Thursday, March 7, 1861
Fort Sumter needed to be surrendered or resupplied/reinforced. Major Anderson, commanding the fort, claimed that it would take 20,000 reinforcements to secure the fort (it can be assumed, since Fort Sumter wouldn’t hold but a fraction of that number, that the 20,000 were also to take and hold Charleston). Gideon Wells, Secretary of the Navy, met with President Lincoln and General Winfield Scott at the White House on this date.
Scott had brought Wells up to speed the day before and now here they were, along with Secretary of State Seward, Captain Silas Stringham, a trusted Navel officer, and General Joseph Totten, a veteran of the War of 1812.
There was a strong desire to hold Fort Sumter. However, Generals Scott and Totten thought it was impractical. Seward was full of questions and doubt, finally coming to the conclusion that not only was it impractical, but it simply shouldn’t be attempted. Lincoln did not want to take offensive measures. He wanted his administration to get settled in before having to make such decisions.
Nevertheless, Scott let the Navy Secretary know that Commander James Ward was ready to resupply Sumter on short notice. Wells might find it advantageous to call upon him. He did so and Ward was on his way.1
So no decision was made.
This was good news to the Confederate Commissioners, who were sent by their government to broker some sort of peace settlement (that would result in a nonviolent separation). They had been in Washington for a couple of days now and appear to have met with Seward (unknown to Lincoln) on this date.2
Seward seemed, to the Commissioners anyway, that he was not only the head of those in the new administration who wished for peace, but was the true head of the administration itself. Seward wished to save the Republican party and save the Government. To do this, “war must be averted, the negro question must be dropped, the irrepressible conflict ignored, and a Union party to embrace the border slave States inaugurated.” He wished to save the border states and somehow get the people of the South to rebel against their new leaders.
Delay was needed by both Seward and the Commissioners. Seward requested this delay from the Commissioners in writing, hoping to buy time for Lincoln to order Fort Sumter (and Fort Pickens in Florida) to be evacuated.3