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Fort PickensThe Galaxy
FLORIDA, in many particulars a favored State, became from the time of its admission into the Union almost a dependency of South Carolina, and followed and seconded that nullifying and seceding commonwealth in all its wayward movements. From its locality as a key to the Gulf of Mexico, the maritime outlet of the great central valley of the Union, and as regards the interests of commerce and navigation generally, the southern peninsula was of value and Importance to the country. The limited population of the territory, which atthe time of its admission was hardly equal to what was requisite for a single representative district, gave it little claim to recognition as a State. The territory was originally purchased from Spain, during the Monroe administration, at a cost of several millions; but many times the amount of the first purchase had been expended from the Federal treasury in subduing and expelling the wild and refractory population, consisting of Indians, negroes, mixed breeds, piratical adventurers, and outlaws, who had made the swamps and everglades a place of refuge so long as it was a province of Spain. In 1845 the few and not yet homogeneous inhabitants, were organized and admitted into the Federal Union as a State. The act was premature and unwise, but it was done in order to preserve what the politicians of that day termed “the equilibrium of the States.” This theory of the “equilibrium” was one of the many strange compromises or expedients which were resorted to by certain conspicuous party leaders, who made it a study to evade or postpone immediate action on difficult and exciting questions as they arose, instead of boldly meeting and honestly disposing of them. By this particular compromise, or theory of “equilibrium,” no free State, whatever might be the number of its inhabitants, its claims, or its self-sustainiug ability as a distinct community, could be recognized and admitted as a State into the Federal Union, unless there was corresponding slave territory also admitted, no matter how few its inabitants, or small their ability to support a government, nor how meagre their claim to State recognition. Florida, petted and nursed for nearly thirty years after its acquisition, a constant draft and drag on the Federal treasury, with an insufficient population, and with no claims whatever to be a State, was admitted into the Federal Union in 1845, as an offset to Iowa, in order to preserve the equilibrium compromise; a compromise which served to beget and foster that sectional hostility which eventuated in civil war that had for its object, and which threatened the destruction of the Union.
The delegate from Florida when a territory, and at the time of its admissionas a State, was David L. Yulee. He was elected its first Senator, and held that position until the passage of the ordinance of secession, which assumed to sever the connection of that purchased territory and feeble community with the Federal Government, when he resigned his seat and withdrew from Congress. Yulee was of Hebrew origin. His father, if I mistake not, was a Barbary Jew. He first took his seat in Congress under the name of David Levy, to which he subsequently appended the name of Yulee. He was not destitute of ability, but, like too many of our legislators, his views were narrow and mercenary, and his talents and efforts were to a great extent employed in obtaining local favors from the Government for his State and himself; rather than in national legislation, and measures of broad and expansive statesmanship. Favored by circumstances, he had great influence over the sparse and heterogeneous population, composed in a great measure of adventurers, and was active and potent in the secession movement. Yulee is brother-in-law of the Hon. Joseph Holt, the present Judge-Advocate-General of the Army, and Secretary of War when Florida seceded; each had married a daughter of Charles A. Wickliffe of Kentucky, who was Postmaster-General under John Tyler.
The ordinance of secession, which declared this feeble and scattered community “a sovereign and independent nation,” was passed by a State Convention which had been assembled on the 10th of January, 1861, and the Navy-yard at Pensacola was seized by the rebels on the 12th, two days after. Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, who was at the time in command at Fort McRae, hastily evacuated it when he became aware of the treason and treachery on foot, and with about eighty men took possession of Pickens, a more important and formidable fortress, on Santa Rosa Island. This post, with Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas, and Fort Taylor at Key West—the two last lying off the Florida coast—remained in possession of the Government when the change of administration took place on the 4th of March. It was asserted on the 10th of January, by the Convention which adopted the ordinance of secession, that “the State of Florida is hereby declared a sovereign and independent nation.” But,by an understanding which the Federal Government soon after entered into with certain rebel leaders, the “sovereign and independent nation“ of Florida consented to abstain from extending its authority over the forts of the United States by any belligerent act, provided the Federal Government would in the mean time remain inactive. Under this understanding or truce with those who were plotting the disruption of the Union, the dignity, power, and rightful authority of the Federal Government during the winter of 1861 seemed to the conspirators and to the world—like the expiring Administration—near their termination.
