Part 11– Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Pages 162- 230

Chapter XI

IT is now necessary to return to Fort Sumter. This was the
point on which the anxious attention of the American people
was then fixed. It was not known until some days after the
termination of the truce, on the 6th February, that Governor
Pickens had determined to respect the appeal from the General
Assembly of Virginia, and refrain from attacking the fort dur-
ing the session of the Peace Convention. It, therefore, became
the duty of the administration in the mean time to be prepared,
to the extent of the means at command, promptly to send suc-
cor to Major Anderson should he so request, or in the absence
of such request, should they ascertain from any other quarter
that the fort was in danger. From the tenor of the Major’s
despatches to the War Department, no doubt was entertained
that he could hold out, in case of need, until the arrival of re-
enforcements. In this state of affairs, on the very day (30th
January) on which the President received the demand for the
surrender of the fort, he requested the Secretaries of War and the
Navy, accompanied by General Scott, to meet him for the pur-
pose of devising the best practicable means of instantly reën-


forcing Major Anderson, should this be required. After several
consultations an expedition for this purpose was quietly prepared
at New York, under the direction of Secretary Toucey, for the
relief of Fort Sumter, the command of which was intrusted to
his intimate friend, the late lamented Commander Ward of the
navy. This gallant officer had been authorized, to select his
own officers and men, who were to rendezvous on board of the
receiving-ship, of which he was then in command. The expedi-
tion consisted of a few small steamers, and it was arranged that
on receiving a telegraphic despatch from the Secretary, when-
ever the emergency might require, he should in the course of the
following night set sail for Charleston, entering the harbor in
the night, and anchoring if possible under the guns. of Fort

It is due to the memory of this brave officer to state that he
had sought the enterprise with the greatest enthusiasm, and was
willing to sacrifice his life in the accomplishment of the object,
should such be his fate, saying to Secretary Toucey this would
be the best inheritance he could leave to his wife and children.

According to General Scott’s version of this affair in his
report to President Lincoln: “At this time, when this [the truce
on the 6th February] had passed away, Secretaries Holt and
Toucey, Captain Ward of the navy, and myself, with the knowl-
edge of the President [ Buchanan], settled upon the employment
under the captain (who was eager for the expedition) of three
or four small steamers belonging to the coast survey.” But this
expedition was kept back, according to the General; and for
what reason? Not because the Peace Convention remained
still in session, and the President would not break it up by
sending reënforcements to Fort Sumter whilst the authorities
of South Carolina continued to respect the appeal of the Gen-
eral Assembly of Virginia to avoid collision, and whilst Major
Anderson at the point of danger had asked no reínforcements.
The General, passing over these the true causes for the delay
in issuing the order to Commander Ward to set sail, declares this was kept back “by something like a truce or armistice made here [in Washington] between President Buchanan and the principal seceders of South Carolina,” etc., etc., the existence of which has


never been pretended by any person except himself. It soon
appeared that General Scott, as well as the President and Secre-
taries of War and the Navy, had been laboring under a great
misapprehension in supposing, from the information, received
from Major Anderson, that this small expedition, under Com-
mander Ward, might be able to relieve Fort Sumter. How in-
adequate this would have proved to accomplish the object, was
soon afterwards demonstrated by a letter, with enclosures, from
Major Anderson to the Secretary of War. This was read by
Mr. Holt, greatly to his own surprise and that of every other
member of the Cabinet, on the morning of the 4th March, at
the moment when the Thirty-sixth Congress and Mr. Bachanan’s
administration were about to expire. In this the Major declares
that he would not be willing to risk his reputation on an attempt
to throw reínforcements into Charleston harbor with a force
of less than twenty thousand good and well disciplined men.
Commander Ward’s expedition, consisting of only a few small
vessels, borrowed from the Treasury Department and the Coast
Survey, with but two or three hundred men on board, was ne-
cessarily abandoned. On the next day (5th March) the Secre-
tary of War transmitted Major Anderson’s letter, with its enclos-
ures, to President Lincoln. This he accompanied by a letter
from himself reviewing the correspondence between the War
Department and Major Anderson from the date of his removal
to Fort Sumter. The following is a copy, which we submit
without comment:

“WAR DEPARTMENT, March 5th, 1861.

