Friday, December 28, 1860
South Carolina had seized Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckey the previous day. While word of Anderson’s move to Sumter had set Washington to panic, word of the Secessionists’ retaliation would not reach them until Buchanan and his cabinet were having their morning meeting.
The option of ordering Anderson back to Moultrie was now off the table. Buchanan had to either order him to stay at Sumter or order him to leave South Carolina entirely.
That morning, General Winfield Scott, commander of all United States forces, had wired Secretary of War John B. Floyd that Fort Sumter must not be surrendered. Not only that, but it must be resupplied with 150 men, ammunition and food. Two armed vessels should also be sent to assist Anderson. Floyd, who had neither been officially fired or officially resigned, ignored it and did not reply.1
And there he was at the cabinet meeting arguing with Secretary of State Jeremiah Black, the two of them nearly coming to blows. Black felt that Anderson acted according to necessity and orders. Floyd obviously disagreed and demanded that he be withdrawn.
The capture of Moultrie and Pinckney, while hostile actions against United States property, really had no bearing on such extremes.
The commissioners sent by South Carolina also knew about the drama in Charleston and demanded, like the Secretary of War, that all US troops be removed. Buchanan would agree to nothing and the commissioners left unhappy. One reactionary commissioner wired Charleston telling them “to prepare for war immediately.”
That evening, the cabinet met again. And again Floyd showed up, but said nothing. He found himself a couch and laid down upon it. Instead, Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson (from North Carolina) argued his point for him. Attorney General Edwin Stanton reminded the President of the latest scandals Floyd had gotten himself into – all the money that was lost – to lose a fort along with this would be unbearable.
With Scott’s requests unanswered (and unknown to anyone but Floyd), Buchanan’s mind not at all made up and the Cabinet as divided as the nation, the meeting raged on for six hours, finally adjourning until morning.2
While Scott was being ignored he took the time to reply to General Daniel Twiggs’s letter asking for suggestions concerning the Federal forts and arsenals in Texas should the South secede.
Scott wrote (through his secretary George Lay) that there was no advice to give. By the time things got to a critical point in Texas, a policy would probably be in effect. For now, however, Scott complained that he hadn’t even been shown the orders given to Major Anderson.
This “advice,” when received by Twiggs, would most likely do nothing to ease his mind.3
- Official Records, Vol. 1, p 112. [↩]
- Most of the account from this day comes from both Allegiance by David Detzer and Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. The former focuses more on Sumter, the latter more on politics. Together they give a wonderful overview of the situation. Sometimes they do not agree, however, and I have to chose who to believe over the other. Nevertheless, they are both invaluable resources and, as you’ve seen and will see, I rely upon them quite a lot. [↩]
- Official Records Vol. 1, p579-580. [↩]