Monday, December 24, 1860; Christmas Eve
Unknown to President Buchanan and most everybody else, Secretary of War, John B. Floyd – former Virginia Governor and Southern sympathizer – it seems, was attempting to give the South a wonderful Christmas present by transferring guns from northern arsenals to forts in the South. As Secretary of War, this was well within his jurisdiction to do so, however, he began a rapid fury of requests over the preceding days to arsenals in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), Massachusetts and New York to send muskets and artillery south to the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana.
Floyd’s largest order was to the Allegheny Arsenal in Pittsburgh. From there, he ordered 124 cannons to be taken by boat down the Mississippi River for forts in Mississippi and Texas. Though these states had not yet seceded, it was fairly obvious that they likely would.1
While the commanders of these arsenals had little choice but to comply with the Secretary’s orders, the people of Pittsburgh got wind of this and on this chilly Christmas Eve night, decided to take action.
The steamer Crystal Wave2 was at the Monongahela wharf; the streets and wharf were icy, and the guns were being rolled over the wharf to the gang planks. Some had already been placed aboard the steamer, when the movement suddenly halted, and loyal patriots sought to get in touch with the authorities at Washington, as they believed somebody had blundered.3
The Major in charge of the arsenal refused to speak to the press, but a local congressman telegraphed Edwin Stanton, Chairman of the House Committee on Military Affairs, to see if he knew anything about this.
Other area Democrats telegraphed Washington to have the orders countermanded.4
This may have been the uncovering of a great plot or it may have simply been the Secretary of War doing his job. Time and history would tell (or not, as it’s still debated).
Declaration of Immediate Causes: No Fugitive Slave Law = No Union
Overshadowing the confusion in Pittsburgh, the South Carolina Secession Convention (which was still meeting to hammer out all the details of running a new little nation) passed the “Declaration of Immediate Causes” of secession.
It begins by offering their interpretation of the Nation’s founders’ layout of a voluntary union of sovereign states. They claimed that the northern states had broken this Constitutional agreement by not enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law. The document singles out Lincoln, specifically his “government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free” idea.
On March 4th, the day of Lincoln’s inauguration, the “slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.”
The declaration closes by stating that the delegates “have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.”
South Carolina was also preparing for war. The Convention had sent three commissioners to meet with Buchanan in Washington. Closer to Major Anderson, however, militia units were arriving in Charleston, surveying Sullivan’s Island (home of Fort Moultrie) for artillery emplacements and scaling ladders were being constructed. Something was up and Anderson needed to act.5
- From Official Records, Series III, Vol. 1, p 21 – and other sources – this whole affair is generally unknown and unresearched. [↩]
- possibly named Silver Wave [↩]
- From Memory’s Milestones: Reminiscences of Seventy Years of a Busy Life in Pittsburgh by Percy Frazer Smith, Murdoch-Kerr Press, 1918. [↩]
- From the Richmond Daily Dispatch, December 27, 1860. [↩]
- Allegiance by David Detzer. [↩]