Part I

Initial Events

       The Confederate government was formed by seven organized States, which, having seceded from the United States by separate action, and thus become each an independent State, proceeded formally, in a congress of delegates, to adopt a constitution for their confederation, under which they proposed to govern themselves. But, previous to this action, each State assumed for itself the sovereign rights and obligations of independent government. All land within any State's boundaries became its own eminent domain; all the population became subject to its jurisdiction; its laws were supreme and its flag was the symbol of sovereignty. Each State thus became a government which must organize its armies and navies for the defense of its people, as well as enact laws to meet their civic needs.
       In compliance with this right and duty South Carolina, the first to secede, began to organize its small army and to seek by treaty the peaceable acquisition of certain forts and arsenals held by the military force of the United States. The other States, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, pursued a similar course, or, despairing of obtaining the consent of the United States, entered into the possession of the forts, arsenals and other government property within their boundaries, with a show of force sometimes, but happily at first without conflict of arms or shedding of blood.
       South Carolina declared its independence on the 20th of December, 1860, by a convention of its people, which at the same time authorized the enforcement of its laws by civil process and the organization of a military force for protection against foreign invasion. No military movement, however, occurred in the beginning of this new political order, that indicated hostility to any State or country. But, six days after South Carolina seceded, one unfortunate act of a United States officer inaugurated "the state of war." Maj. Robert Anderson, of the United States army, commanding in the harbor of Charleston and occupying Fort Moultrie, spiked the guns of that fort, destroyed the carriages of the 32-pounders, removed or destroyed the ammunition, and moved his supplies and his garrison abruptly and secretly to join the garrison of Fort Sumter. This very decided hostile movement, by which the commanding officer concentrated his forces at the stronger fort, was unquestionably, in technical definition at least, an act of war. Major Anderson meant it to be so, since he stated as his reason for thus acting that he feared attack, and "if attacked the garrison would never have surrendered without a fight." The object of the movement was to strengthen his position and prepare to meet his enemy at better advantage. The abandoned fort was therefore promptly occupied by South Carolina troops, and the State also seized such other property as could be taken without bloodshed.
       Nearly coincident with this movement of Major Anderson occurred the purchase and equipping of vessels in the New York harbor to carry reinforcements of supplies and troops to Fort Sumter. Gen. Winfield Scott, the commander-in-chief of the United States army, who had constantly insisted on coercive military measures, again urged President Buchanan, on the 30th of December, to send 250 recruits from New York harbor, with extra muskets or rifles, ammunition and subsistence stores to reinforce the fort which Major Anderson now held. The President promptly ordered the reinforcements. The secretaries of war and the navy were immediately instructed, the appropriate orders to army and navy officers were issued, and on the 31st day of December, 1860, the measures for an armed reinforcement of Fort Sumter were fully adopted and carried into immediate operation. A few days' delay unexpectedly ensued, but as quickly as possible, January 5, 1861, the steamer Star of the West left New York for Charleston on a warlike mission with 250 troops and six months' provisions, and was followed two days later by the warship Brooklyn, Captain Farragut commanding.
       The expedition of the Star of the West failed, notwithstanding its well-devised plans, nearly as the circumstances of the failure are related by Lieutenant Woods, Ninth United States infantry, commanding the recruits on board. His report shows that on arrival near his destination he steamed up the main channel in Charleston harbor, and was within 1 miles of Fort Sumter, with his troops hidden from view, when his vessel was fired upon from Morris island. The Star of the West kept on under the fire of the South Carolina battery, but finding it impossible to take the supplies and his command of infantry into Port Sumter, Lieutenant Woods reluctantly ordered the ship about, and made his way out of the harbor. Captain McGowan, who commanded the Star of the West, was specially mentioned by Lieutenant Woods for his efforts "to put the troops in Fort Sumter." This attempt at armed reinforcement occurred on the 9th of January, and is mentioned in connection with the strategy of Major Anderson as another event occurring thus early in the "inauguration of war." Its special significance appears in the light of the principle already agreed on between the State of South Carolina and Buchanan's administration, that reinforcement of Fort Sumter in this manner had at least a hostile bearing, equivalent, as South Carolina understood it, to an act of war.
       The United States government at this date actively reinforced Forts Pickens, Taylor, Key West and Jefferson, and ordered the withdrawal of several war vessels from foreign stations for the purpose of increasing the home squadron, to be distributed along the Southern coasts. The United States naval force available for aggression was inefficient, but such as could be employed were actively threatening the Southern ports. The activity of the Buchanan administration, notwithstanding the vacillation of the President, was sufficient to withhold from the Southern seceded States many valuable positions, among which may be named the forts on the coasts of Florida, as well as Fort Pickens and Fort Sumter. The Confederate government when formed in February, at Montgomery, found its territory occupied with hostile forces at important points on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and the future action of the States on its northern and western borders still a painful uncertainty. The conditions at that time were already warlike.

This Page last updated 02/10/02