Saturday, April 30, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Jackson at Harper's Ferry

On Tuesday, April 30, 1861, Thomas Jackson arrived at Harper's Ferry to take command of the Virginia militia troops occupying the arsenal there.  He quickly got to work salvaging the arsenal's arms-making equipment left behind by the Federal troops who had recently evacuated.  (Harper's Ferry posts)

Friday, April 29, 2011

150 Years Ago -- April 29, 1861

On Monday, April 29, 1861, the Maryland House of Delegates voted against secession 53-13.  The state would remain in the Union for the foreseeable future. (Maryland posts)

Also on this date, in Montgomery, Alabama, Confederate President Jefferson Davis addressed the Confederate Congress.  He began by noting that all the Confederate states had ratified the provisional Constitution.  Davis gave a history lesson detailing the causes of secession, and a progress report on the steps that had been taken in establishing a government and providing for the military defense of Confederate territory.  This speech would become known as his "all we ask is to be let alone" speech.  (Full text)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Lincoln Suspends Habeas Corpus

On Saturday, April 27, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln wrote to General Benjamin Butler, commanding the Federal troops at Annapolis, Maryland, authorizing him to suspend the writ of habeas corpus if "you find resistance which renders it necessary."

Military rule descended on Maryland.  Any display of affection toward the South was stamped out.  Newspapers were shut down, and hundred of suspected Southern sympathizers were arrested -- some with good reason, many on mere suspicion.  Butler would soon "invade" Baltimore and declare martial law there.
To the Commanding General of the Army of the United States

You are engaged in repressing an insurrection against the laws of the United States. If at any point on or in the vicinity of the military line, which is now (or which will be) used between the city of Philadelphia and the city of Washington, via Perryville, Annapolis City and Annapolis Junction, you find resistance which renders it necessary to suspend the writ of habeas corpus for the public safety, you, personally or through the officer in command at the point where the resistance occurs, are authorized to suspend that writ.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Stonewall Jackson/Maryland

Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall&qu...Image via Wikipedia

Thomas Jackson, who everyone would soon be calling "Stonewall," was appointed colonel of the Virginia militia on April 26, 1861.

Jackson, a West Point graduate (17th in the class of '46) and Mexican War veteran, was a major in the Virginia militia and a VMI professor of artillery and natural philosophy when the war began.  Soon after Virginia seceded, he arrived in Richmond with his VMI cadets.  Governor John Letcher made him a colonel and sent him to his new post, commanding the state troops that had taken over Harper's Ferry.

Also on this date, in Maryland, the state legislature met in regular session -- normally, not a noteworthy event, but these were not normal times.  The state was still in an uproar over the Baltimore riot and State Senator Coleman Gellott was calling for a rump session in Baltimore.  To forestall this, Governor Thomas Hicks called the legislature into regular session on April 26.  Since Federal troops were occupying the capital, Annapolis, they were to meet in Frederick, in more pro-Union territory.

When the lawmakers convened, Hicks addressed them, advising that Maryland take a neutral position in the war.  After some debate, the state legislature agreed.  They would issue a proclamation stating that they lacked the authority to an ordinance of secession, then neglected to call for a state convention that could.  Maryland would not be leaving the Union.

Lincoln had to make sure of that.  With Washington lying between Virginia, which was essentially out of the Union, and Maryland, Lincoln had to have Maryland or the capital would be lost before the war had barely begun.  When he learned that Hicks was convening the legislature, Lincoln considered arresting the lawmakers to prevent the session, but finally decided that it "would not be justifiable, nor efficient for the desired object."  But Lincoln would do whatever it took to keep Maryland in the Union.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Strange Times in Washington, Missouri and Tennessee

Thursday, April 25, 1861

Washington had been in a state of siege since the Baltimore riot on April 19.  Railroads and telegraph lines to the capital had been cut, isolating it from the rest of the nation.  No orders could get out; the only news that could get in was rumors -- mostly of an impending Rebel invasion.

The 6th Massachusetts Regiment had made it through the riot to Washington, but now the capital was cut off.  More troops were on the way, but there was no news of them.  Inspecting the troops that had been wounded in the riot, a despondent Lincoln told them, "I don't believe there is any North.  The 7th (New York) Regiment is a myth.  Rhode Island is not known in our geography any longer.  You are the only Northern realities."

The 8th Massachusetts Regiment, led by General Benjamin Butler, had followed closely on the hills of the 6th Massachusetts. Hearing of the disturbance in Baltimore, Butler had detrained his regiment, the 8th Massachusetts, at the head of Chesapeake Bay, commandeered a steamboat, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland.  After a short delay coming ashore, these troops were put to work reopening a route to Washington, repairing the railroad and the equipment.

The first troops sent forward were the 7th New York.  They entered Washington on April 25, followed closely by troops from Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  The route was open and Washington's siege was lifted.

Missouri would get out of hand very quickly.  The governor, Claiborne Jackson, was trying to take the state out of the Union.  In fact, he had worked out a plot with Jefferson Davis to capture the St. Louis Arsenal.  Davis was sending cannons.  Jackson would call the state militia into camp for drill and instruction.  They would camp near the arsenal and take the facility when the cannons arrived.

Frank Blair and Nathaniel Lyon were determined to keep the state in the Union.  Blair, the youngest son of the prominent Blair family, had begun forming his own militia, the Unionist Home Guard, composed mainly of German immigrants.  Lyon, the commander of the arsenal's garrison, was temporarily in command of the Department of the West.  General William Harney had been called away to Washington.  Lyon quickly began inducting Blair's Germans into the United States Army.

Blair and Lyon knew that Jackson was after the arsenal.  It was one of the most important military installations in the country -- a large complex dedicated to the manufacture and storage of arms and munitions.  They would soon take very proactive steps to keep it out of the hands of the Confederates.

Illinois Governor Richard Yates enters the story on this date.  He too was worried about the security of the arsenal.  Working with Blair and Lyon, he sent Illinois militia into Missouri.  On the night of April 25, they removed 20,000 muskets and 110,000 cartridges and transported them to the Springfield Armory.  Blair kept enough of the muskets to arm the Home Guard.

On February 9, voters in Tennessee had voted against holding a convention to consider secession.  Now, after Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for troops, the sentiment had changed.  Most of the Unionism in the state had simply evaporated.

Governor Isham Harris called the legislature into special session on this date.  He recommended that the legislators declare Tennessee independence and enter into an alliance with the Confederacy.  He also proposed that they pass "such legislation as will put the State upon war footing immediately."  The legislature went into secret session to consider Governor Harris's proposals.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Lee Takes Command

On Tuesday, April 23, 1861, Robert E. Lee made with Virginia Governor John Letcher who offered him command of Virginia's state troops.  Lee accepted.

