-- Final Orders --

Saturday April 6, 1861

--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

The Powhatan Goes to Fort Pickens

On this day, Captain Mercer received his instructions from Navy secretary Welles to command the Powhatan and the Sumter expedition. Before he could depart, however, Meigs and Porter boarded the Powhatan and presented their orders signed by President Lincoln, which included a presidential order for Captain Mercer to give up the Powhatan to Porter. The three men consulted about the conflicting orders, and Mercer agreed that Lincoln's order was "imperative." He, therefore, gave over command of the vessel to Porter.

At 2:45 p.m., the Powhatan sailed for Fort Pickens with Lieutenant Porter in command.

At 3:00 p.m., Foote, the commandant of the Navy Yard, finally received Seward's telegram, which had been dispatched on Lincoln's order in the early morning hours. The message instructed Porter to give up command of the Powhatan to Mercer. It was signed "Seward."

Foote sent a steamer in pursuit of the Powhatan, which overtook the vessel. But Porter refused to abandon his course, insisting that his orders had come from the President himself and that a cabinet officer could not supersede those orders. Only another order signed by the Lincoln could do that. Assuming that the Atlantic had, according to plan, already departed for Pickens, he argued that it was too late. The mission's troops and supplies would be endangered if he turned back. "I received my orders from the President and shall proceed and execute them," Porter replied to Seward. So, the Powhatan continued to Pensacola instead of to Charleston!

At 6 p.m., Foote sent a telegram to Navy secretary Welles informing him of Porter's action.


Bibliography: ORN, pp. 112, 237-40; Nicolay and Hay, Lincoln, 4: 3-7; Hoogenboom, "Gustavus Fox and Sumter," p. 392; Porter, Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War, pp. 20-21.

[Main Menu] [Final Orders Home] [Back] [Next] ... [Calendar] [Notebook]