The Truth of Southern History Is Going to Be Told

The Truth of Southern History
Is Going to Be Told

by Gene Kizer, Jr.

(This article comes from the last section of my book, Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument., available on this website. That section is entitled "Author's Final Assessment".)

Any historian who does not think the impending annihilation of the Northern economy in the spring of 1861 is the true cause of the War Between the States, is like a detective who desperately needs to solve a murder but just doesn't think motive is important.

The annihilation of the Northern economy and the rise of the South are ultimately what drove the actions of most participants, North and South, in the spring of 1861 when the war started. Ending slavery was nowhere on the Northern radar. Northerners were seeing their world crumble before their very eyes with bankruptcy and anarchy at the end of the tunnel.

Southerners were seeing 1776 and the re-founding of the American republic but with constitutionally protected free trade, low tariffs, and even more emphasis on States' Rights. In the South, power belonged to the people in their respective states -- not to a centralized government representing, as the Founding Fathers warned over and over, the tyranny of the majority.

I am interested in historical truth, and in this age of political correctness, we do not have it. Northerners, as this book proves beyond the shadow of a doubt, did not go to war to end slavery, and Southerners did not go to war to preserve it. With all that the South had to gain by being a free, independent nation on this earth, only a dull person would think that protecting slavery was all the South wanted.1

The Confederate States of America was about powerful sovereign states in which free people governed themselves. It was united by a weak federal government that was subservient to the states and the people in those states, and was not their master.

That is the main issue of the war. The North believed in a powerful central government, and the South did not.

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (1831–1924) of Charleston, South Carolina was a Confederate soldier during the War Between the States. He is, today, "still regarded as the greatest American classical scholar of all times."2 His 1915 book, The Creed of the Old South, is so beautifully written, so heartfelt and sincere, that you know immediately -- whether you are from the North or the South -- that it is the truth and this is what happened. It is actually a reprint of an essay that was published in 1892, only 27 years after the war. He writes:

A friend of mine, describing the crowd that besieged the Gare de Lyon in Paris, when the circle of fire was drawing round the city, and foreigners were hastening to escape, told me that the press was so great that he could touch in every direction those who had been crushed to death as they stood, and had not had room to fall. Not wholly unlike this was the pressure brought to bear on the Confederacy. It was only necessary to put out your hand and you touched a corpse; and that not an alien corpse, but the corpse of a brother or a friend.3

So much of Southern history today is not truth and is not what really happened. Esteemed historian Eugene D. Genovese had it right:

Rarely these days, even on southern campuses, is it possible to acknowledge the achievements of the white people of the South. The history of the Old South is now often taught at leading  universities, when it is taught at all, as a prolonged guilt-trip, not to say a prologue to the history of Nazi Germany. . . . To speak positively about any part of this southern tradition is to invite charges of being a racist and an apologist for slavery and segregation. We are witnessing a cultural and political atrocity -- an increasingly successful campaign by the media and an academic elite to strip young white southerners, and arguably black southerners as well, of their heritage, and, therefore, their identity. They are being taught to forget their forebears or to remember them with shame.4 (Bold emphasis added.)

Nobody who wants a career in history in this day and age can say anything good about the South. They can't risk being called a racist. We no longer learn from much of the historical discussion because so much is banned or censored, leaving a false record. The "progressives" who bring up the McCarthy era with hate-America glee are a thousand times worse with their political correctness. They represent an Orwellian anti-intellectual, anti-knowledge movement and it's cowardly because they want to control the debate through intimidation, not by producing the best scholarship and ideas.

Much of this liberal political correctness goes back to today's politics. The PC crowd believes in a giant all-powerful federal government, and that was unquestionably the main issue of the War Between the States. The North wanted a powerful federal government that it would control with its majority for its own wealth and aggrandizement.

The South wanted powerful sovereign states -- States' Rights -- and a weak federal government, which is what the Founding Fathers intended.

It is no coincidence that the blue states of the big government Democrat Party of today are mostly the old Union states of the North and West, while most of the red states, who take a Reaganesque view of the Federal Government -- "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem"5 -- are in the South.

So, this politically correct anti-South view of history benefits the liberal Democrat Party that worships federal power and is enthusiastically embraced by liberals who make up, effectively, 100% of academia (oh, I know the actual number is only around 90% in the Humanities where History resides but it might as well be 100% because that 10% of non-liberals better not dare go against liberal orthodoxy if they want to keep their jobs). It's partly the dirty politics of today and not a truthful examination of history.

Who controls the past controls the future:
who controls the present controls the past.6

Big Brother is absolutely correct. That's why the moral-superiority argument, that the good North went to war to end slavery, must be maintained at all costs, though they actually went to war to establish the supremacy of the Federal Government (they were called "Federals" during the war), which they would control with their majority. Truth, and the deaths of 750,000 people and wounding of over a million, are a cheap price to pay. The ends justify the means, or so the PC argument goes, and the South must be vilified that much more.

The charge of racism will not only intimidate and keep many from doing meaningful research on the South, but it also casts aspersions on much great writing of the past so that nothing is left except what the PC crowd wants you to believe -- and that is always something favorable to the growth of liberal politics and federal power.

As Winston Smith laments in 1984:

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.7

That's why David H. Donald said there has been no Southern view among professional historians for over a half-century. There is a powerful Southern view but it has been subverted in an attempt to erase and rewrite history as Big Brother with his liberal bosom buddies in academia and the news media demand.

Charleston's William Gilmore Simms, according to Edgar Allan Poe, was the greatest American writer of the 19th century yet he is not studied in depth, and in most places, not at all, because he was a slaveowner. Simms wrote 82 book-length works including history and poetry. He was an expert on the American Revolution and wrote a fantastic series of big, thick Revolutionary War novels, mostly set in and around Charleston, and they cause the Revolution to jump off the pages. You are suddenly there in Charleston in 1776.

What is lost in Charleston alone by not studying William Gilmore Simms in depth, is a crime. There is a bust of Simms at the Battery, high up on a pedestal, but that's where the study of Simms ends.

The primary reason for the viciousness against the South is to cover up the enormity of the North's crime of destroying the republic of the Founding Fathers and killing 750,000 men and wounding over a million. Historians admit that the Northern victory destroyed the republic of sovereign states of the Founders and centralized power in the Federal Government.

That was not what the Founding Fathers had in mind in all their wisdom. A nation of sovereign states with a weak national government is where they saw true freedom and self-determination. That's what States' Rights are about and that is why the South fought. Centralization would give us the tyranny of the majority as the Founding Fathers warned.

So, rather than giving the South any credit, Big Brother's PC mob must rewrite history.  The Southern cause must be changed from independence to vile slavery, and the North's guilt in bringing most of the slaves here and building the infrastructure of the Old North on profits from the slave trade should be forgotten.

It is extremely enlightening to read the excellent book, Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery. This is an important book, not only because it is well-researched and fearless, but because it is written by Northerners, and fairly recently. It was written by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank of The Hartford Courant and published in 2005.

This book had come about when The Hartford Courant published a story with headline "Aetna 'Regrets' Insuring Slaves."

This shocked them, to think that a Northern company and Northerners could have had anything to do with slavery. Slavery was the sin of the South, wasn't it?

To their credit, they began investigating and found that The Hartford Courant itself had run ads supporting the sale and capture of slaves. They found out that "Connecticut's role in slavery was not only huge, it was a key to the success of the entire institution," then  the floodgates opened and as a result, this is what they wrote in the Preface:

What was true of Connecticut turned out to be overwhelmingly true of the entire North. Most of what you'll read here was gleaned from older, often out-of-print texts, and from period  newspapers, largely in Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts.

We are Journalists, not scholars, and want to share what surprised, and even shocked, the three of us. We have all grown up, attended schools, and worked in Northern states, from Maine to Maryland. We thought we knew our home. We thought we knew our country.

We were wrong.8

Let me suggest some other topics that would enlighten the country historically. How about a book on the laws in most of the Northern and Western States that forbid black people from living there. Add Northern racism in general.

How about a book on the racist nature of Northern anti-slavery, which was mostly economic and political, featuring Northern greed and racism at its worst. Even Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his diary: "The abolitionist wishes to abolish slavery, but because he wishes to abolish the black man."9

How about a book on the racist nature of Lincoln's "extension of slavery into the West" argument, which was racist to the core. Neither slaves nor free blacks were allowed because the West was to be reserved for white people from all over the world, and Northern institutions. That's why Lincoln and the Republicans did not want slavery in the West, because they did not want blacks in the West.

How about more books on Lincoln's strong belief that black people should be sent back to Africa or into a place suitable for them. If Lincoln had had his way, there would be no blacks in America. African-American scholar, Lerone Bennett, Jr.'s Forced Into Glory, Abraham Lincoln's White Dream, is a good start.

How about more books on Republican Party hatred and greed, which President James Buchanan said was the main cause of the war.

How about more books examining the North's economic dependence on the South, on manufacturing for the South and shipping Southern cotton. Add to that the Northern abuse of the economic system with tariffs, monopolies, bounties, and subsidies from the federal treasury that benefited the North at the expense of the South. Examine the unfair taxation issue in detail. Taxes were supposed to be uniform but Southerners ended up paying most of them while most of the tax money was spent in the North.

How long do you think Northerners would put up with paying 3/4ths of the country's taxes while 3/4ths of the tax money was spent in the South?

The economic system was hugely unfair to the South, but I understand how Northern businessmen would be aggressive within the system in pursuit of profits. I don't fault them for that. I fault historians today for perpetuating the fraud that Northerners were more concerned about ending slavery than profits or free land in the West.

There is no other way to look at the Morrill Tariff than pure Northern greed. It passed the Northern Congress in a knee-jerk fashion because Northerners, without even thinking, figured it would fall on the South. Southerners would have to pay it. It would be like more free Southern money for the North.

But the South was out of the Union and no longer had to pay astronomical Northern tariffs. This one fell on the North alone and it made entry of goods into the North 37 to 50% higher than entry into the South. It threatened to instantly rerout U.S. trade away from the high-tariff North and into the low-tariff South where protective tariffs were unconstitutional. This would destroy the Northern shipping industry almost overnight. Northern ship captains began moving South where they were guaranteed cargoes because of the South's free trade philosophy and low tariff. This added greatly to panic in the North and the North's call for war.

When the Morrill Tariff and destruction of the North's shipping industry is added to the loss of its manufacturing market because of secession, it meant the Northern economy would not recover. The Republican Party of the North pledged against the South was in serious political trouble. War was, to Lincoln, his only way out. It would solve all his enormous problems overnight.

In many ways, historical interpretations are like politics. People in different places see things differently. Evidence and logic should rule but most of the time they don't. You pull for your home team no matter what.

That's fine, but good scholarship -- truth -- demands a vigorous discussion and analysis with all sides presented accurately. If we don't have that, then we don't have history. We have propaganda and filthy politics. That's why they call this modern fraud, "political" correctness, and it is the opposite of truth.

When you get down to it, the only thing that matters is the right of secession. If the South had the right to secede from the Union, then Southerners are the heroes of American history and Northerners the villains who started a bloody fratricidal war for commercial gain.

That is how it was largely viewed in Europe during and after the war, as Charles Dickens proves. British Lord Acton (John Dalberg Acton) wrote this to Gen. Robert E. Lee a year-and-a-half after Appomattox:

. . . I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. . . . Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.10

Of course the South had the right to secede from the Union. Anybody who believes in the Declaration of Independence has to believe in the right of secession. The Declaration of Independence is the greatest Ordinance of Secession ever written.

The fact that the Constitution did not prohibit secession, and three states -- Virginia, New York and Rhode Island -- reserved the right of secession before acceding to the U.S. Constitution, proves the right of secession. Virginia, New York and Rhode Island's reserved right of secession was acknowledged and approved by the other states, which means that they had it too because all the states are equal. Horace Greeley certainly believed in the right of secession.

The secession debate in the South in the months before they left the Union, the calling of conventions, the votes, the formation of a new nation on this earth, was, as I said, the greatest expression of democracy and self-government in the history of the world. The Colonists of 1776 were a great expression too but the South in 1860-61 was so much larger and covered a continent-size landmass and represented the exact same argument as 1776, so I would give the South one up.

