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people to starve; that I shall send them provisions. If he fires on that vessel, he will fire upon an unarmed vessel loaded with bread. But I shall at the same time send a fleet along with her, with instructions not to enter the harbor of Charleston unless that vessel is fired into; and if she is, then the fleet is to enter the harbor and protect her. Now, Mr. Baldwin, that fleet is now lying in the harbor of New York, and will be ready to sail this afternoon at 5 o'clock; and although I fear it is almost too late, yet I will submit the proposition which I intended when I sent for Mr. Summers. Your convention in Richmond has been sitting now nearly two months, and all that they have done has been to shake the rod over my head. You have recently taken a vote in the Virginia convention on the right of secession, which was rejected by ninety to forty-five, a majority of two-thirds, showing the strength of the Union party in that convention. If you will go back to Richmond, and get that Union majority to adjourn and go home without passing the ordinance of secession, so anxious am I for the preservation of the peace of this country, and to save Virginia and the other border States from going out, that I will take the responsibility of evacuating Fort Sumter, and take the chance of negotiating with the cotton-States.
standing menace to me which embarrasses me very much."
Baldwin then relates how he made a grandiloquent speech to the President about the balance of power, the safeguards of the Constitution, and the self-respect of the convention; that the Union members had a clear majority of nearly three to one; they were controlling it for conservative results, and desired to have their hands upheld by a conciliatory policy; that if he had the control of the President's thumb and finger for five minutes he could settle the whole question. He would issue a proclamation, call a national convention, and withdraw the forces from Sumter and Pickens. But Mr. Baldwin declares and reiterates that he received from Mr. Lincoln "no pledge, no undertaking, no offer, no promise of any sort." "I am as clear in my recollections," he says, " as it is possible to be under "as the circumstances, that he made no such sug
Mr. Botts here asked how Baldwin received gestion as I understood it, and said nothing that proposition.
Sir [replied Lincoln, with a gesture of impatience], he would not listen to it for a moment; he hardly treated me with civility. He asked me what I meant by an adjournment; did I mean an adjournment sine die? Why, of course, Mr. Baldwin, said I. I mean an adjournment sine die. I do not mean to assume such a responsibility as that of surrendering that fort to the people of Charleston upon your adjournment, and then for you to return in a week or ten days and pass your ordinance of secession.
Mr. Botts then relates that he asked permission of the President to go himself and submit that proposition to the Union members of the convention, but that Lincoln replied it was too late, the fleet had sailed. Further, that Baldwin returned to Richmond without even disclosing the President's offer; and that he eventually became an active secessionist, and held a commission in the rebel army.*
On the material point Baldwin's testimony is directly to the contrary. He states that Seward's messenger reached Richmond April 3d; that at the request of Summers he immediately returned with him to Washington and called on the President on the morning of April 4th; that Lincoln took him into a private room and said, in substance: "I am afraid you have come too late; I wish you could have been here three or four days ago. Why do you not adjourn the Virginia convention?" 66 Adjourn it how?" asked Baldwin. "Do you mean sine die ?" "Yes," said Lincoln; "sine die. Why do you not adjourn it? It is a
Testimony of John Minor Botts. Report ofthe Joint Committee on Reconstruction, Ist sess. 39th Cong. + Testimony of John B. Baldwin. Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, 1st sess. 39th Cong. VOL. XXXV.-83.
from which I could infer it." +‡
A careful analysis and comparison with established data show many discrepancies and errors in the testimony of both these witnesses. Making due allowances for the ordinary defects of memory, and especially for the strong personal and political bias and prejudice under which they both received their impressions, the substantial truth probably lies midway between their extreme contradictory statements. The actual occurrence may therefore be summed up about as follows:
Mr. Seward had an abiding faith in the Unionism and latent loyalty of Virginia and the border States. He wished by conciliation to re-awaken and build it up; and thereby not merely retain these States, but make them the instruments, and this feeling the agency, to undermine rebellion and finally reclaim the cotton-States. Lincoln did not fully share this optimism; nevertheless he desired to avoid actual conflict, and was willing to make any experimental concession which would not involve the actual loss or abandonment of military or political advantage. The acts of the previous Administration had placed Fort Sumter in a peril from which, so the military authorities declared, he could not extricate it. His Cabinet advised its evacuation. Public opinion would justify him in sacrificing the fort to save the garrison. He had ordered Fort Pickens reënforced; he was daily awaiting news of the execution of his announced policy to "hold, occupy, and possess " the Government posts. Pickens once triumphantly secured, the
The article "A Piece of Secret History," in the "Atlantic Monthly" for April, 1875, contains only the substance of Baldwin's testimony before the Reconstruction Committee.
loss of Sumter could be borne. But might not the loss of Sumter be compensated? Might he not utilize that severe necessity, and make it the lever to procure the adjournment of the Virginia convention, which, to use his own figure, was daily shaking the rod over his head? This we may assume was his reasoning and purpose when about March 20th, either directly or through Seward, he invited Summers, the acknowledged leader of the Union members of the convention, to Washington.
