previous next

Doc. 11.-the relief of Fort Sumter.

Captain Fox's letter.

in the Senate of the United States, March 3, 1865.
Resolved, That the letter to the Secretary of the Navy, from the Assistant Secretary, should not have been communicated in answer to the Senate resolution of February third, 1865, and that the Secretary of the Senate be directed to return the same to the Secretary of the Navy.


J. W. Forney, Secretary.

Navy Department, February 24, 1865.
Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy:
sir: As part of your reply to the resolution of the Senate, of February third, 1865, in response to the allegations of the Hon. John P. Hale against me, in advocating said resolution, I beg leave to submit the following statements:

As respects the charge that I gave instructions to inquire into the conduct or business transactions of any member of either House of Congress, I have to say, that there is not the slightest foundation for it.

In obedience to your orders, to cause to be investigated the alleged fraudulent transactions of all persons amenable to this department, the services of Colonel H. S. Olcott were temporarily obtained. This officer is attached to the War Department, is familiar with such investigations, and enjoys in an eminent degree the confidence of that department. As you are aware, I forwarded to him all information, statements, letters, and papers, which inculpated any persons connected with the naval service.

With these in his possession, he was left to pursue his inquiries simultaneously with those of the War Department, reporting to this department when sworn affidavits called for the arrest of any parties alleged to be guilty of crime. I had nothing to do with proposing or fixing the bail of Franklin W. Smith; I never heard any sum greater than twenty thousand dollars spoken of in the department, excepting by his friends, and they proposed three or four millions. The statement that I had suggested five hundred thousand dollars for him, is untrue.

The duties imposed upon me, I have endeavored to fulfil to your satisfaction, and the long-continued investigations and inquiries to which the department has been subjected, by very able and experienced men, has resulted in the complete vindication of every member thereof, associated with you.

The allegation, that I had said that the Navy Department organized courts to convict, is not true. I said something like that, of the recent law passed by Congress, requiring contractors to be tried by courts-martial; I meant, however, only to contrast the practical operation of the system of courts-martial with that of the civil courts which previously prevailed. Under one, the sympathy of the triers was more strongly with the Government than under the other, and hence more convictions would result.

It is proper to add, that the change of law which introduced the convicting system, was not made by Congress on the suggestion of any one connected with the Navy Department. It was drawn up by the solicitor of the War Department, and was adopted with great unanimity by Congress, on the report of the Military Committee.

I resigned my commission as lieutenant in the navy, after a service of eighteen years and seven months, thirteen years and eight months of which was sea-service; this is more than two admirals, commanding squadrons in the present war, have seen.

The expedition, organized for the purpose of taking supplies to Major Anderson's starving garrison in Fort Sumter, in 1861, has been referred to, in the hope of throwing ridicule upon it and upon me. It is incomprehensible how the attempt to relieve that heroic band, on any plan, could provoke a sneer, nor does the shaft strike me. It falls upon the President, under whose sanction I acted; it was a patriotic attempt by him to sustain the national flag, and as such was responded to by the heart of the nation. Nothing has more endeared him to the people than his conduct on that occasion; my part in it was very humble, but as every thing connected with the subject is of interest and importance, I subjoin a brief narrative of facts falling within my knowledge, to serve as materials for the vindication of the President.

Memorandum of facts concerning the attempt to send supplies to Fort Sumter in 1861.

January fifth, 1861, whilst in New-York, I heard that a steamer, belonging to M. O. Roberts was about to leave, to carry supplies to the garrison of Fort Sumter. When an officer in the navy, I had commanded one of the United States mail steamers belonging to the line of which Mr. Roberts was president, and therefore I believed it possible for me to obtain command of the vessel designated to take supplies and troops to that Fort. Upon visiting the office of the company, in West street, I found that Captain McGowan had been appointed to the command, and that the steamer was ready for sea. After this steamer, named the Star of the West, had returned from her voyage, having been turned back by the rebel batteries of Morris Island on the ninth of January, I called upon my friend, George W. Blunt, Esq., of New-York, and expressed to him my views as to the possibility of relieving the garrison, and the dishonor which would be justly merited by the Government, [209] unless immediate measures were taken to fulfil this sacred duty.

