Letters from Major Anderson

I have the honor to submit for your consideration several letters, with enclosures, received on yesterday, from Major Anderson of the Artillery, and Captain Foster of the Corps of Engineers which are of a most important and unexpected character. Why they were unexpected, will appear from the following brief statement.

After transferring his force to Fort Sumter, he addressed a letter to this Department, under date of the 31st. of December, 1860, in which he says "Thank God, we are now where the Government may send us additional troops at its leisure. To be sure, the uncivil and uncourteous action of the Governor in preventing us from purchasing anything in the City will annoy and inconvenience us somewhat, still we are safe". And, after referring to some deficiency in his stores in the articles of soap and candles, he adds, "still we can cheerfully put up with the inconvenience of doing without them for the satisfaction we feel in the knowledge that we can command this Harbor as long as our government wishes to keep it." And again, on the 6th. of January, he wrote "My position will, should there be no treachery among the workmen whom we are compelled to retain for the present, enable me to hold this post against any force which can be brought against me, and it would enable me in the event of a war, to annoy the South Carolinians by preventing the from throwing in supplies into their new posts except by the aid of the wash channel through stone river.

Before the receipt of this communication, the government, being without information as to his condition, had despatched the Star of the West, with troops and supplies for Fort Sumter, but the vessel, having been fired on from a battery at the entrance to the Harbor, returned without having reached her destination. On the 16th. of January, 1861, in replying to Major Anderson's letter of the 31st. of December, and of the 6th. of January, 1 said "Your late despatches, as well as the very intelligent statements of Lieutenant Talbot, have relieved the Government of the apprehensions previously entertained for your safety. In consequence, it is not its purpose, at present, to reinforce you. The attempt to do so would no doubt be attended by a collision of arms, and the effusion of blood-a national calamity which the President is most anxious to avoid. You will therefore report frequently your condition, and the character and activity of the preparations, if any, which may be being made for an attack upon the Fort, or for obstructing the government in any endeavors it may make to strengthen your command. Should your despatches be of a nature too important to be entrusted to the mails, you will convey them by special messengers. Whenever, in your judgment, additional supplies or reinforcements are necessary for your safety, or for a successful defense of the Fort, you will at once communicate the fact to this Department, and a prompt and vigorous effort will be made to forward them."

Since the date of this letter, Major Anderson has regularly and frequently reported the progress of the batteries being constructed around him, and which looked either to the defense of the Harbor, or to an attack upon his own position, but he has not suggested that their works compromised his safety, nor has he made any request that additional supplies or reinforcements should be sent to him. On the contrary, on the 30th. of January, 1861, in a letter to this Department he uses this emphatic language: "I do hope that no attempt will be made by our friends to throw supplies in- their doing so would do more harm than good." On the 5th. February, when referring to the batteries etc. constructed in his vicinity, he said "even in their present condition they will make it impossible for any hostile force, other than a large and well appointed one, to enter this Harbor and the chances are that it will then be at a great sacrifice of life:" And, in a postscript, he adds of course, in speaking of forcing an entrance, I do not refer to the little stratagem of a small party shipping in." This suggestion of the "stratagem" was well considered in connection with all the information that could be obtained bearing upon it and in consequence of the vigilance and number of the guard boats in and outside of the Harbor, it was rejected as impracticable.

In view of these very distinct declarations, and of the earnest desire to avoid a collision as long as possible, it was deemed entirely safe to adhere to the line of policy indicated in my letter of the 16th. of January, which has been already quoted. In that, Major Anderson had been requested to report at once whenever, "in his judgment additional supplies or reinforcements were necessary for his safety or for a successful defense of the Fort." So long, therefore, as he remained silent upon this point, the government felt that there was no ground for apprehension. Still, as the necessity of action might arise at any moment, an expedition has been quietly prepared, and is ready to sail from New York on a few hours notice, for transporting troops and supplies to Fort Sumter. This step was taken under the supervision of General Scott, who arranged its details, and who regarded the reinforcements thus provided for as sufficient for the occasion. The expedition, however, is not upon a scale approaching the seemingly extravagant estimates of Major Anderson and Captain Foster, now offered for the first time, and for the disclosures of which the government was wholly unprepared.

