Part 4 — Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Pages 162- 230


made upon it by General Scott. The two are inseparably joined together.

The General, in his report, prefaces the statement of his con-
versation with President Buchanan, by saying, that on the 13th December he had “personally urged upon the Secretary of War the same ‘views’ [those of the previous October], viz., strong garrisons in the Southern forts; those of Charleston and Pensa cola harbors at once; those on Mobile Bay and the Mississippi below New Orleans, next, &c., &c. I again pointed out the organized companies, and the [600] recruits at the principal depots available for the purpose. The Secretary did not concur in my views.” This, indeed, he could not have done so early as the 13th December, without placing himself in direct opposition to the well-defined policy of the President. An interview was, therefore, appointed for the 15th December, between the President and the General. “By appointment,” says the General, “the Secretary accompanied me to the President, December 15th, when the same topics, secessionism, &c., were again pretty fully discussed.” He does not furnish the President’s answer to the proposition to send strong garrisons to the Southern forts. This must unquestionably have referred to the topics of which his mind was then full, viz., the promising aspect of compromise at the moment; the certain effect of such a measure in defeating it; the inadequacy of the force at command for so extended an operation.; and the policy which had been laid down in his anuual message. Not a word of all this. But the General’s memory seems to have improved with the lapse of years and the progress of the rebellion. In his report to President Lincoln, he speaks of but one conversation with President Buchanan, that of the 15th December, whilst in his letter of the 8th November, 1862, to the “National Intelligencer,” a portion of the correspondence to which we have referred, he alleges he had, on the 28th and 30th of the same December, repeated the recommendation to garrison all the Southern forts. In this statement, if material, it would be easy to prove he was mistaken. Indeed, President Buchanan has in his possession a note from the General himself, dated on Sunday, 30th December, stating that by indisposition he was confined to the house


on that day, and could not therefore call upon him. Of this

According to the report, he merely mentions in general terms
the recruits he had obtained for the expedition, without allotting them. among the several forts. According to the letter, he informed President Buchanan that the number of recruits at New York and Carlisle barracks was about six hundred, “besides the five companies of regulars near at hand, making about one thousand men.” And he also stated how would distribute them among the several forts. In this distribution he left only “about two hundred men for the twin forts of Moultrie and Sumter, Charleston harbor.” He also declared in this letter, that “he considered the force quite adequate to the occasion.” But, as if rendered conscious of its inadequacy by the logic of events, he alleges that President Buchanan”might have called forth volunteers to garrison these forts, without any special legislation,” and this, too, “with the full approbation of every loyal man in the Union.” That is, that on the 15th December, 1860, before any State had seceded, he might without law have usurped this authority, when the law-making power was actually in session and had made no movement to grant it, and when all were intent, not on war, but on measures of compromise. In this letter he charges the Secretary of War, “with or without the President’s approbation,” with “having nearly denuded our whole eastern seaboard of troops.” In doing this, he must surely have forgotten that he himself had eloquently
urged that all the force on the frontiers was not sufficient for the protection of our distant fellow-citizens, and had therefore advocated the raising of an additional force by Congress for this very purpose.

It would seem from the report that the President confined his observations at their interview exclusively to the reënforce-
ment of the forts in Charleston harbor, for which General Scott, according to his own statement, in the letter to the ” National Intelligencer,” could spare but two hundred men, the remaining eight hundred being required for the, other fortifications. The President having expressed the opinion, according to the report, “that there was at the moment no danger of an early secession

beyond South Carolina,” he proceeded to state, “in reply to my [ General Scott’s] arguments for immediately reënforcing Fort Moultrie, and sending a garrison to Fort Sumter,” that “the time has not arrived for doing so; that he should wait the action of the Convention of South Carolina, in the expectation that a commission would be appointed and sent to negotiate with him and Congress, respecting the secession of the State and the property of the United States held within its limits; and that if Congress should decide against the secession, then he would send a reënforcement, and telegraph the commanding officer ( Major Anderson) of Fort Moultrie to hold the forts (Moultrie and Sumter) against attack.”

Now it is probable that in the course of this conversation, the President may have referred to the rumor then current, that the South Carolina Convention intended to send commissioners to Washington to treat with the Government, but it is quite impossible he could have stated that the reënforcement of the forts should await the result of their mission. Why? Because the Brooklyn, had been for some time ready to proceed to Fort Moultrie, dependent on no other contingency than that of its attack or danger of attack. Least of all was it possible the President could have said that if Congress should decide against secession, he would then telegraph to Major Anderson “to hold the forts (Moultrie and Sumter) against attack,” when instructions of a similar but stronger character had already been sent and, delivered to him, and were of record in the War Department. It is strange that the President should, according to the General, have made any future action in regard to these forts dependent upon his own decision, or that of Congress, on the question of secession, when he had in his annual message, but a few days before, condemned the doctrine as unconstitutional, and he well knew it would be equally condemned by Congress.

It is curious to note a trait of the fault-finding temper of the General in this conversation. In it he makes the Secretary of War observe, “with animation,”” We have a vessel of war (the
Brooklyn) held in readiness at Norfolk, and he would then send three hundred men in her from Fort Mouroe to Charleston;” but the General objected to this arrangement, saying in answer,


“that so many men could not be withdrawn from that garrison, but could be taken from New York,” &c., &c. In this report to President Lincoln the General exultingly declares, “that if the Secretary’s three hundred men had then (on the 15th December), or some time later, been sent to Forts Moultrie and Sumter, both would now have been in the possession of the United States,” &c. And again, “It would have been easy to reenforce this fort (Sumter) down to about the 12th February.” In making these declarations, he must surely have forgotten not only his own objection to sending these very “three hundred men” from Fortress Monroe, but also the fate of the Star of the West, in the early part of January, with his recruits from New York, which had been substituted under his advice and direction for the Brooklyn.

The reader must have observed that we speak argumentatively and doubtingly of the General’s statement of this conversation. We do this simply because President Buchanan, although a party to it, has no recollection whatever of its particulars. The reason doubtless is, that, believing General Scott to have been aware before the interview that the President would not violate his announced policy by sending one thousand men to all the Southern forts, or two hundred to those in Charleston harbor, he must have considered this renewed recommendation rather a matter of form, springing from a motive which he will not attempt to conjecture, than any thing more serious. But whatever may have been the cause of his want of memory, the fact is certainly true. He sincerely wishes it were otherwise.

We may observe generally in regard to this report, that the attempt, at the end of more than three months, filled with the most important and stirring events, to write out charges against President Buchanan, must almost necessarily do him injustice. Fairly to accomplish such a task, the writer ought to have tested his own recollection by a reference to dates and official documents within his reach. Not having done this, the report is confused throughout, sometimes blending in the same sentence occurrences of distinct date and opposite nature. When these come to be unravelled, it will appear in the sequel that they are often contradicted by official and other unimpeachable testimony.


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