In the exercise of its power as a “sovereign and independent nation,” Florida had taken possession of the Navy-yard and forts at Pensacola, with the exception of Pickens, which the “nation” and its abettors forbore to attack for the time being under the truce referred to; and from the same cause, or from lack of ability and means, the winter passed away without that “nation’s” occupying Forts Taylor and Jefferson, on the Tortugas and at Key West.
Several statements, official, semi-official, and otherwise, have been made in relation to the relief of these forts, and especially in regard to the first reinforcement of Fort Pickens, in the spring of 1861. None of the published accounts present a full and correct narrative of all the facts and circumstances connected with the relief and reinforcement, on two several occasions, of that fortress. The differing statements may be accounted for, in part at least, by the fact that there were several movements at different dates, and by different parties, to effect that object, and to provide for the security of Pickens and points off the Florida coast.
The Buchanan Administration, after the surrender of the Navy-yard at Pensacola, had as early as January sent out an artillery force under Captain Vogdes, on board the steamer Brooklyn, to reinforce the garrison in Fort Pickens; but before the troops were landed the truce was entered into that the Government would pursue a policy of inaction, provided the rebels would make no assault. This truce or armistice, though not reduced to writing, seems to have been faithfully observed by those who were administering the Government, and, as regards Pickens, by those who were plotting its overthrow. At Pensacola, as at Charleston, the Government under Mr. Buchanan remained passive, while the conspirators were active and unrestrained. This non-coercive policy of the Government appears to have been adopted after the troops to reinforce Pickens had embarked at Fortress Monroe upon, the Brooklyn, but before that vessel reached Pensacola. Consequently, Captain Vogdess command was not permitted to land, but was detained on board until after the expiration of Mr. Buchanan’s term of service. This suspension of action by the Government, and abstinence from the exercise of rightful power—a compromise with those who were openly resisting and defying Federal authority—this arrangement by which the Government agreed not to reinforce its own garrisons in its own forts, as at Sumter and Pickens—this consenting that the troops should be restrained from landing, and detained for weeks on shipboard within sight of their destination—had a most unhappy and depressing influence on the friends of the Union, and tended to inspire and encourage those who were opposed to it.
When the change of administration took place on the 4th of March, and Mr. Lincoln entered upon his duties as Chief Magistrate, he found the Government without extra means or preparation to maintain its power or enforce its authority. The retiring Administration had done nothing to suppress the insurrection, while the rebels, under the quasi-armistice, had been active and untiring in promoting it. A change of policy, as well as a change of administration, took place on the inauguration of President Lincoln; but some little time and preparation were necessary to get the Government on a permanent footing and in working order. As rapidly as possible, the new Administration took up the various subjects, civil, military, and political, demanding attention. The condition of affairs through the whole South was deplorable. Among the mattersof immediate interest were those which related to the few military posts at theSouth that were still retained by the Government with small and wholly insufficient garrisons, and the Secretary of the Treasury was extremely solicitous in regard to the lights and light-houses on the Southern coast. He early brought the subject to the notice of the President and Cabinet, and a correspondence between two officers attached to the Light-house Board, which had been submitted to him, hastened action. It seems that while the higher functionaries who administered the Government had through the winter been tampering with those who were in insurrection, and entering into a truce or understanding with them to tide over the few remaining weeks of their official life, there had been vigilance and activity among officers then in subordinate positions. Commander (now Rear-Admiral) Jenkins and Captain (subsequently Major-General) Win. F.Smith, familiarly known as Baldy Smith, were in the winter of 1861 attached to the Light-house Board, the former as Naval Secretary, the latter as Engineer Secretary. These two officers, thus associated, freely interchanged views. Both were impressed with the danger