Tag Archives: Ward Hill Lamon

The Pomeroy Circular and Other Political Intrigues

February 6, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln learned that a pamphlet was being circulated urging Republicans to replace him with another candidate in the upcoming presidential election.

Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As the presidential campaign opened, the Republican Party was split between conservatives who backed Lincoln for a second term, and Radicals who wanted a candidate that would impose harsher war measures on the South. This split was clear in Congress, as Republicans spoke out both for and against Lincoln. Many Radicals, led by House Speaker Schuyler Colfax, favored Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to replace him.

Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s personal friend and part-time bodyguard, informed the president that “a most scurrilous and abominable pamphlet about you, your administration, and the succession,” endorsed by an Ohio congressman, was given to a prominent New York banker. Titled “The Next Presidential Election,” the paper urged Republicans to oppose “the formal nomination of Mr. Lincoln in State Legislatures and other public bodies.”

The pamphlet’s author asserted, “The people have lost all confidence in his ability to suppress the rebellion and restore the Union.” The Federals had failed to win the war due to the “vascillation (sic) and indecision of the President,” “the feebleness of his will,” and his “want of intellectual grasp.”

The writer declared, “Mr. Lincoln cannot be re-elected to the Presidency.” Because of this, a new candidate was needed, someone who was “an advanced thinker; a statesman profoundly versed in political and economic science, one who fully comprehends the spirit of the age.” The pamphlet was endorsed by Senator John W. Sherman and Congressman James Ashley, both from Chase’s home state of Ohio. The implication was clear: those who supported this document supported replacing Lincoln with Chase as the Republican presidential candidate.

Sen. Samuel Pomeroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Less than two weeks later, a committee of Radical Republicans led by Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas distributed a “strictly private” pamphlet of their own to the top Republicans throughout the northern states. In this document, the authors alleged that “party machinery and official influence are being used to secure the perpetuation of the present Administration,” and “those who believe in the interests of the country and of freedom demand a change in favor of vigor and purity.”

This pamphlet, which became known as the “Pomeroy Circular” (actually written by James M. Winchell), contained three arguments against Lincoln:

  • “Even were the re-election of Mr. Lincoln desirable, it is practically impossible against the union of influences which will oppose him.”
  • Should “he be reelected, his manifest tendency toward compromises and temporary expedients of policy will become stronger during a second term than it has been in the first.” The “war may continue to languish,” and “the cause of human liberty, and the dignity of the nation, suffer proportionately.”
  • The “‘one-term principle’ (is) absolutely essential to the certain safety of our republican institutions.” No president had been reelected since Andrew Jackson, 32 years before.

Then, directly naming Chase as the desired alternative, the authors inserted two arguments why the readers would “validate the honor of the republic” by backing him:

  • He had “more of the qualities needed in a President during the next four years, than are combined in any other available candidate.”
  • He had a “record, clear and unimpeachable, showing him to be a statesman of rare ability, and an administrator of the highest order,” as well as “a popularity and strength… unexpected even to his warmest admirers.”

The Pomeroy committee then urged the Republicans reading the circular to “render efficient aid by exerting yourself at once to organize your section of the country… for the purpose either of receiving or imparting information.”

When the Pomeroy Circular was published in the newspapers, it enraged Lincoln’s supporters. Former Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., now Lincoln’s most vocal champion in the House of Representatives, charged that criticisms of administration policies had been “concocted for purposes of defeating the renomination of Mr. Lincoln” and of supporting “rival aspirants to the presidency.” Blair refuted the circular’s claims of Chase’s high character:

“It is a matter of surprise that a man having the instincts of a gentleman should remain in the Cabinet after the disclosure of such an intrigue against the one to whom he owes his position. I suppose the President is well content that he should stay; for every hour that he remains sinks him in the contempt of every honorable mind.”

Blair then highlighted charges of corruption in Chase’s Treasury Department, declaring that “a more profligate administration of the Treasury Department never existed under any government… the whole Mississippi Valley is rank and fetid with the frauds and corruptions of its agents… some of (whom) I suppose employ themselves in distributing that ‘strictly private’ circular which came to light the other day.” Democrats kept silent, delighted that the Republican Party seemed to be splitting in half in an election year.