Summers, however, hesitated, delayed, and finally refused to come. His plea of business was evidently a pretext, not a valid excuse. Meanwhile things had changed. The anxiouslylooked-for news of the reënforcement of Fort Pickens did not arrive. The Cabinet once more voted, and changed its advice. The President ordered the preparation of the Sumter expedition. A second expedition to Fort Pickens had been begun. Another perplexing complication, to be hereafter mentioned, had occurred. At this juncture Baldwin made his appearance, but clearly he had come too late. By this time (April 4, 1861) his presence was an embarrassment, and not a relief. Fully to inform him of the situation was hazardous, impossible; to send him back without explanation was impolite and would give alarm at Richmond. Lincoln therefore opened conversation with him, manifesting sufficient personal trust to explain what he intended to have told Summers. This called forth Baldwin's dogmatic and dictatorial rejoinder, from which Lincoln discovered two things: first, that Baldwin was only an embryo secessionist; and, second, that the Virginia convention was little else than a warming-pan for the rebellion. Hence the abrupt termination of the interview, and the unexplained silence at Richmond.
PREMIER OR PRESIDENT?
Ar noon on the 29th of March the Cabinet assembled and once more took up the all-absorbing question of Sumter. All the elements of the problem were now before them-Anderson's condition and the prospects of relief as newly reported by Fox; the state of public opinion in Charleston as described by Hurlbut; the Attorney-General's presentation of the legal aspects of an attempt at collecting the customs on shipboard; the Secretary of the Treasury's statement of the condition and resources of the revenue service; the report of the Secretary of the Navy as to what ships of war he could supply to blockade the port of Charleston; and, finally, the unexpected
*Bates, diary. Unpublished MS.
Seward, memorandum. Unpublished MS.
attitude of General Scott in advising the evacuation of Fort Pickens. All these features called out so much and such varied discussion, that at length the Attorney-General, taking up a pen, rapidly wrote on a slip of paper a short summing-up of his own conclusions. This he read aloud to the President, who thereupon asked the other members of the Cabinet to do the same. They all complied, and we have therefore the exact record of the matured opinions of the Cabinet members then present. The importance of the occasion renders these memoranda of enduring interest. Placed in. their order they read as follows: By Mr. Seward:
First. The dispatch of an expedition to supply or reënforce Sumter would provoke an attack, and so involve a war at that point.
The fact of preparation for such an expedition would the war and probably defeat the object. I do not inevitably transpire and would therefore precipitate think it wise to provoke a civil war beginning at Charleston and in rescue of an untenable position. Therefore I advise against the expedition in every
Second. I would call in Captain M. C. Meigs forthwith. Aided by his counsel I would at once and at every cost prepare for a war at Pensacola and Texas, to be taken, however, only as a consequence of mainStates. taining the possessions and authority of the United
Third. I would instruct Major Anderson to retire from Sumter forthwith. t
By Mr. Chase:
If war is to be the consequence of an attempt to provision Fort Sumter, war will just as certainly result from the attempt to maintain possession of Fort Pickens.
I am clearly in favor of maintaining Fort Pickens, and just as clearly in favor of provisioning Fort Sum
If that attempt be resisted by military force Fort Sumter should, in my judgment, be reënforced.
If war is to be the result, I perceive no reason why it may not be best begun in consequence of military resistance to the efforts of the Administration to sustain troops of the Union stationed, under the authority of the Government, in a fort of the Union, in the ordinary course of service. ‡
By Mr. Welles:
I concur in the proposition to send an armed force off Charleston, with supplies of provisions and reenforcements for the garrison at Fort Sumter, and of communicating at the proper time the intentions of the Government to provision the fort, peaceably if unmolested. There is little probability that this will be attempt to force in provisions without reenforcing the permitted, if the opposing forces can prevent it. An garrison at the same time might not be advisable; but armed resistance to a peaceable attempt to send provisions to one of our own forts will justify the Governthe garrison and furnish the necessary supplies. ment in using all the power at its command to reënforce
Fort Pickens and other places retained should be strengthened by additional troops, and, if possible, made impregnable.
