Fort Sumter

(written by Gideon Welles and published in 1870)


President Buchanan


Under the plea or pretext that he did not possess authority to coerce a State, Mr. Buchanan had failed to maintain the national integrity. . . .had seen many forts, navy-yards, custom houses, and public property wrested from his government’s control.


The seceding states justified their movement by a strict construction of the constitution. As the constitution contained no clause prohibiting a State from withdrawing from the Union, it was denied that the government was endowed with the constitutional power to coerce a State to remain in the Union. When Lincoln assumed control of the Executive Office, he had to face the Democrats who embraced the strict construction.


Between Lincoln’s election and his assumption of the office, a four month period of time, the Congress passed no laws in anticipation Gideon Welles of war, no allocation of funds to the War Department, no draft, no increase in the size of the Regular Army and the Navy. It was divided, fractious, partisan, like today’s congress. Congress had just adjourned when Lincoln took office. What is the date? Did the Senate stay in session?


Note: Buchanan did strenghten those forts he thought could be held. He sent the Brooklyn to Fort Pickens, with troops.


Buchanan suggested that Congress call a constitutional convention which would consider amendments. “This procedure ought to be tried," he wrote, “before any of these States shall separate themselves from the Union." The Republicans rejected the idea, and the states themselves did not call for the convention on their own.


Apparently the congress was in session as late as March 1 as Buchanan sent it a message explaining why he had troops in the street. (Lincoln arrived the night of Feb 22)


The 36th Congress convened in December 1860 His Address: “No political union, however [blessed], can long continue, if the necessary consequence is to render half the people hopelessly insecure."


By more than a two thirds vote the House passed an amendment supporting slavery.


The Congress went out of session on the same day Lincoln took office. Strange.


Lincoln Take Office


On the morning of March 6, Joseph Holt, the interium Secretary of War, came to Welles and requested Welles to go with him to the War Department. By Lincoln’s order, there was a conference in the secretary’s office attended by Scott, Totten, “and two or three members of the cabinet."


Scott said Lincoln told him to present to the secretaries the Sumter situation. A dispatch from Anderson, received by Buchanan on March 4, stated that the garrison had six weeks left of supplies.


Scott stated that “there was not in his entire command a sufficient force to relieve Sumter." “If any relief could be extended," he said, “it must be by the navy."


Welles claims that he raised the issue with Rear-Admirals Stewart, Greogory, and Stringham. Each thought it practicable to attempt relief. Commanders Ward and Jenkins were consulted and they agreed.


“Stringham whom I had selected as an assistant in matters of detail. . . had two or three conferences with Scott and Commander Ward in my presence, and it was not difficult to perceive that the general had no confidence whatever in any successful effort to reinforce Sumter either by land or water."


“In successive cabinet meetings the subject was fully discussed, generals Scott and Totten and Commodore Stringham being sometimes in attendance."


At one of these meetings Scott presented an elaborate report, prepared at Lincoln’s insistence, which stated the impracticality of relieving Fort Sumter.


“A discussion occurred between them as to the capability of naval vessels to encounter or pass batteries which the military gentlemen considered impossible."


“Memorandum was submitted by Anderson, in which all the officers under his command united, expressing his professional opinion that the fort could not be reinforced."


Blair was for war. Seward not.


“The President was greatly disturbed."


“The members of the Cabinet, with the exception of Blair and Seward, . . .were united in opinion. . .coercive measures" were not to be used.


“Commodore Stringham and Commander Ward united with Scott in the expression of their opinion that it would unadvisable to attempt to relieve Sumter." (This was the state of things as of about March 12. At this point Ward returned to his station at Brooklyn.


“On the very day that Ward returned to Brooklyn, Blair telegraphed Fox , requesting he come to Washington. Fox arrived the night of March 13. (Blair and Fox were married to sisters.)"


“Fox left Washington on March 19 to visit Charleston" to see the situation as it then existed. Anderson told Fox that the Navy could not successfully get to him, that only an army landed on Morris Island could relieve the fort, and no such army existed.


Fox stuck to his plan, which was the policy of Blair (and Lincoln)


“In several consultations with the President, the Cabinet, Scott and Commodore Stringham, Fox developed his plan. . . Fox proposed that Stringham command the naval expedition. . . but Stringham refused.


Hill Lamon went to Charleston after Fox had returned (Why?) Lamon returned to Washington on March 28.