that threatened Fort Jefferson and Fort Taylor, which would, if no steps were taken to prevent it, be likely to pass into the possession of the rebels, to the great annoyance of our commerce and injury to the country. Privateers would make the Tortugas and Key West places of refuge in case of war; and by the destruction of the light-houses in that dangerous vicinity navigation would be rendered insecure. They communicated their apprehensions to General Dix, at that time Secretary of the Treasury, and their purpose to ascertain the condition of things in that quarter. Their suggestions, without entering into details, were approved. Captain Smith therefore took the steamer for Havana, and visited Tortugas and Key West under the pretext of inspecting the lights. Soon after the change of administration Commander Jenkins received a letter from Captain Smith, who had been to Dry Tortugas and Fort Taylor, saw the danger to which they were exposed, and satisfied himself what was best to be done for their safety. The contents of the letter were communicated to Mr. Chase, who had relieved General Dix as Secretary of the Treasury, and to whom it was their duty to report. Secretary Chase was alive to the importance of the subject, and forthwith made known to the President and Cabinet the information he had received. Commander Jenkins was immediately put in communication with General Scott and myself in relation to these matters. Prompt action was required to save the stations off the coast. But more interesting and important perhaps than either was the condition of things at Pensacola and Fort Pickens. General Scott was much exercised on these matters, and became particularly solicitous that Vogdes’s command should be disembarked and Fort Pickens relieved. At a late hour on the 11th of March, the day, I think, on which Secretary Chase gave the information received from Commander Jenkins, General Scott made application to me for a naval vessel to convey a bearer of despatches from the War Department to Fort Pickens. There were at that time but two or three vessels in the Atlantic ports that were available. Which of them was best adapted to the service was a question, and who of the officers was most reliable for this duty was to be carefully considered. Secrecy was indispensable; but the Navy Department, as well as all the other departments of the Government, was in a demoralized condition. Of those best informed and most capable of giving an opinion, it was difficult for me, not then a week in office, to decide in every instance who were to be trusted. Commander Ward, an old acquaintance from boyhood, I knew was faithful. He was stationed on the receiving ship at Brooklyn, but had been summoned to Washington in relation to an expedition to reinforce Fort Sumter. This project he had relinquished, and was on the point of returning to New York when General Scott preferred his request. On receiving it, I sent a messenger, who overtook Commander Ward at the railroad depot, and requested him to meet me that evening at the Department. Secretary Chase notified Commander Jenkins to join Commander Ward and myself at my office at nine o’clock that evening. Both officers were prompt in their attendance. No persons except my doorkeeper and the watchmen were in the building when we came together. The subject-matter was discussed in confidence; and it was concluded that the Crusader, Commander T. A. M. Craven, and the Mohawk, Commander J. H. Strong, were both available, and each of their commanders faithful and to be trusted. The Crusader, Captain Craven, was selected. Three years later this gallant officer commanded the iron-clad Tecumseh, and went down and was lost with his vessel, which was destroyed by a torpedo opposite Fort Morgan, when Farragut entered the Bay of Mobile, in 1864. The following order was prepared that evening and intrusted to Commander Ward to deliver personally to Captain Craven:
NAVY DEPARTMENT, March 11, 1861.
Commander T. A. M. CRAVEN, commanding U. S. S. Crusader.
SIR: A bearer of despatches from the Government will present himself to you for passage to the United States steamer Brooklyn, supposed to be off Fort Pickens, Pensacola harbor. You will proceed to that locality with all practicable despatch, place the bearer of despatches on hoard the Brooklyn, sod then make the best of your way to Key West, where you will communicate with Judge Marvin of the United States Court, and afford every protection in your power to the United States authorities, and to the naval stores, lighthouse, and other United States property there.
The Department desires that you will not absent yourself from Key West or its immediate vicinity, unless ordered to do so from here, or in your judgment it becomes necessary to do so to protect the reef lights.
