The predicted outcome of resupplying Ft. Sumter

Lost Cause

2nd Lieutenant
Sep 19, 2014
The following is confirmation that Lincoln had enough ample advice confirming dispatching a resupply mission would likely provoke hostilities:

Gideon Welles to Abraham Lincoln, Friday, March 15, 1861 (Report on Fort Sumter)

From Gideon Welles to Abraham Lincoln, March 15, 1861

Navy Department

15" March 1861


In answer to your enquiry of this date, I take it for granted that Fort Sumter cannot be provisioned except by force, and assuming that it is possible to be done by force, is it wise to make the attempt?

The question has two aspects, one military, the other political. The military gentlemen who have been consulted, as well as the officers at the Fort, represent that it would be unwise to attempt to succor the garrison under existing circumstances, and I am not disposed to controvert their opinions.

But a plan has been submitted by a gentleman of undoubted courage and intelligence -- not of the army or navy -- to run in supplies by steam tugs, to be chartered in New York It is admitted to be a hazardous scheme which, if successful, is likely to be attended with some loss of life and the total destruction of the boats. The force which would constitute the expedition, if undertaken, as well as the officer in command would not, if I rightly understand the proposition, be of the army or navy. It is proposed to aid and carry out the enterprise by an armed ship at the mouth of the harbor and beyond the range of the shore batteries, which is to drive in the armed boats of the enemy beyond Fort Sumter. But, suppose these armed boats of the enemy refuse to go into the inner harbor, as I think they will refuse, and shall station themselves between Sumter and the ship for the express purpose of intercepting your boats -- how can you prevent them from taking that station and capturing the tugs? There can be but one way, and that is by opening a fire upon them from Sumter, or the ship, and perhaps both. If this is done, will it not be claimed that aggressive war has been commenced by us upon the state and its citizens in their own harbor? It may be possible to provision Fort Sumter by the volunteer expedition, aided by the guns of Sumter and the ship -- the military gentlemen admit its possibility, but they question the wisdom of the enterprise in its military aspect and I would not impeach their conclusion.

In a political view, I entertain doubts of the wisdom of the measure, when the condition of the public mind in different sections of the country and the peculiar exigency of affairs are considered. Notwithstanding the hostile attitude of South Carolina and her long and expensive preparations, there is a prevailing belief that there will be no actual collision. An impression has gone abroad that Sumter is to be evacuated and the shock caused by that announcement has done its work. The The public mind is becoming tranquilized under it and will become fully reconciled to it when the causes which have led to that necessity shall have been made public and are rightly understood. They are attributable to no act of those who now administer the government.

By sending or attempting to send provisions into Sumter, will not war be precipitated? It may be impossible to escape it under any course of policy that may be pursued, but I am not prepared to advise a course that would provoke hostilities. It does not appear to me that the dignity, strength or character of the government will be promoted by an attempt to provision Sumter in the manner proposed, even should it succeed, while a failure would be attended with untold disaster.

I do not therefore, under all the circumstances, think it wise to attempt to provision Fort Sumter.

I am, very respectfully,

Gideon Welles

Lost Cause

2nd Lieutenant
Sep 19, 2014
Simon Cameron to Abraham Lincoln, Saturday, March 16, 1861 (Report on Fort Sumter)

From Simon Cameron to Abraham Lincoln, March 16, 1861

War Department

March 16th 1861


In reply to the letter of inquiry, addressed to me by the President, whether "assuming it to be possible now to provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances, it is wise to attempt it," I beg leave to say, that it has received the careful consideration, in the limited time I could bestow upon it, which its very grave importance demands, and that my mind has been, most reluctantly, forced to the conclusion that it would be unwise now to make such an attempt.

In coming to this conclusion, I am free to say, I am greatly influenced by the opinions of the Army officers who have expressed themselves on the subject, and who seem to concur that it is, perhaps, now impossible to succor that fort, substantially, if at all, without capturing, by means of a large expedition of ships of war and troops, all the opposing batteries of South Carolina. All the officers within Fort Sumter, together with Generals Scott and Totten, express this opinion, and it would seem to me that the President would not be justified to disregard such high authority without over-ruling considerations of public policy.

