Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fort Pickens

Fort Barrancas
The two major forts that were held by the North at the time of the South's secession were Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, and Fort Pickens in Pensacola Bay, Florida. Most historians focus on Fort Sumter because that is where the crises eventually led to war, but at the time Fort Pickens in Florida was a major focus as well.

When Florida seceded, Lt. Adam J. Slemmer held Fort Barrancas in Pensacola Bay with 50 men. On the day of secession, he transferred his men to Fort Pickens, a dilapidated fort that had not been in use since the Mexican-American war. However, he thought Fort Pickens was more defensible, probably because of its isolated position.

Fort Pickens
A truce was agreed on between Slemmer and the Confederates that the fort would not be attacked unless they received more reinforcements. While more supplies and troops were needed, the situation was not as crucial as Fort Sumter. A few days after ordering supplies to be sent to Sumter, President Lincoln ordered an expedition to be sent to Fort Pickens as well. After the war began in Charleston, Fort Pickens was resupplied, and continued to be held by the North throughout the war.

Map of the forts in Pensacola Bay

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Relief for Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter
After receiving the reports from the men he had sent to Fort Sumter to check on the situation, President Lincoln now had to decide what to do about Fort Sumter so that he could take action before April 15th, at which point they would run out of supplies. Everyone expected that he would order Fort Sumter to be evacuated to prevent a Civil War. The slave states which had not seceded insisted that it should be evacuated. A Virginian who was against secession said, "The United States must instantly evacuate Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens, and give assurances that no attempts shall be made to collect revenues in Southern ports." While they did not desire to leave the Union, they wanted the right of secession to be upheld. General Winfield Scott, the longest serving general in American history and a military hero, advised strongly against a relief effort. President Lincoln consulted his Cabinet again, and a majority were for attempting to resupply the fort. Agreeing with them, he ordered Gustavus Fox, who had been sent to Fort Sumter, to organize the relief effort.

By these plans Lincoln was trying to force the Southerners into firing the first shot. He told the commanders in Charleston that no troops would be sent, only provisions. However, a sizable force of troops were included in the expedition in case they were not allowed peaceable entry. He was peacefully maintaining a fort on Southern territory so that the Confederacy would be forced to fire the first shots of the war.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Causes of the War State's Rights

As we have discussed on this blog before, slavery was the main issue that caused the Deep South States to secede, but secession did not necessarily mean war. This is a major misunderstanding about the Civil War today. When the North was considering whether or not to attack the South, the question was no longer about slavery. The question was whether or not the Southern states had a right to be allowed to leave the Union peacefully. The South viewed the United States as a confederation in which the states joined together for mutual protection. They joined freely, so they thought they could leave freely. However, the North believed that the states surrendered their sovereignty and could never regain it. It was this difference of understanding that caused the South to fight for freedom and the North to preserve the indissolvable Union.


To start off, the U.S. Constitution does not clearly permit or forbid secession. The other founding documents convey contradictory impressions. When Virginia joined the Union they specifically reserved the right to secede. However, the Northwest Ordinance, an important bill passed by Congress regarding adding new states to the Union, forbade secession. There were differences of opinion regarding this right before the war, but as we will see, they were not clearly divided between North and South.

History of Secession

The 1860s were not the first time that states had threatened to leave the Union. It had also happened during several crises since the founding of America. At those times it had been debated whether the right to secede was retained by the states. What is interesting though is that several times it was not the South, but also the North that was arguing for secession. In the years directly proceeding the war the abolitionists urged their states to leave the Union because they thought it was wrong to be in a Union that also contained slaveholders. During one of their meetings in 1844:
... it was decided ... that fidelity to the cause of human freedom, hatred of oppression, sympathy for those who are held in chains and slavery in this republic, and allegiance to God, require that the existing national compact should be instantly dissolved; that secession from the government is a religious and political duty; that the motto inscribed on the banner of Freedom should be, NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS; 1
These were the same men that in 1861 declared that they must fight to preserve the Union.

State Sovereignty

The debate over the legitimacy of secession really comes down to a different view of state sovereignty. Is the Union is a collection of states joined together for the common good, and still reserving much sovereignty to themselves, or did the states just become departments of the federal government? The Civil War resulted in a huge lose of the states' power, ignoring the Constitution and what the founders intended. The states were constitutionally intended to provide a check on the federal government and were to retain all power that they did not specifically delegate to the federal government. After the Southern states were defeated in their attempt to leave the Union, they were not let back in until they surrendered many of their original rights – even though the North claimed they had not even really left in the first place.