Hill Lamon’s Story:


“In the last days of March, 1861, I was sent to Charleston. Lincoln believed it possible to effect some accomodation and my embassy to Charleston was one of his experiments in that direction." . . . “Go :Lamon" Lincoln said. Lamon does not offer any explanation for why Lincoln sent him.


Lamon: “I visited James L. Petigru, and had a conference with him, having been enjoined by Lincoln to do so. Petigru was a Union man." Petigru said the whole people “were infuriated and crazed, and that no act of headlong violence by them would surprise him." “It was now too late," he said; “peaceable secession or war was inevitable."


Next Lamon sent a card to Pickens. “I sent my card, stating that I was from the President of the United States."


“After saying to him what President Lincoln had directed me to say, a general discussion took place. . . he told me plainly that he was compelled to be both radical and violent; that he regretted the necessity of violent measures, but that he could see no way out of existing difficulties, but to fight it out." (Lamon’s italics.)


Lamon quotes Pickens: “Nothing can prevent war except the acquiescene of the President of the United States in seccession. . . Let your President attempt to reinforce Sumter, and the tocsin of war will be sounded from every hill top and valley in the South."


Lamon then went to see Anderson. “I found Anderson in a quandary, and deeply despondent." (Lamon also found out Andersion had only 15 days of supplies left.)


On March 25, Pickens gave Lamon a pass to see Benjamin Huger, the postmaster.


That night, Monday, March 25, Lamon boarded the train to leave Charleston (When did he reach Washington?


Lamon says: “I had ascertained the real temper and determination of (South Carolina’s) leaders."


It must be now that Lincoln makes up his mind.


Note: It looks like now Lincoln is telling Cameron to get the Pickens expedition going, and also telling Fox to go ahead.



Welles writes, “Lamon. . . returned March 28." That’s Thursday, March 28.





Thursday Friday (29) Saturday (30) Easter Sunday (31) Monday April 1.


Lamon’s report that Anderson would be out of supplies by April 15 set the ceiling of time available to Lincoln to do anything.


Welles writes, “On receiving this information from Lamon, the President declared he would send supplies to the garrsion, and if (the Confederates) forcibly resisted, on them would be the responsibility of initiating hostilities. This conclusion. . . he felt to be a political necessity."


Welles writes, “On the next day (29th) I received the following communication.


“Sir: I desire that an expedition, to move by sea, be got ready to sail as early as April 6. . . the whole according to memorandum (Fox’s?) attached; . . ."




Navy Depart to provide, “Pocahontas, Pawnee, and Harriet Lane.

War Dept. to provide 200 men, supplies for 12 months. (Why only 200 men? What is the compliment for the fort?)


Note: Here now is the situation. Lincoln has instructed both Cameron and Welles, using Fox’s memo, to issue orders to put together an expedition to Sumter, using the three ships named, this on Friday.


At the same time Lincoln has Seward, his secretary of state, working on putting together the Pickens expedition, using Meigs, Keyes, and Porter. (There really is no need for the Pickens expedition, is there? Vodges and the Brooklyn have already reinforced that fort before Lincoln took office. It is not in immediate danger.


Lincoln is letting Welles and Cameron do their thing, while he keeps the Pickins thing under his own control This gives him the basis to issue orders as commander-in-chief to Foote, Porter and Mercer without Welles or Cameron’s knowledge. He wants to get on with the war, and wants to make it appear that the South initiated it.


So Cameron has orders issued through Scott, giving Fox men and supplies, and Seward through Scott has Colonel Brown appointed commander of the Pickens expedition and has money for leasing transports; Scott assigns in writing Meigs and Keyes to the project? Lincoln signs Keyes order and off they go to New York.


At some point over the weekend, or on Monday morning somebody decides to add the Powhatan to the squadron of ships to go to Charleston. Who? Welles does this on his own, or Lincoln tells him to?


How Does the Powhatan Get Added to the Mix?


Welles writes, “As the object was to relieve a military garrison, the expedition was a military one, and was under the control and direction of the War Department. The Secretary of War specially commissioned Mr. Fox, then a private citizen of Massachusetts, and gave him his written instructions."


Note: Apparently, the list of what Welles needs to produce is memoralized by Fox’s memo. After the memo was received, Fox apparently raised the issue of needing another ship which induced Welles to add the Powhatan? Because the Powhatan possessed the boats Fox needed to carry his men over the bar? This seems to be the explanation why the Powhatan got into the mix. But, according to Porter, the Powhatan had no such boats. (This suggests that Blair and Fox were in on the trick?)


