October 31, 1861 (Thursday, Halloween)
“For more than three years I have been unable, from a hurt, to mount a horse or walk more than a few paces at a time, and that with much pain. Other and new infirmities, dropsy and vertigo, admonish me that a repose of mind and body, with the appliances of surgery and medicine, are necessary to add a little more to a life already protracted much beyond the usual span of man.
“It is under such circumstances, made doubly painful by the unnatural and unjust rebellion now raging in the southern states of our so late prosperous and happy Union, that I am compelled to request that my name be placed on the list of army officers retired from active service.”
-Lieutenent-General Winfield Scott1
Realizing that it was over, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott submitted the above letter of resignation to Secretary of War Simon Cameron, who, in turn, submitted it to President Lincoln. Scott had served fifty-three years in the Army, longer than any man in American history. Since the War of 1812, Winfield Scott had commanded troops in the field.
Meanwhile, General George McClellan holed himself up in Edwin Stanton’s house while they worked together on a letter requested by the President, stating the condition of the Army of the Potomac, and McClellan’s future plans to suppress the rebellion.
According to McClellan, there were but two options for the Army. They could either build up, train and be made ready over the winter, or go into battle immediately without enough troops to win. General Joe Johnston’s Confederate Army, on the other side of the Potomac, according to McClellan, was “not less than 150,000 strong, well drilled and equipped, ably commanded & strongly entrenched.” The number, which was thought to be just under 100,000, was purposely padded by McClellan, by over fifty percent. The true figure was less than 50,000.
McClellan wished to go into winter quarters, suggesting that all surplus troops stationed around the country be filtered into the Army of the Potomac.
In conclusion, McClellan (actually Stanton) wrote that, “No time is to be lost – we have lost too much already – every consideration requires us to prepare at once, but not to move until we are ready.”2
Sometime after leaving Stanton’s house, McClellan learned of Scott’s resignation. There was now no officer in the Army between President Lincoln and General McClellan.
Missouri to Be a Confederate State
In Missouri, estranged secessionist governor, Claiborne Jackson, has assembled as many legislatures as would follow him and the retreating Missouri State Guard in Neosho, in the southwest corner of the state. There, the Senate and the House passed the Ordinance of Secession and on this day, Jackson signed it.
Officially, the secessionist officials held onto only a very small portion of their state. The Federal authorities had already replaced Jackson with a loyal governor and government. Jackson’s efforts, however, were enough for the Confederate legislature in Richmond, who agreed to accept Missouri as one of their own.3
Feeling most assured that the Confederate government would welcome them, the secessionist legislature appointed two senators and seven representative to the Confederate Congress.4
Too Close for Careless, Stupid Skippers
The joint Army – Navy expedition to Port Royal, South Carolina to establish for the Union a Naval base on a southern inlet, had left Fortress Monroe on the 29th. In the early morning of this date, the seventy-seven ships were rounding Cape Hatteras.
All did not go as planned. One of the troop transport ships had run too close to land and got itself hung up on the outer shoal. Much to the dismay of Flag Officer Samuel Francis Du Pont, the entire fleet moved away from land, to the southeast.
Du Pont believed that there was enough room to safely sail, if navigated carefully. Later, he expressed great disdain, writing that it must have been “too close for careless, stupid skippers or second-and-third class merchant captains.”
Through the maneuvers, the fleet was, more or less, able to keep together. The weather on this day was sunny and calm. All was otherwise on course.5
Wilkes Arrives in Havana, Chasing Mason and Slidell
Charles Wilkes, Captain of the USS San Jacinto, had been looking for the CSS Sumter when he learned that Confederate envoys to Europe, James Mason and John Slidell, had traveled from Charleston, South Carolina to Cuba aboard the Theodora.
The United States Navy, as well as the rest of the country, believed that Mason and Slidell were en route to England via the CSS Nashville. In fact, the USS John Adger was currently patrolling the waters off the English Channel, hoping to spy the vessel.
Wilkes, however, knew the truth. He was determined to capture the Theodora on her return voyage to Charleston. But, as the San Jacinto docked in Havana, he learned that she had already departed. He also learned that Mason and Slidell, along with their secretaries and families, were in Havana. They were set to sail for England on November 7th aboard the English steamer Trent.
Wilkes made up his mind. He would load up with coal and wait in international waters where he could capture her.6
- Official Records, Series 3, Vol. 1, p612. [↩]
- The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan edited by Stephen W. Sears, Da Capo Press, 1992. [↩]
- Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861, p481-482. [↩]
- Borderland Rebellion by Elmo Ingenthron. [↩]
- Success is All that was Expected: The South Atlantic Blockading Squadron by Robert M. Browning, Brassey’s, 2002. [↩]
- Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 1, p129; 131. [↩]