The following papers marked “Answer” and as inclosures “A” — “H” are filed with the President’s inquiry on the possibility and wisdom of provisioning Fort Sumter; they were probably submitted to the Cabinet March 15, 1861.
Answer by Simon Cameron.
In reply to the letter of inquiry addressed to me by the President, whether, “assuming it to be possible now to provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances is it wise to attempt it,” I beg leave to say that it has received the careful consideration, in the limited time I could bestow upon it, which its very grave importance demands, and that my mind has been most reluctantly forced to the conclusion that it would be unwise now to make such an attempt.
In coming to this conclusion I am free to say I am greatly influenced by the opinions of the Army officers who have expressed themselves on the subject, and who seem to concur that it is, perhaps, now impossible to succor that fort substantially, if at all, without capturing, by means of a large expedition of ships of war and troops, all the opposing batteries of South Carolina. All the officers within Fort Sumter, together with Generals Scott and Totten, express this opinion, and it would seem to me that the President would not be justified to disregard such high authority without overruling considerations of public policy.
Major Anderson, in his report of the 28th ultimo, says:
I confess that I would not be willing to risk my reputation on an attempt to throw re-enforcements into this harbor within the time for our relief rendered necessary by the limited supply of our provisions, and with a view of holding possession of the same with a force of less than a twenty thousand good and well-disciplined men.
In this opinion Major/Anderson is substantially sustained by the reports of all the other officers within the fort, one of whom, Captain Seymour, speaks thus emphatically on the subject:
It is not more than possible to supply this fort by ruse with a few men or a small amount of provisions, such is the unceasing vigilance employed to prevent it. To do so openly by vessels alone, unless they are shot-proof, is virtually impossible, so numerous and powerful are the opposing batteries. No vessel can lay near the fort without being exposed to continual fire, and the harbor could, and probably would, whenever necessary, be effectually closed, as one channel has already been. A projected attack in large force would draw to this harbor all the available resources in men and material of the contiguous States. Batteries of guns of heavy caliber would be multiplied rapidly and indefinitely. At least twenty thousand men, good marksmen and trained for months past with a view to this very contingency, would be concentrated here before the attacking force could leave Northern ports. The harbor would be closed. A landing must be effected at some distance from our guns, which could give no aid. Charleston Harbor would be a Sebastopol in such a conflict, and unlimited means would probably be required to insure success, before which time the garrison of Fort Sumter would be starved out.
General Scott, in his reply to the question addressed to him by the President, on the 12th instant, what amount of means and of what description, in addition to those already at command, it would require to supply and re-enforce the fort, says:
I should need a fleet of war vessels and transports which, in the scattered disposition of the Navy (as understood), could not be collected in lees than four months; 5,000 additional regular troops and 20,000 volunteers; that is, a force sufficient to take all the batteries, both in the harbor (including Fort Moultrie), as well as in the approach or outer bay. To raise, organize, and discipline such an army (not to speak of necessary legislation by Congress, not now in session) would require from six to eight months. As a practical military question the time for succoring Fort Sumter with any means at hand had passed away nearly a month ago. Since then a surrender under assault or from starvation has been merely a question of time.
It is true there are those, whose opinions are entitled to respectful consideration, who entertain the belief that Fort Sumter could yet be succored to a limited extent without the employment of the large army and naval forces believed to be necessary by the Army officers whose opinions I have already quoted.
Captain Ward, of the Navy, an officer of acknowledged merit, a month ago believed it to be practicable to supply the fort with men and provisions to a limited extent without the employment of any very large military or naval force. He then proposed to employ four or more small steamers belonging to the Coast Survey to accomplish the purpose, and we have the opinion of General Scott that he has no doubt that Captain Ward at that time would have succeeded with his proposed expedition, but was not allowed by the late President to attempt the execution of his plan. Now it is pronounced from the change of circumstances impracticable by Major Anderson and all the other officers of the fort, as well as by Generals Scott and Totten, and in this opinion Captain Ward, after full consultation with the latter-named officers and the Superintendent of the Coast Survey, I understand now reluctantly concurs.
Mr. Fox, another gentleman of experience as a seaman, who, having formerly engaged on the Coast Survey, is familiar with the waters of the Charleston Harbor, has proposed to make the attempt to supply the fort with cutters of light draught and large dimensions, and his proposal has in a measure been approved by Commodore Stringham, but he does not suppose or propose or profess to believe that provisions for more than one or two months could be furnished at a time.
