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contemporary, he had defined the depth and breadth of the moral issues and rights it in volved; he had led the preliminary victory at the November polls. Now that the hydra of secession was raising a threatening head in every cotton-State, his simple logic rose above minor considerations to the peril and the protection of the nation, to the assault on and the defense of the Constitution. He saw but the ominous cloud of civil war in front, and the patriotic faith and enthusiasm of the people behind him. The slogan of a Seward committee, a Chase delegation, or a Cameron clan was but the symbol and promise of a Wide-Awake club to vote for freedom, or of an armed regiment on the battle-field to maintain it. Neither did any one yet suspect his delicate tact in management, strength of will, or firmness of purpose. In weaker hands such a Cabinet would have been a hot-bed of strife; under him it became a tower of strength. He made these selections because he wanted a council of distinctive and diverse, yet able, influential, and representative men, who should be a harmonious group of constitutional advisers and executive lieutenants,-not a confederated board of regents holding the great seal in commission and intriguing for the succession.
the military status was for the time being lost sight of beyond the immediate neighborhood of Charleston. Since the reorganization of Buchanan's cabinet on December 31st, and
EDWARD BATES, ATTORNEY-GENERAL.
THE QUESTION OF SUMTER.
IN his letter of January 4th, General Scott had promised Mr. Lincoln that from time to time he would keep him informed of the situation of military affairs. This promise the General failed to keep; probably not through any intentional neglect, but more likely be cause in the first place Buchanan's policy of delay, indecision, and informal negotiation with the conspirators left everything in uncertainty; and, secondly, because the attention of the Administration (and measurably of the whole country) was turned to the vague hope of compromise, especially through the labors of the Peace Convention. The rebels, on their part, were absorbed in the formation of the provisional government at Montgomery; Lincoln was making his memorable journey from Springfield to Washington by way of the chief cities of the North; the Fort Pickens truce was practically kept a secret; and thus
(FROM A PHOTOGRAPH BY BRADY.)
the expulsion or defection of traitors from the departments and from Congress, the whole North had breathed somewhat easier. The firing on the Star of the West had indeed created a storm of indignation; but this, too, quickly subsided, and by a sort of common consent all parties and sections looked to the incoming Administration as the only power which could solve the national crisis.
The key-note of such a solution was given in the inaugural of the new President. This announced a decided, though not a violent, change of policy. Buchanan's course had been one professedly of conciliation, but practically of ruinous concession. By argument he had almost justified the insurrection; he had acknowledged the doctrine of non-coercion ; he had abdicated the rightful authority and power of the Executive; he had parleyed and stipulated with treason; he had withheld reënforcements. Lincoln, receiving from his hands the precious trust of the Government, not in its original integrity, but humbled, impaired, diminished, and threatened,-announced his purpose of conciliation and not concession,
but conservation and restoration. "The policy chosen," said he, "looked to the exhaustion of all peaceful measures before a resort to any stronger ones. It sought only to hold the public places and property not already wrested from the Government, and to collect the revenue, relying for the rest on time, discussion, and the ballot-box. It promised a continuance of the mails at Government expense to the very people who were resisting the Government, and it gave repeated pledges against any disturbance to any of the people or any of their rights. Of all that which a President might constitutionally and justifiably do in such a case, everything was forborne without which it was believed possible to keep the Government on foot."*
This pacific purpose was now, however, destined to receive a rude shock. When on the morning of the 5th of March Lincoln went to his office and council chamber in the Executive Mansion, he found a letter from Mr. Holt, still acting as Secretary of War, giving him news of vital importance received on the morning of the inauguration,- namely, that Fort Sumter must, in the lapse of a few weeks at most, be strongly reënforced or summarily abandoned. Major Anderson had in the previous week made an examination of his provisions. There was bread for twenty-eight days; pork for a somewhat longer time; beans, rice, coffee, and sugar for different periods from eight to forty days. He had at the same time consulted his officers on the prospects and possibilities of relief and reënforcement. They unanimously reported that before Sumter could be permanently or effectively succored a combined land and naval force must attack and carry the besieging forts and batteries, and hold the secession militia at bay, and that such an undertaking would at once concentrate at Charleston all the volunteers, not alone of South Carolina, but of the adjacent States as well. "I confess," wrote Anderson, transmitting the reports and estimates of his nine officers, "that I would not be willing to risk my reputation on an attempt to throw reënforcements into this harbor within the time for our relief rendered necessary by the limited supply of our provisions, and with a view of holding. possession of the same with a force of less than twenty thousand good and well-disciplined men." Mr. Holt, quoting from previous instructions to and reports from the major, added that this declaration "takes the De*Lincoln, Message to Congress, July 4th, 1861.