Commander Pickering, U. S. Navy, the Light-house Inspector on the Florida coast, should be conferred with with reference to the safety of the lights on the Florida reefs; and any assistance that you may be able and deem necessary to afford him, without jeoparding interests at Key West, should be given to him.
I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,
GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy.
On the following day General Scott informed me that he might be unable to spare an officer to go to Pensacola with his orders; and if the naval officer was faithful, he could as well as a special messenger deliver the despatches to Captain Vogdes on the Brooklyn. With an assurance that Commander Craven was reliable, the subject was left at his option. At the same time when stating his embarrassment, General Scott made a requisition for another vessel to convoy a transport or transports to Texas, to bring North the troops abandoned by Twiggs when he deserted. The importance of a sufficient force at Key West to retain that important post, suggested the expediency of leaving a portion of the Texas troops at that station. I requested Commander Jenkins to call on General Scott with this suggestion, which he did. It met the approval of the Lieutenant-General, and he agreed to and did order Major French, and four companies returning from Texas, to stop at Key West. In order to comply with the army requisitions for two naval vessels, one to proceed to Pensacola and one to convoy the army transport, it became necessary to send both the Crusader and the Mohawk to the Gulf. I therefore, on the 12th of March, addressed the following confidential despatch to Commander Foote, executive officer of the Brooklyn Navy-yard—Commodore Breese, the commandant, was absent on other duty:
NAVY DEPARTMENT, March 12, 1861.
Commander A. H. FOOTE, commandant Navy-yard, New York.
SIR: I sent an order yesterday by Commander James H. Ward, U. S. N. to Lieutenant-Commanding Craven, to proceed on certain service therein named. It is now necessary to send either the Crusader or Mohawk to convoy the steamer Empire City, employed on army duty.
You will please despatch, immediately on the receipt of this order, either the Crusader or Mohawk to the Quarantine, and direct the commanding officer to accompany the Empire City on her voyage, and continue with her as long as protection may he deemed necessary by the army or other officer in charge, for the protection of the persons and public property embarked.
In case you find it necessary to send the Crusader to convoy the Empire City, you will direct Lieutenant-Commanding Craven to return the order to him dated yesterday by this Department to you, and you will hand it to Lieutenant-Commanding Strong of the Mohawk, with instructions to proceed and execute those orders in tile same manner as though the order had been originally addressed so him.
The War Department may not send a special messenger, as was indicated in the order to the commandem of the Crusader, but in that event a letter will be sent to be delivered to the commander of the U. S. steamer Brooklyn.
Colonel Tompkins, U. S. A.. New York, should be conferred with before despatching these vessels.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy.
There was delay in the departure of one or both of these vessels, in consequence of difficulties in the Adjutant-General’s office in detailing the companies which were to stop at Key West. The voyage of the Crusader was also somewhat protracted, and after a fortnight and more had elapsed the failure to receive tidings from Pensacola began to give us great solicitude. Several days of painful uncertainty were passed when, on the afternoon of the 6th of April, an officer, travel-stained and much exhausted, entered my room at the Department, and announced himself as Lieutenant Gwathmey, with despatches from Captain Adams, in command of the squadron off Pensacola. Unstrapping a belt from beneath his garments, he handed me a package which contained the following letter:
U. S. Frigate Sabine, off Pensacola, April 1, 1861
SIR: I have the honor to enclose a copy of a letter addressed to me by Captain Vodgdes, U. S. A., who is here in command of some troops sent out in January last to reinforce the garrison of Fort Pickens. I have declined to land the men as Captain Vogdes requests, as it would he in direct violation of the orders of the Navy Department under which I am acting. The instructions from General Scott to Captain Vogdes are of old date (March 12), and may have been given without a full knowledge of the condition of affairs here; they would be no justification. Such a step is too important to be taken without the clearest orders from proper authority. Is would certainly be viewed as a hostile act, and would be resisted to the utmost. No one acquainted with the feelings of the military assembled under General Bragg can doubt that it would be considered not only a declaration, but an act of war. Is would be a serious thing to bring on by any precipitation a collision which may be entirely against the wishes of the Administration. At present both sides are faithfully observing the agreement entered into by the U. S. Government with Mr. Mallory and Colonel Chase. This agreement binds us not to reinforce Fort Pickens unless it shall be attacked or threatened. It binds them rot to attack it unless we should attempt to reinforce it. I saw General Bragg on the 30th uit., who reassured me the conditions on their part should not be violated. While I cannot take on myself, under such insufficient authority as General Scott’s order, the fearful responsibility of an act which seems to render civil war inevitable, I am ready at all times to carry out whatever orders I may receive from the Honorable the Secretary of the Navy.