The naval force in the Gulf and on the Southern coast should be increased. Accounts are published that vessels having on board marketable products for the
crews of the squadron at Pensacola are seized-the inhabitants we know are prohibited from furnishing the ships with provisions or water; and the time has arrived when it is the duty of the Government to assert and maintain its authority.*
By Mr. Smith:
Viewing the question whether Fort Sumter shall be evacuated as a political one, I remark that the effect of its evacuation upon the public mind will depend upon the concurrent and subsequent action of the Government. If it shall be understood that by its evacuation we intend to acknowledge our inability to enforce the laws, and our intention to allow treason and rebellion to run its course, the measure will be extremely disastrous and the Administration will become very unpopular. If, however, the country can be made to understand that the fort is abandoned from necessity, and at the same time Fort Pickens and other forts in our possession shall be defended, and the power of the Government vindicated, the measure will be popular and the country will sustain the Administration.
Believing that Fort Sumter cannot be defended, 1 regard its evacuation as a necessity, and I advise that Major Anderson's command shall be unconditionally
At the same time I would adopt the most vigorous measures for the defense of the other forts, and if we have the power I would blockade the Southern ports, and enforce the collection of the revenue with all the power of the Government. t
By Mr. Blair:
First. As regards General Scott, I have no confidence in his judgment on the questions of the day. His political views control his judgment, and his course as remarked on by the President shows that, whilst no one will question his patriotism, the results are the
same as if he was in fact traitorous.
Second. It is acknowledged to be possible to relieve Fort Sumter. It ought to be relieved without reference to Pickens or any other possession. South Carolina is the head and front of this rebellion, and when that State is safely delivered from the authority of the United States it will strike a blow against our authority from which it will take years of bloody strife
Third. For my own part, I am unwilling to share in the responsibility of such a policy. ‡
By Mr. Bates:
It is my decided opinion that Fort Pickens and Key West ought to be reënforced and supplied, so as to look down opposition at all hazards-and this whether
Fort Sumter be or be not evacuated.
It is also my opinion that there ought to be a naval force kept upon the Southern coast sufficient to command it, and if need be actually close any port that practically ought to be closed, whatever other station is left unoccupied.
It is also my opinion that there ought to be imme. diately established a line of light, fast-running vessels, to pass as rapidly as possible between New York or Norfolk at the North and Key West or other point in
the Gulf at the South.
As to Fort Sumter-I think the time is come either to evacuate or relieve it. §
* Welles, memorandum. Unpublished MS. + Smith, memorandum. Unpublished MS. Blair, memorandum. Unpublished MS. Bates, memorandum. Unpublished MS. Fox to Lincoln, March 28, 1861. MS. ¶Fox, memorandum. War Records.
The majority opinion of the Cabinet on the 15th of March had been against the expediency of an attempt to provision Fort Sumter; but now, after a lapse of two weeks, the feeling was changed in favor of the proposed measure. Irrespective of this fresh advice, however, the President's own opinion was already made up. On the day previous he had instructed Captain Fox to prepare him a short order for the ships, men, and supplies he would need for his expedition, || and that officer complied with characteristic and promising brevity:
Steamers Pocahontas at Norfolk, Pawnee at Washington, Harriet Lane at New York, to be under sailing orders for sea, with stores, etc., for one month. Three hundred men to be kept ready for departure from on board the receiving ships at New York. Two hundred men to be ready to leave Governor's Island in New York. Supplies for twelve months for one hundred men to be put in portable shape, ready for instant shipping. A large steamer and three tugs conditionally engaged. ¶
The Cabinet meeting over, the President wrote at the bottom of this preliminary requisition the following order to the Secretary of War: "Sir: I desire that an expedition, to move by sea, be got ready to sail as early as the 6th of April next, the whole according to memorandum attached, and that you coöperate with the Secretary of the Navy for that object."** This order and its duplicate to the Secretary of the Navy tt duly signed and transmitted to the two departments, Capfain Fox hurried away to New York to superintend the further details of preparation in person.
It will be observed that the President's order is simply to prepare the expedition; "which expedition," in his own language, was "intended to be ultimately used or not, according to circumstances." But he was by this time convinced that the necessity would arise. Nothing had yet been heard from the order to reënforce Fort Pickens sent two weeks previously; on the contrary, there were rumors through the Southern newspapers that the Brooklyn, containing the troops, had left her anchorage off Pensacola and gone to Key West. As a matter of fact, she had first transferred her troops to the Sabine; but this was not and could not be known, and the necessary inference was that the Brooklyn had carried them away with her. The direction to land them would therefore unavoidably fail,
and both Sumter and Pickens be thus left
** Lincoln to Secretary of War, March 29, 1861. War Records.
tt Lincoln to Secretary of Navy, March 29, 1861. "Galaxy," Nov., 1870.