Mr. Blunt asked me to explain my plan to him, which I did, as follows:

From the outer edge of the Charleston bar, in a straight line to Sumter, through the Swash Channel, the distance is four miles, with no shoal spots having less than nine feet at highwater. The batteries on Morris and Sullivan's Islands are about two thousand six hundred yards apart, and between these, troops and supplies must pass. I proposed to anchor three small men-of-war off the entrance to the Swash Channel, as a safe base of operations against any naval attack from the enemy.

The soldiers and provisions to be carried to the Charleston bar in the Collins steamer Baltic; all the provisions and munitions to be put up in portable packages, easily handled by one man. The Baltic to carry three hundred extra sailors, and a sufficient number of armed launches, to land all the troops at Fort Sumter in one night.

Three steam-tugs, of not more than six feet draft of water, such as are employed for towing purposes, were to form part of the expedition, to be used for carrying in the troops and provisions, in case the weather should be too rough for boats.

With the exception of the men-of-war and tugs, the whole expedition was to be complete on board the steamer Baltic, and its success depended upon the possibility of running past batteries at night, which were distant from the centre of the channel one thousand three hundred yards. I depended upon the barbette guns of Sumter to keep the channel between Morris and Sullivan Islands clear of rebel vessels at the time of entering.

Mr. Blunt and myself discussed the plan over a chart, and he communicated it to Charles H. Marshall and Russell Sturges, and they all approved it, and Mr. Marshall agreed to furnish and provision the vessels without exciting suspicion.

February fourth, Mr. Blunt came to my hotel with a telegram from Lieutenant-General Scott, requesting my attendance at Washington. I left the next day, and breakfasted with the General the sixth instant. At eleven A. M., I met at his office, by arrangement, Lieutenant Hall, who had been sent from Sumter by Major Anderson. In the General's presence, we discussed the question of relieving Fort Sumter. Lieutenant Hall's plan was to go in with a steamer, protected by a vessel on each side loaded with hay. I objected to it for the following reasons: first, a steamer could not carry vessels lashed alongside in rough water; and second, in running up the channel, she would be bows on to Fort Moultrie, and presenting a large fixed mark without protection ahead, would certainly be disabled.

Lieutenant-General Scott approved my plan, and, on the seventh of February, introduced me to Mr. Holt, the Secretary of War, to whom I explained the project, and offered my services to conduct the party to the Fort. Mr. Holt agreed to present the matter to President Buchanan that evening.

The next day, the eighth of February, news was received of the election of Jefferson Davis by the Montgomery Convention. I called upon General Scott, and he intimated to me that probably no effort would be made to relieve Fort Sumter. He seemed much disappointed and astonished; I therefore returned to New-York on the ninth of February.

On the twelfth of March, I received a telegram from Postmaster-General Blair, to come to Washington, and I arrived there on the thirteenth. Mr. Blair having been acquainted with the proposition I presented to General Scott under Mr. Buchanan's administration, sent for me to tender the same to Mr. Lincoln, informing me that Lieutenant-General Scott had advised the President that the Fort could not be relieved, and must be given up. Mr. Blair took me at once to the White House, and I explained the plan to the President; thence we adjourned to Lieutenant-General Scott's office, where a renewed discussion of the subject took place.

The General informed the President that my plan was practicable in February, but that the increased number of batteries erected at the mouth of the harbor since that time, rendered it impossible in March.

Finding there was great opposition to any attempt at relieving Fort Sumter, and that Mr. Blair alone sustained the President in his policy of refusing to yield, I judged that my arguments in favor of the practicability of sending in supplies would be strengthened by a visit to Charleston and the Fort.

