Question of the Week: 3/29-4/4/21

Would you have tried to send supplies to Fort Sumter in 1861? Or would you have tried a different course of action for the stand-off in Charleston Harbor?

22 Responses to Question of the Week: 3/29-4/4/21

  1. Prior to taking over the role of President on 4 March 1861, Abraham Lincoln had witnessed the “peace efforts” and ineffectual Congressional actions designed to prevent… what had already happened: secession of individual States; and combine of those States into the Confederate States of America, headed by Jefferson Davis. Lincoln was aware of the firing on the U.S. flagged “Star of the West” by forces belonging to South Carolina in January; and Lincoln was subjected to at least one assassination attempt during the journey of his Inauguration Train to Washington in February. He was aware that “Southern malcontents were not just blowing; they meant business.”
    During March 1861 President Lincoln dispatched a team of agents to Charleston to determine “the true state of affairs there.” When that team reported “there are NO Union men in Charleston; they are preparing for war” President Lincoln realized he was obliged to take action, or suffer the loss of the Border States (and possibly New York City) to the new CSA. The United States that he had sworn an oath to defend was in danger of “death by a thousand cuts.” The potential pivot points of Fort Pickens and Fort Sumter were reduced to one: Fort Sumter. And knowing the public necessity and diplomatic requirement of “maintaining the high ground,” President Lincoln sent his resupply mission to Fort Sumter along with a public statement to the Governor of South Carolina of his intentions in regard to that mission. The war had almost started in January; too many hot-heads, too eager for war, would not permit the plum opportunity to go begging again. It was practically a certainty that the South would fire on Fort Sumter (before the arrival of the resupply fleet) and thereby: lose the High Ground; be seen as the Aggressor by significant nations of the World; put in peril potential support by those significant nations (i.e. France and England), thus jeopardizing success of the Confederate Experiment.
    Whether it was the Master Stroke of Genius, or Blind Luck, President Lincoln achieved the desired outcome: the South started the War, was SEEN by EVERYONE as having started the War, and had to find ways to justify that act every day; and struggle for International Recognition; and continue the fight on the land and water, alone… and eventually HOPED that the North would “tire of War,” elect McClellan and let them go…
    I would like to think that I would have had the inspiration and courage to conduct that Sumter resupply mission (and simultaneous reinforcement of Fort Pickens at Pensacola) in the same manner it was conducted by President Lincoln in April 1861.

  2. The US Government owned the land upon which the fort was built. I can supply the record of legislation passed by the South Carolina legislature, ceding the land to the Federal Government.

    The Federal Government had every right to supply Fort Sumter. Lincoln was not going to abandon any serviceman. The “proper” authority was told of this ..the duly elected Governor of South Carolina.

    By firing on Fort Sumter, the rebels started the Civil War.

  3. Lincoln not only had every right to resupply Fort Sumter, he really had no choice. I believe it was Margaret Thatcher who said “sovereignty cannot be negotiated.”

  4. Lincoln may have sought to equate the siege of Fort Sumter with that of the Alamo, thus making a connection with that historical legend when it fell to strike the first great propaganda role against the Confederacy that he followed with the Emancipation Proclamation.

  5. Any President with an ounce of respect for the principles of liberty and self-government upon which our country was founded would have acknowledged the sovereign waters of the seceded State of South Carolina. Instead, a deliberate provocation of war was committed by sending in ships and refusing to remove the troops. Lincoln abandoned the fundamental American principle of government by consent of the governed and committed what Lord Acton called “an awful crime.” If Gorbachev had forced the Soviet States back into its Union, killing 1/3 of the men of military age in the process, and causing vast civilian casualties using a total war strategy, the world would have called it a crime against humanity. The moral course of action would have been to allow the seceding States to govern themselves in recognition of that fundamental element of freedom. Instead Lincoln’s cupidity was hidden behind a claim that he took “an oath to preserve the Union.” He took no such oath. He took an oath to uphold the Constitution. It was Northern violation of the Constitution that drove the South to secession. Something even Daniel Webster acknowledged was grounds for secession.

    1. Thank God the North won. Our beloved United States of America. the greatest nation on Earth, remained the United States of America and slavery was abolished.

    2. Respectfully, a few points:
      -Lincoln never abandoned the constitution. He won a free and fair election and then bent over backwards to demonstrate to the slave states that he would not interfere with slavery where it already existed.

      -Lincoln had every right to re-supply Fort Sumter. He went above and beyond by limiting the supply mission to food and notifying the SC Governor.

      -Secession is unconstitutional. Actions Lincoln took after were in line with his oath to the constitution so that he could uphold its laws.

      -Slavery was constitutional at the time. I will grant you that. But again, Lincoln did not threaten slavery where it existed. I wonder, though, why you are so eager to defend slave states and their right to slavery. It is a deplorable and unconscionable institution to say the least. Slavery caused the war, not Lincoln. And if you’d like to hold someone to account it should be the southern slaveowning oligarchy that chose violence again and again instead of accepting the results of a free and fair election.

      -Do you agree that it is a good thing that the pro-slavery forces were defeated and that slavery was ended?