Anderson to Cooper, Feb. 28th, 1861. MS. Partly
printed in War Records.
partment by surprise, as his previous correspondence contained no such intimation."
Retrospective criticism as to why or how such a state of things had been permitted to grow up was, of course, useless. Here was a most portentous complication, not of Lincoln's own creating, but which he must nevertheless meet and overcome. He had counted on the
MONTGOMERY BLAIR, POSTMASTER-GENERAL. (FROM A PHOTOGRAPH BY BRADY.)
soothing aid of time: time, on the contrary, was in this emergency working in the interest of rebellion. General Scott was at once called into council, but his sagacity and experience could afford neither suggestion nor encouragement. That same night he returned the papers to the President with a somewhat lengthy indorsement reciting the several events which led to, and his own personal efforts to avert, this contingency, but ending with the gloomy conclusion, "Evacuation seems almost inevitable, and in this view our distinguished Chief Engineer (Brigadier Totten) concurs-if indeed the worn-out garrison be not assaulted and carried in the present week."
This was a disheartening, almost a disastrous, beginning for the Administration. The Cabinet had only that same day been appointed and confirmed. The presidential advisers had not yet taken their posts - all had not even signified their acceptance. There was an impatient multitude clamoring for audience, and behind these swarmed a hungry army of officeseekers. Everything was urgency and confu
sion, everywhere was ignorance of method and routine. Rancor and hatred filled the breasts of political opponents departing from power; suspicion and rivalry possessed partisan adherents seeking advantage and promotion. As yet, Lincoln virtually stood alone, face to face with the appalling problems of the present and the threatening responsibilities of the future. Doubtless in this juncture he remembered and acted upon a biblical precedent which in after days of trouble and despondency he was wont to quote for justification or consolation. When the children of Israel murmured on the shore of the Red Sea, Moses told them to "stand still and see the salvation of the Lord." Here then, at the very threshold of his presidential career, Lincoln had need to practice the virtue of patience,-one of the cardinal elements of his character, acquired in many a personal and political tribulation of his previous life.
He referred the papers back to General Scott to make a more thorough investigation of all the questions involved. At the same time he gave him a verbal order, touching his future general public policy, which a few days later was reduced to writing, and on the installation of the new Secretary of War transmitted by that functionary to the General-in-chief through the regular official channels, as follows:
"I am directed by the President to say he desires you to exercise all possible vigilance for the maintenance of all the places within the military department of the United States, and to promptly call upon all the departments of the Government for the means necessary to that end."*
On the 9th of March, in written questions Lincoln in substance asked General Scott to inform him: 1st. To what point of time can Anderson maintain his position in Sumter? 2d. Can you, with present means, relieve him within that time? 3d. What additional means would enable you to do so? This was on Saturday following the inauguration. The chiefs of the several departments, with the exception of Cameron, Secretary of War, had been during the week inducted into office. That night the President held his first Cabinet council on the state of the country; and the crisis at Sumter, with the question of relieving the fort, was for the first time communicated to his assembled advisers. The general effect was one of dismay if not consternation. For such a discussion all were unprepared. Naturally all decision must be postponed, and the assistance of professional advice be sought. What followed has been written down by an eye-witness and participant.
* Cameron to Scott (written by Lincoln). Unpublished MS.