Friday, April 22, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Lincoln and Maryland

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of th...Image via Wikipedia

On Monday, April 22, 1861, for the second day in a row, Lincoln met with Marylanders to discuss moving troops though the state.  This group was a little more unofficial than the first -- a group organized by the YMCA.  They urged the president to recognize the independence of the Southern states and to send no more troops through Baltimore.

Lincoln's response was forceful:
You, gentlemen, come here to me and ask for peace on any terms, and yet have no word of condemnation for those who are making war on us.  You express great horror of bloodshed, and yet would not lay a straw in the way of those who are organizing in Virginia and elsewhere to capture this city.
He summed up the situation:
I have no desire to invade the South, but I must have troops to defend this Capital.  Geographically it lies surrounded by the soil of Maryland; and mathematically the necessity exists that they should come over her territory.  Our men are not moles, and can't dig under the earth; they are not birds and can't fly through the air.  There is no way but to march across, and that they must do.
 Then ended with a threat:
Keep your rowdies in Baltimore, and there will be no bloodshed.  Go home and tell your people that if they will not attack us, we will not attack them, but if they do attack us, we will return it, and that severely.

At Annapolis, General Benjamin Butler was making the argument moot.  After negotiations with Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks, Butler had brought the 8th Massachusetts ashore.  As they were landing, another steamer arrived carrying the 7th New York.  Since Butler was the ranking officer present, he assumed command of everyone and quickly put them to work opening the railroad to Washington.  Butler was soon ordered to remain at Annapolis and keep the route open.  The 7th New York made its way to Washington, arriving there on April 25, ten days after Lincoln's call for troops.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Lincoln and the Marylanders

On Sunday, April 21, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln met with Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks and Baltimore Mayor George Brown.  Hicks and Brown had been summoned to Washington to discuss "preserving the peace in Maryland."

Washington was cut off from the rest of the country.  Surrounded by Virginia and Maryland, the former was gone from the Union and the latter was still in an uproar over the Baltimore riot two days earlier.  The railroad bridges through Maryland to Washington had been burned; the telegraph lines were cut.  While the two politicians protested about the dead civilians in Baltimore, Lincoln argued that Washington must have troops.  He promised to keep them out of Baltimore as much as possible.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Norfolk Abandoned

The Norfolk Navy Yard is burned and abandoned ...Image via Wikipedia

On Saturday, April 20, 1861, the Gosport Shipyard at Norfolk, Virginia was abandoned by the Federals and seized by armed Virginians.  The name was changed to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1862; then, as now, it was the most important naval installation in the United States.

The shipyard had been fumbled away through bad timing.  The commander there, Commodore Charles McCauley, a 68-year-old veteran of the War of 1812, had succumbed to pressure and ordered the evacuation.  State troops under General William Taliaferro were menacing the base, putting up batteries for a bombardment.  In addition, several of McCauley's officers and men had resigned to go South.

The Federal sailors and marines began making preparations to leave by scuttling the warships at the yard on April 19.  As the ships sank to the bottom, a relief expedition led by the U.S.S. Pawnee arrived.  The officers conferred and finally decided the only thing to do was complete the destruction the following day.

On the evening of April 20, the Federals finished by burning the buildings and the upper works of some of the ships that were poking up out of the water.  A mine was set in the dry dock.  The Virginians moved in after the Federals moved out, and found, like Harper's Ferry the day before, that most of the machinery was still serviceable.  The mine had failed to explode, leaving the dry dock intact.

A big steam frigate, the Merrimack, was another major prize for the Southerners.  The ship had been at the yard for engine repairs.  As the nation had moved toward war and Virginia had moved toward secession, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles had sent the navy's chief engineer, Benjamin Isherwood, to make repairs and Commander James Alden to take command of the Merrimack and get her to Philadelphia.  McCauley, not wanting to antagonize the Virginians, had refused to let the ship leave.  Now, the Confederates could raise and reuse her.

Also, on this date, in Maryland, a steamer carrying the 8th Massachusetts Infantry arrived at Annapolis.  The troops, led by Massachusetts politician Benjamin Butler, a newly minted brigadier general, were bound for Washington, forty miles away.  Governor Thomas Hicks, surely thinking about the Baltimore riot the day before, urged Butler to keep his men on the boat.  Hicks wired Lincoln: "I have felt it to be my duty to advise the President of the United States to order elsewhere the troops now off Annapolis and also that no more may be sent through Maryland."  Hicks and Butler negotiated over the weekend, and Butler finally brought his men ashore on Monday, April 22.

Colonel Robert E. Lee sent his official letter of resignation to the War Department.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

150 Years Ago -- the Baltimore Riot

Maryland National Guard Sixth Regiment fightin...Image via Wikipedia

On Friday, April 19, 1861, the 6th Massachusetts Regiment, the first fully equipped, organized unit to respond to Lincoln's call for troops, arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, en route to Washington.  Their presence in the city would touch off a bloody riot.

As I've mentioned before -- when talking about the pre-inauguration attempt on Lincoln's life -- there was no railroad line through Baltimore.  Passengers headed for Washington would arrive at the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad station on President Street, then had to travel cross-town to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad station on Camden Street.  The cars were usually pulled the ten blocks through the city with horses.

On this day, the cross-town route was lined with an angry pro-Southern crowd, but nine cars made the trip without serious incident.  Stones were thrown, and the route was blocked, leaving just over 200 men of the 6th Massachusetts and some unorganized soldiers from Pennsylvania stranded at the President Street station.

The four companies of the 6th Massachusetts left the Pennsylvanians behind and set out on foot.  They soon found themselves surrounded by the same hostile crowd.  The crowd threw stones, cheered for Jefferson Davis, and denounced Yankees.  Mayor George Brown tried to appeal to them to keep the peace, but was mostly ignored.

An officer shouted an order to double-quick.  That just exacerbated the situation -- the chicken Yankees were running from a fight.  Soon, the march turned into a full-scale melee with shots fired.  A detachment of police finally arrived and restored enough order for the troops to reach the B&O station.  Four soldiers and twelve Baltimore citizens were dead.

Back at the President Street station, the Pennsylvanians were attacked by the mob, but the police quickly intervened.  The police would send the men back to Pennsylvania.

After attacking the soldiers, the mob set its sights on the offices of the Baltimore Wecker, a German-language newspaper.   They wrecked the offices and threatened the lives of the publisher, William Schnauffer, and the editor, Wilhelm Rapp.  The two left town, but Schnauffer later returned and resumed publication of the paper.

The 6th Massachusetts reached Washington that evening.

The Baltimore Police Board met that evening and agreed that no more troops should pass through the city.  Arrangements were made to burn the railroad bridges that connected Baltimore with the East.  Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks agreed and sent a committee to Washington to inform Lincoln.

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150 Years Ago -- Lowe Goes Off Course

Lowe's intended flight from Cincinnati shown i...Image via Wikipedia

In the early morning hours of April 19, 1861, Thaddeus Lowe began inflating one of his smaller balloons, the Enterprise.  Lowe's long-term goal was to make a trans-Atlantic flight.  He was gaining valuable ballooning experience by making much shorter inland flights.