The President readily agreed to my visit, if the Secretary of War and General Scott raised no objections. Both of these gentlemen consenting, I left Washington on the nineteenth of March, and passing through Richmond and Wilmington, reached Charleston the twenty-first. I travelled the latter part of the way with Mr. Holmes, of California, formerly a member of Congress from South-Carolina, in the days of Calhoun. At Florence Station, we met Mr. Keitt, a member of Congress from South-Carolina when that State attempted to secede. He welcomed Mr. Holmes very warmly, and inquired, with great anxiety, whether Sumter was to be given up. Mr. Holmes said, “Yes, I know it;” which seemed to give Mr. Keitt much satisfaction, but he insisted upon knowing his authority. Mr. Holmes said I have the highest authority for what I say; and upon Mr. Keitt again asking who, he leaned toward him, and at that moment the engine-whistle gave a screech for starting, so that the conversation closed, and I lost the name.

At a station near Charleston, Mr. Huger, formerly Postmaster under President Buchanan, got into the cars, and had an interview with Mr. Holmes, during which the same assurances were repeated, relative to the certainty of the evacuation of Fort Sumter. Mr. Huger seemed [210] much depressed with the condition of affairs. At Charleston, I sought an interview with Captain Hartstein, formerly of the United States Navy, and to him I stated my desire to visit Major Anderson; not finding General Beauregard, he introduced me to Governor Pickens, to whom I showed the order under which I acted. After considerable delay, he directed Captain Hartstein to take me to Fort Sumter, and whilst the boat was preparing, I had an interview with General Beauregard. We reached Fort Sumter after dark, and remained about two hours.

Major Anderson seemed to think it was too late to relieve the Fort by any other means than by landing an army on Morris Island. He agreed with General Scott that an entrance from the sea was impossible; but as we looked out upon the water from the parapet, it seemed very feasible, more especially as we heard the oars of a boat near the Fort, which the sentry hailed, but we could not see her through the darkness until she almost touched the landing.

I found the garrison getting short of supplies, and it was agreed that I might report that the fifteenth of April, at noon, would be the period beyond which he could not hold the Fort unless supplies were furnished.

I made no arrangements with Major Anderson for reenforcing or supplying the Fort, nor did I inform him of my plan.

Upon my return, I had the honor to be called frequently before the President, and in the presence of different members of his cabinet, to answer the objections presented by Lieutenant-General Scott and the military authorities; but as my project simply involved passing batteries, with steamers or boats, at night, at right-angles to their line of fire, and one thousand three hundred yards distant, a feat of which the Crimean war furnished many safe examples, I maintained the proposition, and suggested that it was a naval plan, and should be decided by naval officers.

The President asked me if there was any naval officer of high authority in Washington who would sustain me, and if so, to bring him to the White House. I knew that Commodore Stringham was at that time filling the position of detailing officer in the Navy Department, and I took him to the President, where, in the presence of Lieutenant-General Scott, he not only confirmed my views, but said that he had that morning held a conversation with Commodore Stewart, who declared that Fort Sumter could easily be reinforced and provisioned with boats at night.

As valuable time was being lost by discussions, which form no part of this narrative, I represented that so important an expedition required time for its preparation, and that I ought to be allowed to take the preparatory steps, if there was any possibility of sending it out.

On the thirtieth of March, the President sent me to New-York with verbal instructions to prepare for the voyage, but to make no binding engagements.

After consultation with George W. Blunt, Esq., who throughout had been of great assistance to me with his advice and active cooperation, I met, by previous arrangement, Messrs. William H. Aspinwall and Charles H. Marshall, for the purpose of making with them preliminary arrangements for the voyage.

Mr. Marshall declined to aid me, upon the ground that the attempt to relieve Fort Sumter would kill the proposed loan and bring on civil war, and that the people had made up their minds to abandon Sumter, and make the stand upon Fort Pickens.

On the second of April, I had not received the written authority which I expected from the Government, therefore I returned to Washington.

