Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XV.

CONFEDERATE COMMISSIONERS.

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

Commissioners appointed. - Visit Washington. - Letter to Secretary Seward. Reply. — Judge Campbell's mediation. Assurances. Message to Governor Pickens. Charges of breaches of faith and duplicity. - Pacific hopes of the Secretary. Commissioners' defiant reply. - Anderson's letter. Cabinet meeting. — Montgomery Blair. -G. B. Fox visits Charleston. Fleet for landing supplies. - Appropriations by South Carolina for the war. — Evacuation of Sumter demanded. President's message to Governor Pickens. — Despatches. Beauregard's demand. - Anderson's response deemed insuffi cient. Notice of attack. - Fire opened. Speeches of Gilchrist and Pryor. - Bombardment.- Heroic resistance.. - White Flag. Evacuation. - Anderson's despatch. - Governor's speech.

[ocr errors]

-

SOON after the organization of the Confederacy at Montgomery, it appointed a board of commissioners, consisting of John Forsyth, former minister of the United States to Mexico, Martin J. Crawford, late United States Senator from Georgia, and A. B. Roman, an ex-governor of Louisiana, for the purpose of opening negotiations with the Federal government. The first two of the above-mentioned' gentlemen arrived at Washington on the day after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln. A few days afterward they sent a communication to Mr. Seward. Though substantially it contained assumptions and propositions at once offensive and humiliating, it was couched in courteous and diplomatic language. The commissioners assumed to represent seven States, which, availing themselves of the inherent right of every free people to change and reform their institutions, "had become an independent nation de facto and de jure, and possess a government perfect in all its parts and endowed with all the means of self-support," although it had nothing which had not been stolen, under circumstances involving both treason and malfeasance in office,

[ocr errors]

with the violation of the most solemn oaths. They professed amity and good will" and a most earnest desire to maintain the kindliest feelings and the most friendly relations, and yet their mission was the outcome, the sequel, of a long series of measures marked with deception, fraud, violence, trifling with the most solemn oaths of office, and trampling on the most sacred rights of person and property, a rebellion without cause and by means the most flagitious.

They requested the Secretary to appoint an early day, that they might present to the President their credentials and acquaint him with the object of their mission, which was, they intimated, the speedy adjustment of all questions growing out of separation, as "the respective interests, geographical contiguity, and future welfare of the two nations may render necessary." To that communication Mr. Seward replied on the 15th of March, stating, in the form of a memorandum, that he understood the events that had recently occurred very differently from the aspect in which they had been presented by the commission. He saw in them "not a rightful and accomplished revolution, and an independent nation with an established government, but rather a perversion of a temporary and partisan excitement to the purposes of an unconstitutional and unjustifiable oppression upon the rights and authority vested in the Federal government. He reminded the commissioners that he looked for the cure of the evil resulting from unwise, unusual, and unnatural proceedings, not to "irregular negotiations, but to regular and considerate action of the people," through Congress or conventions as contemplated and provided for by the Constitution. Referring them to the President's message, he assured them that the Secretary of State, by the principles therein announced, was prevented from assuming or admitting that the seceding States had in law, or in fact, withdrawn from the Union, or could do so; that consequently he could not act upon the assumption that the Confederate States constituted a foreign power with whom diplomatic relations ought to be established; and that he was not at liberty to recognize them as diplomatic agents, or to hold correspondence with them. He informed

them that the President concurred in the views he had ex pressed, and that he sanctioned his action in declining official intercourse.

This memorandum, so frank, full, and explicit, was, by the request of the commissioners, at the suggestion of John A. Campbell, a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, withheld until the 8th of April, when, on application, it was delivered. Judge Campbell was a citizen of Alabama, and although his State had seceded, he still continued to retain his seat upon the bench. He was unquestionably anxious for the preservation of the Union and the maintenance of peace. Judge Nelson had represented to Mr. Campbell Mr. Seward's "strong disposition in favor of peace." With Judge Nelson and, as he states, without the knowledge of the commissioners, Judge Campbell visited Mr. Seward. After doing so on the 15th of March, he wrote to the commissioners that he felt entire confidence that Fort Sumter would be evacuated within the next ten days, that no measures changing the status preju dicial to the Confederate States was then contemplated, and that a demand for an immediate answer to their communica tion would be productive of evil, and ought not to be pressed at that time. Judge Campbell held repeated communications with the Secretary of State and with the commissioners. He was assured by Mr. Seward on the first day of April that the government would not undertake to supply Fort Sumter with out giving notice to Governor Pickens; and on the 7th he received an assurance that faith as to Sumter would be fully kept. But on the 8th an authorized messenger from the Presi dent notified Governor Pickens that provisions would be sent to Fort Sumter, peaceably or otherwise.

