The National Crisis.letter from vice President Breckinridge--letter from Judge A. B. Longstreet--military movements in Charleston — county Meetings in Virginia — the southern Confederacy — the defences of Charleston harbor--Fort Pulaski--the Servants in the field, &c., &c.
Letter from vice President Breckinridge.Hon. John C. Breckinridge has written a letter to Gov. Magoffin, of Ky. in which, while favoring the compromise propositions of Mr. Crittenden, he expresses himself as utterly hopeless of their being adopted. He concludes as follows: ‘ The immediate question now presented is, peace or war. Whether the right of a State or States to dissolve connection with the federal system be a reserved right, or one growing out of the Constitution, or the right of revolution; the great fact lies before us, that the act has been done; and we are not permitted to doubt that in a few weeks seven or eight States, containing a larger population than the thirteen Colonies at the epoch of the Revolution, will have withdrawn from the Union and declared their independence. Under whatever name disguised, a collision of arms with them will be war. ’ The dominant party here, rejecting everything, proposing nothing, are pursuing a policy which under the name of "enforcing the laws" and "punishing traitors," threatens to plunge the country into all the calamities of civil war. The Federal Union cannot be preserved by arms. The attempt would unite the Southern States in resistance, while in the North a great multitude of true and loyal men never would consent to shed the blood of our people in the name and under the authority of a violated compact. A serious collision upon existing issues would destroy whatever hope may yet remain of preserving or restoring the Union. An attempt to hold it together by the bayonet would exceed any thing yet recorded in the annals of human madness and folly. It would bring on a war of unexampled ferocity, in which every vital principle of the Union would disappear forever. If the South should succeed in maintaining her independence, the fends and animosities engendered by the contest between the sections would be transmitted to succeeding generations, while, if she should be subjugated, the Government would become in form and in fact consolidated, and would soon reach the usual historical termination in a military despotism. But her subjugation is impossible without extermination; and that is impossible. And yet the danger of civil war is imminent, unless it shall be arrested by prompt and energetic action. If, before the passions of men become aroused, and a series of untoward events drift us into strife, Kentucky and the other border States shall calmly and firmly present a united front against it, I believe it may be arrested. Fifteen States are potent to prevent war. This, too, would strengthen all the true men in the Northern States who resist the atrocious policy. Upon this question let us annihilate party. The force party believe that Kentucky and other Southern States are seriously divided on this subject.--Unless this can be quickly shown to be a delusion, it may become the parent of a brood of woes. The wisdom of the Legislature will doubtless provide whatever is needful; yet, at a time like this, it becomes the duty, as it is the right, of every man to express his opinions; and, as one citizen of the Commonwealth, I give my voice for a State Convention. It is only by the direct action of the several States, in their sovereign capacity, that anything effectual can now be done; and, for one, I desire that Kentucky may have an opportunity to determine, in the most solemn manner, her judgment of her rights, and her attitude in the present condition of affairs. She has not been an inactive nor inglorious member of the Confederacy; she is in the presence of great and startling events, and it is not her nature to sit in listless apathy, borne along by rapid currents, without the power to direct her course. Let her have the opportunity, through her chosen representatives, of deciding upon the prospect of reuniting all the States in a constitutional Union, or, if that shall be impossible, let her be in a position to determine her own destiny. This letter has grown longer than I intended, although I have adhered pretty closely to my original purpose, rather to present facts, and my impressions of them, from this standpoint, than to enter upon elaborate discussion. I need not say to you, my dear sir, that I have uttered nothing in an obtrusive spirit, but rather, reluctantly and sorrowfully. My suggestions in regard to the action of Kentucky are offered in a spirit of loyally to the State I love and will ever obey. They are clearly right, or very wrong. If right, the pleasure will be mine to have said a timely word; if wrong, I will know how to bear without a murmur all the consequences of an honest but terrible mistake.
