Gustavus Vasa Fox Heads to Fort Sumter

Tuesday, March 19, 1861

Gustavus Vasa Fox became a midshipman for the United States Navy in 1838. He was 16 years old. For the next fifteen years he served on various naval vessels, mostly surveying the coasts. By 1856, he decided to take a different path, and retired from the Navy to manage the Bay State Woolen Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

This was all well and good, but when Fort Sumter became a hot issue, Fox realized that the sea water wasn’t quite out of his blood. He wrote out a plan he had formulated to resupply Fort Sumter, giving it to his brother-in-law, Montgomery Blair who passed it on to General Winfield Scott.

Scott liked the plan enough to invite Fox to Washington to hear the pitch in person. Buchanan, however, was no fan of Blair and thus no fan of Fox. The plan was dismissed.1

More recently, however, with Blair in the cabinet of a new president, the plan was picking up in popularity. And even if everyone wasn’t sold on the plan, they liked Fox well enough.

On this date, Secretary of War Simon Cameron wrote to General Scott, asking for someone to assess the situation at Sumter.

The President requires accurate information in regard to the command of Major Anderson in Fort Sumter, and wishes a competent person sent for that purpose. You will therefore direct some suitable person to proceed there immediately, and report the result of the information obtained by him.2

Immediately, Scott thought of Fox. He consulted with Lincoln who also agreed.

In accordance with the request contained in a note from the Secretary of War to me, of which I annex a copy, I request that you will have the goodness to proceed to Charleston S.C. and obtain permission, if necessary, to visit Fort Sumter, in order to enable you to comply with the wish expressed in the Secretary’s note.3

Fox readied himself to leave, but before casting off, wrote a letter home to his wife to tell her the news:

I am real homesick for the kind company of the dearest wife in the world—the best and the sweetest. But our Uncle Abe Lincoln has taken a high esteem for me and wishes me to take dispatches to Major Anderson at Fort Sumpter with regard to its final evacuation and to obtain a clear statement of his condition which his letters, probably guarded, do not fully exhibit. I have really great curiosity to see the famous Fort and several of my naval intimates are there in command. Gov. Pickens may turn me back but I think not. I leave this eve and ought to return here Sunday and N. Y. Tuesday or Wednesday.4

The journey to Charleston, through which he would have to officially pass, would take two days.



  1. I didn’t even write about it! []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 1, p208. []
  3. Confidential Correspondence of Gustavus Vasa Fox, Vol. 1 edited by Robert Means Thompson and Richard Waiwright, Printed for the Naval History Society by the De Vinne Press, 1918. []
  4. Confidential Correspondence of Gustavus Vasa Fox, Vol. 1 edited by Robert Means Thompson and Richard Wainwright, Printed for the Naval History Society by the De Vinne Press, 1918. []
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