There is no doubt whatever in my mind that when Major Anderson first took possession of Fort Sumter he could have been easily supplied with men and provisions, and that when Captain Ward, with the concurrence of General Scott, a month ago proposed his expedition he would have succeeded had he been allowed to attempt it, as I think he should have been. A different state of things now, however, exists. Fort Moultrie is now rearmed and strengthened in every way; many new land batteries have been constructed; the principal channel has been obstructed; in short, the difficulty of re-enforcing the fort has been increased ten if not twenty fold.
Whatever might have been done as late as a month ago, it is too sadly evident that it cannot now be done without the sacrifice of life and treasure not at all commensurate with the object to be attained; and as the abandonment of the fort in a few weeks, sooner or later, appears to be an inevitable necessity, it seems to me that the sooner it be done the better.
The proposition presented by Mr. Fox, so sincerely entertained and ably advocated, would be entitled to my favorable consideration if, with all the light before me and in the face of so many distinguished military authorities on the other side, I did not believe that the attempt to carry it into effect would initiate a bloody and protracted conflict. Should he succeed in relieving Fort Sumter, which is doubted by many of our most experienced soldiers and seamen, would that enable us to maintain our authority against the troops and fortifications of South Carolina? Sumter could not now contend against these formidable adversaries if filled with provisions and men. That fortress was intended, as her position on the map will show, rather to repel an invading foe. It is equally clear from repeated investigations and trials that the range of her guns is too limited to reach the city of Charleston, if that were desirable.
No practical benefit will result to the country or the Government by accepting the proposal alluded to, and I am therefore of opinion that the cause of humanity and the highest obligation to the public interest would be best promoted by adopting the counsels of those brave and experienced men whose suggestions I have laid before you.
There was a signed copy of the within placed in the hands of President Lincoln.
MARCH 17, 1875.
MEMORANDUM OF DIFFERENT PLANS FOR RE-ENFORCING FORT SUMTER.
Memoranda read before the President and Cabinet, General Scott and Commodore Stringham, and Mr. Fox, late of the Navy, Washington, March 15, 1861, by Bvt. Brig. Gen. Joseph G. Totten, Chief of Engineers.
The obstacles to the relief of Fort Sumter are natural or artificial obstacles to navigation, and military opposition.
The main channel in its best natural state would not admit the passage of vessels larger than sloops of war; so that, before it was obstructed, a naval attack, to be very formidable, must have consisted of many vessels of this kind.
In designing the defenses of Charleston Harbor, therefore, it was considered that Fort Sumter, with Castle Pinckney, would suffice, with some improvement of Fort Moultrie, and the erection of batteries in time of war on James Island at the position called Fort Johnson. A deeper entrance would have demanded a stronger system.
The South Carolina troops have strengthened Fort Moultrie and added batteries thereto; they possess Castle Pinckney; they have erected batteries at Fort Johnson, and, not having Fort Sumter, they have planted a number of guns (number not known) on Morris Island.
These last do not, certainly, bring their system up to that which included Fort Sumter; but they, as is represented, have also so blocked the main channel, or made its navigation so intricate, that only vessels light in draught can enter–vessels unavoidably weak to resist and impotent to assail.
If we suppose a squadron of war vessels as large as can be forced through the impediments of the main bar to have overcome that difficulty, and, under pressure of steam, to advance in daylight (as I think would be indispensable), they would suffer greatly from the fire of Morris Island, Fort Moultrie, and its adjacent batteries–but they would suffer much less than the small vessels, because much stronger and with vital parts better secured, and because their own fire would, to a certain extent, keep under, and, to a great degree, render uncertain the fire of the batteries. But whether larger or smaller, the vessels have not merely to pass the fire of the batteries–they must remain exposed to it. Because, before getting beyond the fire of Fort Moultrie, they come within scope of Fort Johnson, and while yet under the guns of these batteries they will be reached by Castle Pinckney. There is no point of shelter within these waters; and although the squadron of heavy sloops might survive the dangers of the passage, they could not long endure the cannonade that would be concentrated on any anchorage. In these very waters, this problem was settled in the Revolutionary War by the contest between the squadron of Sir Peter Parker and the single work of Fort Moultrie–then certainly not more powerful than now.