The letter from President LongstreetThe following is the letter written by Judge Longstreet, President of the College of South Carolina, and published in the Charleston papers. The "calamity" of which he speaks — firing the first gun — has already occurred: ‘ I pray the authorities and people of South Carolina to put aside passion, and hear patiently and thoughtfully what I have to say upon the present critical position of our beloved State. The chances are that I am wrong in my views; for, so far as I have been enabled to collect the popular sentiment in this quarter, at least eight out of ten of the wisest heads of the land are against me, and I have reached that period of life when the wisdom of age begins to give place to its weaknesses. But the correctness of opinions is not to be estimated by number, or by age, but by the standard of reason; and to this standard I would respectfully invite all who differ with me. This much is certain, that almost every man with whom I have conversed upon the points of difference between us, shows manifest excitement — the poorest accompaniment of reason and argument that could be selected from the armory of mind. ’ It seems to be generally understood (and approved of,) that if the Harriet Lane attempts to enter this port she will be fired into; and, if rumor is to be credited, this is to be done without parley or explanations. If I have not lost my senses, this is the most dangerous, useless, ill-advised measure which could possibly be adopted just at this time. Thus far the war between South Carolina and the Federal Government has been constructive; the first gun fired makes it actual. Thus far South Carolina has maintained a purely defensive position; this measure is openly aggressive, and is to draw the first blood from a citizen of the United States; and, for aught that we know, from some champion of the cause of South Carolina. The character in which the Harriet Lane approaches us, we do not know, and cannot know, if she comes with sealed instructions. This thing is to be done just as four States are hastening to our embrace as fast as they can come, and when it is almost certain that all the slave States will be united with us in one grand Confederacy in less than three months; and after our warmest supporters among them have implored us to wait for concert of action with them, when the Northern States are still obedient to the Federal Government, and likely to be while Buchanan remains in office; when that Government is reeling, and in two months time may become impotent for good or evil, when South Carolina is the peculiar object of Black Republican vengeance, and when they want only a tolerable pretext to visit her with a war of extermination before the other States can in due form come to her help; when all the help she can hope for is impotent at sea.--Her aggressive step will alarm the States which are at the point of secession, and perchance kindle dissension in their bosoms; certainly enkindle their ire against her. It will unite the North and the world against her. It will verity the dismal predictions of the submissionists, and blast the reputation of the secessionists. It will precipitate South Carolina from the highest pinnacle of fame to the lowest depth of humiliation. When I think of the probability of it, my soul is so heavily burdened with the awful responsibility of the act, that I can hardly bring my thoughts to decent order, or my pen to decent style. If nothing else would stay the act, I would cheerfully surrender the power of speech and of hearing for the balance of my life to avert it. What do the advocates of this desperate measure promise themselves from it? "It will unite the Southern States." Are they not united already? Do not the rankest cowards say there must be resistance? Does one of them disapprove of the step which South Carolina has taken, save as to time? And has she not, up to this time, repelled the objections to her haste? Her people forced her to quick secession; and here they were satisfied with dispatch, and perfectly willing to await the action of her sister States. Their representatives have been in no hurry. Why, then, just as we are about to reap the best fruits of our labors, are we going to become rash indeed, and fling them away for the apples of Sodom? May God save us from this measure! Take away the apology of "uniting the South," and the act stands before the world without excuse. You cannot say that the Harriet Lane comes with a warlike intent; and if you could, firing into her is not going to defeat her intent, or advance the independence of South Carolina the thousandth part of a hair's breadth. But it will furnish your enemy with an admirable apology for filling your harbor with armed ships, turning Sumter upon Moultrie, laying waste your city, and lining your coast with Republican hirelings. Hirelings! Aye, when the war opens, it is to be between the bright and gallant sons of South Carolina and these hirelings. Woe to the people who bring on such a conflict, but from dire necessity!