The Great Conspiracy

On the other hand, the President of the rebellious Confederacy,
Jefferson Davis, had partly constituted his Cabinet already, as follows:
Robert Toombs, of Georgia, Secretary of State; Charles G. Memminger, of
South Carolina, Secretary of the Treasury; Leroy Pope Walker, of
Alabama, Secretary of War; to whom he afterwards added: Stephen R.
Mallory, of Florida, Secretary of the Navy; and John H. Reagan, of
Texas, Postmaster-General.
CHAPTER X.

THE WAR-DRUM “ON TO WASHINGTON”

Scarcely one week had elapsed after the Administration of Mr. Lincoln
began, when (March 11th) certain “Commissioners of the Southern
Confederacy” (John Forsyth, of Alabama, and Martin J. Crawford, of
Georgia), appeared at Washington and served a written request upon
the State Department to appoint an early day when they might present to
the President of the United States their credentials “from the
Government of the Confederate States of America” to the Government of
the United States, and open “the objects of the mission with which they
are charged.”

Secretary Seward, with the President’s sanction, declined official
intercourse with Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford, in a “Memorandum” (March
15th) reciting their request, etc., in which, after referring to
President Lincoln’s Inaugural Address–forwarded to them with the
“Memorandum” he says: “A simple reference will be sufficient to satisfy
those gentlemen that the Secretary of State, guided by the principles
therein announced, is prevented altogether from admitting or assuming
that the States referred to by them have, in law or in fact, withdrawn
from the Federal Union, or that they could do so in the manner described
by Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford, or in any other manner than with the
consent and concert of the People of the United States, to be given
through a National Convention, to be assembled in conformity with the
provisions of the Constitution of the United States. Of course, the
Secretary of State cannot act upon the assumption, or in any way admit,
that the so-called Confederate States constitute a Foreign Power, with
whom diplomatic relations ought to be established.”

On the 9th of April, Messrs. Forsyth, Crawford and Roman–as
“Commissioners of the Southern Confederacy”–addressed to Secretary
Seward a reply to the “Memorandum” aforesaid, in which the following
passage occurs:

“The undersigned, like the Secretary of State, have no purpose to
‘invite or engage in discussion’ of the subject on which their two
Governments are so irreconcilably at variance. It is this variance that
has broken up the old Union, the disintegration of which has only begun.

“It is proper, however, to advise you that it were well to dismiss the
hopes you seem to entertain that, by any of the modes indicated, the
people of the Confederate States will ever be brought to submit to the
authority of the Government of the United States. You are dealing with
delusions, too, when you seek to separate our people from our
Government, and to characterize the deliberate, Sovereign act of that
people as a ‘perversion of a temporary and partisan excitement.’ If you
cherish these dreams, you will be awakened from them, and find them as
unreal and unsubstantial as others in which you have recently indulged.

“The undersigned would omit the performance of an obvious duty were they
to fail to make known to the Government of the United States that the
people of the Confederate States have declared their independence with a
full knowledge of all the responsibilities of that act, and with as firm
a determination to maintain it by all the means with which nature has
endowed them as that which sustained their fathers when they threw off
the authority of the British Crown.

“The undersigned clearly understand that you have declined to appoint a
day to enable them to lay the objects of the mission with which they are
charged, before the President of the United States, because so to do
would be to recognize the independence and separate nationality of the
Confederate States. This is the vein of thought that pervades the
memorandum before us.

“The truth of history requires that it should distinctly appear upon the
record, that the undersigned did not ask the Government of the United
States to recognize the independence of the Confederate States. They
only asked audience to adjust, in a spirit of amity and peace, the new
relations springing from a manifest and accomplished revolution in the
Government of the late Federal Union.

“Your refusal to entertain these overtures for a peaceful solution, the
active naval and military preparation of this Government, and a formal
notice to the Commanding General of the Confederate forces in the harbor
of Charleston that the President intends to provision Fort Sumter by
forcible means, if necessary, are viewed by the undersigned, and can
only be received by the World, as a Declaration of War against the
Confederate States; for the President of the United States knows that
Fort Sumter cannot be provisioned without the effusion of blood.

“The undersigned, in behalf of their Government and people, accept the
gage of battle thus thrown down to them, and, appealing to God and the
judgment of mankind for the righteousness of their Cause, the people of
the Confederate States will defend their liberties to the last, against
this flagrant and open attempt at their subjugation to Sectional power.”
Let us now, for a moment, glance at the condition of Fort Sumter, and of
the Government with regard to it:

On the 5th of March, the day after President Lincoln had taken his oath
of office, there was placed in his hands a letter of Major Anderson,
commanding at Fort Sumter, in which that officer, under date of the 28th
of February, expressed the opinion that “reinforcements could not be
thrown into that fort within the time for his relief rendered necessary
by the limited supply of provisions, and with a view of holding
possession of the same, with a force of less than twenty thousand good
and well-disciplined men.”