Partly in response to the Pomeroy Circular, delegates to the Republican conventions in Indiana and Ohio endorsed Lincoln for a second term. Many Republican conventions, committees, legislatures, newspapers, and Union Leagues voiced loud support for Lincoln over Chase. Lincoln also exerted his political influence by seeing that the Government Printing Office suppressed any anti-Lincoln material. And government workers, most of whom had been hired by Lincoln, overwhelmingly supported him.

As the Pomeroy Circular made national headlines, Chase wrote Lincoln maintaining he had “no knowledge of the existence of this letter before I saw it in the (Constitutional) Union.” He admitted that he had consulted with politicians urging him to run for president, but he never led anyone to believe that he would seriously seek the office. Chase then offered to resign: “I do not wish to administer the Treasury Department one day without your entire confidence.”

Through his contacts, Lincoln was well aware that Chase was working with Radicals to conduct an informal campaign to oust him from the presidency. Winchell later asserted that Chase not only had prior knowledge of the Pomeroy Circular, but he had approved its publication. Responding to Chase’s letter, Lincoln wrote: “Yours of yesterday in relation to the paper issued by Senator Pomeroy was duly received; and I write this note merely to say I will answer a little more fully when I can find the leisure to do so.”

After keeping Chase waiting for six days, Lincoln sent a longer response on the 29th:

“On consideration, I find there is really very little to say. My knowledge of Mr. Pomeroy’s letter having been made public came to me only the day you wrote; but I had, in spite of myself, known of its existence several days before. I have not yet read it, and I think I shall not… Whether you shall remain at the head of the Treasury Department… I do not perceive occasion for a change.”

Lincoln stated that he was “not shocked, or surprised” by the circular because his backers informed him about Pomeroy’s committee beforehand. Lincoln explained, “I have known just as little of these things as my own friends have allowed me to know. They bring the documents to me, but I do not read them–they tell me what they think fit to tell me, but I do not inquire for more.”

The president then told Chase that he had nothing to do with Blair’s attack on him in Congress. By refusing Chase’s offer to resign, Lincoln shrewdly kept him at the Treasury Department, where he could keep close tabs on his activities, and where Chase could not openly run for president.

Many of Chase’s backers acknowledged that the Pomeroy Circular did more harm than good for him, including Congressman (and future U.S. President) James A. Garfield, who conceded, “It seems clear to me that the people desire the re-election of Mr. Lincoln.”

—–

References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 513; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 376; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10160, 10236, 10247-59, 10270-81, 10493; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 103-04; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 941-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 401; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 606; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 467-68; 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. 714-15; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 591; 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), Q164

Advertisements

The Dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery

November 19, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln made a “few appropriate remarks” during the dedication of the new Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Lincoln left the home of event organizer David Wills, where he had spent the night, at 10 a.m. He wore a black suit, black stovepipe hat, and white gauntlets. He rode on horseback to the procession gathering at the town square; some remarked that the horse was too small for him. The procession included six governors and many other statesmen, military officers, ambassadors, politicians, and public figures. The grand marshal was Lincoln’s friend and bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon.

The procession participants slowly marched to the new cemetery, less than a mile away. Somewhere between 6 and 9,000 people formed a semicircle around a platform to witness the ceremony. Local merchants sold food, battle artifacts, and flowers. Lincoln chatted with the other dignitaries on the platform as they waited for keynote speaker Edward Everett to appear.

Upon Everett’s arrival, the ceremony began with a song played by Birgfeld’s Band of Philadelphia. Reverend Thomas Stockton, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, said a prayer in which he accused the Confederacy of being “prepared to cast a chain of Slavery around the form of Freedom, binding life and death together forever.” Stockton said that the Confederate victory on the first day at Gettysburg “was the mockery of God and man.”

After a song by the Marine Band, Everett rose and delivered a two-hour account of the battle. A correspondent noted:

“The brave old statesman seemed imbued with the genius of oratory. His voice was clear, satisfying, every note in tune, no signs of age. He never hesitated for a word, and as his oration was historical, and argumentative, with no special flights of eloquence, showed a marvelous memory.”

