Five Days Are Up, Is Sumter Abandoned? The USS Isabella Seized

Wednesday, March 20, 1861

Five days ago, Secretary of State William H. Seward told the Confederate Commissioners and Jefferson Davis (through intermediaries) that Fort Sumter would be surrendered within five days. While Davis wasn’t convinced in the least, the Commissioners held out some hope.

They telegraphed General Beauregard, commander of Confederate forces in Charleston, asking “Has Sumter been evacuated? Any action by Anderson indicating it?”

Though no record of Beauregard’s response seems to exist, it can be assumed that he told them that it was business as usual in the Federal fort.

Confederate Secretary of State Robert Toombs had been the official keeping in close touch with the Commissioners. They had not been in contact with him in a few days and so wrote:

You have not heard from us because there is no change. If there is faith in man we may rely on the assurances we have as to the status. Time is essential to a peaceful issue of this mission. In the present posture of affairs precipitation is war. We are all agreed.

Hope could be held out for a few more days, of course. After all, things like surrendering a fort took time.

But for those on either side of the situation, preparations for war went on without hindrance. The rebels continued to work on their batteries and fortifications while the Federals watched and took notes. The troops at Fort Moultrie, opposite Fort Sumter, practiced loading their guns and firing blanks. All was normal.1


USS Isabella Seized!

Two days prior, Confederate General Braxton Bragg issued orders that the United States ships off of Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida were not to be resupplied by anybody (neither the US nor sympathetic townspeople). The sloop USS Isabella had taken supplies to the ship and was seized by Rebel authorities.

Her commander, Captain Jones of Mobile, Alabama was arrested and turned over to the Confederate military. He was charged with attempting to convey supplies to the US fleet on his own account or on the account of the United States.

If we can jump into the future a bit (as there are no dates that can be found for the remainder of the story), Jones sued out a writ of habeas corpus. A judge in Mobile heard his case.

His defense argued that his arrest was illegal. He questioned whether there was a state of war, as he could only be arrested for doing what he did if there was one. Not only that, but he was not arrested in Mobile, therefore a judge from Mobile should not be hearing the case.

Against Jones, it was argued that he was arrested under the jurisdiction of the Confederacy and that a state of war most definitely existed, as per the acts of the Administration. If he was not found guilty, the court would be protecting the enemy. The prosecution was looking to set precedence.

The court, not wanting to set such a precedence, released Jones without passing judgement.2

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 1, p207-210 (for the Union) and p277 for the Confederate bits. []
  2. Appletons’ Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events, 1864. There must be more to this story, but it cannot be found in the Official Records or other primary sources at my disposal. []
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