The declaration now made by the Major that he would not be willing to risk his reputation on an attempt to throw reinforcements into Charleston Harbor and with a view of holding possession of the same, with a force of less than twenty thousand good and well disciplined men, takes the Department by surprise as his previous correspondence contains no such intimation.

I have the honor to be, Very Respectfully, Your Obt. Servant,

I. Holt

To The President.

[Endorsed: ]

Mr. Secretary Holt To the President. March 5, 1861

With a letter of Major Anderson to the former

Remarks Of Lieut. GenI Scott on the within. -

When Major Anderson first threw himself into Fort Sumter it would have been easy to reinforce him. Fort Moultrie has since been re-armed & greatly strengthened, & many powerful new land batteries (besides rafts) have been constructed; hulks sunk in the principal channel, etc. etc... The difficulty of reinforcing has now been increased 10 or 15 fold. First the President would allow no attempt to be made, because he was holding negotiations with the S Carolina commissioners; then we (Secretary Holt & myself) [we] could not [obtain from] prevail upon him & the Secretary of the Navy, to let us have a ship of War, which forced us to employ the Star of the West, [but] & she, but for the imbecility of her commander, might have landed men & subsistence. Before the Cabinet, I next submitted (orally) either [that] succor [must] be sent {given] by means of ships of war, fighting their way to the fort, or 2. that the Major should ameliorate his condition by the muzzles of his guns-that is, enforcing supplies by bombardment; bringing to merchant vessels & helping himself (giving orders for payment) etc. etc. or surrender. But before any resolution was taken-Mr. Secretary Toucey, making difficulties about his vessels-another commissioner arrived, from 50 Carolina, causing a farther delay. Next, after considering many plans of relief, the President, two Secretaries, Capt. Ward & myself settled upon the employment, under the captain (who was eager for the expedition-) of the four, or more, small steamers, belonging to the Coast Survey. -Three, or four weeks ago I have no doubt the captain would have succeeded; but he was kept back by some thing like a truce established between the President & a number of principal seceders-here, in So. Carolina, Florida etc. -which truce or informal understanding, included Ft Pickens. [Hence a company, intended for the latter, is still in the sloop of war, the Brooklyn, lying off the fort, at Sea, with orders not to land till an attack shall be made by the Secessionists. ]

Whether Capt. Ward, notwithstanding the great increase of Carolina batteries & the opinions of Major Anderson, Capt. Foster etc., would still be willing, or deem himself able to [attempt the] succor [of] Fort Sumter (even for a few weeks) I cannot say; [He ought to be called for:) but it is evident that the officers of the fort have changed their opinions, with the great change of circumstances, & now see no alternative but a surrender, in some weeks, more or less, as they well know that we cannot send the third of the men (regulars) in several months, [weeks] months, necessary to give them relief beyond a few weeks, if for a day. Evacuation seems almost inevitable, & in this view, our distinguished Chief Engineer (Brigadier Totten) concurs-if, indeed, the worn out garrison be not assaulted & carried in the present week.

Respectfully submitted to the President, thro' the Secretary of State.

Win field Scott

March 5, 1861.

Note. The foregoing remarks are written in the night far from my papers.

W. S.


The President has done me the honor to address to me certain professional questions, to which he desires answers. I proceed with them categorically.

"1. To what point of time can Major Anderson maintain his position, at Fort Sumter, without fresh supplies or reinforcement?"

Answer. In respect to subsistence, for the garrison, he has hard bread, flour & rice for about 26 days, & salt meat (pork) for about 48 days; but how long he could hold out against the whole means of attack which the South Carolinians have in, & about the city of Charleston & its Harbor, is a question that cannot be answered with absolute accuracy. Reckoning the [batteries] troops at 3,500 (now somewhat disciplined) the batteries at 4 powerful land, & at least one floating-all mounting guns & mortars of large caliber, & of the best patterns; supposing those means to be skillfully & vigorously employed Fort Sumter with its less than 100 men-including common laborers & musicians-ought to be taken by a single assault, & easily, if harassed perseveringly for several previous days & nights by threats & false attacks, with the ability, from the force of overwhelming numbers, of converting one out of every three or four of those, into a real attack.

