REMINISCENCES OF FORTS SUMTER AND MOULTRIE IN 1860-'61
BY ABNER DOUBLEDAY BREVET MAJOR-GENERAL U.S.A.
NEW YORK HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS FRANKLIN SQUARE 1876
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1875, by HARPER & BROTHERS, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
Now that the prejudices and bitter partisan feeling of the past are subsiding, it seems a fitting time to record the facts and incidents connected with the first conflict of the Rebellion. Of the eleven officers who took part in the events herein narrated, but four now survive. Before the hastening years shall have partially obliterated many circumstances from my memory, and while there is still an opportunity for conference and friendly criticism, I desire to make, from letters, memoranda, and documents in my possession, a statement which will embody my own recollections of the turbulent days of 1860 and 1861.
I am aware that later and more absorbing events have caused the earlier struggles of the war to recede in the distance; but those who were in active life at that time will not soon forget the thrill of emotion and sympathy which followed the movements of Anderson's little band, when it became its duty to unfold the flag of the Union against a united South in arms.
I know how difficult it is to write contemporaneous history, or even to give a bare detail of facts, without wounding the susceptibilities of others; but whenever I have felt called upon to give my own opinion, I have endeavored to do so in the spirit of Lincoln's immortal sentiment—"With malice toward none; with charity for all."
FORT MOULTRIE IN 1860.
The Garrison of Fort Moultrie.—Early Indications of Secession.—Situation of the Fort.—Edmund Ruffin and Robert Barnwell Rhett.—The Secretary of War.—Arms sent to the South.—Colonel Gardner.—Captain Foster ordered to Charleston Harbor.—The Officers at Fort Moultrie.—Communications with Northern Men by Cipher.—Proscription of Antislavery Men in Charleston.—Position of Charleston Merchants.—The Secession Leaders only prepared to resist Coercion.—The Mob proves Unmanageable.—General Scott's Letter to the President, October 29th.—The Situation in November.—No Instructions from Washington.—Colonel Gardner's Report to General Wool. Page 13
PREPARATIONS FOR DEFENSE.
Defeat of Captain Seymour's Expedition on the Ashley.—Mayor Macbeth's Explanation.—Captain Foster's Work on Fort Moultrie.—Governor Gist convenes the South Carolina Legislature.—Creation of a Standing Army.—Arrival of Masons from Baltimore.—Situation of Fort Sumter.—A Dramatic Incident.—Secretary Floyd's Action.—Horace Greeley's Advocacy of the Right of Secession.—The Situation November 18th. 30
PRELIMINARY MOVEMENTS OF THE SECESSIONISTS.
Arrival of Major Anderson.—Huger's Opposition to a Premature Assault on Fort Moultrie.—Anderson's Report to the Secretary of War.—Active Preparations by the South Carolinians.—Meeting of Congress.—Attempts at Compromise.—Secession Batteries at Mount Pleasant.—Arrival of Major Buell with Written Orders.—Vain Efforts to Strengthen Castle Pinckney.—Northern Opinion.—Public Meeting in Philadelphia. 41
THE REMOVAL TO FORT SUMTER.
Passage of the Secession Ordinance.—Governor Pickens's Proclamation.—Judge Petigru's Visit to Fort Moultrie.—Floyd's Treachery.—Yancey's Lectures in the North.—The Removal to Sumter. 55
THE FIRST OVERT ACT.
The New Quarters.—Seizure of Castle Pinckney by Charleston Troops.—Raising the Flag at Fort Sumter.—The Sergeant's Daughter.—Major Anderson's Position.—The Charleston Troops take Fort Moultrie.—A Military Problem.—Condition of Fort Sumter.—Governor Pickens's Commission.—A New Outrage. 68
EFFECT OF ANDERSON'S MOVEMENT.
President Buchanan Aroused.—Excitement in Charleston.—The Situation at the Beginning of 1861.—Governor Pickens's War Measures.—"My heart was never in this War". 82
THE "STAR OF THE WEST."
Promise of Succor.—Fatal Delay.—A Contumacious Chaplain.—Visit from our Ladies.—Governor Pickens's Cabinet.—Appearance of the Star of the West.—The Vessel fired upon from Morris Island and Fort Moultrie.—Major Anderson's Protest.—Governor Pickens's Reply. 92
A RESORT TO DIPLOMACY.
Major Anderson's Proposed Diplomatic Negotiations.—Defensive Preparations.—Changes in the Cabinet.—Meade's Defection.—Anecdote of Governor Pickens.—Battery at Cummings Point.—Soldiers' Families Removed.—A Threatening Letter.—Confederate Visitors to the Fort.—Organization of the Confederate Government. 107
THE CRISIS AT HAND.
South Carolina's Grievances.—Inauguration of President Lincoln.—Determination to Re-enforce Sumter.—An Audacious Proposal.—The Shannon.—New Rebel Batteries Unmasked.—Formal Notice of Bombardment. 123
The First Shot.—Defective Guns.—John Carmody's Exploit.—Destructive Effects of the Bombardment.—Burning of the Officers' Quarters.—Terrific Conflagration. 143
Senator Wigfall's Volunteer Mission.—Terms of Evacuation Settled.—The Question of Casualties on the Other Side.—Salute to the Flag.—Occupation of the Fort by Southern Troops.—Embarkation.—Welcome in New York.—Conclusion. 161
REMINISCENCES OF FORTS SUMTER AND MOULTRIE IN 1860-'61.
FORT MOULTRIE IN 1860.
The Garrison of Fort Moultrie.—Early Indications of Secession.—Situation of the Fort.—Edmund Ruffin and Robert Barnwell Rhett.—The Secretary of War.—Arms sent to the South.—Colonel Gardner.—Captain Foster ordered to Charleston Harbor.—The Officers at Fort Moultrie.—Communications with Northern Men by Cipher.—Proscription of Antislavery Men in Charleston.—Position of Charleston Merchants.—The Secession Leaders only prepared to resist Coercion.—The Mob proves unmanageable.—General Scott's Letter to the President, October 29.—The Situation in November.—No Instructions from Washington.—Colonel Gardner's Report to General Wool.
The summer of 1860 found me stationed at the head-quarters of the First United States Artillery at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. I was captain of Company E, and second in command to Brevet Colonel John L. Gardner, who was lieutenant-colonel of the regiment. The regimental band and Captain Truman Seymour's company (H) also formed part of the garrison. The other forts were unoccupied, except by the ordnance-sergeants in charge.
Charleston, at this period, was far from being a pleasant place for a loyal man. Almost every public assemblage was tinctured with treasonable sentiments, and toasts against the flag were always warmly applauded. As early as July there was much talk of secession, accompanied with constant drilling, and threats of taking the forts as soon as a separation should occur.
To the South Carolinians Fort Moultrie was almost a sacred spot, endeared by many precious historical associations; for the ancestors of most of the principal families had fought there in the Revolutionary War behind their hastily improvised ramparts of palmetto logs, and had gained a glorious victory over the British fleet in its first attempt to enter the harbor and capture the city.
The modern fort had been built nearly on the site of the ancient one. Its walls were but twelve feet high. They were old, weak, and so full of cracks that it was quite common to see soldiers climb to the top by means of the support these crevices afforded to their hands and feet. The constant action of the sea-breeze had drifted one immense heap of sand against the shore-front of the work, and another in the immediate vicinity. These sand-hills dominated the parapet, and made the fort untenable. Indeed, it was originally built by the engineers as a mere sea-battery, with just sufficient strength to prevent it from being taken by a coup de main. As an overpowering force of militia could always be summoned for its defense, it was supposed that no foreign army would ever attempt to besiege it. The contingency that the people of Charleston themselves might attack a fort intended for their own protection had never been anticipated.
Our force was pitifully small, even for a time of peace and for mere police purposes. It consisted of sixty-one enlisted men and seven officers, together with thirteen musicians of the regimental band; whereas the work called for a war garrison of three hundred men.
The first indication of actual danger came from Richmond, Virginia, in the shape of urgent inquiries as to the strength of our defenses, and the number of available troops in the harbor. These questions were put by a resident of that city named Edmund Ruffin; an old man, whose later years had been devoted to the formation of disunion lodges, and who became subsequently noted for firing the first gun at Fort Sumter. His love of slavery amounted to fanaticism. When the cause of the Rebellion became hopeless, he refused to survive it, and committed suicide.
In the beginning of July, Robert Barnwell Rhett, and other ultra men in Charleston, made violent speeches to the mob, urging them to drive every United States official out of the State; but as many influential Secessionists were enjoying the sweets of Federal patronage under Buchanan, we did not anticipate any immediate disturbance. To influence his hearers still more, Rhett did not hesitate to state that Hamlin was a mulatto, and he asked if they intended to submit to a negro vice-president.
It is an interesting question to know how far at this period the Secretary of War himself was loyal. Mr. Dawson, the able editor of the Historical Magazine, is of opinion, after a careful investigation of the facts, that Floyd at this time was true to the Union, and that he remained so until December 24th, when it was discovered that he had been advancing large sums of money from the Treasury to contractors, to pay for work which had never been commenced. To make the loss good, nearly a million of dollars was taken from the Indian Trust Fund.
