Monday, March 28, 2011

150 Years Ago: Scott's Memorandum

A portrait of Winfield Scott (1855, Robert Wal...Image via Wikipedia

On Thursday, March 28, 1861, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott gave President Abraham Lincoln a disturbing memorandum expressing his views of Forts Sumter and Pickens.

Up until this time, Scott had been declaring that an attempt to reinforce Fort Sumter was virtually impossible, but was all for reinforcing Fort Pickens.  Now, suddenly, he was opposed to reinforcing Sumter and Pickens, and was basing his opposition on political, not military grounds.
"Our Southern friends, however, are clear that the evacuation of both the forts would instantly soothe and give confidence to the eight remaining slaveholding states, and render their cordial adherence to the Union perpetual...indeed, the giving up of Forts Sumter and Pickens may be best justified by the hope that we should thereby recover the State to which they geographically belong by the liberality of the act, besides retaining the eight doubtful states."
After a state dinner at the White House -- the first for the new administration -- Lincoln called an emergency cabinet meeting.  After Lincoln read the memo and the initial shock wore off, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, the only cabinet member heretofore wholeheartedly in favor of reinforcing Sumter despite the consequences, declared that Scott was out of line, "playing the part of a politician, not a general." 

The cabinet would meet again the next day.  In the meantime, the members would once again put their ideas on the subject of reinforcing the forts down on paper.

Whether or not Scott's memorandum was the culprit, the cabinet had made an almost complete turnaround from their earlier thoughts on the matter.  Now everyone agreed that Fort Pickens should be reinforced regardless of the consequences.  On Fort Sumter, the opinions were a little more varied, but almost everyone agreed that the attempt should be made.

Lincoln would quickly decide to reinforce Fort Pickens.  On March 31, Colonel Erasmus Keyes and Captain Montgomery Meigs were charged with submitting a plan to the president before 4 p.m. that same day.  In their haste to meet the deadline they bypassed Scott, but Lincoln sent them back to get the general's approval.  Somehow, in the midst of all of that, Secretary of War Simon Cameron was completely overlooked by everyone involved.  Then, Seward picked the naval officer to command the warship without saying anything at all to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles about it.

Sometime within the first couple of days of April, Lincoln would decide to reinforce Fort Sumter.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

150 Years Ago: Hurlbut and Lamon Visit Charleston

On Sunday, March 24, 1861, Lincoln's other two emissaries, Stephen Hurlbut and Ward Lamon, both old friends of Lincoln's, arrive in Charleston.  Hurlbut and Lamon traveled together, but parted ways once they reached the city.

Hurlbut's mission was to take the pulse of the people of Charleston and of South Carolina.  After meeting with James Petigru, one of the few Union men still in the state, Hurlbut reported back to Lincoln that "there is positively nothing to appeal to -- the sentiment of national patriotism, always feeble in Carolina, has been extinguished and over-ridden."

Hurlbut thought that the situation was hopeless.  Nothing would satisfy Charlestonians except surrender of the fort and recognition of South Carolina's independence.

Lamon met with Governor Francis Pickens and General P. G. T. Beauregard, who commanded the troops arrayed against Fort Sumter.  Lamon probably complicated the already complicated situation.  He was seen by both Southern leaders as the president's authorized agent and gave both men the idea that the fort might soon be surrendered.

Lamon's report to Lincoln was as bleak as Hurlbut's.  He brought back a message from Pickens that "nothing can prevent war except the acquiescence of the President of the United States in secession and his unalterable resolve not to attempt any reinforcement of the Southern forts."

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

150 Years Ago: Fox at Charleston

United States Navy officer Gustavus FoxImage via Wikipedia

President Abraham Lincoln really wanted to hang on to Fort Sumter if he could, especially since he had promised to do so in his inaugural address.  On one hand, his cabinet was almost unanimously for giving up the fort; on the other, public opinion was strongly against giving up the fort without a fight and growing stronger and louder by the day.  Lincoln needed more information and sent three men to Charleston to report back on the situation there.

