Fox Visits Fort Sumter: A Short Period to Regret

Thursday, March 21, 1861

Gustavus Fox, sent by Lincoln and General Scott to appraise the situation at Fort Sumter, had arrived in Charleston in the morning. He met up with an old friend, Captain Hartstene, who had recently resigned from the US Navy and was now in command of the Confederate Naval forces in Charleston Harbor. Fox mentioned to his old friend that he would very much like to see Fort Sumter, to see how they are holding out and the state of their provisions.

Hartstene took Fox to meet with Governor Pickens, who was then showed the letter of General Scott and assured by Fox that his mission was of a pacific nature. Pickens would allow Fox to go to Sumter if Hartstene would tag along (and be within earshot to make sure that everything was on the up and up).

The duo made it to the Fort and met Major Anderson, who was with Abner Doubleday, and also knew Hartstene. As they conversed in the sally port, Fox and Anderson got a short period of time alone.

The sun had set over Charleston as the two spoke in the parapet of Fort Sumter. Anderson knew of Fox’s plan to reinforce the fort, and begged that such a scheme was too late. Any reinforcements would been seen as an attack and would start a civil war.

While they spoke of this plan, a small boat could be heard in the harbor, yet they could not see it. Fox used this to argue his point. The darkness would screen the boats. If noticed at all, the fire upon them would be inaccurate.

Anderson countered that the channel was well defended and would keep Fox’s ships away from Sumter. Fox thought that his gunboats could handle them.

The subject was cordially dropped. Fox was basically there on a fact finding mission. He was not authorized to make arrangements to reinforce the fort and he dared not venture in that direction. Mostly, Fox wanted to see Sumter for himself.

Fox was given a list of the stores at the fort: Six barrels of flour; six barrels of hard bread; three barrels of sugar; one barrel of coffee; two barrels of vinegar; twenty-six barrels of pork; one-fourth barrel of salt; one and a half barrels of rice; three boxes of candles. This was enough to last them until April 15.

While Fox and Anderson were speaking in private, Hartstene asked Doubleday if he thought the Major would mind much if he planted an iron-plated floating battery 100 yards from Fort Sumter. Surprised, Doubleday questioned such an outrageous idea. “Anderson has allowed these batteries to be built around him,” said Hartstene, “I don’t see why he should not go a step farther and allow this.”

With that, the old friends Fox and Hartstene headed back to Charleston where they met with Confederate General Beauregard. Pleasantries were exchanged and after Fox left, Beauregard asked Hartstene if he had been with Fox the entire time.

“All but a short period, when he was with Major Anderson,” replied Hartstene.

With an eye to the near future, Beauregard said, “I fear that we shall have occasion to regret that short period.”1

  1. The Genesis of the Civil War by Crawford and Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-’61 by Abner Doubleday (for the parts about Doubleday). Oh and Official Records Series 1, Vol 1, p 211 for the fort’s provisions. []
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Fox Visits Fort Sumter: A Short Period to Regret by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International