HERE, in the brief hour immediately before the outburst of the long-gathering storm, although it can hardly be necessary for the reader who has carefully considered what has already been written, we may pause for a moment to contemplate the attitude of the parties to the contest and the grounds on which they respectively stand. I do not now refer to the original causes of controversy-to the comparative claims of statehood and union, or to the question of the right or the wrong of secession -but to the proximate and immediate causes of conflict.
The fact that South Carolina was a state whatever her relations may have been to the other states-is not and cannot be denied. It is equally undeniable that the ground on which Fort Sumter was built was ceded by South Carolina to the United States in trust for the defense of her own soil and her own chief harbor. This has been shown, by ample evidence, to have been the principle governing all cessions by the states of sites for military purposes, but it applies with special force to the case of Charleston. The streams flowing into that harbor, from source to mouth, lie entirely within the limits of the state of South Carolina. No other state or combination of states could have any distinct interest or concern in the maintenance of a fortress at that point, unless as a means of aggression against South Carolina herself. The practical view of the case was correctly stated by Douglas, when he said: "I take it for granted that whoever permanently holds Charleston and South Carolina is en-titled to the possession of Fort Sumter. Whoever permanently holds Pensacola and Florida is entitled to the possession of Fort Pickens. Whoever holds the States in whose limits those forts are placed is entitled to the forts themselves, unless there is something peculiar in the location of some particular fort that makes it important for us to hold it for the general defense of the whole country, its commerce and interests, instead of being useful only for the defense of a particular city or locality."
No such necessity could be alleged with regard to Fort Sumter. The claim to hold it as "public property of the United States was utterly untenable and unmeaning, apart from a claim of coercive control over the state. If South Carolina was a mere province, in a state of open rebellion, the government of the United States had a right to retain its hold of any fortified place within her limits which happened to be in its possession, and it would have had an equal right to acquire possession of any other. It would have had the same right to send an army to Columbia to batter down the walls of the state Capitol. The subject may at once be stripped of the sophistry which would make a distinction between the two cases. The one was as really an act of war as the other would have been. The right or the wrong of enter depended entirely upon the question of the rightful power of the federal government to coerce a state into submission-a power which, as we have seen, was unanimously rejected in the formation of the federal Constitution, and which was still unrecognized by many, perhaps by a majority, even of those who denied the right of a state to secede.
If there existed any hope or desire for a peaceful settlement of the questions at issue between the states, either party had a right to demand that, pending such settlement, there should be no hostile grasp upon its throat. This grip had been held on the throat of South Carolina for almost four months from the period of her secession, and no forcible resistance to it had yet been made. Remonstrance's and patient, persistent, and reiterated attempts at negotiation for its removal had been made with two successive administrations of the government of the United States-at first by the state of South Carolina, and by the government of the Confederate States after its formation. These efforts had been met, not by an open avowal of coercive purposes, but by evasion, prevarication, and perfidy. The agreement of one administration to maintain the status quo at the time when the question arose, was violated in December by the removal of the garrison from its original position to the occupancy of a stronger. Another attempt was made to violate it, in January, by the introduction of troops concealed below the deck of the steamer Star of the 'West but this was thwarted by the vigilance of the state service. The protracted course of fraud and prevarication practiced by Lincoln's administration in the months of March and April has been fully exhibited. It was evident that no confidence whatever could be reposed in any pledge or promise of the federal government as then administered. Yet, notwithstanding all this, no resistance, other than that of pacific protest and appeals for an equitable settlement, was made until after the avowal of a purpose of coercion, and when it was known that a hostile fleet was on the way to support and enforce it. At the very moment when the Confederate commander gave the final notice to Major Anderson of his purpose to open fire upon the fort, that fleet was lying off the mouth of the harbor, and hindered from entering only by a gale of wind.
The forbearance of the Confederate government, under the circumstances, is perhaps unexampled in history. It was carried to the extreme verge, short of a disregard of the safety of the people who had entrusted to that government the duty of their defense against their enemies. The attempt to represent us as the aggressors in the conflict which ensued is as unfounded as the complaint made by the wolf against the lamb in the familiar fable. He who makes the assault is not necessarily be that strikes the first blow or fires the first gun. To have awaited further strengthening of their position by land and naval forces, with hostile purpose now declared, for the sake of having them fire the first gun, would have been as unwise as it would be to hesitate to strike down the arm of the assailant, who levels a deadly weapon at one's breast, until he has actually fired. The disingenuous rant of demagogues about "firing on the flag" might serve to rouse the passions of insensate mobs in times of general excitement, but will be impotent in impartial history to relieve the federal government from the responsibility of the assault made by sending a hostile fleet against the harbor of Charleston, to cooperate with the menacing garrison of Fort Sumter. After the assault was made by the hostile descent of the fleet, the reduction of Fort Sumter was a measure of defense rendered absolutely and immediately necessary.