Now, one week after the Civil War began at Fort Sumter, Lowe lifted off in Cincinnati at 4 a.m., headed for Washington.  Blown hundreds of miles off course, he landed in Unionville, South Carolina that same afternoon.  Tensions were high in the state at the moment, and the locals promptly arrested the man who came out of the sky as a Union spy while they checked out his story. 

He was soon released and allowed to return with his equipment to Cincinnati.  The mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, wrote him out a passport:
THIS IS TO CERTIFY, that Prof. T. S. C. Lowe, now accidentally in our midst, is a gentleman of integrity and high scientific attainments, and I bespeake for him the courtesies of all with whom he may come in contact, and trust that this letter, to which I have affixed the seal of the City of Columbia, S.C., will answer as a passport for him through the Confederate States of North America.
W. H. Boatright, Mayor

Back at home, Lowe put his dreams of trans-Atlantic flight on hold.  He would soon travel to Washington to demonstrate the balloon's military capabilities, and eventually establish a balloon corps in the United States Army.  The first successful trans-Atlantic flight by balloon would not be made until 1978.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

150 Years Ago -- A Busy Day

Just one week past the shelling of Fort Sumter, Thursday, April 18, 1861, was a busy day featuring several noteworthy events.

In Virginia, state militia was amassing near Harper's Ferry.  Henry Wise, until recently the governor of Virginia, recognized the importance of the Federal arsenal there and acted quickly to capture it.  Without bothering to consult the current governor, John Letcher, Wise had met with state militia officers, who quickly mobilized their men.

The Federal troops at the arsenal, 42 men led by Lieutenant Roger Jones, set fire to the buildings and fled toward Pennsylvania.

The Virginia troops moved in early the next morning, April 19, to find that most of the rifle-making machinery was still serviceable.  It was shipped south to Richmond, where it was used throughout the war to make arms for the Confederacy.

In Washington, Colonel Robert E. Lee met with Francis Blair.  Blair, acting with the full authority of the president, offered Lee command of the United States Army.  Lee declined, saying that he must consult with General-in-chief Winfield Scott.  He went straight to Scott's office and informed him that he would be resigning his commission

In New York, Major Robert Anderson and his garrison from Fort Sumter arrived to a heroes' welcome.

And a bit of foreshadowing:  The first troops to answer the president's call for war were approaching Washington, but first they had to pass through Baltimore.  Their passage stirred up the city's pro-Southern population and stirred up rumors of violence.  Secretary of War Simon Cameron warned Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks to keep the peace, but failed to inform him of when the next troops would be passing through.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

150 Years Ago: Virginia Secedes

On Wednesday, April 17, 1861, the Virginia state convention passed an ordinance of secession 88 to 55.  The ordinance would not be official until a majority of voters ratified it in a statewide referendum on May 23, but there was no chance this would not happen.  Virginia was, for all intents and purposes, out of the Union.

The loss of Virginia was a big blow to the Union as historian Bruce Catton explains, "Without Virginia the Southern Confederacy could not have hoped to win its war for independence; with Virginia the Confederacy's hopes were not half bad, and they would get even better when people realized that Virginia would come equipped with Robert E. Lee.  American history has known few events more momentous than the secession of Virginia, which turned what set out to be the simple suppression of a rebellion into a four-year cataclysm that shook America to the profoundest depths of its being."

Virginia state troops were already on the way to Harper's Ferry to seize the U.S. Arsenal there.

Also on this date, Confederate President Jefferson Davis issued a proclamation "inviting all those who may desire, by service in private armed vessels on the high seas, to aid this government in resisting so wanton and wicked an aggression, to make application for commissions or letters of marque and reprisal to be issued under the seal of these Confederate States."

This was either a noble calling combining patriotism and profit or piracy, depending on your point of view.  Later, the Union would charge the officers and crew of the Savannah with piracy, claiming that their Letter of Marque was invalid since the Confederacy was not a sovereign nation.  Davis threatened to hang a Union officer for each executed Confederate privateer.  Thereafter, the Union treated privateers honorably as prisoners of war.

At Galveston, Texas, the Star of the West, which had tried unsuccessfully in January to reinforce and resupply the garrison at Fort Sumter, was captured by Confederate troops.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

150 Years Ago: Replies

On Tuesday, April 16, 1861, William Brownlow, the editor of the Knoxville Whig, came up with one of the more memorable quotes of the war, writing that he would "fight the Secessionist leaders till Hell froze over, and then fight them on the ice."

The replies to Lincoln's call for militia began coming in.  The news from Fort Sumter had triggered a wave of patriotism in the North.  The governors were quick to offer their support and soon had more recruits than they could use.

The border states were a different matter though.  Lincoln's call for troops was seen as "coercion" of their Southern brethren.  The governors replied negatively to Lincoln's call and began making plans to leave the Union themselves.

Virginia Governor John Letcher:
In reply to this communication, I have only to say that the militia of Virginia will not be furnished to the powers at Washington for any such use or purpose as they have in view. Your object is to subjugate the Southern States, and a requisition made upon me for such an object -- an object, in my judgment, not within the purview of the Constitution or the act of 1795 -- will not be complied with. You have chosen to inaugurate civil war, and having done so, we will meet it in a spirit as determined as the Administration has exhibited towards the South.

Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin:
I say, emphatically, Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states.

North Carolina Governor John Ellis:
Your dispatch is received, and if genuine which its extraordinary character leads one to doubt, I have to say in reply, that I regard the levy of troops made by the Administration for the purposes of subjugating the States of the South, as in violation of the Constitution, and as a gross usurpation of power. I can be no part to this wicked violation of the laws of the Country and to this war upon the liberties of a free people. You can get no troops from North Carolina.

Tennessee Governor Isham Harris:
Tennessee will not furnish a single man for the purposes of coercion but 50,000 if necessary for the defence of our rights and those of our Southern brothers.

Arkansas Governor Henry Rector:
In answer to your requisition for troops from Arkansas to subjugate the Southern States, I have to say that none will be furnished. The demand is only adding insult to injury. The people of this commonwealth are freemen, not slaves, and will defend, to the last extremity, their honor, lives and property against Northern mendacity and usurpation.

Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson:
Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary in its object, inhuman and diabolical, and cannot be complied with. Not one man will the State of Missouri furnish to carry on any such unholy crusade.

Friday, April 15, 2011

150 Years Ago: A Proclamation of War

On Monday, April 15, 1861, one day after he learned the news from Fort Sumter, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation of war, calling for 75,000 militia and calling for a special session of Congress.  Until it convened on July 4, Lincoln would be calling all the shots.

April 15, 1861


Whereas the laws of the United States have been for some time past, and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the Marshals by law,

Now therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed. The details, for this object, will be immediately communicated to the State authorities through the War Department.

I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government; and to redress wrongs already long enough endured.