# Lincoln, Message to Congress, July 4, 1861.
within the grasp of the secessionists. Such was the contingency which had decided the President to prepare the Sumter expedition.
The logic of daily events had by this time also wrought a change in the mind of Seward. In his written opinion of March 15th he had declared, "I would not provoke war in any way now"; but on the 29th, apparently alarmed, like the rest, at the advice of General Scott to make further concession to the rebels, he wrote, "I would at once, and at every cost, prepare for a war at Pensacola and Texas." That very afternoon, as he had suggested in this same paper, he brought Captain M. C. Meigs, the engineer officer in charge of the work on the new wings of the Capitol building, to the President. One reason for selecting him, in addition to his special training and acknowledged merit, was that he had in January personally accompanied the reënforcements then sent to Key West and Tortugas. On the way to and from the President's, Seward explained to Meigs that he wished the President to see some military man who would not talk politics; that they had Scott and Totten, but no one would think of putting either of those old men on horseback. They were in a difficulty. Scott had advised giving up both Sumter and Pickens. For his part, his policy had been to give up Sumter; but he wished to hold Pickens, making the fight there and in Texas, throwing the burden of the war, which all men of sense saw must come, upon those who, by revolting, had provoked it.†
The President talked freely with Captain Meigs, and after some inquiries about Sumter asked him whether Fort Pickens could be held. Meigs replied, "Certainly, if the navy would do its duty." The President then asked him whether he could go down there again and take general command of those three great fortresses, Taylor, Jefferson, and Pickens, and keep them safe. Meigs answered that he was only a captain, and could not command the majors who were there. Here Seward broke in with: "I understand how that is; Captain Meigs must be promoted." "But there is no vacancy," answered the modest captain. Mr. Seward, however, made light of all difficulties, and told the President if he wanted this thing done to put it in Meigs's charge. When Pitt wished to conquer Canada, he said, he sent for a young man whom he had noticed in the society of London, and told him to take Quebec,- to ask for the necessary means and do it,- and it was done. Would the President do this now? Lincoln
* Lincoln, Message to Congress, July 4, 1861.
replied he would consider it, and let him know in a day or two.
Two days afterward (Sunday, March 31st) Meigs was about starting for church when Colonel Keyes, General Scott's military secretary, called and took him to Mr. Seward, who requested them to go forthwith and in consultation with General Scott to put upon paper an estimate and project for relieving and holding Fort Pickens, and to bring it to the President before 4 o'clock that afternoon. The two officers went directly to the engineer's bureau to inspect the necessary charts of Pensacola Harbor and drawings of the fortifications, and over these they matured their plans. The rapid lapse of the few hours allowed compelled them to report back to the President before seeing General Scott. Lincoln heard them read their paper, and then directed them to submit it to the general. "Tell him," said he, "that I wish this thing done, and not to let it fail unless he can show that I have refused him something he asked for as necessary."† The officers obeyed, and on the way encountered Mr. Seward, who went with them. "General Scott," said he, on entering the old soldier's presence, "you have formally reported to the President your advice to evacuate Fort Pickens; notwithstanding this, I now come to bring you his order, as Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy, to reënforce and hold it to the last extremity." The old general had his political crotchets, but he was at heart a soldier and a disciplinarian. "Sir," replied he, drawing himself up to his full height, "the great Frederick used to say, 'When the king commands, all things are possible.' It shall be done." Meigs and Keyes submitted their plan, which he approved in the main, adding a few details they had in their haste overlooked; the project was further discussed and definitely adopted.