Major Anderson, in his report of the 28" ultimo, says, "I confess that I would not be willing to risk my reputation on an attempt to throw reinforcements into this harbor, within the time for our relief rendered necessary by the limited supply of our provisions, and with a view of holding possession of the same, with a force of less than twenty thousand good and well disciplined men."1

In this opinion, Major Anderson is, substantially, sustained by the reports of all the other officers within the fort, one of whom, Capt. Seymour, speaks thus emphatically on the subject: "It is not more than possible to supply this fort by ruse, with a few men or a small amount of provisions. Such is the unceasing unceasing vigilance employed to prevent it. To do so, openly, by vessels alone, unless they are shot proof, is, virtually impossible, so numerous and powerful are the opposing batteries. No vessel can lay near the fort without being exposed to continual fire, and the harbor could, and probably would, whenever necessary, be effectually closed, as one channel has already been. A projected attack, in large force, would draw to this harbor all the available resources, in men and materiel, of the contiguous States. Batteries of guns of heavy calibre, would be multiplied rapidly and indefinitely; at least 20,000 men, good marksmen and trained for months past with a view to the this very contingency, would be concentrated here before the attacking force could leave Northern ports. The harbor would be closed; a landing must be effected at some distance from our guns, which could give no aid. Charleston harbor would be a Sebastopol in such a conflict, and unlimited means would probably be required to ensure success, before which time the garrison of Fort Sumter would be starved out."2

General Scott, in his reply to the question, addressed to him by the President, on the 12th instant, what amount of means and of what description, in addition to those already at command, it would require to supply and reinforce the fort, says, "I should need a fleet of war vessels and transports, which, in the scattered disposition of the Navy (as understood) could not be collected in less than four months; 5000 additional regular troops, and 20.000 volunteers -- that is, a force sufficient to take all the batteries, both in the harbor (including Fort Moultrie) as well as in the approach or outer bay. To raise, organize and discipline such an army (not to speak of necessary legislation by Congress not now in session) would require from six to eight months. As a practical military question, the time for succoring Fort Sumter, with any means at hand had passed away nearly a month ago. Since then, a surrender under assault, or from starvation, has been merely a question of time."3

It is true, there are those whose opinions are entitled to respectful consideration, who entertain the belief that Fort Sumter could yet be succored to a limited extent, without the employment of the large army and naval forces believed to be necessary by the Army officers whose opinions I have already quoted. Captain Ward, of the Navy, an officer of acknowledged merit, a month ago, believed it to be practicable to supply the fort with men and provisions to a limited extent, without the employment of any very large military or naval force. He then proposed to employ four or more small steamers belonging to the coast survey to accomplish the purpose, and we have the opinion of General Scott that he has no doubt that Captain Ward, at that time, would have succeeded with his proposed expedition, but was not allowd by the late President to attempt the execution of his plan. Now it is pronounced, from the change of circumstances, impracticable, by Major Anderson, and all the other officers of the Fort, as well as by Generals Scott and Totten, and in this opinion Captain Ward, after full consultation with the latter named officers
and the Superintendent of the Coast Survey, I understand now reluctantly concurs.

Mr. Fox,4 another gentleman of experience as a seaman, who, having formerly been engaged on the Coast Survey, is familiar with the waters of the Charleston harbor, has proposed to make the attempt to supply the Fort with by the aid of cutters of light draught and large dimensions, and his proposal has, in a measure, been approved by Commodore Stringham;5 but he does not suppose, or propose, or profess to believe that provisions for more than one or two months could be furnished at a time.

There is no doubt whatever in my mind, that when Major Anderson first took possession of Fort Sumter he could have been easily supplied with men and provisions, and that when Captain Ward, with the concurrence of General Scott, a month ago, proposed his expedition, he would have succeeded, had he been allowed to attempt it, as, I think, he should have been. A different state of things, however, now exists. Fort Moultrie is now re-armed and strengthened in every way; many new land batteries have been constructed; the principal channel has been obstructed; in short, the difficulty of re-inforcing the Fort has been increased ten, if not twenty fold. Whatever might have been done as late as a month ago, it is too sadly evident that it cannot now be done without the sacrifice of life and treasure not at all commensurate with the object to be attained, and as the abandonment of the Fort in a few weeks, sooner or later, appears to be an inevitable necessity, it seems to me that the sooner it be done, the better.

The proposition presented by Mr. Fox, so sincerely entertained and ably advocated, would be entitled to my favorable consideration, if, with all the lights before me, and in the face of so many distinguished military authorities on the other side, I did not believe that the attempt to carry it into effect would initiate a bloody and protracted conflict. Should he succeed in relieving Fort Sumter, which is doubted by many of our most experienced soldiers and seamen, would that enable us to maintain our authority against the troops and fortifications of South Carolina? Sumter could not now contend against these formidable adversaries, if filled with provisions and men. That fortress was intended, as her position on the map will show, rather to repel an invading foe. It is equally clear, from repeated investigations and trials, that the range of her guns is too limited to reach the city of Charleston, if that were desirable. No practical benefit will result to the Country or the Government by accepting the proposal alluded to, and I am, therefore, of opinion that the cause of humanity and the highest obligations to the public interest would be best promoted by adopting the counsels of those brave and experienced men whose suggestions I have laid before you.

I have, sir, the honor to be, very respectfully,

Your Obt. Servt.

