Lincoln Holds First State Dinner

State Dining Room

Thursday, March 28, 1861

As the Fort Sumter situation worsens, the Lincolns prepare for their first state dinner at the White House. Mary Todd Lincoln writes: “We have given our last general levee until next winter, our cabinet dinner comes off this evening, a party of 28 will dine with us. Our friends have all left, except Mrs Grimsley & Mr and Mrs Kellogg of Cincinnati. The latter leave for home, tomorrow. Mrs. G will remain a week or two longer. This is certainly a very charming spot & I have formed many delightful acquaintances. Every evening our blue room is filled with the elite of the land, last eve, we have about 40 to call in, to see us ladies from Vice P. Breckinridge down.”

New American ambassador to Britain Charles Frances Adams visits Secretary of State William H. Seward who tells him that in the Lincoln government there is: “No system, no relative ideas, no conception of his situation – much absorption in the details of office dispensation, but little application to great ideas. The Cabinet without unity, and without confidence in the head or each other.”

After the state dinner, President Lincoln calls a special meeting of the cabinet at which he reads a letter from General Winfield Scott calling for abandoning Forts Pickens and Sumter. A Scott aide writes: “Before dinner the General received from President Lincoln a note, asking him to come at once to the executive mansion. On setting out, the General whispered to me, that Mr. Lamon had informed him (Mr. Lamon had been down to Charleston with a letter from General Scott, with the sanction of Mr. Lincoln) that Governor Pickens wished to come back into the Union. The General also remarked that he supposed Mr. Lincoln wished to converse with him about Forts Sumter and Pickens, and he seemed to expect the President would be willing to give up both.”

The Scott memo read: “It is doubtful, according to recent information from the South, whether the voluntary evacuation of Fort Sumter alone would have a decisive effect upon the States now wavering between adherence to the Union and secession. It is known, indeed, that it would be charged to necessity, and the holding of Fort Pickens would be adduced in support of that view. Our Southern friends, however, are clear that the evacuation of both the forts would instantly soothe and give confidence to the eight remaining slave-holding States, and render their cordial adherence to this Union perpetual.” At the Cabinet meeting, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair is infuriated by Scott’s suggestion and states: “‘Mr. President, you can now see that General Scott, in advising the surrender of Fort Sumter, is playing the part of a politician, not a general.”

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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General Scott Sends Memo to President Lincoln

General Winfield Scott

Sunday, March 10, 1861

Meeting at Montgomery, Alabama, the new Confederate Congress adopts constitution.

President and Mrs. Lincoln worship at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, which they will attend regularly during the Lincoln Presidency.

General Winfield Scott sends Abraham Lincoln a detailed memorandum on military options: “The President has done me the honor to address to me certain professional questions, to which he desires answers. I proceed with them categorically.
“1. To what point of time can Major Anderson maintain his position, at Fort Sumter, without fresh supplies or reinforcement?”
Answer. In respect to subsistence, for the garrison, he has hard bread, flour & rice for about 26 days, & salt meat (port) for about 48 days; but how long he could hold out against the whole means of attack which the South Carolinians have in, & about the city of Charleston & its Harbour, is a question that cannot be answered with absolute accuracy. Reckoning the [batteries] troops at 3,500 (now somewhat disciplined) the batteries at 4 powerfull land, & at least one floating — all mounting guns & mortars of large calibre, & of the best patterns; — & supposing those means to be skillfully & vigorously employed — Fort Sumter with its less than 100 men — including common laborers & musicians — ought to be taken by a single assault, & easily, if harassed perseveringly for several previous days & night by threats & false attacks, with the ability, from the force of overwhelming numbers, of converting one out of every three or four of those, into a real attack.
“2. Can you with all the means now in your control, supply or reinforce Fort Sumter within that time?’
“Answer. No: Not within many months. See answer to No. 3.
“3. If not, what amount of means, & of what description, in addition to that already at your control, would enable you to supply & reinforce that fortress within the time?’
“Answer: A fleet of war vessels & transports, 5,000 additional regular troops & 20,000 volunteers, in order to take all the batteries in the Harbor of Charleston (including Ft. Moultrie) after the capture of all the batteries in the approach or outer Bay. And to raise, organize & discipline such an army, would require new acts of Congress & from six to eight months.”