To enable the supposed squadron to remain, it is indispensable that a military force should capture the batteries from the land, and be strong enough, besides, to hold possession against the troops now assembled in and around them, and those that would rapidly come from the interior.
Should small vessels attempt this entrance by daylight, their destruction would be inevitable; at any rate, the chances of getting through would be too slender to justify any such enterprise. We have certain information that there is much practice with these guns, and that the practice now is good. If this risk were to be run by daylight, the vessels might have a draught of about eight feet, and could use the “Swash Channel,” or a passage between this and the main channel, or, finally, the latter. But I must repeat that unless we were to find a degree of inaptness and imbecility, and a want of vigilance and courage that we have no right to assume, this attempt by daylight with small vessels, even of great speed, must fail.
There remains another project, namely, to enter at night by the “Swash” Channel with a few (two or three) fast steam-tugs, having a draught of only (or about) five feet. To do this it will be necessary to take position before dark off this channel, so as to get upon the proper leading line to be followed after dark by the ascertained course, or, possibly, by the bearing of the lights of Fort Sumter. With proper precautions in screening the lights and fires of the boats, &c., I think the risk would not be so great, considering only the batteries, as to deter from this attempt, provided the object were of very great importance. I should expect one or two, perhaps all, of these vessels to reach Fort Sumter, and the shoal upon which they must be grounded–provided no other impediments awaited them.
But, in the first place, it is a necessary condition that the boats arrive off the harbor before night. If they can see to take these bearings, they can be seen from the shore. In the next place, it seems impossible to fit out any expedition, however small and unobtrusive, without arousing inquiry, and causing the intelligence to be transmitted by telegraph. We may be certain, therefore, that these tugs will be waited for by steamers lying in the channelway, full of men.
This mode of relieving Fort Sumter, or another by men in rowboats passing up the same channel, is so obvious that it is unreasonable to suppose it has not been duly considered and provided for, where so much intelligence and resource in military means have been displayed in the scheme of defense, and so much earnestness and energy in execution. We know that guard rowboats and steamers are active during the night; and that they have all the means of intercepting with certainty this little expedition, and overpowering it, by boarding–a commencement of war.
This attempt, like any other, will inevitably involve a collision.
This raises a question that I am not called on to discuss, but as to which I may say that if the General Government adopts a course that must be attended with this result, its first measure should not be one so likely to meet disaster and defeat; nor one, I may add, which, even if successful, would give but momentary relief, while it would open all the powers of attack upon the fort, certainly reducing it before the means of recovering Charleston Harbor, with all its forts and batteries and environs, can possibly be concentrated there.
J. G. T.
General Scott’s memoranda for the Secretary of War.
It seems from the opinions of the Army officers who have expressed themselves on the subject–all within Fort Sumter, together with Generals Scott and Totten–that it is perhaps now impossible to succor that fort substantially, if at all, without capturing, by means of a large expedition of ships of war and troops, all the opposing batteries of South Carolina. In the mean time–six or ten months–Major Anderson would almost certainly have been obliged to surrender under assault or the approach of starvation; for even if an expedition like that proposed by G. V. Fox should succeed once in throwing in the succor of a few men and a few weeks’ provisions, the necessity of repeating the latter supply would return again and again, including the yellow-fever season. An abandonment of the fort in a few weeks, sooner or later, would appear, therefore, to be a sure necessity, and if so, the sooner the more graceful on the part of the Government.
It is doubtful, however, according to recent information from the South, whether the voluntary evacuation of Fort Sumter alone would have a decisive effect upon the States now wavering between adherence to the Union and secession. It is known, indeed, that it would be charged to necessity, and the holding of Fort Pickens would be adduced in support of that view. Our Southern friends, however, are clear that the evacuation of both the forts would instantly soothe and give confidence to the eight remaining slaveholding States, and render their cordial adherence to this Union perpetual.
The holding of Forts Jefferson and Taylor, on the ocean keys, depends on entirely different principles, and should never be abandoned; and, indeed, the giving up of Forts Sumter and Pickens may be best justified by the hope, that we should thereby recover the State to which they geographically belong by the liberality of the act, besides retaining the eight doubtful States.
