Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Pages 162- 230

Folks this post is going to be in several parts. It is one one the clearest most unbiased accounts I have read of the events surrounding Fort Sumter although it is mostly the views of the Federal Government. As I go I will mark some important facts by using bold black. I will offer no commentary as this account speaks for itself. There may be spelling errors due to copy and paste.

If you are commenting make sure your comments are on the same page as what you are referring to and are realted to the facts at hand. I will not tolerate badgering and attempts to “out slick” me. Remember be civil NO INSULTS.



The forts in Charleston harbor-Conduct toward them and the reasons for it-To guard against surprise reënforcements ready-Instructions to Major Anderson-Interview with South Carolina members-General Scott again recommends the garrisoning of all the forts-Reasons against it-The compromise measures still depending–Want of troops-observation on General Scott’s report to President Lincoln-His letter to Secretary Seward, and the manner in which it, with the report, was brought to light and published-Mr. Buchanan’s reply to the report-General Scott’s statement of the interview with President Buchanan on 15th December, and observations thereupon-The example of General Jackson in 1833, and why it was inapplicable.

IT is now necessary to recur to the condition of the forts and other public property of the United States within South Carolina, at the date of the President’s annual message, on the 3d December, 1860. In regard to that property the message says “This has been purchased for a fair equivalent, by the consent of the Legislature of the State, for the ‘erection of forts, magazines, arsenals,’ and over these the authority ‘to exercise exclusive legislation’ has been expressly granted by the Constitution. to Congress. It is not believed that any attempt will be made to expel the United States from this property by force, but if in this I should prove to be mistaken, the officer in command of the forts has received orders to act strictly on the defensive. In such a contingency the responsibility for consequences would rightfully rest upon the heads of the assailants.” Thus if war mast come, the President had determined to fix the whole responsibility for its commencement on South Carolina. In order to estimate correctly the wisdom of this defensive policy, it is necessary to revert to the condition of the country on the 3d December, 1860, when it was announced. At this period we

page 163

may divide the Southern States into three classes, holding opinions variant from each other.

1. There was South Carolina, which had been the avowed and persistent advocate of disunion for more than a quarter of a century. She had already called a Convention for he purpose of seceding from the Union. Her leading secessionists were ever on the alert to seize upon any action of the Federal Government which they might wrest to the purpose of alienating the other slaveholding States from their attachment to the Union, and enlisting them in her cause.

2. The second class was composed of the six other cotton States. The people of these, although highly excited against the abolitionists, were still unwilling to leave the Union. They would have been content, notwithstanding the efforts of secession demagogues, with a simple recognition of their adjudged rights to take slaves into the Territories, and hold them there like other property, until a territorial convention, assembled to frame a State constitution, should decide the question. To this decision, whatever it might be, they professed their willingness to submit. Indeed, as has already been seen from the statements of Messrs. Douglas and Toombs in the Senate, they would have consented to abandon their rights in all the Territories north of 36° 30′, leaving what should remain to them little more than a name.

3. The third class consisted of the border slaveholding States, with Virginia at the head. A large majority of their people, although believing in the right of peaceful secession, had resisted all the efforts of the extreme men in their midst, and were still devoted to the Union. Of this there could be no better proof than the result of the election held in Virginia, February 4, 1861, for the choice of delegates to her State Convention, even after the cotton States had all seceded.* This showed that a very large majority of the delegates elected were in favor of remaining in the Union.

Under these circumstances, it is easy to imagine what would have been the effect on the other Southern States of sending a feeble force of United States troops to Fort Moultrie at this criti-

* Appleton’s Annual Cyclopædia for 1861, p. 730.

