Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31, 1861

On Thursday, January 31, 1861, in New Orleans, Louisiana, state troops seized the U.S. Branch Mint and Customs House.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 29, 1861

On Tuesday, January 29, 1861, Congress voted to admit Kansas to the Union as the thirty-fourth state with a constitution prohibiting slavery.

In Louisiana, state troops seized Fort Macomb near New Orleans and a U.S. revenue cutter, the Robert McClelland.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 26, 1861

On Saturday, January 26, 1861, Louisiana became the sixth state to leave the Union, following South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama and Georgia.  A state convention voted for secession 114 to 17.

In Savannah, Georgia, state troops seized Fort Jackson and the Oglethorpe Barracks.

Monday, January 24, 2011

January 24, 1861

On Thursday, January 24, 1861, Georgia state troops captured the U.S. Arsenal at Augusta.

Also, Federal troops set sail from Fort Monroe, Virginia, to reinforce the garrison at Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 22, 1861: Jeff Davis Stops Over in Chattanooga

William Crutchfield
One of the more interesting bits of Chattanooga Civil War lore concerns the time when Jefferson Davis almost got into a duel with a Chattanooga Unionist...

It was Tuesday, January 22, 1861. The Deep South states had seceded and Jefferson Davis had just given an emotional farewell to his colleagues in the Senate. He was on his way home to Mississippi by train and stopped for the night in Chattanooga. He checked into the Crutchfield House, Chattanooga's finest hotel at the time, which was operated by Thomas and William Crutchfield.

A crowd gathered in the hotel dining room, imploring Davis to speak on the issues of the day. Davis obliged, giving, according to David Key, "a short talk, very moderate in character; it had nothing in it personal or offensive in expression or manner." The gist of the speech was that Mississippi should be allowed to leave the Union in peace and that Tennessee should vote for a secession convention in its upcoming election on February 9. Davis then left the room.

Accounts vary as to whether William Crutchfield, who was a very outspoken Unionist, was asked to speak to rebut Davis's arguments or just took it upon himself. Regardless, Crutchfield jumped up on a counter and delivered a scathing speech/tirade against Davis.

He began with "Behold, your future military despot..." and went downhill from there. Crutchfield accused Davis and his ilk of deserting their seats in Congress when they were in the majority and might have prevented any legislation that might have been hostile to the institutions of the South, said that instead of Davis poking his nose into the affairs of Tennessee his time might be better spent advising his fellow Mississippians to pay their state debts, and denounced all secessionists as traitors. Tennesseans, Crutchfield said, would not be "hood winked, bamboozled and dragged into your Southern, codfish, aristocratic, tory blooded, South Carolina mobocracy."

Davis, informed as to what was going on, reentered the room while Crutchfield was still speaking and began speaking the language of the code duello, asking if Crutchfield was responsible for the insults to his honor and demanding satisfaction. Davis's supporters, of which there were many in the room, had "pistols drawn and cocked for immediate use."

Most accounts of the proceedings say that violence was averted when Thomas Crutchfield dragged his brother down from the counter and out of the hotel. A short account in Louis J. DuPre's Fagots from the Camp Fire states that John W. Vaughn, the sheriff of Monroe County, Tennessee, who was traveling with Davis, "instantly, in defence of Davis' wounded honor, broke a black bottle, snatched from the shelf of the bar-room, over Crutchfield's head. The bleeding, stunned Crutchfield was borne helpless and senseless from the scene of conflict, shedding the first blood spilled in the war."

Friday, January 21, 2011

January 21, 1861: Jeff Davis Leaves the U.S. Senate

On Monday, January 21, 1861, five senators from the South left Washington, most notably Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. Their states had seceded; their services were no longer required there.

Davis had been ill, suffering from neuralgia and severe migraines. His doctor was amazed that he was able to go to the Senate. Davis's final farewell was a sentimental goodbye to his old Senate colleagues.
"I am sure I feel no hostility to you, Senators from the North.  I am sure there is not one of you, whatever sharp discussion there may have been between us, to whom I cannot now say, in the presence of my God, I wish you well."
In Boston, Massachusetts, abolitionist Wendell Phillips gave a speech in which he praised secession as a positive good. The sooner the slave states left the Union, the better.  Phillips was booed and hissed and had to have a police escort out of the hall.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 19,1861

On Saturday, January 19, 1861, Georgia became the fifth state to leave the Union.  A state convention voted for secession by a vote of 208 to 89.  Most of the pro-Union vote came from the northeast part of the state.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 18, 1861

On Friday, January 18, 1861, the Federal Army garrisoned Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas off Key West, Florida.  The fort was used as a federal prison during the war. Dr. Samuel Mudd, Edmund Spangler, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O'Laughlen, co-conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, would be imprisoned there in 1865.

