Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lincoln's Cabinet advises him on Sumter relief plan

W. Seward
  • In Washington, US Secretary of State William Seward, who hopes to avoid armed conflict, unofficially communicates with the Confederate Commissioners through US Supreme Court Justice Campbell of Alabama that Fort Sumter would be yielded at once to the Confederacy. Even Seward does not support Lincoln’s push for reinforcement of Fort Sumter because such an act of war would necessitate a response from Confederate forces. Provoking a military response from the Confederacy is exactly what Lincoln wants so that he can lay blame on the Southern states for firing on the US flag, thus creating the nascent popular momentum for war. Frustrated with the differences of opinion among his Cabinet, Lincoln delays a final decision on reinforcing Fort Sumter./1861 
  • In Washington, Gustavus V. Fox's controversial plan to relieve Fort Sumter (which has already been rejected once by the Buchanan Administration) offers a flicker of possibility to Lincoln of successfully relieving Fort Sumter. But even if successful, what would be the political implications? Therefore, Lincoln calls another Cabinet meeting today and asks Cabinet members to compose written responses to the question, "Assuming it to be possible now to provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances is it wise to attempt it?" Three positions emerge from Lincoln’s writing assignment. 
  • M. Blair
    • First, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, Fox's brother-in-law, advocates an overwhelming force to relieve Sumter, establish Federal authority, and put the insurrectionists in their place. Blair writes that the boldness of the secessionists has been fueled by the do-nothing Buchanan Administration, and the sooner and more forceful the federal government acts the better. Inaction by the new Administration will, Blair contends,  embolden and strengthen the secessionists, legitimize their claims to independence in the international community, and reconcile the minds of the Northern people to the new Confederate government. Blair feels a relief expedition presents “little risk." If indeed, Blair argues, the South Carolinians fire on a federal relief expedition, their military inabilities to seize Fort Sumter will demoralize and eventually overthrow the rebellion, vindicating the “hardy courage of the North” and restore the Union.   
    • W. Seward
    • Secretary of State William Seward eloquently argues for abandoning Fort Sumter on the grounds that it cannot be peaceably re-provisioned. Since such a provocative action would initiate a “civil war,” he advocates instead seeking a peaceful policy that will avoid war. He feels that Southerners do not really want to leave the Union, and if the Administration will lead in a peaceful policy, the secession crisis will subside and the Southern states be received back into the Union. After all, the Upper South has so far chosen to continue in the Union. If there is war, the Upper South will likely join the seceded states, hurting the preservation of the Union. He contends that Fort Sumter holds no military value for the United States. It is only a monument of the US government’s sovereignty. Withdraw from peacefully from Fort Sumter and pursue a policy of peace, Seward urges, and the Lincoln Administration will preserve the Union.
    • G. Welles
    • Navy Secretary Gideon Welles doubts the wisdom of a relief expedition based on the slim possibility of success and the surety that such an act of provocation would inaugurate war. Welles writes that a successful re-provisioning would offer no advantage to the US government and “a failure would be attended with untold disaster.”/1861

    Floating Battery
  • [SIEGE OF FORT SUMTER] In Charleston Harbor, the Floating Battery is completed and a seven gun salute is fired to celebrate the completion. The first ironclad boat, built on the Charleston waterfront by Lieutenant J.R. Hamilton, the Floating Battery,  it is composed of pine logs, buttressed in front with palmettos and wholly strapped with iron. Resembling a barge, this 25 feet wide by 100 feet long battery has a 3-sided peak-roofed barn across the bow and a platform of sandbags extending the width of the stern. One side has four cannon "windows." The powder magazine is below the waterline and protected by sandbags. A small hospital is attached behind the Floating Battery on a separate raft. "The Raft," as it is called by Anderson's men in Sumter, or "The Slaughter Pen," as the Southrons call it, is armed with two 8-inch columbiads with the shot stored in bins behind the guns/1861 
  • U. S. Troops abandon Camp Wood, Texas./1861

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