page 164

cal conjuncture. had collision been the consequence, and blood been shed immediately before the meeting of Congress, the other cotton States, from their well-known affinities, would have rushed to the support of South Carolina. She would thus have accomplished her long-sought object. Indeed, it was the current report of the day that her leading disunionists had declared the spilling of a little blood would be necessary to secure the cooperation of other Southern States. Besides, in the President’s opinion, there was no necessity, at the time, for any reënforcement to secure the forts in the harbor of Charleston. He was convinced that while the other slaveholding States were ready and willing to compromise with the North, South Carolina would not dare to attack Fort Moultrie. This conviction did not spring from any confidence in her spirit of forbearance; it arose from a certain knowledge that such an outrage would be condemned not only by the border but by the cotton States. It would estrange and separate them from her, at the very moment she was most solicitous to conciliate them. Whoever was in Washington at the time cannot fail to recollect the denunciations in advance of leading Southern men against such an unprovoked attack. The public property stood within her limits-three forts, a custom house, an arsenal, and a post office, covered by the flag of the country. From these she knew she had nothing to fear unless she should first make the attack. Such an outrage as the seizure of a fort of the United States by any State had never before been imagined. There must be a fearful suspense between the conception and the commission of such an act. It was the supreme object of the President to promote, by all the means in his power, such a fair and honorable adjustment between the North and the South as would save the country from the scourge of civil war. It was, therefore, his evident, policy to isolate South Carolina, as far as possible, from the other Southern States; and for this purpose to refrain from any act which might enable her to enlist them in her cause. If, after all, she should attack Fort Moultrie, this act would have met their universal condemnation. Besides, nothing short, of such an attack could have united the people of the North in suppressing her revolt. They were then far from being prepared for civil war.

On the contrary, they were intent on a peaceful solution of our difficulties, and would have censured any act of the administra- tion which might have defeated this purpose and precipitated them into hostilities. The true policy was that expressed by President Lincoln to the seceded cotton States in his inaugural months afterward, in which he informs them, “You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors.” Although the President believed (and this with good cause, as the event has shown), that under the existing circumstances, South Carolina would not attack any of the forts in the harbor of’ Charleston whilst he suffered their status quo to remain; yet in this it was possible he might be mistaken. To guard against surprise after the secession of the State, which was then imminent, he had prepared an expedition as powerful as his limited means would afford, to send reënforcements to Major Anderson, at the first moment of danger. For this purpose the Secretary of the Navy had stationed the Brooklyn, a, powerful war steamer, then completely ready for sea, in Hampton Roads, to take on board for Charleston three hundred disciplined troops, with provisions and munitions of war, from the neighboring garrison of Fortress Monroe.

Having thus provided for the reënforcement of the forts, in case of need, the Secretary of War despatched Assistant Adjutant-General Buell to Major Anderson, at Fort Moultrie, with instructions how he should act in his present position. These were communicated to him on the 11th December, 1860. Whilst they instructed the Major to avoid every act of aggression, they directed him, in case of an attack upon, or an attempt to take possession of, any of the three forts under his command, to defend them to the last extremity. Furthermore, he was authorized, as a precautionary measure, should he believe his force insufficient for the defence of all three, to remove it at his discretion from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, whenever he should have tangible evidence of a design, on the part of South Carolina, to proceed to a hostile act. We say to Fort Sumter, because the third fort, Castle Pinckney, was wholly indefensble. From the important bearing of these instructions upon subsequent events, they are entitled to textual insertion. They


are as follows: “You are aware of the great anxiety of the Secretary of War, that a collision of the troops with the people of the State shall be avoided, and of his studied determination to pursue a course with reference to the military force and forts in this harbor, which shall guard against such a collision. He has, therefore, carefully abstained from increasing the force at this point, or taking any measures which might add to the present excited state of the public mind, or which would throw any doubt on the confidence he feels that South Carolina will not attempt by violence to obtain possession of the public works or interfere with their occupancy. But as the counsel and acts of rash and impulsive persons may possibly disappoint these expectations of the Government, he deems it proper that you shall be prepared with instructions to meet so unhappy a contingency. He has, therefore, directed me verbally to give you such instructions. You are carefully to avoid every act which would needlessly tend to provoke aggression, and for that reason you are not, without evident and imminent necessity, to take up any position which could be construed into the assumption of a hostile attitude, but you are to hold possession of the forts in this harbor, and if attacked you are to defend yourself to the last extremity. The smallness of your force will not permit you, perhaps, to occupy more than one of the three forts, but an attack on or attempt to take possession of either one of them will be regarded as an act of hostility, and you may then put your command into either of them which you may deem most proper to increase its power of resistance. You are also authorized to take similar defensive steps whenever you have tangible evidence of a design to proceed to a hostile act.”

The President having observed that Major Buell, in reducing to writing at Fort Moultrie the instructions he had verbally received, required Major Anderson, in case of attack, to defend himself to the last extremity, immediately caused the Secretary of War to modify this instruction. This extreme was not required by any principle of military honor or by any rule of war. It was sufficient for him to defend himself until no reasonable hope should remain of saving the fort. The instructions

Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning.

Publication Information: Book Title: Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Contributors: James Buchanan – author. Publisher: D. Appleton. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1866.


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