Welles writes, “The steamer Powhatan, which arrived in New York while these matters were pending, and had been ordered out of commission, was added to the vessels enumerated in the memoranda, as her boats and crew were deemed indispensable for landing the supplies. This vessel had just returned from a cruise and greatly needed repairs but she could, it was believed, be made available for this brief service."


Welles writes, “I therefore sent the following telegram on the 1st of April to the commandant of the Brooklyn Naval Yard revoking the order by which her officers were detached and she was put out of commission."


Note Welles writes to Breese as commandant of the yard.


Washington, April 1—received at Brooklyn 4:10 p.m.


To Commodore S.L. Breese, Navy-yard.


The Department revokes its order for the detachment. . . Hold her in readiness of sea service.

Gideon Welles.


Welles writes, “After consultation with Lincoln, who was deeply interested in the expedition, (but not interested in the Pickens expedition; this is how he maintains denialbility.; but then the fact that he wrote the Mercer order proves his dupilicity.). . . I sent the following telegram.


Note: It looks like the first telegram went off at about 2:00 p.m. on the 1st, the second one at about 4:00 p.m.


Washington April 1, received 6:50 p.m.

To Commandant Navy yard.


Fit out Powhatan to go to sea at earliest possible moment.




Note: What happened between 2:00 pm. And 4:00 p.m? Breese wired Welles to inform him of the sad condition of the vessel, and Welles, informing Lincoln, is told to get it sea worthy.


Note: So far there is no metion of Porter’s involvement in any of this. Porter had to have gotten involved no earlier than some time on the 1st.


Note: At some point during the 1st Breese gets replaced by comodore Foote. How did this happen? Was this done by Welles to have his own man on the scene looking out? Or did the substitution occur in the normal course of events? Welles changed the title of the addressee between the two messages.


What is Seward’s role in all this? It appears he continued to dissuade Lincoln from forcing the issue at Charleston, while he had no objection to Pickens. It may be Lincoln and Seward together came up with the idea of using the Powhatan as a monkey wrench.


Welles writes, “Mr. Seward was not entirely reconciled to the enterprise, and suggested. . . that [Lincoln] inform the South Carolina authorities of the intention to send supplies. . . , and if not resisted [the fort] would not be reinforced."


“To inform the secessionists of the intended expedition. . . would give them time to make preparations to defeat it." (Hardly is this so. They are fully prepared and ready to blast the fort at any moment, so this concern is meaningless.) Lincoln appears to have wanted to be on record as having warned them that his expedition was coming, fully prepared to force its way in if the secessionists did not allow it entrance.)


Note: The message is proof to the world that this is not a surprise attack.


Welles writes, “There was no immediate call for additional forces at Pickens, for a large part of the home squadron was already off Pensacola. The Brooklyn, Sabine, St. Louis and the Wyandotte were on that station on March 4, and the Crusader and the Mohawk had subsequently been sent to the Gulf by special request of Scott. There was in addition to these naval vessels a military force under Captain Vodges [which had landed in the middle of March]."


“Reinforced by Vodges’s command, and aided and supplied by the squadron, Pickens was in no immediate danger."


“Aid to Pickens was not therefore further discussed, though the subject was not wholly relinquished."





“On March 5, John Forsyth, Martin J. Crawford, and A.B.. Roman appeared in Washington as commissioners sent by the Confederate government. On March 11, they asked for a meeting with Seward. Seward declined. ON the 13th they sent a message to Seward, asking to present their creditionals as ambassadors.


“An answer dated the 15th was, it is stated in a postscript `by consent of parties, ‘not delivered until April 8.


Between March 15 and April 8, communications between the two sides did occur through Judge John A. Campbell in the presence of Justice Nelson. Campbell had told the commissioners that Sumter would be evacuated within a very few days,. “On the first of April we (the commissioners) were again informed that there might be an attempt to supply Sumter, but that Gov. Pickens should have notice of the attempt. There was no suggestion of reinforcements."


Campbell wrote Seward a letter dated April 13:


“The 30th of March arrived, and at that time a telegram came from Governor Pickens inquiring concerning Colonel Lamon, whose visit to Charleston he supposed had a connnection with the proposed evacuation of Fort Sumter. I left that with you, and was to have an answer the following Monday (April 1). On April 1, I received from you the statement in writing: `I am satisfied the government will not undertake to supply Fort Sumter without giving notice to Governor Pickens.’"


