Tuesday, March 12, 1861
The Confederate Commissioners sent by their government to work towards a peaceful separation were becoming an incredibly huge thorn in the side of Secretary of State Seward. He had held them off for a few days, buying time by being sick and then explaining that he would have to consult Lincoln before even reading any statement of theirs. Doing so would give legitimacy to the Confederate government.
Whether or not Seward actually discussed the Commissioners’ requests with Lincoln is unknown. It’s also unclear how much Lincoln knew about any of this. He probably had a general grasp of it, but most of his days were taken up by seeing office-seekers and making appointments. Seward was, at this point, doing most of the leg work.
But here is where his legs stopped. Seward, not even wishing to meet with an intermediary, left a note saying: “It will not be in my power to receive the gentlemen of whom we conversed yesterday.”
Seward’s note somewhat played into the Commissioners’ plans. All of their dealings, while generally known to all of Washington, were technically unofficial. Now they were put down in an official request to the State Department for an official interview.
This same day, they penned a short letter asserting that the “Confederate States constitute an independent nation, de facto and dejure…” and making a request for an official interview on “as early a day as possible,” assuring “people of the Confederate States earnestly desire a peaceful solution of these great questions.”
The State Department (and thus Seward) would receive the letter the next day.1
Returning the Slaves at Fort Pickens
While Fort Sumter was getting all the press and attention, Fort Pickens near Pensacola, Florida was in a similar situation. The USS Brooklyn, the ship that had attempted to aide the Star of the West in her attempt to resupply Fort Sumter, had been at anchor near Pickens, but, for the sake of peace, was ordered not to reinforce the fort.
On this date, General Winfield Scott ordered Captain Vogdes, commanding the troops on the Brooklyn: “At the first favorable moment you will land with your company, re-enforce Fort Pickens, and hold the same till further orders.”
That favorable moment was currently being delayed by a strange dispute over who would command the fort if Vodges landed his force. Lt. Slemmer, currently in command of the fort felt that he should retain that command. Vodges would later write to Washington to sort it out.
In the meantime, Slemmer was busy with another problem: “four negroes (runaways) came to the fort, entertaining the idea that we were placed here to protect them and grant them their freedom. I did what I could to teach them the contrary. In the afternoon I took them to Pensacola and delivered them to the city marshal, to be returned to their owners.”
That night, four more escaped slaves came to the fort. They spent the night there and would be returned the next morning.2