Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lincoln's confusion, bungling, and lies

  • In Washington around three this afternoon, a frustrated President Lincoln receives official notification of what he had feared – that his March 12th orders to reinforce Fort Pickens had not been carried out. The wisdom of a Navy captain meets the ineptitude of the Lincoln Administration. US Captain Henry A. Adams, in command at Pensacola, had decided not to break the Buchanan Administration’s "truce" at Fort Pickens because of the length of time elapsed from the issuance of Lincoln's March 12th orders to their arrival in his hands and the rapid changes going on across the country. Not only that, the orders were also signed by an improper authority – US Army General Winfield General Scott – and could not supersede previous orders signed by Buchanan’s navy secretary. Before committing what he considered "a hostile act" and an "act of war," he has written to Lincoln asking if the March 12 reinforcement orders were official and still in effect./1861
  • David Dixon Porter, Superintendent of the Acad...Image via Wikipedia
    Lt. David D. Porter, USN
    Meanwhile, another confusing mess of crisscrossed orders ensues. US Captain Samuel Mercer receives instructions from Navy Secretary Gideon Welles to command the paddle-wheel steamer USS Powhatan as part of the Fort Sumter Expedition. Before Mercer can depart for Charleston, Capt. Montgomery Meigs and Lt. David Dixon Porter board the Powhatan and present Lincoln’s signed orders for the ship to relieve Fort Pickens instead. The order also transfers command of the Powhatan from Mercer to Porter, who has been disgruntled and on the verge of resigning the US Navy for lack of opportunity. The three men consult about the conflicting orders, and Mercer agrees to the “imperative” nature of the President’s order. He therefore turns over command of the Powhatan to Porter who sets sail immediately from Brooklyn, NY, around 2:45pm for Pensacola Bay. In the meantime, President Lincoln, who desperately wants the Sumter Expedition to succeed, has directed Secretary of State William Seward this morning to re-reverse his orders for the USS Powhatan, removing the ship from reinforcement of Fort Pickens and ordering it back into the Fort Sumter Relief Expedition. At 3:00pm, commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Captain Andrew J. Foote, receives Seward’s telegram with the President’s order  for Porter to turn command of the Powhatan back over to Mercer and sail for Charleston. Foote dispatches a steamer in pursuit of the Powhatan and overtakes the steamer, but Porter refuses to abandon his course. He insists that with orders signed by the President himself, they cannot be superseded by a Cabinet officer. Porter argues that it is too late, assuming that the other ship in the Pickens expedition, the Atlantic is already under full steam for Pensacola Bay. If he were to turn back, the Pickens expedition’s troops and supplies would be endangered. At 6pm, Foote telegraphs Porter’s reply to Navy Sec. Welles: "I received my orders from the President and shall proceed and execute them." Alas for the administratively challenged Administration, the powerful warship and its new commander, continues to Pensacola instead of Charleston, and the Fort Sumter Expedition will go forward without the Powhatan./1861
    Francis Wilkinson PickensImage via Wikipedia
    Gov. Francis Pickens
  • Meanwhile, US State Department Clerk Robert S. Chew leaves Washington with a message to South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens that the Federal government will provision Fort Sumter, but not reinforce it with more men, provided there is no resistance or interference from the Confederate forces with the US Navy’s resupply efforts. This is a lie. Fox is at that moment outfitting 200 troops in New York to join the expedition./1861

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