The first of these men was Captain Gustavus Fox.  He met with Lincoln on this date, Tuesday, March 19, 1861, then immediately left for Charleston.  He arrived two days later and met with Governor Francis Pickens to explain his mission.  Pickens allowed him to travel to the fort to meet with Major Robert Anderson, the commander of the garrison there.

Anderson thought it was too late, that to relieve him now would be a massive undertaking.  He also made it clear that he was running low on supplies and could not stay in the fort past April 15.  Fox later insisted that he did not tell Anderson about his plan to use small boats to relieve the fort at night, but apparently enough hints were dropped that Anderson figured it out on his own.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

150 Years Ago: Sam Houston

Sam Houston chaired the committee which wrote ...Image via Wikipedia

Sam Houston, the governor of Texas, was opposed to secession, declaring, "I am for the Union without any 'if' in the case.  When Texas finally seceded, Houston favored independence rather than joining the Confederacy.  He was overruled and an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy would soon be required of all Texas public officials.  In a standoff at the statehouse, Houston was called three times to take the stand and take the oath.  He sat in his seat whittling and refusing to answer to his name.

On March 18, 1861, the long distinguished public career of Sam Houston came to an end.  His resignation was accepted and he returned to his home in Huntsville, Texas.  A short time later, he would refuse Lincoln's offer of troops to return him to his position as governor.

Also on this date, in Arkansas, a state convention narrowly rejects secession 39-35, but agrees to hold an election later in the summer to allow the voters to decide the matter.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

150 Years Ago: Saturday, March 16, 1861

On March 16, 1861, the Confederate Congress recommended that William Yancey, Pierre Rost, and Dudley Mann be appointed commissioners to England to negotiate for recognition.

Also on this date, in Arizona, a convention at Mesilla votes to leave the Union and join the Confederacy.  The Confederate government would later establish a territorial government for Arizona.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee of the 1st U.S. Cavalry was promoted to colonel.  The commission would be signed by Lincoln on March 28.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

150 Years Ago: Lincoln Polls His Cabinet

On Friday, March 15, 1861, Abraham Lincoln sent a note to each member of his cabinet:
"Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances is it wise to attempt it? Please give me your opinion in writing on this subject."
Of the seven cabinet members, five were not in favor of trying to reinforce and resupply Fort Sumter. Salmon Chase was for it, but with so many qualifications that his answer was really just another "no."  Only Montgomery Blair, the brother-in-law of Gustavus Fox, the author of the plan to reinforce the fort, was wholeheartedly for resupplying Fort Sumter at this time.  Lincoln decided to postpone a final decision until he had more information on the situation.

Secretary of State William Seward met with Justice John Campbell, an intermediary between the Lincoln administration and the Confederate commissioners that were trying to meet with administration officials in Washington.  Campbell said that he would be writing to Jefferson Davis.  What should he say about Fort Sumter?  Seward replied, "You may say to him that before that letter reaches him, the telegraph will have informed him that Sumter will have been evacuated."

Also on this date, the State of Louisiana transferred over $536,000 taken from the U.S. Mint in New Orleans to the Confederate government.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

150 Years Ago: A Plan for Fort Sumter

On Wednesday, March 13, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln met with Gustavus Fox, a former naval officer, about a plan to reinforce Fort Sumter.

Fox's plan did not involve the large fleet of warships and thousands of troops that General Winfield Scott envisioned blasting their way into the harbor.  It relied more on stealth.  The troops and supplies would travel to Charleston on transports with an escort of warships.  The transports would wait outside the bar at the entrance to the harbor, then, under cover of a dark night, the troops and supplies would be transferred to small ships -- whale boats, barges, landing craft, etc.  Tugboats could tow them right up to the Fort Sumter wharf,  The warships outside the harbor could then drive off anyone that tried to interfere.  If all went well, the fort could be reinforced before the Charlestonians knew what was going on.