[President Lincoln’s first Message, July 4, 1861.]

Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott concurred in that opinion, and as the
provisions in the Fort would be exhausted before any such force could be
raised and brought to the ground, evacuation and safe withdrawal of the
Federal garrison from the Fort became a Military necessity, and was so
regarded by the Administration.

“It was believed, however”–in the language of Mr. Lincoln himself, in
his first Message to Congress–“that to so abandon that position, under
the circumstances, would be utterly ruinous: that the necessity under
which it was to be done would not be fully understood; that by many it
would be construed as a part of a voluntary policy; that at home it
would discourage the friends of the Union, embolden its adversaries, and
go far to insure to the latter a recognition abroad; that in fact it
would be our National destruction consummated. This could not be
allowed. Starvation was not yet upon the garrison; and ere it would be
reached, Fort Pickens might be reinforced. This last would be a clear
indication of policy, and would better enable the country to accept the
evacuation of Fort Sumter as a Military necessity.”

Owing to misconception or otherwise, an order to reinforce Fort Pickens
was not carried out, and an expedition to relieve Fort Sumter was then
ordered to be dispatched. On the 8th of April President Lincoln, by
messenger, notified Governor Pickens of South Carolina, “that he might
expect an attempt would be made to provision the fort; and that if the
attempt should not be resisted there would be no effort to throw in men,
arms, or ammunition, without further notice, or in case of an attack
upon the fort.”

A crisis was evidently approaching, and public feeling all over the
Country was wrought up to the highest degree of tension and stood tip-
toe with intense expectancy. The test of the doctrine of Secession was
about to be made there, in the harbor of Charleston, upon which the eyes
of Patriot and Rebel were alike feverishly bent.

There, in Charleston harbor, grimly erect, stood the octagon-shaped Fort
Sumter, mid-way of the harbor entrance, the Stars and Stripes proudly
waving from its lofty central flagstaff, its guns bristling on every
side through the casemates and embrasures, as if with a knowledge of
their defensive power.

About equidistant from Fort Sumter on either side of the harbor-
entrance, were the Rebel works at Fort Moultrie and Battery Bee on
Sullivan’s Island, on the one side, and Cummings Point Battery, on
Morris Island, on the other-besides a number of other batteries facing
seaward along the sea-coast line of Morris Island. Further in, on the
same side of the harbor, and but little further off from Fort Sumter,
stood Fort Johnson on James Island, while Castle Pinckney and a Floating
Battery were between the beleagured Fort and the city of Charleston.

Thus, the Federal Fort was threatened with the concentrated fire of
these well-manned Rebel fortifications on all sides, and in its then
condition was plainly doomed; for, while the swarming Rebels, unmolested
by Fort Sumter, had been permitted to surround that Fort with frowning
batteries, whose guns outnumbered those of the Fort, as ten to one, and
whose caliber was also superior, its own condition was anything but that
of readiness for the inevitable coming encounter.

That the officers’ quarters, barracks, and other frame-work wooden
buildings should have been permitted to remain as a standing invitation
to conflagration from bombardment, can only be accounted for on the
supposition that the gallant officer in command, himself a Southerner,
would not believe it possible that the thousands of armed Americans by
whom he was threatened and encircled, could fire upon the flag of their
own native Country. He and his garrison of seventy men, were soon to
learn the bitter truth, amid a tempest of bursting shot and shell, the
furnace-heat of crackling walls, and suffocating volumes of dense smoke
produced by an uncontrollable conflagration.

The Rebel leaders at Washington had prevented an attack in January upon
the forts in the harbor of Charleston, and at Pensacola.–[McPherson’s
History of the Rebellion, p. 112.]–In consequence of which failure to
proceed to the last extremity at once, the energies of the Rebellion had
perceptibly diminished.

Said the Mobile Mercury: “The country is sinking into a fatal apathy,
and the spirit and even the patriotism of the people is oozing out,
under this do-nothing policy. If something is not done pretty soon,
decisive, either evacuation or expulsion, the whole country will become
so disgusted with the sham of Southern independence that the first
chance the people get at a popular election they will turn the whole
movement topsy-turvy so bad that it never on Earth can be righted
again.”

