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  Adams didn't feel that orders from the War Department superceded his orders from the Department of the Navy, and refused to land the troops.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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