Secession Fever Spreads as Anderson Holds It All Together

Friday, December 21, 1860

The news of secession reached across the eastern continent by morning. In Richmond, the Daily Dispatch reported that a Palmetto flag “of light ground, with a Palmetto tree in the centre of it, arched over by a galaxy of fifteen stars, indicating the Union of the Slave States, and a rattlesnake coiled around the trunk” was on display and would be raised on a tall poll near the Custom House on January 7th.

Public meetings across the South largely favored secession. It would be a couple of days before such sentiments would be mirrored in legislatures.

In Washington, four representatives of South Carolina, including Lawrence Kearney, the man who broke the news to Buchanan at the wedding reception, officially resigned their posts and returned to their independent state.


In Charleston Harbor, Major Anderson was now, in the view of South Carolinians, occupying South Carolina’s forts. These Federally owned and operated forts, which were visible from Charleston, were clearly going to cause a bit of commotion and drama. Anderson had just resolved an argument between the (now) South Carolinian arsenal and an officer under his command who had taken 40 rifles from said arsenal. The rifles were ordered returned (by Washington) and matters seemed to be settled.

There also had been debate about whether 20 men had been moved from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter. South Carolina had to be reassured that they, in fact, had not been moved.

On this day, however, Major Anderson received word that the verbal instructions given to him by Don Carlos Buell to “defend yourself to the last extremity” had been made official with one exception. He was no longer to defend himself to the “last extremity,” but rather, it was “neither expected nor desired that you should expose your own life or that of your men in a hopeless conflict in defense of these forts.” The changes came from President Buchanan himself.1

  1. From Official Records Vol. 1, p 101 – 105. []


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