Reports of the Missions to Fort Sumter

Wednesday, March 27, 1861

When Ward Hill Lamon arrived with Stephen Hurlbut after their controversial trip to Fort Sumter and Charleston, it was expected that they would report their findings to Lincoln.

In Lamon’s very creative memoir, he claims to have brought back a palmetto branch to Lincoln, but no promise of an olive branch. It doesn’t appear that he ever spoke with Lincoln, at least not about the amazingly important surrender of Fort Sumter that he arranged.1

Hurlbut, on the other hand, reported back on the state of pro-Union sentiment in South Carolina. He had held a two hour conversation with a lawyer named Petigru (possibly Pettigrew). The lawyer claimed that he was “the only man in the city of Charleston who avowedly adheres to the Union.” There was not an ounce of Union sentiment left in the city. The people “expect a golden era, when Charleston shall be a great commercial emporium and control for the South, as New York does for the North.”2

“At present the garrison can be withdrawn without insult to them or their flag,” continued Hurlbut. “In a week this may be impossible and probably will.” He then suggested that after surrendering Fort Sumter, they reinforce Fort Pickens.3

So as of this date, Lincoln had two (and possibly, but not likely, three) firsthand accounts of the situation in Charleston Harbor. Gustavus Fox, who had returned to Washington on the 23rd, greatly wished for the resupply and reinforcement of Sumter. He had a plan and, though Major Anderson at the Fort was strongly against it, he was convinced it would work.

Hurlbut, as just stated, was convinced that after a week, they wouldn’t even be able to surrender the fort without a fight.

Lamon, for now, kept to himself. At some point, he had an interview with General Scott about the trip to Fort Sumter, but that probably didn’t happen until the next day (the 28th).4

Down in Charleston, the harbor defenses were still being improved by South Carolina troops. Three heavy guns were placed at Cummings Point and work was being done on Fort Johnson.5

Confederate General Beauregard took some time to write to his Secretary of War LeRoy Pope Walker. He attached the correspondence between Anderson and himself, adding “You will see that I preferred writing to him unofficially, so as to obtain his views first.” The letter expressed the belief that Sumter would be evacuated by Anderson very shortly.6

  1. Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, 1847-1865 by Ward Hill Lamon. Some sources conclude that he does, but in my opinion, they do so for the sake of brevity. []
  2. Letter from Hurlbut to Lincoln, March 27, 1861 – as quoted from Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume 3 by John George Nicolay and John Hay. []
  3. Lincoln and the Decision for War by Russell McClintock – he is quoting an interview between Hurlbut and Nicolay that happen in the 1870s and is written about in Oral History… by Nicolay. []
  4. Fifty Years’ Observations of Men and Events, Civil and Military by Erasmus Darwin Keyes – it suggests that it was on the 28th, not 27th. The other sources that I’ve seen just lump the whole event together, which is incredibly unhelpful. []
  5. Official Records. Series I, Vol. 1, p221. []
  6. Official Records. Series I, Vol. 1, p283. []
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