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.

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