Delays, which belong to the secret history of this period, prevented a decision until the afternoon of the fourth of April, when the President sent for me, and said that he had decided to let the expedition go, and that a messenger from himself would be sent to the authorities of Charleston, before I could possibly get there, to notify them that no troops would be thrown into Sumter if provisions were allowed peacefully to be sent to the garrison. I mentioned to the President that, by the time I should arrive at New-York, I would have but nine days in which to charter and provision the vessels, and reach the destined point, six hundred and thirty-two miles distant. He answered: I should best fulfil my duty to my country to make the attempt. The Secretary of the Navy had in commission, in the Atlantic waters of the United States, only the Powhatan, the Pocahontas, and Pawnee; all these he placed at my disposal, as well as the revenue steamer Harriet Lane, and directed me to give all the necessary orders. The Powhatan, which had recently returned and gone out of commission, was added to the force I designated, to enable me to have her fine boats and crew for landing the supplies.

I suggested to the Secretary of the Navy to place Commodore Stringham in command of the naval force, but upon consulting with that distinguished officer, he considered it to be too late to be successful, and likely to ruin the reputation of the officer who undertook it then.

I arrived at New-York on the fifth of April, engaged the steamer Baltic of Mr. Aspinwall, who used every possible exertion to get her ready for sea, and delivered confidential orders, embracing all my wants, to Colonel H. L. Scott, aid to the General in Chief, and Colonel D. D. Tompkins, Quartermaster.

Colonel Scott ridiculed the idea of Government relieving Fort Sumter, and by his indifference and delay, half a day of precious time was lost. The recruits that he finally furnished to me were totally unfit to be thrown into a fort likely to be attacked by the rebels.

I placed the hiring of three tugs in the hands of Russell Sturges, who labored very energetically, but he found great difficulty in obtaining from the owners, tugs to go to sea. Finally, three were promised at exorbitant rates, namely, [211] the Yankee, which I fitted to throw hot water, the Uncle Ben, and the Freeborn. The question of supplies introduced me to Major Eaton, of the Commissary Department, who thanked God that an attempt was to be made to relieve Major Anderson's command, and from the energetic and enthusiastic cooperation of this officer, the expedition was immediately provisioned for all contingencies.

The frigate Powhatan, Captain Mercer, sailed on the sixth of April, 1861; the Pawnee, Commander Rowan, on the ninth; the Pocahontas, Captain Gillis, on the tenth; the Harriet Lane, Captain Faunce, on the eighth; the tug Uncle Ben on the seventh; the tug Yankee on the eighth; and the Baltic, Captain Fletcher, dropped down to Sandy Hook on the evening of the eighth, and went to sea at eight A. M. of the ninth.

The officers of the army who accompanied the military force were, First Lieutenant Edward Me K. Hudson, First Lieutenant Robert O. Tyler, and First Lieutenant C. W. Thomas.

Soon after leaving Sandy Hook, a heavy gale of wind set in, which continued during the whole passage. At three A. M. of the twelfth, we reached the rendezvous off Charleston, and communicated with the Harriet Lane, the only vessel which had arrived. At six A. M., the Pawnee was seen standing in; I boarded her, and informed her commander of my orders to offer to send in provisions, and asked him to stand in to the bar with me. He replied that his orders required him to remain ten miles east of the light, and await the Powhatan, and that he was not going in there to inaugurate civil war. I then stood in toward the bar, followed by the Harriet Lane, Captain Faunce, who cheerfully accompanied me.

As we neared the land, heavy guns were heard, and the smoke and shells from the batteries, which had just opened fire upon Sumter, were distinctly visible.

I immediately stood out to inform Captain Rowan, of the Pawnee, but met him coming in. He hailed me, and asked for a pilot, declaring his intention of standing into the harbor, and sharing the fate of his brethren of the army. I went on board and informed him that I would answer for it; that the Government did not expect any such gallant sacrifice, having settled maturely upon the policy indicated in the instructions to Captain Mercer and myself. No other naval vessels arrived during this day; but the steamer Nashville, from New-York, and a number of merchant-vessels, reached the bar, and awaited the result of the bombardment, giving indications to those inside of a large naval fleet off the harbor. The weather continued very bad, with a heavy sea; neither the Pawnee nor Harriet Lane had boats or men to carry in supplies; feeling sure that the Powhatan would arrive during the night, as she had sailed from New-York two days before us, I stood out to the appointed rendezvous, and made signals all night. The morning of the thirteenth was thick and foggy, with a very heavy ground-swell. The Baltic, feeling her way in, ran ashore on Rattlesnake Shoal, but soon got off without damage. On account of the very heavy swell, she was obliged to anchor in deep water, several miles outside of the Pawnee and Harriet Lane.

