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Tennessee, Maryland, Delaware, Missouri and Arkansas in their present attitude, and to leave the seven refractory States to grow weary of their experiment — which might soon collapse through reactionary or servile insurrection — yet without recognizing their assumed secession or coming into collision with any of them singly or all conjointly, seemed practicable to the Secretary of State, and its accomplishment a master stroke of statesmanship.
Nor did Mr. Seward see anything fatal to this scheme in the inaugural address, though it was more positive on some points than he would have wished. The address is to be read in its proper light as indicating the course the Administration would pursue in the absence of armed violence, coupled with the assurance that peace would continue unless the malcontents should themselves begin war. With those who were “ dissatisfied ” would rest the choice.
Instead of receiving the inaugural address in the conciliatory and pacific spirit in which it was written, the authors of secession pronounced it a declaration of war. On the 9th of March the Montgomery Congress passed an act to provide for a Confederate army, pursuant to the recommendation of their “chief,” Jefferson Davis. This was their response. The President never imagined, of course, that these persons were at present to be persuaded or restrained by anything he could say. His arguments and appeals were not made for their ears alone. Not only were eight slave States refusing to follow their lead, but in the Confederate seven it was believed there were large numbers of people whose hearts were not in the secession cause. Nothing would satisfy its leaders, he well knew, short of absolute severance from the Union; but was it too late for the South, by repudiating these men altogether, to escape the abyss toward which they were guiding her?
Three days after the passage of the act to raise a Confederate army, Mr. Forsyth, of Alabama, and Mr. Crawford, of Georgia, presented themselves at the State Department in Washington in the attitude of commissioners representing “an independent nation de facto and de jure," and asking the negotiation of a treaty. The President declined all recognition of them; and with Mr. Seward's “memorandum ” to this effect was inclosed a copy of the inaugural address, to which these gentlemen were referred for the views of the Government in the case. Representations, however, were made to them by Justice Campbell, who was in communication with Mr. Seward, which they construed as an assurance of the speedy evacuation of Fort Sumter.
Forts Sumter and Pickens were in those days objects of engrossing solicitude. On the morning after the inauguration the President's attention was called to a letter received the day before by the Secretary of War (Mr. Holt) from Major Anderson, indicating that unless he was sustained by a force about twenty thousand strong, it would be better to make no farther efforts to hold Fort Sumter. The Secretary was surprised — so different was this from the reports before received from Major Anderson. It was not less a surprise to the President. He conferred with Mr. Seward, who favored the proposed surrender of the fort.
The Senate, in extra session for executive business, sat until the 18th of March. Many Representativeselect, as well as many unreturned members whose terms had just expired, lingered in Washington, not only interesting themselves in the distribution of Government offices, but growing concerned over the prolonged inaction and reticence of the Administration touching affairs at Charleston. Senators in their places fell to discussing the subject. Among the Democrats who seemed very solicitous for an authentic avowal of the President's intention was Mr. Douglas, who sought to extort some explicit expression from the Republican side, but without much satisfaction.
The President, determined at all events to retain possession of Fort Pickens unless it was assailed and captured by force, which he would guard against by sending reinforcements and supplies, was meanwhile considering whether a like course was now practicable and expedient in regard to Fort Sumter. He learned that a former officer of the Navy, Captain Gustavus V. Fox, now in private life after eighteen years of creditable service, had proposed a plan for supplying and reinforcing the fort, directly after the failure of the Star of the West, and that his plan found favor with the War Department and would have been tried had not Mr. Buchanan finally withheld his consent. Captain Fox was a son-in-law of Levi Woodbury, of New Hampshire, formerly Secretary of the Treasury, to whom Postmaster-General Blair sustained the same relation. Through the medium of Mr. Blair, the President invited an interview with Fox on the 12th of March, which was had in conjunction with General Scott, at the latter's office. The General, who had approved this project in February, gave his opinion that it was not
now feasible, on account of the batteries since erected at the entrance of the harbor. With the consent of the President, Fox soon visited Charleston and Fort Sumter. Major Anderson authorized him to report that, with his present supplies, he would not be able to hold out beyond the 15th of April, and could not be relieved except by landing a large force on Morris Island. Captain Fox did not mention to him the plan under consideration, though himself convinced that the circumstances did not preclude its trial.
On the 15th of March, Lincoln sent this note to Secretary Cameron and the other Cabinet officers:
Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances is it wise to attempt it? Please give me your opinion in writing on this question.
Mr. Cameron thought it would be “unwise "-concurring with the known views of Secretary Seward. All the other members of the Cabinet, with but two exceptions, replied to the same effect. Mr. Blair was positive and earnest in the affirmative; and Secretary Chase inclined, though less decidedly, to the same side.
Two weeks later, some days after Captain Fox's return, followed by further consultations, the President gave this order (March 29th) to the Secretary of War:
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 the memorandum attached, and that you co-operate with the Secretary of the Navy for that object.
The details of the “ memorandum ” were in accord with the project of Captain Fox, which, in his own language, “simply involved passing batteries with
steamers or boats at night, at right angles to their line of fire, and one thousand three hundred yards distant, a feat of which the Crimean war furnished many safe · examples.” It may be added that there were many similar examples at home during the next four years. The steamship Baltic, of the Collins line, was chartered for the main work of transportation and was to be sustained by three vessels of the Navy — the Powhatan, the Pawnee and the Pocahontas — the revenue cutter Harriet Lane, and three steam tugs. A number of armed launches, with sailors to man them, were on board the Powhatan for making the intended transfers from the Baltic to the fort. The expedition was under the command of Fox, who did not receive the President's decisive order for its departure until the 4th of April, when the preparations were still uncompleted.
The officers of the Navy received sealed orders through Secretary Welles — Captain Mercer, of the Powhatan to have chief command of the naval contingent. In the further attempts at secrecy, there were some irregularities, Secretary Seward preparing certain orders for signature by the President of which Mr. Welles had no knowledge at the time. Among these were two, dated April ist, “recommended” by the Secretary of State, and signed with others coming from the State Department, giving Lieutenant David D. Porter command of the Powhatan and changing its destination to Pensacola harbor. These orders deprived Captain Fox of his chief naval support, as well as of the launches on which he relied, which were on board of that vessel. Secretary Welles became aware of this change as the Powhatan was about leaving New