“On April 7, I addressed a letter to you on the subject of the alarm that the preparations of the government had created, and asked you if the assurances I had given were well or ill informed. You replied `Faith as to Sumter fully kept, wait and see.’"


In the morning paper I read, “an authorized messenger from Lincoln (Chew) informed Governor Pickens that provisions will be sent to Fort Sumter peaceably or otherwise by force. This was the 8th of April at Charleston, the day following your last assertion. . .


Note: So between March 15 and April 1, two weeks, Lincoln is holding the commissioners off with Seward, is organizing one expedition that is not necessary and another that he intends to scuttle, all this dancing to make it look like the South started the war.





Welles writes, “Late in the afternoon of April 1, while at my dinner at Willard’s, Mr. Nicolay brought me a package from the President. Opening it I found several papers. . . of a singular character, being in the nature of instructions or orders from the Executive relative to naval matters of which I knew the President was not informed. . . ."


Welles identifies the one paper that he was most irritated with. This is Lincoln’s message to Welles dated April 1 which tells him to “issue instructions to Captain Pendergrast, commanding the Home Squardon, to remain in observation at Vera Cruz. . . Captain Stringham will be directed to proceed to Pensacola. . .and assume command of the Home squadron. He will cooperate with the land forces. . . Captain Barron will relieve Captain Stringham in charge of the Bureau of Detail."


Note: Remember that Welles said earlier that he had appointed Stringham as his assistant to handle details. Lincoln was substituting Barron for Stringham. Welles did not like it and went to complain. Nothing about this “package" has anything to do with Sumter. It is all about Pickens.


Welles recognized that the handwriting was Meigs, and that the postscript was in Porter’s hand. When did he recognize this? What difference does it make? Welles is mad about being forced to take Barron instead of Stringham.




Lincoln could have simply said: “Hey, these are my orders, live with it. But instead, according to Welles, Lincoln disavowed the order to switch Barron for Stringham, as Welles’s assistant in charge of details.


Welles writes, “The package of papers was prepared by two or three young men (Meigs, Keyes, and Porter) that were working with Seward, he [Lincoln] had signed the papers without reading them." (All this means is that the young men came up with the idea of switching Welles’s assistant, not Lincoln; so what?) What is it about Barron?


Welles writes, “Without further inquiry I informed the President that I had no confidence in the fidelity of Captain Barron, who was by this singular order, issued in his [Lincoln’s] name, to be forced into an official and personal intimacy with me, and virtually to take charge of the Navy Department. Lincoln said he knew nothing of Barron.


Query: This Barron thing is a red herring. It adds or substracts nothing to the story. Why did Porter and Meigs write this message which Lincoln claimed to have signed with out reading? No sooner had he signed it than he rescinded it, leaving Welles were he was before the order was written. Its effect was merely to jolt Welles into an understandable fury and gaurantee that Welles would come to the White House. Did Lincoln use the moment to communicate something else to Welles that is relevant?


Why does Welles even raise the issue in the context of his story about Sumter? The meeting with Lincoln (the excuse of which is the order) gives Welles notice for the first time that Porter is involved in some way directly with Lincoln. As far as Welles is concerned Porter is supposed to be going to New York to catch the California steamer as that is his official orders.


Has Welles yet written the orders to the ship captains instructing them to meet ten miles east of the harbor and wait for Captain Mercer? Or does he write these orders later?


The business about Barron, from Welles’s point of view is this:


“The bureaus of the Department were established by law and not by executive order. This this proposition (shifting administrative duties from the Secretary of Navy) to make a naval officer secretary de facto, to transfer him from his professional to civil duties was illegal. (Later Lincoln makes Fox “Asst. Secretary of the Navy.)


Here comes the answer!


The Barron order is a ruse of Lincoln’s. He knows it will drive Welles up the wall and that Welles will come running to complain. He will claim that he signed the order without reading it (giving the story about Seward and the “clerks at work"). . . .then he will use this as the hook to establish his innocence when Welles finds out that Mercer has been relieved of command of the Powhatan and Porter has taken it to sea. That explains why Lincoln did not admit to Welles when Welles confronted him a second time that he had signed the Porter/Mercer orders. . .just part of the same package although it is obvious these latter orders were not in the package Welles received.


