150 Years Ago This Week for April 7

The line is drawn in the sand

President Lincoln was still much involved in making Federal appointments, compiling lists and writing memoranda as the month of April opened.

He signed an order to fit out the U.S.S. Powhatan on the advice of Secretary of State Seward to go to sea at the earliest possible moment under sealed orders which were apparently issued unknown to the Navy Department.

Originally planned to go to Ft. Sumter, the ship was now destined to go to Ft. Pickens at Pensacola. Also on Monday, April 1, Secretary Seward sent Lincoln “some thoughts for the President’s consideration.”

The thoughts were actually policies for the President to follow, and virtually suggested that Seward be allowed to act as a prime minister in carrying out foreign policy and actions against the Confederacy. Seward wanted to change the administration’s stance from that on slavery to union/disunion. He wanted to terminate the Federal occupation of Ft. Sumter while leaving the other Federal installations alone. He proposed demanding “explanations” for alleged interference by Great Britain, France, Russia and Spain. If such explanations were not received from Spain and France, Seward would ask Congress to declare war, hoping this would reunite the nation. Mr. Lincoln’s response: he tactfully explained to his secretary of state that he, the President, was chief executive, not Seward.

The President visited the Washington Navy Yard the next day, and convened his Cabinet on April 3 to discuss Ft. Sumter, from which Maj. Anderson sent daily reports to Washington; now Anderson complained that, after three months, his garrison was running low on food and ammunition.

The Cabinet agreed that word would be sent to Gov. Pickens that a peaceful effort to resupply Ft. Sumter with provisions only would be made; but that if there was resistance on the part of South Carolina, the delivery would be made by force. A Confederate battery at Morris Island in Charleston Harbor fired on the American schooner Rhonda H. Shannon. South Carolina ratified the Confederate Constitution by a vote of 114-16.

In Virginia on Thursday, April 4, the State Convention in Richmond rejected a motion to pass an Ordinance of Secession and submit the decision to the people, by a vote of 89-45. In Washington, President. Lincoln met with Virginia unionist John B. Baldwin, and reportedly considered exchanging Virginia’s loyalty to the Union for the surrender of Ft. Sumter. The President also drafted a letter to Gustavus V. Fox that an expedition to Ft. Sumter would be sent.

He also drafted a letter to Maj. Anderson, saying “ . . . the expedition will go forward.” The President hoped that Maj. Anderson could hold out until April 11 or 12, by which time the expedition should have arrived.

If there is resistence, Lincoln wrote, “we will endeavor to reinforce you.” Anderson must hold out, the President said, “but the decision is up to you.” The next day, April 5, Navy Secretary Welles ordered the U.S.S. Powhatan, the Pawnee, the Pocahontas and the Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane to provision Ft. Sumter. The Powhatan had already left for Ft. Pickens in Pensacola. The other ships were to leave from New York.

Lincoln sent State Department clerk Robert Chew to Charleston on Saturday, April 6, with a message to Gov. Pickens that an attempt would be made to resupply Ft. Sumter with provisions only, and that if there was no resistance, there would be no reinforcements.

An attempt was made by Secretary Seward to turn the U.S.S. Powhatan around on its way to Pensacola, but the orders came too late to divert the vessel to Ft. Sumter. The President conferred with the governors of Indiana, Ohio, Maine and Pennsylvania, and Virginia unionists, on this same day. He was seeking ways out of this dilemma, while at the same time taking aggressive action to retain Ft. Sumter.

It would be only a matter of perhaps days before Confederate forces in South Carolina would demand the surrender of the fort in Charleston Harbor. In the Palmetto State, thousands of South Carolina militiamen began moving by railroad towards Charleston. On Sunday, April 7, Gen. Beauregard informed Maj. Anderson that no further communication between Ft. Sumter and Charleston will be permitted by Confederate authorities. The line was being drawn in the sand.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles

A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.