Louis T. Wigfall quote: "No one now doubts that Lincoln intends war"

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#1
Telegram from Louis T. Wigfall to Jefferson Davis, dated April 10, 1861:

No one now doubts that Lincoln intends war. The delay on his part is only to complete his preparations. All here is ready on our side. Our delay therefore is to his advantage, and our disadvantage. Let us take Fort Sumter before we have to fight the fleet and the fort. General Beauregard will not act without your order. Let me suggest to you to send the order to him to begin the attack as soon as he is ready. Virginia is excited by the preparations, and a bold stroke on our side will complete her purposes. Policy and prudence are urgent upon us to begin at once. Let me urge the order to attack most seriously upon you.​

Is this telegram authentic? It has been quoted uncritically by a number of historians, including:
  • Lincoln and the First Shot, by Richard N. Current (1963), page 151
  • Days of Defiance: Sumter, Secession, and the Coming of the Civil War, by Maury Klein (1999), page 399
  • Father Abraham: Lincoln's Relentless Struggle to End Slavery, by Richard Striner (2006), page 130
  • Eyewitness to the Civil War: The Complete History from Secession to Reconstruction, by Neil Kagan & Stephen Garrison Hyslop (2006), page 55
  • Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume 2 by Michael Burlingame (2013), page 128
Current doesn't seem to cite a source (his footnotes are a mess), and Striner cites Current.

It appears that the source for this telegram is Wigfall's daughter, Louise Wigfall Wright. She included the telegram in a Sept. 1904 magazine article (McClure's Magazine, Volume 23, page 452). The telegram as quoted above comes from A Southern Girl in '61, written the following year by the same author, starting on page 36. The only difference from the magazine article is a single comma.

On page 101 of The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 7, we find the telegram listed, with a reference to Wright's book. That suggests that the editors were unable to locate the original telegram.

I'm not sure what to make of this. The telegram's contents seem entirely plausible. I can't spot anything that suggests that Wright invented it. On the other hand, Wright is writing more than 40 years after the event, and doesn't cite a source. It would seem that to accept the telegram as genuine, we must believe that a copy of the telegram was preserved for more than 40 years, but eventually destroyed, without a professional historian ever seeing it.
 

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brass napoleon

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#3
Very interesting. I don't recall ever hearing of this telegram before. It's very strange that it wouldn't appear in the telegraphic record with all the other dispatches that have been preserved. Of course it wasn't uncommon for families to keep papers from their ancestors and selectively release them as they pleased (sometimes with editing, as in the case of the famous letter from Robert E. Lee to his son about secession in January 1861).

It's also interesting that the purported reply from Davis in Wright's book really doesn't read as if it was a reply to this particular telegram.
 
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#4
Alvy King's 1970 biography of Wigfall describes this message to Davis (without quoting it directly), and cites Louise Wigfall Wright's Southern Girl.
 
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Old_Glory

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#6
Telegram from Louis T. Wigfall to Jefferson Davis, dated April 10, 1861:

No one now doubts that Lincoln intends war. The delay on his part is only to complete his preparations. All here is ready on our side. Our delay therefore is to his advantage, and our disadvantage. Let us take Fort Sumter before we have to fight the fleet and the fort. General Beauregard will not act without your order. Let me suggest to you to send the order to him to begin the attack as soon as he is ready. Virginia is excited by the preparations, and a bold stroke on our side will complete her purposes. Policy and prudence are urgent upon us to begin at once. Let me urge the order to attack most seriously upon you.​
.
If Wigfall knew this (which I agree 100% with him in this instance), then why did he not protest the firing on Sumter? Why fire at Sumter when you already know Lincoln is in a position where he is forced to fire first? Firing on Sumter first gave Lincoln all he needed to launch the War that he needed to join the Union back together.

This is great evidence of how poor Wigfall was at thinking strategically. Lincoln had him beat by miles in war and political strategy.
 

brass napoleon

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#7
If Wigfall knew this (which I agree 100% with him in this instance), then why did he not protest the firing on Sumter? Why fire at Sumter when you already know Lincoln is in a position where he is forced to fire first? Firing on Sumter first gave Lincoln all he needed to launch the War that he needed to join the Union back together.