Finding he would be dismissed from the Cabinet for his complicity in these transactions, and would also be indicted by the Grand Jury of the District of Columbia, he made a furious Secession speech, sent in his resignation, and suddenly left for the South. Mr. Dawson founds his opinion in this case upon the statement of Fitz John Porter, who was a major on duty in the War Department at the time, and therefore apparently well qualified to judge. Floyd's actions toward us, however, were not those of a true man, and I am of opinion that his loyalty was merely assumed for the occasion. He sent seventeen thousand muskets to South Carolina, when he knew that Charleston was a hot-bed of sedition, and that in all probability the arms would be used against the United States. Greeley says, in his "American Conflict," that during these turbulent times Floyd disarmed the Government by forwarding one hundred and fifteen thousand muskets, in all, to the Southern Confederacy. In addition to this, he sold large quantities of arms to S.B. Lamar, of Savannah, and other Secessionists in the South, on the plea that the muskets thus disposed of did not conform to the latest army model. Just before his resignation, he continued the same policy by directing that one hundred and twenty-four heavy guns should be shipped from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, to Ship Island, Mississippi, where there was no garrison, and to Galveston, Texas. Yet this was the official upon whom we were to rely for advice and protection. This was the wolf who was to guard the fold.
Our commander, Colonel Gardner, had done good service in the War of 1812 and in Mexico; but now, owing to his advanced age, was ill fitted to weather the storm that was about to burst upon us. In politics he was quite Southern, frequently asserting that the South had been treated outrageously in the question of the Territories, and defrauded of her just rights in other respects. He acquiesced, however, in the necessity of defending the fort should it be attacked; but as he lived with his family outside of the walls, he could not take a very active part himself. Indeed, on one occasion, when a Secession meeting was held in our immediate vicinity, accompanied with many threats and noisy demonstrations, he sent word to me to assume command at once in his place.
He now found himself in a peculiar position. The populace were becoming excited, and there was every probability that a collision, accidental or otherwise, might occur at any moment between the troops and the mob outside, if not between the troops and the State militia. The dilemma which confronted him was either to make a disgraceful surrender of his command, or take the other alternative, and fight South Carolina single-handed, without the aid or co-operation of the General Government. He thought the difficulty might perhaps be solved by removing the garrison to Smithville, North Carolina, having received permission to do so, in case the yellow fever, which had proved so disastrous the previous year, should break out again. Strange to say, some of the most ultra papers in the Southern interest in New York and Charleston ridiculed the proposed movement. They probably feared that our absence might deprive the conspirators of the prestige of an easy victory.
By the middle of August the country people began to be quite violent in their language, and made many threats of what they would do in case of Lincoln's election.
While the rebellion was thus drifting onward, the North remained quiescent, utterly refusing to believe in the existence of any real danger. Yet it was publicly known that, although the Southern States had refused to commit themselves to Secession, they were pledged not to allow South Carolina to be coerced, and this practically amounted to a powerful league against the Union, since it was a combination to prevent the enforcement of the laws which bound the States together.
As we were liable to be attacked at any moment, we desired to get rid of the sand-hills which dominated our walls. To this end we applied to the Quartermaster-general (General Joseph E. Johnston) for authority to hire citizen laborers; but he declined to accede to the request, on the ground that the work did not properly appertain to his department. He was a nephew of Floyd, and soon went over to the enemy. With the exception of Robert E. Lee, he subsequently became the most noted of all the rebel generals.
We were gratified, about the 1st of September, at seeing some signs of life in the Secretary of War, which seemed to show that he appreciated our dangers and difficulties. He ordered First Lieutenant and Brevet Captain John G. Foster, of the engineers, to repair to Fort Moultrie, and put that and the other defenses of Charleston harbor in perfect order. The reason privately assigned for this was that we were drifting into complications with England and France with reference to Mexico. For one, I gave the honorable secretary very little credit for this proceeding, inasmuch as he had just previous to this forwarded to South Carolina the means of arming and equipping seventeen thousand men against the United States. I, therefore, came to the conclusion that the forts were to be made ready for active service, in order that they might be turned over in that condition to the Southern League.
Two young lieutenants of engineers, G.W. Snyder and R.K. Meade, were soon after sent to Foster as assistants.
And here it may be well to speak of the officers of our command, as they were at that period. The record of their services afterward, during the rebellion, would constitute a volume in itself.
Colonel John L. Gardner was wounded in the war with Great Britain in 1812. He had also been engaged in the war against the Florida Indians, and the war with Mexico, receiving two brevets for the battles of Cerro Gordo and Contreras.
Seymour, Foster, and myself had also served in Mexico as second lieutenants on our first entrance into the army, and Davis as a non-commissioned officer of an Indiana regiment.
John G. Foster, severely wounded at Molino del Rey, and brevetted captain, was one of the most fearless and reliable men in the service.
Captain Truman Seymour, twice brevetted for gallantry at Cerro Gordo and Chernbusco, was an excellent artillery officer, full of invention and resource, a lover of poetry, and an adept at music and painting.
First Lieutenant Jefferson C. Davis, brave, generous, and impetuous—the boy-sergeant of Buena Vista—won his first commission in the regular army by his gallantry in that action.
First Lieutenant Theodore Talbot, when very young, had shared the dangers, privations, and sufferings of Fremont's party in their explorations to open a pathway across the continent. He was a cultivated man, and a representative of the chivalry of Kentucky, equally ready to meet his friend at the festive board, or his enemy at ten paces.
Doctor S. Wiley Crawford, our assistant surgeon, entered the service after the Mexican war. He was a genial companion, studious, and full of varied information. His ambition to win a name as a soldier soon induced him to quit the ranks of the medical profession.
Hall, Snyder, and Meade were recent graduates of the Academy, who had never seen active service in the field. They were full of zeal, intelligence, and energy.
In one respect we were quite fortunate: the habits of the officers were good, and there was no dissipation or drunkenness in the garrison. The majority of the men, too, were old soldiers, who could be thoroughly relied upon under all circumstances.
There was, also, one civilian with us, Mr. Edward Moale, who was clerk and brother-in-law to Captain Foster. His services were subsequently very valuable in many ways.
Fearing that in the course of events our correspondence might be tampered with, I invented a cipher which afterward proved to be very useful. It enabled me to communicate, through my brother in New York, much valuable information to Mr. Lincoln at Springfield, Preston King, Roscoe Conkling, and other leaders of public opinion, in relation to our strength and resources.
Situated as we were, we naturally desired to know how far Mr. Buchanan's Cabinet was willing to sustain us. William H. Trescott, of South Carolina, was Assistant Secretary of State at this time, and frequently corresponded with his brother, Doctor Trescott, in Charleston. We, therefore, naturally thought the views of the latter might indirectly reflect those of the Administration. The doctor was of opinion there would be no attempt at coercion in case South Carolina seceded, but that all postal and telegraphic communication would cease, and a man-of-war be placed outside to collect the revenue. This arrangement would leave our little force isolated and deserted, to bear the brunt of whatever might occur.
In October the disunionists became more bitter, but they were not disposed to be aggressive, as they thought Buchanan could be relied upon not to take any decisive action against them.
Colonel Gardner would not at this time mount the guns, or take any precautions whatever. He alleged, with reason, that the work was all torn to pieces by the engineers; that it was full of debris, and that, under the circumstances, he was not responsible for any thing that might happen. We had been promised a considerable number of recruits, but they were kept back; and we now ascertained that none would be sent until late in December, after the crisis was over.
In the latter part of the month I became quite unpopular in Charleston; partly on account of my anti-slavery sentiments, but more especially because some very offensive articles, written from that city, had appeared in the Northern papers, and were attributed to me. It seems that at this very time an abolition correspondent of the New York Tribune was employed in the office of Rhett's paper, the Charleston Mercury. This man professed to be the most loud-mouthed secessionist of them all. In conversation with me afterward, he claimed to be the author of the articles referred to.
In truth, these were days of extraordinary proscription for opinion's sake. I heard with profound indignation of the case of a poor seamstress from New York, who had been sent to jail in Charleston simply for stating that she did not believe in the institution of slavery. On appealing to the then mayor of New York, Fernando Wood, he replied that he was rejoiced she was in prison, and hoped she would be kept there.
Toward the close of the month, the South Carolina leaders began to fear that the other Southern States would not join them, and were engaged in discussing the subject of a French protectorate.
The negroes overheard a great deal that was said by their masters, and in consequence became excited and troublesome, for the news flew like wild-fire among them that "Massa Linkum" was coming to set them all free.
The enthusiasm of the moneyed men in Charleston began to cool when they reflected upon the enormous expenses involved in keeping up a standing army in an agricultural State like South Carolina. At the request of some Union men, Captain Seymour made a startling exhibit, showing the large amount required to maintain even a moderate force. It had a good effect upon the merchants, and, indeed, if the other Southern States had not promptly sustained South Carolina, the movement must have soon collapsed from its inherent weakness.