"2. Can you with all the means now in your control, supply or reinforce Fort Sumter within that time?"

Answer. No: Not within many months. See answer to N9 3.

"3. If not, what amount of means, & of what description, in addition to that already at your control, would enable you to supply & reinforce that fortress within the time?"

Answer: A fleet of war vessels & transports, 5,000 additional regular troops & 20,000 volunteers, in order to take all the batteries in the Harbor of Charleston (including Ft. Moultrie) after the capture of all the batteries in the approach or outer Bay. And to raise, organize & discipline such an army, would require new acts of Congress & from six to eight months.

Respectfully submitted,

Head Qu. of the Army, Winfield Scott. Washington, Mar. 11, 1861.

Washington 2 March 1861


I concur in the proposition to send an armed force off Charleston with supplies of provisions and reinforcements for the garrison at fort Sumter, and of communicating, at the proper time, the intentions of the government to provision the fort, peaceably if unmolested. There is little probability that this will be permitted, if the opposing forces can prevent it. An attempt to force in provision, without reinforcing the garrison at the same time, might not be advisable. But armed resistance to a peaceable attempt to send provisions to one of our own forts will justify the government in using all the power at its command, to reinforce the garrison and furnish the necessary supplies.

Fort Pickens and other places retained should be strengthened by additional troops, and, if possible made impregnable. The naval force in the gulf and on the southern coast should be increased. Accounts are published that vessels, having on board marketable products for the crews of the Squadron at Pensacola are seized-the inhabitants we know are prohibited from furnishing the ships with provisions or water; and the time has arrived, when it is the duty of the government to assess and maintain its authority.

Very Respectfully

Gideon Welles

His Excellency

Abraham Lincoln


March 30, 1861


Oct.. 80, 1860, I emphatically called the attention of the President to the necessity of strong garrisons in all the forts below the principal commercial cities of the Southern States, including, by name the forts in Pensacola harbor. - Oct. 31, I suggested to the Secretary of War that a circular should be sent, at once, to such of those torts as had garrisons, to be on the alert against surprises & sudden assaults. (See my "Views", since printed.)

After a long confinement to my bed, in N. York, I came to this city (Washington) December 12. Next day I personally urged upon the Secretary of War the same views, viz. ; strong garrisons in the southern forts-those of Charleston & Pensacola harbors, at once; hose on Mobile Bay & the Mississippi, below N. Orleans, next, etc. etc.. I again pointed out the organized companies & the recruits, at a principal depots, available for the purpose. The Secretary did not concur in one of my views, when I begged him, to procure for me an early interview with the President that I might make one or more to save the forts & the Union.

By appointment, the Secretary accompanied me to the President, December 15, when the same topics, secessionism etc., were again pretty fully discussed. There being, at the moment, no danger of an early secession, beyond 50 Carolina, the President, in reply to my arguments for immediately reinforcing Fort Moultrie & sending a garrison to Fort Sumter, said, -"the time has not arrived for doing so; that, he should wait the action of the convention of S. Carolina, in the expectation that a commission would be appointed & sent to negotiate with him and Congress respecting the secession of the State & the property of the U. S. held within its limits; & that, if Congress should decide against the secession, then he would send a reinforcement, & telegraph the commanding officer of Fort Moultrie to hold the forts (Moultrie & Sumter) against attack."