One of the applications of the Bible to civil government that was made by the Reformers was the doctrine of interposition. This is the idea that the when the greater civil magistrates become wicked and tyrannical, the lesser civil magistrates are to lead the people to remove them. This is similar to what the South was trying to do in their secession. The state officials voted to leave the Union because it was trying to abolish the institution of slavery which they believed was ordained by God, and they formed a new union that would better fulfill the role of civil government.


While slavery served as a catalist, it did not cause the war. The war was fought over state's rights. Did states have the right to regulate their own laws and to leave the Union when it was no longer beneficial to them? As we will see later, the upper south did not secede because they thought Lincoln would abolish slavery. They seceded because they were ordered to attack their brethren who had left the Union.

I will close with a quote from Jefferson Davis after the war:
Secession ... is to be justified upon the basis that the States are sovereign. There was a time when none denied it. I hope the time may come again, when a better comprehension of the theory of our Government, and the inalienable rights of the people of the States, will prevent any one from denying that each State is a sovereign, and thus may reclaim the grants which it has made to any agent whomsoever.
Jefferson Davis

1. The Constitution A Pro-Slavery Compact (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1845) p. 101 Source

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lincoln Investigates Fort Sumter

Gustavus Fox, one of Lincoln's envoys
At this point 150 years ago, Lincoln was focused on Fort Sumter. The fort was running low on supplies and unless it was relieved, it would have to surrender soon. It was Lincoln's goal to force the South into firing first on the fort, but that would not happen if they ran out of supplies.

Lincoln sent three men to investigate Charleston: Stephen A. Hurlbut an old law partner of Lincoln’s and his bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, and Gustavus Fox, a United States Naval Officer. While the reason for sending the first two was unclear, Fox was sent to determine "accurate information" regarding Sumter. This would include the amount of provisions they had and how long they would be able to continue to hold out. He returned to Washington with the information that their food would hold out until April 15th.

But Fox had a plan. While at Sumter he heard a rowboat in the harbor, but could not see it because of the darkness. This reenforced his already conceived plan of resupplying the fort under the cover of darkness.

A few days earlier Lincoln had asked his cabinet whether it would be better to surrender the fort or attempt to resupply it. Only one cabinet member really agreed with the resupply plan, and the consensus appeared to be to surrender. However, Lincoln had not yet decided. It the coming days he would make the decision that had a great impact on the course of America.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Confederate Navy Forms

CSS Alabama
As the new Confederacy began to form, one of the things that they needed was a navy. At the time of secession the North had around 90 ships, while the South had only 14 which were seaworthy. There were few Southerners in the US navy as opposed to the army, therefore only few naval officers came South. The only shipyard in the South was in Pensacola, Florida. Unfortunately for the South it was under the guns of Fort Pickens, one of the forts which the North still held onto. The new nation was almost starting from scratch in building this important part of their military defense.

The largest city in the South at the time was New Orleans, therefore one of the first projects of the Confederate Naval Department was to prepare the naval defense of that city. Therefore agents were sent to purchase or build gunboats to assist in that defense. These agents arrived in New Orleans 150 years ago today, on March 17, 1861.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lincoln's Cabinet

(left to right) Edwin Stanton, Salmon Portland Chase, Abraham Lincoln, Gideon Welles,  Caleb Blood Smith, William Henry Seward, Montgomery Blair, and Edward Bates 

After his inauguration, Lincoln appointed his Cabinet, which were approved by the Senate as the Constitution requires. He did not choose men that completely aligned with him – several of them had contended for the Republican presidential nomination. During Lincoln's administration he would have disagreements with his cabinet over important decisions. One historian noted  "No President ever had a Cabinet of which the members were so independent, had so large individual followings, and were so inharmonious..."1 We will continue and look at each of the men he chose at the start of his term in more detail.

William H. Seward - Secretary of State

Seward was a lawyer and politician from New York. He and his wife were firm abolitionists and they helped hide fugitive slaves in disobedience to the Constitution saying that, "there is a higher law than the Constitution." He was governor of New York and a U.S. Senator. He was one of the prominent leaders of the new Republican party, and expected to receive the nomination for president. He was appointed Secretary of State by Lincoln and remained in that position through the presidencies of Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.