Florida authorities again demanded the surrender of Fort Pickens at Pensacola and were again refused.

Friday, January 14, 2011

January 14, 1861

On Monday, January 14, 1861, Fort Taylor at Key West, Florida, was garrisoned by United States troops under Captain John Brannan, preventing its takeover by state forces.  Fort Taylor would be an important coaling station for Union blockaders during the war.

In Louisiana, Fort Pike, near New Orleans, was seized by state troops.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January 13, 1861

Before he became the governor of South Carolina and started threatening war with the United States, Francis Pickens had been the U.S. Minister to Russia.  On Sunday, January 13, 1861, Pickens submitted a bill to the U.S. government for $3000 in travel expenses he had incurred in the performance of his duties.  Washington sent him a draft (a check) drawn on the Treasury office in Charleston, which had already been taken over by the state.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

January 12, 1861

On Saturday, January 12, 1861, in Florida, state authorities demanded the surrender of Fort Pickens at Pensacola, but were refused.  State troops took over the other forts and the Navy Yard at Pensacola with no resistance.

Also on this date, the State of Mississippi recalled its representatives from the U. S. House. 

In New York, the Star of the West arrived from Charleston with the supplies and troops for Fort Sumter still aboard.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

January 11, 1861

On Friday, January 11, 1861, a state convention in Alabama voted for secession 61 to 39 with most of the opposition coming from the northern part of the state.

In Louisiana, state forces occupied the United States Marine Hospital near New Orleans.

Monday, January 10, 2011

January 10, 1861

On Thursday, January 10, 1861, Florida became the third state to secede from the Union.  A state convention voted for secession 62 to 7.

At Pensacola, the Federal troops under Lieutenant A. G. Slemmer abandoned Fort Barrancas and moved to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island.

In Louisiana, Braxton Bragg and the state militia seized Forts Jackson and St. Philip and the arsenal at Baton Rouge.  William Tecumseh Sherman, then the head of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy (later Louisiana State University), called Bragg's actions "an act of war and a breach of common decency."  He resigned his post in protest but agreed to stay on until he could turn the school over to a successor.

In one of the more comic episodes of these final prewar days, the citizens of Smithville and Wilmington, North Carolina came down with secession fever and seized Forts Johnson and Caswell.  A few days later Governor John W. Ellis ordered the forts returned; North Carolina had not seceded and was not really even considering it.  The two caretakers, who had demanded receipts for the property, told the citizens they would take the forts back "if there was none of it broken, or none of the ammunition expended."

Sunday, January 09, 2011

January 9, 1861: War Is Narrowly Averted

The Civil War almost began on Wednesday, January 9, 1861, when the Star of the West was fired upon in Charleston harbor.

The Star of the West, a merchant steamer full of supplies and reinforcements for Fort Sumter which had set sail from New York on January 5, arrived at the entrance to Charleston harbor around midnight.  As soon as there was enough light to see, the ship headed into the harbor.

Gunners on Morris Island, cadets from the Citadel, began firing at the ship.  One shot smashed into the side of the Star of the West.  A steamer flying the U.S. flag and carrying U.S. troops had been fired upon and hit.

The commander at Fort Sumter, Major Robert Anderson, didn't know what was going on.  He was unaware that a relief ship was even on the way, but he and his men could see that the Charlestonians were preparing for something.  The War Department had sent a telegraph explaining the situation and giving him orders to return fire "should a fire, likely to prove injurious, be opened upon any vessel bringing up re-enforcements or supplies, or upon row-boats within the reach of your guns."  The message never reached Anderson and now he held his fire and certainly averted a war.  With Fort Sumter's guns silent the Star of the West had no choice but to turn around and head back out to open sea.

The garrison at Fort Sumter was in an uproar.  The officers and men were furious that Anderson had not returned fire.  Anderson met with the officers and they agreed to write to Governor Francis Pickens.  If he had authorized the attack, Anderson might close down the harbor.