Lieutenant Robert O. Tyler, an officer of very great zeal and fidelity, though suffering from sea-sickness, as were most of the recruits, organized a boat's crew, and exercised them, notwithstanding the heavy sea,, for the purpose of having at least one boat, in the absence of the Powhatan's, to reach Fort Sumter. At eight A. M., I took this boat, and in company with Lieutenant Hudson, pulled in to the Pawnee. As we approached that vessel, a great volume of black smoke issued from Fort Sumter, through which the flash of Major Anderson's guns still replied to the rebel fire. The quarters of the Fort were on fire, and most of our military and navy officers believed the smoke to proceed from an attempt to smoke out the garrison with fire-rafts.

As it was the opinion of the officers that no boats with any load in them could have reached Sumter in this heavy sea, and no tug-boats had arrived, it was proposed to capture a schooner near us, loaded with ice, which was done, and preparations at once commenced to fit her out, and load her for entering the harbor the following night. I now learned, for the first time, that Captain Rowan had received a note from Captain Mercer, of the Powhatan, dated at New-York, the sixth, the day he sailed, stating that the Powhatan was detached, by order of superior authority, from the duty to which she was assigned off Charleston, and had sailed for another destination. I left New-York two days afterward without any intimation of this change.

At two P. M., the Pocahontas arrived, and at half-past 2 the flag of Sumter was shot away, and not again raised.

A flag of truce was sent in by Captain Gillis, and arrangements made to place Major Anderson and his command on board the Baltic to return North.

The Fort was evacuated Sunday, the fourteenth of April. Monday, the fifteenth, the steamer Isabel took the garrison outside to the steamer Baltic, which left that evening direct for New-York, where she arrived the forenoon of the eighteenth instant.

My plan for supplying Fort Sumter required three hundred sailors, a full supply of armed launches, and three tugs.

The Powhatan carried the sailors and launches, and when this vessel was about to leave, in obedience to the orders of the Secretary of the Navy, two officers, Lieutenant D. D. Porter, United States Navy, and Captain M. C. Meigs, United States Engineers, presented themselves on board with an order from the President of the United States authorizing the former to take any vessel whatever in commission and proceed immediately to the Gulf of Mexico. This order did not pass through the Navy Department, and was unknown to the Secretary of the Navy, and when signed [212] by the President, he was not conscious that his signature would deprive me of the means to accomplish an object which he held to be of vital importance.

In a letter from him, which is annexed, he hastened to affirm that “the attempt” to provision Fort Sumter had advanced the cause of the country.

The tug Freeborn was not permitted to leave New-York. The tug Uncle Ben was driven into Wilmington by the violence of the gale, and subsequently captured by the rebels. The tug Yankee reached Charleston bar a few hours after the Baltic had left with Major Anderson's command on board.

The communications between New-York and Washington having been severed, I applied to Mr. Aspinwall to obtain for me a small steamer with arms and ammunition to enable me to reach the Chesapeake Bay, where I judged that armed steamers were very essential. This gentleman applied to Mr. William B. Astor, who very generously gave him a check for five thousand dollars. With this he procured the tug Yankee, and persuaded Commodore Breese, commandant of the New-York Navy-Yard, to arm and fit her out; and having received from that officer an appointment as Acting Lieutenant in the Navy, I left on the twenty-sixth for Hampton Roads, where I reported to Commodore Pendergrast, of the Cumberland.

The services of the Yankee not being required at this point, I proceeded to Annapolis, and offered my vessel to General Butler, who was about opening communications with Washington. The General gratefully received the steamer, and sent me through to the capital to report to the President, and immediately afterward I received an appointment in the Navy Department.