Welles writes, “The President reiterated they were not his instructions, and wished me distinctly to understand they were not, though his name was appended to them. . . whatever [Barron’s] qualifications, he [Lincoln] would never knowingly have assigned him or any other man to the position named in the Navy Department without first consulting me."


Note: This is Lincoln’s excuse, his defense, he has manufactured evidence—his denial—to support his denial of what happens to Welles next.


Note: Welles goes on at length to establish, convincingly, the fact that Baron was in fact a rebel, Barron left the Navy after Sumter and ended up a few weeks later in command of Fort Hatteras. So Lincoln had picked someone every one knew was a rebel sympathizer.


“Baron was cunning. . .and was deep in all the secession intrigues in Washington in that period. . . the greater portion of this clique of exclusives sent in their resignations,. . .Barron, foremost among them. . . ." Barron took rank as a captain in the Confederate Navy effective March 25.


Welles states that the choice of ships and the instructions to assign them to the Sumter expedition came from Lincoln. “March 29, the day (Friday) that I had received his instructions to sent the Pocahontas on this expedition."


Welles writes, “For a day or two after these proceedings of the 1st of April there was a delay in issuing final orders for the Sumter expedition. (Porter, Meigs, and Keyes, Porter with Mercer’s order in hand leave on the same train the night of April 1 for New York,. They must leave after Welles confronts Lincoln)


What is Happening with Fox?


Welles writes, “Mr. Fox, who was to be in command, had, under orders of the President, gone to New York on March 30 (Saturday), to make necessary preparations; but not receiving expected instructions, he returned to Washington on April 3 (Wendesday)."


Note: Porter appears at the Brooklyn Navy Yard after Fox leaves it? Probably.


Lincoln now instructs Cameron and Welles to issue the “final orders" themselves.


Note: By this time, several days have passed since Welles and Lincoln wrangled over Barron. At the time these final orders are prepared by Cameron and Welles, Porter has gone off to New York with his and Mercer’s orders dated April 1, and Lincoln can claim these were part of the papers prepared by Seward’s clerks which he signed without reading.


Note: So the last piece of Lincoln’s puzzle is being slipped into place. On April 1, in the morning, he instructed Welles to send order to get the Powhatan ready for sea, assigning the ship to the Sumer expedition. But no other ships have yet been selected and no orders have gone out to ship captains. Lincoln sends Porter off with the Mercer order. Lincoln establishes his denialibility by manufacturing a witness in Welles who can testify, after Porter was gone, the package came to his rooms, and he went to Lincoln and heard Lincoln state he had signed papers without reading them.


“. . .the following orders were prepared and issued by the secretaries of War and Navy. My instructions to Captain Mercer, in command of the Powhatan, were submitted by myself personally to the President and by him were carefully scrutinized and approved."


Note: Unlike the “papers" Seward’s “clerks" had prepared on April 1 and which Lincoln had signed without reading. Among these papers we are to assume was contained the Porter, Foote, and Mercer orders. But there are two undisputed facts which point to a different scenario: First, these three orders were not contained in the package delivered to Welles the evening of April 1; second, the order to Foote, that Lincoln signed, expressly instructs Foote to keep the Navy Department in the dark. The dancing Porter does, in his book, about the back and forth with Foote, Foote wanting to contact Welles and Porter pointing to this language in Lincoln’s order to Foote, suggests he is trying to give the story credibility.


The whole thing does come down to a lying contest: Was Lincoln telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, when he told Welles he had not read the Barron order? Even if Lincoln told the truth about that specific issue, we are still left to speculate that had he been directly asked the same question about the Porter.Mercer orders his answer under oath would have been the same. There is no evidence that Lincoln denied knowing he had signed the Porter/Mercer orders. We are simply invited by Lincoln’s presentation of the facts to ASSUME that, having not read the Barron order he had not read the Porter/Mercer orders.


Cameron’s Order to Fox


War Department April 4 (Thursday)


Captain G.V. Fox:


. . .you will take charge of the transports in New York, having the troops and supplies on board, to the entrance of Charleston Harbor; and endeavor, in the first instance, to deliver the susistence. If you are opposed in this, you are directed to report the fact to the senior naval oficer of the harbor, who will be instructed by the Secretary of the Navy to use his entire force to open a passage. . . ."


Simon Cameron, Secretary of War.


