Lincoln Hears of Anderson’s Plight

Tuesday, March 5, 1861

Washington’s most important unemployed men, the former President Buchanan and his former cabinet, met at the War Department to discuss Major Anderson’s letter requesting an outrageous number of reinforcements. Ex-Secretary of War Joseph Holt composed a letter to deliver to Lincoln.

With that, Buchanan left the city, returning to his home in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.

Lincoln was shocked by Holt’s letter (about Anderson’s request). Not only did it request 20,000 troops, but it put a time limit on how long they could hold out without supplies: six weeks. Doing the math, a decision would have to be made by mid-April.1

Feeling dismayed at the previous administration’s lack of action, he showed the letters to General Winfield Scott. Scott looked them over and conceded that the only viable option was to surrender: “Evacuation seems almost inevitable.” Scott gave the letter to William Seward, who had just made up his mind to become Secretary of State. The letter, Scott’s short response, for some reason would not reach Lincoln for another day.2

Also in Washington, the Senate held a special session to approve Lincoln’s cabinet. The final line up was:

Secretary of State – William H. Seward
Secretary of the Treasury – Salmon P. Chase
Secretary of War – Simon Cameron
Attorney General – Edward Bates
Postmaster General – Montgomery Blair
Secretary of the Navy – Gideon Welles
Secretary of the Interior – Caleb Blood Smith

__________________

Thanks to the telegraph and newspapers, Lincoln’s Inaugural Address traveled up and down the eastern third of the continent in a matter of hours.

There are many claims that today’s press in 2011 is biased. But even the “liberal press” and “conservative radio” cannot hold a candle to the incredibly and outspokenly biased newspapers of both the North and the South during the middle 1800s.

In the South, “war” was the watchword. “There will, then, as they must have it, be war,” wrote the Atlanta Southern Confederacy. The Nashville Union and American (perhaps not as accurately named as Atlanta’s journal) wrote: “No man can read the Inaugural, without coming to the conclusion that it is a declaration of war against the seceded States, and in less than thirty days, if its avowals are carried out, we shall have the clangor of resounding arms, with all its concomitants of death, carnage and woe.” “The sword is drawn and the scabbard thrown away,” proclaimed the Richmond Daily Dispatch.3

In the North, the New York Tribune appreciated that it was brief, which might or might not be an insult. However it continued, saying that the “plainness and directness of speech will make its meaning clear to the lowest capacity.”4

Over the next couple of days, more newspapers would weigh in.



  1. Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. []
  2. Allegiance by David Detzer. There seems to be a bit of confusion over letters between Lincoln and Scott. This seems to get confused with a more detailed letter that Lincoln wrote to Scott on the 9th. On this date, Lincoln merely showed Scott the letters and Scott wrote a short reply. There is also some fog about when Lincoln received Scott’s first reply via Seward. Some say on the 6th, some say the 7th. []
  3. Editors Make War by Donald E. Reynolds, Southern Illinois University Press, 2006. – I wish I would have used this book more, it’s really a wonderful resource. []
  4. Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. []
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  1. “There are many claims that today’s press in 2011 is biased. But even the “liberal press” and “conservative radio” cannot hold a candle to the incredibly and outspokenly biased newspapers of both the North and the South during the middle 1800s.” – – – – –

    It seems that people usually think things are unique to the period of time they live in. I’m not sure why this is, but I have found the cure to be study of history. That is one of the reasons I pursue history with such an appetite. This blog included! Thanks!

    – Sean

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