Everett concluded by proclaiming that “there will be no brighter page than that which relates the Battles of Gettysburg.”

Benjamin B. French, the Commissioner of Public Buildings who oversaw the redecoration of the White House when the Lincolns moved in, sang a hymn he had written for the event. Someone reported that “the music ran on a bit.” Lamon then introduced the president.

Lincoln rose from his seat in the front row, “the large, bundled up figure untwisting and adjusting itself into reasonable conditions.” He “slowly adjusted his glasses, and took from his pocket what seemed to be a page of ordinary foolscap paper, quietly unfolded it, looked for the place, and began to read.”

Lincoln delivering his address | Image Credit: etcjournal.com

Lincoln’s speech was less than two minutes long and contained just 272 words. He focused not on the specific battle, but instead on the war’s overall significance. He described the change in the war’s purpose from merely preserving the Union to preserving freedom for all Americans. Invoking the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln touched upon principles of equality and spoke of “a new birth of freedom.”

Because of the speech’s “almost shocking brevity,” many people held back their applause, thinking that more was coming. Photographers did not have time to capture the moment on film. Lincoln believed his address was a “flat failure.” After the ceremony, he dined at the home of David Wills, held an unscheduled reception, attended a patriotic gathering at the Presbyterian church, and finally left Gettysburg at 6:30 p.m. He returned to Washington around midnight, ailing from a mild form of smallpox.

Opposition newspapers skewered the president’s address. Wilbur F. Storey of the Chicago Times wrote, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

Storey called the address “a perversion of history so flagrant that the most extended charity cannot regard it as otherwise than willful.” He added that the soldiers fought at Gettysburg “to uphold this constitution, and the Union created by it,” not to “dedicate the nation to ‘the proposition that all men are created equal.’”

The New York World pointed out that “this United States” was not created by the Declaration of Independence, but was “the result of the ratification of a compact known as the Constitution,” which offered no promise of social equality. Others argued that Lincoln hypocritically stressed a belief in government “of the people, by the people and for the people” while waging a war to deny those rights to the Confederacy.

However, the Republican press reacted favorably to Lincoln’s speech. The Chicago Tribune stated, “The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man.” John W. Forney wrote in the Washington Chronicle that the speech, “though short, glittered with gems, evincing the gentleness and goodness of heart peculiar to him.”

According to the Providence Journal, “We know not where to look for a more admirable speech than the brief one which the President made…(could) the most elaborate and splendid oration be more beautiful, more touching, more inspiring, than those thrilling words of the President?”

The Springfield Republican of Massachusetts called the “little speech… deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma.” George W. Curtis of Harper’s Weekly wrote, “The few words of the President were from the heart to the heart… as simple and felicitous and earnest a word as was ever spoken.”

The day after the ceremony, Lincoln received a message from Everett: “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Over time, the Gettysburg Address would become one of the most celebrated speeches delivered by an American statesman.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 76; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 343; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9793-805, 9827, 9849-71, 9882-906; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 830-33; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 373-74; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 583; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 435; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 262; 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), Q463

Gettysburg National Cemetery: Lincoln’s Invitation

November 2, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln received an invitation to make a “few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of the new Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Following the Battle of Gettysburg in July, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin had directed Gettysburg attorney David Wills to purchase 17 acres of the battlefield to create a burial site for the fallen Federal soldiers. The land was adjacent to the Evergreen Cemetery already on Cemetery Hill. Wills hired landscape artist William Saunders, who designed the cemetery so that each state had its own section, and each section led to the center point. Wills informed Curtin:

“… it would be showing only a proper respect for the health of this community not to commence the exhuming of the dead, and the removal to the Cemetery, until the month of November; and in the meantime the grounds should be artistically laid out, and consecrated by appropriate ceremonies.”

Officials were still transferring the 3,500 fallen soldiers to their final resting places when they scheduled a dedication for this new national cemetery for October 23. Wills wrote Edward Everett, a nationally recognized orator and a former Harvard College president, Massachusetts governor, U.S. senator, foreign ambassador, and secretary of state:

“The burial ground will be consecrated to this sacred and holy purpose on Thursday, the 23rd day of October next, with appropriate ceremonies, and the several States interested, have united in the selection of you to deliver the oration on that solemn occasion.”

