Birth of the Confederate Navy; Lincoln Takes Manhattan

Wednesday, February 20, 1861

The Confederate States needed a Navy. On this date, in secret session, the Congress, passing a bill to establish a Naval Department, resolved to build one. What they had at their disposal, however, was basically nothing. Unlike the South, the North, especially New England, had a long seafaring history. The Confederate States had no ships, no sailors, no Naval secretary, no navy yards (except the one under the guns of US-controlled Fort Pickens).

In fact, it had no place at all where a warship could be fully manufactured.

Prior to this time, the Southern states had, together, built 19 war ships. Parts of some boats were made in one state, while engines, etc were made in another.

Raising an army was relatively simple. States had their own militias and if you put them all together and with a bit of effort, you’d have yourself an army. The same wasn’t true with the Navy.

Fortunately, while they had no ships, they did have potential commanders. Raphael Semmes, for example, had resigned his post in the United States Navy and had traveled to Montgomery in hopes of finding a home in the Confederate Navy. He, as well as other former US Navy officers, were very welcome.1

Since a Secretary of the Navy had not yet been proposed by Jefferson Davis, the preliminary organization would fall to the Committee on Naval Affairs. They would report in a few days.

Congress also established governmental departments, such as the State Department, Post-Office Department, War Department, etc.2


The Lincolns Take Manhattan

Early this morning, in New York City, Lincoln had breakfast with several New York businessmen. They were nervous about nearly everything since nearly everything was uncertain. Reportedly, the sit-down did nothing to squelch this nervousness.

Later, Mayor Fernando Wood, who had recently wished New York City would secede from the Union and expressed regret to Robert Toombs that he couldn’t punish the police for “illegally” seizing New York-made arms bound for Georgia, held a reception for Lincoln. The mayor made a few fairly rude comments, which Lincoln brushed off, and then entertained the guests with jokes and even a contest to see who was the tallest man in the room (Lincoln lost out to a butter-dealer).

That afternoon, Lincoln turned down P.T. Barnum’s offer to show him around his museum, though Mary, Willie and Robert took Barnum up on it.

Vice-President Elect Hannibal Hamlin met up with Lincoln for the first time since their meeting in Chicago. Their families ate dinner together and then took in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, his newest opera.

Lincoln cut out early and headed straight for bed. A crowd had gathered outside of his hotel, cheering and hoping for an appearance. Lincoln was a no-show, but Hamlin made a quick speech in his place. Lincoln was sound asleep.3

  1. History of the Confederate States Navy by John Thomas Scharf, Rogers & Sherwood, 1887. []
  2. Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, Volume 1 []
  3. Lincoln President-Elect by Harold Holzer. []
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Birth of the Confederate Navy; Lincoln Takes Manhattan by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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