-- Hesitation and Decision --


Problem 4: March 29, 1861

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What Lincoln Did

As cabinet members offered their advice (Simon Cameron's opinion does not exist), it became evident that a significant shift of opinion had occurred since mid-March. Only two members now explicitly objected to relieving Sumter, even when it was known that the sending of provisions would likely encounter resistance. Furthermore, no secretary called for abandoning Fort Pickens. Yet disagreement, spoken and unspoken, continued to exist in the administration. General Scott had urged withdrawal from both forts; Seward pressed for the abandonment of Sumter; and some officials remained uncertain about what to do.

Following the cabinet meeting, Lincoln ordered preparations begun to relieve both Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens.

He sent the secretaries of war and navy the following command regarding Sumter: "I desire that an expedition, to move by sea, be got ready to sail as early as the 6th of April next." To this order, he attached Fox's list of ships, men, and supplies, which read: "Steamers Pocahontas at Norfolk, Pawnee at Washington, Harriet Lane at New York . . . to be under sailing orders for sea, with stores, etc. for one month. Three hundred men to be kept ready for departure from on board the receiving ships at New York. Two hundred men to be ready to leave Governor's Island in New York. Supplies for twelve months for one hundred men to be put in portable shape, ready for instant shipping. A large steamer and three tugs conditionally engaged." Fox left for New York City the following day (March 30, 1861) to supervise these preparations.

For Fort Pickens, Lincoln also initiated steps to assure its reinforcement. Although he had earlier ordered troops to be landed at the fort (see March 12), no word had yet been received that his orders had been carried out. Worried that his instructions had "fizzled out," Lincoln followed Seward's suggestion and called Captain Montgomery C. Meigs to meet with them at the White House. Meigs informed Lincoln that Pickens, if still in Union hands, could certainly be held. Seward guaranteed a plan of action by late afternoon the next day, but Lincoln concluded their meeting by saying he would consider the matter for another day or two.


Bibliography: Nicolay and Hay, Lincoln, 3: 433-36; OR, p. 226; Meigs, "General M. C. Meigs," pp. 299-300; Current, Lincoln and the First Shot, pp. 81-82.

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