Or perhaps a tie.

But a tie with the Founding Fathers puts the South in pretty damn good company.


This book proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the North did not go to war to end slavery or free the slaves.

The impending annihilation of the Northern economy and the rise of the South are what drove the actions of most participants, North and South, in the spring of 1861 when the war started.

Abraham Lincoln started the war the North demanded, as the Providence Daily Post asserted, "because Abraham Lincoln loves a party better than he loves his country," and 750,000 men had to die, and over a million be maimed.

Southerners are patriotic Americans and our ancestors accepted the verdict of the battlefield, though it was not a just verdict. We fought well and were proud of ourselves for standing with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and all the others who believed in States' Rights.

There was an ad that ran often in the back of the original Confederate Veteran magazine of 1893 to 1932 and it said, "One Country, . . . One Flag."

We, in the South, are enormously proud of that country and flag, but the truth of our glorious Southern history is going to be told.


1 Besides, the U.S. Constitution strongly protected slavery. Slavery was not in danger in the Union, and 94% of Southerners didn't own slaves anyway. Also, the Confederate Constitution allowed free states to join. Slavery was not required. Southerners wanted free states to join for economic reasons and anticipated that many would. This worried Lincoln to death.

2 Clyde N. Wilson, Abstract, The Creed of the Old South by Basil L. Gildersleeve, Society of Independent Southern Historians,, accessed 10/11/2014.

3 Basil L. Gildersleeve, The Creed of the Old South (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1915; reprint: BiblioLife, Penrose Library, University of Denver (no date given), 26-27.

4 Eugene D. Genovese, The Southern Tradition, The Achievements and Limitations of an American Conservatism (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1994), Preface, xi-xii. Dr. Genovese passed away September 26, 2012.

5 President Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural, January 20, 1981.

6 George Orwell, 1984 (New York: New American Library, 1950), 32. This was one of the slogans of Big Brother's English Socialist Party of Oceania, INGSOC.

7 Ibid, 128.

8 Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, Jenifer Frank of The Hartford Courant, Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery (NY: Ballantine Books, 2005), Preface, xvii - xix.

9 Ralph Waldo Emerson, diary entry, in Clyde N. Wilson, "Our History and Their Myth: Comparing the Confederacy and the Union," Confederate Veteran, Vol. 72, No. 2, March/April, 2014, 19.

10 John Dalberg-Acton to Gen. Robert E. Lee, November 4, 1866, The Acton-Lee Correspondence,, accessed November 10, 2014.

Political Correctness Is Ignorance and Leads to a Total Lack of Historical Understanding

In my book, The Elements of Academic Success, How to Graduate Magna Cum Laude from College (or how to just graduate, PERIOD!), Chapter VIII, Papers and Writing, is one of the best and has a lot of helpful information for students and adults. I include a warning, mid-chapter, on the horrible effect of political correctness on history.

Political Correctness Is Ignorance
and Leads to a Total Lack of Historical Understanding

by Gene Kizer, Jr.

The Elements of Academic Success was inspired by the legendary book, The Elements of Style, by Professor William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. It is formatted the same way. There are 351 numbered topic sections in 10 chapters that cover everything a student will face in college, or an adult will face in the workplace.

(This post comes from "Papers and Writing," Chapter VIII of The Elements of Academic Success, How to Graduate Magna Cum Laude from College (or how to just graduate, PERIOD!), available on this website.)

How to do great in high school and college! - The Elements of Academic Success - How to Graduate Magna Cum Laude from College (or how to just graduate PERIOD!) - by Gene Kizer Jr - 351 Bold Topic Sentences - 360 pages by Gene Kizer Jr

257. You can not possibly understand history by using today's standards to judge the past.

You HAVE to look at the past the way the people who lived in the past looked at it. That's how you understand the past.

258. Political correctness is ignorance and leads to a total lack of historical understanding.

You can't define the past by snippets of acceptable history here and there.

For example, the South gets beat up all the time for slavery but most slave traders were New Englanders who made huge fortunes in the process. An argument can be made that the entire infrastructure of the Old North was built on profits from slave traders such as Boston's Peter Faneuil of Faneuil Hall fame. That's why most Northerners had NO problem with slavery. Less than 5% were abolitionists, and ironically, many abolitionists didn't like slavery because they didn't like blacks and did not want to associate with them.

One such person was Rep. David Wilmot, Democrat from Pennsylvania. Wilmot sponsored the Wilmot Proviso to keep slavery out of the West, though his real goal was to keep blacks out of the West, and he admitted it. Abraham Lincoln also said, in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, that he wanted the West reserved for white people from all over the earth. No blacks allowed.

While many say that slavery was the cause of the War Between the States, Abraham Lincoln said it was not. Before the war, Lincoln favored the first 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Corwin Amendment, which would have left black people in slavery FOREVER, even beyond the reach of Congress, where slavery already existed. That amendment passed in the Northern Congress after Southerners seceded, and was ratified by some Northern States before the war began and made it moot.

There are breaths of fresh air here and there such as the 2005 book Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank of The Hartford Courant.1

History is always more complex than the self-moralizing, politically correct want you to believe.

259. Southern history as it is taught today is a "cultural and political atrocity," and students are being cheated.

Esteemed historian, Eugene D. Genovese, who passed away September 26, 2012, was disgusted with the way Southern history is taught today. He writes:

To speak positively about any part of this Southern tradition is to invite charges of being a racist and an apologist for slavery and segregation. We are witnessing a cultural and political atrocity -- an increasingly successful campaign by the media and an academic elite to strip young white Southerners, and arguably black Southerners as well, of their heritage, and therefor, their identity. They are being taught to forget their forebears or to remember them with shame. (My bold emphasis).2

A perfect example is William Gilmore Simms. According to Edgar Allan Poe, Simms was the greatest American writer of the 19th century. Simms wrote 82 book-length works including 20 that are very important in American history and literature. He understood the publishing industry of that era better than anybody and wrote about it. He chronicled American westward expansion when Alabama was the edge of the West; and his Revolutionary War novels, set in and around Charleston, are exciting, vivid history as it happened. Simms was a nationally recognized expert on the Revolution. He wrote dramatic, historically accurate scenes of when the British conquered Charleston and marched in, and when they lost the war and marched out, and everything in between. Simms also knew the local Indians extremely well and much of what is known about them is in his work, including their languages. There is a bust of William Gilmore Simms in White Point Gardens at The Battery in Charleston, high up on a beautiful pedestal.

But Simms is not studied because he was a slaveholder.

260. Young students of history and literature should examine everything.

Don't assume the War Between the States was about slavery when the economy of the North faced collapse and anarchy as the Southern States seceded. The Northern economy was dependent on manufacturing and selling to its captive Southern market, and without the South, Northern factories stood idle.

The South, on the other hand, seceded and was ecstatic at finally having control of its own economy. Southerners had always wanted free trade and immediately wrote into their constitution a prohibition on protective tariffs.

The North, at the same time, passed the astronomical Morrill Tariff, which made goods entering the North 40% to 70% higher. This was aimed at Southerners, as all the antebellum tariffs had been, so European goods would be too costly for Southerners to afford and they would have to buy from the North at higher prices.

But with the South out of the Union, Southerners were no longer obligated to pay Northern tariffs, and suddenly, much-sought-after Europeans goods were far less expensive for Southerners than Northern goods.

261. Those historians with a vested interest in maintaining that slavery caused the war are not telling you the truth. They are cheating you out of understanding much of American history.

Economic factors were HUGE in 1861 just as they are today. The collapse of the Northern economy, alone, was enough for Abraham Lincoln to want war.

Just look at our own era. We have been quite willing to go to war to maintain the free flow of oil from the Middle East because a disruption of the oil supply means economic hardship, even collapse. Gas prices would soar and cause the price of everything else to jump off the scale. Business would grind to a halt. People would lose their jobs and not have money to feed their families. They would be angry and in the street. [NOTE: This book was published in 2014 when America was still dependent on Middle East oil.]

You can imagine what would happen if supplies of oil to the United States were cut off abruptly and completely! Fortunately, that would never happen because we would go to war to prevent it. We have.

But, "abruptly" and "completely" is exactly what happened to the North when the South seceded and the Northern Congress passed the Morrill Tariff. Instantly, it would cost the rest of the world 40% to 70% more to do business with the North, so NOBODY wanted to.

The rest of the world was beating a path to the South where protective tariffs were unconstitutional and where there was a huge market for goods, and that market was wealthy because it controlled King Cotton, which had been 60% of U.S. exports alone in 1861.

The North had shot itself in the leg with the Morrill Tariff -- actually, it had shot itself in the head. Northern greed and mismanagement made the economic destruction of the North inevitable and Northern leaders were in a panic.

Don't take my word for it. Read the words of almost all Northern newspaper editors after January, 1861, when it became apparent that the North needed the South, but the South did not need the North. Northern editors were not thinking about slavery. They were thinking about their own wealth and economy, and they were all petrified. War was preferable for them just as the disruption of oil made war preferable for us.

An excellent two-volume work makes Northern newspaper editors easy to study: Northern Editorials on Secession, edited by Dr. Howard Cecil Perkins, Volumes I and II, over 1,100 pages, a 1964 reprint published by Peter Smith, Gloucester, Massachusetts. Northern Editorials on Secession was originally published in 1942 by the American Historical Association.3

262. Another major issue was unfair taxation -- British taxes were a huge issue in 1776 but were minuscule compared to what the South was paying in 1861.

For Southerners, 1861 was 1776 all over.

Southerners were paying 3/4ths of the Federal Government's taxes, but 3/4ths of the tax money was being spent in the North. Robert Toombs famously called it a suction pump sucking wealth out of the South and depositing it in the North.

The level of "taxation without representation" that led to the Revolutionary War was minuscule compared to what the South was suffering prior to seceding.

The point is that politically correct historians who tell you that it is cut and dried that slavery caused the War Between the States are being dishonest. Many are lazy because they have not been required, by vigorous academic debate, to look into other issues - especially economics. Many don't understand economics, and why should they bother. It is too easy for them to play up slavery and call anyone who disagrees a racist.

However, we have fought two Gulf Wars in our own times to guarantee the free flow of oil because a disruption would cause an economic meltdown and untold problems. No government is willing to risk that because history has shown us that an economic collapse will get out of control and lead to a collapse of the government itself, and anarchy. War is preferable.

It's true today and it was true in 1861.

So, look deeply into the entire picture and assume nothing.

263. Be a scholar.

Read primary sources. Read the words of the people of the past, their speeches, newspapers, diaries, laws and documents. Pay attention to secondary sources from historians you trust, and give no credence to those you don't. That's fair and responsible. In your writing, debunk the scholars you disagree with, and tell why they are wrong.

264. Write what you want.

Don't let political correctness chill free speech and intimidate you into not writing on a topic that interests you. Talk to your professor. The best professors will encourage you.

And if one discourages you, find a way around him/her by approaching the topic from a different angle. If he/she brings up some historian who goes against your conclusions, then YOU bring up two who support them. History should always be a vigorous debate.

Do exhaustive research and a thoughtful analysis and document everything properly. Argue with power, vigor, confidence, clearly and persuasively. Do NOT use today's standards, or lack thereof, to judge the people of the past. Understand how the people of the past viewed their lives and times, and what their standards were, and why.

That's what real scholarship is about.


1 Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank, Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery (New York: Ballantine Books, 2005).

2 Eugene D. Genovese, The Southern Tradition, The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1994), xi-xii.

3 Howard Cecil Perkins, ed., Northern Editorials on Secession, Volumes I and II (1942; reprint, Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1964) by permission of The American Historical Association and Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc.

The Dramatic Events of April, 1861 and the Beginning of Lincoln’s War: An Annotated Chronology

Remember that there is now a hostile fleet of seven sail off your harbor, directed by bitter and malignant foes. They have come here proudly scorning and contemning your position. They may attempt to enter, but I say to them this night in defiance, let them come, let them come. If they do, although we may not wrap them in flames, as we have Sumter, we will wrap them in the waves and sink them too deep ever to be reached by pity or mercy.