After the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, however, the Rebel authorities at
Montgomery lost no time, but strained every nerve to precipitate War.
They felt that there was danger to the cause of Secession in delay; that
there were wavering States outside the Confederacy, like Virginia, that
might be dragged into the Confederacy by prompt and bloody work; and
wavering States within, like Alabama, that must be kept in by similar
means. Their emissaries were busy everywhere in the South, early in
April, preaching an instant crusade against the old flag–inciting the
people to demand instant hostilities against Fort Sumter–and to cross a
Rubicon of blood, over which there could be no return.

Many of the Rebel leaders seemed to be haunted by the fear (no doubt
well founded) that unless blood was shed–unless an impassable barrier,
crimsoned with human gore, was raised between the new Confederacy and
the old Union–there would surely be an ever-present danger of that
Confederacy falling to pieces. Hence they were now active in working
the people up to the required point of frenzy.

As a specimen of their speeches, may be quoted that of Roger A. Pryor,
of Virginia, who, at Charleston, April 10, 1861, replying to a serenade,
said:–[Charleston Mercury’s report.]

‘Gentlemen, I thank you, especially that you have at last annihilated
this accursed Union [Applause] reeking with corruption, and insolent
with excess of tyranny. Thank God, it is at last blasted and riven by
the lightning wrath of an outraged and indignant people. [Loud
applause.] Not only is it gone, but gone forever. [Cries of, ‘You’re
right,’ and applause.] In the expressive language of Scripture, it is
water spilt upon the ground, which cannot be gathered up. [Applause.] Like Lucifer, son of the morning, it has fallen, never to rise again.
[Continued applause.]

“For my part, gentlemen,” he continued, as soon as he could be heard,
“if Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin to-morrow were to abdicate their
offices and were to give me a blank sheet of paper to write the
condition of re-annexation to the defunct Union, I would scornfully
spurn the overture. * * * I invoke you, and I make it in some sort a
personal appeal–personal so far as it tends to our assistance in
Virginia–I do invoke you, in your demonstrations of popular opinion, in
your exhibitions of official intent, to give no countenance to this idea
of reconstruction. [Many voices, emphatically, ‘never,’ and applause.]

“In Virginia,” resumed he, “they all say, if reduced to the dread
dilemma of this memorable alternative, they will espouse the cause of
the South as against the interest of the Northern Confederacy, but they
whisper of reconstruction, and they say Virginia must abide in the
Union, with the idea of reconstructing the Union which you have
annihilated. I pray you, gentlemen, rob them of that idea. Proclaim to
the World that upon no condition, and under no circumstances, will South
Carolina ever again enter into political association with the
Abolitionists of New England. [Cries of ‘never,’ and applause.]

“Do not distrust Virginia,” he continued; “as sure as tomorrow’s sun
will rise upon us, just so sure will Virginia be a member of this
Southern Confederation. [Applause.] And I will tell you, gentlemen,
what will put her in the Southern Confederacy in less than an hour by
Shrewsbury clock–STRIKE A BLOW! [Tremendous applause.] The very
moment that blood is shed, old Virginia will make common cause with her
sisters of the South. [Applause.] It is impossible she should do
otherwise.”

The question of the necessity of “Striking a Blow”–of the immediate
“shedding of blood”–was not only discussed before the Southern people
for the purpose of inflaming their rebellious zeal, but was also the
subject of excited agitation in the Confederate Cabinet at this time.

In a speech made by ex-United States Senator Clemens of Alabama, at
Huntsville, Alabama, at the close of the Rebellion, he told the
Alabamians how their State, which, as we have seen, was becoming
decidedly shaky in its allegiance to the “Sham of Southern
Independence,” was kept in the Confederacy.

Said he: “In 1861, shortly after the Confederate Government was put in
operation, I was in the city of Montgomery. One day (April 11, 1861) I
stepped into the office of the Secretary of War, General Walker, and
found there, engaged in a very excited discussion, Mr. Jefferson Davis
(the President), Mr. Memminger (Secretary of the Treasury), Mr. Benjamin
(Attorney-General), Mr. Gilchrist, a member of our Legislature from
Loundes county, and a number of other prominent gentlemen. They were
discussing the propriety of immediately opening fire on Fort Sumter, to
which General Walker, the Secretary of War, appeared to be opposed. Mr.
Gilchrist said to him, ‘Sir, unless you sprinkle blood in the face of
the people of Alabama, they will be back in the old Union in less than
ten days!’ THE NEXT DAY GENERAL BEAUREGARD OPENED HIS BATTERIES ON
SUMTER, AND ALABAMA WAS SAVED TO THE CONFEDERACY.”

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