Secretary of State William H. Seward writes President Lincoln regarding diplomatic positions: “I received last night what seemed to be authoritative as an announcement that Mr Fessenden withdraws his claim upon a chief or any mission. This is a relief.
“I like Clay for Spain — And am prepared to dispose of the question at once.
“I like equally Corwin to Mexico — and am also ready —
“As to Fremont and France — the prestige is good — But I think that is all. If as I have heard, he is to be engaged in raising money there for his estates, it would be a serious complication — Besides this he is by birth and education a South Carolinian and I am not certain of his being so very decided in the defence of the Union as a minister at Paris ought to be — I would rather send Dayton there — For England I am sure Mr Adams far above all others adapted to British Court & Society and infinitely more watchful capable, efficient, reliable every thing — New England is an important point. What better can we do for her. N.Jersey gives us little, and that grudgingly — I think Daytons appointment would be as much too large for her as any thing else we are likely to do for New England would be too small for her.
“After considering these things you will please decide. I can wait on you this morning on this subject if you wish, or I shall be ready to acquiesce at once in your decision without further conference.
“Please hold in reserve Secretaryships of these legations. They are almost as good as missions and hardly less important.”

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 1:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lincoln Cabinet Meeting Held on Fort Sumter

Saturday, March 9, 1861

Cabinet meeting on Fort Sumter at night as concern mounts over its fate. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles maintains that a relief exposition could be successful without first destroying the Charleston forts. General Winfield Scott disagrees.

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary: “I was astonished to be informed that Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor must be evacuated and that gen. Scott, Gen. Totten, and Major Anderson concur in opinion that, as the place has but 28 days provisions, it must be relieved, if at all, in that time; and that it will take a force of 20,000 men, at least, and a bloody battle, to relieve it!’

Winfield Scott Proposes Response to Secession

Sunday, March 3, 1861

President-elect Lincoln works on his inaugural address to be delivered the next day.

He confers with William H. Seward about his attempt to manipulate cabinet selection. Lincoln has dinner at Willard for his cabinet appointees. The next day he sent their nominations to the Senate without obtaining final acceptance from such problematic appointees as Salmon Chase.

The first of three Confederate commissioners, recently resigned Georgia Congressman Martin J. Crawford, arrives in Washington.

General Winfield Scott follows up on his dinner with Lincoln the previous night by writing:
“Hoping that, in a day or two, the new President will have, happily, passed through all personal dangers, & find himself installed an honored successor of the great Washington — with you as chief of his cabinet — I beg leave to repeat, in writing, what I have before said to you, orally, this supplement to my printed “views,” (dated October last) on the highly disordered condition of our (so late) happy & glorious union. To meet the extraordinary exigencies of the times, it seems to me that I am guilty of no arrogance in limiting the President’s field of selection to one of the four plans of procedure, subjoined: —
I. Throw off the old, & assume a new designation — the Union party; — adopt the conciliatory measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden, or the Peace convention, & my life upon it, we shall have no new case of secession, but, on the contrary, an early return of many, if not al the states which have already broken off from the Union. Without some equally benign measure, the remaining slave holding states will, probably, join the Montgomery confederacy in less than sixty days, when this city — being included in a foreign country — would require permanent Garrison of at least 35,000 troops to protect the Government within it.
II. Collect the duties on foreign goods outside the ports of which this Government has lost the command, or close such ports by acts of congress, & blockade them.
III. Conquer the seceded States by invading armies. No Doubt this might be done in two or three years by a young able General — a Wolfe, a Sesaix or a Hoche, with 300,000 disciplined men — estimating a third for Garrisons, & the loss of a yet greater number by skirmishes, sieges, battles & southern fevers. The destruction of life and property, on the other side, would be frightful — however perfect the moral discipline of the invaders.
The conquest completed at that enormous waste of human life, to the north and north west — with at least $250–000,000, added thereto, and cui bono? — Fifteen devastated provinces — not to be brought into harmony with their conquerors; but to be held, for generations, by heavy garrisons — at an expense quadruple the net duties or taxes which it would be possible to extract from them — followed by a Protector or an emperor.
IV. Say to the seceded [sister] — States — wayward sisters, depart in peace!

