21st of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
On April 12 , while the Union fleet lay helpless offshore, the Confederates began bombarding Fort Sumter, and after thirty-four hours the garrison was forced to surrender. The war had begun.
Afterward Lincoln gave several explanations of his course during the Sumter crisis. In his July 4 message to Congress he spoke of is decision to supply Fort Sumter as contingent on the reinforcement of Fort Pickens in Florida (image, right) . . . But this interpretation was not supported by contemporaneous evidence. In none of Lincoln's letters or messages between his inauguration and the firing on Fort Sumter was the relief of the two forts linked.
While Lincoln was preparing this message, [Orville Hickman] Browning visited the White House and the two old friends naturally talked about how the war began. According to Browning's rather arid diary, Lincoln did not denounce the Confederates, who after all fired the first shots, nor did he express any feeling of regret, much less guilt, over his own role in bringing on the war.
. . . These cryptic utterances did not mean that Lincoln sought to provoker war. His repeated efforts to avoid collision in the months between his inauguration and the firing on Fort Sumter showed that he adhered to his vow not to be the first to shed fraternal blood. But he had also vowed not to surrender the forts. That, he was convinced, would lead to the "actual, and immediate dissolution" of the Union. The only resolution of these contradictory positions was for the Confederates to fire the first shot. . . . In a sense, as he told Browning, by falling, the fort "did more service that it otherwise could." And, to use a phrase from his letter to [former Navy Lieutenant Gustavus] Fox, "the cause of the country would be advanced" because everyone had to recognize that he did not start the war but had war forced on him. After the attack, he told Congress, "no choice was left but to call out the war power of the Government; and so to resist force, employed for its destruction, by force, for its preservation."