Welles’s Order to Mercer



Navy Department April 5 (Friday)


Captain Samuel Mercer, commanding Powhatan


Sir: The United States steamers Powhatan, Pocahontas, Pawnee, and Harriet Lane will compose a naval force under your command, to be sent to the vicinity of Charleston Harbor, for the purpose of aiding in carrying out the objects of an expedition of which the War Department has charge.


. . . .


You will leave New York with the Powhatan in time to be off Charleston bar, ten miles distant from and due east of the lighthouse, on the morning of the 11th, there to await the arrival of the transport with troops and stores.


Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy

Welles’s order to the other Ship Captains


(This is the one that counts as Mercer will not be there)


Navy Department April 5


Commander Rowan, commanding U.S. steamer Pawnee, Norfolk


Sir: . . .on the morning of the 11th appear off Charleston bar, ten miles distant. . . where you will report to Captain Mercer. . . Should he not be there you will await his arrival. . .


Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy


Welles now comes back around to Lincoln’s manufactured defense of ignorance. He now quotes Lincoln’s order of the 1st to the Navy Yard to get the Powhatan fit for sea, which Welles states mirrored his own order of the same day. It is this order which directly connects Lincoln’s defense to the Porter/Mercer orders.


Welles writes, “This, it will be observed, was on the 1st of April, when he was signing papers, many, as he said, without reading, and some hours before my interview with him concerning the papers brought me by Mr. Nicolay. The telegram was probably (conclusion of the witness that is inadmissible in evidence in court) prepared for his signature and signed by him under the arrangement of Mr. Seward and his associates. . . “ (Of course it was signed by him “under the arrangement;" the issue for decision by the jury is, however, did he read these specific orders when he signed them?)




Welles writes, “Mr. Seward and his son Frederick (brought along as a witness?) called at my rooms at Willard’s about eleven o’clock at night on the 6th of April with a telegram from Meigs and Porter. . . “


Note: By this time the Powhatan was already over the bar at Sandy Hook and steaming in the sea. Neither Keyes nor Porter state that Porter send Seward a telegram. Both point the finger at Meigs, although there is no intelligent reason, under the circumstances, why Meigs would be sending the telegram. He was gone to sea aboard the transport carrying the expedition’s commander, Colonel Brown. Porter claimed, in his writing, that Comodore Foote, “immediately upon the Powhatan leaving the dock," sent Welles a telegram reporting the fact of the Powhatan’s departure without Mercer.


Welles continues, “The purport [of the telegram] was that there was difficulty in completing arrangements, in consequence of conflicting orders from the Secretary of the Navy. I asked an explanation, for I knew of no movement with which my orders conflicted."


Welles reports what Seward said in reply: “Seward said he supposed (The telegram, then, did not state what the nature of the conflict was?) the telegram related to some difficulty about Lt. Porter’s taking command of the Powhatan"


Note: TAKING COMMAND OF THE POWHATAN? WHAT? How can a lieutenant have taken command of a twenty gun war ship of the line? This is a lieutenant who, at the time, was under specific orders from the Navy Department to present himself in New York to take the California steamer, to reach his new duty station.


Query: Why did Seward carry this news ot Welles at 11:00 p.m. at night? He must know the “confusion" had nothing to do with Welles, that Porter took command of the Powhatan, because, under Seward’s watch, the President had signed an order Seward’s “clerks" had written, without reading it. Why bring his problem to Welles? Because Seward and Lincoln knew Welles would find out about what had happened in New York from Foote in any event and they wanted to maintain their story of plausibility.





Welles writes, “I insisted. . . that Captain Mercer was in command. . . that [the Powhatan] was as he (Seward) knew the flagship of the Sumter expedition. . . that Lt. Porter had no orders to join that expedition; that he. . . was under orders for the Pacific. . .and I supposed had left for that duty. . . “


Welles continues, “Seward said. . . that Lt. Porter had been sent to New York under special orders from the President, of which I had probably not been informed.. . . “


Note: So, like the Barron order, Lincoln is supposed to have not read the order he signed which detached and sent away from his assigned duty an officer without informing the Navy Department, to take command of a ship, and interfering with the measures of the department and embarassing Captain Mercer?




Welles and Seward, his son and Commodore Stringham, go to the White House at midnight on the 6th. Welles again confronts Lincoln and reports what Lincoln said.