Annexed are copies of orders and letters relating to the narrative which I have submitted. Very respectfully yours,

G. V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

February 8, 1861.
Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott, United States Army:
sir: The proposition which I had the honor to submit to you fully, in person, is herewith presented in writing. Lieutenant Hall and myself have had several free conferences, and if he is permitted by the South-Carolina authorities to renter Fort Sumter, Major Anderson will comprehend the plan for his relief. I consider myself very fortunate in having proposed a project which meets the approval of the General-in-Chief, and I ask no reward but the entire conduct of the part, exclusive of the armed vessels. The commander of these should be ordered to cooperate with me by affording protection and destroying their naval preparations near the bar, leaving to me, as the author of the plan, the actual operations of relief.

I suggest that the Pawnee be immediately sent to the Delaware breakwater to await orders, the Harriet Lane to be ready for sea, and some arrangement entered into by which the requisite steamer and tugs should be engaged, at least so far as not to excite suspicion. I should prefer one of the Collins steamers. They are now being prepared for sea, and are of such a size and power as to be able fearlessly to run down any vessels which might attempt to capture us outside by coup de main. I could quietly engage one and have her ready to start on twenty-four hours notice, without exciting suspicion. I shall leave for New-York at three P. M., and any communications previous will find me at Judge Blair's. If the Pawnee's pivot-gun is landed, it should certainly be remounted.

Very respectfully, etc.,

Headquarters of the army, Washington, March 19, 1861.
dear sir: In accordance with the request contained in a note from the Secretary of War to me, of which I annex a copy, I request that you will have the goodness to proceed to Charleston, S. C., and obtain permission, “if necessary,” to visit Fort Sumter, in order to enable you to comply with the wish expressed in the Secretary's note. Please, on your return, to report accordingly.

I remain yours, etc.,

Executive Mansion, Washington, April 1, 1861.
Lieutenant D. D. Porter will take command of the steamer Powhatan, or any other United States steamer ready for sea which he may deem most fit for the service to which he has been assigned by confidential instructions of this date.

All officers are commanded to afford him all such facilities as he may deem necessary for getting to sea as soon as possible.

He will select the officers to accompany him.

Executive Mansion, April 1, 1861.
Lieutenant D. D. Porter, United States Navy:
sir: You will proceed to New-York, and with the least possible delay, assuming command of any naval steamer available, proceed to Pensacola harbor, and at any cost or risk prevent any expedition from the main land reaching Fort Pickens or Santa Rosa Island.

You will exhibit this order to any naval officer at Pensacola, if you deem it necessary, after you have established yourself within the harbor, and will request cooperation by the entrance of at least one other steamer.

This order, its object, and your destination will be communicated to no person whatever until you reach the harbor of Pensacola.

Washington, Executive Mansion, April 1, 1861.
all officers of the army and navy to whom this order may be exhibited will aid by every means in their power the expedition under the [213] command of Colonel Harvey Brown, supplying him with men and material, and cooperating with him as he may desire.

Abraham Lincoln. A true copy. M. C. Meigs, Captain of Engineers, Chief Engineer of said Expedition.


Washington City, April 2, 1861.
sir: Circumstances render it necessary to place in command of your ship (and for a special purpose) an officer who is fully informed and instructed in relation to the wishes of the Government, and you will therefore consider yourself detached. But in taking this step, the Government does not in the least reflect upon your efficiency or patriotism; on the contrary, have the fullest confidence in your ability to perform any duty required of you. Hoping soon to be able to give you a better command than the one you now enjoy, and trusting that you will have full confidence in the disposition of the Government toward you,

I remain, etc.,

Abraham Lincoln. Captain S. Mercer, United States Navy. A true copy. M. C. Meigs, Captain of Engineers, Chief Engineer of Expedition of Colonel Brown.