“SIR: I have the honor to submit for your consideration
several letters with enclosures received on yesterday from Major
Anderson and Captain Foster, of the Corps of Engineers, which
are of a most important and unexpected character. Why they
were unexpected will appear from the following brief statement:

“After transferring his forces to Fort Sumter, he ( Major
Anderson) addressed a letter to this Department, under date of
the 31st December, 1860, in which he says: ‘Thank God, we
are now where the Government may send us additional troops.
at its leisure. To be sure the uncivil and uncourteous action of


the Governor [of South Carolina], in preventing us from pur-
chasing any thing in the city, will annoy and. inconvenience us
somewhat; still we are safe.’ And after referring to some defi-
ciency in his stores, in the articles of soap and candles, he adds:
‘Still we can cheerfully put up with the inconvenience of doing
without them for the satisfaction we feel in the knowledge that
we can command this harbor as long as our Government wishes
to keep it.’ And again, on the 6th January, he wrote: ‘My
position will, should there be no treachery among the workmen
whom we are compelled to retain for the present, enable me to
hold this fort against any force which can be brought against
me; and it would enable me, in the event of war, to annoy the
South Carolinians by preventing them from throwing in supplies
into their new posts, except by the aid of the Wash Channel
through Stone River.’

“Before the receipt of this communication, the Government,
being without information as to his condition, had despatched
the Star of the West with troops and supplies for Fort Sumter;
but the vessel having been fired on from a battery at the en-
trance to the harbor, returned without having reached her des-

“On the 16th January, 1861, in replying to Major Anderson’s
letters of the 31st December and of 6th January, I said: ‘Your
late despatches, as well as the very intelligent statements of
Lieutenant Talbot, have relieved the Government of the appre-
hensions previously entertained for your safety. In consequence
it is not its purpose at present to reënforce you. The attempt
to do so would no doubt be attended by a collision of arms and
the effusion of blood–a national calamity, which the President
is most anxious to avoid. You will, therefore, report frequently
your condition, and the character and activity of the preparations,
if any, which may be being made for an attack upon the fort, or
for obstructing the Government in any endeavors it may make
to strengthen your command. Should your despatches be of a
nature too important to be intrusted to the mails, you will con-
vey them by special messenger. Whenever, in your judgment,
additional supplies or reënforcements are necessary for your
safety or for a successful defence of the fort, you will at once


communicate the fact to this Department, and a prompt and
vigorous effort will be made to forward them.’

“Since the date of this letter Major Anderson has regularly
and frequently reported the progress of the batteries being con-
structed around him, and which looked either to the defence of the
harbor, or to an attack on his own position; but he has not sug-
gested that these works compromised his safety, nor has he made
any request that additional supplies or reënforcements should be
sent to him. On the contrary, on the 30th January, 1861, in a
letter to this Department, he uses this emphatic language: ‘I do
hope that no attempt will be made by our friends to throw sup-
plies in; their doing so would do more harm than good.’

“On the 5th February, when referring to the batteries, etc.,
constructed in his vicinity, he said: ‘Even in their present con-
dition, they will make it impossible for any hostile force, other
than a large and well-appointed one, to enter this harbor, and
the chances are that it will then be at a great sacrifice of life;’
and in a postscript he adds: ‘Of course in speaking of forcing an
entrance, I do not refer to the little stratagem of a small party
slipping in.’ This suggestion of a stratagem was well considered
in connection with all the information that could be obtained
bearing upon it; and in consequence of the vigilance and num-
ber of the guard-boats in and outside of the harbor, it was re-
jected as impracticable.