Such clearly was the idea of the commander of the, when be declined, as Captain Fox informs us, without orders from a superior, to make any effort to enter the harbor, "there to inaugurate civil war." The straightforward simplicity of the sailor had not been perverted by the shams of political sophistry. Even Horace Greeley, with all his extreme partisan feeling, is obliged to admit that "whether the bombardment and reduction of Fort Sumter shall or shall not be justified by posterity, it is clear that the Confederacy had no alternative but its own dissolution."
According to the notice given by General Beauregard, fire was opened upon Fort Sumter from the various batteries which had been erected around the harbor, at half-past four o'clock on the morning of Friday, April 12, 1861. The fort soon responded. It is not the purpose of this work to give minute details of the military operation, as the events of the bombardment have been often related, and are generally well known, with no material discrepancy in matters of fact among the statements of the various participants. It is enough, therefore, to add that the bombardment continued for about thirty-three or thirty-four hours. The fort was eventually set on fire by shells, after having been partly destroyed by shot, and Major Anderson, after a resolute defense, finally surrendered on the 13th-the same terms being accorded to him which had been offered two days before. It is a remarkable fact-probably without precedent in the annals of war-that notwithstanding the extent and magnitude of the engagement, the number and caliber of the guns, and the amount of damage done to inanimate material on both sides, especially to Fort Sumter, nobody was injured on either side by the bombardment. The only casualty attendant upon the affair was the death of one man and the wounding of several others by the explosion of a gun in the firing of a salute to their flag by the garrison on evacuating the fort the day after the surrender.
A striking incident marked the close of the bombardment. Ex-Senator Louis T. Wigfall of Texas a man as generous as he was recklessly brave when he saw the fort on fire, supposing the garrison to be hopelessly struggling for the honor of its flag, voluntarily and without authority, went under fire in an open boat to the fort, and climbing through one of its embrasures asked for Major Anderson, and insisted that he should surrender a fort which it was palpably impossible that he could hold. Major Anderson agreed to surrender on the same terms and conditions that had been offered him before his works were battered in breach, and the agreement between them to that effect was promptly ratified by the Confederate commander. Thus unofficially was inaugurated the surrender and evacuation of the fort.
The President of the United States, in his message of July 4, 1861, to the federal Congress convened in extra session, said:
"It is thus seen that the assault upon and reduction of Fort Sumter was in no sense a matter of self-defense on the part of the assailants. They well knew that the garrison in the fort could by no possibility commit aggression upon them. They knew they were expressly notified that the giving of bread to the few brave and hungry men of the garrison was all which would on that occasion be attempted, unless themselves, by resisting so much, should provoke more."
Lincoln well knew that, if the brave men of the garrison were hungry, they had only him and his trusted advisers to thank for it. They had been kept for months in a place where they ought not to have been contrary to the judgment of the general-in-chief of his army, contrary to the counsels of the wisest statesmen in his confidence, and the protests of the commander of the garrison. A word from him would have relieved them at any moment in the manner most acceptable to them and most promotive of peaceful results.
But suppose the Confederate authorities had been disposed to yield, and to consent to the introduction of supplies for the maintenance of the garrison, what assurance would they have had that nothing further would be attempted? What reliance could be placed in any assurances of the government of the United States after the experience of the, attempted ruse of the Star of the West and the deceptions practiced upon the Confederate commissioners in Washington? He says we were "expressly notified" that nothing more "would on that occasion be attempted' '-the words in italics themselves constituting a very significant though unobtrusive and innocent-looking limitation. But we had been just as expressly notified, long before, that the garrison would be withdrawn. It would be as easy to violate the one pledge as it had been to break the other.
Moreover, the so-called notification was a mere memorandum, without date, signature, or authentication of any kind, sent to Governor Pickens, not by an accredited agent, but by a subordinate employee of the State Department. Like the oral and written pledges of Seward, given through Judge Campbell, it seemed to be carefully and purposely divested of every attribute that could make it binding and valid, in case its authors should see fit to repudiate it. It was as empty and worthless as the complaint against the Confederate government based upon it is disingenuous.