South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens,
Charleston, April 13, 1861.

The Dramatic Events of April, 1861
and the Beginning
of Lincoln's War:
An Annotated Chronology

by Gene Kizer, Jr.

The 750,000 deaths, and million men maimed for life in the War Between the States, exceed casualties in all other American wars combined with room to spare. The "overall mortality rate for the South exceeded that of any country in World War I and that of all but the region between the Rhine and the Volga in World War II" writes James M. McPherson in his book, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam. Drew Gilpin Faust in This Republic of Suffering, Death and the American Civil War, says that the rate of death in the War Between the States "in comparison with the size of the American population, was six times that of World War II. A similar rate, about 2 percent, in the United States today would mean six million fatalities."

(This post comes from "An Annotated Chronology of the Secession Debate in the South," which runs from February 24, 1860 to June 8, 1861 in Part II of my book, Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument., available on this website. Please see Page 141 of Slavery Was Not the Cause... for bibliographical information on the many sources used in this chronology.)

Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument. by Gene Kizer, Jr. - front cover - slavery not the cause of the Civil War

April 1, 1861

Lincoln signs orders for U.S.S. Powhatan to go to sea with sealed orders. There was confusion and the Powhatan ended up going to Fort Pickens instead of Fort Sumter.

Seward sends Lincoln a list of his opinions/positions and scolding Lincoln in the process. Seward states he would favor starting a foreign war to reunite the country. Lincoln writes back that the decision was his to make and not Seward's.

April 3, 1861

Lincoln's cabinet meets again over Fort Sumter. Allan B. Magruder sent to Richmond to talk to Virginia unionists, on behalf of Lincoln.

April 4, 1861

Virginia Secession Convention rejects secession 89 to 45, for the time being.

Lincoln meets secretly with Virginia unionist John B. Baldwin. It was reported he had hoped to exchange a state for a fort, meaning he hoped to keep Virginia in the Union in exchange for evacuating Fort Sumter.

Lincoln informs Fox the resupply/reinforcement mission would go. Lincoln drafts letter to Anderson letting him know and saying he hoped Anderson could make it until April 11 or 12 when the expedition, if resisted, "will endeavor also to reinforce you."

April 5, 1861

U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles orders U.S.S. Powhatan, Pawnee, Pocahontas, and Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane to Charleston to resupply/reinforce Fort Sumter.

April 6, 1861

Lincoln sends Robert S. Chew, a State Department clerk, and Capt. Theodore Talbot, to Charleston to inform Gov. Pickens that Fort Sumter would be resupplied and if no resistance was given by the Confederates, then no troops would be thrown in. Otherwise, the fort would be reinforced as well as resupplied.

Lincoln learns that Fort Pickens had not been reinforced. A messenger was sent the next day to Fort Pickens ordering the fort's immediate reinforcement.

Lincoln meets with at least seven and perhaps nine Republican governors including the governors of Indiana, Ohio, Maine, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan, as well as with Virginia unionists.

April 7, 1861

Gen. Beauregard, suspecting that the Southerners were being misled by Seward's continued assertions that Fort Sumter would be evacuated, ends Anderson's cordial intercourse between the fort and city of Charleston, as the situation intensifies.

Lincoln meets with John Minor Botts, a Virginia unionist.

April 8, 1861

Virginia secession convention votes "to send a three-man commission to ask President Lincoln for a clear expression of his policy regarding the forts."

Lincoln representative Chew arrives in Charleston and reads Lincoln's message to Gov. Pickens and Gen. Beauregard.

Seward continues to mislead Confederate commissioners in Washington, so much so that they wired Gov. Pickens that they believed Fort Sumter would be evacuated.

Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane departs from New York loaded with supplies amidst much publicity.

April 9, 1861

Gustavus V. Fox departs from New York aboard the steamer Baltic, headed for Fort Sumter.

April 10, 1861

South Carolina secession convention approves Jefferson Davis as president and Alexander H. Stephens as vice-president of the Confederate States of America, then adjourns, pending recall later by President Jamison.

Confederate Secretary of War Walker wired Beauregard in Charleston and told him if he was certain Fort Sumter was to be resupplied, then he was to demand its surrender and if it refused, "reduce it." Since all of Lincoln's representatives had lied to the Confederates for weeks about evacuating the fort, Southerners were unsure if it was finally a true statement that the fort was only to be resupplied.

The U.S.S. Pawnee departed Hampton Roads for Fort Sumter.

Lincoln meets with representative of the Chiriqui Improvement Company to discuss colonization of Negroes in what is today Panama, near Costa Rica.

Confederate floating battery is moved to a position near Sullivan's Island. Confederate troop activity around Charleston Harbor intensifies. All forts are manned.

April 11, 1861

Three Confederate representatives row over to Fort Sumter under a white flag of truce and demand its surrender. They are Col. James Chesnut, a former United States senator and husband of diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut; Capt. Stephen D. Lee, later an effective and beloved Confederate general; and Lt. Col. A. R. Chisolm, representing Gov. Pickens. Anderson refused to surrender but commented that he would be starved out in a few days if not battered to pieces. The Confederates, wanting to avoid war to the very last, wired Secretary of War Walker and told him of Anderson's comment. Walker telegraphed back, "Do not desire needlessly to bombard Fort Sumter. If Anderson will state the time at which, as indicated by him, he will evacuate, and agree that in the mean time he will not use his guns against us unless ours should be employed against Fort Sumter, you are authorized thus to avoid the effusion of blood. . . .".

The three Confederate commissioners left Washington after realizing they had been lied to and misled by Seward.

April 12, 1861

Chesnut, Lee and Chisholm row back to Major Anderson arriving at Fort Sumter at 12:45 a.m. with Walker's message. At 3:15 a.m. they got Anderson's reply stating he would evacuate on the 15th but only if he did not receive supplies or additional instructions from his government. This response was unsatisfactory, with a hostile flotilla rapidly approaching Charleston. Chesnut, Lee and Chisholm wrote a reply to Anderson stating that they had the honor of informing him that Gen. Beauregard would commence firing in one hour, then they rowed over to Fort Johnson, arriving at 4:00 a.m. At 4:30 a.m., from Fort Johnson on James Island, a signal shot was fired by troops under Capt. George S. James alerting the other batteries to begin firing according to orders. Some of Fort Sumter's guns returned fire after daybreak but the small number of men under Anderson's command could do little more. The Confederate bombardment continued heavy all day. There were no deaths on either side.

In Pensacola, Union troops were landed at Fort Pickens.

April 13, 1861

Fort Sumter surrenders at 2:30 p.m. after four thousand shells had been fired in thirty-four hours of bombardment. The federal fleet, now consisting of the U.S.S. Baltic, U.S.S. Pawnee, and Harriet Lane, stayed just out of danger and did not attempt to help Anderson.

April 14, 1861

Anderson formally surrenders and salutes his colors with drums beating and a fifty gun salute. An accidental explosion kills a man, the first to die in the war.

Lincoln's Cabinet approves of "his call for 75,000 militia" and a special July 4 session of Congress.

Virginia's three-man commission which had sought from Lincoln a statement of clear policy regarding the forts, returns and states that Lincoln was "firm in his resolve to hold the forts."

April 15, 1861

Lincoln issues public proclamation calling for seventy-five thousand volunteers to invade the South, and calling a special secession of Congress to meet July 4th.

April 17, 1861

Virginia secedes with its Ordinance to repeal ratification of the U. S. Constitution and resume all rights and powers granted under said Constitution. Vote was 88 - 55. Virginia's secession had absolutely nothing, whatsoever, to do with slavery. Virginia and the states that followed her out of the Union - North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas - seceded because they were outraged that the Federal Government, that was supposed to be the agent of the states, would dare invade a sovereign state and kill its citizens to force them back into a government they had rejected. There was nothing in the Constitution in 1861 that gave Lincoln the authority or obligation to invade an American state.

April 19, 1861

Maryland Gov. Hicks calls convention after Baltimore mob fights with Massachusetts troops.

Lincoln calls for blockade of first seven Confederates States. It was later extended to include Virginia and North Carolina.

The blockade was Lincoln's purpose all along so he could chill military and trade alliances between the South and Europe as quickly as possible. The South with European aid would be unbeatable just as French aid in the American Revolution had turned the tide in favor of the Colonists.

Every day that went by, the South had been getting stronger, and the North, on the verge of economic collapse, weaker, so Lincoln had no reason whatsoever to wait. He needed his war as quickly as he could get it started. There had been a loud clamor for war among Republicans and the business community in the North for a while as hundreds of thousands of Northerners became unemployed and businesses shut down amidst the impending economic disaster. The North was on the verge of panic, and governments know that an economic panic will progress geometrically into anarchy. War is always preferable.

The astronomical Morrill Tariff, which had recently taken effect, was the second of a one-two punch because now, in addition to losing its Southern manufacturing market, the North was about to lose its shipping industry in one fell swoop. The Morrill Tariff made entry of goods into the North 37 to 50% higher than entry into the South. This threatened to redirect trade away from the high-tariff North and into the South where protective tariffs were unconstitutional. The world was beating a path to the South while goods rotted on New York docks. Even Northern ship captains were leaving the North for Southern ports.

The Morrill Tariff was the result of extreme Northern greed as well as ignorance of basic economics. They passed it in knee-jerk fashion thinking the South would have to pay it, as in the past, but the South was out of the Union and no longer had to pay high Northern tariffs. This one fell on them alone, and it contributed mightily to the feeling in the North that war was their only way out. As Tennessee Representative Thomas A. R. Nelson, who had submitted the Minority Report of the House Committee of Thirty-three, said in his speech entitled "Speech of Hon. Thomas A. R. Nelson, of Tennessee, On the Disturbed condition of the Country"

Commercial disaster and distress pervade the land. Hundreds and thousands of honest laboring men have been thrown out of employment; gloom and darkness hang over the people; the tocsin of war has been sounded; the clangor of arms has been heard.1 (Bold emphasis added.)

Charles W. Ramsdell proves in his famous treatise, Lincoln and Fort Sumter, that Lincoln knew that attempting to reinforce the fort would start the war. He had it first hand from his friend, Ward H. Lamon, whom he had sent to Charleston a few days earlier to make sure his reinforcement attempt would start the war. Lamon had spoken face-to-face with Confederate leaders and they told him point blank that a reinforcement attempt meant war.

The Fort Sumter crisis was the tensest hour in American history. There is no way Lincoln's reinforcement mission would not start the war and Lincoln knew it.

Northern newspapers knew it too. The Providence, Rhode Island Daily Post, in an editorial April 13, 1861 entitled "WHY?", wrote:

Mr. Lincoln saw an opportunity to inaugurate civil war without appearing in the character of an aggressor.

Abraham Lincoln got the war started and announced his blockade before the smoke had cleared from the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

Saving the country and working on ending slavery were not even on Lincoln's radar. He was the first sectional president in American history, president of the North, and he was out to establish the North, once and for all, as the dominant economic and political power in the American nation along with the Northern majority that would be enriched. He also had to save the rapidly splintering Republican Party that had so successfully used hatred and terrorism to get into power.

Even Lincoln's commander, Major Robert Anderson, inside Fort Sumter, emphatically blamed Lincoln for starting the war. Anderson was at ground zero on April 12, 1861 and this is what he wrote to Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron when informed that Fort Sumter would be resupplied and possibly reinforced:

. . . a movement made now when the South has been erroneously informed that none such will be attempted, would produce most disastrous results throughout our country. . . . We shall strive to do our duty, though I frankly say that my heart is not in the war which I see is to be thus commenced. . . . (Bold emphasis added.)

Anderson's assessment from ground zero is irrefutable.


1 Thomas A. R. Nelson, "Speech of Hon. Thomas A. R. Nelson, of Tennessee, On the Disturbed condition of the Country", Washington: H. Polkinhorn, 1861, 1-12.

Lincoln and Fort Sumter, by Charles W. Ramsdell – Part 2, Conclusion

In March to early April, 1861, as the Northern economy crumbled and political disgust with the Republican Party surged, Abraham Lincoln worked hard to start a war he thought would solve his problems overnight. On April 12, 1861, he succeeded.