“In view of these very distinct declarations, and of the earnest
desire to avoid a collision as long as possible, it was deemed en-
tirely safe to adhere to the line of policy indicated in my letter
of the 16th January, which has been already quoted. In that
Major Anderson had been requested to report ‘at once,’ ‘when-
ever, in his judgment, additional supplies or reënforcements
were necessary for his safety or for a successful defence of the
fort.’ So long, therefore, as he remained silent upon this point,
the Government felt that there was no ground for apprehension.
Still, as the necessity for action might arise at any moment, an
expedition has been quietly prepared and is ready to sail from
New York on a few hours’ notice for transporting troops and
supplies to Fort Sumter. This stop was taken under the super-
vision of General Scott, who arranged its details, and who re-


garded the reënforcements thus provided for as sufficient for the
occasion. The expedition, however, is not upon a scale ap-
proaching the seemingly extravagant estimates of Major Ander-
on and Captain Foster, now offered for the first time, and for
the disclosures of which the Government was wholly unprepared.

“The declaration now made by the Major that he would not
be willing to risk his reputation on an attempt to throw reën-
forcements into Charleston harbor, and with a view of holding
possession of the same, with a force of less than twenty thousand
good and well-disciplined men, takes the Department by surprise,
as his previous correspondence contained no such intimation.

“I have the honor to be,
“Very respectfully,
“Your obedient servant,


Having pointed out the course pursued by President Bu-
chanan in regard to Fort Sumter, we must now return to Fort
Pickens, in Florida. This feeble State was the last from which
a revolutionary outbreak could have reasonably been expected.
Its numbers had not entitled it to admission into the Union, and
a large amount of blood and treasure had been expended by the
Government of the United States for the protection and defence
of its inhabitants against the Seminole Indians. Nevertheless,
weak as the State was, its troops, under the command of Colo-
nel William H. Chase, formerly of the corps of engineers of the
United States army, suddenly rose in rebellion, attacked the
troops of the United States, and expelled them from Pensacola
and the adjacent navy yard. Lieutenant Slemmer, of the artil-
lery, and his brave little command, consisting of between sev-
enty and eighty men, were thus forced to take refuge in Fort
Pickens, where they were in imminent danger of being cap-
tured every moment by a greatly superior force.

From the interruption of regular communications with
Washington, Secretary Holt did not receive information of these
events until some days after their occurrence, and then only
through a private channel. Reënforcements were despatched


to Fort Pickens without a moment’s unnecessary delay. The
Brooklyn, after being superseded by the Star of West, had
fortunately remained at her old station, ready for any exigency.
She immediately took on board a company of United States
troops from Fortress Monroe, under the command of Captain
Vogdes, of the artillery, and with provisions and military stores
left Hampton Roads on the 24th January for Fort Pickens.
The Secretary of the Navy had, with prudent precaution, with-
drawn from foreign stations all the vessels of war which could
possibly be spared with any regard to the protection of our for-
eign commerce, and had thus rendered the home squadron unu-
sually large. Several of the vessels of which it was composed
were at the time, in the vicinity of Fort Pickens. These, united
with the Brooklyn, were deemed sufficient for its defence. “The
fleet,” says the Secretary, “could have thrown six hundred men
into the fort (seamen and marines), without including the com-
pany from Fortress Monroe.” ★

Four days after the Brooklyn had left Fortress Monroe, Sen-
ators Slidell, Hunter, and Bigler received a telegraphic despatch
from Senator Mallory, of Florida, dated at Pensacola on the
28th January, with an urgent request that they would lay it
before the President. This despatch expressed an ardent desire
to preserve the peace, as well as the most positive assurance
from himself and Colonel Chase, that no attack would be
made on the fort if its present status should be suffered to re-
main. The President carefully considered this proposal. The
Brooklyn might not arrive in time for the preservation of this
important fort, and for the relief of Lieutenant Slemmer. Be-
sides a collision at that point between the opposing forces would
prove fatal to the Peace Convention so earnestly urged by Vir-
ginia, and then about to assemble. But, on the other hand, the
fort was greatly in need of provisions, and these must at every
hazard be supplied. Mr. Mallory and Colonel Chase must be
distinctly informed that our fleet in the vicinity would be al-
ways on the alert and ready to act at a moment’s warning, not
only in case the fort should be attacked, but whenever the offi-