I deem it proper to say that the first service assigned to the forces hereby called forth will probably be to re-possess the forts, places, and property which have been seized from the Union; and in every event, the utmost care will be observed, consistently with the objects aforesaid, to avoid any devastation, any destruction of, or interference with, property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens in any part of the country.

And I hereby command the persons composing the combinations aforesaid to disperse, and retire peaceably to their respective abodes within twenty days from this date.

Deeming that the present condition of public affairs presents an extraordinary occasion, I do hereby, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, convene both Houses of Congress. Senators and Representatives are therefore summoned to assemble at their respective chambers, at 12 o'clock, noon, on Thursday, the fourth day of July, next, then and there to consider and determine, such measures, as, in their wisdom, the public safety, and interest may seem to demand.

In Witness Whereof I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington this fifteenth day of April in the year of our Lord One thousand, Eight hundred and Sixtyone, and of the Independence the United States the Eightyfifth.


By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
The Northern state governors quickly confirmed their willingness to fill their quotas and soon had more applicants than they could use.  The border state governors of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri refused, most of them contemptuously.  A new round of secessions would begin.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

150 Years Ago: A Final Ceremony at Fort Sumter

On Sunday, April 14, 1861, Major Robert Anderson's garrison evacuated Fort Sumter, relinquishing control of the fort to the Confederate authorities.  As per the terms of the surrender agreement made the previous day, Anderson was allowed to salute the U.S. flag and take his men and their personal property back to New York.

One of the large guns on the barbette began firing a 100-gun salute.  A burning ember landed on a pile of cartridges behind the piece causing a huge explosion.  During the 34-hour bombardment of the fort, some 4000 shells had been fired by both sides with no loss of life.  Now, during the surrender ceremony, Private Daniel Hough was killed and five others were wounded.  One of these, Private Edward Gallway, died a few days later in a Charleston hospital.  They were the first of over 600,000 men who would die during the war.  The salute was stopped at 50 shots.

Private Hough was buried at the fort with a company of South Carolina volunteers presenting arms and a Confederate naval chaplain conducting the service.

The U.S. flag was lowered and presented to Anderson.  Four years to the day later, on April 14, 1865, Anderson, then a major general but in ill health and in retired status, would return to the fort and hoist the same flag in a victory ceremony.

With the band playing "Yankee Doodle," the U.S. Army garrison marched to the wharf where they boarded transports that would take them to the U.S.S. Baltic, still outside the harbor, that would take them to New York.  Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard, South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens and other dignitaries made a formal inspection of the fort they had just captured.  They found it heavily damaged and estimated that it would cost at least $350,000 to make repairs.

In Washington, President Abraham Lincoln learned of the surrender of Fort Sumter and met with his cabinet and military advisers.  He also met with his political rival Stephen Douglas, and read to him the proclamation of war he would issue in the morning.  Douglas wholehearted approved of the proclamation and promised his full support, but advised him to call out 200,000 militia.  The Democratic Party would support the war.

From The Coming Fury by Bruce Catton:
Dining with three cabinet members not long after the fall of Fort Sumter, Winfield Scott expressed complete confidence in Northern victory, but doubted that there would be an early end to the nation's troubles. For a long time to come, he said, it would require the exercise of all of the powers of government "to restrain the fury of the noncombatants."

This fury was an elemental force that swept through North and South in precisely the same way, and it was going across the land like a flame. It did not look like fury at first; it was wild, laughing, extravagant, armed with flags and music and the power of speech, groping insistently for heavier weapons. The coming of war had released it. Something unendurable had ended; the uncertainty and the doubt were gone, along with the need to examine mind and heart for unattainable answers, and a Boston merchant looked about him at the crowds, the waving banners, and the general jubilation and wrote: "The heather is on fire. I never before knew what a popular excitement can be." The London Times's Mr. Russell, stopping in North Carolina on his way to Charleston, saw the same thing -- "flushed faces, wild eyes, screaming mouths," with men shouting so stridently for Jefferson Davis and the Southern Confederacy (to which North Carolina had not yet attached itself) that the bands playing "Dixie" could not be heard. Men slapped strangers on the backs, women tossed bunches of flowers from windows, and in Richmond a crowd paraded to the Tredegar Iron Works under a Confederate flag, dragged a cannon to the steps of the state Capitol, and fired a salute. Some fundamental emotion had slipped the leash; it would control both President Lincoln and President Davis, and yet at the same time it was a force which the two men themselves would have to control in order to make war.

Dazzled by the overwhelming public response to the news that one flag had gone down and another had gone up, ordinarily sensible men gave way to uncritical vaporing. Youthful John Hay, the somewhat condescending ornament of the White House secretariat, looked at a company of untried Northern militia and wrote: "When men like these leave their horses, their women and their wine, harden their hands, eat crackers for dinner, wear a shirt for a week and never black their shoes -- all for a principle -- it is hard to set any bounds to the possibilities of such an army." Hard indeed; particularly so since exactly the same sort of men were doing exactly the same things in the South for a diametrically opposed principle, creating boundless possibilities of their own. Leroy Pope Walker, the Confederate Secretary of War, told a serenading crowd in Montgomery that the Confederate flag "will, before the first of May, float over the dome of the old capitol in Washington," and he went on to say that if Southern chivalry were pushed too far, the flag might eventually rise over Faneuil Hall in Boston. The eminent German-American Carl Schurz wrote admiringly that "millionaires' sons rushed to the colors by the side of laborers," and correspondent Russell noted that barefooted poor whites in the deepest South were whooping it up for Confederate independence as loyally as the wealthiest planters.

Through the fall and winter, events had seemed to move slowly, as if fate wanted to give men a chance to have second thoughts about what was being done. Now everything began to go with a rush, and what was done would be done for keeps.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

150 Years Ago: Fort Sumter Surrenders

Confederate Flag flying in Fort Sumter after t...Image via Wikipedia

At 2:30 p.m., on Saturday, April 13, 1861, Major Robert Anderson, commanding the Union garrison at Fort Sumter, surrendered to Confederate officials, ending a 34-hour bombardment.

The attack on Fort Sumter began the previous day, April 12, at 4:30 a.m.  With a relief expedition on the way to the fort -- some of the ships were already hovering just outside the harbor -- General P. G. T. Beauregard demanded the surrender of the fort.  There were some exchanges back and forth, but, in the end, the Civil War would begin here with Beauregard demanding a surrender that Anderson could not give without a fight.

A signal gun was fired at 4:30 a.m. and then the Confederates batteries that surrounded Sumter began their bombardment.  The puzzling thing to them was that the Union garrison was not firing back.  Anderson kept his men under cover, out of harm's way until daylight.  Even then, there was not much that he could do.

Fort Sumter sat on a man-made granite island in the middle of Charleston harbor.  Its walls were forty feet high and five feet thick.  It was designed to hold three tiers of guns.  The lower two tiers were in casements -- each gun was fully protected by thick masonry and fired through a small gunport, an embrasure.  The third tier was around the top of the fort on the barbette, completely in the open.