Simon Cameron

Lost Cause

2nd Lieutenant
Sep 19, 2014
Caleb B. Smith to Abraham Lincoln, Saturday, March 16, 1861 (Report on Fort Sumter)

From Caleb B. Smith to Abraham Lincoln, March 16, 1861

Department of the Interior

March 16, 1861,


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of yesterday, requesting my opinion in writing upon the question whether assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort Sumpter, under all the circumstances is it wise to attempt it."

After a careful consideration of the opinions of Gens Scott and Totten, and also those of Commodore Stringam and MrFox, as presented to the President and his Cabinet on yesterday. I have arrived at the conclusion that the probabilities are in favor of the success of the proposed enterprise, so far as to secure the landing of the vessels at the Fort, but there would be great danger of their destruction, and of the loss of many lives, before their cargoes could be secured within the Fort.

It would be impossible in my judgement to fit out and conduct the expedition with such secrecy as to keep those who have control of the harbor of Charlestown in ignorance of their object, and of the mode and time of their approach. I do not therefore attach any importance to the proposition to approach the fort under the cover of night, but I should expect the expedition to meet with all the ressistance which the authorities of South Carolina may be able to command.

The landing supplies at Fort Sumpter, if successfully accomplished, would of itself be of no practical value, as it is quite clear, that Maj Anderson with his present inadequate force, could not long maintain the fort against the means of attack now concentrated there.

As the attempt to supply the fort with provisions without the consent of the authorities of South Carolina, would doubtless induce an attack by them, the effect of such an attempt, whether successful or not, would be the early loss of the Fort, and the destruction, or capture of MajAndersons command. It would therefore in my judgment be unwise to attempt to supply the fort with provisions, unless they were sent with such a force, as would place beyond all doubt or contingency the success of the enterprise, and also with such re-inforcements of men as would insure a successful defence of the fort against any attack, which can be made upon it.

The occupation of Fort Sumpter is not essential to the performance of any of the duties imposed upon the government. It cannot be used as a means of enforcing the laws, or of compelling the people of South Carolina to perform the duties they owe to the Federal Government. Viewing the question only as a military one, I cannot doubt that it would be expedient to abandon a position which can only be held at a great expense of life, and money, and which while held cannot be used as a means of aiding the government in the performance of its duties.

But the most important question connected with this subject is one of a political character. The State of South Carolina,is in open rebellion against the government. Her authorities have seized the public property, have wholly disregarded the laws of the United States, and have openly defied the government. If the evacuation of Fort Sumpter could be justly regarded as a measure which would even by implication, sanction the lawless acts of the authorities of that State, or indicate an intention on the part of the government to surrender its constitutional authority over them, or if it could be regarded as an acknowlegement by the government of its inability to enforce the laws, I should without hesitation advise that it should be held without regard to the sacrifices which its retention might impose. I do not believe however, that the abandonment of the Fort would imply such an acknowledgment on the part of the government. There are other means by which the power and the honor of the Government may be vindicated, and which would in my judgment be much more effective to compel the people of South Carolina to render obedience to the laws, and which would at the same time avoid the sacrifice of life which must result from a conflict under the walls of the Fort.

The commencement of a civil war would be a calamity greatly to be deplored, and should be avoided, if the just authority of the government may be maintained without it. If such a conflict should become inevitable, it is much better that it should commence by the resistance of the authorities, or the people of South Carolina, to the legal action of the government, in enforcing the laws of the United States.

The public sentiment of the North would then be united in the support of the government, and the whole power of the country would be brought to its aid. If a conflict should be provoked by the attempt to re-inforce Fort Sumpter, a divided sentiment in the North would paralize the arm of the Government, while treason in the Southern States would be openly encouraged in the North. It is well known that this question has already been much discussed throughout the Country, and that even among the friends of the Administration many of those who demand that the laws shall be enforced, urge the propriety of the withdrawal of our troops from Fort Sumpter, believing that the retention of that Fort is not essential to the honor of the of the Government, or its power to enforce the laws.

While the abandonment of the Fort would doubtless to some extent create surprise and complaint, I believe that public sentiment would fully justify the action of the Government, when the reasons which prompt it shall be explained and understood.

I therefore respectfully answer the enquiry of the President by saying, that in my opinion, it would not be wise under all the circumstances to attempt to provision Fort Sumpter

I am with respect

Your Obt Servt

Caleb B Smith

Lost Cause

2nd Lieutenant
Sep 19, 2014
Edward Bates to Abraham Lincoln, Friday, March 15, 1861 (Opinion on Fort Sumter)

From Edward Bates to Abraham Lincoln, March 15, 1861

The President of the United States has required my opinion in writing, upon the following question:

"Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances, is it wise to attempt it?"