This the commissioners chose to regard or represent as a breach of faith, affirming that they had been overreached by the government. Judge Campbell, in a communication to Mr. Seward, under date of April 13, expressed the conviction that the conduct of the administration had been equivocal. He expressed, too, the opinion that the telegrams of the 8th of April, from General Beauregard, and of the 10th, from the Confederate Secretary of War, could be "referred to nothing

else than their belief that there has been systematic duplicity practised on them throughout."

Mr. Seward ardently hoped, believed, and expressed the opinion that peace would be maintained, not on the basis of disunion, but upon the basis of the unity of the country. At the New England dinner in New York, on the 22d of December, 1860, he expressed the opinion that there would be no war, that everything would be settled in sixty days. During the session of Congress, in conferences with his political associates, he had persistently maintained the same idea. After entering upon the duties of Secretary of State, he continued to hope and believe that time, circumstances, and skilful management would prevent civil war. That he expressed himself strongly to Justice Campbell in favor of peace, and that he was in favor of evacuating Sumter, cannot be doubted. But that he expressed himself in favor of peace with disunion, either to Judge Campbell or any one else, cannot be true in any sense whatever. Neither the commissioners, Judge Campbell, nor the Federal government could have entertained the idea, from any assurances of Mr. Seward, that the United States government, even to prevent civil war, would cease to maintain its authority.

On the 9th, before leaving Washington, the commissioners addressed a communication to the Secretary of State. In it, not without the usual slaveholding assumption, and with what might pass for wounded sensibility and affronted dignity, they spoke regretfully and reproachfully of the refusal of the administration" to meet the undersigned in the conciliatory and peaceful spirit in which they are commissioned"; of its being persistently wedded to the fatal theories of construction of the Federal Constitution always rejected by the statesmen of the South"; of its being "untaught and uncured by the ruin which has been wrought"; of closing its eyes to "the complete and successful revolution" effected, and "the existence of the government founded upon it"; of its lack "of frankness and manliness" in meeting the issues thus presented; of its "dealing with delusions and dreams," from which it would be awakened to "find them unreal and unsubstantial as others in which" the Secretary had "recently indulged."

Assuming that his refusal to grant them an audience resulted from the apprehension that it might be construed that "so to do would be to recognize the independence and separate nationality of the Confederate States," they affirmed that they did not ask government to recognize their independence; but they had requested an audience to adjust the "new relations springing from a manifest and accomplished revolution." They declared that the President knew that Fort Sumter could not be provisioned "without the effusion of blood," and that the refusal to entertain their oyertures, the naval and military preparations, and the notice that the President intended to provision Fort Sumter, were viewed by them as "a declaration of war against the Confederate States." Receiving this as the ultimatum, they, in response and in behalf of their government and people, accepted "the gage of battle thus thrown down to them."

Major Anderson, in a letter dated the 28th of February and received at the War Department on the day of Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, expressed the opinion that reinforcements could not be thrown into Fort Sumter in time for his relief, and that the fort could not be held by a force of less than twenty thousand men. On the 5th, the new Cabinet, at a meeting at which General Scott was present, had this letter before them. Gustavus B. Fox of Massachusetts, who had been a lieutenant in the navy, and afterward Assistant Secretary, had laid before General Holt, Secretary of War, on the 7th of January, a plan for the relief and provisioning of Fort Sumter, which had received the approval of General Scott., The general and all the members of the Cabinet, with the exception of Postmaster-General Blair, believing that all attempts to hold Sumter would be useless, were in favor of withdrawing the forces. Mr. Blair was inflexibly opposed to abandoning Sumter, and with the practical plan of Mr. Fox had convinced the President that its abandonment would be ruinous, would discourage Union men, encourage the Rebels, and, in the language of the latter, would be our "national destruction commenced." Mr. Fox went to Charleston, with the approval of the Secretary of War and General Scott. With

« PreviousContinue »