Fort Pickens Gets Some Needed Attention

Sunday, March 31, 1861 – Easter Sunday

Before church services on this Easter Sunday in Washington, General Winfield Scott was having breakfast with his military secretary, Lt. Col. Erasmus Keyes. Scott, still not wanting to reinforce Fort Pickens, asked Keyes about his ideas on the subject. Keyes spoke for half and hour without an interruption. “It would be futile to attempt to reinforce weak-handed,” warned Keyes, especially when it came to the heavy artillery and sandy beaches.

Scott then handed Keyes a map of Pensacola Bay and told him to tell Secretary of War Seward how difficult it would be to reinforce Fort Pickens.

Keyes supposed that his little chat with Seward would take up ten minutes and then he’d be on his way to church. That was hardly the case. After a formal greeting, Keyes addressed Seward:

“Mr. Seward, I am here by direction of General Scott, to explain to you the difficulties of reinforcing Fort Pickens.”

“I don’t care about the difficulties,” said he. “Where’s Captain Meigs?”

“I suppose he’s at his house, sir.”

“Please find him and bring him here.”

“I’ll call and bring him on my return from church.”

“Never mind church to-day; I wish to see him and you here together without delay.”

Ten minutes later, he and Meigs were before Seward. Without even a “hello,” Seward ordered these “two gentlemen to make a plan to reinforce Fort Pickens, see General Scott, and bring your plan to the Executive Mansion at 3 o’clock this afternoon.”

Keyes had gone from the pious errand boy of an stubborn General Scott to the co-author of the next plan to reinforce a fort in less time than it took for him to tell Scott why Fort Pickens shouldn’t be reinforced.

By three o’clock, their report was ready and placed before the President. Both Meigs and Keyes read their plans and both Seward and Lincoln followed along as well as they could (neither being military men). Finally, Lincoln told them to “see General Scott, and carry your plans into execution without delay.”

Scott had been without his secretary all day and was incredibly unhappy about it. It was six o’clock when Keyes made his appearance. General Scott sat there looking angrier and angrier as Keyes told the story of his day and then of the plan to do exactly what General Scott did not want to do: reinforce Fort Pickens.1


Speaking of Fort Pickens, the situation at the Gulf fort, as described in a letter from Lt. Slemmer, commanding the fort, “had not assumed a hostile attitude.” There had been an unofficial truce between the 90 or so Union men at the fort and the 1,000 or so rebels surrounding it. 5,000 more Southern troops were expected shortly.2

Slemmer described the artillery batteries surrounding the fort in every possible location. “Shot and shell can be thrown from each of these works into Fort Pickens,” warned the Lieutenant, adding, “with one or two batteries established on Santa Rosa Island, Fort Pickens would be in almost as bad a position as Fort Sumter.”

He then called the commanding General’s attention to the fact that, for over a month now, “no important communication has been received.” If the Federal government wished to hold Fort Pickens, it would have to be provisioned immediately.3


At Fort Sumter, Major Anderson knew that he could hold out little longer than a week, but only if he had thirty less mouths to feed.

As our provisions are very nearly exhausted, I have requested Captain Foster to discharge his laborers, retaining only enough for a boats crew. I hope to get them off to-morrow. The last barrel of flour was issued day before yesterday.4

  1. Fifty Years’ Observations of Men and Events, Civil and Military by Erasmus Darwin Keyes. []
  2. These figures, given by Slemmer, match Bragg’s own figures, given in Official Records, Series I, Vol 1., p455. []
  3. Official Records, Series I, Vol 1., p365. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 1, p228. []
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Fort Pickens Gets Some Needed Attention by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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