Lieutenant Hall’s notes.
I have the honor to state that I could not concur with Captain Rodgers, with whom I was directed to confer, in his plan for the entrance of the harbor of Charleston with men and provisions for Fort Sumter. He proposes to procure a vessel (steamboat), with a draught of not over six and one-half feet, in some Northern port, and with the cargo to be cleared for Charleston, letting it be known, as if in confidence, that the design is to force a landing on the southern extreme of Morris Island; to carry the batteries by the rear and destroy the channel; to bring in the vessel, the vessel to regulate her speed so as to arrive off the bar in a dark night and at high tide, and to proceed through the Swash Channel with her lights extinguished; in case of discovery and being fired at, to drop a cork with a light in it, which would deceive the gunners. If the batteries are lighted up the men cannot see in the distance; if they are not, the lights will not be visible. The commander is to be allowed to back his vessel in case of a storm on the way down.
My objections to this plan are very numerous. In the first place, the deception would be apparent, as no one would attempt a forced landing with means possible to such a vessel. Secondly, not being a sea-going vessel the danger to life and the success of the undertaking is so great as to appear imprudent at best. Thirdly, it is unsafe to calculate upon not being seen off the bar, as a number of watch vessels, some with troops and cannon, are stationed off and along the entrance. Fourthly, even though the above dangers should all be safely passed and it should prove a moonless night and high tide at a proper time, still a chance shot through the machinery would defeat the enterprise.
The plan is grounded upon the most fortunate and improbable circumstances. It might succeed; but I think failure would be the rule. By an examination of the chart of the harbor of Charleston it will be seen that the Swash Channel passes outside the range of all the batteries erected along the entrance, except, perhaps, the small one near Cummings Point (of one 32-pounder and one 12-pounder), and this can be safely neglected. Fort Moultrie can bring several guns to bear for a mile and a half (not ten minutes), but their field has been greatly reduced by the traverse with small embrasures lately thrown up on the parapet. Considering as effective all the means in the hands of those hostile to the undertakings, the following are at present to be noticed: The channel will not admit of more than six and one-half feet draught with ease in sailing; at least one steamer with troops and field guns will be near the bar; a line of pilot schooners and signal vessels form a cordon outside the bar; the main ship channel is obstructed with sunken ships; Maffitt’s Channel is raked and crossed by the fires of Moultrie and batteries placed along Sullivan’s Island; the buoys and range lights are removed; the anchorage, except a small area, is under the fire of guns from the several fortified points; the Swash Channel is readily followed by ranging Fort Sumter on St. Michael’s till within five hundred yards of the fort, where a detour to the right will be necessary. Carefully navigated, passing very near the north side of the fort, the vessel may be brought to the wharf at high tide. If not successful, small boats may be furnished by the fort. The only effective guns are those of Fort Moultrie on this entrance. I have the honor to propose that a war vessel (the Brooklyn best) be dispatched with two schooners and two ordinary steam-tugs, each of not more than six feet and a half draught, and under the same pretension as that first proposed, and this combination will give color to the rumor. One of the schooners is to be loaded with provisions entirely, and the hay is to be stored on the starboard. The other, with some provisions, is to carry the troops. The vessels arrived off the bar, the Brooklyn can keep all hostile vessels at a distance and make the following arrangement:
The vessel with provisions is to be placed upon the right, next a screw-tug, next the vessel with troops, and again a tug. The right-hand vessel will cover those on the left, protecting from fire the troops and means of locomotion. The vessels should arrive off the bar two hours before high tide, so that the tide will be rising all the way in, and if grounded may be floated off in a short time. To prevent vessels from the city and the cutters inside the harbor from interfering, the fort shall be signaled, and will reply by lowering its flag or showing a light, and will prevent any vessel going out. Signals should be agreed upon, and the time, day or night, also. Two field pieces, loaded with canister, might be used to meet a desperate attempt to board the vessels. The hay in bales should be wet, to prevent heated balls from setting fire to the vessels.
Opinions of various officers.
George W. Snyder, lieutenant of Engineers, February 28, 1861: 4 regiments, or 4,000 men; 4 vessels of war.
R. K. Meade, jr., second lieutenant of Engineers, February 28, 1861: 5,000 men, at least; supported by gunboats.
S. W. Crawford, February 28, 1861: 4,000 men, supported by the Navy.
Norman J. Hall, second lieutenant, First Artillery, February 28, 1861: 3,500 men; 7 war vessels.