March 9th, 1861, Saturday night.-A Cabinet council upon the state of the country. I was astonished to be informed that Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, must be evacuated, and that General Scott, General Totten, and Major Anderson concur in opinion, that as the place has but twenty-eight days' provision, it must be relieved, if at all, in that time; and that it will take a force of 20,000 men at least, and a bloody battle, to relieve it!
"For several days after this, consultations were held as to the feasibility of relieving Fort Sumter, at which were present, explaining and aiding, General Scott, General Totten, Commodore Stringham, and Mr. Fox, who seems to be au fait in both nautical and military matters. The army officers and navy officers differ widely about the degree of danger to rapid-moving vessels passing under the fire of land batteries. The the navy officers think the danger but slight. The one believe that Sumter cannot be relieved - not even provisioned — without an army of twenty thousand men and a bloody battle. The other (the naval) believe that with light, rapid vessels they can cross the bar at high tide of a dark night, run the enemy's forts (Moultrie and Cumming's Point), and reach Sumter with little risk. They say that the greatest danger will be in landing at Sumter, upon which point there may be a concentrated fire. They do not doubt that the place can be and ought to be relieved.
officers think destruction almost inevitable, where
"Mr. Fox is anxious to risk his life in leading the relief, and Commodore Stringham seems equally con
fident of success.
"The naval men have convinced me fully that the thing can be done, and yet as the doing of it would be almost certain to begin the war, and as Charleston is of little importance as compared with the chief points in the Gulf, I am willing to yield to the military counsel and evacuate Fort Sumter, at the same time strengthening the forts in the Gulf so as to look down opposition, and guarding the coast with all our naval power, if need be, so as to close any port at pleasure.
"And to this effect I gave the President my written opinion on the 16th of March."
This extract from the diary of Edward Bates, the Attorney-General in the new Administration, shows us the drift and scope of the official discussions on the Sumter question. To understand its full bearings, however, we must examine it a little more specifically. The idea of the evacuation and abandonment of the fort was so repugnant that Mr. Lincoln could scarcely bring himself to entertain it: we have his own forcible statement of how the apparently crushing necessity presented itself to his mind. General Scott, on March 11th and 12th, made written replies to the questions the President had propounded, and submitted the draft of an order for evacuation.
He believed Anderson could, in respect to provisions, hold out some forty days without much suffering, but that the assailants, having overpowering numbers, could easily wear out the garrison by a succession of pretended night attacks, and, when ready, take it easily by a single real assault. To supply or reënforce the fort successfully, he should need a fleet of war vessels and transports which it would take + Unpublished MS.
Bates, diary. Unpublished MS.
point of view," says Lincoln, "this reduced the duty of the Administration in the case to the mere matter of getting the garrison safely out of the fort. It was believed, however, that so to abandon that position, under the circumstances, would be utterly ruinous; that the necessity under which it was to be done would not be fully understood; that by many it would be construed as a part of a voluntary policy; that at home it would discourage the friends of the Union, embolden its adversaries, and go far to insure to the latter a recognition abroad; that in fact it would be our national Unpublished MS.
Ward expedition, prepared about the middle of February, which was to have consisted of several small Coast Survey steamers. To this end he called Captain Ward to Washington and again discussed the plan. This, however, considering the increase of batteries and channel obstructions, was now by both of them pronounced impracticable. But one other offer seemed worthy of consideration. This was the plan proposed by Gustavus V. Fox, a gentleman thirty-nine years of age, who had been nineteen years in the United States Navy, had been engaged in the survey of the + Lincoln, Message to Congress, July 4th, 1861.
Southern coast of the United States, had commanded United States mail steamers, and had resigned from the navy in 1856 to engage in civil pursuits. He was a brother-in-law of the new Postmaster-General, Blair, who seconded his project with persistence. He had made his proposal to General Scott early in February, and, backed by prominent New York merchants and shippers, urged it as he best might through the whole of that month.