Fox's plan had originally been approved in February by the Buchanan administration, but had not been carried out.  Robert Anderson, the commander of the Fort Sumter garrison, had decided that reinforcements were not needed.  After the Star of the West fiasco, Anderson had telegraphed the War Department that any effort to put supplies in the fort "would do more harm than good."  Anderson's dispatches since then had not shown any change in his situation; apparently, supplies and reinforcements were not needed.  Suddenly, on March 4, the War Department received a telegram from Anderson saying that he would have to evacuate the fort if he wasn't resupplied soon.  That left the Lincoln administration scrambling to find a way to reinforce the fort or risk losing it.

Also on this date, Lincoln instructed Secretary of State William Seward not to meet with the Confederate commissioners who were in Washington to negotiate for recognition and surrender of the Federal property in the Southern states.  Lincoln's position was that the states that thought they had seceded were still in the Union, and he didn't want to do anything that might make it seem like his administration was negotiating with representatives of a foreign nation.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 12, 1861: A Delay at Fort Pickens

The situation at Fort Sumter appeared to be hopeless, but Fort Pickens at Pensacola, Florida, was different.

Unlike Fort Sumter, which sat in the middle of Charleston harbor and would require a fleet of warships and 20,000 men to relieve it, Fort Pickens was on Santa Rosa Island at the mouth of Pensacola harbor and could be reinforced and supplied without firing a shot.  In fact, a squadron of ships was already at Pensacola, including the U.S.S. Brooklyn with a company of troops aboard, waiting for further developments.

In January, President James Buchanan had reached a status quo agreement with Senator Stephen Mallory of Florida over Fort Pickens.  The state would not attack the fort and the Federal government would not reinforce it.  The Navy Department had sent orders to Captain H. A. Adams, commanding officer of the U.S.S. Sabine and commander of the squadron around Fort Pickens, on January 30.  Adams was not to land troops at Fort Pickens "unless said fort shall be attacked or preparations shall be made for its attack."

Now, Lincoln had finally decided to hold Fort Pickens.  On Tuesday, March 12, 1861, the U.S.S. Mohawk left for Pensacola with orders for Captain Israel Vogdes, captain of the company of regular troops aboard the Brooklyn.
"At the first favorable moment you will land with your company, reinforce Fort Pickens, and hold the same till further orders."
The complication was that Captain Adams was still bound by the January 30 orders from the Navy Department.  He saw the orders the Mohawk had brought and refused to honor them.  What the War Department might write to Captain Vogdes did not affect him.  Adams would have to write to the Navy Department for further instructions, postponing Fort Pickens's relief. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

March 11, 1861: Situation Hopeless

On Monday, March 11, 1861, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott informed President Lincoln that Fort Sumter could not be held, that "the time for succoring Fort Sumter with any means at hand had passed away nearly a month ago."  Based on Anderson's latest message, which had arrived on March 4, Scott didn't know how long Anderson could hold out, but his description of the Charleston defenses led Scott to believe that it would take a fleet of warships and some 20,000 men to relieve the fort.

Also on this date, in Montgomery, Alabama, the Confederate Congress adopted the Confederate Constitution.

Brigadier General Braxton Bragg assumed command of all Confederate forces in Florida.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

150 Years Ago: Lincoln's Cabinet

On the evening of March 6, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln's cabinet met for the first time.  This was more of a meet-and-greet than an official cabinet meeting.

The cabinet was a diverse group, representing different parts of the North and the various factions that made up the still-new Republican Party.
  • Secretary of State -- William Seward
  • Secretary of the Treasury -- Salmon Chase
  • Attorney General -- Edward Bates
  • Postmaster General -- Montgomery Blair
  • Secretary of the Navy -- Gideon Welles
  • Secretary of the Interior -- Caleb Smith
  • Secretary of War -- Simon Cameron

William Seward had initially spurned the job of Secretary of State, mostly because he did not see how he could possibly work with Salmon P. Chase, the new Secretary of the Treasury.