And the Secretary, with animation, added-"We have a vessel of War held, in readiness at Norfolk, & he would then send 300 men, in her, from Fort Monroe to Charleston." To which I replied, first, that so many men could not be with-drawn from that garrison, but could be [drawn] taken from N. York; -next that it would then be too late, as the S. Carolina commissioners would have the game in their hands-by first using, & then cutting the wires-; that as there was not a soldier in Fort Sumter, any handful of armed secessionists might seize & occupy it, etc., etc.,

[Here the remark may be permitted, that if the Secretary's 300 men had then been sent to Forts Moultrie & Sumter, both would now have been in the possession of the U. S. not a battery, below them, could have been erected by the secessionists. Consequently, the access to those forts, from the sea, would now (the end of March) be unobstructed & free. ]

The same day, December 15, I wrote the following note: -

"Lieut. General Scott begs the President to pardon him for supplying, in this note, what he omitted to say, this morning, at the interview with which he was honored by the President: -

"Long prior to the force-bill (-prior to the issue of his proclamation, &, in part, prior to the passage of the Ordinance of nullification-President Jackson, under the act of March 3, 1807

- authorizing the employment of the land & naval forces caused re-inforcements to be sent to Fort Moultrie, & a sloop of war with two revenue cutters, to be sent to Charleston harbor, in order, 1. To prevent the seizure of that fort by the nullifiers, & 2. To enforce the execution of the revenue laws. Gen. Scott, himself, arrived at Charleston the day after the passage of the Ordinance of nullification, & many of the additional companies were then en route for the same destination.

"President Jackson familiarly said, at the time, that, by the assemblage of those forces, for lawful purposes, he was not making war upon So. Carolina; but that if So. Carolina attacked them it would be So. Ca. that made war upon the U. States.

"Gen S. who received his first instructions from the President-in the temporary absence of the Secretary of War remembers those expressions well.

"Saturday Night

"Dec. 15, 1860T

Dec. 28. Again, after Major Anderson had gallantly & wisely thrown his handful of men from Fort Moultrie into Fort Sumter-learning that, on demand of S? C-there was great danger, be might be ordered by the Secretary, back to the less tenable work, or out of the harbor-I wrote this note: -

"Lieut. General Scott (who has had a bad night & can scarcely hold up his head this morning) begs to express the hopes to the Secretary of War- That orders may not be given for the evacuation of Fort Sumter; 2. That 150 recruits may instantly be sent from Governor's Island to re-enforce that garrison with ample supplies of ammunition & subsistence, including fresh vegetables, as potatoes, onions, turnips, & 3. That one or two armed vessels be sent to support the said fort.

"Lieut. Gen S. avails himself of this opportunity also to express the hope that the recommendations heretofore made by him, to the Secretary of War, respecting Forts Jackson, 5t Philipe, Morgan, & Pulaski, & particularly in respect to Forts Pickens & MC. Ree & the Pensacola Navy Yard, in connection with the last two named works, may be reconsidered by the Secretary.

"Lieut. Gen. S. will further ask the attention of the Secretary to

Forts Jefferson & Taylor, which are wholly national-being of far greater value even to the most distant points of the Atlantic Coast & the people on the upper waters of the Missouri, Mississippi & Ohio rivers, than to the State of Florida. There is only a feeble company at Key West for the defense of Fort Taylor, and not a soldier in Fort Jefferson to resist a handful of filibusters, or rowboat of pirates; & the gulf soon after the beginning of secession or revolutionary troubles, in the adjacent states, will swarm with such nuisances. -

December 30. I addressed the President again, as follows.

"Lieut. -Gen1 Scott begs tile President of the United States to pardon the irregularity of this communication. It is Sunday; the weather is bad and General S. is not well enough to go to church.

"But matters of the highest national importance seem to forbid a moment's delay, & if mislead by zeal, he hopes for the President's forgiveness.

"Will the President permit Gen S. without reference to the War Department, & otherwise as secretly as possible, to send two hundred and fifty recruits, from New York Harbor, to reinforce Fort Sumter, together with some extra muskets or rifles, ammunition & subsistence?

"It is hoped that a sloop of war & cutter may be ordered, for the same purpose, as early as tomorrow.

"Gen S. will wait upon the President at any moment he may be called for."

The 50 Carolina Commissioners had already been many days in Washington & no movement of defense was permitted.