J. C. Davis, first lieutenant, First Artillery, February 28, 1861: 3,000 men; 6 war vessels.
Theodore Talbot, first lieutenant, First Artillery, February 28, 1861: 3,000 men and naval vessels.
T. Seymour, brevet captain and lieutenant, First Artillery, February 28, 1864.
A. Doubleday, captain, First Artillery, February 28, 1861:10,000 men and Navy.
J. G. Foster, captain of Engineers, February 28, 1861: 6,000 regulars or 20,000 volunteers to take them; 10,000 regulars or 30,000 volunteers to hold them.
Captain Ward, who came here believing it practicable, abandoned it after consultation with General Scott. General Scott and the Chief of the Coast Survey, Mr. Foster, evidently a man of sound sense and experience as a seaman, who is acquainted with the waters, having formerly been attached to the Coast Survey, proposed to make the attempt with cutters of light draught and large dimensions. He was in a measure sustained by Commodore Stringham, but did not suppose provisions for more than one or two months could be furnished at a time.
Memorandum of Capt. G. V. Fox.
WASHINGTON, D. C., February 8, 1861.
Lieut. Gen. WINFIELD SCOTT,
U. S. Army, Washington, D.C.:
GENERAL: The proposition which I had the honor to submit fully in person is herewith presented in writing. Lieutenant Hall and myself have had several free conferences, and if he is permitted by the South Carolina authorities to re-enter Fort Sumter, Major Anderson will comprehend the plan for his relief. I consider myself very fortunate in having proposed a project which meets the approval of the General-in-Chief, and I ask no reward but the entire conduct of the part, exclusive of the armed vessels. The commander of these should be ordered to co-operate with me, by affording protection and destroying their naval preparations near the bar, leaving to me, as the author of the plan, the actual operations of relief. I suggest that the Pawnee be immediately sent to the Delaware Breakwater to await orders; the Harriet Lane to be ready for sea, and some arrangement entered into by which the requisite steamer and tugs should be engaged, at least so far as not to excite suspicion. I would prefer one of the Collins steamers. They are now being prepared for sea, and are of such a size and power as to be able fearlessly to run down any vessels which might attempt to capture us outside by a coup de main. I could quietly engage one and have her ready to start in twenty-four hours’ notice, without exciting suspicion. I shall leave for New York at 3.10 p.m., and any communication previous will find me at Judge Blair’s. If the Pawnee pivot-gun is landed it should certainly be remounted.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,
G. V. FOX.
ST. GERMAIN HOTEL, NEW YORK, February 6, 1861,
Since the repulse of the steamer Star of the West at Charleston it may be assumed that all the channels over the bar are obstructed, but as the bar is more than four miles in length the spaces between these channels are too extensive to be closed; therefore at high water and smooth sea the harbor is perfectly accessible to vessels drawing, say, seven feet of water. The United States have no steamers of this draught. The skillful officers at Charleston, aware of this fact, will conclude that relief must go in at high water in boats or light-draught steamers, incapable of bearing a very offensive armament. They will be perfectly prepared for such attempts by arming and heavily manning all the steamers they possess, and at the critical moment will throw themselves alongside of the relief vessels, and thus jeopardize the movement by the very detention of the conflict. To elude their vigilance or attempt a stratagem, however ingenious, I consider too liable to failure. I propose to put the troops on board of a large, comfortable sea steamer, and hire two powerful light-draught New York tug-boats, having the necessary stores on board; these to be conveyed by the U. S. steamer Pawnee, now at Philadelphia, and the revenue cutter Harriet Lane. (The Pawnee is the only available steam vessel of war north of the Gulf of Mexico, draws twelve feet of water, and has seven heavy guns. As a steamer, she seems to be a failure, but may be got ready for this emergency; at least she is, unfortunately, our only resource.) The Harriet Lane I understand to be an excellent and efficient vessel; but either of these steamers alone may be liable to capture by an overwhelming force.
