Several Views of the Fort Sumter Affair
Several Views of the Fort Sumter Affair
“On the night of 26/27 December , Major Robert Anderson . . . withdrew his small force from the unfinished Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, the most defensible of the various posts scattered about the harbor, spiking the guns and burning the gun carriages at Moultrie. This surprise move greatly alarmed the public in South Carolina.
It was the first federal act that could be interpreted as overly hostile in intent, and it seemed to South Carolinians an act of bad faith, violating their understanding of a tacit agreement with Washington to maintain a status quo until a political settlement could be worked out by the delegates the State had sent there. Indeed, it was this act and not the firing on Fort Sumter that South Carolinians regarded as the commencement of hostilities.”
(Carolina Cavalier, Clyde N. Wilson, Chronicles Pres, 2002, page 137)
From Mr. Toombs, Secretary of State, CSA, April 24, 1861:
[to Hon. W.L. Yancy, P. Rost, Dudley Mann, Commissioners of the Confederate States]
“When you left this city [Montgomery] you were aware that Commissioners from this government had been sent to Washington with the view to open negotiations with the government of the United States for the peaceful settlement of all matters in controversy, and for the settlement of relations of amity and good will between the two countries.
They promptly made known to the Administration at Washington the object of their mission; gave the most explicit assurance that it was the earnest desire of the President, Congress, and the people of the Confederate States to preserve peace; that they had no demand to make which was not founded on the strictest justice, and that they had no wish to do any act to injure their late confederates, [and] they did not press their demand for a formal reception or a recognition of the independence of the Confederate States.
So long as moderation and forbearance were consistent with the honor and dignity of their government, they forebore from taking any steps which could possibly add to the difficulties by which the Cabinet of Mr. Lincoln was beset.
[They] received the most positive assurances from Mr. Seward that the policy of his government was peace; that Fort Sumter would be evacuated immediately; that Fort Pickens would soon be abandoned; that no measure was contemplated “to change the existing status of things prejudicially to the Confederate States;” and that, if any change were resolved upon, due notice would be given to the Commissioners.
Incredible as it may seem, it is nevertheless perfectly true that while the Government of the United States was thus addressing the Confederate States with words of conciliation and promises of peace, a large naval and military expedition was being fitted out by its order for the purpose of invading our soil and imposing on us an authority which we have forever repudiated, and which it was well known we would resist to the last extremity.
Having knowledge that a large fleet was expected hourly to arrive at Charleston harbor with orders to force and entrance and attempt to victual and reinforce the fortress, and that the troops of the Confederate States would be thus exposed to a double attack, General Beauregard had no alternative left but to dislodge the enemy and take possession of the fort, and thus command absolutely all the approaches to the port of Charleston, so that the entrance of a hostile fleet would be almost impossible.”
(Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, 1861-1865, J. D. Richardson, Editor, US Publishing Company, pp. 13-16)
Who Bears the Guilt?
“Perhaps a word should be inserted here as to which side was the aggressor in this historic conflict. Who bears the guilt of starting the war? The North has sought to lay this stigma upon the South since we fired the first shot.
But the courts (and common sense as well) have decreed that the aggressor is not the one who strikes the first blow, but the one who makes that blow necessary. The ground on which Fort Sumter stood had been lent to the Federal Government by the State of South Carolina for the erection of a fort to guard its chief harbor, but when South Carolina withdrew from the Union, the property automatically reverted to the State.
Morally and legally, the first blow was not struck at Charleston, but when this fleet with hostile intent weighed anchor in the harbor of New York. Hence the guilt of aggression lies at the door of the Federal government at Washington. (See Stephens History of the US, pp. 421-429)
(Some Things For Which the South Did Not Fight, Henry Tucker Graham, 1946)