In conclusion, I beg you will please to send me instructions as soon as possible, that I may be relieved from a painful embarrassment.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. A. ADAMS, Captain, senior officer present
To the Hon. GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.
U.S. FRIGATE SABINE, OFF PENSACOLA, FLA., April 1, 1861.
To Captain H. A. ADAMS, commanding naval forces off Pensacola.
SIR: Herewith I send you a copy of an order received by me last night. You will see by it that I am directed to land my command at the earliest opportunity. I have therefore to request that you will place at my disposal such boats and other means as will enable me to carry into effect the enclosed order.
I. Vogdes, Captain First Artillery, commanding.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, WASHINGTON, March 12, 1861.
SIR: At the first favorable moment you will land with your company, reinforce Fort Pickens, and hold the same until further notice.
Report frequently, if opportunities present themselves, on the condition of the fort and the circumstances around you.
I write by command of Lieutenant-General Scott.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
E.D. TOWNSEND, Assistant Adjutant-General.
Captain I. Vogdes, U. S. A., on board the U. S. sloop-of-war Brooklyn, off Fort Pickens, Pensacola harbor, Florida.
This information and the course of Captain Adams caused great disappointment. Parts of it were incomprehensible. The “orders of the Navy Department” alluded to, and the alleged agreement “entered into by the United States Government with Mr. Mallory and Colonel Chase,” were matters of which the President and myself were not advised. We were aware, as was the whole country, that the Administration of Mr. Buchanan had acted on the do-nothing policy, and it was generally supposed the rebels permitted his Administration to expire without being molested, on condition the Government would remain inactive. We knew, however, of no written orders or truce of the character mentioned. In declining to recognize the orders of General Scott, and refusing to land the troops by reason of the truce referred to, Captain Adams was not altogether satisfied with his own decision, and hence had despatched Lieutenant Gwathmey express to me for specific orders.
Some suspicions were entertained of the fidelity of Captain Adams, whose sympathies were reported to be with the secessionists. His estate was in the South, and, like some other officers, it was his misfortune to behold his family taking opposite sides in the rising conflict. A portion of them were avowed secessionists. One of his sons became an officer in the rebel service; one followed the fortunes of his father and his flag. My position in regard to him was for a time one of painful responsibility. To wound the sensibilities of an honorable, sensitive, and patriotic officer, by depriving him of his command on mere suspicion, would be keenly felt by him as cruel and unjust, and cause dissatisfaction on the part of good men who knew and had confidence in him; yet to retain him, when his fidelity was doubted, in a high and trusty post in such a crisis, might, if circumstances were adverse, subject the Government, and especially myself, to censure. Embarrassments such as these, when the country was in a shattered condition, and the political organizations of the nation were crumbling to pieces, were abundant and hard to be met. Justice to Captain Adams, a correct officer, who had great professional pride and patriotic instincts, whatever were his political or party sympathies, and however he may have hesitated in this instance, requires it to be stated that he faithfully performed his duty. He strictly obeyed the orders sent him, and by his activity and efforts contributed to the safety of Fort Pickens, when, had he been unfaithful, the place might have been lost.