Published in: on March 17, 2011 at 10:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lincoln Leaves to Visit Step-Mother

Wednesday, January 30, 1861

Elihu B. Washburne

Future Attorney General Edward Bates “had a protracted interview with Mr. Lincoln, who left the city this morning on a visit to an aged relative in Coles county. He will return in two or three days,” reported John Hay. The “aged relative” was Lincoln’s stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, whom he visited for the last time. Lincoln took a train to Charleston, made one change in Matoon and then stayed over night with friends in Charleston.
Hay also reported that Norman B. “Judd, and a phalanx of his Chicago friends, are here. The indications at present in political circles seem to be that Illinois must waive, for the present, her claim to a seat in the Cabinet. The conflicting interests of distant sections will probably result in the sacrifice of a man, that whom none is more worthy.”
Lincoln received a letter from Illinois Congressman Elihu B. Washburne:
“There is a great deal said in the newspapers and a great deal said outside the newspapers about an attempt to seize this city, and a great many people are very much alarmed. I do not suppose you will be alarmed by all the talk. I think I am in a position to know as much as anybody about this whole matter. I am in consultation with Genl. [Winfield] Scott and with Col. Stone, who is organizing the militia of the district. Our friends from N.Y. three of the best and most skilful men ever in that service are still here, and I am posted every day in regard to their information. I am satisfied there does not NOW exist any organization to amount to anything, anywhere, the object of which is either to prevent your inauguration. I say now — what may take place I will not say, but I do not believe any attempt at all will be made at any time. I have just left Scott — he is very vigilant and active and will make every preparation he can to meet any emergency. I am sorry to say, however, old Buck is hanging back, though the Secretary of War is up to ‘high water mark’ (to use Scott’s own language) at the time. Scott has this day sent a paper to the President saying unless he is permitted to bring more troops here, he will not hold himself responsible for the peace of the District. I presume the President will now permit the troops to be brought here. The N.Y. friends are entirely certain there is no nucleus of a conspiracy in this city. The Mayor, although suspected of being a secessionist, was up before the special committee to-day and swore there was nothing of the kind going on.”
He adds a note about the increasing concerns about public order in Washington: When in Scott’s room, Genl. [John] Dix the next Sec’y of the Treasury came in to consult about certain matters. He is clear up to the handle for the enforcement of the laws and the protection of the public property. The old General was hugely pleased at his firmness and the high ground he took. The only trouble now in the cabinet is Yancey, who is believed to sympathize with the traitors.”
At the end of January, Lincoln receives a letter from a “Capt Hazzard” advising that trouble should be expected going through Baltimore and suggesting that either Baltimore be avoided or he pass through Baltimore “incognito.”

Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 5:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Security & Secession in Washington

Tuesday, January 22, 1861

Lincoln friend Charles Ballance writes to Abraham Lincoln from Washington about security conditions there: “I write to you, not because (as you will naturally expect) that I have something important to write, but because, what, will seem to you under the circumstances, is much more strange, that I have nothing at all to write. While our forts and munitions of war are being every where seized by rebels, and state after state is declaring itself out of the Union, and the papers and telegraphs are teeming with preparations for war, this city is more quiet, at this time, and there are fewer people here by more than one half, than I ever saw before, when Congress was in session. I fact, nearly every body whose business does not require them to be here, has gone away. I see no secession cockades, and hear no blustering. A stranger here, who could not read our papers, would not suspect he was in the midst of a revolution. I have been here nearly two weeks, and have not seen a soldier, a musket or a cannon, until this evening. There are said to be troops in the neighborhood, and there are several thousand militia being equipped and trained, but it is all done quietly.
“That it was a part of the secession plan to seize the capitol, and prevent you from being inaugurated, I have no doubt, but the firmness of [Maryland] Gov. [Thomas] Hicks and Gen. [Winfield] Scott has backed them out from this project, at least for the present. We cannot tell what a day will bring forth, but I give it as my opinion, that such is the apathy that prevails here just now, that you might walk the streets with as much safety, as you do those of Springfield.”

Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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