Unfortunately for Anderson, only 48 guns had been mounted in the unfinished fort.  The second tier was empty.  The casement guns in the lower tier, though fully protected, were the weakest.  These were 32-pounders and 42-pounders that could only fire solid shot which was ineffective against any of the Confederate batteries that were firing at the fort.  Anderson's strongest guns, Columbiads and eight-inch howitzers, were those that were most exposed.

Anderson's garrison was woefully undermanned.  He had 128 men, including 43 civilians, and he couldn't afford to lose any of them.  His biggest worry then was that Beauregard might attempt to send out the infantry and try to storm the fort after dark.  Manning the guns on the barbette was out of the question.  Anderson's men hunkered down and stuck to the ineffective casement guns.

The barbette guns were loaded though and were used in two incidents.  First, a sergeant crept up to the barbette and fired every gun that was aimed at Fort Moultrie, then hurried back downstairs.  Later, two sergeants went up top and fired a ten-inch Columbiad at Cummings Point.  It was a near miss, so they reloaded and tried another shot even though they couldn't move the 7.5-ton gun back into the proper firing position.  The recoil blew the huge gun in a backward somersault and sent it crashing down the stairs.

An English Whitworth gun on Morris Island blew big hunks out of the southeast corner of the fort before it finally ran out of ammunition.  Shell and red-hot shot set the wooden barracks on fire, and fire-fighting details worked furiously in the choking smoke with shells bursting above them.

Just outside the harbor, Captain Gustavus Fox, the mastermind of the relief expedition, had arrived.  He was going to supply the fort and wanted an escort.  Commander Stephen Rowan of the Pawnee refused.  He had orders to wait for the Powhatan and didn't want to risk starting a war.  No one knew that the war had already begun or that the Powhatan was on its way to Pensacola.  When it finally became evident that the battle had begun, the decision was made to wait on the Powhatan, then force their way in.  In the end, the absence of the ship did not matter; the seas were too rough to enter the harbor.

That night, the Confederate bombardment slowed.  They lobbed a shell at the fort every few minutes though just to keep everyone on their toes.  When daylight came on the 13th, the Confederate bombardment increased again, and the situation in the fort quickly went from bad to worse.  Supplies were already low.  Now they were short of water.  The officers' quarters were destroyed.  Fires broke out again and the casements filled with smoke.

The end was a little farcical.  Sometime around noon the flagstaff was shot down.  Lieutenant G. W. Snyder and Sergeant Peter Hart improvised a new one and mounted it to a gun carriage on the barbette.  The Confederates saw the flag go down, and Beauregard sent an aide to the fort under a flag of truce to offer assistance.  This was a tactful way of suggesting that it might be time to surrender.  The aide, Captain Stephen Lee, accompanied by two civilians, Porcher Miles and Roger Pryor, set out for the fort.  When they saw the flag hoisted again, they turned to go back to the shore.  Then the flag was lowered and a white flag was hoisted in its place.  They hurried to the fort to see what was going on.

From The Coming Fury by Bruce Catton:
"During the height of the contest, while Lieutenant Snyder and Sergeant Hart struggled to get the flag flying, and the gun crews stumbled through the smoke to maintain some sort of fire, a cannoneer in a lower-tier casement, going to the muzzle of his piece to reload, saw a strange fellow looking in the embrasure -- a burly civilian with a swarthy, piratical face, red sash and sword belt incongruously belted about his middle, a naked sword with white flag knotted about the blade gripped in one hand -- altogether a wholly improbable-looking figure.  This man announced that he was Colonel Wigfall, recently United States Senator from Texas, now an aide to General Beauregard; he wanted to see Major Anderson, and he wanted even more to get safely inside the fort because he was at the moment squarely in the line of Confederate fire -- 'Damn it, they are firing at me from Fort Moultrie.'  After a certain amount of discussion he was led to Major Anderson...Colonel Wigfall addressed the Federal commander with bluff heartiness:

"'Major Anderson, I come from General Beauregard. It is time to put a stop to this, sir. The flames are raging all around you and you have defended your flag gallantly. Will you evacuate, sir?'

"The major was ready to call it quits...Anderson said he would surrender on the terms originally proposed -- that he be allowed to salute his flag and then, with all the honors of war, take his men and their personal property back to New York. Wigfall said that this was a deal: 'Lower your flag, and the firing will cease. I will see General Beauregard and you military men will arrange all the terms.'...Down came the United States flag, and up went the white flag of surrender.

At this point Captain Lee and his two civilian companions got to the fort. Presented to Major Anderson, Lee said that Beauregard had sent them to offer assistance, if assistance happened to be needed, and to find out what all of this raising and lowering of flags meant. Anderson, puzzled, explained that he had just surrendered to Colonel Wigfall, whereupon his three visitors exchanged baffled looks; then they explained that although Wigfall did belong to Beauregard's staff, he had not seen the general for two days and had come to the fort strictly on his own hook. Anderson muttered: 'Gentlemen, this is a very awkward business,' which stated the case accurately; he had just surrendered to a man who had no authority either to demand or to receive a surrender. Anderson ordered the white flag hauled down and the national flag raised; the fighting would be resumed."

But it all worked out in the end.  Lee suggested a ceasefire until he could get in touch with Beauregard.  Anderson wrote out his understanding of the surrender terms he had made with Wigfall, and Lee hurried off to see Beauregard.  He returned a couple of hours later and the surrender was official.  The fighting was over, at least here in Charleston harbor.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

150 Years Ago: WAR!

"The bombardment of Fort Sumter," en...Image via Wikipedia

At 4:30 a.m. on Friday, April 12, 1861, the Civil War began in the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina, when Confederate artillery opened fire on Fort Sumter.  The long, chaotic, bloody Civil War started in a very civilized, formal process.

Major Robert Anderson commanded a small garrison of U.S.Army troops at Fort Sumter, a tiny speck of federal authority in a state that had seceded and proclaimed itself a new republic.  Anderson's garrison was short of supplies, but they were on the way.  President Abraham Lincoln had finally decided to resupply the fort.

But first, Lincoln had written to South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens to inform him that he was sending provisions to the fort.  If the Confederates wanted to start a war by opposing the resupply expedition that was up to them.  Captain Gustavus Fox remarked later that it had seemed important to Lincoln that South Carolina should "should stand before the civilized world as having fired upon bread."

With the relief expedition on the way, orders went down the chain of command from the Confederate government in Montgomery, Alabama, to General P. G. T. Beauregard, the commander of the artillery forces arrayed against Fort Sumter.  Beauregard was to demand the fort's surrender; if refused, he was to reduce it.

