Thursday, December 27, 1860
President Buchanan had promised South Carolina that Major Anderson would make no hostile movements. He had even agreed (or at least accepted) that Anderson wouldn’t so much as shuffle troops from one fort to another.
So what was that American flag flying over Fort Sumter all about? Why was Moultrie smoldering? Word had reached Charleston that Anderson had moved, but why did he refuse Governor Pickens’s orders (delivered through a courier that morning) to return to Fort Moultrie? Had Buchanan broken his promise? Would this move start a war that, at this point, few were fit to fight?
Some of the Charlestonians’ questions were soon answered. The Secession Convention, which was still meeting, received word from Anderson that he had moved on his own accord. Buchanan had nothing to do with it. As for the questions of war, Governor Pickens was nearly inviting it.
He proposed (at the Convention) for South Carolina troops to take Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney. Once accomplished, Fort Sumter should be retaken.
Troops were readied to capture Castle Pinckney. Nobody really knew if it was manned or how much blood would have to be spilled to overrun the fort. This day, it was manned by Lieutenant Richard Kidder Meade, Sergeant Skillen, his wife and 16 year old daughter. There were also about thirty workers present.
Future Confederate General James Johnston Pettigrew lead the force of three militia units onto a steamer and over to Castle Pinckney. The sky nearly dark, Pettigrew told his men to fix bayonets and to aim at the cannons – if anyone be seen about to fire, shoot him.
Meade watched the boat approach and ordered a worker to close the Castle’s gate. Pettigrew and his men stormed onto the island and demanded to be let in. Meade didn’t bother to respond. The attackers then brandished ladders and scaled the walls, effectively capturing the fort.
Pettigrew took down the American flag and ran up the ship’s flag – a white star on a red field – in its place. Meade was sent to Fort Sumter while Sergeant Skillens and family were sent back north.
Fort Moultrie, which was unmanned, was also taken.1
Too Fast for Buck
In Washington, Senator Wigfall (who had just two days ago concocted a plan to kidnap the President) had learned of Anderson’s move. He told Secretary of War Floyd, who then telegraphed Anderson to see if it was true. They gathered a few senators (like Jefferson Davis) and went to Buchanan’s office to see what was going on.
Buchanan didn’t really know. This was the first he had heard of it. He was accused of breaking his promise of “no action,” but he claimed that he had made no such promise. The President would not order Anderson back to Moultrie, but neither would he support this move. Some (Floyd, Southerners) felt that this meant war, others (Secretary of State Jeremiah Black) felt that it averted war.
Things were again moving too fast for Buchanan.2