Lieutenant Washington Gwathmey, the special messenger to whom Captain Adams intrusted his important confidential despatches, was a Virginian, deeply imbued with the false theories that were prevalent at the South. He conceived that his obligations to his State were paramount to those he owed his country. Although wearing the uniform, holding the commission, and receiving pay of the Federal Government, he believed it to be his duty to obey a factious party then in the ascendant in Virginia, rather than the legally constituted authorities and laws of the United States. But these false and erroneous opinions did not prevent him from faithfully discharging the trust confided to him by Captain Adams. Virginia had not then attempted to throw off her Federal obligation. Leaving Pensacola, he travelled night and day, and passing through Richmond, where he belonged, without stopping, he reached Washington on the afternoon of the 6th of April. Without going to his hotel, he came immediately to the Navy Department and relieved himself of his message, as stated. A few days later this officer tendered his resignation, which, however, was not accepted. He was dismissed, and soon after entered the rebel service.
I went with the despatch of Captain Adams at once to the President. The information received was extremely embarrassing, for we were at the time actively engaged, and had been for some days, in fitting out an expedition to relieve Fort Sumter. That movement could not be delayed; but should the rebels become aware of it, they, having possession of the telegraph and every facility for communication, would be likely to attack Pickens before the garrison could be reinforced. It was determined that a special messenger, with positive orders, should be forthwith sent overland, through the insurrectionary region, to Pensacola, directing that the troops should be disembarked without delay. Promptness and despatch were necessary. The expedition destined for the relief of Sumter was to sail that day. The hesitancy of Captain Adams, whose justification was the truce referred to, endangered the safety of the fortress and the possession of Santa Rosa Island; for the rebels were in considerable force at Pensacola, and a knowledge of the fact that the Sumter expedition had sailed would be likely to precipitate an immediate assault on the little garrison under Lieutenant Slemmer in Pickens. Without waiting the result of inquiries immediately instituted in regard to the alleged truce or agreement, my first duty was to find a reliable messenger to proceed by the earliest conveyance to Pensacola. It was then past three o’clock, and the boat which conveyed the mail South left at seven o’clock that evening. I sent for Paymaster Henry Etting, then in Washington, in whom I had confidence, to perform this duty. Although not well, he promptly prepared to obey orders, but with an understanding, under the circumstances, that another officer should be substituted, if one of unquestioned fidelity and energy could be found in season. Before five he informed me that Lieutenant John L. Worden had just arrived in Washington, for whom he could vouch; and such inquiries as I could make of others satisfied me he was perfectly reliable. I directed that Lieutenant Worden should immediately report to me; and in a brief interview he was informed of my purpose to send him on a secret, responsible, and perhaps dangerous mission through the South, and that he must leave within two hours for Pensacola. He expressed his readiness to obey orders, and although the time was short, and he indifferently prepared, he assured me he would be ready to leave at the time specified. I directed him to make no mention of his orders or his journey to any one, but to call upon me as soon as he could get ready. In the mean time I prepared the document that was to be confided to him. The fact that he was a naval officer, passing through the South—not a secessionist, nor in sympathy with secessionists—might cause him to be challenged, and perhaps searched. I therefore made the order to Captain Adams brief. It was as follows:
NAVY DEPARTMENT, April 6, 1861.
Captain HENRY A. ADAMS, commanding naval forces off Pensacola.
SIR: Your despatch of April 1st is received. The Department regrets that you did not comply with the request of Captain Vogdes, to carry into effect the orders of General Scott, sent out by the Crusader, under the orders of this Department.
You will, immediately on the first favorable opportunity after the receipt of this order, afford every facility to Captain Vogdes, by boats and other means, to enable him to land the troops under his command, it being the wish and intention of the Navy Department to cooperate with the War Department in that object.
I am, sir, respectfully, etc.,
GIDEON, WELLES, Secretary of the Navy.