Simon Cameron - Secretary of War

Cameron was orphaned at nine, but worked his was up in the printing, railroads and banking industries. He was nominated for president, but supported Lincoln in exchange for the appointment as Secretary of War, an important position in view of the impending troubles with the South. He resigned quickly due to corruption, which we will deal with at the proper time.

Salmon P. Chase - Secretary of the Treasury

Chase was a lawyer and governor of Ohio. He was outspoken against slavery, and opposed its spread and compromise with the South. After Seward, he was one of the leaders in founding the Republican party to oppose slavery. He was a representative of the radical republicans and was working to run for president in 1864. He caused Lincoln much trouble until he was able to dispense with him. One of his duties of the treasury was to institute the system of paper money to finance the war, which is in opposition to the U.S. Constitution's requirement of gold and silver currency.

Edward Bates - Attorney General

Bates was a politician from Missouri, and had written the preamble to the Constitution of that state. However he opposed slavery and was another of the candidates for the Republican nomination. He resigned in 1864 after disagreements with Lincoln.

Montgomery Blair - Postmaster General

Blair was a lawyer from Maryland who had participated in several important cases. He was a founder of the Republican party and had campaigned for Lincoln. Lincoln appointed him Postmaster General and expected him to balance against the radicals. In 1864 he left the cabinet to conciliate the radical Republicans.

Gideon Welles - Secretary of the Navy

Welles was a Republican supporter of Lincoln and was appointed as a cabinet member from New England. He disagreed with the blockade of the Southern ports, but after he was overruled he successfully built up the navy and contributed greatly to the defeat of the South. As a member of the cabinet he frequently clashed with the more radical members .

Caleb B. Smith - Secretary of the Interior

Smith helped Lincoln secure the nomination for president, and was rewarded by his cabinet appointment. He disliked the job and resigned after his disagreement over the Emancipation Proclamation in 1864.

1. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 503 (from Chauncey M. Depew, My Memories of Eighty Years).

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lincoln's Inauguration

The Inauguration
On March 4th Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated President of the divided United States. He rode with the outgoing president to the Capital, and right before his swearing in, Lincoln gave the customary inaugural address. In that speech he gave his views on the issues that were stirring the country and stated what policies he intended to follow.


He began by saying that the South had no reason to secede because he never intended to interfere with slavery. He quoted a speech in which he said,
I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.
While it was true that he did say that he would not fight slavery, Lincoln could not always be trusted. Even though he is know as "Honest Abe", at times he said contradictory things. Just a few months before he said,
‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.
We can not know for certain which he intended to do, but the South certainly had good reason to believe that he would attempt to interfere with slavery.


Lincoln continued by stating his argument as to why the South had no right to attempt to leave the Union. He said that the Union was intended to be perpetual and therefore there was no way to leave it. However, this perpetuity was only implied and was nowhere stated expressly. The South would reply that the Union can end if the compact and covenant of the Constitution is broken by some parties or the states believe that it would be more beneficial for them to be independent.

Future Plans

The new President said that he would enforce the laws of the United States in the Southern seceded states, and hoped that bloodshed would not result. He opposed the proposed Constitutional Amendments regarding slavery, and had already stopped some of them. While he did not state it, he knew that the South would likely resist his actions. He wanted them to fire the first shot so the blame would fall on them. As his speech drew to a close, he said,
In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it.’

The South

On the same day, hundreds of miles away in Montgomery, Alabama, the new Confederacy adopted the "Stars and Bars" as its new flag. They largely ignored his speech. The Confederate States had chosen their course and were prepared to defend it.

"Stars and Bars" first flag of the Confederacy

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Beauregard Appointed, Texas Joins the Confederacy

P. G. T. Beauregard
On March 1st, 1861, the Confederate Congress appointed P. G. T. Beauregard Brigadier-General in the new Confederate army and sent him to Charleston, South Carolina. The governor of South Carolina turned the situation in Charleston over to the new Confederate government. He was a military engineer from the United States army and a veteran of the Mexican-American War. He was the first general to be appointed by the new government.

In Charleston the Northern troops in Fort Sumter were in good spirits, but on the same day Major Anderson, their commander, said that they must be relieved or they would be forced to capitulate. This would be disadvantageous for Lincoln, who wished to force the Confederates into firing the first shot.

Also on March 1st Texas joined the Confederacy. The commander of the Union forts in Texas, General David Twiggs, surrendered the federal property to the state troops. He was dismissed for treason and became a Confederate general, but died during the war.

Gen. David Twiggs