Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Orders issued to relieve Fort Sumter

    • While Naval agent Gustavus V. Fox returns to New York to outfit his expedition, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles in Washington, with Lincoln's approval, issues formal orders for the Fort Sumter relief expedition. Four vessels are ordered to provision Sumter, including the USS Powhatan, already ordered to Fort Pickens at Pensacola Bay, Florida, under direct orders from the President. Lincoln on April 1 had detached the Powhatan from the Sumter expedition and transferred her to the secret Pickens expedition under Captain Montgomery Meigs. Without knowing this, Secretary Welles places Captain Samuel Mercer of the U.S.S. Powhatan in charge of the naval force headed to Charleston Harbor and telegraphs Captain Andrew H. Foote, commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, to hold the Powhatan for further instructions. It becomes clear during the day that there are conflicting orders regarding the Powhatan. At 8 p.m. this evening, Meigs and Lt. David D. Porter telegraph Secretary of State William Seward from the New York Navy Yard that Welles' orders to delay the Powhatan are hindering preparations. Between eleven o'clock and midnight, back in Washington, Seward visits Welles at Willard's Hotel and informs him of the confusion. Welles, who views the Powhatan as a necessary part of the Sumter expedition, is upset by Seward's interference in military affairs, so they agreed to go immediately to the President. Just before midnight, the two secretaries brief Lincoln. Lincoln decides he wants the Powhatan restored to the Sumter mission, saying, that "on no account must the Sumter expedition fail," and there was no time to be lost in getting it underway. Lincoln orders Seward to telegraph the Brooklyn Navy Yard that the Powhatan be returned to Captain Mercer "without delay." After some protest, Seward agrees. Such confusion points to the Administration’s inexperience and incompetency to govern well./1861

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