President Lincoln Plans Fort Sumter Expedition

Montgomery Meigs

Friday, March 29, 1861

President Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward meet with Captain Montgomery Meigs on relief expedition for Ft. Pickens and Fort Sumter. “The President talked freely with me,” Union Army officer Montgomery Meigs wrote in his diary on March 29, 1861. “I told him that men enough could be found to volunteer to endeavor to relieve Fort Sumter, but that persons of higher position and rank than myself thought it not to be attempted, that this was not the place to make the war, etc. He asked me whether Fort Pickens could be held. I told him certainly if the Navy had done its duty and not lost it already. The President asked whether I could not go down there again and take a general command of these three great fortresses [Pickens at the western end of Santa Rosa Island, off Pensacola; Taylor at Key West; and Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas] and keep them safe. I told him I was only a captain and could not command majors who were there. He must take an officer of higher rank. Mr. Seward roke out with ‘I can understand too how that is, Captain Meigs, you have got to be promoted.’ I said, ‘That cannot be done; I am a captain and there is no vacancy.’ But Mr. Seward told the President that if he wished to have this thing done the proper way was to put it into my charge and it would be done, that I would give him an estimate of the means by 4 P.M. of the next day. He [Seward] complimented me much. Said that when Pitt wished to take Quebec he did not send for an old general but he sent for a young man whom he had noticed in the society of London, named [James] Wolfe, and told him that he had selected him to take Quebec, to ask for the necessary means and do it and it was done. Would the President do this now? He [Lincoln] replied that he would consider on it and would let me know in a day or two.”

After an emergency Cabinet meeting at which Lincoln announces reinforcement of Fort Sumter, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes: “I concur in the proposition to send an armed force off Charleston with supplies of provisions and reinforcements for the garrison at for Sumter, and of communicating, at the proper time, the intentions of the government to provision the forts, peaceably if unmolested. There is little probability that this will be permitted, if the opposing forces can prevent it. An attempt to force in provision, without reinforcing the garrison at the same time, might not be advisable. But armed resistance to a peaceable attempt to send provisions to one of our own forts will justify the government in using all the power at its command, to reenforce the garrison and furnish the necessary supplies.
Fort Pickens and other places retained should be strengthened by additional roops, and, if possible made impregnable. The naval force in the gulf and on the southern coast should be increased. Accounts are published that vessels, having on board marketable products for the crews of the Squadron at Pensacola are sized — the inhabitants we know are prohibited from punishing the ships with provisions or water; and the time has arrived, when it is the duty of the government to assess and maintain its authority.

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Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 12:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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