Lincoln and Fort Sumter

by Charles W. Ramsdell

Part 2, Conclusion

We are to have civil war, if at all, because Abraham Lincoln loves a party better than he loves his country. . . . Mr. Lincoln saw an opportunity to inaugurate civil war without appearing in the character of an aggressor.

Providence (R.I.) Daily Post
The day after the commencement of
the bombardment of Fort Sumter,
April 13, 1861

(Lincoln and Fort Sumter is Part III of Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument., and is included in Charles W. Ramsdell, Dean of Southern Historians, Volume One: His Best Work, both available on this website)

Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument. by Gene Kizer, Jr. - front cover - slavery not the cause of the Civil War
Charles W Ramsdell - Dean of Southern Historians - "Lincoln and Fort Sumter" "The Natural Limits of Slavery Expansion" - Compiled by Gene Kizer Jr


Charles W. Ramsdell, "Lincoln and Fort Sumter," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 3, Issue 3 (August, 1937), 259 - 288. Original copyright 1937, Southern Historical Association. This article, text and notes, comes verbatim from the original article. In Part 1, one footnote, vii, and a comment to footnote xii, were added by Gene Kizer, Jr. Both are so noted.

[Continued from Part 1]

On the same day Seward, intent upon the reinforcement of Fort Pickens, brought Captain M. C. Meigs of the Engineers to Lincoln to discuss an expedition to that place. On March 31 Meigs and Colonel Erasmus D. Keyes, of General Scott's staff, were directed to draw up a plan for the relief of Fort Pickens. They took it to Lincoln who had them take it to Scott to be put into final form and executed. On the next day, April 1, Seward, Meigs, and Lieutenant D. D. Porter of the navy went to the Executive Mansion and after consultation with Lincoln finished the plans for the Pickens expedition. It was to be conducted with such absolute secrecy, lest information leak out to the Confederates, that even the secretaries of War and the Navy were to know nothing of it. The orders were signed by the President himself. It was only because the same ship, the Powhatan, was selected for both expeditions that the Secretary of the Navy learned of the expedition to the Gulf of Mexico.i Energetic preparations began in New York and Brooklyn to collect vessels, men, arms, and provisions for the two expeditions.

In the first days of April came the disquieting returns from the elections in Ohio, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. April 4 proved to be an important day. Early that morning Lincoln seems to have had a mysterious conference with a group of Republican governors, said to be seven or nine in number. Among them were Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania, William Dennison of Ohio, Richard Yates of Illinois, Oliver P. Morton of Indiana, Israel Washburn of Maine, and Austin Blair of Michigan.ii How did all these governors happen to be in Washington at the same time? The newspapers, in so far as they noticed the presence of these gentlemen, assumed that they were looking after patronage; but rumors were soon current that they had gone to demand of the President that he send relief to the garrison at Fort Sumter. This is not improbable since all these men belonged to the aggressive group of Republicans who had been alarmed at the rumors of evacuation and they could hardly have known what Lincoln had already planned. Several questions arise here. If Lincoln was still hesitating, did they bring pressure upon him and force him to a decision? Or did Lincoln allow them to think they  were helping him to decide? Or, if the President had not actually summoned them to a conference, did he seize the opportunity to make sure of their powerful support in case the Confederates should show fight? Were mutual pledges of action and support exchanged that morning?

Later that same morning occurred the much-discussed Lincoln-Baldwin interview. On April 2, apparently at the suggestion of Seward, Lincoln had sent Allan B. Magruder, a Virginia Unionist living in Washington, to Richmond to ask G. W. Summers, the leader of the Unionists in the State Convention, to come to see him at once or to send some other representative from that group. Magruder reached Richmond the next day. As Summers could not leave, John B. Baldwin, another leader of the group, was selected; and Baldwin and Magruder were in Washington early on the morning of April 4. They went to Seward who conducted Baldwin to Lincoln at eleven o'clock. Lincoln took Baldwin alone into a bedroom, locked the door and exclaimed "You have come too late!" In the conversation which followed, according to Baldwin's statement, the President asked why the Unionists in the Virginia Convention did not adjourn sine die, as the continuance of the session was a standing menace to him. Baldwin replied that if they should so adjourn without having accomplished anything for the security of the state, another convention would certainly be called and it would be more strongly secessionist. He then urged the President to assure peace to the country and strengthen the border-state Unionists by evacuating both Sumter and Pickens and calling upon the whole people to settle their differences in a national convention. Lincoln replied that his supporters would not permit him to withdraw the garrisons. Baldwin then warned him that if a fight started at Fort Sumter, no matter who started it, war would follow and Virginia would go out of the Union in forty-eight hours. Lincoln became greatly excited and exclaimed, "Why was I not told this a week ago? You have come too late!" This is Baldwin's account;iii but it is substantiated by several other Virginia Unionists, at least to the extent that it was what Baldwin told them when he returned to Richmond the next day.

But John Minor Botts, a violent Virginia Unionist who by invitation talked with Lincoln on the night of April 7, insisted that Lincoln then told him that he had offered to Baldwin to withdraw Anderson's force from Sumter if the Virginia Convention would adjourn sine die, that he would gladly swap a fort for a state; but that Baldwin refused the offer. When Botts offered to take the proposition to Richmond at once Lincoln replied, "Oh, it is too late; the fleet has sailed and I have no means of communicating with it."iv

Baldwin always denied that Lincoln had made any such proposal as Botts reported. Did Baldwin lie? He seems to have had a much better reputation for accuracy than Botts and his account of his journey to Washington is accurate as far as it can be checked, whereas Botts' story is full of minor inaccuracies.v Besides, Baldwin was a sincere Unionist and voted against secession to the last. Why should he have refused Lincoln's offer and failed to report it to his fellow Unionists in Richmond? Did Botts lie about what Lincoln told him? His extreme prejudices and frequently unwarranted statements on other matters would easily bring this conclusion into the range of possibility, were it not for the fact that Lincoln seems to have told much the same story to others. If Lincoln did, then the question whether the President offered to evacuate Sumter at this stage of his plan becomes an issue of veracity between Lincoln and Baldwin, which obviously places the Virginian at a great disadvantage. But let us consider other factors in the situation. Lincoln had just been holding conferences with the militant Republican governors and evidently had come to some agreement with them, else why should he greet his visitor with the exclamation, repeated later in the conversation, "You have come too late"? Certainly he could not have referred to the final orders to Fox, for those orders were given later that day. And why did he refuse on the night of April 7, if the Botts story is correct, to permit Botts to take his proposition to Richmond, alleging that the fleet had sailed, when in fact none of the vessels left New York until the next night? Is there not some basis for suspecting that Lincoln had not actually made the offer to Baldwin to evacuate Sumter because he was already bound by some sort of agreement with the Republican governors to send the expedition forward; and that later, desiring above all things to leave the impression that he had done everything in his power to avoid a collision, he dropped hints about an offer which had been flatly refused?

During the afternoon of April 4 Lincoln saw Captain Fox, who was to have charge of the Sumter expedition, and told him of his final determination to send relief to Anderson and that notification of the relief expedition would be sent to the Governor of South Carolina before Fox could possibly arrive off Charleston Fox hurried back to New York to push his preparations. At some time that same day Lincoln drafted a letter to Major Anderson, which was copied and signed by the Secretary of War, informing him that relief would be sent him.vii

On the afternoon of April 6 Secretary Welles received a letter from Captain Henry A. Adams of the navy, stationed off Fort Pickens, explaining that he had not landed the artillery company at the fort in accordance with General Scott's order of March 12 because of controlling orders  from the former Secretary of the Navy to respect the truce of February 29, but stating that he was now ready to obey if ordered to land the men. Welles consulted the President and then hurried off Lieutenant John L. Worden with verbal orders to Captain Adams to land the men at once.viii This incident gave occasion for a strange statement of Lincoln which deserves notice. In his special message to Congress of July 4, he stated that the expedition for the relief of Sumter was first prepared "to be ultimately used or not according to circumstances," and intimated that, if Pickens had been relieved in March, Sumter would have been evacuated, and that it had not been decided to use the expedition until word came that Fort Pickens had not been reinforced in accordance with the order of March 12.ix The strange thing about this statement is that word was not received from Adams until April 6, while positive orders had been given two days before to Captain Fox to go ahead with his expedition and at the same time Anderson had been notified to expect it. Had Lincoln become confused about the order of these events? It does not seem probable. Or was he, for effect upon public opinion, trying to strengthen the belief that his hand had been forced, that his pacific intentions had been defeated by circumstances?

On April 1 Lincoln had passed the promise through Seward and Justice John A. Campbell to the Confederate Commissioners in Washington that he would notify Governor Pickens if any relief expedition should be sent to Fort Sumter.x When they learned of it, several members of his cabinet objected to such notification, but Lincoln insisted; he had his own reasons for so doing. The formal notice which he drafted with his own hand, dated April 6, is interesting not only for its careful phrasing but for the evident importance which he attached to it. It was embodied in a letter of instruction to R. S. Chew, an official of the state department who was to be accompanied by Captain Theodore Talbot, directing him to proceed to Charleston where, if he found that Fort Sumter had not been evacuated or attacked and that the flag was still over it, he was to seek an interview with Governor Pickens, read to him the statement and give him a copy of it. If he found the fort evacuated or attacked he was to seek no interview but was to return forthwith. The message to Governor Pickens was in these words:

I am directed by the President of the United States to notify you to expect an attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumter with provisions only; and that, if such an attempt be not resisted, no effort to throw in men, arms, or ammunition will be made without further notice, or in case of an attack upon the fort.xi

Was the purpose of this message merely to fulfill a promise? Is there no special significance in the fact that Lincoln entrusted the form of it to no one else, but carefully drafted it himself? It is unnecessary to call attention again to the fact that Lincoln was a rare master of the written word, that he had the skill of an artist in so phrasing a sentence that it conveyed precisely the meaning he wished it to convey. He could do more than that: he could make the same sentence say one thing to one person and something entirely different to another and in each case carry the meaning he intended. It is obvious that the message to be read to Governor Pickens was intended less for that official than for General Beauregard and the Confederate government at Montgomery. But it was intended also for the people of the North and of the border states. To the suspicious and apprehensive Confederates it did not merely give information that provisions would be sent to Anderson's garrison -- which should be enough to bring about an attempt to take the fort -- but it carried a threat that force would be used if the provisions were not allowed to be brought in. It was a direct challenge! How were the Southerners expected to react to this challenge? To Northern readers the same words meant only that the government was taking food to hungry men to whom it was under special obligation. Northern men would see no threat; they would understand only that their government did not propose to use force if it could be avoided. Is it possible that a man of Lincoln's known perspicacity could be blind to the different interpretations which would be placed upon his subtle words in the North and in the South?

The message was not only skillfully phrased, it was most carefully timed. It was read to Governor Pickens in the presence of General Beauregard on the evening of April 8. News of the preparation of some large expedition had been in the newspapers for a week; but as the destination had not been officially divulged, newspaper reporters and correspondents had guessed at many places, chiefly the coast of Texas and revolutionary Santo Domingo. It was not until April 8 that the guessing veered toward Charleston, and not until the next day was any positive information given in the press of the notice to Governor Pickens.xii The Confederate officials had regarded these preparations at New York with suspicion while conflicting reports came to them from Washington concerning Lincoln's designs about Sumter. The first of Captain Fox's vessels were leaving New York Harbor at the very hour that Chew read the notification to Governor Pickens. The Confederates were given ample time, therefore, to act before the fleet could arrive off Charleston. They did not know that a portion of the vessels which had left New York were really destined not for Charleston but for Fort Pickens at Pensacola. The utmost secrecy was maintained about the Pensacola expedition, thus permitting the Confederates to believe that the whole force was to be concentrated at Charleston.