Although the secession leaders were preparing to meet coercion, if it should come, I will do them the justice to say that they determined to commit no overt act against the Union so long as the State formed an integral part of it. They soon found, however, that the mob did not recognize these fine distinctions. It was easy to raise the storm, but, once under full headway, it was difficult to govern it. Independent companies and minute-men were everywhere forming, in opposition to their wishes; for these organizations, from their very nature, were quite unmanageable. The military commanders much preferred the State militia, because they could control it by law. A gentleman from the country, who had joined the minute-men, came in one day to the Charleston Hotel, with a huge cockade on his hat, expecting to be received with great applause; but, to his astonishment, he was greeted with laughter and ridicule.
On the 29th of October, General Scott wrote his celebrated letter to the President, recommending that strong garrisons be placed at once in all the Southern forts. Undoubtedly this was good advice; but as our army was widely scattered all over the West to protect the frontier settlements from the Indians, only five small companies were available for the purpose. The suggestion, therefore, had but little practical value.
November had arrived. The muttering of the storm was heard all around us, and yet not one word of counsel or encouragement came from Washington. Colonel Gardner began to feel uneasy at this studied silence, and determined to place the responsibility of any disaster that might occur where it properly belonged. On the 1st of the month he made a full report to his next superior officer, General Wool, at Troy, New York, to be forwarded to the Secretary of War, in relation to the dangers that threatened us, and our imperfect means of defense. He notified them that our provisions would be exhausted by the 20th of the month, and that we were very deficient in ammunition and military supplies generally. The secretary, in his answer to this communication, simply expressed his regret that he had not been informed of all this before. This sympathy was no doubt very gratifying; but, being of an entirely passive nature, did not benefit us in the least. Colonel Gardner, at our solicitation, directed that the guns which had been dismounted to enable the engineers to make their repairs be remounted at once, and Seymour's company and mine soon placed them in position. It was of little use, however, to have our armament in readiness, unless the approaches to the fort could be carefully watched. This it was impossible to do by the ordinary system of guard duty; but I suggested a plan which enabled us to have an ample number of sentinels, without exhausting the men. It was done by placing each man on guard for a single hour, between tattoo and reveille, allowing him to sleep for the remainder of the night.
PREPARATIONS FOR DEFENSE.
Defeat of Captain Seymour's Expedition on the Ashley.—Mayor Macbeth's Explanation.—Captain Foster's Work on Fort Moultrie.—Governor Gist convenes the South Carolina Legislature.—Creation of a Standing Army.—Arrival of Masons from Baltimore.—Situation of Fort Sumter.—A Dramatic Incident.—Secretary Floyd's Action.—Horace Greeley's Advocacy of the Right of Secession.—The Situation November 18th.
The United States Arsenal in Charleston is situated on the banks of the Ashley River. It looked feasible to go there in a boat without attracting attention, and procure a full supply of cartridges and other articles which were very much needed. Captain Seymour volunteered for the service, and was sent over with a small party, early in the afternoon. Notwithstanding he took every precaution, some spy belonging to a vigilance committee followed him, and reported the facts in the city. Seymour at once found himself beset by an excited mob, and wholly prevented from accomplishing the object of his mission. Colonel Gardner wrote to Mayor Macbeth for an explanation. The latter apologized politely for this unexpected occurrence, and, speaking for himself and other city officials, stated that so long as they staid in the Union they desired to remain faithful to its obligations, and that no further obstacles would be thrown in the way of another expedition. Colonel Gardner, however, did not send out again, thinking, perhaps, the mob might be beyond the control of the mayor.
Since his arrival, Captain Foster had been hard at work on the fort. He had hired laborers from the vicinity of Charleston, and had sent to Baltimore for a large number of masons who had formerly worked for him. In spite of his efforts, we were still in a very weak condition, and unable to defend ourselves. It is true the sand had been removed from the sea-face of the work; but as that front had no flanking defenses, the angles in the wall were torn down to enable the engineers to construct double caponieres there. This left great gaps, through which an assaulting party could penetrate at any moment. Perhaps in one sense it added to our security, for there was no glory to be acquired in capturing a fort which was wide open and defenseless. Crowds of excited countrymen, wearing secession cockades, constantly came to visit the work; and on the 3d of November they formed in procession and marched around it, but did not offer any violence.
It may not be improper to state that I was the only officer of the command who favored Lincoln's election. As regards my companions, however, there was no difference of opinion in regard to sustaining the new President should he be legally elected, and they were all both willing and anxious to defend the fort confided to their honor.
In view of the probable success of the Republican candidate for the presidency, Governor Gist called the South Carolina Legislature together, to meet on Monday, the 5th of November. In his message he recommended the immediate formation of a standing army of ten thousand men; and that all persons between the ages of eighteen and forty-five be armed for immediate service. In consequence of this recommendation, by the 9th of November the whole State was swarming with minute-men.
The spark came at last which was to set fire to the magazine. The startling news of Lincoln's election reached Charleston on the 7th of November. As this event was sure to lead to secession, the Disunionists were wild with delight. In their exuberance of spirits, they ran through the streets shouting "Hurra for Lincoln!" The United States District Court, which was in session, at once broke up, and its judge, Magrath, sent in his resignation. In the evening of the same day, Edmund Ruffin, who has already been referred to, made a fiery secession speech to an immense audience at the capitol of the State. The Legislature, inflamed by public sentiment, called a convention, to meet on the 17th of the month, to decide the question of secession. Governor Joseph E. Brown, of Georgia, also called a convention there for the same purpose; and the excitement in each State constantly reacted on the other.
In the early part of November, one hundred and fifty masons arrived from Baltimore to work on the forts in the harbor. They were undoubtedly good workmen, but it is much to be regretted that they were not also good Unionists. Captain Foster at this time did not believe that any serious complications would arise from the attitude South Carolina had assumed, and did not, therefore, think it necessary to pay any attention to the politics of his laborers. Had he selected zealous Union men, their arrival would have been a most opportune re-enforcement for the garrison. Unfortunately, most of them sympathized with the South, and their coming was rather a source of weakness than of strength, so far as actual fighting was concerned. They rendered us, however, great and timely assistance by their labor.
The first thing that attracted the eye of the stranger, upon approaching Charleston from the sea, was Fort Sumter. It was built on an artificial island made of large blocks of stone. The walls were of dark brick, and designed for three tiers of guns. The whole structure, as it rose abruptly out of the water, had a gloomy, prison-like appearance. It was situated on the edge of the channel, in the narrowest part of the harbor, between Fort Moultrie and Cummings Point, distant about a mile from the former place, and twelve hundred yards from the latter. The year before, it had been used by us as a temporary place of confinement and security for some negroes that had been brought over from Africa in a slaver captured by one of our naval vessels. The inevitable conflict was very near breaking out at that time; for there was an eager desire on the part of all the people around us to seize these negroes, and distribute them among the plantations; and if the Government had not acted promptly in sending them back to Africa, I think an attempt would have been made to take them from us by force, on the ground that some of them had violated a State law by landing at Moultrieville.
As Fort Sumter has considerable historic renown, it may not be uninteresting to relate another incident connected with it, although it is not germane to my narrative. In 1859, after the negroes were taken away, the fort remained in charge of an ordnance-sergeant, who lived there alone with his wife and two little children. Supplies were sent to him regularly, but in case of emergency he could only communicate with the shore by means of a small boat. One wild stormy day, when the wind was blowing a gale, he was suddenly struck down with yellow fever. His wife saw that if he did not have immediate medical assistance he would die. She herself could not go, as he required constant attention, and the children were too young to be of any service. A day passed on, and it became evident that he was growing worse. In a frantic state of mind, she rushed up to the top of the fort, waved a sheet backward and forward, and raised and lowered the garrison flag repeatedly, in hopes of attracting the attention of some passing vessel; but although several went by, no one seemed to notice the signals, or, if they did, they would not stop, on account of the tempest, which still continued. She then took the desperate resolution of putting her two little children in the small boat, and trusting to the flood-tide to drift them somewhere in the vicinity of Charleston. She placed a letter in the hand of one of them, to be given to the first person they met, imploring that a physician might be sent to her at once. It was a terrible experiment, for the children might easily have been swept out to sea by the ebb-tide before they could make a landing. They succeeded, however, in reaching the shore near Mount Pleasant. A doctor finally arrived, but too late to be of any service.
Foster wanted forty muskets to arm some of his workmen, as a guard for the powder in Fort Sumter, and for valuable public property in Castle Pinckney. This was approved at Washington; but the moment he obtained the guns from the arsenal, the Secretary of War hastily telegraphed him, in the middle of the night, to send them back again immediately. And yet at this same period two thousand additional United States muskets were forwarded by Floyd's order to South Carolina; and the Charleston Courier stated that five thousand more were on their way. This did not look, much as if the Administration intended to sustain us. While the honorable secretary was thus supplying our enemies with arms, and leaving the United States Arsenal in Charleston, full of military stores, without a guard, he was very solicitous to ascertain whether our garrison duties were accurately performed, and sent an assistant inspector-general, Major Fitz John Porter, to make a thorough examination. As the secretary intended neither to re-enforce nor withdraw us, and as he made no effort at any time to remedy defects in our armament, this inspection seemed to us to be a mere pretense. It resulted, however, in relieving Colonel Gardner from his command, on Porter's recommendation, Major Robert Anderson being ordered to take his place.
