Sunday, May 31, 2009

'Not Prepared For This Emergency'

20th of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
At noon on March 4 [1861], James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln entered an open barouche at Williard's Hotel to begin the drive down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. Determined to prevent any attempt on Lincoln's life, General [Winfield] Scott had stationed sharpshooters on the roofs of buildings along the avenue, and companies of soldiers blocked off the cross streets. He stationed himself with one battery of light artillery on Capitol Hill; General John E. Wool, commander of the army's Department of the East, was with another. The presidential procession was short and businesslike, more like a military operation than a political parade. . . .

The audience could not be quite sure what the new President's policy toward secession would be because his inaugural address, like his cabinet, was an imperfectly blended mixture of opposites. . . . Reaction to the address was largely predictable. In the Confederacy it was generally taken to mean that war was inevitable. A correspondent of the Charleston Mercury viewed this pronouncement from "the Ourang-Outang at the White House" as "the tocsin of battle" that was also "the signal of our freedom." . . .

The most thoughtful verdict was offered by the Providence Daily Post, a Democratic paper: "If the President selected his words with the view of making clear his views, he was, partially at least, unsuccessful. There was some plain talk in the address; but . . . it is immediately followed by obscurely state qualifications."

* * * * *
On the morning after the inauguration Lincoln found on his desk a report from Major Robert Anderson that the provisions for his garrison at Fort Sumter would be exhausted in about six weeks. Unless he was resupplied within that time, he would have to surrender. He warned that it would take a force of 25,000 well-disciplined men to make the fort secure.

Lincoln was not prepared for this emergency. As yet there was no executive branch of government. The Senate had yet to confirm even his private secretary, John G. Nicolay. None of his cabinet officers had been approved. His secretary of state-designate had not yet agreed to serve, and Salmon P. Chase had no even been informed of his nomination. . . .

The Sumter crisis was the principal topic of discussion of a cabinet meeting on March 9. . . . If Anderson required an expeditionary force of at least 25,000 men -- at a time when the entire United States army numbered only 16,000, mostly scattered in outposts along the Indian frontier -- the inescapable conclusion was that the fort must be surrendered.

Lincoln was not yet willing to accept that conclusion. Perhaps his reluctance was increased when [Republican Party stalwart] Francis P. Blair Sr., forced his way into the President's office and warned that evacuation of the fort was "virtually a surrender of the union" amounting to treason. The next day the old gentleman apologized for having said "things that were impertinent," but Lincoln got the message.

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