In Defense of South Carolina

The Saturday October 13, 1860 issue of The Emporia News (Emporia, Ks) contained the contents of a speech of New York born William Seward. At the time Seward was a Republican candidate for President of the United States. The speech detailed his hatred for the State of Missouri and those who lived within its borders. The speech, in part stated: 

“There is population enough in Kansas now to make Missouri a great State. But Missouri does not want to be a great State. She prefers to wait and be a Slave State [Laughter]. She has no affection for the people of the North, but a great affection for the people of the South. She has no affection for free labor, but a great affection for slave labor. She has no free speech; she is satisfied to have what she may say, or may not, controlled by the Slave Power This is a sad case for Missouri, but not hopeless. She must look for deliverance to Kansas, which Missouri refused to let come into the Union, but which is drawing emigration through Missouri, and opening the way, and marking out the very course and inviting Missouri on, and calling upon Eastern capitalists to open a national highway to Pike’s Peak and California. Missouri is richer by millions by the settlement of Kansas by freemen. All her hopes of competition with the free Northern States are based upon what you are doing, and can do, and will do, to make a Pacific Railroad. Never was policy of any State more suicidal; for either she is to be forever a Slave State, as she desires to be, or she had better have been free from the beginning.”

In one sense we can dismiss Seward’s words as merely coming from a politician who was running for president and stoking the fires. In another one could come to the conclusion that his words were a threat of what would happen if Missouri did not bend to the will of the Kansans across its western border and the political power brokers from the northeastern states. It was a bold and dangerous speech to be making, especially considering the fact that the “Border War” fires between the two states were barely extinguished and still smoldering.

Seward was not interested in peace, he wanted power and he wanted the power to make the people he despised the most (Southerners) punished. We all know that Seward did not win the election of 1860, which was a brokered convention (See “Election Thieves” By Clint Lacy and Victor Thorn , Barnes Review Magazine, July / August 2016), but he did manage to land the position of Secretary of State in the Lincoln administration where he was able to use his talents of inflammatory language and deception to lure the Confederates to fire on Fort Sumter first.

A close examination of the facts will prove that South Carolina and the Confederate government desperately attempted to avoid war with the Federal government in Washington. My facts come from newspaper reports from the era.

As late as March 26, 1861 the Union garrison at Fort Sumter commanded by Major Robert Anderson was allowed to purchase supplies from nearby Charleston. It had been this way since the secession of the State on December 20, 1860 and the Lincoln administration was buying time with delaying tactics and news of false hope to the people there. The March 26, 1861 issue of the Montgomery [Alabama] Weekly Mail reported:

“ There is nothing publicly reliable in relation to the status of Fort Sumter. Vague reports of a contradictory nature are believed, and then discredited. We feel satisfied that Fox’s visit here and Lamon’s also, were for the purpose of making arrangements for the evacuation of the fort, but the time when Sumter is to be given up as far as the public are informed. Vague reports of a contradictory nature circulate, are believed then discredited. We feel satisfied that Fox’s visit here, and Lamon’s also, were for the purpose of making arrangements for the evacuation of the fort; but the time when Sumter is to be given up has not been determined, so far as the public are informed.”

By April 9th the papers still had an air of optimism in their coverage. Everything hinged on what action / inaction President Lincoln would take regarding the fort off of the Charleston, S.C. coast. However; the Memphis Daily Argus on April 9, 1861 published the following: 

“No Blockade Intended- Excitement at Washington-The Southern Commissioners- Another Messenger.- A special dispatch to the Charleston Courier, dated Washington, April 5th , says: “Information of a decided character are given out in official quarters that the administration does not intend to blockade the ports of the confederated States in order to collect the revenue, though the endeavors are made to keep every movement a secret. Much excitement exists here today in relation to matters of the South and thousands of flying rumors keep people on the qui vive. Many are of the opinion that the crisis has culminated, and dispatches from the South are looked for with great interest. The confederate commissioners are still of the opinion that Fort Sumter will be evacuated and say they have the best reason to believe that the administration yet means peace.” 