Arriving off the bar I propose to examine by day the naval preparations and obstructions. If their vessels determine to oppose our entrance (and a feint or flag of truce would ascertain this) the armed ships must approach the bar and destroy or drive them on shore. Major Anderson would do the same upon any vessels within the range of his guns, and would also prevent any naval succor being sent down from the city. Having dispersed this force the only obstacles are the forts on Cummings Point and Fort Moultrie, and whatever adjacent batteries they may have erected distant on either hand from midchannel about three-quarters of a mile. At night, two hours before high water, with half the force on board of each tug within relieving distance of each other, I should run in to Fort Sumter.
NEW YORK, February 23, 1861.
MY DEAR BLAIR: Mr. Blunt received a telegraph from General Scott a few days since which he thought indicated an adjournment of my plan; but I put the construction upon it that another was substituted for mine, and I feel certain it must be “boats.” To corroborate this the New York Times, of February 21, says: “Government has determined to relieve Fort Sumter by boats at night.” I consider this plan possible, and the alternative of mine, but inferior at every step. The distance from Fort Sumter to outside is five miles–an hour’s pull. From this point the open ocean, winter season, and at night, say two hundred men (requiring for six months five hundred and forty-six barrels of provisions) are to be put into boats, rowed over a very dangerous bar, and subjected for half an hour to a fire of grape from sixty guns. Besides, if a single tug (they have four) eludes Major Anderson’s vigilance, she would run in amongst these boats with perfect impunity to herself and utter destruction to them. I have made two cruises on the coast of Africa, where the passing of bars by boats, unless very light and in broad daylight, was considered the most dangerous duty we were subjected to, fatal accidents being common in the smoothest weather. Moreover, this plan has been spoken of publicly in connection with the U. S. ship Brooklyn, and from this fact is probably made a special study by the Charlestonians.
I simply propose three tugs, convoyed by light-draught men-of-war. These tugs are sea-boats, six feet draught, speed fourteen knots. The boilers are below, with three and a half feet space on each side, to be filled with coal. The machinery comes up between the wheel-houses, with a gangway on either hand of five to six feet, enabling us to pack the machinery with two or three thicknesses of bales of cotton or hay. This renders the vulnerable parts of the steamer proof against grape and fragments of shells, but the momentum of a solid shot would probably move the whole mass and disable the engine. The men are below, entirely protected from grape–provisions on deck. The first tug to lead in empty, to open their fire. The other two to follow, with the force divided, and towing the large iron boats of the Baltic, which would hold the whole force should every tug be disabled, and empty they would not impede the tugs. When such men as George W. Blunt, Charles K. Marshall, and Russell Sturgis, all seamen, give my plan the preference, it must have merit. At Kinburn, in the Black Sea, eight gunboats passed in the night forts mounting eighty guns–only one boat hit. The next day, in broad daylight, the Cracker (English) came out under their deliberate fire–distance nine hundred yards. The Vladimar (Russian steamer at Sebastopol) was under fire at various distances during the whole war, but her motion prevented her being disabled. How few of Dahlgren’s shots hit the target with all the elements of success he is capable of producing! I am sure I could convince the authorities of the preference that is due to this plan, if I could argue the plan instead of write it.
G. V. FOX.
NEW YORK, March 1, 1861.
I just met Russell Sturgis, who has charge of most of the tow-boats in the harbor, and he informs me that the Charleston authorities have opened negotiations here for the purchase of two tugs, and that the two proposed are two of the three I had selected, being the only three really fit for the work in the whole city. I thought it best to give you this information at once, as the probability of re-enforcing Fort Sumter except by landing and capturing their forts will be lessened with such fine boats as I have described in their possession. Captain Sturgis has put these boats in order, notwithstanding my plan has the go-by, for we all feel that a severe discussion must bring it up again.
I met a Navy officer to-day who has just received a letter from Hartstene. He is captain in the S.C. Navy with the same pay as a U. S. captain, and has charge of the coast defenses. He thinks he has prevented an attack upon Sumter so far, but says it will soon be done, and will be a very sanguinary affair. Paul Hamilton, esq., commands the floating battery now launched. They have four tugs, which do not amount to much compared to one of these powerful New York ones.
I wrote you last Sunday in full. Write me as soon as anything definite is done.
G. V. FOX.
Direct your letters care of A. H. Lowery, 77 Nassau street, and I get them in the morning, otherwise not until p.m. I trust you and the General will give me a hand in this business. He seems most favorably disposed towards me.