In his various communications Captain Fox thus described his plan:
"I propose to put the troops on board of a large, comfortable sea-steamer, and hire two [or three] pow. erful light-draught New York tug-boats, having the necessary stores on board; these to be convoyed by the United States steamer Pawnee, now at Philadelphia, and the revenue cutter Harriet Lane. Arriving off the bar [at Charleston], I propose to examine by to examine by day the naval preparations and obstructions. If their vessels determine to oppose our entrance (and a feint or flag of truce would ascertain this), the armed ships must approach the bar and destroy or drive them on shore. Major Anderson would do the same upon any vessels within the range of his guns, and would also prevent any naval succor being sent down from the city. Having dispersed this force, the only obstacles are the forts on Cumming's Point and Fort Moultrie, and what ever adjacent batteries they may have erected, distant on either hand from mid-channel about three-quarters of a mile. At night, two hours before high water, with half the force on board of each tug, within relieving distance of each other, I should run in to Fort Sumter.*
"These tugs are sea-boats, six feet draught, speed fourteen knots. The boilers are below, with three and a half feet space on each side, to be filled with coal. The machinery comes up between the wheel-houses, with a gangway on either hand of five to six feet, enabling us to pack the machinery with two or three thicknesses of bales of cotton or hay. This renders the vulnerable parts of the steamer proof against grape and fragments of shells, but the momentum of a solid shot would probably move the whole mass and disable the engine. The men are below, entirely protected from grape- provisions on deck. The first tug to lead in empty, to open their [the enemy's] fire. The other two to follow, with the force divided, and towing the large iron boats of the Baltic, which would hold the whole force should every tug be disabled, and empty they would not impede the tugs."
The feasibility of Captain Fox's plan thus rested upon his ability to "run the batteries," and on this point the main discussion now turned. As recorded in the diary we have quoted, the army officers believed destruction almost inevitable, while the naval officers thought a successful passage might be effected. Captain Fox, who had come to Washington, finally argued the question in person before the President, Cabinet, and assembled military officers, adducing the recorded evidence of examples and incidents which had occurred in the Crimean war, and the results of Dahlgren's experiments in firing at stationary targets; maintaining that there was no certainty whatever, and even only a minimum of chance, that VOL. XXXV.- 60.
land batteries could hit a small object moving rapidly at right angles to their line of fire at a distance of thirteen hundred yards, especially at night.
So far as mere theory could do it, he successfully demonstrated his plan, convincing the President and at least a majority of his Cabinet against all the objections of General Scott and his subordinate officers.
The scheme of Captain Fox presented such favorable chances that the military problem seemed in fair way of solution; nevertheless, as the more important of the two, the political question yet remained to be considered. Resolved on prudent deliberation, President Lincoln now, on March 15th, asked the written answer of his constitutional advisers to the following inquiry:
"Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances is it wise to attempt it ?"
As requested, the members of the Cabinet returned on the next day a somewhat elaborate reply, setting forth their reasons and conclusions. Two of them, Chase and Blair, agreeing with the President's own inclinations, responded in the affirmative; the five others, Seward, Cameron, Welles, Smith, and Bates, advised against the measure.
"I have not reached my own conclusion," wrote Chase," without much difficulty. If the proposed enterprise will so influence civil war as to involve an im. mediate necessity for the enlistment of armies and the expenditure of millions, I cannot, in the existing circumstances of the country and in the present condition of the national finances, advise it."‡
He argued, however, that an immediate proclamation of reasons, and the manifestation of a kind and liberal spirit towards the South, would avert such a result, and he would therefore return an affirmative answer.
Blair had been from the first in favor of prompt and vigorous measures against the insurrection. A Democrat of the Jackson school, he would repeat Jackson's policy against nullification. He had brought forward and urged the scheme of Captain Fox. By the connivance of Buchanan's administration, he argued, the rebellion had been permitted unchecked to grow into an organized government in seven States. It had been practically treated as a lawful proceeding; and, if allowed to continue, all Southern people must become reconciled to it. The rebels believe Northern men are deficient in courage to maintain the Government. The evacuation of Sumter will convince them that the Administration lacks firmness. Sumter reënforced becomes invulnerable, and will
*Fox, memorandum, Feb. 6th, 1861. War Records. Fox to Blair, Feb. 23d, 1861. War Records. Chase to Lincoln, March 16th, 1861.