This, order, which I read to Lieutenant Worden when he called, and gave into his hands unsealed, he committed to memory before he reached Richmond, and then destroyed the writing. Hurrying on with all possible expedition, he contrived to elude detection, and arrived in Pensacola on the 11th. Here he had an interview with General Bragg, the rebel commander, to whom he stated he had a verbal communication from Secretary Welles to Captain Adams, and received a pass to visit that officer. He was put on board the Sabine on the 12th of April, and communicated my orders to Captain Adams, who promptly obeyed them. That night the boats of the squadron, under the command of Lieutenant Albert N. Smith, successfully landed the artillery company of Captain Vogdes, consisting of 86 men and a detachment of 115 marines. The garrison in Fort Pickens, which was previously composed of only 83 men, was reinforced, and for the time made secure. The success of this movement was satisfactory, and of immense importance. It saved to the Government this important fortress on the Gulf of Mexico, and that at a critical moment which the delay of a single day would have imperilled. The expedition for the relief of Fort Sumter sailed on the night that Lieutenant Worden left Washington for Pensacola, and President Lincoln had decided that he would, when the squadron sailed, notify the authorities at Charleston of his intention to provision the fort in their harbor peaceably, or, if resisted, by force. The messenger with this communication to the Charleston authorities left, if I mistake not, by the same conveyance with Lieutenant Worden. Neither of them knew of the mission of the other. On the 8th the Governor of South Carolina was informed of the President’s intention to send supplies to Sumter.. When this information was given, Lieutenant Worden was pressing forward with all speed, but a vast distange was to be overcome before he could reach Pensacola.
General Beauregard, in command at Charleston, as soon as advised that the President had ordered an expedition to Sumter, telegraphed the fact to the Confederate Government at Montgomery. Davis and his associates in the Confederate Government were not wholly unprepared for the tidings received. They had been apprised that extraordinary naval and military movements were being made in New York, and when advised by Beauregard of President Lincoln’s notice to the Charleston authorities, they concluded that the truce with Buchanan was cancelled, and determined to anticipate the action of the Federal Government by a simultaneous assault on both Sumter and Pickens, in the full confidence that the surprise upon the feeble garrisons in those forts would cause both to fall. The result was, after an interchange of messages, and a demand and refusal of Major Anderson to surrender, that the bombardment of Sumter commenced on the morning of the 12th, the very day on which Pickens was reinforced. General Bragg was to have made an attack upon Pickens the night succeeding that on which reinforcements were thrown into the fort from the squadron; but the additional strength to the garrison defeated the project.
Lieutenant Worden, instead of remaining with the squadron and waiting an opportunity to come North by water, commenced his return journey by land on the 12th, immediately after delivering his message. General Bragg and the rebels at Pensacola, when they learned that the troops on the Richmond and Sabine had been landed, and the garrison in Pickens reinforced, felt themselves too weak to persevere in the proposed assault. Nor were they slow in coming to the conclusion that the messenger who had arrived and departed so suddenly was an agent of the Government, who had been instrumental in this movement. Mortified and chagrined that their intentions had been anticipated and defeated, they at once telegraphed to the Confederate Government a description of Lieutenant Worden, and on the morning of the 13th of April, when within five miles of Montgomery, Alabama, five officers of the rebel army entered the car and arrested him. The ground assigned for the arrest was that he had violated a pledge given to General Bragg, and that he had been instrumental in the disembarkation of troops, whereby Fort Pickens had been strengthened, contrary to an agreement or understanding with Captain Adams. Lieutenant W. had given no pledge, and the agreement alluded to, instead of having been made by Captain Adams, was an unwritten, quasi armistice or truce, mentioned in a communication of Secretaries Holt and Toucey, on the 29th of January, addressed to the naval officers off Pensacola, and Lieutenant Slemmer in command at Fort Pickens. This agreement had been consummated through the agency of Captain Samuel Barron, who went from Washington to Florida for that purpose. Captain Adams, in his despatch to me, makes mention of his having had interviews with General Bragg, and of the assurances of that gentleman that the conditions of the agreement should be observed ; but neither then, nor at any time, did he enter into any agreement, nor was he authorized to make one. But Bragg was censured for remissness in giving a pass to the messenger from the Navy Department to visit the squadron. It had defeated the rebel scheme to obtain possession of the fort, and the indignation was severe against Lieutenant Worden, who was detained for seven months a prisoner at Montgomery. Not until the 13th of November, just seven months from the day of his arrest, was he released from captivity. He was then sent to Richmond and exchanged for Lieutenant Sharp, a rebel officer who was captured at Hatteras Inlet, and in whose behalf the rebel authorities took special interest. Soon after his release Lieutenant Worden was appointed to the command of the iron-clad steamer Monitor, the first vessel of her class ever put afloat, and his voyage to Hampton Roads and encounter with the Merrimack are matters of historic record and interest.