The tables were now completely turned on the Southerners. Lincoln was well out of his dilemma while they, who had heretofore had the tactical advantage of being able to wait until Anderson must evacuate, were suddenly faced with a choice of two evils. They must either take the fort before relief could arrive, thus taking the apparent offensive which they had hoped to avoid, or they must stand by quietly and see the fort provisioned. But to allow the provisioning meant not only an indefinite postponement to their possession of the fort which had become as much a symbol to them as it was to Lincoln; to permit it in the face of the threat of force, after all their preparations, would be to make a ridiculous and disgraceful retreat.xiii Nor could they be sure that, if they yielded now in the matter of "Provisions only," they would not soon be served with the "further notice" as a prelude to throwing in "Men, arms, and ammunition." This, then, was the dilemma which they faced as the result of Lincoln's astute strategy.

Events now hurried to the inevitable climax. As soon as President Lincoln's communication was received General Beauregard telegraphed the news to the Confederate secretary of war, L. P. Walker. Walker at once ordered that the Sumter garrison be isolated by stopping its mails and the purchase of provisions in Charleston. On this same day the Confederate commissioners at Washington had received a copy of a memorandum filed in the state department by Seward, dated March 15, in which the Secretary declined to hold any official intercourse with them. They telegraphed the news to their government and at once, feeling that they had been deceived and knowing that their mission had failed, prepared to leave Washington. Jefferson Davis was thus, on April 8, apprised of two movements by the Federal government which, taken together or singly, looked ominous. On the following day Beauregard seized the mails as they came from Fort Sumter and discovered a letter from Anderson to the war department which disclosed that he had been informed of the coming of Fox's expedition and indicated that the fleet would attempt to force its way into the harbor. This information also was at once communicated to the Montgomery government. On the tenth came the news that the fleet had sailed from New York. Walker then directed Beauregard, if he thought there was no doubt of the authorized character of the notification from Washington (meaning Lincoln's), to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter and, if it should be refused, "to reduce" the fort. The Davis administration had waited two full days after receiving word of Lincoln's notification before deciding what to do. It is said that Robert Toombs, secretary of state, objected vigorously to attacking the fort. "It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal!"xiv If Toombs protested, he was overruled because Davis and the rest believed that Lincoln had already taken the aggressive and they regarded their problem now as a military one. To them it was the simple question whether they should permit the hostile fleet to arrive before they attacked the fort or whether they should take Sumter before they had to fight both fort and fleet.

At two o'clock on the eleventh Beauregard made the demand upon Anderson, who rejected it but added verbally to the officer sent to him that if not battered to pieces, he would be starved out in a few days. When Beauregard reported this remark to Walker, that official informed him that the government did "Not desire needlessly to bombard Fort Sumter" and that if Major Anderson would state when he would evacuate, Beauregard should "avoid the effusion of blood." Evidently the Montgomery officials thought there was still a chance to get the fort peaceably before the fleet could arrive. Had not Lincoln so carefully timed his message with the movement of Fox there might have been no attack. But late in the afternoon of the same day Beauregard received information from a scout boat that the Harriet Lane, one of Fox's ships, had been sighted a few miles out of the harbor. It was expected that all the fleet would be at hand by next day. Nevertheless, Beauregard about midnight sent a second message to Anderson, in accordance with Walker's instructions, saying that if he would state the time at which he would evacuate and would agree not to use "your guns against us unless ours should be employed against Fort Sumter, we will abstain from opening fire upon you." To this Anderson replied that he would evacuate by noon on the fifteenth and would in the meantime not open fire upon Beauregard's forces unless compelled to do so by some hostile act "against the fort or the flag it bears, should I not receive prior to that time controlling instructions from my government or additional supplies." This answer was conditional and unsatisfactory for it was clear that, with Fox's fleet arriving, Anderson would not evacuate. Thereupon the two aids who had carried Beauregard's message, in accordance with their instructions from that office, formally notified Anderson -- it was now 3:20 in the morning of the twelfth -- that fire would be opened upon him in one hour's time.

What followed we all know. The bombardment which began at 4:30 on the morning of April 12 ended in the surrender of Anderson and his garrison during the afternoon of the following day. The three vesselsxv of the fleet which lay outside were unable to get into the harbor because of the high seas and the failure of the rest of the fleet -- the tugboats and the Powhatan -- to arrive. Although there were no casualties during the bombardment, the mere news that the attack on the fort had begun swept the entire North into a roaring flame of anger. The "rebels" had fired the first shot; they had chosen to begin war. If there had been any doubt earlier whether the mass of the Northern people would support the administration in suppressing the secessionists, there was none now. Lincoln's strategy had been completely successful. He seized at once the psychological moment for calling out the militia and committing the North to support of the war. This action cost him four of the border slaves states, but he had probably already discounted that loss.

Perhaps the facts thus far enumerated, standing alone, could hardly be conclusive evidence that Lincoln, having decided that there was no other way than war for the salvation of his administration, his party, and the Union, maneuvered the Confederates into firing the first shot in order that they, rather than he, should take the blame of beginning bloodshed. Though subject to that interpretation, they are also subject to the one which he built up so carefully. It there other evidence? No one, surely, would expect to find in any written word of his a confession of the stratagem; for to acknowledge it openly would have been to destroy the very effect he had been at so much pains to produce. There are, it is true, two statements by him to Captain Fox which are at least suggestive. Fox relates that in their conference of April 4 the President told him that he had decided to let the expedition go and that a messenger would be sent to the authorities at Charleston before Fox could possibly get there; and when the Captain reminded the President of the short time in which he must organize the expedition and reach the destined point, Lincoln replied, "You will best fulfill your duty to your country by making the attempt." Then, again, in the letter which Lincoln wrote the chagrined Captain on May 1 to console him for the failure of the fleet to enter Charleston Harbor, he said: "You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Fort Sumter, even if it should fail; and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the result."xvi Was this statement merely intended to soothe a disappointed commander, or did it contain a hint that the real objective of the expedition was not at all the relief of Sumter?

Lincoln's two secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, in their long but not impartial account of the Sumter affair come so close to divulging the essence of the stratagem that one cannot but suspect that they knew of it. In one place they say, with reference to Lincoln's solution of this problem of Sumter, "Abstractly it was enough that the Government was in the right. But to make the issue sure, he determined that in addition the rebellion should be put in the wrong." And again, "President Lincoln in deciding the Sumter question had adopted a simple but effective policy. To use his own words, he determined to 'send bread to Anderson'; if the rebels fired on that, they would not be able to convince the world that he had begun the civil war." And still later, "When he finally gave the order that the fleet should sail he was master of the situation . . . master if the rebels hesitated or repented, because they would thereby forfeit their prestige with the South; master if they persisted, for he would then command a united North."xvii

Perhaps not much weight should be given to the fact that before the expedition reached Charleston his political opponents in the North expressed suspicion of a design to force civil war upon the country in order to save the Republican party from the disaster threatened in the recent elections and that after the fighting began they roundly accused him of having deliberately provoked it by his demonstration against Charleston. And perhaps there is no significance in the further fact that the more aggressive members of his own party had demanded action to save the party and that the administration newspapers began to assert as soon as the fleet sailed that, if war came, the rebels would be the aggressors.xviii

There is evidence much more to the point than any of these things. Stephen A. Douglas, senator from Illinois, died on June 3, 1861. On June 12 the Republican governor of that state, Richard Yates, appointed to the vacancy Orville H. Browning, a prominent lawyer, a former Whig, then an ardent Republican, and for more than twenty years a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln. Browning was one of the group who from the first had favored vigorous measures and had opposed compromise. He was to become the spokesman of the administration in the Senate. On July 2, 1861, Browning arrived in Washington to take his seat in the Senate for the special session which had been called to meet on July 4. On the evening of the third he called at the White House to see his old acquaintance. Now Browning for many years had kept a diary, a fact that very probably was unknown to Lincoln since diarists usually conceal this pleasant and useful vice. In the entry for July 3 Browning relates the conversation he had with the President that evening, for after reading the new Senator his special message to Congress, Lincoln laid aside the document and talked. The rest of the entry best be given in Browning's own words:

He told me that the very first thing placed in his hands after his inauguration was a letter from Majr Anderson announcing the impossibility of defending or relieving Sumter. That he called the cabinet together and consulted Genl Scott -- that Scott concurred with Anderson, and the cabinet, with the exception of P M Genl Blair were for evacuating the Fort, and all the troubles and anxieties of his life had not equaled those which intervened between this time and the fall of Sumter. He himself conceived the idea, and proposed sending supplies, without an attempt to reinforce giving notice of the fact to Gov Pickens of S.C. The plan succeeded. They attacked Sumter -- it fell, and thus did more service than it otherwise could.xix

This statement, condensed from the words of Lincoln himself by a close friend who wrote them down when he returned that night to his room at "Mrs. Carter's on Capitol Hill," needs no elaboration. It completes the evidence.

It is not difficult to understand how the usually secretive Lincoln, so long surrounded by strangers and criticized by many whom he had expected to be helpful, talking that night for the first time in many months to an old, loyal, and discreet friend, though a friend who had often been somewhat patronizing, for once forgot to be reticent. It must have been an emotional relief to him, with his pride over his consummate strategy bottled up within him for so long, to be able to impress his friend Browning with his success in meeting a perplexing and dangerous situation. He did not suspect that Browning would set it down in a diary.

There is little more to be said. Some of us will be content to find new reason for admiration of Abraham Lincoln in reflecting on this bit of masterful strategy at the very beginning of his long struggle for the preservation of the Union. Some, perhaps, will be reminded of the famous incident of the Ems telegram of which the cynical Bismarck boasted in his memoirs. And some will wonder whether the sense of responsibility for the actual beginning of a frightful war, far more terrible than he could possibly have foreseen in that early April of 1861, may have deepened the melancholy and the charity toward his Southern foemen which that strange man in the White House was to reveal so often before that final tragic April of 1865.


i John T. Morse (ed.), The Diary of Gideon Welles, 3 vols. (Boston and New York, 1911), I, 23-25. Hereafter cited as Welles, Diary. David D. Porter, in Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War (New York, 1885), 13-14, tells a lively and rather amusing story of the conference with Lincoln on April 1.

ii New York World, April 5, 1861; New York Herald, April 5, 7, 1861; Philadelphia Enquirer, April 6, 1861; James Ford Rhodes, History of the United States Since the Compromise of 1850, 8 vols. (New York, 1910 edition) III, 346, n. 3. John B. Baldwin, who had an interview with Lincoln later that morning, testified on February 10, 1866, "At the time I was here I saw, and was introduced to, in the President's room, a number of governors of states. It was at the time the nine governors had the talk here with the President." Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction (39 Cong., 1 Sess., House Report No. 30), 105. As several of these governors were in Washington for three or four days, it is possible that the conferences extended over several days, from about April 3 to 6.

iii Baldwin's testimony, Report of Joint Committee on Reconstruction, 102-107; J. B. Baldwin, Interview between President Lincoln and John B. Baldwin, April 4, 1861 (Staunton, VA., 1866).

iv Botts' testimony, Report of Joint Committee on Reconstruction, 114-19; John Minor Botts, The Great Rebellion (New York, 1866), 194-202.

v The most recent and also the most judicial summary of all the evidence is by Henry T. Shanks, The Secession Movement in Virginia, 1847-1861 (Richmond, 1934), 192-95.

vi Crawford, Genesis of the Civil War, 404; William E. Smith, The Francis Preston Blair Family in Politics, 2 vols. (New York, 1933), II, 12-13.

vii Nicolay and Hay, Abraham Lincoln, IV, 27-28.

viii Welles, Diary, I, 29-32. Worden reached Captain Adams' ship on April 12 and the men were landed that night, the very day on which the firing began at Sumter.

ix Richardson (comp.), Messages and Papers, VI, 21-22.

x Connor, John Archibald Campbell, 127-28. Lincoln chose to send the notification to the Governor, not the Confederate officers, because he could recognize the former and not the latter.

xi Nicolay and Hay, Abraham Lincoln, IV, 34.

xii New York Times, April 8, 1861; Baltimore Sun, April 8, 1861. The Richmond Examiner asserted as early as April 6 that the expedition was for the purpose of relieving Sumter.