This is great evidence of how poor Wigfall was at thinking strategically. Lincoln had him beat by miles in war and political strategy.
The whole answer to your dilemma is in your first four words. Of course Wigfall didn't know this. There's no way he possibly could have known it, even if it had been true. Wigfall wanted war, and had been pushing for it all along. Not only was he trying to goad the Confederates into war, but he was trying to goad the Union into war, as with this speech delivered on the floor of the United States Senate just a month earlier:

"Your flag has been insulted, redress it if you dare. You have submitted to it for two months, and you will submit to it forever...

Napoleon Bonaparte, who was a wise man, once said that he trusted in Providence, but he said that he found that Providence always took sides with the artillery. We have taken the forts and the guns, which you complain of, because we think Providence again will take sides with the artillery; and we have been securing a good deal of it...

I did say that this vessel had swaggered into Charleston harbor, had received a blow in the face, and had staggered out; and that this Secretary of War, who had brought the flag of this country in a condition to be fired at, had never dared, from that time to this, to resent the injury and insult; and in consequence of that, the State to which I owe my allegiance has withdrawn and cut loose from all connection with a Government that allows its flag to be so insulted. She has plucked her bright star from a bunting that can be fired at with impunity. If your President-elect has recovered from that artificial fright, see if you cannot induce him to try and wipe out the insult; but I predicted last night that he would not; and I predict again that he will not."


- Texas Senator Louis T. Wigfall, March 2, 1861

Source: The Congressional Globe, Second Session, 36th Congress, pp. 1373-1399
So there you have it. Telling the Union that their new President is too cowardly to fight while admitting that he should, and at the same time (if this telegram is authentic) telling the Confederates that the Union's new President "intends war". A slug. A real, genuine, bonafide, card-carrying slug (whether the telegram is authentic or not).
 
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#10
Wigfall wanted war, and had been pushing for it all along. Not only was he trying to goad the Confederates into war, but he was trying to goad the Union into war, as with this speech delivered on the floor of the United States Senate just a month earlier:

"Your flag has been insulted, redress it if you dare. You have submitted to it for two months, and you will submit to it forever...

- Texas Senator Louis T. Wigfall, March 2, 1861

Source: The Congressional Globe, Second Session, 36th Congress, pp. 1373-1399
So there you have it. Telling the Union that their new President is too cowardly to fight while admitting that he should, and at the same time (if this telegram is authentic) telling the Confederates that the Union's new President "intends war". A slug. A real, genuine, bonafide, card-carrying slug (whether the telegram is authentic or not).
Good point. Lincoln made his intentions quite clear when he said, “The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.” One could image Wigfall doubting whether Lincoln was being truthful, but when Wigfall writes that “no one,” not Wigfall or anyone else, “doubts that Lincoln intends war,” this strikes me as too far divorced from reality to be taken as Wigfall's honest assessment of the situation. Presumably when Mrs. Wright decided to include this telegram in her book, she didn't intend to create the impression that Wigfall was willing to distort the truth to get the war he wanted. But she did.
 

JerseyBart

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#11
Good point. Lincoln made his intentions quite clear when he said, “The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.” One could image Wigfall doubting whether Lincoln was being truthful, but when Wigfall writes that “no one,” not Wigfall or anyone else, “doubts that Lincoln intends war,” this strikes me as too far divorced from reality to be taken as Wigfall's honest assessment of the situation. Presumably when Mrs. Wright decided to include this telegram in her book, she didn't intend to create the impression that Wigfall was willing to distort the truth to get the war he wanted. But she did.
When someone uses "no one" or "everyone" I think that he/she is hoping that "no one" disagrees with him/her and "everyone" agrees with them and/or is trying to get a bunch more people or anyone at all to jump on their bandwagon.
 
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#12
A real charmer.