Welles writes, “The President. . . read and reread the telegram (from Meigs and Porter? Where is this telegram?), and asked if I (Welles) was not mistaken in regard to the flag ship" (Excuse me, The Secretary of the Navy did not know which ship he had assigned as flag for the Sumter expedition?)


Note The relevant question is, Didn’t Lincoln know the name of the ship Welles had assigned?


Didn’t Lincoln, himself, draft the orders Welles sent to the ship captains?


Of course, even so, he wouldn’t know there was a “conflict, “ if he had signed the Porter and Mercer orders without reading them.


Welles continues, “I reminded him that I had read to him my orders to Captain Mercer on the day they were written (April 5), and they had met with his approval."


Note: Oh, we see, don’t we? Lincoln drafts orders for Cameron to write up, listens to and approves the orders Welles writes up, but bithly, at the same time, signs orders Seward’s “clerks" write up without reading them. These orders being concerned with expeditions involving naval and army personnel at the most intense moment of crisis for his administration and the country. Just ridiculous to believe, unless you are an historian with an agenda. But as jurors in a courtroom, how would you find?


Welles continues, “Seward thought it too late to correct the mistake. . . The President. . .was peremptory—he said there was not the pressing necessity in [the Pickens] case, which I learned [now?] was an enterprise for Pickens. As regarded Sumter, however, not a day was to be lost—that the orders of the Secretary of the Navy must be carried out. . .


Note: Let’s see where Lincoln’s story has taken him: He says that he didn’t know that Seward’s “clerks" had presented orders for him to sign which stripped a captain of his warship and turned it over to a lieutenant, who took it to sea and off to Pensacola, on an expedition that didn’t really count. But now, at midnight on the 6th, in the presence of Welles, Lincoln does know that such an order was issued and executed on the basis it was signed by him, in his capacity as the government’s commander-in-chief. Under such circumstances, what would you expect a reasonable person in Lincoln’s shoes to do?


What did Lincoln do?


Welles writes, “Lincoln directed Seward to telegraph to that effect to New York."


Query: What would a reasonable person expect to result from this? Holding in his hand an order signed by the President, when Porter received a telegram—Give the Powhatan to Mercer, signed Seward—he ignored it. And Lincoln made him an admiral!



Finally, Gideon Welles, in 1870, unlike historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, a hundred and forty years later, faces head on the factual issue of Lincoln’s reason for manufacturing a defense to the contention he was lying. Lincoln wasn’t lying, Welles tells us: Seward was!


“It has been said that the detachment of the Powhatan. . . was a deliberate contrivance to defeat it. . . ." Mr. Blair charges Mr. Seward with giving a pledge to evacuate Fort Sumter." This was Seward’s motive, Welles offers.


And Welles quotes as his proof a public letter of Meigs, written sometime after the event, “An order was extracted (from the President) on the recommendation of Seward, detaching the Powhatan from the Sumter expedition. . . “ And Lincoln made Meigs the Quartermaster General of the Army!


Welles closes his story with this:


“There was, doubtless, an object in sending the Powhatan to Pensacola, and there was, of course, an object in secreting the fact, and withholding all knowledge of the enterprise from the Secretary of the Navy, who, of all others, should have known it. If that object was, as has been stated, not so much to relieve Pickens as to prevent the relief of Sumter, the object was attained. [Seward’s pledge to the Confederate commissioners]—Faith in regard to Sumter, wait and see—will be understood. Faith (by Seward in Welles scenario) may thereby have been kept with the rebel leaders, though faith toward [me] may be less susceptible of explanation."


Postscript: The issue of chain of command


At the time the plan was set in motion, the Brooklyn Naval Yard was under the command of the Commandant, Breese. Mysteriously Breese disappeared and was replaced by Commander Foote, holding a rank below captain. On April 9, 1861, Foote sent the following to Welles.


“I did detain the Powhatan, as far as I had authority to do it, on receiving your telegram to do so, and until Captain Mercer, my superior officer, informed me that he should transfer his ship to Lt. Porter (Mercer had in his hand a direct order from Lincoln). . . . I have pursued the only course which could possibly have accomplished the work which has been executed; and in case of Powhatan, after preparing her for sea, my authority over her ceased, and she was controlled by my superior officer."


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About the author:
Joseph J. Ryan is a Los Angeles trial lawyer who has traveled the route of the Army of Northern Virginia, from Richmond to Gettysburg several times.

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