Everett accepted, but he wrote, “It is, however wholly out of my power to make the requisite preparation by the 23rd of October”; he doubted that “during the whole month of October, I shall have a day at my command.” Factoring in speech preparation and travel time, “I cannot safely name an earlier time than the 19th of November.” Due to Everett’s fame, Wills accommodated his schedule and changed the ceremony date to the 19th.

As officials transferred the bodies to the new grounds, Wills and the organizing committee worked to enlist others to participate, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, and William Cullen Bryant. Some committee members pushed for inviting Lincoln to the ceremony, while others questioned “his ability to speak upon such a grave and solemn occasion.” They finally agreed to invite the president less than three weeks before the event, in a letter that Wills wrote:

“It is the desire that, after the Oration, you, as Chief Executive of the Nation, formally set apart these grounds to their Sacred use by a few appropriate remarks. It will be a source of great gratification to the many widows and orphans that have been made almost friendless by the Great Battle here, to have you here personally; and it will kindle anew in the breasts of the Comrades of these brave dead, who are now in the tented field or nobly meeting the foe in the front, a confidence that they who sleep in death on the Battle Field are not forgotten by those highest in Authority; and they will feel that, should their fate be the same, their remains will not be uncared for.”

Wills attached a personal letter to the formal invitation:

“As the Hotels in our town will be crowded and in confusion at the time referred to in the enclosed invitation, I write to invite you to stop with me. I hope you will feel it your duty to lay aside pressing business for a day to come on here to perform this last sad rite to our brave soldier dead on the 19th instant.”

The committee chose Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s close friend and bodyguard, to be the grand marshal of the ceremony procession, largely to entice Lincoln into attending. Despite the short notice, Lincoln accepted both invitations.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 338, 342; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9771-82; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 827; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 367; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 429

Lincoln Fires Fremont

October 24, 1861 – President Lincoln issued formal orders replacing John C. Fremont with David Hunter. However, complications in executing the order would arise.

President Abraham Lincoln and Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln and Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the day that Fremont left St. Louis to join his army in pursuing Price, Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas left Washington to inspect Fremont’s department. Before leaving, Lincoln handed Cameron General Orders No. 18, written by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott:

“Major-General Fremont, of the U.S. Army, the present commander of the Western Department of the same, will, on the receipt of this order, call Major-General Hunter, of the U.S. Volunteers, to relieve him temporarily in that command, when he (Major-General Fremont) will report to General Headquarters, by letter, for further orders.”

Cameron was authorized to decide whether to present this order to Fremont, based on the inspection results.

At the same time, Lincoln wrote to Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis, one of Fremont’s subordinates, asking, “Ought Gen. Fremont to be relieved from, or retained in his present command?” Curtis’s answer would be “entirely confidential,” with Lincoln hoping to receive advice from “an intelligent unprejudiced, and judicious opinion from some professional Military man on the spot.”

Cameron and Thomas arrived at St. Louis on the 11th, where they visited Benton Barracks under Curtis’s command. They were impressed by the facility, but when told that it cost just $15,000 to build, Cameron concluded, “The actual cost should be ascertained.”

Curtis received Lincoln’s letter and responded that although Fremont was accessible, he never sought Curtis’s advice or divulged his plans. Regardless, Curtis stated that he would never offer his opinion to Fremont based on Fremont’s arrest of Colonel Frank P. Blair, Jr. Overall, Curtis asserted that Fremont was “unequal to the command of an army.”

That evening, Cameron and Thomas visited a camp south of St. Louis commanded by a cavalry major who expressed concern that department officials might be using funds meant to supply his garrison for other purposes. Lieutenant Colonel I.P. Andrews, the department’s deputy paymaster-general, told Cameron and Thomas of “irregularities in the Pay Department” requiring him “to make payment and transfers of money contrary to law and regulations.”