★ His testimony before the Hale Committee and the Court-Martial on Captain
Armstrong. Report No. 37, pp. 58, 234.


cers in command should observe preparations for such an attack.
No precaution must be omitted on their part necessary to hold
the fort.

The conclusion at which the President arrived, with the
approbation of every member of his Cabinet, will be seen in the
joint order dated on the 29th January, immediately transmitted
by telegraph from Secretaries Toucey and Holt to the com-
manders of the Macedonian and Rrooklyn, and “other naval
officers in command,” and “to Lieutenant A. J. Slemmer, 1st
artillery, commanding Fort Pickens, Pensacola, Florida.” The
following is a copy: “In consequence of the assurances received
from Mr. Mallory in a telegram of yesterday to Messrs. Slidell,
Hunter, and Bigler, with a request it should be laid before the
President, that Fort Pickens would not be assaulted, and an
offer of such assurance to the same effect from Colonel Chase,
for the purpose of avoiding a hostile collision, upon receiving
satisfactory assurances from Mr. Mallory and Colonel Chase that
Fort Pickens will not be attacked, you are instructed not to
land the company on board the Brooklyn unless said fort shall
be attacked, or preparations shall be made for its attack. The
provisions necessary for the supply of the fort you will land.
The Brooklyn and the other vessels of war on the station will
remain, and you will exercise the utmost vigilance and be pre-
pared at a moment’s warning to land the company at Fort Pick-
ens, and you and they will instantly repel any attack on the
fort. The President yesterday sent a special message to Con-
gress communicating the Virginia resolutions of compromise.
The commissioners of different States are to meet here on Mon-
day, the 4th February, and it is important that during their
session a collision of arms should be avoided, unless an attack
should be made, or there should be preparations for such an at-
tack. In either event the Brooklyn and the other vessels will
act promptly. Your right, and that of the other officers in com-
mand at Pensacola, freely to communicate by special messenger
[with the Government], and its right in the same manner to
communicate with yourself and them, will remain intact, as the
basis on which the present instruction is given.”

On the arrival of this order at Pensacola the satisfactory



One thought on “Part 11– Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Pages 162- 230

  1. And so Mike Rodgers could not compete with the facts outlined in the book ” me. Buchanan’s”o he runs to another blog and attacks me. Why is this so typical of neo-yankees???

    Michael Rodgers commented on Slavery and Secession: The Daily Show’s Take.

    in response to Christopher Shelley:

    Indeed, Mike. I’m way over it.

    I made some comments on George’s blog to see what his argument is and to clarify the chain of events, etc. It’s the same old thing that they’re stuck on, which has been refuted time and again. This Larry Wilmore clip gets right at it when he said that the south didn’t invent slavery but they hung on to it tightly, when generally the USA and the rest of the world was ending or seeking to end slavery. Moving on, moving on.

    I just want to add here another shout out to the excellent job Al Mackey does to dismantle the false neoconfederate narrative, especially in the chapter by chapter “Book with No Credibility” posts. In the first one, Al has facts, data, and analysis, and he wrote this cogent description:

    “Slavery was the issue behind the confederacy wanting its independence to start with. The Federals wanted to preserve the Union, but they struck against slavery almost from the start. Ben Butler’s coming up with the ‘contraband’ device to keep from returning enslaved people to owners was in May of 1861, and from that time onward slaves came into Union lines almost continually.”

    HUMMMMmmm let’s see. Looking at my calender May comes after april which would mean the war had already started.

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