Tuesday, April 9, 1861
The mail going to and from Fort Sumter had been cut off. However, not only was it stopped, the last bag of mail was seized and read by the Confederates.
The bag was brought to Governor Pickens’s office where he, General Beauregard and Judge Andrew Gordon Magrath were gathered. It was opened and revealed sealed letters, some addressed to Washington. They passed the bag first to Judge Magrath.
“No,” said Magrath. “I have too recently been a United States’ Judge, and have been in the habit of sentencing people to the penitentiary for this sort of thing.” Passing the bag, he passed the buck, “Governor, let General Beauregard open them.”
But Beauregard declined as well, “Certainly not: Governor, you are the proper person to open these letters.”
Pickens slowly picked up one of the official correspondence to Washington, turned it over and said, “Well, if you are all so fastidious about it, give them to me.”
He paused for a moment. And then another until Judge Magrath prodded, “Go ahead. Governor, open it.”
With that, all official mail was opened, but only the official mail.1
Official letters could often be very boring and dry. The letters from Sumter usually contained locations of the batteries and some notes on supplies. This bag, however, contained Major Anderson’s letter written the day before.
Pickens, who, of course, already knew of the plan to resupply Sumter, was shocked to find out that the plan had been dreamed up by Gustavus Fox. Fox had personally assured him that his mission to Fort Sumter was pacific in nature.2
Beauregard sent a short letter to Anderson informing him that the private letters were to be sent on, but that he had read the official ones and was none too happy about the “treachery of Mr. Fox.” In return for this, he forwarded the official letters to the Confederate government in Montgomery.
Governor Pickens took this time to write to both President Davis and Secretary of War LeRoy Walker, sending along Anderson’s correspondence.
You will see by these letters of Major Anderson how it is intended to supply the fort; but by God’s providence we will, I trust, be prepared for them; and if they approach with war vessels also, I think you will hear of as bloody a fight as ever occurred.
There were 3,700 men at various posts and batteries around the harbor. Anderson expected the United States to attempt to land 2,600 troops on Morris Island. If so, “we will have a fine rifle regiment to give them a cordial welcome from behind sand hills.”
Pickens considered that “a state of war is now inaugurated by the authorities at Washington.”3
The Confederate Chorus Swells
The Confederate government in Montgomery was in full debate. News of the plan to resupply Fort Sumter had reached them, but there was no clear idea of what to do.
President Davis had warned against firing upon Fort Sumter, but that was back in January. The chorus was swelling for attack and Davis was found at its head. Secretary of State Robert Toombs was the sole voice against it.
“The firing upon that fort will inaugurate a civil war greater than any the world has yet seen,” warned Toombs, adding, “at this time, it is suicide, murder and will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet’s nest which extends from mountains to ocean, and legions, now quiet, will swarm out and sting us to death.”4
Gustavus Fox, author of the plan to resupply Fort Sumter, left New York Harbor (actually Sandy Hook, NJ) at 8am aboard the unarmed Baltic. He was accompanied by the Uncle Ben and Yankee, two unarmed tug boats. Another tug, the Freeborn, was commissioned to be used, but her owners thought the mission too dangerous and kept her in port.
Three warships would meet him there: the Harriet Lane (setting sail on the 8th), the Pawnee, and the Pocahontas (which wouldn’t sail until the 10th). None of the ships were especially daunting and, since all were too large to enter the harbor, they would be there more for moral support than anything else.
The fleet (most of it) was now on its way to Sumter.5