Smith and Cameron probably owed their positions to deals made in Chicago by Lincoln's handlers to get him the Republican nomination.  Lincoln was most concerned about Cameron; shady deals seemed to follow him wherever he went.

Five of the seven had challenged Lincoln for the party's nomination. Seward was the odds-on favorite to win the nomination when the convention started.

Friday, March 04, 2011

March 4, 1861: Lincoln's Inauguration

Until the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1933, moving Inauguration Day to January 20, March 4 was Inauguration Day in the United States.  On Monday, March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the sixteenth president of the United States.  Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney administered the oath of office.  Hannibal Hamlin was sworn in as vice president.

The outgoing president James Buchanan began the day with one final cabinet meeting.  Secretary of War Joseph Holt arrived late with a telegram from Major Robert Anderson in Charleston.  Anderson was now saying that without supplies he could not stay long at Fort Sumter.  The bad news would be waiting for Lincoln when the swearing-in ceremony was done.

In his inaugural address in Montgomery, Jefferson Davis had proclaimed that secession was legal and right.  In his inaugural address, Lincoln took the opposing view -- that secession was illegal and wrong.  The Union was unbroken, states were eternally in it, and he himself had just taken a solemn oath to defend it.

"The power confided to me, will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts."
This, in a nutshell, would be Lincoln's policy, and, at the moment, it was all about Fort Sumter. Lincoln was operating under the assumption that Anderson could hold out there indefinitely, and Lincoln could "hold, oocupy, and possess" it simply by maintaining the status quo.  If war began, the South would have to start it.
"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government shall not assail you. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath in Heaven to destroy the government, while I have the most solemn one to 'preserve, protect, and defend' it."
Only after the ceremony ended, when he arrived at the White House and found Anderson's message, would Lincoln realize that this assumption was wrong.  Lincoln would have to make the first overt action -- resupplying Fort Sumter -- and soon.

Also on this date, in Montgomery, Alabama, the "Stars and Bars," the first official flag of the Confederacy, was raised over the Confederate Capital for the first time.  The flag was designed by Nicola Marschall and consisted of two wide red bars with a white bar in between.  In the upper left corner was a blue field with seven white stars, one for each of the seceded states.  On the battlefield, the flag was often mistaken for the Union Stars and Stripes, so the Confederate Battle Flag, with St. Andrew's Cross, was adopted.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

March 3, 1861: Beauregard Takes Command

On Sunday, March 3, 1861, Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, to assume command of the troops there.  He went straight to work perfecting the placement of the guns around the harbor.  Beauregard's strategy was mainly defensive, not to pile on the guns aimed at Fort Sumter, but to seal off the harbor so that the tiny garrison could not be reinforced.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

March 2, 1861

On Saturday, March 2, 1861, Texas was admitted as the seventh state to the Confederacy, and the Nevada and Dakota Territories were added to the Union.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

March 1, 1861: P. G. T. Beauregard

On Friday, March 1, 1861, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard accepted a position as brigadier general in the Confederate Army and was assigned to command in Charleston, South Carolina.

Beauregard was born in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, on May 28, 1818.  He graduated second in his class at West Point in 1838.  During the Mexican War, he was wounded twice and received two brevets for gallantry while serving as an engineer in General Winfield Scott's army.  He spent most of his postwar military career constructing coastal defenses, but served as the superintendent at West Point for a few days in January 1861 before being removed because of his outspoken Southern views.  After Louisiana left the Union, Beauregard followed, resigning his U.S. Army commission on February 20. 

During Beauregard's time as a cadet at West Point, Robert Anderson, who now commanded the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter, had been an artillery instructor.  Beauregard had shown such talent that Anderson made him an assistant instructor.