Pickens replied that South Carolina was an independent nation and that putting troops in Fort Sumter and then sending in reinforcements was an act of aggression.  The firing was justified.  If Anderson must now use his guns to close down the harbor, the responsibility was his own.

Pickens added, "Your position in this harbor has been tolerated by the the authorities of the State, is not perceived how far the conduct which you propose to adopt can find a parallel in the history of any country, or be reconciled with any other purpose of your Government than that of imposing upon this State the condition of a conquered province.

Also on this date, Mississippi became the first state to follow South Carolina out of the Union.  A state convention in Mississippi voted for secession 84-to-15.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

January 8, 1861

On Tuesday, January 8, 1861, Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson of Mississippi resigned.  He had been the last Southerner left in Buchanan's cabinet.  One of his last acts in Washington was to telegraph the authorities in Charleston to let them know that the Star of the West was coming with reinforcements and supplies for Fort Sumter.

Also on this date, in Florida, U.S. troops at Fort Barrancas, guarding the entrance to Pensacola Harbor, fired upon and drove away a raiding party.  Fort Mason at St. Augustine had been seized the day before.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

January 6, 1861: The Start of a Busy Week

On Sunday, January 6, 1861, in New York, Mayor Fernando Wood proposed that New York City should secede and become a free city, trading freely with both the North and South. Nothing ever became of the proposal.

It was the start of a busy week. On successive days -- Wednesday, Thursday and Friday -- three states would follow South Carolina out of the Union.  On Wednesday, war would almost begin when the U. S. government attempted to reinforce and resupply the garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston.

As states moved toward secession, state authorities acted quickly to seize the Federal property, especially the arsenals and the forts that guarded the harbors.  Florida would be the state to secede on Thursday, but on this date in 1861, the Sunday before, state troops seized the U.S. Arsenal at Apalachicola with no resistance.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

January 5, 1861: The Star of the West Sets Sail

On Saturday, January 5, 1861, in New York, the Star of the West, a merchant vessel, sailed for Fort Sumter with supplies and 250 troops.

The original plan called for the Brooklyn to be used.  The Brooklyn, a 2000-ton, propeller-driven warship, boasted 22 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbores and two rifled pivot guns.  It could muscle its way into Charleston harbor if necessary.

But the plan changed.  The War Department decided to try speed and secrecy instead.

The Star of the West, a side-wheel merchant steamer normally on a New York-to-New Orleans run, was chartered for $1250 a day.  The soldiers and supplies were quietly loaded.  To the casual observer the steamer appeared to be leaving on its regular run.

Officials in Charleston got the news almost immediately.  By the time the Star of the West would arrive at Charleston harbor, Major Robert Anderson and the garrison at Fort Sumter would be the only ones who didn't know what was going on.

Also on this date, in Alabama, which hadn't yet left the Union, state authorities captured Forts Morgan and Gaines at Mobile Bay without resistance.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

January 1, 1861: New Year's Day

 As the New Year of 1861 began, South Carolina had seceded from the Union and several Deep South states appeared ready to follow.  The only real questions were which state would be next and how many.  As the states seceded, the federal property in those states was quickly seized.  The Union would only contest the matter at Fort Sumter at Charleston harbor and Fort Pickens in Pensacola.  The situations were very similar, but Fort Sumter would be much more volatile, probably due to the difference in temperament between South Carolinians and Floridians.

"The New Year's reception at the White House looked very much the way New Year's receptions always looked.  There were flowers and gay music, with well-dressed people moving up to give President Buchanan a smile and a hand-shake, each one repeating the formal 'I wish you a happy New Year, Mister President'; and although the weather was bad, things seemed to be bright enough inside the mansion.  But neither the President nor his guests had any illusions about the happiness that 1861 was likely to bring to the people who occupied this building, and Mr. Buchanan looked tired and unhappy, as if he had had about all the strain he could take.  Mrs. Roger Pryor, wife of the fire-eating Congressman from Virginia, felt that 'a gloomy foreboding of impending disaster' oppressed everyone, and she reflected unhappily that the familiar social world of the capital was having the last of its old get-togethers.  So many people had already left for the far South, so many more would be leaving very soon:  no matter what happened, the group that met here on January 1, 1861, would never come together again."  -- Bruce Catton, The Coming Fury