Robert S. Chew was described by Lincoln's private secretaries as "a faithful clerk of the State Department." As an aide to Seward, Chew had earlier helped establish communication between Lincoln and the Virginia unionists, which led to the President's controversial and mystery-shrouded meeting with John B. Baldwin on April 4, 1861.
On April 6, Chew received instructions to journey to Charleston. The instructions were drafted by Lincoln, and copied and signed by the secretary of war. Chew, therefore, held both military and civil authority.
His instructions read as follows:
Washington, April 6, 1861
Sir: You will proceed directly to Charleston, South Carolina; and if, on your arrival there, the flag of the United States shall be flying over Fort Sumter, and the fort shall not have been attacked, you will procure an interview with Governor Pickens, and read to him as follows: "I am directed by the President of the United States to notify you to expect an attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumter with provisions only; and that, if such attempt be not resisted, no effort to throw in men, arms, or ammunition will be made without further notice, or in case of an attack upon the fort."
After you shall have read this to Governor Pickens, deliver to him the copy of it herein inclosed, and retain this letter yourself.
But if, on your arrival at Charleston, you shall ascertain that Fort Sumter shall have been already evacuated, or surrendered by the United States force, or shall have been attacked by an opposing force, you will seek no interview with Governor Pickens, but return here forthwith.