War Department, Adjutant-General's office, Wednesday, April 4, 1861.
sir: By direction of the War Department, you will charter such vessels as Captain G. V. Fox, the bearer of this, may designate, for such times and with such supplies as he may indicate.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

L. Thomas, Adjutant-General. Colonel D. D. Tompkins, Assistant Quartermaster-General, New-York, N. Y.


Headquarters of the army, Washington, April 4, 1861.
sir: This letter will be handed to you by Captain G. V. Fox, ex-officer of the navy, and a gentleman of high standing, as well as possessed of extraordinary nautical ability. He is charged by high authority here with the command of an expedition (under cover of certain ships of war) whose object is to reinforce Fort Sumter. To embark with Captain Fox, you will cause a detachment of recruits, say about two hundred, to be immediately organized at Fort Columbus, with a competent number of officers, army ammunition, and subsistence; a large surplus of the latter, indeed, as great as the vessels of the expedition will take, with other necessaries, will be needed for the augmented garrison of Fort Sumter. The subsistence and other supplies should be assorted like those which were provided by you and Captain Ward, of the navy, for a former expedition.

Consult Captain Fox and Major Eaton on the subject, and give all necessary orders, in my name, to fit out the expedition, except that the hiring the vessels will be left to others.

Some fuel must be shipped. Oil, artillery implements, fuses, cordage, slow match, mechanical levers, and guns, etc., etc., should also be put on board.

Consult also, if necessary, (confidentially,) Colonel Tompkins and Major Thornton.

Respectfully yours,

War Department, Washington, April 4, 1861.
sir: It having been decided to succor Fort Sumter, you have been selected for this important duty. Accordingly, you will take charge of the transports in New-York having the troops and supplies on board to the entrance of Charleston harbor, and endeavor, in the first instance, to deliver the subsistence. If you are opposed in this, you are directed to report the fact to the senior naval officer off the harbor, who will be instructed by the Secretary of the Navy to use his entire force to open a passage, when you will, if possible, effect an entrance and place both the troops and supplies in Fort Sumter.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Navy Department, April 5, 1861.
Captain Samuel Mercer, Commanding United States Steamer Powhatan, New-York:
the United States steamers Powhatan, Pawnee, Pocahontas, and Harriet Lane will compose a naval force under your command, to be sent to the vicinity of Charleston, S. C., for the purpose of aiding in carrying out the objects of an expedition of which the War Department has charge.

The primary object of the expedition is to provision Fort Sumter, for which purpose the War Department will furnish the necessary transports. Should the authorities of Charleston permit the Fort to be supplied, no further particular service will be required of the force under your command; and after being satisfied that supplies have been received at the Fort, the Powhatan, Pocahontas, and Harriet Lane will return to New-York, and the Pawnee to Washington.

Should the authorities at Charleston, however, refuse to permit, or attempt to prevent the vessel or vessels having supplies on board from entering the harbor, or from peaceably proceeding to Fort Sumter, you will protect the transports or boats of the expedition in the object of their mission, disposing of your force in such manner as to open the way for their ingress, and afford, so far as practicable, security to the men and boats, and repelling by force, if necessary, all obstructions toward provisioning the Fort and reenforcing it; for in case of a resistance to the peaceable primary object of the expedition, a reinforcement of the garrison will also be attempted. These purposes will be under the supervision of the War Department, which has charge of the expedition. The expedition has been intrusted to Captain G. V. Fox, with whom you will put yourself in communication and cooperate with him to accomplish and carry into effect its object. [214]

You will leave New-York with the Powhatan in time to be off Charleston bar, ten miles distant from and due east of the lighthouse, on the morning of the eleventh instant, there to await the arrival of the transport or transports with troops and stores. The Pawnee and Pocahontas will be ordered to join you there at the time mentioned, and also the Harriet Lane, which latter vessel has been placed under the control of this department for this service.

On the termination of the expedition, whether it be peaceable or otherwise, the several vessels under your command will return to the respective ports, as above directed, unless some unforeseen circumstance should prevent.

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.

Navy Department, April 5, 1861.
Commander J. P. Gillis, Commanding United States Steamer Pocahontas, Norfolk, Va.:
sir: You will proceed to sea with the Pocahontas, and on the morning of the eleventh instant, appear off Charleston bar, ten miles distant from and due east of the lighthouse, where you will report to Captain Samuel Mercer, of the Powhatan, for special service. Should he not be there, you will await his arrival.