--Is it necessary? No, no, no! It is not only bootless, desperate, but wholly unnecessary. Mr. Buchanan says he does not mean to attack any State for seceding. All the Black Republican presses say the same thing. But they mean to collect the revenues. This, to be sure, is war in disguise, but practically it is harmless, and we will be able to keep it in disguise until the proper time for us to strip the monster of its veil. The Black Republicans think and hope that when their Collector is sent here, the State will deal with him in some way that will justify open war upon her. To fire into the vessel that brings him is exactly the thing which they want. Hence the vessel that is coming is named, her dispatches are hid from public view — they may be peaceful or belligerent (something seemingly peaceful will be put into them for future uses.) the Collector is named. Now, for God's sake, people of South Carolina, do not fall into this trap. Let the Collector come, let him land, treat him politely, introduce him to Mr. Colcock, and tell him you hope the Collectors of the two sovereignties will settle their respective claims in the spirit of courtesy and kindness. Do this, and the President of the Republicans will be beautifully check-mated. All the time consumed in these courtesies will be bringing on your allies. The end of it will be that the revenues will be collected out at sea. Be it so: let them have them; let your commerce go on until our Confederacy is formed. Before that time, floating custom-houses will be strung all along our Southern coast, and we will have a Confederacy of the cotton-growing States. Even then, I would not precipitate a war. The new Confederacy will certainly be acknowledged by France and England, and they will enter into treaties of commerce with us, by which they will obligate themselves to push the floating custom houses aside, and open a glorious traffic with us.--Thus, by a little delay, and the forfeiture of the customs for a few months, we gain everything we desire, without the loss of one drop of blood — without spoiling our harbors, and without interrupting our commerce for a single hour. And now for the ticklish point: Suppose they come to strengthen the posts? --If the salvation of the world depended upon it, could you prevent them from so doing? If you could not, why would you waste blood and treasure in attempting to do it? Is it any disgrace not to initiate a hopeless conflict?--Any nation would be excused for declining such a conflict; but no nation could be excused for beginning it. What must be thought of the nation who would begin it on the water, without a gun-boat or a sailor to sustain it? And what sort of a beginning of it will it be, to fire a few useless shots at a mere Government cutter? Provoke open and unequal war to prevent the strengthening of a fort which is already too strong for us! Here is the beginning and the end of the plan proposed: Fire a few worthless shots at a vessel — set Sumpter to firing upon Moultrie — hold Moultrie till some hundreds of our sons are buried in its ruins — then desert it, and wait the wrath of the United States upon our devoted city! If all the forts were crammed full of men, they would not attack the city unless first attacked. If we were sure they would, we cannot prevent it; why, then, in the name of God, bring on a war of such fearful consequences? If you mean to hold Fort Moultrie, I implore you to let the first shot come from the enemy. Burn that precept into your hearts, if you despise all else that I have written. But I would abandon it now, if demanded, putting it just as Anderson left it.--But no, it must be held, desperate as is the tenure, or we shall be called cowards. Fools may so call you — no wise man will. "It must end in a war," says one, "and we'd as well bring it on at once." It never will end in a war, if the South will be prudent, and we must let no Southern State begin it. And if a Southern State is to begin it, let her not begin it on the water.
Correspondence between Secretary
The following is the correspondence which passed between President Buchanan and Secretary Thompson, on the resignation of the latter:
Thompson and President Buchanan.
His Excellency James Buchanan,
President of the United States.