Mr. Greeley was at this time the head of the Republican party, and one of the great leaders of Northern opinion. His immense services in rousing the public mind to the evils of slavery can not be overestimated, but some of his views were too hastily formed and promulgated. In this crisis of our history he injured the cause he afterward so eloquently advocated by publishing an opinion, on the 9th of November, that the South had a perfect right to secede whenever a majority thought proper to do so; and, in another communication, he stated that the Union could not be pinned together with bayonets. General Scott was also at one time in favor of letting the "wayward sisters depart in peace;" and I have heard on good authority that at least one member of the Cabinet and one leading general, appalled by the magnitude of the conflict, were willing to consent to a separation, provided the Border States would go with the North. Greeley's article went farther than this, for it seemed to favor a simple severance of the North and the South. This was not only a virtual abandonment of the rights of Northern men who had invested their capital in the Southern States, but it amounted to giving up all the sea-coast and magnificent harbors south of New Jersey, including Chesapeake Bay. It was expressing a willingness to surrender the mouth of the Mississippi, the commerce of the great North-west, and the Capitol at Washington, to the control of a foreign nation, hostile to us from the very nature of its institutions. In fact, it was a proposition to commit national suicide. The new Northern republic would have been three thousand miles long, and only one hundred miles wide, in the vicinity of Wheeling. A country of such a peculiar shape could not, as every military man knows, have been successfully defended, and must inevitably have soon broken up into small confederacies. We objected, with reason, to the formation of a European monarchy in far-off Mexico, but the proposed separation would have created a powerful slave empire, with its northern border within eighteen miles of Philadelphia. Once firmly established there and along the Ohio, the Southern army could have burned Cincinnati from the opposite shore, and have penetrated to Lake Erie by a single successful battle and march, permanently severing the East from the West.
These unexpected views of Mr. Greeley strengthened the hands of the Disunionists. They were everywhere quoted as evidence that no attempt would be made to interfere with or coerce the South. The fearful and wavering were thus induced to join the clamorous majority.
I think, too, that the publication of these sentiments did much to influence the after-conduct of Major Anderson. He was not a Republican himself, and he may very well have thought, if the Republican leaders did not deny the right of secession, there was little use in his sacrificing his small command in a feeble attempt to make South Carolina remain in the Union.
The sky darkened after this, for Georgia voted a million of dollars to raise troops, and it became evident that the other Southern States would follow in the same direction.
By the 18th of November we considered ourselves reasonably secure against a coup-de-main. Our guns were up, and loaded with canister, and we had a fair supply of hand-grenades ready for use. With a view to intimidate those who were planning an attack, I occasionally fired toward the sea an eight-inch howitzer, loaded with double canister. The spattering of so many balls in the water looked very destructive, and startled and amazed the gaping crowds around. I also amused myself by making some small mines, which would throw a shell a few feet out of the ground whenever any person accidentally trod upon a concealed plank: of course the shell did not have a bursting charge in it. These experiments had a cooling effect upon the ardor of the militia, who did not fancy storming the fort over a line of torpedoes.
PRELIMINARY MOVEMENTS OF THE SECESSIONISTS.
Arrival of Major Anderson.—Huger's Opposition to a premature Assault on Fort Moultrie.—Anderson's Report to the Secretary of War.—Active Preparations by the South Carolinians.—Meeting of Congress.—Attempts at Compromise.—Secession Batteries at Mount Pleasant.—Arrival of Major Buell with written Orders.—Vain Efforts to Strengthen Castle Pinckney.—Northern Opinion.—Public Meeting in Philadelphia.
It was now openly proclaimed in Charleston that declarations in favor of the Union would no longer be tolerated; that the time for deliberation had passed, and the time for action had come.
On the 21st our new commander arrived and assumed command. He felt as if he had a hereditary right to be there, for his father had distinguished himself in the Revolutionary War in defense of old Fort Moultrie against the British, and had been confined a long time as a prisoner in Charleston. We had long known Anderson as a gentleman; courteous, honest, intelligent, and thoroughly versed in his profession. He had been twice brevetted for gallantry—once for services against the Seminole Indians in Florida, and once for the battle of Molino del Rey in Mexico, where he was badly wounded. In politics he was a strong pro-slavery man. Nevertheless, he was opposed to secession and Southern extremists. He soon found himself in troubled waters, for the approaching battle of Fort Moultrie was talked of everywhere throughout the State, and the mob in Charleston could hardly be restrained from making an immediate assault. They were kept back once through the exertions of Colonel Benjamin Huger, of the Ordnance Department of the United States Army. As he belonged to one of the most distinguished families in Charleston, he had great influence there. It was said at the time that he threatened if we were attacked, or rather mobbed, in this way, he would join us, and fight by the side of his friend Anderson. Colonel Memminger, afterward the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury, also exerted himself to prevent any irregular and unauthorized violence.
An additional force of workmen having arrived from Baltimore, Captain Foster retained one hundred and twenty to continue the work on Fort Moultrie, leaving his assistant, Lieutenant Snyder, one hundred and nine men to finish Fort Sumter.
On the 1st of December, Major Anderson made a full report to Secretary Floyd in relation to our condition and resources. It was accompanied with requisitions, in due form, for supplies and military material. Colonel Gardner, before he left, had already applied for rations for the entire command for six months.
Previous to Lincoln's election, Governor Gist had stated that in that event the State would undoubtedly secede, and demand the forts, and that any hesitation or delay in giving them up would lead to an immediate assault. Active preparations were now in progress to carry out this threat. In the first week of December we learned that cannon had been secretly sent to the northern extremity of the island, to guard the channel and oppose the passage of any vessels bringing us re-enforcements by that entrance. We learned, too, that lines of countervallation had been quietly marked out at night, with a view to attack the fort by regular approaches in case the first assault failed. Also, that two thousand of the best riflemen in the State were engaged to occupy an adjacent sand-hill and the roofs of the adjoining houses, all of which overlooked the parapet, the intention being to shoot us down the moment we attempted to man our guns. Yet the Administration made no arrangements to withdraw us, and no effort to re-enforce us, because to do the former would excite great indignation in the North, and the latter might be treated as coercion by the South. So we were left to our own scanty resources, with every probability that the affair would end in a massacre. Under these circumstances the appropriating of $150,000 to repair Fort Moultrie and $80,000 to finish Fort Sumter by the mere order of the Secretary of War, without the authority of Congress, was simply an expenditure of public money for the benefit of the Secessionists, and I have no doubt it was so intended. Forts constructed in an enemy's country, and left unguarded, are built for the enemy.
Congress met on the 3d of December, but took no action in relation to our peculiar position. As usual, their whole idea was to settle the matter by some new compromise. The old experiment was to be tried over again: St. Michael and the Dragon were to lie down in peace, and become boon companions once more.
The office-holders in the South, who saw in Lincoln's election an end to their pay and emoluments, were Secessionists to a man, and did their best to keep up the excitement. They tried to make the poor whites believe that through the re-opening of the African slave-trade negroes would be for sale, in a short time, at thirty dollars a head; and that every laboring man would soon become a rich slave-owner and cotton-planter. To the timid, they said there would be no coercion. To the ambitious, they spoke of military glory, and the formation of a vast slave empire, to include Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. The merchants were assured that Charleston would be a free port, rivaling New York in its trade and opulence.
They painted the future in glowing colors, but the present looked dreary enough. All business was at an end. The expenses of the State had become enormous, and financial ruin was rapidly approaching. The heavy property-owners began to fear they might have to bear the brunt of all these military preparations in the way of forced loans. For a time a strong reaction set in against the Rhett faction, but intimidation and threats prevented any open retrograde movement.
Among those who were reported to be most clamorous to have an immediate attack made upon us, was a certain captain of the United States Dragoons, named Lucius B. Northrup; afterward made Paymaster-general of South Carolina, and subsequently, through the personal friendship of Jeff. Davis, promoted to be Commissary-general of the rebel army. He had resided for several years in Charleston on sick-leave, on full pay. Before urging an assault he should have had the grace to resign his commission, for his oath of office bound him to be a friend to his comrades in the army, and not an enemy. I am tempted, in this connection, to show how differently the rebel general Magruder acted, under similar circumstances, when he was a captain and brevet colonel in our service. He said to his officers, the evening before he rode over the Long Bridge, at Washington, to join the Confederates, "If the rebels come to-night, we'll give them hell; but to-morrow I shall send in my resignation, and become a rebel myself."
Amidst all this turmoil, our little band of regulars kept their spirits up, and determined to fight it out to the last against any force that might be brought against them. The brick-layers, however, at work in Fort Sumter were considerably frightened. They held a meeting, and resolved to defend themselves, if attacked by the Charleston roughs, but not to resist any organized force.
On the 11th of December we had the good fortune to get our provisions from town without exciting observation. They had been lying there several days. It was afterward stated in the papers that the captain of the schooner was threatened severely for having brought them. On the same day the enemy began to build batteries at Mount Pleasant, and at the upper end of Sullivan's Island, guns having already been sent there. We also heard that ladders had been provided for parties to escalade our walls. Indeed, the proposed attack was no longer a secret. Gentlemen from the city said to us, "We appreciate your position. It is a point of honor with you to hold the fort, but a political necessity obliges us to take it."
