« PreviousContinue »
The artificial island on which Fort Sumter is built is constructed of the refuse from the granite quarries of New England. Ten years was consumed in its completion, at a cost of half a million of dollars. The fortification is of a pentagonal form, built of solid brick masonry. The walls are fifty feet in height, and from eight to ten feet in thickness, and are pierced for three tiers of guns, besides having necessary loop-boles for musketry, and designed for an armament of one hundred and forty pieces of ordnance, of all calibres. The full armament of the fort, however, had not arrived there when Major Anderson took possession, but it was thought that, with the armament then in the fort, the guns would be capable of throwing six thousand pounds of shot at each discharge.
The other officers of the garrison, under Major Anderson, were Captain Abner Doubleday, Captain Seymour, Lieutenant T. Talbot, Lieutenant J.C. Davis, Lieutenant N. J. Hall, all of the first regiment, artillery ; Captain J. G. Foster, and Lieutenant G. W. Snyder, of the engineer corps ; Assistant Surgeon S. W. Crawford, of the medical staff. The force under these gentlemen consisted of two companies of artillery; the companies, however, were not full, the two comprising only about seventy men, including the band.
On the morning of the 27th it was ascertained at Charleston that Fort Moultrie was evacuated. This news was displayed on the bulletins, and intense excitement spread throughout the city; the indignation of the people knew no bounds. Several of the military companies were ordered out, and the convention went into secret session.
The intelligence that Major Anderson had abandoned and destroyed the chief material works of Fort Moultrie was received at Washington before noon on the 27th ; but up to ten o'clock, P. M., no official information had been received from Charleston, either by the President or Secretary of War. At first, the report was discredited, and public opinion was not at all settled upon the point, until, late in the afternoon, the following dispatch was sent to the President, by the South Carolina commissionérs, they having just received it :
“Great excitement, on account of removal of garrison from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter. Removed on Wednesday evening, and at night. Captain Foster, with small guard, left in Fort Moultrie to complete dismantling. They are now burning gun-carriages; guns spiked, and report of intention to blow up Fort Moultrie."
The President immediately convened his cabinet, in extraordinary session. The confirmation of the important intelligence spread with great rapidity, and created most intense excitement throughout the entire country. It was the topic everywhere, and various were the conjectures as to the cause which led to the event. Many approved, and but few condemned. The conduct of Major Anderson was universally commended by Northern men of all parties, and by Union men everywhere.
December 28. The cabinet adjourned, after a protracted and exciting session of six hours. The affair at Charleston was the subject under consideration. Secretary Floyd stated to the President, in writing, that unless Major Anderson was withdrawn from Fort Sumter, he could not remain in the cabinet.
The South Carolina commissioners demanded," as an ultimatum, that the federal troops be withdrawn immediately from all the Charleston forts,-- as their presence, pending negotiations, was a menace, -or this would be their last interview, and they would return to South Carolina, and prepare for the worst.
How far they might have succeeded in bullying the President into compliance with their wishes, it is not possible now to say, but for the interference of such men as Holt and Stanton.
Thompson, Floyd and Thomas contended that a quasitreaty had been made, by the officers of the government, with the leaders of the rebellion, to offer no resistance to their violations of law and seizures of government property. Floyd, especially, blazed with indignation at what he termed the “ violation of honor.” At last, Mr. Thompson, Secretary of the Interior, formally moved that an imperative order be issued to Major Anderson, to retire from Sumter to Fort Moultrie; abondoning Sumter to the enemy, and proceeding to a post, where, from the weakness of the position, he must at once surrender. Mr. Stanton, the then newly-appointed Attorney General (now Secretary of War), could sit still no longer; and rising, he said, with all the earnestness that could be expressed in his bold and resolute features - "Mr. President, it is my duty, as your legal adviser, to say that you have no right to give up the property of the government, or abandon the soldiers of the United States to its enemies; and the course proposed by the Secretary of the Interior, if followed, is treason, and will involve you, and all concerned, in treason."
Such language had never before been heard in Buchanan's cabinet, and the men who had so long ruled and bullied the President were surprised and enraged to be thus rebuked. Floyd and Thompson sprang to their feet with fierce, menacing gestures, seeming about to assault Stanton. Mr. Holt took a step forward to the side of the Attorney General.
The imbecile President implored them, piteously, to take their seats.
The President determined, after a full deliberation, not to withdraw Major Anderson, and Mr. Floyd's resignation was, therefore, accepted. While the cabinet was still in session, news came that Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney had been taken possession of by South Carolina militia ; also, Secretary Thomas received a dispatch from Charleston stating that the revenue-cutter Aiken, in the port of Charleston, had been seized by the authorities, and that the captain, M. L. Coste, who is a native of Charleston, had resigned. This intelligence was immediately communicated to the cabinet.
Though the President would not accede to the demands of the commissioners, he signified that Major Anderson, in his movement, acted upon his own responsibility, and without any instructions to that effect; and were he so disposed, subsequent events precluded the possibility of restoring the troops to the status quo, Fort Moultrie being occupied by the Carolinians.
After a few more bitter words the cabinet adjourned. The commissioners called upon the President and presented, in writing, their credentials from the State of South Carolina, empowering them to treat with the general government in regard to the forts, arsenals and other property ; but the President would give no recognition to their authority to address him, except as citizens of the United States, and not as commissioners from a foreign power.
At two o'clock, on the afternoon of the 28th, the navy department received a dispatch from Lieutenant James P. Foster, commanding the slaver Bonita, which was carried into Charleston as a prize, that his prisoner, the captain of the Bonita, was taken on a writ of habeas corpus before a State judge, who remanded him on the ground of want of jurisdiction ; and that while conveying his prisoner from the court to the ship, he was forcibly taken from his custody by a mob.
Mr. Holt, Postmaster General, sent orders to the subtreasurer, at Charleston, to remit all the balance — thirtyfive thousand dollars, on the post-office account - in his possession, immediately, to the credit of that department.
An immense Union meeting was held at Memphis, Tennessee.
On the 31st, Senator Benjamin, of Louisiana, made a secession speech in the United States Senate. He argued at great length, and with eloquence, to prove that a State has an inherent right to secede, and cannot be coerced. He quoted Webster and Madison, to sustain his position; said all pretexts about collecting the revenue, or enforcing the laws in the seceding States, were but another name for overcoming their objections by war.
He argued that they could not collect the revenue by force; that such threats were only a pretext to cover up the real question, which was this :- Shall we acknowledge the independence of a seceding State, or reduce her to subjection by war? - said he had repeatedly warned the North that they were driving them to a point that would result in a separation, and referred to a speech he made, in 1856, predicting this result, and in which he said the time would come when the South would throw the sword into the scale with all the rights of the South, because he did not believe there could be peaceable secession; that his words then uttered had proved true. He would to God that the fears of civil war, then expressed, would prove only fears; but it seemed almost as if the other side of the chamber desired to bring about a civil war; that South Carolina had declared herself separated from the Union, and that she was not alone, for Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and other Southern States, would soon follow ; that the North had caused all this ruin; a sectional President had been elected, who could, with the aid of a sectional Senate, grant all the benefits to and appoint from one section all the officers in the gift of the government, and thus ruin the South; and after enumerating the various indignities heaped upon them by the North, and commenting upon the evils and disadvantages of a connection with the free States, he concluded by saying:
“Our committee has reported, this morning, that no possible scheme of adjustment can be devised. The day