On April 11, the previous day, Beauregard had written his demand for the fort's surrender and sent three aides by boat out to the middle of the harbor to present it to Anderson.  Anderson refused, writing out his own reply to give to Beauregard.  As the aides were leaving Fort Sumter, Anderson made the remark that he would be starved out within days.  Perhaps both sides could work something out to avert a war.  The aides included the remark in their report back to Beauregard.

The whole business went up the chain to Montgomery and back down to Beauregard again.  Could he get some assurance from Anderson as to when he might surrender.  The trio of aides, joined this time by Virginia Congressman Roger Pryor, went back out to the fort.  They arrived there just after midnight on April 12.  They met with Anderson, but did not get the unequivocal reply they needed.

Anderson would evacuate the fort on April 15 if the Confederates did not open fire sooner, or if they did not seem about to commit some hostile act, or if Anderson did not receive provisions or new instructions from his government.  The trio did not feel the need to go back to Beauregard to get his decision.  They conferred, and, within minutes, gave a formal reply to Anderson:
"By authority of Brigadier General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time."

It was just then 3:20 a.m.

Anderson walked the Southerners back out to the wharf, shook hands with them, and said, "If we never meet in this world again, God grant that we may meet in the next."

At 4:30 a.m., a few minutes late, a gun was fired at Fort Johnson, signaling the forts that ringed Charleston harbor to begin the bombardment of Fort Sumter.  There was much postwar argument about who had fired the first shot of the war, and if this signal gun shot counted.  Edmund Ruffin, one of the key leaders of the secession movement, fired one of the first shots of the war and sentimentally was credited with the honor by most.  Charleston residents turned out to watch the show and cheered as the fort was battered.  The bombardment would continue throughout the day and into the next one.  The Civil War had begun.

Also on this date, at Pensacola, Florida, U.S. troops aboard the Brooklyn were finally landed to reinforce Fort Pickens.  Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate forces there, could do nothing to stop the landings.  The fort was now safely in Union hands and would remain that way throughout the war.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

150 Years Ago: A Demand for Surrender

On the morning of Thursday, April 11, 1860, the formal ritual to start the war got underway.

Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard had his orders.  He was to demand that Fort Sumter be evacuated.  If refused, he was to reduce it.  He composed his formal demand for the surrender of the fort and was finished by noon.  Three aides, Colonel James Chesnut, Captain Stephen D. Lee, and Lieutenant Colonel James A. Chisholm, were sent by boat to the fort to present it to Major Robert Anderson.

Beauregard's demand for surrender:
Sir: the Government of the Confederate States has hitherto foreborne from any hostile demonstration against Fort Sumter, in the hope that the Government of the United States, with a view to the amicable adjustment of all questions between the two Governments, and to avert the calamities of war, would voluntarily evacuate it.

There was reason at one time to believe that such would be the course pursued by the Government of the United States, and under that impression my Government has refrained from making any demand for the surrender of the fort. But the Confederate States can no longer delay assuming actual possession of a fortification commanding the entrance of one of their harbors, and necessary to its defense and security.

I am ordered by the Government of the Confederate States to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter. My aides, Colonel Chesnut and Captain Lee, are authorized to make such demand of you. All proper facilities will be afforded for the removal of yourself and command, together with company arms and property, and all private property, to any post in the United States which you may select. The flag which you have upheld so long and with much fortitude, under the most trying circumstances, may be saluted by you on taking it down.

Anderson kept the Southern officials waiting for about an hour while he called his officers together to confer. He then drafted a reply to Beauregard:
General, I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication demanding the evacuation of this fort, and to say, in reply thereto, that it is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligations to my Government, prevent my compliance. Thanking you for the fair, manly and courteous terms proposed, and for the high compliment paid me, I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant, Robert Anderson, Major, First Artillery, Commanding.

Anderson walked Beauregard's messengers back to their boat and asked in Beauregard would open fire at once, without giving further notice. Chesnut replied, "No, I can say to you that he will not, without giving you further notice." Anderson said that he would take no action until he was fired upon, then made a casual remark that changed things, "If you do not batter us to pieces we will be starved out in a few days."

As the Confederate officers got into their boat, the remark finally registered with Chesnut. If Anderson was serious, there might be no need to open fire on the fort. Chesnut asked Anderson to repeat the remark, then asked for permission to include it in his report to Beauregard. Anderson was hesitant about the chance remark being put in an official report, but said that he had stated a fact and that Chesnut could do as he liked with it.

Beauregard telegraphed Anderson's written response and his remark to Chesnut to the Confederate Secretary of War. Secretary Leroy Walker (and Jefferson Davis) wanted it in writing.

Beauregard wrote another letter to Anderson and the three aides got into their boat again and headed back to Fort Sumter. They reached the fort just after midnight.

Fort Sumter now had everyone's attention, but other events were happening in the country that day. 

The three Confederate commissioners finally left Washington.  They had been sent to negotiate with the Federal government for recognition.  They had been unable to gain an audience with anyone of importance in the government; Lincoln had not wanted it to seem like he was negotiating with a foreign power.  But through intermediaries, they had been in contact with Secretary of State William Seward, who had assured them that Fort Sumter would be surrendered.  Now, with a relief expedition on the way to Sumter, the commissioners thought Seward had dishonest in his dealings with them.

Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln was meeting with Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks to discuss ways to keep the state in the Union.  Maryland was a slave state with mixed loyalties.  With the expectation that Virginia would secede if war started, it was vital to keep Maryland in the Union.  Without it, the capitol would be cut off from the rest of the country.

Commander James Alden reported to the Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk, Virginia, to take command of the U.S.S. Merrimack, which was still under construction.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

150 Years Ago: The Confederate Decision

CHARLESTON, SC - APRIL 12:  Confederate re-ena...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The bloody Civil War started very politely, a very formal ritual with messages back and forth.

Union Major Robert Anderson and his small garrison were at Fort Sumter.  The unit was undermanned and the fort was unfinished, but it sat on a man-made granite island in the middle of Charleston harbor and commanded the whole scene.  Anderson was running out of supplies and Washington was sending them.  They had informed the rebels of that, and were leaving up to them to start the war if they wanted. 

But neither side was backing down.  It was as important for Jefferson Davis to take the fort as it was for Abraham Lincoln to keep it.  General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard commanded the Confederate defenses, the artillery that ringed the harbor.

On April 10, 1861, with the relief expedition on the way, the Confederate government decided to fight.  Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Walker sent Beauregard his orders:
"If you have no doubt of the authorized character of the agent who communicated to you the intention of the Washington Government to supply Fort Sumter by force you will at once demand its evacuation, and if this is refused proceed, in such manner as you may determine to reduce it."

Roger Pryor, until recently a U.S. congressman from Virginia, stood on the balcony of his hotel in Charleston and addressed a crowd gathered below. What would it take for Virginia to join with the other seceded states?
"I will tell you, gentlemen, what will put her in the Southern Confederacy in less than an hour by Shrewsbury clock -- strike a blow! The very moment that blood is shed, old Virginia will make common cause with her sisters of the South."