xiii Evidently Lincoln did not expect them to retreat, for on April 8 he wrote Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania, one of the recent conferees, "I think the necessity of being ready increases. Look to it." From "Lincoln Photostats," Library of Congress; also in Paul M. Angle, New Letters and Papers of Lincoln (Boston and New York, 1930), 266. Governor Dennison of Ohio, who was still in Washington, was quoted as promising, on the same date, support to "a vigorous policy." Mt. Vernon (Ohio) Democratic Banner, April 16, 1861.

xiv That Toombs protested against the attack seems to be based wholly upon the statement in Pleasant A. Stovall, The Life of Robert Toombs (New York, 1892), 226. Stovall cites no source and U. B. Phillips in his Life of Robert Toombs (New York, 1913), 234-35, gives no other citation than Stovall. Richard Lathers attributed the same words to Toombs several days before this crisis arose in a letter which he wrote to the New York Journal of Commerce from Montgomery. See Alvan F. Sanborn, Reminiscences of Richard Lathers (New York, 1907), 164-65. Nevertheless, that Toombs was greatly concerned over the dangers in the situation is attested by the Confederate secretary of war, L. P. Walker, who quotes Toombs as saying at the cabinet meeting on April 10, "The firing upon that fort will inaugurate a civil war greater than any the world has yet seen; and I do not feel competent to advise you." Crawford, The Genesis of the Civil War, 421.

xv These were the Baltic, the Harriet Lane, and the Pawnee. The Pocahontas did not arrive until the 13th. It is an interesting question whether the Northern reaction would have been different if the Confederates had ignored Fort Sumter and concentrated their efforts upon trying to keep the fleet from entering the harbor. The fact that their chief naval officer, Captain Henry J. Hartstene, reported on April 10 that the Federals would be able to reach the fort in boats at night and that he had no vessels strong enough to prevent the entrance of the fleet may have determined the Confederates to take the fort first. Official Records, Ser. I, Vol. I, 299.

xvi Crawford, Genesis of the Civil War, 404; Robert Means Thompson and Richard Wainwright (eds.), Confidential Correspondence of Gustavus Vasa Fox, 2 vols. (New York, 1918), I, 43-44; Nicolay and Hay (eds.), Lincoln: Works, II, 41.

xvii Nicolay and Hay, Abraham Lincoln, IV, 33, 44, 62.

xviii Predictions, on the one hand, that the "rebels" would soon start a war and charges, on the other, that, to save the Republican party, Lincoln was demonstrating against Charleston in order to force the Southerners to attack Sumter are to be found in administration and antiadministration papers, respectively, during the week before the fort was fired upon. See, for instance, the Columbus (Ohio) Crisis, April 4, 1861; New York Times, April 8, 10, 1861; Baltimore Sun, April 10, 1861. When the news came of the bombardment at Charleston, the Providence Daily Post, April 13, 1861, began an editorial entitled "WHY?" with: "We are to have civil war, if at all, because Abraham Lincoln loves a party better than he loves his country." And after commenting on what seemed to be a sudden change of policy with respect to Sumter, "Why? We think the reader will perceive why. Mr. Lincoln saw an opportunity to inaugurate civil war without appearing in the character of an aggressor. There are men in Fort Sumter, he said, who are nearly out of provisions. They ought to be fed. We will attempt to feed them. Certainly nobody can blame us for that. . . . The secessionists, who are both mad and foolish, will resist us. They will commence civil war. Then I will appeal to the North to aid me in putting down rebellion, and the North must respond. How can it do otherwise? And sure enough, how can we do otherwise?" A photostatic copy of this editorial was furnished me through the kindness of Professor E. M. Coulter of the University of Georgia.

One story that seems to have had some currency was related by Alexander Long, a Democratic congressman from Ohio, in an antiadministration speech before the House on April 8, 1864, to the effect  that when Lincoln first heard the news that the Confederates had opened fire on Fort Sumter, he exclaimed, "I knew they would do it!" Congressional Globe, 38 Cong., I Sess., 1499 et seq. Long's speech aroused much excitement among the Republicans who attempted to expel him from the House on the ground that he was a sympathizer with the rebellion.

xix Theodore Calvin Pease and James G. Randall (eds.), The Diary of Orville H. Browning, 2 vols. (Springfield, Ill., 1927), I, 475-76.

Lincoln and Fort Sumter, by Charles W. Ramsdell – Part 1

In March, 1861, as the Northern economy crumbled around him, Abraham Lincoln decided war was his only way out.

Lincoln and Fort Sumter

by Charles W. Ramsdell

Part 1

Lincoln and Fort Sumter  is the most famous treatise ever written on how Abraham Lincoln manipulated events in Charleston Harbor to start a war April 12, 1861 that killed over 750,000 people and maimed a million more. Lincoln's war destroyed the republic of the Founding Fathers and established the supremacy of the Federal Government and Northern majority over the states, which was his goal all along. Charles W. Ramsdell (1877-1942), known as the Dean of Southern Historians, is brilliant and riveting. His In Memoriam at the University of Texas states: "In all that pertained to the history of the Southern Confederacy, his scholarship was decisive."

(Lincoln and Fort Sumter is Part III of Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument., and is included in Charles W. Ramsdell, Dean of Southern Historians, Volume One: His Best Work, both available on this website)

Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument. by Gene Kizer, Jr. - front cover - slavery not the cause of the Civil War
Charles W Ramsdell - Dean of Southern Historians - "Lincoln and Fort Sumter" "The Natural Limits of Slavery Expansion" - Compiled by Gene Kizer Jr


Charles W. Ramsdell, "Lincoln and Fort Sumter," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 3, Issue 3 (August, 1937), 259 - 288. Original copyright 1937, Southern Historical Association. This article, text and notes, comes verbatim from the original article. One footnote, vii, and a comment to footnote xii, were added by Gene Kizer, Jr. Both are so noted.


WHEN THE CONFEDERATE BATTERIES around Charleston Harbor opened fire on Fort Sumter in the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, they signaled the beginning of the most calamitous tragedy in the history of the American people. Because the Confederate authorities ordered the attack it is generally held that they were directly responsible for the horrors of the ensuing four years. Certainly that was the feeling in the North, then and afterwards, and it became the verdict of austere historians.

Whether the war was inevitable, in any case, is a question that need not be raised here. It has been the subject of endless disputation and is one to which no conclusive answer can be given. But even though it be conceded that if the conflict had not arisen from the Fort Sumter crisis it would have sprung from some other incident growing out of the secession of the "cotton states," the actual firing of the "first shot" placed the Southerners under a great moral and material disadvantage. The general Northern conviction that the "rebels" had made an unprovoked attack upon the little Federal garrison added thousands of volunteers to the Union armies and strengthened the determination of the Northern people to carry the struggle through to the complete subjugation of the South.

The Confederate leaders who ordered the bombardment were not vicious, feeble-minded, irresponsible, or inexperienced men. As even a casual investigation will show, they had been fully aware of the danger of taking the initiative in hostilities and had hoped for peace. How then could they be so blind as to place themselves at this manifest disadvantage?

The story of the development of the Fort Sumter crisis has been told many times, but it is so full of complexities that there is little wonder that many of its most significant features have been obscured with a resultant loss of perspective. On the one hand, most accounts have begun with certain assumptions which have affected the interpretation of the whole mass of evidence; on the other, too little credit has been given to Abraham Lincoln's genius for political strategy, which is truly surprising in view of all the claims that have been made for the abilities of that very remarkable man. The purpose of this paper is to place the facts already known in their logical and chronological order and to re-evaluate them in that setting in the belief that when thus arranged they will throw new light upon this momentous affair.

The early stages of the Sumter problem can be dealt with in summary form. It is well known that six days after the secession of South Carolina Major Robert Anderson, who had been stationed at Fort Moultrie in command of all the United States forces in Charleston Harbor, abandoned Moultrie and moved his command into the new and still unfinished Fort Sumter where he thought his force would be better able to resist attack. The South Carolina authorities evidently had had no intention of attacking him for they thought they had an understanding with President Buchanan for maintaining the military status quo; but they immediately occupied Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney and made protest to Buchanan, demanding that Anderson be sent back to Moultrie. Buchanan refused to admit their ground of protest or to order Anderson back; then early in January he ordered relief to be sent secretly to the garrison on a merchant steamer. This vessel, The Star of the West, was forced back from the entrance of the harbor by the military authorities of the state, and the South Carolinians were with some difficulty restrained by the leaders in other Southern states from assaulting Fort Sumter. Thereafter Buchanan refrained from the use of force, partly because Anderson insisted that he was in no danger, partly because he still hoped for some peaceful adjustment, if not by Congress itself, then by the Peace Conference which was soon to assemble in Washington, and partly because he was averse during the last weeks of his term to beginning hostilities for which he was unprepared.

By February 1 six other cotton states had passed ordinances of secession and each of them, as a matter of precaution and largely because of the happenings at Charleston, seized the forts, arsenals, customs houses, and navy yards within its own borders. There were two exceptions, both in Florida. Fort Taylor, at Key West, was left undisturbed; and Fort Pickens, at the entrance of Pensacola Bay and on the extreme western tip of Santa Rosa Island, was occupied by a small Federal force much as Fort Sumter had been.

Since Fort Pickens plays a part in the development of the Sumter crisis, some explanation of the situation at that point becomes necessary. In the beginning this fort was not occupied by troops, but a  company of artillery, under Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, was stationed at Barrancas Barracks, across the neck of the bay about a mile and a half to the north of Pickens, and close by the Navy Yard. The town of Pensacola was some six miles farther up the bay. On January 10 Lieutenant Slemmer, hearing that the governors of Florida and Alabama were about to send troops to seize the forts and the Navy Yard and in accordance with instructions from General Winfield Scott, removed his small command to Fort Pickens. On the twelfth the Navy Yard capitulated to the combined state forces under Colonel W. H. Chase. Chase then demanded the surrender of Fort Pickens, which Slemmer refused. After some further correspondence between the two opposing officers, a group of nine Southern senators in Washington, on January 18, urged that no attack should be made on Fort Pickens because it was "not worth a drop of blood."i These senators believed that the Republicans in Congress were hoping to involve the Buchanan administration in hostilities in order that the war might open before Lincoln's inauguration. On January 29 an agreement was effected at Washington by Senator Stephen R. Mallory of Florida, and others, with President Buchanan and his secretaries of War and the Navy to the effect that no reinforcement would be sent to Fort Pickens and no attack would be made upon it by the secessionists.ii The situation at Fort Pickens then became somewhat like that at Fort Sumter; but there were certain differences. Fort Pickens did not threaten the town of Pensacola as Fort Sumter did Charleston; it was easily accessible from the sea if reinforcements should be decided upon; and there was no such excitement over its continued occupation by the United States troops as there was about Sumter.

As soon as the new Confederate government was organized the Confederate Congress, on February 12, by resolution took charge of "questions existing between the several States of this Confederacy and the United States respecting the occupation of forts, arsenals, navy yards and other public establishments." This hurried action was taken in order to get the management of the Sumter question out of the hands of the impatient and rather headlong Governor Francis W. Pickens of South Carolina, who, it was feared, might precipitate war at any time.iii In fact, the public mind, North and South, sensed accurately that the greatest danger to peace lay in Charleston Harbor.

This danger, of course, was in the irreconcilable views of the two governments concerning their respective claims to the fort. To the Washington officials Sumter was not merely the legal property of the Federal government; its possession was a symbol of the continuity and integrity of that government. To withdraw the garrison at the demand of the secessionists would be equivalent to acknowledging the legality of secession and the dissolution of the Union. There was also, especially with the military officials, a point of honor involved; they could not yield to threats of force. The attitude of the Southerners was based upon equally imperative considerations. In their view the Confederate States no longer had any connection with the government on the Potomac; they were as independent as that other seceded nation, Belgium. No independent government could maintain its own self-respect or the respect of foreign governments if it permitted another to hold an armed fortress within the harbor of one of its principal cities. When South Carolina had ceded the site for the fortification it had done so for its own protection. That protection was now converted into a threat, for the guns of Sumter dominated not only every point in the harbor but the city of Charleston itself. We may conceive an analogous situation by supposing that Great Britain at the close of the American Revolution had insisted upon retaining a fortress within the harbor of Boston or of New York. The Confederate government could not, without yielding the principle of independence, abate its claims to the fort.

