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Agreement between the United States Government and South Carolina as to ‘preserving the status’ of the Forts at Charleston.

Letter from General E. Capers and statement of ex-governor Orr, of South Carolina.

The following statement was made to me by Governor James L. Orr at the request of General T. W. Crawford, U. S. A.

Governor Orr dictated the statement and I wrote it down.

General Crawford had written to ask me if I could procure from Governor Orr any information respecting the reputed agreement between the United States Government and the State of South Carolina in reference to a fixed status of the forts in Charleston harbor at the time of the State's secession.

Governor Orr was at the time of making the statement Judge of the Circuit Court and holding court in Greenville, S. C.

Statement of James L. Orr.

I retired from Congress on the 4th of March, 1859, hence was not present as a member when the arrangement was made between Mr. Buchanan and the South Carolina delegation with reference to the forts in Charleston harbor, early in December, 1860.

Immediately after the passage of the ordinance of secession by the South Carolina Convention that body elected Messrs. Barnwell, Adams and Orr commissioners to go to Washington to arrange for a peaceable secession of the State, and for an arrangement by which the State should pay her proportion of the public debt of the United States and receive likewise her proportion of all the public property.

Before the Commission left Charleston, where the Convention was in session, Mr. Miles, one of the delegates, and also a member of Congress, announced to the Convention the arrangement which had been made between Mr. Buchanan and the delegation, securing a fixed military status in the harbor. He stated and produced a memorandum to the effect, that the authorities of South Carolina should make no demonstration upon the forts or troops of the United States until notice should be given the President; and he, on his part, stipulated that the garrison in Charleston harbor should not be reinforced, or the status of the situation changed without notice to the authorities of South Carolina.

The Commissioners went on to Washington and opened negotiations with the President. [61]

A day or two after they reached there they received a telegram (the first that reached the city) that Major Anderson had in the night-time evacuated Fort Moultrie, and occupied Fort Sumter.

This movement was in direct violation of the stipulations before referred to. A few moments afterwards General Floyd, the Secretary of War, called to pay his respects to the Commissioners.

He was handed immediately the telegram, and when he read it he expressed the utmost surprise and indignation at the movement of Major Anderson.

He said that it was entirely voluntary on the part of Major Ander son; that he had received no orders from him to take any such step; that he was aware of the arrangement made between the President and the South Carolina delegation with reference to the status of the troops and forts in Charleston harbor; that it was a violation of that arrangement; and that he would see the President immediately and order Major Anderson to return with his forces to Fort Moultrie.

He left the commissioners, saying that he would see the President immediately. The commissioners acertained that day, or the next, that the President hesitated about ordering Anderson to reoccupy Moultrie, and they proposed to fix an hour to call upon the President with reference to this matter. He informed them that he could not receive them in their official capacity, but would give them an audience at the hour designated as leading and distinguished citizens of South Carolina.

The commissioners called at the hour appointed, and had a long and earnest interview with the President, reaching nearly two hours in length. Mr. Barnwell was the chairman of the commission. He brought to the attention of the President the arrangement which had been made early in December between his Excellency and the South Carolina delegation; that it had been observed in good faith by the people of South Carolina, who could at any time after the arrangement was made, up to the night when Major Anderson removed to Sumter, have occupied Fort Sumter, and captured Moultrie with all of its command; that the removal of Major Anderson violated that agreement on the part of the Goverment of the United States; and that the faith of the President and Government had been thereby forfeited.

The President made various excuses why he should be allowed time to decide the question, whether Anderson should be ordered back to Moultrie and the former status restored. Mr. Barnwell pressed him with great zeal and earnestness to issue the order at once. Mr. [62] Buchanan still hesitated, and Mr. Barnwell said to him at least three times during the interview: ‘But, Mr. President, your personal honor is involved in this matter; the faith you pledged has been violated, and your personal honor requires you to issue the order.’ Mr. Barnwell pressed him so hard upon this point, that the President said: ‘You must give me time to consider; this is a grave question.’

Mr. Barnwell repeated to him for the third time: ‘But, Mr. President, your personal honor is involved in this arrangement.’ Whereupon, Mr. Buchanan, with great earnestness, said: ‘Mr. Barnwell, you are pressing me too importunately—you don't give me time to consider—you don't give me time to say my prayers; I always say my prayers when required to act upon any great state affair.’

The interview terminated without getting an order to restore the status of the troops in Charleston harbor.

The commissioners the next day addressed him a communication more plain than diplomatic, in which they reviewed very fully his pledges not to allow any change in the status of the forts in Charleston harbor. After reading their communication, he returned it to them with an endorsement: The communication was not respectful; that he would not receive it

General Floyd declared when he first heard of Anderson's removal that if the President did not order him back to Moultrie that he would resign his position as Secretary of War, and he did resign before the commission left Washington.

The circumstances which transpired during the eventful week that the commission was in Washington satisfied us that General Floyd never gave Major Anderson any orders to remove, and that if such orders were communicated to him in Floyd's name, or from the War Department, such orders were issued clandestinely and without General Floyd's knowledge.

There was no formal vote passed in the Convention with reference to the course that was to be pursued by the State towards the forts in Charleston harbor as to occupying them. After the communication already referred to, by Mr. Miles to the Convention, it was tacitly endorsed; many members of the Convention believed that the commissioners to Washington would be able to negotiate amicable terms of separation between South Carolina and the United States. It was supposed that such negotiations might occupy several weeks, and not until the commissioners reported a failure in the purposes of the mission did the Governor or any member of the Convention contemplate [63] armed or other violence against the troops or forts of the United States in Charleston harbor.

Mr. Buchanan, in his last communication to the commissioners, states that he never contemplated for a single moment issuing an order requiring Anderson to return to Fort Moultrie. During the two or three days when that matter was under consideration and discussion several of the Southern Senators waited upon the President and urged him to issue the order; and without perhaps making any positive pledge that he would do so, his conversation and promises left the impression upon the minds of many of them that the order would be issued.

Messrs. Hunter, of Virginia, Toombs, of Georgia, Mallory and Yulee, Davis, Slidell and Benjamin are among those who conferred with the President, and most of them after such conference were left with the impression that Anderson would be ordered back by the President.

Mansion House, Greenville, S. C., September 19, 1881
The above is an accurate copy of the original statement as I took it down when given to me by Governor Orr. I sent a copy to General T. W. Crawford, and have his letter acknowledging its receipt.

Ellison Capers. Christ Church Rectory, Greenville, November 20, 1883.

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