My wife, becoming indignant at these preparations, and the utter apathy of the Government in regard to our affairs, wrote a stirring letter to my brother, in New York, stating some of the facts I have mentioned. By some means it found its way into the columns of the Evening Post, and did much to call attention to the subject, and awaken the Northern people to a true sense of the situation. She was quite distressed to find her hasty expressions in print, and freely commented on both by friends and enemies. I may say, in passing, that the distinguished editor of that paper, William Cullen Bryant, proved to be one of the best friends we had at the North. George W. Curtis, who aided us freely with his pen and influence, was another. They exerted themselves to benefit us in every way, and were among the first to invoke the patriotism of the nation to extricate us from our difficulties, and save the union of the States. When we returned to New York, they and their friends gave us a cordial and heartfelt welcome.
To resume the thread of my narrative. The fort by this time had been considerably strengthened. The crevices were filled up, and the walls were made sixteen feet high, by digging down to the foundations and throwing up the surplus earth as a glacis. Each of the officers had a certain portion given him to defend. I caused a sloping picket fence, technically called a fraise, to be projected over the parapet on my side of the work, as an obstacle against an escalading party. I understood that this puzzled the military men and newspapers in Charleston exceedingly. They could not imagine what object I could have in view. One of the editors said, in reference to it, "Make ready your sharpened stakes, but you will not intimidate freemen."
There was one good reason why our opponents did not desire to commence immediate hostilities. The delay was manifestly to their advantage, for the engineers were putting Fort Sumter in good condition at the expense of the United States. They (the rebels) intended to occupy it as soon as the work approached completion. In the mean time, to prevent our anticipating them, they kept two steamers on guard, to patrol the harbor, and keep us from crossing. These boats contained one hundred and twenty soldiers, and were under the command of Ex-lieutenant James Hamilton, who had recently resigned from the United States Navy.
The threatening movements against Fort Moultrie required incessant vigilance on our part, and we were frequently worn out with watching and fatigue. On one of these occasions Mrs. Seymour and Mrs. Doubleday volunteered to take the places of Captain Seymour and myself, and they took turns in walking the parapet, two hours at a time, in readiness to notify the guard in case the minute-men became more than usually demonstrative.
In December the secretary sent another officer of the Inspector-general's Department, Major Don Carlos Buell, to examine and report upon our condition. Buell bore written orders, which were presented on the 11th, directing Major Anderson not to provoke hostilities, but in case of immediate danger to defend himself to the last extremity, and take any steps that he might think necessary for that purpose. There would appear to be some mystery connected with this subject, for Anderson afterward stated to Seymour, as a reason for not firing when the rebels attempted to sink the Star of the West, that his instructions tied his hands, and obliged him to remain quiescent. Now, as there are no orders of this character on record in the War Department, they must have been of a verbal and confidential nature. In my opinion, Floyd was fully capable of supplementing written orders to resist, by verbal orders to surrender without resistance. If he did so, I can conceive of nothing more treacherous, for his object must have been to make Anderson the scape-goat of whatever might occur. Buell, however, is not the man to be the bearer of any treacherous communication. Still, he did not appear to sympathize much with us, for he expressed his disapproval of our defensive preparations; referring particularly to some loop-holes near the guard-house, which he said would have a tendency to irritate the people. I thought the remark a strange one, under the circumstances, as "the people" were preparing to attack us. I had no doubt, at the time, in spite of the warlike message he had brought, that Buell's expressions reflected the wishes of his superiors. I have ascertained recently that Floyd did have one or more confidential agents in Charleston, who were secretly intermeddling in this matter, without the sanction of the President or the open authority of the War Office. It appears from the records that another assistant adjutant-general, Captain Withers, who joined the rebels at the outbreak of the rebellion, and became a rebel general, was also sent by Floyd to confer with Anderson. It is not at all improbable, therefore, that some one of the messengers who actually joined the enemy may have been the bearer of a treasonable communication. It appears from Anderson's own statement that his hands were tied, and no one that knew him would ever doubt his veracity. Yet, if he really desired to retain possession of Charleston harbor for the Government, and Floyd's orders stood in his way, why did he not, after the latter fled to the South, make a plain statement to the new secretary, Judge Holt, whose patriotism was undoubted, and ask for fresh instructions? It looks to me very much as if he accepted the orders without question because he preferred the policy of non-resistance.
I shall have occasion to refer to this subject again in the course of my narrative.
We had frequently regretted the absence of a garrison in Castle Pinckney, as that post, being within a mile of Charleston, could easily control the city by means of its mortars and heavy guns. We were too short-handed ourselves to spare a single soldier. The brave ordnance-sergeant, Skillen, who was in charge there, begged hard that we would send him a few artillerists. He could not bear the thought of surrendering the work to the enemies of the Government without a struggle, and would have made a determined resistance if he could have found any one to stand by him. We talked the matter over, and Captain Foster thought he could re-enforce Skillen by selecting a few reliable men from his masons to assist in defending the place. He accordingly sent a body of picked workmen there, under his assistant, Lieutenant R.K. Meade, with orders to make certain repairs. The moment, however, Meade attempted to teach these men the drill at the heavy guns, they drew back in great alarm, and it was soon seen that no dependence could be placed upon them. So Castle Pinckney was left to its fate.
As the General Government seemed quietly to have deserted us, we watched the public sentiment at the North with much interest. There was but little to encourage us there. The Northern cities, however, were beginning to appreciate the gravity of the crisis. At the call of the Mayor of Philadelphia, a great public meeting was held in Independence Square. For one, I was thoroughly dispirited and disgusted at the resolutions that were passed. They were evidently prompted by the almighty dollar, and the fear of losing the Southern trade. They urged that the North should be more than ever subservient to the South, more active in catching fugitive slaves, and more careful not to speak against the institution of slavery. As a pendant to these resolutions, an official attempt was made, a few days afterward, to prevent the eloquent Republican orator, George W. Curtis, from advocating the Northern side of the question.
THE REMOVAL TO FORT SUMTER.
Passage of the Secession Ordinance.—Governor Pickens's Proclamation.—Judge Petigru's Visit to Fort Moultrie.—Floyd's Treachery.—Yancey's Lectures in the North.—The Removal to Fort Sumter.
On the 17th a bill was passed to arm the militia of North Carolina.
On the same day the Charleston Convention met, and chose General D.F. Jamison as their president, and on the 20th of the month the secession ordinance was duly passed, and South Carolina voted out of the Union amidst screams of enthusiasm. Immediately afterward there was great competition for the possession of the immortal pen with which the instrument was signed. At the close of the war, I heard it was for sale at a very low figure.
The new Governor, Francis W. Pickens, signed the ordinance very gladly, and issued his proclamation on the 24th declaring South Carolina to be a free and independent nation. He had served as a member of Congress from 1835 to 1843, and as Minister to Russia in 1858, but he was not considered a man of decided ability. He was very impetuous in his disposition, and, according to a statement made by him in one of his Congressional speeches, which attracted much attention at the time, he was "born insensible to fear."
Soon after the State seceded, that stern old patriot, Judge J.L. Petigru, of South Carolina, came over, with one of his friends, to pay us a final visit, to express the deep sorrow and sympathy he felt for us in our trying position. As he knew that arrangements were being made to drive us out, he bade us farewell with much feeling. The tears rolled down his cheeks as he deplored the folly and the madness of the times. He had been previously asked in the city if he did not intend to join the secession movement. He replied, "I should think not! South Carolina is too small for a republic, and too large for a lunatic-asylum." At a later period of the war, it is said he was called upon to give up the property of his Northern clients for confiscation, under a law which made it treason to refuse. He positively declined to comply with the demand, and said, with much spirit, "Whenever the time comes for me to choose between death and dishonor, I shall have no difficulty in saying which of the two I shall elect." It is much to be regretted that he did not live to witness the final triumph of the cause which was so dear to him.
Four of Buchanan's Cabinet—Floyd, Cobb, Toucey, and Thompson—were now open and avowed Disunionists. On the 23d, a defalcation of eight hundred and thirty-three thousand dollars was discovered in the Department of the Interior, while the Secretary, Jacob Thompson, was absent from his post, and acting as a disunion agent, to represent the State of Mississippi. This dallying with treason in the Cabinet was one of the most discouraging signs of the times.
A circumstance now occurred which to my mind was proof positive that Floyd intended to betray us and the Government he represented. I have no doubt it hastened our departure from Fort Moultrie. He directed Captain Foster to have the guns mounted in Fort Sumter immediately. It was plain enough, from demonstrations already made, that the moment this was done the rebels would seize the fort, and turn its powerful armament upon us. There was no one there to resist them. It seems to me that Floyd's speech to the Secessionists of Richmond, made shortly after his flight from Washington, was a pretty plain acknowledgment that he had violated his oath of office as Secretary of War, in order that he might advance the interests of the Confederacy. He said on that occasion, "I undertook so to dispose of the power in my hands that when the terrific hour came, you, and all of you, and each of you, should say, 'This man has done his duty.'"