During the last six weeks of Buchanan's term the situation at Charleston remained relatively quiet. Anderson and his engineers did what they could to strengthen the defenses of Sumter; while the state and Confederate officers established batteries around the harbor both to repel any future relief expedition and, in case of open hostilities, to reduce the fort. Although Governor Pickens had wished to press demands for surrender and to attack the fort if refused, he had first sought the advice of such men as Governor Joseph E. Brown of Georgia and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. Both advised against any such action, partly because they still had some hope of peace and partly because they saw the danger of taking the initiative.iv Although Anderson was under constant surveillance, he was allowed free use of the mails and was permitted to purchase for his men fresh meats and vegetables in the Charleston market. Other necessities, which under army regulations he must procure from the regular supply departments of the army, he was not allowed to receive because that would be permitting the Federal government to send relief to the garrison and involve an admission of its right to retain the fort. Anderson consistently informed the authorities at Washington during this time that he was safe and that he could hold out indefinitely. The Confederate government, having taken over from the state all negotiations concerning the fort, was moving cautiously with the evident hope of avoiding hostilities. On February 15 the Confederate Congress by resolution requested President Davis to appoint three commissioners to negotiate with the United States "all questions of disagreement between the two governments" and Davis appointed them on February 25.v They reached Washington on March 5, the day after Lincoln's inauguration.

Southern as well as Northern men waited anxiously to learn what policy would be indicated by the new President of the United States in his inaugural address. It is not necessary to dwell long on what Abraham Lincoln said in that famous paper. He stated plainly that he regarded the Union as unbroken, the secession of the seven cotton states as a nullity. In this he merely took the position that Buchanan had taken. He also said that he would enforce the laws of the Union in all the states; but he immediately softened this declaration by saying that he would not use violence unless it should be forced upon the national authority. Then he added, "The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere." And later on: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors." How is it possible to reconcile the declaration that he would occupy "the property and places belonging to the government" with the promise that the government would not assail his dissatisfied fellow countrymen who either held or claimed the right to those places? While ostensibly addressing the Southerners, was he really directing these last soothing words to the anxious antiwar elements in the North? Although it is improbable that he had this early any definite plan in mind, his warning that the secessionists would be the aggressors, if civil war should come, may be significant in view of what he was to be engaged in exactly a month from that day.

But the inaugural should not be regarded as the declaration of a definite program; for while the new President was careful to lay down the general principle that the Union was legally unbroken, he refrained with equal care from committing himself to any course of action. If he hedged at every point where a statement of active policy was expected, it was because he could not know what he would be able to do. Caution was necessary; it was not merely political expediency, it was at that juncture political wisdom. Cautious reticence, until he knew his way was clear, was a very marked trait of Abraham There is another characteristic quality in this address. Lincoln had developed an extraordinary skill in so phrasing his public utterances as to arouse in each special group he singled out for attention just the reaction he desired. To the extreme and aggressive Republicans the inaugural indicated a firm determination to enforce obedience upon the secessionists; to the Northern moderates and peace advocates, as well as to the anxious Unionists of the border slave states not yet seceded,vii it promised a conciliatory attitude; in the seceded states it was interpreted as threatening coercion and had the effect of hastening preparations for defense.

In the latter part of the address Lincoln had counseled the people generally to avoid precipitate action and to take time to think calmly about the situation. He doubtless hoped to be able to take time himself; but he discovered within a few hours that there was one problem whose solution could not be long postponed. On the very day of his inauguration Buchanan's secretary of war, Joseph Holt, received a letter from Major Anderson in which for the first time the commander at Fort Sumter expressed doubt of his ability to maintain himself. More than this, Anderson estimated that, in the face of the Confederate batteries erected about the harbor, it would require a powerful fleet and a force of twenty thousand men to give permanent relief to the garrison. Since it was his last day in office, Buchanan had the letter referred to Lincoln; and when on March 5, Holt submitted it to the new President he accompanied it with a report sharply reviewing Anderson's previous assurances of his safety.viii Lincoln called General Scott into conference and the General concurred with Anderson. After a few days of further consideration Scott was of the same opinion and was sustained by General Joseph G. Totten, chief of the Army Engineers. These men considered the question primarily as a military problem, although Scott could not refrain from injecting political considerations into this written statement. In doing this the aged General was suspected of following the lead of Secretary William H. Seward who was already urging the evacuation of Sumter, in order to avoid precipitating hostilities at that point, and the reinforcement of Fort Pickens in order to assert the authority of the government. Lincoln accepted at least a part of Seward's plan, for on March 12, General Scott, by the President's direction, sent an order to Captain Israel Vogdes, whose artillery company was on board the U. S. Steamer Brooklyn, lying off Fort Pickens, directing him to land his company, reinforce Pickens, and hold it. Instead of sending the order overland, Scott sent it around by sea with the result that it did not reach its destination until April 1, and then the navy captain in command of the ship on which the artillery company was quartered refused to land the troops because the orders from the former Secretary of the Navy directing him to respect the truce with the Confederates had never been countermanded. The fort was not reinforced at that time, a fact of which Lincoln remained ignorant until April 6. We shall return to the Fort Pickens situation later.

Meanwhile Lincoln was considering the Fort Sumter problem. He had learned that Anderson's supplies were running short and that the garrison could not hold out much longer without relief. Although both General Scott and General Totten had advised that the relief of the fort was impracticable with the forces available, Gustavus V. Fox, a former officer of the navy and a brother-in-law of Postmaster-General Montgomery Blair, believed that it would be possible to reach the fort by running small steamers past the Confederate batteries at the entrance to the harbor. Fox had first proposed this to Scott early in February; he now came forward again with the backing of Montgomery Blair and presented his plan and arguments to Lincoln on March 13. The President seems to have been impressed, for on March 15 he asked for the written opinions of his cabinet on the question whether, assuming that it was now possible to provision Sumter, it was wise to attempt it. All, save Montgomery Blair, advised against an expedition.ix Apparently this overwhelming majority of his cabinet at first decided him against the plans, for there is considerable evidence, although it is not conclusive, that he was about to order Anderson to evacuate. Certainly rumors of impending orders for evacuation were coming from various high official circles in Washington, aside from those for which Seward seems to have been responsible.x There is the familiar story of how old Frank Blair, brought to the White House by his son Montgomery, found the President about to sign the evacuation order and protested so vigorously that Lincoln did not sign it.

Lincoln now found himself facing a most difficult and dangerous situation and the more he considered it the more troublesome it appeared. It seems reasonably certain that he never wanted to give up Sumter. As early as December 24, 1860, having heard a wild rumor that the forts in South Carolina were to be surrendered by the order or consent of President Buchanan, he had written from Springfield to Senator Lyman Trumbull that he would, "if our friends at Washington concur, announce publicly at once that they are to be retaken after the inauguration."xi After he had arrived at Washington and had taken up the burden of office he saw that the problem was not so simple as it had looked from the frontier town of Springfield. His Secretary of State, a man of far greater political experience than himself, was urging him to make his stand for the authority of the government at Fort Pickens and not Sumter, for Seward could not see how it would be possible to reinforce Sumter without putting the administration in the position of the aggressor. That would be a fatal mistake. Fort Pickens, on the other hand, could be relieved from the Gulf side without coming into direct conflict with the Confederates.

It would be extremely interesting to know what was passing through Lincoln's mind during those difficult days when, bedeviled by importunate office seekers, he could find little time for considering what he should do about the re-establishment of Federal authority in the seceded states and especially about the imperiled fort at Charleston. As was his habit, he left few clues to his reflections and it is impossible to say with assurance what ideas he picked up, examined, and discarded. One plan which he seems to have entertained for a short while, just after the adverse cabinet vote on relieving Sumter, contemplated the collection of customs duties on revenue vessels, supported by ships of war, just outside the Confederate ports; and there were hints in the press that Anderson's force was to be withdrawn to a ship off Charleston. If it were seriously considered, the plan was soon abandoned, possibly because of legal impediments or more probably because it did not fully meet the needs of the situation.xii But although Lincoln kept his thoughts to himself he must have studied public opinion closely, and we may be able to follow his thinking if we examine for ourselves the attitudes of the several groups in the North as they revealed themselves in those uncertain days of March.

It must not be forgotten that, notwithstanding Lincoln's smashing victory in the free states in November, his party was still new and relatively undisciplined. His support had come from a heterogeneous mass of voters and for a variety of reasons. The slavery issue, the drive for a protective tariff and internal improvements, the promise of free homesteads in the West, and disgust at the split among the Democrats had each played its part. Many voters had been persuaded that there was no real danger of a disruption of the Union in the event of his election. The secession of the border states had now thrown the former issues into the background and thrust to the front the question whether the discontented Southerners should be allowed to depart in peace or whether the government should, as Lincoln phrased it, "enforce the law" and in so doing bring on war with the newly formed Confederacy. As always, when a new and perilous situation arises, the crosscurrents of public opinion were confusing. As Lincoln, pressed on all sides, waited while he studied the drift, he could not fail to note that there was a strong peace party in the North which was urging the settlement of difficulties without resort to force. On the other hand the more aggressive party men among the Republicans, to whom he was under special obligations, were insisting that he exert the full authority of the government even to the extent of war. This group included some of the most active and powerful members of his party whom he could not afford to antagonize. One disturbing factor in the situation was the marked tendency of many voters who had supported him in November to turn against the Republicans, as was shown in a number of local elections in Ohio and New England. While the peace men attributed this reversal to fear of war, the more aggressive Republicans insisted that it was caused by disgust at the rumors that Fort Sumter would be given up to the secessionists.xiii Reinforcing the Northern conservatives were the majorities in the eight border slave states who had thus far refused to secede but who were openly opposed to any "coercive" action against their brethren in the Lower South. The Virginia State Convention, which had convened on February 13 and was in complete control of the conditional Unionists, was still in session, evidently awaiting his decision. Therefore, if he should adopt a strongly aggressive policy he might find himself opposed by the large group of peace men in the North while he precipitated most if not all of the border slave states into secession and union with the Confederacy.xiv If, on the other hand, he failed to act decisively, he was very likely to alienate the radical Republicans who were already manifesting impatience. In either case he would divide his party at the very beginning of his administration and increase the risk of utter failure. There was, however, some cheering evidence among the business elements of a growing irritation against the secessionists because of the depression which had set in with the withdrawal of South Carolina; and if the Confederates should add further offense to their low tariff policy or adopt more aggressive tactics with respect to the forts, this feeling might grow strong enough to overcome the peace men.

He had promised to maintain the Union, but how was he to attempt it without wrecking his chances at the very outset? It was now too late to restore the Union by compromise because, having himself rejected all overtures in December, he could not now afford to offer what he had recently refused. Moreover, there was no indication that the Confederates would accept at this late date any compromise he might proffer. He must do something, for the gradual exhaustion of the supplies of the garrison in Fort Sumter would soon force his hand. He could not order Anderson to evacuate without arousing the wrath of the militant Unionists in the North. If he continued to let matters drift, Anderson himself would have to evacuate when his supplies were gone. While that would relieve the administration of any charge of coercion, it would expose the government to the accusation of disgraceful weakness and improve the chances of the Confederacy for foreign recognition.xv If he left Anderson to his fate and made ostentatious display of reinforcing Fort Pickens, as Seward was urging him to do, would he gain as much as he lost? Was it not best, even necessary, to make his stand at Sumter? But if he should try to relieve Anderson by force of arms, what was the chance of success? Anderson, supported by the high authority of General Scott, thought there was none. If, as Captain Fox believed, swift steamers could run the gauntlet of the Confederate batteries and reach the fort with men and supplies, would they then be able to hold it against attack? Failure in this military movement might seriously damage the already uncertain prestige of the administration. Would it not be looked upon as aggressive war by the border state men and perhaps by the peace men in the North? Could he risk the handicap of appearing to force civil war upon the country? In every direction the way out of his dilemma seemed closed.