This is not a question of lawful right nor physical power, but of prudence & patriotism only. The right is, in my mind unquestionable, and I have no doubt at all that the Government has the power and the means, not only to provision the Fort, but also, if the exigency required, to man it, with its war complement of 650 men, so as to make it impregnable to any local force that could be brought against it. Assuming all this, we come back to the question -- "Under all the circumstances, is it wise," now to provision the fort?

The wisdom of the act must be tested by the value of the object to be gained, & by the hazards to be encountered in the enterprise. The object to be gained, by the supply of provisions, is not to strengthen the fortress, so as to command the harbor and enforce the laws, but only to prolong the labors & privations of the brave little garrison that have so long held it, with patient courage.

The possession of the fort, as we now hold it, does not enable us to collect the revenue or enforce the laws of commercial navigation. It may indeed involve a point of honor or a point of pride, but I do not see any great national interest involved in the bare fact of holding the fort, as we now hold it -- and to hold it at all, we must supply it with provisions. And it seems to me that we may, in humanity & patriotism, safely waive the point of pride, in the consciousness that we have the power, and lack nothing but the will, to hold Fort Sumter in such condition as to command the harbor of Charleston, cut off all its commerce, and even lay the city in ashes.

The hazards to be met are many and obvious. If the attempt be made in rapid boats light enough to pass the bar in safety, still they must pass under the fire of Fort Moultrie and the batteries on Morris' Island. They might possibly escape that danger, but they cannot hope to escape the armed guard boats which ply all night, from the Fort to the outer edge of the bar-- These armed guard boats would be sure to take or destroy our unarmed tugs, unless repelled by force, either from our ships outside the bar, or from Fort Sumter within -- and that is war. True, war already exists by the act of South Carolina -- but this Government has, thus far, magnanimously forborne to retort the outrage. And I am willing to forbear yet longer, in the hope of a peaceful solution of our present difficulties. I am most unwilling to strike -- I will not say the first blow, for South Carolina has already struck that -- but I am unwilling, "under all the circumstances," at this moment to do any act, which may have the semblance, before the world, of beginning a civil war, the terrible consequences of which would, I think, find no parallel in modern times. For I am convinced that flagrant civil war in the Southern states, would soon become a social war, and that could hardly fail to bring on a servile war, the horrors of which need not be dwelt upon.

To avoid these evils, I would make great sacrifices, -- and Fort Sumter is one; but if war be forced upon us by causeless & pertinacious rebellion, I am for resisting it, with all the might of the nation.

I am persuaded, moreover, that in several of the misguided states of the South, a large proportion of the people are really lovers of the Union, and anxious to be safely back, under the protection of its flag. A reaction has already begun, and, if encouraged by wise, moderate, and firm measures on the part of this Government, I persuade myself that the nation will be restored to its integrity, without the effusion of blood.

For these reasons, I am willing to evacuate Fort Sumter, rather than be an active party in the beginning of civil war. The port of Charleston, is, comparatively, a small thing. If the present difficulties should continue & grow, I am convinced, that the real struggle will be at the mouth of the Mississippi, for it is not politically possible for any foreignpower, to hold the mouth of that river, against the people of the middle & upper valley.

If Fort Sumter must be evacuated, then it is my decided opinion, that the more Southern forts, -- Pickens, Key West &c -- should, without delay, be put in condition of easy defence against all assailants; and that the whole coast from South Carolina to Texas, should be as well guarded as the power of the Navy will enable us.

Upon the whole, I do not think it wise now to attempt to provision Fort Sumter.

Most respectfully submitted

Edwd. Bates

Atty. Genl


Banished Forever
-:- A Mime -:-
is a terrible thing...
Don’t feed the Mime
Aug 17, 2011
Birmingham, Alabama
If they left, like politely asked, and if they were really hungry, I'm sure they could have been given a joyful feast.
Yet the official records show no such offer by the Confederate authorities. Just think instead of cannons surrounding Fort Sumter, a flotilla of boats in a circle around Fort Sumter with good eats and when the wind was just right the hot shot furnace converted into a BBQ pit wafting the smell in the direction of the hapless fort.

Shows the Confederate single-minded pursuit of war.

58th Virginia

Apr 18, 2017
SW Virginia
All of those letters date from March, when Lincoln's cabinet for the most part were opposed to the resupply. Lincoln polled the cabinet in early April, after the Confederate intent became clear, and those who opposed it a few weeks earlier now believed that a resupply was needed.

And there was the mistake.

They should have stuck to their first intuitions.

58th Virginia

Apr 18, 2017
SW Virginia
Lincoln made it clear in his letter to Governor Pickens that if allowed to land food and supplies no men or ammunition would be introduced into the fort. The status quo would continue.

Not bad, but as mentioned earlier, the South wanted the North out.

My thoughts about the "feast" was to be after the agreement to leave.
Similar threads

Similar threads