I will here close my notice of Fort Sumter by quoting from some of my previous reports

It would have been easy to reinforce this fort down to about the 12th. of February. In this long delay Fort Moultrie has been re-armed & greatly strengthened in every way. Many powerful new land batteries (besides a formidable raft) have been constructed. Hulks too, have been sunk in the principal channel, so as to render access to Fort Sumter, from the sea, impracticable, without first carrying all the lower batteries of the secessionists. The difficulty of reinforcing has thus been increased 10 or 12 fold. First, the late President refused to allow any attempt to be made because he was holding negotiations with the S. Carolina commissioners.

Afterwards, Secretary Holt & myself endeavored, in vain, to obtain a ship of war for the purpose & were finally obliged to employ the passenger steamer, the Star of the West. That vessel, but for the hesitation of the master, might, as is generally believed, have delivered, at fl fort, the men and subsistence on board. This attempt at succor failing, I next, verbally, submitted to the late Cabinet either that succor be sent by ships of war, fighting their way by the batteries or that Major Anderson should be left to ameliorate his condition by the muzzles of his guns; that is, enforcing supplies-by bombardment, & by bringing to merchant vessels, helping himself or, finally, be allowed to evacuate the fort, which in that case, would be inevitable.

But before any resolution was taken-the late Secretary of the Navy making difficulties about the want of suitable war vessels-another commissioner from 5o Carolina arrived, causing further delay. When this had passed away, Secretaries Holt & Toucey Capt. Ward of the Navy & myself, with the knowledge of President Buchanan, settled upon the employment, under the captain (who was eager for the expedition) of three or four small steamers belonging to the Coast Survey. At that time (late in January) I have but little doubt Capt. Ward would have reached Ft. Sumter with all his vessels. But he was kept back by something like a truce or armistice embracing Charleston & Pensacola harbors, agreed upon between the late President & certain principal seceders, here, of 50 Carolina, Florida, Louisiana etc., & this truce lasted to the end of that administration.

That plan & all others, without a squadron of war ships & a considerable army, competent to take & hold the many formidable batteries below Fort Sumter, & below the exhaustion of its subsistence, having been pronounced, from the change of circumstances impracticable, by Major Anderson, Capt. Foster all the other officers of the Fort, as well as by Chief of the Corps of Engineers; concurring in did not hesitate to advise "that Major Anderson be instructed to evacuate the fort so long gallantly held by him & his companions, immediately on procuring suitable transportation to take them to New York. His relative weakness has steadily increased in the last eighteen days.

It was not till Jan. 3 that the permission I had solicited, Oct.. 31, was obtained, -to admonish commanders of the few southern forts, with garrisons, to be on the alert against surprises & sudden assaults.

Jan. 3. To Lieut Slemmer commanding in Pensacola Harbor: -

"The General-in-Chief directs that you take measures to do the utmost in your power to prevent the seizure of either of the forts in Pensacola Harbor, by surprise or assault-consulting first with the Commander of the Navy Yard, who will probably have received instructions to co-operate with you."

It was just before the surrender of the Pensacola Navy Yard that Lieut. Slemmer, calling upon Com. Armstrong, obtained the aid of some thirty common seamen or laborers which, added to his 46 soldiers made up his numbers to 76 men, with whom this meritorious officer has since held Fort Pickens & performed an immense amount of labor in mounting guns, keeping up a strong guard, etc. etc.

Early in January, I renewed (as has been seen) my solicitations to be allowed to reinforce Ft. Pickens; but a good deal of time was lost in vacillations. First the President "thought if no movement is made by the U. S., Fort McRee will probably not be occupied, nor Fort Pickens attacked. In case of movement by the U. S., which will, doubtless be made known by the wires, there will be corresponding local movement, & the attempt to reinforce will be useless." Next it was doubted, whether it would be safe to send reinforcements in an unarmed steamer, & the want, as usual, of a suitable naval vessel-the Brooklyn being long held in reserve, at Norfolk, for some purpose unknown