Anderson had been urged by several of us to remove his command to Fort Sumter, but he had invariably replied that he was specially assigned to Fort Moultrie, and had no right to vacate it without orders. Our affairs, however, were becoming critical, and I thought it my duty to speak to him again on the subject. He still apparently adhered to his decision. Nevertheless, he had fully determined to make the change, and was now merely awaiting a favorable opportunity. To deceive the enemy, he still kept at work with unabated zeal on the defenses of Fort Moultrie. This exactly suited the purposes of the rebel leaders, for they knew we could make no effectual defense there, and our preparations would only increase the prestige of their victory. We were not authorized to commence hostilities by burning the adjacent houses, and yet, if they were not leveled, clouds of riflemen could occupy them, and prevent our men from serving the guns. Under any circumstances, it was plain that we must soon succumb from over-exertion and loss of sleep incident to repelling incessant attacks from a host of enemies. The fact that through the provident care of the Secretary of War the guns of Fort Sumter would also be turned upon us, enfilading two sides of Fort Moultrie, and taking another side in reverse, was quite decisive as to the impossibility of our making a lengthened defense.
Up to this time we had hoped, almost against hope, that, even if the Government were base enough to desert us, the loyal spirit of the patriotic North would manifest itself in our favor, inasmuch as our little force represented the supremacy of the Constitution and the laws; but all seemed doubt, apathy, and confusion there. Yancey was delivering lectures in the Northern States, as a representative of the Disunionists, not only without molestation, but with frequent and vociferous applause from the Democratic masses, who could not be made to believe there was any real danger.
In making his arrangements to cross over, Anderson acted with consummate prudence and ability. He only communicated his design to the staff-officers, whose co-operation was indispensable, and he waited until the moment of execution before he informed the others of his intention. No one, of course, would deliberately betray a secret of this kind, but it sometimes happens, under such circumstances, that officers give indications of what is about to take place by sending for their washing, packing their trunks, and making changes in their messing arrangements.
Without knowing positively that any movement had been projected, two circumstances excited my suspicions. Once, while I was walking with the major on the parapet, he turned to me abruptly, and asked me what would be the best course to take to render the gun-carriages unserviceable. I told him there were several methods, but my plan would be to heap pitch-pine knots around them, and burn them up. The question was too suggestive to escape my attention.
On the day previous to our departure, I requested him to allow me to purchase a large quantity of wire, to make an entanglement in front of the part of the work I was assigned to defend. He said, with a quizzical look, "Certainly; you shall have a mile of wire, if you require it." When I proposed to send for it immediately, he smiled, and objected in such a peculiar way that I at once saw that he was no longer interested in our efforts to strengthen Fort Moultrie.
As a preliminary to the proposed movement, he directed the post quartermaster, Lieutenant Hall, to charter three schooners and some barges, for the ostensible purpose of transporting the soldiers' families to old Fort Johnson, on the opposite side of the harbor, where there were some dilapidated public buildings belonging to the United States. The danger of the approaching conflict was a good pretext for the removal of the non-combatants. All this seemed natural enough to the enemy, and no one offered any opposition. In reality, these vessels were loaded with supplies for all the troops, with reference to a prolonged residence in Fort Sumter. Hall was directed to land every thing there as soon as a signal-gun was fired. In the mean time he sailed for Fort Johnson, and lay off and on, waiting for the signal.
Anderson had broken up his own mess, and on the last evening of our stay (December 26th) I left my room to ask him in to take tea with us. The sun was just setting as I ascended the steps leading to the parapet and approached him. He was in the midst of a group of officers, each of whom seemed silent and distrait. As I passed our assistant-surgeon, I remarked, "It is a fine evening, Crawford." He replied in a hesitating and embarrassed manner, showing that his thoughts were elsewhere. I saw plainly that something unusual had occurred. Anderson approached me as I advanced, and said quietly, "I have determined to evacuate this post immediately, for the purpose of occupying Fort Sumter; I can only allow you twenty minutes to form your company and be in readiness to start." I was surprised at this announcement, and realized the gravity of the situation at a glance. We were watched by spies and vigilance-committees, who would undoubtedly open fire upon us as soon as they saw the object of the movement. I was naturally concerned, too, for the safety of my wife, who was the only lady in the fort at that time, and who would necessarily be exposed to considerable danger. Fortunately, I had little or no property to lose, as, in anticipation of a crisis, I had previously sent every thing of value to New York. Some of the other officers did not fare so well. The doctor, not expecting so sudden a denouement, had necessarily left his medical stores unpacked. Foster, who had taken a house outside for his family, was wholly unprepared, and lost heavily.
I made good use of the twenty minutes allowed me. I first went to the barracks, formed my company, inspected it, and saw that each man was properly armed and equipped. This left me ten minutes to spare. I dashed over to my quarters; told my wife to get ready to leave immediately, and as the fighting would probably commence in a few minutes, I advised her to take refuge with some family outside, and get behind the sand-hills as soon as possible, to avoid the shot. She hastily threw her wearing-apparel into her trunks, and I called two men to put her baggage outside the main gate. I then accompanied her there, and we took a sad and hasty leave of each other, for neither knew when or where we would meet again. As soon as this was accomplished, I strapped on my revolver, tied a blanket across my shoulders, and reported to Major Anderson that my men were in readiness to move.
In the mean time Lieutenant Jefferson C. Davis, of my company, who had been detailed to command the rear guard, aimed the guns, which were already loaded, to bear upon the passage to Fort Sumter, and Captain Foster and Assistant-surgeon Crawford, with two sergeants and three privates, remained with him, and took post at five columbiads, in readiness to carry out Major Anderson's design, which was to sink the guard-boats, should they attempt to fire into us or run us down while en route. Certainly the major showed no lack of determination or energy on this occasion.
If we were successful in crossing, Davis was to follow with the remainder of the men. Foster and Mr. Moale agreed to remain behind until morning. They also volunteered to place themselves at the guns, and cover the retreat of the rear guard under Davis, in case an attempt was made to intercept them.
The chaplain, the Rev. Matthias Harris, being a non-combatant, and having his family in the village, was not notified. Neither was Surgeon Simons, of the army, who was living in a house adjoining the fort, and directly in line with our guns. When he saw the movement in progress, he hastened out with his family, to shelter them behind the sand-hills as soon as possible.
Every thing being in readiness, we passed out of the main gates, and silently made our way for about a quarter of a mile to a spot where the boats were hidden behind an irregular pile of rocks, which originally formed part of the sea-wall. There was not a single human being in sight as we marched to the rendezvous, and we had the extraordinary good luck to be wholly unobserved. We found several boats awaiting us, under charge of two engineer officers, Lieutenants Snyder and Meade. They and their crews were crouched down behind the rocks, to escape observation. In a low tone they pointed out to me the boats intended for my company, and then pushed out rapidly to return to the fort. Noticing that one of the guard-boats was approaching, they made a wide circuit to avoid it. I hoped there would be time for my party to cross before the steamer could overhaul us; but as among my men there were a number of unskillful oarsmen, we made but slow progress, and it soon became evident that we would be overtaken in mid-channel. It was after sunset, and the twilight had deepened, so that there was a fair chance for us to escape. While the steamer was yet afar off, I took off my cap, and threw open my coat to conceal the buttons. I also made the men take off their coats, and use them to cover up their muskets, which were lying alongside the rowlocks. I hoped in this way that we might pass for a party of laborers returning to the fort. The paddle-wheels stopped within about a hundred yards of us; but, to our great relief, after a slight scrutiny, the steamer kept on its way. In the mean time our men redoubled their efforts, and we soon arrived at our destination. As we ascended the steps of the wharf, crowds of workmen rushed out to meet us, most of them wearing secession emblems. One or two Union men among them cheered lustily, but the majority called out angrily, "What are these soldiers doing here?" I at once formed my men, charged bayonets, drove the tumultuous mass inside the fort, and seized the guard-room, which commanded the main entrance. I then placed sentinels to prevent the crowd from encroaching on us. As soon as we had disembarked, the boats were sent back for Seymour's company. The major landed soon after in one of the engineer boats, which had coasted along to avoid the steamer. Seymour's men arrived in safety, followed soon after by the remaining detachments, which had been left behind as a rear-guard. The latter, however, ran a good deal of risk, for in the dark it passed almost under the bow of the guard-boat Nina. The whole movement was successful beyond our most sanguine expectations, and we were highly elated. The signal-gun was fired, and Hall at once sailed over, and landed the soldiers' families and supplies. As soon as the schooners were unloaded, the disloyal workmen were placed on board and shipped off to the main-land. Only a few of the best and most reliable were retained.
Upon leaving me, my wife took refuge temporarily in the residence of Dan Sinclair, the sutler of the post, a most excellent man, and one to whom we were indebted for many kindnesses. Finding that the people of Moultrieville were not yet aware of the change that had taken place, and that every thing was tranquil, she ventured back to the fort, and finished the removal of all our effects. After this, in company with the chaplain's family, she walked up and down the beach the greater part of the night, looking anxiously toward Fort Sumter to see if there were any indications of trouble or disturbance there. In the morning she took up her residence at the chaplain's house. As for the other ladies, both Mrs. Simons and Mrs. Foster fled to the city at the first intimation of danger, and Mrs. Seymour was already there.
