Monday, February 28, 2011

February 28, 1861

On Thursday, February 28, 1861, Congress voted to form the Territory of Colorado.

In North Carolina, voters narrowly rejected secession.  Out of over 90,000 votes cast, a majority of 651 voted against holding a state convention to debate the matter.

Friday, February 25, 2011

February 25, 1861: Confederate Commissioners

On Monday, February 25, 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis appointed three men, A. B. Roman, Martin Crawford and John Forsyth, as commissioners.  They were to go to Washington and negotiate for Confederate recognition and for the surrender of Federal forts and other property in the seceded states.  They were unable to gain an official audience with anyone in the Lincoln administration.  It was Lincoln's view that the Southern states were still a part of the Union and negotiating with the commissioners would be giving tacit approval to the idea that they represented a foreign power.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

February 23, 1861: Texas Secession

On Saturday, February 23, 1861, Texas voters approved secession in a referendum by a vote of 34,794 to 11,235.

Monday, February 21, 2011

February 21, 1861: A Final Cabinet Appointment

On Thursday, February 21, 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis made one final cabinet appointment, naming Stephen Mallory as Secretary of the Navy.  The Confederate Navy had just been officially established the day before.

Mallory was born in Trinidad. His father was from Connecticut, his mother from Ireland. The family moved to the United States, settling in Key West, Florida. After passing the bar, Mallory became an expert in maritime law, especially the laws of wrecks and salvage. He served in several minor public offices before being elected to the United States Senate in 1850. For much of his time in Washington, he served as chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs, overseeing the modernization of the United States Navy.

February 21, 1861: An Assassination Plot

Passage through Baltimore
President-elect Abraham Lincoln had left his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, on February 11, 1861, but was still on a roundabout journey to Washington for his inauguration.  On February 21, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just before an appearance at Independence Hall, Lincoln was warned that he would be murdered if he traveled through Baltimore on February 23 as scheduled.

While working for S. M. Felton, president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railway, to investigate rumors that secessionists were planning to break railroad connections to Washington, private detective Allen Pinkerton had uncovered the plot.

In Baltimore, a train car from the North traveling to Washington would have to switch from Felton's Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railway to the Baltimore & Ohio line.  The cars would usually be hauled down a city street with horses.  According to Pinkerton, Lincoln would be mobbed and killed during the transfer from one station to the other.  Lincoln was urged to cancel his last remaining appearances and travel to Washington that night.  Lincoln refused.

The following day, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Lincoln received another warning, this time from Frederick Seward.  He brought a message from his father William and General Winfield Scott, who had also learned of the murder plot.

Lincoln, his close friend Ward Lamon, and Pinkerton slipped out of Harrisburg that night and boarded a train back to Philadelphia.  There they boarded a Washington sleeper and got through Baltimore in the middle of the night without incident.  They arrived in Washington at 6 a.m. on February 23.

Lincoln's critics ridiculed him for trading his honor for his safety.  On the trip, he wore a soft felt hat instead of his usual top hat and the press somehow turned that into a story that he had come to Washington in a disguise, in a plaid Scotch cap and cloak.  Adalbert Volck, a Baltimore dentist, etched Passage through Baltimore, ridiculing Lincoln for his cowardice.

In just a few weeks, on April 19, 1861, the 6th Massachusetts Militia Regiment would be attacked while making the same rail transfer in Baltimore, resulting in a riot that left four soldiers and twelve civilians dead.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 20, 1861

On Wednesday, February 20, 1861, the Confederate Navy was officially established.  The Confederate Congress also empowered President Davis to contract for the manufacture and purchase of war goods.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 19, 1861: Davis's Cabinet

On Tuesday, February 19, 1861, just one day after his inauguration, Jefferson Davis completed his cabinet:

Secretary of State Robert Toombs

Toombs, a Georgian, was a close personal friend of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens. He served in the Georgia House of Representative, then won a seat in the United States House of Representatives as a Whig. As the Whig Party broke up, he flirted briefly with the Constitutional Union Party, then reluctantly became a Democrat. He served in the United States Senate from 1853-1861.

Secretary of War LeRoy Walker

Walker was a scion of a prominent Alabama family. He served in several legislative and judicial positions in state government, including two terms as Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives. Davis didn't know Walker, but was looking for an Alabaman so that each state would be represented in the new government. Walker was recommended by a group of supporters.