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.

Navy Department, April 5, 1861.
Commander S. C. Rowan, Commanding United States Steamer Pawnee, Norfolk, Va:
sir: After the Pawnee shall have been provisioned at Norfolk, you will proceed with her to sea, and on the morning of the eleventh instant, appear off Charleston bar, ten miles distant from and due east of the lighthouse, where you will report to Captain Samuel Mercer, of the Powhatan, for special service. Should he not be there, you will await his arrival.

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.

Navy Department, April 5, 1861.
Captain Faunce, Commander of United States Revenue Steamer Harriet Lane, New-York:
sir: The revenue steamer Harriet Lane having been temporarily placed under the orders of this department, you will proceed with her from New-York in time to appear off Charleston bar, ten miles distant from and due east of the lighthouse, on the morning of the eleventh instant, where you will report to Captain Samuel Mercer, of the Powhatan, for special service. Should he not be there, you will await his arrival.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.

Navy Department, April 5, 1861.
Captain John Faunce, Commander of Steamer Harriet Lane:
sir: The Harriet Lane, under your command, having been detached from the collection-district of New-York, and assigned to duty under the Navy Department, you are hereby instructed to proceed to within ten miles due east from and off Charleston lighthouse, where you will report to Captain Mercer, of the Powhatan, for duty, on the morning of the eleventh instant; and should he not be there, you will wait a reasonable time for his arrival.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.

my dear sir: I sincerely regret that the failure of the late attempt to provision Fort Sumter should be the source of any annoyance to you.

The practicability of your plan was not, in fact, brought to a test.

By reason of a gale well known in advance to be possible, and not improbable, the tugs, an essential part of the plan, never reached the ground, while, by an accident, for which you were in no wise responsible, and possibly I, to some extent, was, you were deprived of a war vessel, with her men, which you deemed of great importance to the enterprise.

I most cheerfully and truly declare that the failure of the undertaking has not lowered you a particle, while the qualities you developed in the effort have greatly heightened you in my estimation.

For a daring and dangerous enterprise of a similar character, you would, to-day, be the man, of all my acquaintances, whom I would select. 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.

Very truly your friend,


Washington, D. C., April 1, 1861. Received at Brooklyn 4.10 P. M.
To Commodore S. L. Breese, Navy — Yard:
The department revokes its orders for the detachment of the officers of the Powhatan and the transfer and discharge of her crew. Hold her in readiness for sea service.

Gideon Welles, Secretary Navy.


Washington, D. C., April 1, 1861. Received at Brooklyn 6.50 P. M.
To the Commandant of the Navy — Yard:
Fit out the Powhatan to go to sea at the earliest possible moment, under sealed orders. Orders by a confidential messenger go forward to-morrow.


Washington, D. C., April 1, 1861. Received at Brooklyn 6.50 P. M.
To Commandant Navy — Yard:
Fit out Powhatan to go to sea at the earliest possible moment.

Gideon Welles, Secretary Navy.

Navy-yard, New-York, April 2, 1861.
sir: I send you a copy of a telegram which I sent from the telegraph office at half-past 8 o'clock [215] last evening, in reply to orders by telegraph from the department, revoking the orders for putting the Powhatan out of commission. These orders were received at seven P. M., while the previous order to lay up the ship and discharge her crew, had been executed at two P. M., so far as to transfer the crew to the North-Carolina, and to give Captain Mercer the leaves of absence for the officers. . . . .

Andrew H. Foote, For Commandant. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.


dated Brooklyn, April 1, 1861.
Secretary of the Navy:
The Powhatan, after landing her stores, went out of commission at two o'clock. Crew on board of the North Carolina; officers mostly left with their leave of absence. I shall, agreeably to the last orders, refit the Powhatan for sea with quickest despatch. As there will be but few men left not wanted for the Powhatan, I shall not send the men to Norfolk in the chartered steamer, but remain ready to send them in the Harriet Lane, if so ordered.

A. H. Foote, For Commandant.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: