« PreviousContinue »
boarding-houses were filled with men from nearly every Northern State, and many from Maryland and Virginia, seeking office. They swarmed into the White House, filled the corridors and stairways leading to the executive chamber, waiting for the moment when they could see the President. Each had letters of recommendation for some office-consul, marshal, or postmaster. Senators and members of the Cabinet, entitled to precedence, who made their way through the crowd, were looked upon as intruders. Some of the most importunate office-seekers were from Virginia. They had not voted for Mr. Lincoln, did not belong to the Republican Party; they were Whigs, and had voted for Mr. Bell, of Tennessee. As there were no Republicans in Virginia, they would stand some chance of obtaining an office. Many of the loud-talking men from the seceded States were loath to give up the salaries they were receiving from the Government. They were predicting war. They said the Northern men were craven creatures, who never would fight the gentle. men of the South. They did not regard Northern men as gentlemen. It was the expression of a sentiment engendered by slavery. Men who worked for a livelihood, who did not have bond-servants to do their bidding, could not be “gentlemen.”
Mr. Seward publicly expressed his opinion that all trouble between the North and South would be speedily settled. Not so promising was the outlook to me. On a calm evening, soon after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, I visited the White House in company with Senator Wilson. (TM) The President was engaged and we did not tarry. We walked towards Mr. Wilson's apartments in the direction of the Capitol. The moon was full, revealing the beautiful proportions of the uncompleted edifice.
“What is that unfinished Capitol so beautiful in design worth?” I asked.
Nothing. We are going to have civil war, and God only knows what the end will be,” the reply.
Others saw the coming storm. A gentleman who had applied for the consulate at Callao, South America, withdrew his application. He said: “We are going to have one of the greatest struggles the world has ever seen. These fellows are determined to fight. I am going home to get ready to meet them.” ()
From the hour of his inauguration President Lincoln was badgered and hounded by office-seekers. We little know the severity of the mental strain during those days to him. Seven States had left the Union. Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee were getting ready to
go. Forts and arsenals had been seized, Major Anderson was cooped up in Sumter. Batteries were being erected on Morris Island. The vessels of the navy were on distant seas, the soldiers of the army thousands of miles away among the Indians of the West. Traitors were in the departments. The members of the Cabinet were strangers to each other. Affairs at home and abroad were drifting to chaos. Civil war was imminent. The credit of the Government was gone. Many people in the Northern States were doubtful if an uneducated man, without experience in affairs of State, would be able to administer the Government at such a critical period. Alone at night in his chamber Mr. Lincoln bore the nation on his heart.
A train going south from Washington carried two passengers, Mr. S. A. Hurlburt and Mr. Lamon. The first was born in Charleston, and
had a sister residing there. He had studied law with James L. March 22, Petigru, who was loyal to the Union. Mr. Lamon, whom we
have seen travelling from Springfield to Washington with President Lincoln, was agent of the Post-office Department. He was allowed by Governor Pickens to visit Fort Sumter. Mr. Hurlburt, in the home of Mr. Petigru, learned much about public sentiment in South Carolina. The merchants believed the world could not get along without cotton. Charleston was to become a great commercial emporium. They hated the Union, and spat on the Stars and Stripes. The two gentlemen returned to Washington, and informed Mr. Lincoln of the determination of the seceded States to establish a separate nationality.
During the last week in March the President invited the members of the Cabinet to his first State dinner. When the repast was over they assembled in the executive chamber to listen to a letter written by General Scott, who advised the giving up of forts Sumter and Pickens. He thought such a course would keep the other Slave States in the Union. The members of the Cabinet were astonished. Something must be done at once. Provisions must be sent to Sumter, or the fort given up. Which?
Through the night the President walked the floor of his chamber.
He did not seek to be President. Divine Providence has called him; the people elected him. A trust of unparalleled greatness has been committed to him—the trust bequeathed by Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, the patriots of the Revolution. The Constitution is assailed, the laws defied. The life of the nation is threatened. The people are divided in opinion. Traitors are around him; he knows not whom to trust. A great crowd of men seeking office swarm into the White House and through the departments, blind to the peril of the nation, seeking only individual advancement. The Cabinet is sitting around the table in the executive chamber,
considering the vital question of the hour. One member, the
Attorney - general, in order to condense his ideas into a few words, writes his conclusion. The President reads it.
“Gentlemen, will you all write your opinions as to what shall be done?" the request of the President. In brief, these are the responses :
Mr. Bates—“ It is my decided opinion that Forts Pickens and Key West ought to be reinforced and supplied, so as to look down opposition at all hazards. As to Fort Sumter, the time has come either to reinforce or evacuate."