THE FIRST OVERT ACT.
The New Quarters.—Seizure of Castle Pinckney by Charleston Troops.—Raising the Flag at Fort Sumter.—The Sergeant's Daughter.—Major Anderson's Position.—The Charleston Troops take Fort Moultrie.—A Military Problem.—Condition of Fort Sumter.—Governor Pickens's Commission.—A New Outrage.
On the very day that these events occurred, the South Carolina commissioners, R.W. Barnwell, J.H. Adams, and James L. Orr, arrived in Washington to treat for the surrender of the forts and other public property. It proved to be a very inauspicious time for such a negotiation.
Our garrison were up betimes on the morning of the 27th, to inspect their new quarters. The soldiers thronged the parapet in such numbers as to attract the attention of the troops on board the Nina. That vessel steamed up to the city in great haste, and communicated the startling intelligence that Fort Sumter, in some inexplicable manner, had been fully re-enforced. The chagrin of the authorities was intense. Messengers were at once dispatched to all parts of the city, to ring the door-bells and arouse the people.
While this was going on in town, Anderson, who was very punctilious in regard to settling all debts due by the United States to citizens, determined to send a detachment, under Lieutenant Davis, back to Fort Moultrie as a guard to Captain Foster, to enable him to pay off the claims of the workmen he had left behind. Doctor Crawford went over also, to look after some of his medical property. As the guard-boats had been withdrawn, they reached the fort without difficulty, and found it deserted. The people of the little village, to all appearance, were still ignorant of our change of station. Soon after their arrival, the party, in accordance with instructions from Major Anderson, set fire to the gun-carriages bearing on Fort Sumter, and destroyed all the ammunition and military material that could not be brought away. The guns had been spiked the night before, and the flag-staff was cut down, either at that time or in the morning.
As I have stated, the major took great pains to see that all bills, even those of a private nature, due in Charleston we're fully paid by the officers and men of his command; but many leading merchants in the city were not so scrupulous. They gladly took advantage of the war to repudiate the claims of their Northern creditors. I was also informed by one of the pay-masters that a number of officers of the army who resigned to join the rebellion first deliberately drew their month's pay in advance, and then left the pay-master, as a penalty for his kindness, to make good the deficiency from his private funds, in order to settle his accounts.
Foster and Davis, finding Fort Moultrie still deserted, made good use of the occasion by loading up with supplies and ammunition one of the schooners which had been previously chartered to carry over the women and children, and which were now lying empty at the wharf.
On their way back from this expedition our officers saw the Charleston troops going over to take possession of Castle Pinckney. The calm and dignified South Carolina Legislature had not authorized this outrageous proceeding. Even if we assume that the State had the right to secede, it does not follow that the public property within her limits properly belonged to her. It appertained to the nation at large, inasmuch as all the other States had contributed toward it, and therefore it was a proper subject of negotiation. To seize it at once, without a declaration of war, and while the subject was still pending, was a violation of all right and precedent. The hot-headed governor, however, irritated at our change of station, took the responsibility of commencing hostilities against the Union, without the co-operation of the Legislature, and this, too, at a time when the State was almost destitute of war material and funds. I doubt if there were more than half a dozen heavy guns on hand, and there were certainly not a dozen rounds of cannon-powder for each.
Major Anderson, who was a very religious man, thought it best to give some solemnity to our occupation of Fort Sumter by formally raising the flag, at noon, with prayer and military ceremonies. The band played "The Star-spangled Banner," the troops presented arms, and our chaplain, the Rev. Matthias Harris, offered up a fervent supplication, invoking the blessing of Heaven upon our small command and the cause we represented. Three cheers were then given for the flag, and the troops were dismissed.
The seizure of Castle Pinckney, on the afternoon of the 27th, was the first overt act of the Secessionists against the sovereignty of the United States. As already stated, it was ordered by Governor Pickens, on his own responsibility, without the concurrence of the Legislature. The latter, indeed, positively declined to sanction the measure. At 2 P.M. the Washington Light Infantry and Meagher Guards, both companies of Colonel J.J. Petigru's rifle regiment, embarked, under command of that officer, on board the Nina, and steamed down to the little island upon which the Castle is situated. When they arrived in front of the main gates they found them closed; whereupon they applied scaling-ladders, and with eager, flushed faces made their way to the top of the wall. The excitement was needless, for there was no one there to resist them, the only fighting-men present being Lieutenant R.K. Meade, of the engineers, and Ordnance-sergeant Skillen, who resided there with his family, and who was in charge of the work. Meade, himself a Virginian, had a sharp colloquy with Petigru, and expressed himself in severe terms in relation to this treasonable assault.
After taking possession, one of the rebel officers found the sergeant's daughter, pretty Kate Skillen, aged fifteen, weeping bitterly at the foot of the ramparts. He assured her no harm should befall her. She replied, "I am not crying because I am afraid!" "What is the matter, then?" said he. "I am crying because you have put that miserable rag up there," she said, pointing to the Palmetto flag which had just been raised to the top of the staff.
Foster's few reliable workmen proved to be a bad investment. It is said that most of them, when they found the enemy were actually coming, hid in closets, sheds, and under the beds, and some cried bitterly.
While this was going on, Major Anderson and myself stood side by side on the parapet, watching the scene through our spy-glasses. From his expressions of indignation, I was in hopes he would take prompt measures to close the harbor against any further encroachments of the State troops, made with a view to occupy Fort Moultrie or Fort Johnson. It would have required but a short time to mount a few pieces; and when these were once in position, it would have been easy to cut off all direct communication by water between the different posts. In short, he could take entire possession of the harbor. He did threaten to put out the lights in the light-houses with his artillery, and close the port in that way; but his anger soon passed away, and he took no aggressive measures of any kind.
In my opinion, if he could have been satisfied that no other States would join South Carolina in her mad attempt, he would have done every thing that lay in his power to punish her; for he looked upon her as a spoiled child that needed correction. Having married a lady from Georgia, he had almost identified himself with that State. He did own a plantation and negroes there, but had recently sold them. The purchaser afterward refused to pay for them, on the ground that Anderson had destroyed their value by virtually warring against slavery. At this period the feeling in many parts of the South was strong against South Carolina. This was particularly the case among the young men of Georgia, who looked upon the leaders of secession in the Palmetto State as very presuming, because these leaders thought and acted as if they were the only representatives of Southern sentiment, and as if the leadership belonged to them as a matter of right. They seemed to consider that the mere fact of being born in South Carolina (or Carolina, as they called it, contemptuously ignoring North Carolina) constituted in itself a patent of nobility; and their implied scorn of other States caused the antagonistic feeling which I have mentioned. This was shared by Anderson, until he found that Georgia also would certainly secede. He then seemed to lose all interest in the Union, and merely desired to become a spectator of the contest, and not an actor. His efforts thenceforth were simply confined to making his fort secure against an assault. Hardly any amount of provocation could induce him to become the assailant.
On the day we left Fort Moultrie, Captain Humphreys, of the engineers, arrived there from Washington, with orders for Captain Foster from the Secretary of War. I have never learned the purport of these dispatches.
On the 27th, the day after we evacuated the place, Lieutenant-colonel Wilmot G. De Saussure arrived at Fort Moultrie, at 9 P.M., with his battalion of Charleston artillery and thirty riflemen; in all, one hundred and seventy men. (The companies composing the battalion were the Marion Artillery, the La Fayette Artillery, the German Artillery, and the Washington Artillery.) I was informed by a spectator that the new-comers were exceedingly cautious in making an entrance. They were looking out for mines in all directions, and had brought ladders with them, on the supposition that there might be torpedoes in front of the main gates. It was a clear, beautiful evening, and the moon was at the full. They were greatly enraged to find the flag-staff cut down, for they had hoped to run up their own flag on the very spot where ours had formerly waved. They found, too, the gun-carriages burned, and the guns, which had gradually settled down as the carriages gave way, resting with their breeches on the platforms, and the muzzles leaning against the walls. Out of the mouth of each hung a small white string. As many of the guns had been kept loaded for a considerable length of time, these strings had been tied by me to the cartridges, in order that the latter might be pulled out and sunned occasionally, as a precaution against dampness. De Saussure's men imagined that these strings were arranged with a view to blow up the guns the moment any one attempted to interfere with them, and each soldier, as he passed, avoided the supposed danger.
The South Carolina officers, at this period, spent much of their time in discussing military problems. One of these, which was afterward referred to us for solution, occasioned us much amusement. All cannon-balls used in the army, and exposed to the weather, are coated with a varnish of coal-tar, to protect them from rust. Many of those we left behind were in piles near the guns, and when the carriages were burned, the tar melted, ran down in streams, and coagulated in lumps. It was immediately reported that before leaving we had taken great pains to tar the balls, to render them useless. The problem which puzzled the military savans of Charleston was, to determine in what way cannon-balls were ruined by tar. Some months afterward, when we evacuated Fort Sumter, one of the officers who had been much interested in this subject took Seymour aside, and asked him confidentially if he had any objection to tell him why we tarred our balls, assuring him most earnestly that they could scrape it all off.