Part of his summary at the University of Texas who retain copies of his personal papers:

Wigfall helped author the "Southern Manifesto," urging the need for the secession of the slave states and the creation of a Southern Confederacy. After Texas’s secession, he remained in his position in the Senate, spying on the Union, raising troops to send to South Carolina, and providing arms to Texas Confederates. He acted as an aide to President Jefferson Davis and was a member of the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy before being formally expelled from the U.S. Senate in July 1861. Later that year he became a colonel in the First Texas Infantry and a brigadier general in the Provisional Army. Additionally, he led the Texas Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia until 1862 when he resigned to join the Confederate Congress. He eventually withdrew his support for President Davis and conspired to strip Davis of his power. After the Confederacy fell, Wigfall returned to Texas for a time before moving to England in 1866 to try to stir up a war between England and the United States, thinking it could also restart a U.S. Civil War. He returned to the states, settling in Baltimore in 1872 for two years before moving once more to Texas, where he died in 1874.

So not only did he spy on the Union from Congress, he broke with Davis later in the war, and tried to start up a war between the US and Britain.
 

OpnCoronet

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#13
Almost any thinking person in the South, even a Wigfall, could have few doubts about Lincoln's intentions, if the Southern leadership was determined to follow through on their claims of secession and independence at all costs. Most especially after his(Lincoln's) Inaugural Address.
 

CW Buff

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#14
Almost any thinking person in the South, even a Wigfall, could have few doubts about Lincoln's intentions, if the Southern leadership was determined to follow through on their claims of secession and independence at all costs. Most especially after his(Lincoln's) Inaugural Address.
Yet another reason to fire on Sumter ASAP, it would have been embarrassing if Lincoln had had the chance to demonstrate his whiggish moderation, but they needed to keep the secession tide flowing, not ebbing.
 

OpnCoronet

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Yet another reason to fire on Sumter ASAP, it would have been embarrassing if Lincoln had had the chance to demonstrate his whiggish moderation, but they needed to keep the secession tide flowing, not ebbing.


Very true, keeping the secession tide rolling was the fixed policy of the Davis Administration, not finding peaceful solutions of any particular kind.

I have noted before on other threads, that the reduction of Ft. Sumter, was a cooly calculated political act aimed precisely to enlisting the remaining slave states into the csa.
 

CSA Today

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Very true, keeping the secession tide rolling was the fixed policy of the Davis Administration, not finding peaceful solutions of any particular kind.

I have noted before on other threads, that the reduction of Ft. Sumter, was a cooly calculated political act aimed precisely to enlisting the remaining slave states into the csa.
What peaceful solutions do you have in mind?
 

CSA Today

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#18
We will never know, because it(a peaceful solution to southern independence) was not what the southern leadership wanted until After all the remaining slave states were in the confederacy.
You can hardly fault the Confederate government for taken appropriate action once it was convinced that the Lincoln government had no intentions of allowing the seven seceded states depart his union in peace. The four Upper South states of Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas and Tennessee would have approximately double the white population of the CSA, the four Border States of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, had they seceded, would have approximately tripled it.
 
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#19
The fire breathers of the South wanted secession, created a cause for others to rally around, and created a rump government and "elected" a so-called president, all in the name of the euphemism, "States Rights". Never mind that six of the rebellious states specifically mentioned slavery in their secession ordinances.

Yet Lincoln had the patience to say to the South in his inauguration, “The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.” Wigfall and others of his ilk didn't want peace, they wanted slavery and if it meant war, so be it.

Lincoln didn't call for volunteers until AFTER Fort Sumter is fired on, an act ordered by Jefferson Davis.
 

CSA Today

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#20
The fire breathers of the South wanted secession, created a cause for others to rally around, and created a rump government and "elected" a so-called president, all in the name of the euphemism, "States Rights". Never mind that six of the rebellious states specifically mentioned slavery in their secession ordinances.

Yet Lincoln had the patience to say to the South in his inauguration, “The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.” Wigfall and others of his ilk didn't want peace, they wanted slavery and if it meant war, so be it.

Lincoln didn't call for volunteers until AFTER Fort Sumter is fired on, an act ordered by Jefferson Davis.
Do you think Lincoln had the patience to not eventually assail the seceded states had they not voluntarily came back into the old union?
 



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