Blair—“It is acknowledged to be possible to relieve Fort Sumter. 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 to recover. For my part, I am unwilling to share the responsibility of attempting to relieve Sumter."
Smith—“Believing that Fort Sumter cannot be defended, I regard its evacuation as a necessity, and I advise that Major Anderson's command shall be unconditionally withdrawn.”
Welles—“I concur in the proposition to send an armed force off Charleston, with supplies of provisions and reinforcements for the garrison of Fort Sumter. . . . Armed resistance to a peaceable attempt to send provisions to one of our own forts will justify the Government in using all its powers."
Chase—“I am in favor of maintaining Fort Pickens and provisioning Sumter. . . . If war is to result, I see no reason why it may not begin in consequence of military resistance to the efforts of the Administration to sustain troops of the Union in a fort of the Union.”
Seward_“I advise against the expedition in every view. ...I would instruct Major Anderson to retire forthwith.” ("')
President Lincoln paces the floor. The Cabinet is divided in opin
ion. He must decide. He has sworn to maintain the Constitution. He cannot abandon a fort. If war comes, those who bring it about must bear the responsibility. He directs that an order shall be issued for the relief of Sumter and Pickens. Mr. Seward's ideas and opinions on many points are not in accord
with those of the President nor with a majority of the members April 1, of the Cabinet. He has been outvoted. While the order for fit
ting out a ship is on its way to Brooklyn he is writing a communication to the President.
This the opening sentence: “We are at the end of a month's administration, and yet without a policy, either domestic or foreign.” These the closing words: “But whatever policy we adopt, there must be an energetic prosecution of it. For this purpose it must be somebody's business to pursue and direct it incessantly. Either the President must do it himself and be all the while active in it, or devolve it on some member of his Cabinet. Once adopted, debates on it must end, and all agree and abide."
It is as if Mr. Seward had said: I will take the reins, if you please, Mr. President.
A little later the Secretary of State reads a letter written by Mr. Lincoln :
"Upon your closing proposition—that whatever policy we adopt, there must be an energetic prosecution of it; for this purpose it must be somebody's business to pursue and direct it incessantly, either the President must do it himself and be all the while active in it,' or devolve it on some member of his Cabinet; once adopted, debates on it must end and all agree and abide'-I remark that if this must be done, I must do it. When a general line of policy is adopted, I apprehend there is no danger of its being changed without good reason or continuing to be a subject of unnecessary debate; still, upon points arising in its progress I wish, and suppose I am entitled to have, the advice of all the Cabinet. Your ob't serv't,
A. LINCOLN."(") Mr. Seward awakens from his dream of being the one to direct the affairs of the nation. Abraham Lincoln is still President-himself Secretary of State-nothing more. The President is calm and unruffled, and his greeting is as kind and hearty as ever when next they meet. The man whose school-days were comprised in a twelvemonth,
who has had little acquaintance with public affairs, has become master and teacher, and the cultured and honored Secretary is sitting at his feet and learning a lesson.
Two steamers with provisions sailed from New York to Sumter. A messenger was sent by President Lincoln to inform Governor Pickens that no arms or ammunition, but only provisions, would be landed.
Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet were in consultation at Montgomery. What should be done? Virginia had not seceded. The convention in session at Richmond was composed largely of men who hesitated about leaving the Union.
"I will tell you what will put Virginia in the Southern Confederacy in less than an hour: sprinkle blood in their faces !” said Roger A. Pryor, in a speech to the people of Charleston.
Jefferson Davis and Robert Toombs, and the men composing the Confederate Cabinet, knew the seven States then forming the Confederacy must be joined by Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and the other Slave States to succeed in what they had undertaken: the formation of a nation with slavery for its corner-stone. The time had come when they must strike a blow. All the world would laugh at
them if, after they had planted cannon on Morris Island, built a April 11. floating battery, they allowed provisions to be landed. To open
fire on the fort would be war, but war it must be. The telegraph flashed an order from Montgomery to General Beauregard :
“Demand the immediate surrender of Fort Sumter."
The reply of Major Anderson to the summons :
“I cannot surrender the fort. I shall await the first shot, and if you do not batter me to pieces, I shall be starved out in three days."
The vessels with provisions had not arrived. Why did not Jefferson Davis wait till they came, and open fire upon them rather than upon the fort ? Because he and his fellow-conspirators did not wish to wait. So long as the Stars and Stripes floated above Sumter the Confederacy amounted to nothing. Starving out the garrison would not be victory. The booming cannon must announce to the world that the Confederacy was a power by itself, entitled to a place among the nations. The United States must be the first to feel and acknowledge
With the first glimmer of day (April 12, 1861) the bombardment began. (See “ Drumbeat of the Nation.") The fleet made its appear