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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