Upon occupying Fort Sumter, we found it was in a very unfinished condition, and that it would require an immense amount of labor to render it safe against an assault. It had no flanking defenses whatever. Three or four hundred men, with short ladders, could easily have taken it; for no guns were mounted, except a few on the gorge, and all the embrasures were open, there being no efficient means of closing them. On the gorge side, where the wharf was located, there were two sally-ports and numerous windows to be guarded. In the second story the embrasures were nothing but large unfinished openings, slightly boarded up. Three or four blows of an axe would have made a broad entrance for an escalading party. The form of the fort was a pentagon. Retaining a small force as a reserve in the centre of the work, we could only furnish eight men to defend each side and guard all the numerous openings.
Fortunately no assault was made. It was thought the fort was almost impregnable, and that there would be no difficulty in inducing Buchanan to order us back to Fort Moultrie. This occasioned a delay, and gave us time to strengthen our position. We were hard at work, mounting guns, preparing shells to be used as hand-grenades, stopping up surplus embrasures, and removing the debris which encumbered the passages from one part of the work to another. Quarters were selected for the officers, soldiers, and camp-women; and the household furniture which belonged to each, and which had been thrown pell-mell on the parade-ground, was all separated and deposited in the different rooms. I chose an apartment near the mess hall, and made it so comfortable that Anderson and Seymour came there temporarily to live with me. Our mess was also organized, and placed in charge of Mr. Edward Moale.
In the afternoon, Governor Pickens sent Colonel J.J. Petigru and Major Elison Capers, both field-officers of the rifle regiment, in full uniform, to interview Major Anderson. Their looks were full of wrath, and they bowed stiffly and indignantly in answer to our smiling salutations. I was present at the conversation that ensued, but did not take notes. They told the major that perhaps he was not aware that an agreement had been entered into with President Buchanan not to re-enforce the forts in the harbor. They desired to call his attention to the fact that his recent movement was in direct violation of the contract referred to. They were, therefore, directed by the governor to request him, peremptorily but courteously, to immediately return to Fort Moultrie. Anderson replied, in substance, that he knew nothing of any such agreement; that as commander of the defenses of Charleston he had an inherent right to occupy any fort in the harbor. He stated that he, too, was a Southern man; that he believed the whole difficulty was brought on by the faithlessness of the North—here the aids made a stiff bow—but as regards returning to Fort Moultrie, he could not, and he would not, do it. The commissioners were then courteously dismissed.
I have always felt that this was a most insolent demand. If the governor considered himself aggrieved by our change of station, his redress lay in an appeal to Washington. This attempt to assume command of us, and order us out of a United States fort, was an assumption of authority that merited a more spirited reply.
Before his messengers left, I took occasion, in conversation with a person who came over in the boat with them, to refer to the great strength of the work, and I also spoke of the shells which we had prepared to throw down on the heads of an attacking party. I knew the conversation would be repeated, and hoped it might have some effect in deterring an immediate assault.
A new outrage now took place in full view of our garrison. The United States revenue-cutter, which lay anchored in the stream, was turned over by its commander, Captain N.L. Coste, to the authorities of South Carolina. The previous seizures, made without a declaration of war, had been justified on the ground that the forts and public buildings were fixtures within the limits of the State. To retain this vessel was simply an act of piracy.
When it became apparent that South Carolina did not control the Administration in Washington, and that Anderson would not be ordered back, it is possible a boat attack might have been organized against us; but a storm came up about this time, and the wind was so violent that no small boat could venture out with safety. This occasioned still further delay, which enabled us to do much toward placing the fort in a better condition for defense.
EFFECT OF ANDERSON'S MOVEMENT.
President Buchanan Aroused.—Excitement in Charleston.—The Situation at the Beginning of 1861.—Governor Pickens's War Measures.—"My heart was never in this War."
Anderson's movement and the sudden uprising of the North put an end to the mission of the South Carolina commissioners. Governor Pickens seized Castle Pinckney and Fort Moultrie on the 27th, and the custom-house and other United States property on the 28th. Before leaving, the commissioners made a formal call upon the President. The latter expected some apology or explanation in relation to the high-handed outrages which had been perpetrated. Had they temporized, or even used conciliatory language on this occasion, it is possible the South might still have preserved the ascendancy it had always held in the councils of the President. Fortunately, they assumed an air of injured innocence, and required Mr. Buchanan to humble himself before them for the past, and give guarantees for the future by immediately ordering Fort Sumter to be vacated; that is, by surrendering to the State all public property in Charleston harbor which had not been already stolen. For once, the President, whose personal integrity was called in question, was thoroughly roused, and made the only answer which suited the circumstances. He ordered a man-of-war to proceed to Charleston immediately, drive the State garrisons out of the forts, and take possession of the city. He might, indeed, have arrested the commissioners for high treason; but his Unionism was of a very mild type, and far from being aggressive.
One of the commissioners, Mr. Adams, hastened to telegraph to the authorities of Charleston, on the 28th, to prepare for war immediately, as there were no longer any hopes of a peaceful settlement.
This dispatch caused a great uproar and excitement in Charleston. The banks at once suspended specie payments. All was terror and confusion, for it was expected that a fleet would bombard the city and land troops, and there were no adequate means of opposing its entrance. Castle Pinckney, indeed, might offer some resistance, but as it had been a dependency of Fort Sumter, and unoccupied, little, if any, ammunition was kept there. The governor rushed frantically down to Fort Moultrie to hasten the preparations for defense. Non-combatants were urged to leave Moultrieville at once. The laborers formerly employed by Captain Foster were again hired by the State engineers, and were kept at work thereafter, night and day, in piling up sand-bags to shield the troops from the fire of Fort Sumter. The batteries at the north-eastern extremity of Sullivan's Island, which were made up of a few old field-pieces brought from the Citadel Academy in the city, were hastily put in order to protect the entrance by that channel. As for Fort Moultrie, before we left we had rendered its armament useless. At this time the guns were still spiked, and the workshops in the city were going night and day to replace the gun-carriages that had been burned. In place of these, some of the guns and carriages were sent over from Castle Pinckney.
No attempt had been made to fortify the Morris Island channel, and vessels could enter there without the slightest difficulty. It took several days to transfer the guns and make the preparations I have mentioned. It follows, therefore, that if the Administration had acted promptly, Charleston could have been taken at once, and full reparation exacted for all the wrongs perpetrated against the United States. Why this was not done will be explained hereafter.
Foster had not been able to settle with all his workmen, and the rebels frequently sent them over under a flag of truce to demand their back pay and act as spies. I was enabled through this channel to keep up a correspondence with my wife, who was still in Moultrieville. I learned all that was going on there, and took occasion to inform her that we had no means of lighting up our quarters—a serious inconvenience in those long winter nights. She purchased a gross of matches and a box of candles, and had them put on board one of the boats referred to, in full view of a rebel sentinel, who was supervising the embarkation. She then requested one of the crew, an old soldier named M'Narhamy, who formerly belonged to my company, to deliver them to me, which he agreed to do. The sentinel stared, but the self-possessed manner in which she acted made him think it must be all right, and he did not interfere. The box arrived safely, and added very much to our comfort and convenience.
When the governor found that the spell of Southern supremacy was broken, and that there was no probability that we would be ordered back to Fort Moultrie, he was in a very angry mood. He stopped our mail for a time, and cut off all communication with us. We were, of course, prevented from purchasing fresh provisions, and reduced to pork, beans, and hard-tack. Anderson was quite indignant at this proceeding, and again talked of shutting up the port by putting out the lights in the light-houses.
While the leaders in the city complained bitterly to the public of Anderson for his perfidy in occupying Fort Sumter, they did not hesitate, among themselves, to express their admiration for his acuteness in evading the dangers and difficulties which surrounded him, and for the skillful manner in which he had accomplished it.
Our life now proved to be one of great hardship. Captain Seymour and myself were the only officers for duty as officers of the day, Lieutenant Davis and Lieutenant Hall serving under us as officers of the guard. The situation required constant vigilance. Lieutenant Talbot, being a great sufferer from lung-disease, was unable to do this kind of duty. We were, therefore, very busy during the day superintending measures for defense, and were obliged to be on the alert, and wide awake every other night, so that we were completely exhausted in a short time. Assistant-surgeon Crawford, having no sick in hospital, generously offered to do duty as officer of the day, and his offer was gladly accepted. The two young engineer officers, Snyder and Meade, were also willing to serve as line officers; but Captain Foster thought it was contrary to precedent, and they were not detailed.
As the Engineer department is regarded in this country as the highest branch of the military service, and as its officers are really very able men, I can not conceive what induced them to build Fort Sumter without any flanking defenses whatever, and without fire-proof quarters for the officers. The first defect I endeavored to remedy by projecting iron-plated, bullet-proof galleries over the angles of the parapet. I left small trap-doors in the bottom of these, for the purpose of throwing down shells on the heads of any party below attempting to force an entrance through the embrasures. The other defect—the presence of so much combustible matter in the quarters—it was impossible to remedy, and it ultimately cost the loss of the fort. The excuse that it never could have been anticipated that the fort would be attacked from the land side is hardly a valid one, for a foreign fleet might possibly have effected a landing on Morris Island; or they might have set fire to the quarters from the decks of the vessels by means of incendiary shells.