Secretary of the Treasury Christopher Memminger

Memminger was born in Vaihingen, W├╝rtemberg (now Stuttgart, Germany), but emigrated to Charleston, South Carolina, with his mother as a toddler. He served two long stints (1836-1852 and 1854-1860) in the state legislature, amassing twenty years as the head of the finance committee. Memminger was the leader of the committee that wrote South Carolina's Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.

Attorney General Judah Benjamin

Benjamin was born in London. His parents, Sephardic Jews, moved to St. Croix, then the United States, settling in Charleston, South Carolina. After attending Yale College, Benjamin moved to New Orleans where he passed the bar, became a wealthy slaveowner, and served in both houses of the Louisiana legislature. In 1852, he became the first Jew to be elected to the United States Senate without renouncing the religion, resigning when Louisiana seceded.

Postmaster General John Reagan

Reagan was born in Sevier County, Tennessee, but moved to Texas as a young man. After passing the bar, he served one term in the state legislature, then served as a district judge. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1857 until Texas seceded.

Also on this date, in New Orleans, the U.S. Paymaster's office was seized by Louisiana state troops.

Friday, February 18, 2011

February 18, 1861: Davis's Inauguration

On Monday, February 18, 1861, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America.  The ceremony took place in front of the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama.  Howell Cobb, president of the Confederate Congress, administered the oath of office.

In his inaugural address, Davis declared that secession was right, reasonable and legal, a step taken out of necessity.  He hoped that there would be peace, but, if not, "it will remain to us with firm resolve to appeal to arms and invoke the blessing of Providence on a just cause."  He also declared that "a reunion with the States from which we have separated is neither practicable nor desirable."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 16, 1861: The Man and the Hour

On February 16, 1861, Jefferson Davis arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, to serve as president of the Confederate States of America.

That evening, Davis appeared on the balcony of the Exchange Hotel and addressed a large, enthusiastic crowd.
It may be that our career will be ushered in in the midst of a storm; it may be that as this morning opened with clouds, rain and mist, we shall have to encounter inconveniences at the beginning; but as the sun rose and lifted the mist it dispersed the clouds and left us the pure sunshine of heaven. So will we progress the Southern Confederacy, and carry us safe into the harbor of constitutional liberty and political equality. We fear nothing...because, if war should come, if we must again baptize in blood the principles for which our fathers bled in the Revolution, we shall show that we are not degenerate sons, but will redeem the pledges they gave, preserve the rights they transmitted to us, and prove that Southern valor still shines as bright as in 1776...I will devote to the duties of the high office to which I have been called all that I have of heart, of head, of hand.

William Yancey also spoke. Paying tribute to Davis, "the statesman, the soldier and the patriot," he declared, "the man and the hour have met."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

February 15, 1861: Raphael Semmes

On Friday, February 15, 1861, Raphael Semmes resigned his commission in the United States Navy.

Semmes was appointed a commander in the Confederate States Navy and achieved great fame (or notoriety) as the captain of the C.S.S. Alabama.  The commerce cruiser was responsible for 55 prizes captured and sunk in 22 month until it was finally sunk by the U.S.S. Kearsarge off the coast of Cherbourg, France, on June 19, 1864.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

February 13, 1861: Robert E. Lee's Orders

On Wednesday, February 13, 1861, Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry received orders to report to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott in Washington.  He set out on the first leg of the journey, to San Antonio, site of departmental headquarters.

Lee's orders were unusual.  A regular reassignment would not involve a personal visit with General Scott.  This must have something to do with military plans against the Confederacy.  If so, Lee planned to resign.  He told a fellow officer, "I shall never bear arms against the Union, but it may be necessary for me to carry a musket in defense of my native state, Virginia, in which case I shall not prove recreant to my duty."

Lee arrived in San Antonio on February 16 to find that the commander of the Department of Texas, Brigadier General David E. Twiggs, had surrendered to the state.  Lee changed into less conspicuous civilian clothes and went to departmental headquarters where he found that the story was true.  State troops informed him that he might not be given transportation out of the state unless he immediately resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy.  Lee instantly refused, but the Texans let him leave anyway.

Lee reached his home at Arlington, Virginia, on March 1.  He reported to Scott on March 5 after Lincoln's inauguration.