The defences of Charleston harbor.Such measures have been adopted to prevent all vessels of an offensive character entering the harbor of Charleston, that even those belonging to that city cannot get out without aid. All the buoys have been removed, and some, if not all of the beacons, taken down.--All lights are extinguished at night, except that upon Fort Sumter, which, for the purpose of navigation, might as well be a hundred miles off, and the light-ship has been withdrawn. From Cummin's Point to the lighthouse, a distance of several miles, sandbank batteries have been erected and well manned, and vessels laden with paying stones and other heavy substances are placed at important points to sink, so that any vessels of an opposing character that might presume to prowl in would be stopped. If the Star of the West attempts to carry her living cargo to the help of Fort Sumter, she will be at once sunk by the South Carolina troops stationed along the entrance of the harbor, as a determination exists among them not to allow of reinforcements arriving at that fort. Pilots have been firmly charged not to pilot vessels-of-war into the harbor, but no restrictions are placed upon vessels of commerce and trade. When the steamship Columbia was ready for sea, although she belonged to the city of Charleston, so completely had all marks of the channel been obliterated, that it cost the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars to get her clear of the harbor. It was estimated that the value of the vessel and cargo, which consisted of cotton, rice, domestic produce, &c., was not less than $450,000, and yet this large amount was "locked up" for some time, rather than allow chances for the vessels of the enemy to make their way up to the fort or the city. On Saturday last it was estimated that about thirty-two vessels from foreign ports, viz., Great Britain, France, Spain, Sweden and Germany, were in the harbor, shipping cotton and other Southern produce, the medium of purchase being gold taken by the very vessels that were there in the act of loading. There are also in the harbor twenty-two Northern and Eastern vessels that were all standing idle, not being able to get cargoes. The large cargo brought by the Columbia was mostly for a foreign country, and purchased with foreign gold.
From Charleston — the Insecurity of the
The Charleston Mercury of Wednesday has an article on the harbor defences, from which the following is an extract: ‘
War is imminent.
Gen. Scott has control of the United States Government.
War is his trade, and war is now his counsel.
The sword is his arbiter, and to the sword he now looks.
Information has passed throughout the whole country, from New York to New Orleans, that 250 men are ordered to the Charleston harbor for the purpose of reinforcing the United States command at Fort Sumter. ’
What is our power to resist this act of war, and what is our danger of failure in the attempt?
Fort Moultrie is directly under the guns of Fort Sumter.
We venture little in the assertion that its power to maintain a struggle against Fort Sumter is quite inadequate.--The attempt will but make her a slaughter pen of our best citizens.
To what point or points, and to what power, are we to look for means of adequate and effectual warfare and defence?
Are our redoubts on Morris' Island and on the east end of Sullivan's Island, at this moment adequate for the complete protection of our harbor against all attacks that can now be made upon us?
If not, will it be said that Fort Moultrie can sink any vessel or war steamer that attempts to come under her guns?
Granted. But what, if such man-of-war, in attempting to enter our harbor, is brought to by the balls from our redoubts?
What hinders her from turning tall, and going again to sea with her reinforcements?
Will we not have opened war with the United States?
And will not Major Anderson be empowered and compelled, as an officer of the United States Government, to open fire on Fort Moultrie?--And will he not do it?
And can he not entirely dismantle her in 48 hours. Having completed his work, what will hinder the said man-of-war from again entering our harbor, and bearing her reinforcements to Fort Sumter? --Nothing, surely, but the strength of our redoubts, and their ability to sink her. Are they into condition to do it, beyond a doubt?--We confess to have no accurate military information on the point.
It may be so. But if not, is there time for delay?
Five, ten thousand negro laborers can, and could have been had. Should these points not be made our chief reliance?
Two hundred horses (which can be had) can remove a large body of cannon in a day. Two or five thousand laborers can throw up a large embankment in twenty-four hours. Is not this the time to do it?
Why should not at least thirty cannon be placed at the east end of Sullivan's Island?
It strikes us (not being military men) that this is our point, and not Fort Moultrie.
But if this is not sufficient, why cannot all of our channels, except Moffit's channel, be blocked up for the time being?
Is it not worth it, to maintain our power?
Will it cost money to remove hereafter such obstructions?
To be sure it will.
But will it not cost many, many valuable lives, if it is not done?
Unless, indeed, the redoubts we have spoken of are in a sufficient state of readiness to protect, beyond a doubt, the harbor from all and any attacks by sea. Will it not do more?--Will it not, for the time, tie our hands, and virtually subject us to the foreign policy and hostile power of the United States Government?