From Hampton Roads, Virginia, another ship, the U.S.S. Pawnee, departed to join the Fort Sumter fleet.

The snafu at Pensacola was finally resolved.  New orders finally arrived for Captain H. A. Adams, commanding him to get the reinforcements aboard the Brooklyn into Fort Pickens.

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

150 Years Ago: "It Is Suicide, Murder"

Robert Augustus Toombs, of Georgia, three-quar...Image via Wikipedia

Confederate Secretary of State Robert Toombs was the only member of the Davis administration to vigorously oppose firing on Fort Sumter.  On Tuesday, April 9, 1861, he met with Jefferson Davis.  They discussed Lincoln's letter to Francis Pickens and the subject of "firing on bread" must have come up.  Lincoln had informed the South Carolina governor that he would be sending food to the fort; starting a war would be up to the Confederates.

Toombs told Davis, "The firing on that fort will inaugurate a civil war greater than any the world has yet seen; and I do not feel competent to advise you."  As the conversation heated up, Toombs did advise, producing one of the more memorable quotes of the war, telling Davis,
"Mr. President, at this time it is suicide, murder, and will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet's nest which extends from mountain to ocean, and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal."

Also on this date, in New York, two more vessels departed for the Fort Sumter expedition.  Captain Gustavus Fox is aboard the Baltic.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

150 Years Ago: More Tensions

On Monday, April 8, 1861, R. S. Chew, Lincoln's emissary from the State Department, arrived in Charleston and fulfilled his mission, informing South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens that a relief expedition was coming to Fort Sumter.  Pickens informed General P. G. T. Beauregard, who placed all Confederate forces in the harbor on alert.  The supplies for the fort left New York harbor on this day aboard the Harriet Lane.

Meanwhile, Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Walker approved General Braxton Bragg's request to open fire if an attempt were made to reinforce Fort Pickens at Pensacola.

William T. Sherman had been offered a job in the War Department.  On this date he had turned it down, leading many to believe that he planned to join the Confederate Army.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

150 Years Ago: Tensions Mount at the Forts

On Sunday, April 7, 1861, Lieutenant John Worden on the U.S. Navy was sent to Pensacola with orders for Captain H. A. Adams to reinforce Fort Pickens with the troops aboard the Brooklyn.  Meanwhile, General Braxton, the Confederate commander at Pensacola, wired his War Department requesting permission to open fire if any attempt was made to reinforce Pickens.

At Charleston, Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard informed Major Robert Anderson, the commander at Fort Sumter, that there would be no more interaction between the fort and the town.  The fort was now cut off, only reachable by sea.

In Washington, Secretary of State William Seward seemed to be trying to convince himself that the Fort Sumter situation would be resolved peacefully, and he was later seen to have been deceiving Southern emissaries as well.  On this date, he received a letter from Justice John Campbell.  Campbell had heard the rumors of an expedition, knew that it couldn't be going to Fort Sumter because Seward had assured him that the fort would not be reinforced.  Campbell wanted reassurance from Seward, and Seward obliged him, replying, "Faith as to Sumter fully kept -- wait and see."

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

150 Years Ago: Snafus

On Saturday, April 6, 1861, the U.S. government was trying to solve two snafus.  Neither was serious, and both were caused by trying to do things too quickly and not making sure that everyone involved knew what was going on.

The U.S.S. Powhatan, a strong warship, was to be part of the Fort Sumter expedition.  In fact, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles had specified that she be the flagship of the force.  But Secretary of State William Seward wanted the Powhatan for the Fort Pickens expedition, and he wanted Lieutenant David Porter in command.  He sent the orders to Lincoln, who signed them.  Welles was not in on the decision and tried to get the orders reversed, but Porter set sail for Pensacola.

In the end, it didn't matter.  The war would have started at Charleston harbor whether the Powhatan was there or not.

On March 12, the President had decided to reinforce Fort Pickens and the War Department had sent orders to Pensacola to land the troops aboard the Brooklyn. Then it seemed like everyone just forgot about it, assuming the orders would be carried out. But the commander of the fleet at Pensacola, Captain H. A. Adams had orders from Gideon Welles not to do anything to change the status quo there.  Adams didn't feel that orders from the War Department superceded his orders from the Department of the Navy, and refused to land the troops.

On this date, Washington finally discovered that the fort had never been reinforced.  Welles sent new orders to Adams and the troops were finally landed.

Also on this date, R. S. Chew of the State Department left for Charleston.  He was Lincoln's emissary to South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens, sent to inform him that Washington would be resupplying Fort Sumter.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

150 Years Ago: Fox Gets His Orders

Fort Sumter in South Carolina, USA.Image via Wikipedia

On Thursday, April 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln called Captain Gustavus Fox to the White House.  The president had finally made up his mind to relieve Fort Sumter and Fox would be the man to do it around April 11.

Lincoln told Fox that a messenger would be sent to South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens giving him due notice of the attempt.  No troops would be landed if the delivery of the provisions was unopposed.

Lincoln also gave Fox formal orders from Secretary of War Simon Cameron.  Fox was to load supplies and troops into a ship at New York, then proceed to Charleston harbor.  If armed forces opposed him, he was to report to the senior naval officer present who would have orders from Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles to use his entire force to land troops and supplies.  A letter was being sent to Major Anderson at the fort that day telling him what was being attempted and ordering him to hold out if he could.

Fox hurried back to New York, where he chartered the Baltic and rounded up the troops and supplies needed.  He was ready to set sail by April 9.

From The Coming Fury by Bruce Catton:
"The expedition he was leading had been substantially augmented since he first suggested it. Originally the big idea had been to slip a boatload of provisions into the harbor by a stealthy dash at night, relying on speed and deception to get the supplies to Fort Sumter before the Confederates knew what was up; now all question of surprise was given up, Governor Pickens was being officially notified in advance that the thing was going to be tried, and four warships were going along with orders to open fire if there was any trouble. Clearly enough the entire concept of the operation had changed. A month earlier the underlying idea had been to uphold Major Anderson and his garrison; now it was nothing less than to uphold the breadth and depth of Federal authority over an unbroken Union. The first might have been done by a quick dash with nobody looking; the second would mean nothing unless seen by all the world, and if General Beauregard's cannon might help call the world's attention to it, that would be up to General Beauregard. The first had been nothing more than a play for time. This was a frank avowal that time had run out.

"Table stakes, in other words. Sending the outridder down to Governor Pickens, Lincoln was shooting the works. He was not forcing a war, but he was serving notice that he would rather fight than back down; more, he was setting the stage in such a way that Jefferson Davis, if he in his turn preferred to fight rather than to back down, would have to shoot first. Lincoln had been plainly warned by Lamon and Hurlbut that a ship taking provisions to Fort Sumter would be fired on. Now he was sending the ship, with advance notice to the men who had the guns. He was sending warships and soldiers as well, but they would remain in the background; if there was going to be a war it would begin over a boatload of salt pork and crackers -- over that, and the infinite overtones which by now were involved. Not for nothing did Captain Fox remark afterward that it seemed very important to Lincoln that South Carolina 'should stand before the civilized world as having fired upon bread.'"

