Friday March 22, 1861
President Lincoln sent Stephen A. Hurlbut, his old law partner and native of Charleston, along with body guard, Ward Hill Lamon, to the city opposite Fort Sumter. Hurlbut’s objective was to sniff out whatever Unionist sentiment might still be lurking around this hotbed of secession.
Speaking for himself, Lamon remembered that Lincoln wished to send him (though he doesn’t state why) and Secretary of State Seward disagreed with the President, fearing for Lamon’s life. Lincoln then supposedly shot back, “I have known Lamon to be in many a close place, and he has never been in one that he didn’t get out of. By Jing! I’ll risk him! Go, Lamon, and God bless you! Bring back a Palmetto, if you can’t bring us good news.”
Lamon also said that it was his own decision to bring Hurlbut along for the ride. Hurlbut told a different story.1
A more likely truth is that Lamon was sent to discuss postal rates with South Carolina officials as a sort of decoy to cover for Hurlbut. Lamon, like Fox, was also (it seems) to check out Fort Sumter and see how long they could hold out.2
From what I can see, most books on the subject breeze over this confusing little story. We’ll see what we can do about that.
The short visit of Gustavus Fox to Fort Sumter left both parties with vastly differing opinions. The incident where both Major Anderson and Fox heard, but could not see, a boat in the water not a half mile from the fort impressed upon Fox that his plan to reinforce Sumter under cover of night was perfect.
Anderson, on the other hand, did not share this opinion and expressed it in writing to Washington. Having examined the points of Fox’s plan, which included a landing on the island, Anderson concluded the Federal force would be “under the fire of thirteen guns from Fort Moultrie.” Further, because of the shallow water, even at high tide, the landing party would need a staging area of forty feet from the shore.3
Anderson was unconvinced.
Captain Abner Doubleday, in his book of “remembrances” states that it was on this date that they learned about General Beauregard being in command of rebel forces in Charleston. Fox must have delivered the news. “It is said,” wrote Doubleday, “he displayed a good deal of feeling at finding himself opposed to the flag under which he had served so long.”
Beauregard had been a student and then assistant of Major Anderson’s at West Point. Fox must have related that Beauregard “expressed much sympathy for his old friend, Anderson, who, he stated, was merely fulfilling his duty as a soldier in fighting for his own Government, and asserted that he would not attack us, even if we withdrew all our sentinels, but would force us to surrender by cutting off our supplies.”4
- Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, 1847-1865 by Ward Hill Lamon, A.C. McClurg and company, 1895. Hurlbut, in an interview with John Nicolay in 1874, said that it was Lincoln’s idea – I went with that. [↩]
- This whole Lamon visit is steeped in mystery and lies. There is no clear story and nothing really makes a whole lot of sense. It will get weirder over the next fews days as Lamon entertains Charleston. [↩]
- Official Records, Series I, Vol 1, p211. [↩]
- Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-’61 by Abner Doubleday. [↩]