Friday, February 11, 2011

February 11, 1861: Lincoln Leaves Springfield

On Monday, February 11, 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln boarded a train in Springfield, Illinois, bound for Washington. The train left Springfield at 8 a.m.. Before departing, Lincoln addressed his hometown crowd for the final time:
My friends, no one not in my situation can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place and the kindness of these people I owe everything. Here I have lived for a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young man to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
In Montgomery, Alabama, Alexander Stephens was sworn in as the vice president of the Confederate States of America.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

February 10, 1861: Jeff Davis at Brierfield

On Sunday, February 10, 1861, Jefferson Davis was in the garden of Brierfield, his plantation home, pruning rose bushes with his wife Varina when a messenger arrived with a telegram informing him that he was to be the president of the Confederacy.

Varina Davis later said that his expression as he read the telegram made her apprehensive that some terrible calamity had occurred.  When he told her what the message said, he spoke "as a man might speak of a sentence of death."

Davis spent one day getting his affairs in order, then left for Montgomery.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

February 9, 1861: The Confederate President

On Saturday, February 9, 1861, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi was elected provisional president of the Confederate States of America.  Alexander Stephens of Georgia was elected vice president.

There were no nominating conventions and no popular vote.  The executive officers of the Confederacy were chosen in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms by the 38 delegates to the convention of seceded states.  The votes were cast by states; each delegation cast one vote.

By unspoken agreement the delegates shied away from the radical fire-eaters who had done so much to drive the Deep South states out of the Union.  They wanted to show the border states and the world that this was a nation of moderate men who had no choice but to leave the Union and form their own government.

In Tennessee, voters rejected a proposal to call a state convention to consider secession.  The proposal was defeated by a vote of 68,282 to 59,449, with most of the pro-Union vote coming from the mountainous eastern part of the state.

At Pensacola, Florida, the U.S.S. Brooklyn arrived with supplies and reinforcements for Fort Pickens.  These were not landed; the federal government and the State of Florida had reached an agreement that no changes would be made on either side.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

February 8, 1861: The Confederate Constitution

On the night of Friday, February 8, 1861, the convention of seceded states meeting at Montgomery, Alabama, adopted a provisional constitution for the Confederate States of America.

The constitution was copied almost verbatim from the U.S. Constitution with a few significant changes:
  • The preamble omitted the general welfare clause and the phrase "a more perfect Union" and added a clause after "We the People" to make it clear that "the People" were acting through sovereign and independent states.

  • The Confederate Constitution did away with the old cumbersome language of the U.S. Constitution -- "persons held to service or labor" -- and called a slave a slave.

  • The importation of slaves from abroad was prohibited, but slavery would be protected in any new territory the Confederacy might acquire.

  • Protective tariffs were forbidden, as were appropriations for internal improvements.

  • The president would be limited to one six-year term, but was given a line item veto on appropriations bills.
The provisional constitution would be submitted to the states for ratification.  A permanent constitution would be adopted on March 11.

Friday, February 04, 2011

February 4, 1861: A New Government

On Monday, February 4, 1861, delegates from six of the seven states that had seceded -- Texas delegates would be along later -- met in convention in Montgomery, Alabama.  They worked mostly behind closed doors to form over the next few days to form a new government and elect the officials for the Confederate States of America.

They worked quickly.  It was important to them to have a functioning government up and running before Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president on March 4.  They also wanted to be up and running so that cooler heads could take over the situation at Charleston.  South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens and some of the other secessionists might start a war before any preparations could be made.

The delegates would adopt a constitution, elect a president and vice president, and appoint themselves the new Confederate Congress.  It was all provisional.  The constitution would still have to be ratified by the states and none of it would become more permanent until February 1862.

After that first hectic week, they would settle down to complete the formation of the new government at a more leisurely pace.  At one point, they simply decided that all U.S. laws except those that conflicted with their new constitution would remain in effect in the Confederate States.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

February 1, 1861


On Friday, February 1, 1861, a state convention in Texas voted to take that state out of the Union 166 to 7.  The measure still had to be approved by the voters in a referendum on February 23.

Texas's secession brought the first round to an end.  Six states, all in the deep South, had followed South Carolina out of the Union.  The border states -- Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, and especially Virginia -- would wait for further developments before deciding what to do.

The state leaders did the revolutionary act of breaking up the Union in a very legalistic way.  With some slight variations, it usually began with governor calling for a special session of the legislature.  The legislature, if secession seemed appropriate to them, would call for a state convention to consider the matter with the voters electing the delegates to the convention.