Also on this date, in Virginia, the state convention rejected a motion to hold a referendum on secession 89 to 45. Virginia would stay in the Union for the time being. At about the same time, Lincoln met with John Baldwin, a Unionist member of the Virginia state convention. Apparently Lincoln was trying to work out some kind of deal that would keep Virginia in the Union, that he would trade a fort (Sumter) for a state. Baldwin could not make a deal to bind the convention and nothing ever became of the negotiation.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

150 Years Ago: The Rhoda H. Shannon

With rumors flying around Charleston that the Federal government was soon going to make an attempt to reinforce and resupply Fort Sumter, the Rhoda H. Shannon blundered onto the scene on Wednesday, April 3, 1861, and almost started a war.

Captain Joseph Marts, the captain of the Rhoda H. Shannon, a private schooner out of Boston, had 180 tons of ice to deliver to Savannah.  He thought he had reached his destination; the Charleston lighthouse guided him into what he thought was Tybee Roads, off the coast of Savannah. 

As the schooner went past what Captain Marts thought was Tybee Island, but was actually Morris Island, a shot streaked across his bow.  Thinking this was a warning to show his colors, Marts did exactly the wrong thing to do in Charleston harbor in April of 1861:  he hoisted the Stars and Stripes.  Thinking this was the attempt to reinforce Fort Sumter, the guns at Morris Island opened fire on the ship.  Marts, not knowing what this was all about, lowered his colors and continued on until a shot ripped through his mainsail.  With that, he turned and headed back the way he had come.

At Fort Sumter, Major Robert Anderson's drums called his men to quarters and the guns were readied.  At least five of his officers urged him to open fire on the Confederate battery.  Anderson hesitated until the Rhoda H. Shannon was gone.  Inquiries were made with the Confederate authorities on shore and the schooner, which was now anchored just inside the bar of the harbor.  Finally, the situation was resolved and the ship continued on its way.  The war had been averted yet another day.

Also on this date, and also in South Carolina, the state convention met and approved the Confederate Constitution 114 to 16.

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Friday, April 01, 2011

150 Years Ago: "Some Thoughts for the President's Consideration"

William Henry Seward, circa 1860-1865Image via Wikipedia

On April 1, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln received an extraordinary letter from Secretary of State William Seward entitled "Some Thoughts for the President's Consideration."  Lincoln might be forgiven for thinking it an April Fool's Day prank if such a thing existed at that time.  Seward was essentially trying to set himself up to be the prime minister or premier of the Lincoln administration.  Lincoln quickly responded, putting Seward in his place.

The letter and Lincoln's reply did not come to light until many years after the war.  According to John Nicolay and John Hay, Lincoln's private secretaries and biographers, "So far as is known, the affair never reached the knowledge of any other member of the Cabinet, or even the most intimate of the President's friends; nor was it probably ever again alluded to by either Lincoln or Seward. Doubtless it needed only the President's note to show the Secretary of State how serious a fault he had committed, for all his tireless industry and undivided influence continued to be given for four long years to his chief, not only without reserve, but with a sincere and devoted personal attachment."

First. We are at the end of a month's administration, and yet without a policy either domestic or foreign.

Second. This, however, is not culpable, and it has even been unavoidable. The presence of the Senate, with the need to meet applications for patronage, have prevented attention to other and more grave matters.

Third. But further delay to adopt and prosecute our policies for both domestic and foreign affairs would not only bring scandal on the administration, but danger upon the country.

Fourth. To do this we must dismiss the applicants for office. But how? I suggest that we make the local appointments forthwith, leaving foreign or general ones for ulterior and occasional action.

Fifth. The policy at home. I am aware that my views are singular, and perhaps not sufficiently explained. My system is built upon this idea as a ruling one, namely, that we must

Change The Question Before The Public From One Upon Slavery, Or About Slavery, for a question upon UNION Or Disunion:

In other words, from what would be regarded as a party question, to one of patriotism or union.

The occupation or evacuation of Fort Sumter, although not in fact a slavery or a party question, is so regarded. Witness the temper manifested by the Republicans in the free states, and even by the Union men in the South.

I would therefore terminate it as a safe means for changing the issue. I deem it fortunate that the last administration created the necessity.

For the rest, I would simultaneously defend and reenforce all the ports in the gulf, and have the navy recalled from foreign stations to be prepared for a blockade. Put the island of Key West under martial law.

This will raise distinctly the question of union or disunion. I would maintain every fort and possession in the South.

For Foreign Nations

I would demand explanations from Spain and France, categorically, at once.

I would seek explanations from Great Britain and Russia, and send agents into Canada, Mexico, and Central America to rouse a vigorous continental spirit of independence on this continent against European intervention.

And, if satisfactory explanations are not received from Spain and France,

Would convene Congress and declare war against them.

But whatever policy we adopt, there must be an energetic prosecution of it.

For this purpose it must be somebody's business to pursue and direct it incessantly.

Either the President must do it himself, and be all the while active in it, or

Devolve it on some member of his cabinet. Once adopted, debates on it must end, and all agree and abide.

It is not in my especial province;

But I neither seek to evade nor assume responsibility.


Executive Mansion, April i, 1861.

My Dear Sir: Since parting with you I have been considering your paper dated this day, and entitled "Some Thoughts for the President's Consideration." The first proposition in it is, "First, We are at the end of a month's administration, and yet without a policy either domestic or foreign."

At the beginning of that month, in the inaugural, I said: "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 had your distinct approval at the time; and, taken in connection with the order I immediately gave General Scott, directing him to employ every means in his power to strengthen and hold the forts, comprises the exact domestic policy you now urge, with the single exception that it does not propose to abandon Fort Sumter.

Again, I do not perceive how the reenforcement of Fort Sumter would be done on a slavery or a party issue, while that of Fort Pickens would be on a more national and patriotic one.

The news received yesterday in regard to St. Domingo certainly brings a new item within the range of our foreign policy; but up to that time we have been preparing circulars and instructions to ministers and the like, all in perfect harmony, without even a suggestion that we had no foreign policy.

Upon your closing propositions — that "whatever policy we adopt, there must be an energetic prosecution of it.

"For this purpose it must be somebody's business to pursue and direct it incessantly.

"Either the President must do it himself, and be all the while active in it, or

"Devolve it on some member of his cabinet. Once adopted, debates on it must end, and all agree and abide" — I remark that if this must be done, I must do it. When a general line of policy is adopted, I apprehend there is no danger.of its being changed without good reason, or continuing to be a subject of unnecessary debate; still, upon points arising in its progress I wish, and suppose I am entitled to have, the advice of all the cabinet.

Your obedient servant,

A. Lincoln.
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