By April 10th the news was not so optimistic. The Fall River [Massachusetts] Daily Mail reported that President Abraham Lincoln had rejected a meeting with the Confederate Peace Commissioners stating: 

“Washington, April 9  

The Commissioners appointed by the Southern Confederacy to treat with the President for a peaceful settlement of existing troubles by acknowledgement of the new government were refused a formal interview by the Administration this morning.” 

The same issue of the paper, in another published article, also reported: 

“A special dispatch from Charleston to the Herald says that authorities of that city have received official notification [from the Lincoln administration] that supplies will be furnished to Major Anderson [Federal commander at Fort Sumter] at all hazard.” 

Even after allowing the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter to purchase supplies from Charleston and sending a Peace Commission to meet with President Lincoln Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ resolve war was immense as reported by the April 11, 1861 edition if the Cincinnati Daily Press:

“President Davis has telegraphed to Charleston not to fire on any vessels entering Charleston harbor to supply Fort Sumter with provisions.”

On April 12, 1861 Baltimore, Maryland’s “Daily Exchange” reported that Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard was to meet the Maj. Anderson in another attempt to negotiate a peaceful surrender of Fort Sumter.  

April 12, 1861 the Baltimore Sun reported: 

“Washington, April 11- The Southern Commissioners left for Montgomery today in their letter to the Hon. Wm. Seward, Secretary of State, they say their mission, having been unsuccessful, they return to an outraged people, and express their conviction that war is inevitable. They insist that on the heads of the administration must rest the responsibility.” 

The April 13, 1861 edition of The Times- Picayune [New Orleans] carried the following news of the events preceding the firing on Fort Sumter by Confederate forces at Charleston: 

From L. Pope Walker, Confederate Secretary of War to General P.G.T. Beauregard, April 10, 1861: 

“If you have no doubt of the authorized character of the agent who communicated to you the intention of the Government at Washington to supply Fort Sumter by force, you will at once demand its evacuation. 

If this is refused, proceed in such a manner as you determine, to reduce it.” 

From General P.G.T. Beauregard to Confederate Secretary of War L. Pope Walker April 11, 1861: 

“Major Anderson has replied as follows to my summons to evacuate Fort Sumter… 

Sir- I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication, demanding the evacuation of this fort, and to say in reply thereto, that it is a demand that I regret that my sense of honor and my obligation to my government prevent my compliance. 

Major Anderson adds verbally: 

I will await the first shot and if you do not batter us to pieces, we will be starved out in a few days.” 

From Confederate Secretary of War L. Pope Walker to General P.G.T. Beauregard, April 11, 1861: 

“Do not desire needlessly to bomb Fort Sumter. 

If Mayor Anderson will state the time at which, as indicated by him, he will evacuate, and agree in the meantime that he will not use his guns against us, unless ours should be employed against Fort Sumter, you are authorized thus to avoid the effusion of blood. 

 If this or its equivalent be refused, reduce the fort in the manner, in which you in your judgement, decide to be the most practicable.” 

From General P.G.T. Beauregard to Confederate Secretary of War L. Pope Walker, April 11, 1861: 

“Major Anderson will not consent to enter into the engagement you propose. I write to you today.” 

From Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard to Confederate Secretary of War L. Pope Walker, April 12, 1861:

“We opened fire on Fort Sumter at half-past four o’clock this morning. 

P.S. 

I have intercepted a dispatch, which will disclose the fact that Mr. Fox, who had been allowed to visit Major Anderson, on the pledge that his purpose was pacific, employed his opportunity to devise for supplying the fort by force. 

This plan was adopted by the Government at Washington, and was in progress of execution, when the demand was made on Major Anderson.”

The Lincoln administration deceived, delayed and deliberately misinformed the people of Charleston, South Carolina, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and the Confederate government, despite the attempts by the Confederate government to avoid war, actively seek a peaceful solution and act in good faith. It was only after  General Beauregard intercepted the Union dispatch that revealed the true plans of Lincoln’s administration that they fired the first shot, and the one time presidential candidate William S. Seward, who fanned the flames on the Missouri / Kansas border and was now acting as Secretary of State was instrumental in making the war come to fruition, despite the desires of the Southern people to maintain peace.