-- Initial Problems at Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens --

March 11-12, 1861

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Blair's Meeting with Lincoln

The actual date when Francis P. Blair urged Lincoln to hold Sumter, and the influence that his interview had on the President are subjects of considerable disagreement.

Richard N. Current and Elbert B. Smith offer March 12 as the day when Blair personally urged his case. More recently, Maury Klein claims it was March 11. On the other hand, James Ford Rhodes, citing a narrative written by a member of the Sumter garrison, Samuel W. Crawford, places the interview on March 15. Further confusing matters, an early biographer of Blair, William Ernest Smith, moves the conversation two weeks later, to March 29!

The evidence appears to justify either March 11 or 12. Blair wrote a letter addressed to his son, dated March 12, in which he described his meeting with Lincoln; Montgomery delivered it to the President. The letter contains references to events that took place on March 11, but does not make clear whether Blair actually met with the President on that day or the day on which he wrote the letter (March 12). By the time he wrote the letter on the 12th, Blair thought he may have used too extravagant language in criticizing those who, like Scott, were recommending the abandonment of Sumter. But he remained convinced of the wrongness of that position. Those historians who place the interview on either March15, or March 29, cite Crawford's summary of a letter Blair wrote him years after the event, describing his interview with Lincoln and the circumstances surrounding it. This letter embellished Blair's original account, and for some reason Crawford included it in his discussion of events surrounding a cabinet meeting on March 15. However, it is clear from the context of his letter to Crawford, that Blair was referring to the situation he described in his letter of March 12, 1861.

Concerning the influence that Blair's interview had on Lincoln's Sumter policy, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles later claimed that Blair's appeal "aroused and electrified" the President. From that moment, Welles claimed, Lincoln was determined to relieve and hold Sumter. But many historians, such as David M. Potter and Richard N. Current, think Blair's influence less decisive.

Blair may actually have had more effect on the situation at Fort Pickens. If his meeting occurred prior to Lincoln's decision on March 12 to reinforce that fort, it may have influenced the President. If, however, the meeting occurred after Lincoln made this decision, Blair's influence was likely negligible.

Bibliography: Current, Lincoln and the First Shot, pp. 56-57; Smith, Blair, pp. 275-76; Maury Klein, Days of Defiance: Sumter, Secession, and the Coming of the Civil War (New York, 1997), p. 331; Montgomery Blair to Lincoln, 12 March 1861, Lincoln Papers; F.P. Blair to Montgomery Blair, 12 March 1861, Lincoln Papers; M. Blair to Van Buren, 29 April 1861, F.P. Blair to Van Buren, 1 May 1861, Van Buren Papers; Rhodes, History, 3: 341; Crawford, Genesis of the Civil War, pp. 363-64; Smith, Blair Family, 2: 9-10; Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, ed. Morse, 1: 13-14.

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