  6. Lincoln did it exactly right. He informed the nation in his inaugural address that he would maintain possession of the forts, and he informed the governor of SC that he was sending provisions to the garrison.

    The ball was in the secessionist’s court, and they chose war. They were eager for war. It was only after they were defeated that they began claiming that they were somehow tricked into shooting first.

  7. What a wonderful question for die-hard anti-Southern scenery-chewers! But Rod B O’Barr of course is right and has all the documentation necessary to prove his point. The question none of the scenery-chewers ask is why did Anderson move his men to Sumter in December? Ostensibly, of course, because he felt “threatened”, which of course was not at all true – they observed activity of SC militia but were never targeted; when they did move, Charleston was supplying them with perishables right up until the time Anderson refused to leave when politely asked to do so. It’s also never mentioned that Lincoln first tried this on Fort Pickens (google it) and that shots were actually first fired in Jan. ’61 at Fort Barrancas by Union soldiers. Yawn. Secession was legal; South Carolina offered to pay for the installations; Lincoln refused to negotiate; Charleston was a big tariff port; he couldn’t appear to declare War on territory he wanted to be known as still part of the Union (read up on sovereignty, I suggest “Secession on Trial”, Nicoletti, “Justice in Blue and Gray”, Neff), and so we had a War that killed a million or so people and became the only country in the World to coincidentally end slavery while slaughtering the populace over tariff revenue. Ironically, no one was killed at Sumter (Beauregard and Anderson both knew the fort was built to withstand battleship attacks) and when it ended, Confederate boats took the men off and to their waiting ships. When a fire had started in the barracks during the bombardment, Anderson was asked if he wanted a fireboat to help, and he said ‘No, thanks, it’s under control’. No one anticipated the descent into madness that became the Civil War. Yes, Lincoln should have tried something else. His lack of Statesmanship was an unmitigated disaster. If someone wants to harp on slavery, the US was the only country ever to end slavery with a War, period, and only as a political gesture at that, which is a very sad distinction.

    1. Quote: “the US was the only country ever to end slavery with a War”

      Which means we were the only country afflicted with a seditious class of slave-owners.

      If there is one constant about discussions of the tense political standoff in the spring of 1861, it’s the refusal of confederate apologists to admit any responsibility for creating or escalating the crisis.

  8. I see several responses to this question along political and philosophical and strategic lines, which is fair. I however take it on its tactical merits. With that said, I think what transpired was ‘logical’ for lack of a better term. The genie was already out of the bottle with several states having officially seceded. The ‘shooting’ that followed was hence inevitable, regardless of which side first pulled the trigger. The first question is: “Would you have tried to send supplies to Fort Sumter in 1861?” To that, my answer is “Yes”, in that Lincoln had a moral obligation to provide for those men. And I like to think I would have done so exactly like Lincoln wanted to. The Confederates had already seized many of the other Federal installations in that area, and shots had already been fired a few months prior when then-President Buchanan tried to resupply Fort Sumter. The newly formed Confederates held most if not all the cards there at that time. Even if a successful resupply/reinforcement could have transpired, the adjustments the Confederates would no doubt have made to that would have resulted in subsequent efforts being much more expensive as far as resources and blood. The fort’s commander took the pounding for a day-and-a-half. His read of the situation was an accurate one, to me anyway. By surrendering when he did he prevented Ft. Sumter from becoming the equivalent of Corregidor 80 plus years later. Also, by surrendering when he did, after taking such a sustained pounding, the philosophical and political moral high ground belonged to those Union forces, and I believe history, overall, has acknowledged as much.

    The second question is: “Or would you have tried a different course of action for the stand-off in Charleston Harbor?” I really don’t know what other options were available. It had all built to a head. There weren’t many good choices to be had, if any. Lots of people there in Charleston Harbor wanted blood. Neither side COULD back down by then. So, the only real question as I see it is “what was best as far as the troops stationed at Fort Sumter”? And I say again the way it played out is quite logical.

  9. Send the supplies. We forget that in 1861, Charleston was arguably the epicenter of arguments for slavery & states’ rights–akin to Berkley’s reputation today for ideologically pushing the envelope. I think Lincoln knew what he was doing, and what the reaction would be.

  10. I would have done what was necessary to avoid the war. Start by having Anderson leave the fort. Then start peace talks, knowing that just like other modern nations, slavery would wear itself out and end.

  11. I concur with curtlocklear. I think it was important to defuse the situation and keep a war from occurring. With the composition of Congress such as it was, a law could have been passed to keep slavery out of the territories, and that could have been an important first step.

    1. By the time of that Lincoln was sending aid to Fort Sumter, the 7 states of the Lower South had already left the Union.

      And the reason they left, was because of the Republicans winning the WH, and the Republican Party platform of preventing slavery from extending into the territories.

      1. With NO Southern votes. And recall that the Dred Scott Decision invalidated the Missouri Compromise, ( as did the Kansas Nebraska Act), and the Northwest Ordinance.

  12. President Bert would have. I think Lincoln did the right thing: the garrison had to be held, and it had to be resupplied.

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