There was one remote possibility: the Confederates themselves might precipitate matters by attacking Sumter before Anderson should be compelled to evacuate by lack of supplies. But the Confederates, though watchful, were showing great caution. General P. G. T. Beauregard, in command at Charleston since March 6, was treating Major Anderson with elaborate courtesy. The government at Montgomery was in no hurry to force the issue, partly because it was quite well aware of the danger of assuming the aggressive and partly because it was waiting to see what its commissioners would be able to effect at  Washington, where Seward was holding out hopes to them of the eventual evacuation of Sumter. At some time, while turning these things over in his mind, this daring thought must have occurred to Lincoln: Could the Southerners be induced to attack Sumter, to assume the aggressive and thus put themselves in the wrong in the eyes of the North and of the world?xvi If they could, the latent irritation perceptible among the Northern moderates might flame out against the secessionists and in support of the government. The two wings of his party would unite, some at least of the Democrats would come to his support, even the border-state people might be held, if they could be convinced that the war was being forced by the secessionists. Unless he could unite them in defense of the authority of the government, the peaceable and the "stiff-backed" Republicans would split apart, the party would collapse, his administration would be a failure, and he would go down in history as a weak man who had allowed the Union to crumble in his hands. As things now stood, the only way by which the Union could be restored, his party and his administration saved, was by an unequivocal assertion of the authority of the government, that is, through war. But he must not openly assume the aggressive; that must be done by the secessionists. The best opportunity was at Fort Sumter, but the time left was short for Anderson was running short of essential supplies.

Let us examine closely what Lincoln did after the middle of March, taking care to place each movement as nearly as possible in its exact sequence. We have seen that Captain Fox made his argument to Lincoln for a combined naval and military expedition on March 13 and that the cabinet, with the exception of Montgomery Blair and the equivocal Chase, had voted against it on the fifteenth. Fox then offered to go in person to Fort Sumter to investigate the situation and Lincoln gave him permission. He arrived in Charleston on March 21 and was allowed to see Anderson that night. He and Anderson agreed that the garrison could not hold out longer than noon of April 15. Although Anderson seems to have remained unconvinced of its feasibility, Fox returned to Washington full of enthusiasm for his plan.

On the very day that Fox arrived in Charleston, Lincoln had dispatched to that city a close friend and loyal supporter, Ward H. Lamon, a native of Virginia and his former law partner in Illinois. This sending of Lamon on the heels of Fox is an interesting incident. The precise nature of his instructions has never been fully revealed. Lamon himself, in his Recollections, merely says he was sent "on a confidential mission" and intimates that he was to report on the extent of Unionist feeling in South Carolina. He arrived in Charleston on the night of Saturday, March 23; visited James L. Petigru, the famous Unionist, on Sunday and learned from him that there was no Unionist strength in the state, that "peaceable secession or war was inevitable"; and on Monday morning obtained an interview with Governor Pickens. In reply to questions the Governor stated very positively that any attempt on the part of President Lincoln to reinforce Sumter would bring on war, that only his "unalterable resolve not to attempt any reinforcement" could prevent war. Lamon, whether through innocence or guile, left the impression with the Governor, and also with Anderson whom he was permitted to visit, that the garrison would soon be withdrawn and that his trip was merely to prepare the way for that event. He left Charleston on the night of the twenty-fifth, arrived in Washington on the twenty-seventh, and reported to Lincoln what he had learned.xvii What had he been sent to Charleston to do? There must have been some purpose and it could hardly have been to prepare the way for Anderson's evacuation.xviii Does it strain the evidence to suggest that it was chiefly to find out at first hand how strong was the Southern feeling about relief for Fort Sumter and that this purpose was camouflaged by the vague intimations of evacuation? But it is quite probable that Lamon himself did not understand the real purpose, for it is altogether unlikely that the cautious Lincoln would have divulged so important a secret to his bibulous and impulsive young friend. But if there was such an ulterior purpose, Lincoln now had the information directly from Charleston that any sort of relief would result in an attack upon the fort.

According to Gideon Welles, whose account of these events was written several years later, Lincoln sometime in the latter half of March had informed the members of his cabinet that he would send relief to Sumter. During a cabinet meeting on March 29 (two days after Lamon's return), when the matter was again discussed, Lincoln, at the suggestion of Attorney General Edward Bates, again requested each member to give his opinion in writing on the question of relieving Sumter. Whether Lincoln's known determination, political pressure, or some other influence had effected it, there was a marked change from the advice given just two weeks earlier. Now only Seward and Caleb Smith were for evacuating Sumter, but they both wished to reinforce Fort Pickens. Bates proposed to strengthen Pickens and Key West and said that the time had come either to evacuate Sumter or relieve it. The rest were unequivocally for a relief expedition. Later that day Lincoln directed the secretaries of War and the Navy to co-operate in preparing an expedition to move by sea as early as April 6. The destination was not indicated in the order, but it was Charleston.xix


This is the end of Part 1 and the halfway point of Lincoln and Fort Sumter.

Click HERE to go to Lincoln and Fort Sumter, Part 2, Conclusion.

Footnotes for Part 1 are below.


i The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, 1880-1901), Ser. I, Vol. I, 445-46. Hereafter cited as Official Records.

ii Ibid., 355-56.

iii Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 7 vols. (Washington, 1904-1905), I, 47; Samuel W. Crawford, The Genesis of the Civil War: The Story of Sumter (New York, 1887), 261-62.

iv Crawford, Genesis of the Civil War, 263-68; Dunbar Rowland (ed.), Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist, 10 vols. (Jackson, Miss., 1923), V, 36-37, 39-40.

v Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States, I, 46, 52, 55, 85-86.

vi This characteristic of Lincoln was attested to by numbers of his associates, sometimes with evident irritation. W. H. Herndon once wrote, "He was the most secretive--reticent--shut-mouthed man that ever lived." Herndon to J. E. Remsburg of Oak Mills, Kansas, September 10, 1887 (privately printed by H. E. Baker, 1917). See also A. K. McClure, Lincoln and Men of War-Times (Philadelphia, 1892), 64-68, for statements of Leonard Swett, W. H. Lamon, A. K. McClure, and David Davis. Judge Davis said, "I knew the man well; he was the most reticent, secretive man I ever saw or expect to see."

vii This note added by Gene Kizer, Jr.: The "border states" Professor Ramsdell refers to in this treatise include Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas since those future-Confederate states were still in the Union as the Fort Sumter drama played out. They did not secede until after the bombardment of Fort Sumter when Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to invade the South, and they did so, not in any way because of slavery, but because they were horrified that the Federal Government would invade sovereign states and kill their citizens to force them back into a union they had voted to separate from. The Federal Government in 1861 had no constitutional authority or obligation to invade a state and force it to do anything. The Federal Government, as set up by the Founding Fathers, was supposed to be the agent of the states, not their master.

viii Anderson's letter has never been located, but see Official Records, Ser. I, Vol. I, 197-202. For Holt's letter, Horatio King, Turning on the Light (Philadelphia, 1896), 126-128.

ix Secretary Chase favored a relief expedition, but only if it would not bring on an expensive war, a position that was so equivocal that he can hardly be said to stand with Montgomery Blair. John G. Nicolay and John Hay (eds.), Abraham Lincoln: Complete Works, 2 vols. (New York, 1894), II, 11-22, for replies of the cabinet.

x The newspapers carried these reports almost every day and the belief in their accuracy seems to have been general, even among the war faction of the Republicans.

xi Gilbert A. Tracy, Uncollected Letters of Abraham Lincoln (Boston and New York, 1917), 173. Lincoln had written "confidentially" to Major David Hunter on December 22, "If the forts fall, my judgment is that they are to be retaken." A. B. Lapsley (ed.), The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, 8 vols. (New York, 1905-1906), V, 199. It will be remembered that the original draft of the inaugural had contained a declaration that he would "reclaim the public property and places which have fallen," but that this was changed at the suggestion of Orville H. Browning to a more general and less threatening statement. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln, A History, 10 vols. (New York, 1886-1892), III, 319, 333-34, n. 12.

xii Lincoln to Chase, Welles, and Bates, March 18, 1861, in Nicolay and Hay (eds.), Lincoln: Works, II, 24-25. The Morrill tariff, passed in February, had raised rates far above the former ones while the Confederate Congress had enacted a low tariff. The difference in rates was causing anxiety to Northern importers and shippers, and also to the administration, lest it deflect imports to the South and stimulate smuggling across the new border to the great injury of the Northern ports and the loss of customs receipts. The tariff differential might even swing some of the border states over to the Confederacy. The New York Times was greatly disturbed at the prospect and roundly condemned the Morrill tariff. The issues of the Times for March 13, 15-20, and 22, intimated that the President was considering the above-mentioned plan. The legal impediments seem to have consisted in the absence of any law of Congress permitting such a procedure and the nonexistence of local Federal courts for the adjudication of cases arising out of the enforcement of the revenue laws. This tariff question may have had more influence upon the final determination of Lincoln's policy that the evidence now available shows. [Gene Kizer, Jr. Note: Beyond the shadow of a doubt, Professor Ramsdell.]

xiii These elections were not actually held until April 1 in Ohio and Connecticut and April 3 in Rhode Island, but the pre-election evidences of defection had greatly alarmed the Republicans in the latter part of March. The fusion of the Democrats and other "Union-savers" carried all the larger cities of Ohio, defeated two radical Republican congressmen in Connecticut, re-elected Governor William Sprague in Rhode Island, and won a majority of the legislature in that state. Cincinnati Commercial, April 3, 1861; Columbus (Ohio) Crisis, April 4, 1861; New York Times, March 30, April 2, 4, 1861; J. H. Jordan to S. P. Chase, March 27, J. N. and J. B Antram to Chase, April 2, and W. D. Beckham to Chase, April 2, 1861, in Chase Papers, Library of Congress. I am indebted to Mrs. W. Mary Bryant of the University of Texas for copies of these letters.

xiv There are some indications, however, that at this time Lincoln overestimated the Unionist strength in the border slave states.

xv Lincoln's special message to Congress, July 4, 1861, indicates that he had weighed some of these considerations. "It was believed, however, that to abandon that position [Sumter] under the circumstances would be utterly ruinous; that the necessity under which it was to be done would not be fully understood; that by many it would be construed as a part of a voluntary policy; that at home it would discourage the friends of the Union, embolden its adversaries, and go far to insure to the latter a recognition abroad; that, in fact, it would be our national destruction consummated. This could not be allowed." J. D. Richardson (comp.), Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 10 vols. (Washington, 1896-1899), VI, 21.

xvi It would be most surprising to find that such an idea never occurred to Lincoln, since not only were many Republicans suggesting it as a possibility, but various Republican newspapers were constantly reiterating the suggestion that if any clash came the secessionists would be responsible. The predictions of the newspapers may have been "inspired," but if so, that fact makes it more certain that the idea was being discussed in the inner circles of the administration. J. H. Jordan wrote Chase form Cincinnati, March 27, "In the name of God! why not hold the Fort? Will reinforcing & holding it cause the rebels to attack it, and thus bring on 'civil war'? What of it? That is just what the government ought to wish to bring about, and ought to do all it can . . . to bring about. Let them attack the Fort, if they will--it will then be them that commenced the war." The general idea of such an outcome was in the air; the contribution of Lincoln himself was the maneuver by which this desirable solution was brought about.

xvii Ward H. Lamon, Recollections of Abraham Lincoln (Washington, 1911), 68-79.

xviii On April 1 Lincoln sent word, through Seward, to Justice John A. Campbell that Lamon had no authority to make such a promise. Not only that but, according to the same source, he stated that "Lamon did not go to Charleston under any commission or authority from Mr. Lincoln." Henry G. Connor, John Archibald Campbell (Boston and New York, 1920), 127. The words "commission or authority" may have been a mere technical evasion of responsibility, for Lamon himself recounts the conversation between Lincoln, Seward, and himself when Lincoln asked him to go. It is possible, of course, that Justice Campbell misunderstood the exact language or meaning of Seward.

xix Howard K. Beale (ed.), The Diary of Edward Bates, 1859-1866, in American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1930 (Washington, 1933), IV, 180; Nicolay and Lay (eds.), Lincoln: Works, II, 25-28.