- Protests against the conduct of the Government of the United States -- Senator Douglas's proposition to evacuate the forts, and extracts from his speech in support of it -- General Scott's advice -- manly letter of Major Anderson, protesting against the action of the Federal Government -- misstatements of the Count of Paris -- correspondence relative to proposed evacuation of the Fort -- a crisis.
The course pursued by the government of the United States with regard to the forts had not passed without earnest remonstrance from the most intelligent and patriotic of its own friends during the period of the events which constitute the subject of the preceding chapter. In the Senate of the United States, which continued in executive session for several weeks after the inauguration of Lincoln, it was the subject of discussion. Douglass of Illinois—who was certainly not suspected of sympathy with secession, or lack of devotion to the Union—on March 15th offered a resolution recommending the withdrawal of the garrisons from all forts within the limits of the states which had seceded, except those at Key West and the Dry Tortugas. In support of this resolution he said:
We certainly can not justify the holding of forts there, much less the recapturing of those which have been taken, unless we intend to reduce those States themselves into subjection. I take it for granted, no man will deny the proposition, that whoever permanently holds Charleston and South Carolina is entitled to the possession of Fort Sumter. Whoever permanently holds Pensacola and Florida is entitled to the possession of Fort Pickens. Whoever holds the States in whose limits those forts are placed is entitled to the forts themselves, unless there is something peculiar in the location of some particular fort that makes it important for us to hold it for the general defense of the whole country, its commerce and interests, instead of being useful only for the defense of a particular city or locality. It is true that Forts Taylor and Jefferson, at Key West and Tortugas, are so situated as to be essentially national, and therefore important to us without reference to our relations with the seceded States. Not so with Moultrie, Johnson, Castle Pinckney, and Sumter, in Charleston Harbor; not so with Pulaski, on the Savannah River; not so with Morgan and other forts in Alabama; not so with those other forts that were intended to guard the entrance of a particular harbor for local defense. . . . We can not deny that there is a Southern Confederacy, de facto, in existence, with its capital at Montgomery. We may regret it. I regret it most profoundly; but I can not deny the truth of the fact, painful and mortifying as it is. . . . I proclaim boldly the policy of those with whom I act. We are for peace. Douglas, in urging the maintenance of peace as a motive for the evacuation of the forts, was no doubt aware of the full force of his words. He knew that their continued occupation was virtually a declaration of war. The general-in-chief of the United States Army, also, it is well known, urgently advised the evacuation of the forts. But the most striking protest against the coercive measures finally adopted was that of Major Anderson himself. The letter in which his views were expressed has been carefully suppressed in the partisan narratives of that period and well-nigh lost sight of, although it does the highest honor to his patriotism and integrity. It was written on the same day on which the announcement was made to Governor Pickens of the purpose of the United States government to send supplies to the fort, and is worthy of reproduction here:1
letter of Major Anderson, United States army, protesting against Fox's plan for relieving Fort Sumter.This frank and manly letter, although written with the reserve necessarily belonging to a communication from an officer to his military superiors, expressing dissatisfaction with orders, fully vindicates Major Anderson from all suspicion of complicity or sympathy with the bad faith of the government which he was serving. It accords entirely with the sentiments expressed in his private letter to me, already mentioned as lost or stolen, and exhibits him in the attitude of faithful performance of a duty inconsistent with his domestic ties and repugnant to his patriotism. The “relief squadron,” as with unconscious irony it was termed, was already under way for Charleston, consisting, according to their own statement, of eight vessels, carrying twenty-six guns and about fourteen hundred men, including the troops sent for reenforcement of the garrison. These facts became known to the Confederate government, and it was obvious that no time was to be lost in preparing for, and if possible anticipating the impending assault. The character of the instructions given General Beauregard in this emergency may be inferred from the ensuing correspondence, which is here reproduced from contemporary publications:
|General G. T. Beauregard|
It is essential to a right understanding of the last two letters to give more than a superficial attention to that of Major Anderson, bearing in mind certain important facts not referred to in the correspondence. Major Anderson had been requested to state the time at which he would evacuate the fort, if unmolested, agreeing in the meantime not to use his guns against the city and the troops defending it unless Fort Sumter should be first attacked by them. On these conditions General Beauregard offered to refrain from opening fire upon him. In his reply Major Anderson promises to evacuate the fort on April 15th, provided he should not, before that time, receive “controlling instructions” or “additional supplies” from his government. He furthermore offers to pledge himself not to open fire upon the Confederates, unless in the meantime compelled to do so by some hostile act against the fort or the flag of his government. Inasmuch as it was known to the Confederate commander that the  “controlling instructions” were already issued, and that the “additional supplies” were momentarily expected; inasmuch, also, as any attempt to introduce the supplies would compel the opening of fire upon the vessels bearing them under the flag of the United States—thereby releasing Major Anderson from his pledge—it is evident that his conditions could not be accepted. It would have been merely, after the avowal of a hostile determination by the government of the United States, to await an inevitable conflict with the guns of Fort Sumter and the naval forces of the United States in combination; with no possible hope of averting it, unless in the improbable event of a delay of the expected fleet for nearly four days longer. (In point of fact, it arrived off the harbor on the same day, but was hindered by a gale of wind from entering it.) There was obviously no other course to be pursued than that announced in the answer given by General Beauregard. It should not be forgotten that during the early occupation of Fort Sumter by a garrison the attitude of which was at least offensive, no restriction had been put upon their privilege of purchasing in Charleston fresh provisions, or any delicacies or comforts not directly tending to the supply of the means needful to hold the fort for an indefinite time.