Andrews contended that Fremont had sent a “file of soldiers” to arrest him unless he honored a questionable payment. Andrews also alleged that Fremont had commissioned a St. Louis theater musician as a “captain of engineers” and “director of music,” and this musician had twice demanded pay. Cameron overrode Fremont’s order to pay him.

The department quartermaster informed Cameron and Thomas that many of Fremont’s staff officers were contractors who arranged for the army to hire their businesses and pay the prices that they set for their goods, without competitive bidding and without considering whether the goods were necessities. Even Cameron, a man known for vast corruption himself, considered Fremont’s expenditures offensive.

On October 12, Lincoln received independent reports from Congressman Elihu Washburne of Illinois and friend Ward H. Lamon, who recently met with Fremont. Washburne reported: “The disclosures of corruption extravagance and peculation are utterly astounding… A gang of California robbers and scoundrels rule, control and direct everything.” Lamon reported, “Things are in a terribly unorganized state here… There is about as much likelihood of his catching (Price’s Missouri Guards) as there is of his being struck by lightning.”

Cameron and Thomas finally met with Fremont at Tipton, where Fremont gave them a tour of his best division. However, both Cameron and Thomas agreed that even Fremont’s best troops were in no condition for battle. The men met with Hunter that same day, who stated that the army was mired in confusion because Fremont was “utterly incompetent.” Hunter complained that Fremont had ordered him to move his 10,000 troops without rations, supplies, or arms. Only 20 of Fremont’s 100 cannon imported from Europe functioned properly, though Hunter alleged that Fremont received a kickback for purchasing them. Hunter also asserted that even though he was second in command, Fremont shared none of his military plans with him.

Cameron confronted Fremont with the order to replace him with Hunter. Fremont pleaded for a chance to lead the Army of the West in battle. Cameron agreed, but only if Fremont used all the money being used to pay contractors to improve the army’s condition. Fremont was to send all future bills to Washington for examination, and stop paying officers he had commissioned. The administration had to approve all future appointments.

In a discussion about Fremont with his cabinet, Lincoln read a letter from Gustave Koerner, Fremont’s aide-de-camp, to “His Excellency the President,” complaining that Deputy Paymaster-General Andrews had been put in charge of approving department expenditures:

“Deputy Paymaster-General Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews refuses to honor General Fremont’s commissions, which have heretofore invariably been accepted by him. Officers of the Army who have sacrificed their all to take up arms for their country are thus left destitute, and their families in want of the most urgent necessities of life. Very many of these officers are now in the field and in face of the enemy. Their efficiency and the spirits of many of the troops serving under them will be most seriously affected by this course. Unless you will provide a remedy to insure these men in their well-deserved remuneration a portion of the army will necessarily disband… as no officers will or can serve without a valid commission.”

Six days later, Lincoln finally wrote to Curtis asking him to formally deliver General Orders No. 18 to Fremont. Curtis was instructed not to deliver the orders if Fremont had “fought and won a battle, or shall then be actually in a battle, or shall then be in the immediate presence of the enemy, in expectation of a battle.”

Republicans expressed shock and dismay when Lincoln’s order was leaked to the press; Fremont had been their first-ever presidential candidate and a hero to abolitionists. Lincoln explained that Fremont was being removed because of charges that he had been “incompetent, wasteful, extravagant, and under the influence of fraudulent contract manipulators.” Nevertheless, Horace White of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Our President has broken his own neck if he has not destroyed his country.”

But Fremont would stay in command until the order was personally delivered to him. Learning from the press that the order had been issued, Fremont worked to avoid receiving the order by posting troops as guards, prohibiting any unauthorized persons from accessing his headquarters.

On October 29, Leonard Swett arrived at St. Louis with the order removing Fremont from command. Swett, who had worked with Lincoln on the Illinois circuit court in the 1850s, was assigned to hand the order to Curtis, and Curtis was then to effect the transfer of power from Fremont to Hunter.

Swett met with Curtis that evening and expressed concern that Fremont might already know about the order since it had been published in some newspapers. The men decided to make two copies of the order and send them with two different officers in the hope that at least one of them would get through the lines and reach Fremont’s headquarters. This farcical operation continued into November.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 85-86, 89; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 98; 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. 124-25, 131; 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

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