Military movements in Charleston — fatal Accident.The Charleston papers of Wednesday furnish the following items of news: ‘ On Monday night, shortly after 10 o'clock, as one of the sentinels at Castle Pinckney was going his rounds, he was approached by a person at the time unknown. The sentinel presented his musket in the act of challenging him, when the piece unfortunately went off, and the stranger immediately fell. On examination, it proved to be private R. L. Holmes, of the Carolina Light Infantry. The ball had taken effect in the left side, under the shoulder, traversing both lungs, and inflicting a wound from the effects of which he survived only 20 minutes. ’ Up to one o'clock last night, when our reporter left the vicinity of Fort Sumter and Morris' Island, all was quiet in our harbor.--The guard boats were actively plying up and down the entrance, overhauling every unknown craft. The rumors that the Star of the West would make her appearance in our waters, kept the sentinels on the qui vive, and the cry of "all's well!" could be heard echoing over the waters from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter. At the latter post it is evident that the greatest vigilance is kept, and not even the smallest boat can approach the walls without the gruff hailing of the sentinels on the ramparts. In a former article upon the defences of Fort Sumter, we noticed the fact that the second tier of casemates had been walled up. We observed yesterday that the masonry closing two of these casemates, pointing towards Fort Moultrie, has been removed, the guns for those casemates being completely mounted. Two additional companies of volunteers, who have entered the service of the State for six months, arrived in the city yesterday, and, without arms or equipments, were marched on board the steamer Excel, for secret service. The first company, under command of Captain Spires, and Lieutenants George Robinson, F. C. Barber and Henry Key, numbered over one hundred strong, healthy-looking men, from Hamburg. The second company, styled the "Cherokee Pond Volunteers," numbered eighty-two men, nearly all of them young fathers, eager for service. They were commanded by Captain Meriwether, and Lieutenants A. P. Butler and D. L. Shaw. The Palmetto Guards, as well as a portion of the Irish Volunteers, were also out on duty during the night. The Lafayette Artillery and the German Artillery returned to the city yesterday from Fort Moultrie, making quite a handsome display as they passed through the streets. Lieut. Pelot, of the Navy, has arrived in this city and tendered his services to the Governor, which have been accepted. Thus another son of South Carolina has nobly responded to the call of patriotism.
Fort Pulaski: ‘ As against assault from the water, it is defended by an ample number of thirty-two-pounders, much better mounted, and in a much higher state of efficiency, than any one had supposed. Not simply the casemates, but the quarters at present occupied by the officers and privates, are bomb-proof — the arched ceilings, thirteen feet in thickness, and covered with a stiff bank sod. The open area within the fort is not paved; the earth covered with a yielding sod, formed by grass and mud thrown upon what was originally a sand-bank. If a bed had been artistically prepared for the purpose of receiving, capturing and utterly demoralizing a shell, it could not have been better devised. A shell falling upon it must be buried in the sand beneath from two to eight feet, and by the sod above will be stripped of the power even of throwing sand into the eyes; if, indeed, the fuse should not be extinguished and the shell should explode. Those who were shelled upon from San Juan d'ulloa during the investment of Vera Cruz, will remember that the second morning after the landing the attention of the enemy was specially directed to a sand hill occupied by Gen. Quitman's brigade, which was thus exposed to their eyes doubtless to draw their fire. The shells, to dodge which in their descent became after a while rather a pleasurable excitement, buried themselves in the sand; their fuses were generally extinguished, and the casualties resulting from their explosion, when they did explode, were but few. A very little work will place the interior of Fort Pulaski in such condition as to remove the men within it beyond the reach of even such casualties. ’ The Governor, whose entire action in this matter is, we repeat, beyond all praise, has placed at the disposal of Col. Lawton, in addition to the usual armor of each soldier, one breech-loading carbine, throwing, in the hands of an expert marksman, sixteen rifle balls a minute, Colt's revolver, and one sabre. The ditch around the fort is being rapidly cleaned out under the orders of Col. Lawton--rice-field negroes having been placed at this work.