Wednesday, March 13, 1861
The only member of Lincoln’s cabinet who supported the idea of somehow reinforcing Fort Sumter was Postmaster General Montgomery Blair. Blair had lost his temper with the President upon hearing that the fort was to be surrendered. He later apologized and even went a step farther in contacting his son-in-law Gustavus Fox, asking him to come to Washington right away.
He arrived on the evening of this date.
Fox, a naval officer from Massachusetts, had a plan for reinforcing Sumter. He had presented this plan to Buchanan a few months earlier and his services were declined. His argument was that the Star of the West failed because it tried to squeeze a huge steamer through a small channel. His plan, on the other hand, was to use three small tug boats under the cover of darkness. They could slip past the batteries without much problem. Fox was convinced that land batteries were nearly useless against fast moving targets. Besides, the tugs could be accompanied by a large naval fleet and covered under Fort Sumter’s guns.
This man was sincere and full of spirit and, maybe because it was the only plan on the table, Lincoln went with it, deciding to present it to the Cabinet the next day.1
Confusion at Fort Pickens
At Fort Pickens near Pensacola, Florida, Lt. A.J. Slemmer (commander of the fort) was in town delivering four escaped slaves to the authorities when he missed a call by a Confederate officer delivering a message from Confederate General Braxton Bragg (commanding the rebel forces in the area).
Bragg wished to obtain “information necessary to enable me to understand our relative positions.” He was under the notion that there was basically a truce established between all parties.
Immediately, Lt. Slemmer replied by sending copies of correspondence backing up the truce. He seemed worried that Bragg would try to find some loophole and take possible action against the fort. Slemmer asked the General to reply, stating whether this agreement would be honored under his command.
The agreement would indeed be honored, responded Bragg, however he begged “to suggest to you that the erection of a battery on Santa Rosa Island bearing directly on our navy-yard is, in my view, directly in conflict with the spirit of the agreement.”
Slemmer knew of no such battery, but thought that he better confer with the commander of the naval squadron nearby (Captain Vodges). This would delay his reply until the 15th.2
Seward Tries to Buy Time
Whether or not Secretary of State Seward talked with Lincoln about the Confederate Commissioners in Washington is debatable. Some sources claim that a conversation took place and that Lincoln told him that he couldn’t meet with them. If a conversation took place at all, it probably happened on this date.3
Anyway, Seward had received the letter from the Commissioners requesting a formal meeting, but again delayed in his response.
News of Sumter’s surrender was traveling fast. Newspapers all over the country (all over both countries) were buzzing that Fort Sumter was to be surrendered. Even the Commissioners, who were in a steady holding pattern, wired Montgomery that the fort would be theirs in a matter of days.4
- Allegiance by David Detzer. [↩]
- Official Records, Vol. 1, p362. [↩]
- Henry J. Raymond, author of The Life and Public Services of Abraham Lincoln, published in 1865, thought that he did. Others disagree. The common trend now is to say that it might have happened. My thoughts are that it doesn’t matter. Seward realized by the 8th or 9th that he could hold no formal (or informal) meetings with them and did not. Okay, it matters a little bit, but the outcome would be the same. [↩]
- Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. [↩]