Fort Pickens stands on the western extremity of Santa Rosa Island, and serves, in connection with its twin fort, McRae, on the mainland opposite, to guard the entrance to Pensacola Harbor. But in this case the two forts intended to render mutual assistance were held by opposing forces, bent not upon protecting but upon destroying each other, and restrained only by the existence of the Sumter and Pickens truce," described in a previous chapter. So far as a mere cannonade might go, Pickens was perhaps as strong as McRae; but Lieutenant Slemmer in Pickens had only a handful of Union men, forty-six soldiers and thirty ordinary seamen all told, while some thousands of rebels were either encamped or within reach of the secession General Bragg, himself a trained and skillful soldier. The chief danger was that Bragg might organize a large
body of men, and by means of boats, crossing the bay at night or in a fog, carry Fort Pickens by a sudden assault long before the reënforcements in the Union fleet could be landed, as they were by the terms of the truce authorized to do in such an emergency. The substance of Meigs's plan was,that while a transport vessel bearing troops and stores landed them at Fort Pickens, outside the harbor, a ship-ofwar, arriving simultaneously, should boldly steam past the hostile batteries of Fort McRae, enter the harbor, and take up such a position within as to be able to prevent any crossing or landing by the rebels. The ship destined to run the batteries would necessarily encounter considerable peril, not only from the guns of McRae, but also from those of Fort Barrancas and supposed batteries at the navy yard-all, like McRae, on the mainland, and forming part of the harbor defenses.
For such coöperation Meigs needed a young, talented, and daring naval officer, and accordingly he made choice of Lieutenant David D. Porter, a companion and intimate friend, who, as he believed, combined the requisite qualities.
One important characteristic of this Pickens expedition was to be its secrecy. Seward in his argument on Sumter had much insisted that preparation for reënforcement would unavoidably come to the knowledge of the rebels, and enable them to find means to oppose it. This argument applied with even greater force to Fort Pickens; the rebels controlled both the post and the telegraph throughout the South, and it was thought that upon the first notice of hostile design Bragg would assault and overwhelm the fort. Besides, the orders transmitted through regular channels two weeks before had apparently failed. But now that the ships to supply Sumter were being got ready, it was doubtless thought that under this guise the Pickens relief could be prepared without suspicion. On Monday, April 1, 1861, Captain Meigs, Colonel Keyes, and Lieutenant Porter were busy, under the occasional advice of Seward and General Scott, in perfecting the details of their plans and in drawing up the formal orders required. These were in due time signed by the President himself, it being part of the plan that no one but the officers named, not even the Secretaries of War or Navy, should have knowledge of them.* This was an error which only the anomalous condition and extreme peril of the Government would have drawn Lincoln into, and it was never repeated. He doubtless supposed they were entirely consistent with the Sumter plans, especially as General Scott's written request for his signature
* Meigs, in "National Intelligencer," Sept. 16, 1865.
accompanied the papers- the general being perfectly cognizant of both expeditions.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, WASHINGTON, April 1, 1861. DEAR SIR: The immediate departure of a war steamer, with instructions to enter Pensacola Harbor and use all measures in his power to prevent any attack from the mainland upon Fort Pickens, is of prime importance. If the President, as Commander-in-chief, will issue the order of which I inclose a draft, an important step towards the security of Fort Pickens will dient servant, be taken. I am, sir, very respectfully, your most obeWINFIELD Scott.
HON. W. H. SEWARD, Secretary of State, etc.
But although useful to secrecy, this course was bound to produce confusion and bad That afternoon the commandant of the Brookdiscipline; and such was its immediate result. lyn Navy Yard received two telegrams, in very similar language, directing him to "fit out the Powhatan to go to sea at the earliest possible of the Navy, the other by the President; the moment." One was signed by the Secretary former intending the ship to go to Sumter, the latter to Pickens, and neither being aware of the other's action. Neither had reason to anticipate any such conflict of orders: the Powhatan was not included in Fox's original requisition, and Meigs did not even know that the Sumter expedition was being prepared.
On the same afternoon several additional
orders, made out under Seward's supervision, were brought to Lincoln. Supposing they all related to this enterprise, he signed them without reading; but it soon turned out that two of them related to a matter altogether different. These orders changed the duty of several naval officers: Captain Pendergrast was to be sent to Vera Cruz on account of "important complications in our foreign relations"; and Captain Stringham was to go to Pensacola. When these last-mentioned orders reached the hands of the Secretary of the Navy, to whom they were addressed and immediately transmitted, that official was not only greatly He hastened to the President, whom he found mystified but very seriously troubled in mind. alone in the executive office, writing. "What have I done wrong?" Lincoln inquired playfully, as he raised his head, and with his evernance of his Secretary. Mr. Welles presented the anomalous papers and asked what they meant; he had heard of no "foreign complications," and he preferred Stringham in his present duty.
accurate intuition read trouble in the counte
The President [says Mr. Welles] expressed as much surprise as I felt, that he had signed and sent me such a document. He said Mr. Seward, with two or three young men, had been there through the day on a matter which Mr. Seward had much at heart; that he had yielded to the project of Mr. Seward, but + Unpublished MS.