboard the steamer Samuel Orr up the Tennessee River.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6790-873; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 64, 67-68, 70; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 397-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 54, 56, 58; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 105-06, 109, 111; 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. 294-95; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 70-71; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 199; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 196; 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), Q361

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.

—–

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

The Fort Sumter Bombardment

April 12, 1861 – Confederates opened fire on the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter, touching off the most horrific conflict in American history.

At 12:45 in the morning of April 12, four Confederate messengers (James Chesnut, Jr., Stephen D. Lee, A.R. Chisolm, and Roger Pryor) arrived at Fort Sumter to deliver Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard’s message to Major Robert Anderson. By this time, Gustavus V. Fox’s Federal relief fleet could be seen approaching the mouth of Charleston Harbor; only a gale prevented them from proceeding to Sumter immediately.

After a lengthy discussion with his officers, Anderson informed the officials around 3 a.m. that they would evacuate Fort Sumter “by noon of the 15th instant” if he did not receive “controlling instructions from my government, or additional supplies.” Anderson also pledged not to fire on the Confederates unless he was attacked first.

The messengers forwarded Anderson’s response to Beauregard at 3:15 a.m. The general deemed evacuation on the 15th unacceptable because Fox’s relief vessels would probably resupply Sumter before then. Chesnut called Anderson’s terms “manifestly futile” and handed him a message:

“By authority of Brigadier-General Beauregard, commanding the provisional forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.”

Anderson escorted the officials back to their boat at 3:20 and told them, “If we do not meet again in this world, I hope we may meet in the better one.”

The bells of St. Michael’s Church in Charleston tolled 4 a.m. as the messengers arrived at Fort Johnson. Chesnut ordered Captain George S. James to fire the signal mortar to begin the artillery bombardment at 4:30 a.m. James’s battery complied, with the first shell bursting high over the fort.

In accordance with earlier orders, the other batteries trained on Sumter joined in, and soon the harbor exploded in fire. The Palmetto Guard, stationed at Cummings Point on Morris Island, gave the honor of firing the first shot from Columbiad No. 1 to prominent 67 year-old secessionist Edmund Ruffin.

The Bombardment of Fort Sumter | Image Credit: learnnc.org

The Bombardment of Fort Sumter | Image Credit: learnnc.org

Some 4,000 Confederates and at least 70 cannon faced Anderson’s garrison of 85 soldiers, 43 civilian engineers, and 48 cannon. Of Anderson’s 48 guns, only 15 were mounted. Moreover, the fort was designed to withstand attacks by sea, so nearly all the guns and defensive works faced away from the attackers on land. And Federal morale was low from having been so long in hostile territory with dwindling supplies.

Anderson assembled his men on the fort’s parade ground and assigned them to their guns with instructions to take no unnecessary risks. The accurate Confederate artillery steadily continued throughout the day, preventing the Federals from taking positions on the fort’s top tier. The Confederate battery south of Sumter at Cummings Point inflicted much damage, keeping men busy extinguishing fires and staying under cover.

The Federals waited for daybreak to return fire, with Anderson offering the first shot to Captain Abner Doubleday, his second in command. Doubleday fired the cannon at 7 a.m. The Federals used just six of their guns due to a shortage of powder-bag cartridges. Concentrating on specific targets, Federal cannonballs did little damage besides destroying the roof of the Moultrie House northeast of Sumter. No shells reached Charleston. Meanwhile, Federal engineers hurriedly sewed more cartridge bags together using socks, linen, and pieces of burlap.

Crowds watched the bombardment from Charleston, where a witness said that “a perfect sheet of flame flashed out, a deafening roar, a rumbling deadening sound, and the war was on.” People watching from rooftops could see the Federal relief fleet’s three main vessels—Baltic, Harriet Lane, and Pawnee—arriving outside the harbor around 1 p.m. The men aboard the ships watched the bombardment helplessly.

At 6 p.m., Fox resolved to try provisioning Sumter as soon as his other two main ships—Powhatan and Pocahontas—arrived. But Fox was unaware that Powhatan had been reassigned to the Fort Pickens expedition, and Pocahontas would not arrive until the following afternoon.

Rain started falling that evening. The Federals stopped firing, but the Confederate bombardment continued sporadically throughout the night.

—–

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 5087, 5111, 5162
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 140-41, 152, 156
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 34
  • Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 283
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 48-49
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 21
  • 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. 56-57
  • Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 279-80

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.

—–

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