The paper or document of Secretaries Holt and Toucey is the only written recognition of the truce or agreement entered into with the rebels which I remember to have seen, and of the existence of this document I am not aware that any member of Mr. Lincoln’s Administration was informed when orders were sent to reinforce Pickens. I never saw it nor knew of it until after the receipt of Captain Adams’s letter of the 1st of April. It has been asserted, and denied, that the Administration of Mr. Buchanan established an armistice, or entered into an arrangement with the rebels by which the functions of the Government to suppress insurrection and rebellion were suspended. Captain Adams states the light in which he and General Bragg viewed the communication of Messrs. Holt and Toucey, which I here insert:
WASHINGTON, January 29, 1861—Received at Pensacola. January 29, 1861, at 9 P. M.
To Captain JAMES GLYNN, commanding the Macedonian; Captain W. S. WALKER, commanding the Brooklyn, or other naval officers in command; and Lieutenant ADAM J. SLEMMER, First regiment Artillery, U. S. A., commanding Fort Pickens.
In consequence of the assurances received from Mr. Mallory, in a telegram of yesterday to Messrs, Bigler, Hunter, and Slidell, with a request that it should be laid before the President, that Fort Pickens would not he assaulted, and an offer of such an assurance to the same effect from Colonel Chase, for the purpose of avoiding a hostile collision, upon receiving satisfactory assurances from Mr. Mallory and Colonel Chase that Fort Pickens will not be attacked, you are instructed not to land the company on board the Brooklyn, unless said fort shall be attacked or preparations shall be made for its attack. The provisions necessary for the supply of the fort you will land. The Brooklyn and the other vessels of war on the station will remain, and you will exercise the utmost vigilance, and he prepared at a moment’s warning to land the company at Fort Pickens, and you and they will instantly repel any attack on the fort.
The President yesterday sent a special message to Congress, commending the Virginia resolutions of compromise. The commissioners of different States are to meet here on Monday, the 4th of Fehruary, aisd it is important that during their session a collision of arms should he avoided, unless an attack should he made or there should he preparations for such an attack. In either event the Brooklyn and the other vessels will act promptly. Your right and that of the other officers in command at Pensacola freely to communicate with the Govemment, hy special messenger, and its right, in the same manner, to communicate with yourselves and them, will remain intact, as the hasis of the present instructions.
J. HOLT, Secretary of War.
I. Toucey, Secretary of the Navy.
The construction which Captain Adams put upon what he calls the “engagement made by Mr. Mallory and Colonel Chase with the United States Government,” and which restrained him for four weeks from landing troops, will be seen by the following extract from a letter written by him under date of the 18th of March, and sent by Lieutenant Gwathmey:
The officers and men, as I mentioned in my letter of Fehruary 59, are kept in readiness to land at the shortest notice; hut I have received the assurances of General Bragg, who commands the troops on shore, that he will respect the engagement made hy Mr. Mallory and Colonel Chase with the United States Governinent, and will make no disposition for the attack of Fort Pickens. This engagement, you are aware, binds us not to reinforce Fort Pickens unless it is attacked or threatened. I could easily have thrown any numher of men in it almost any time within the last four weeks.
This communication, written on the 18th of March, Captain Adams would not trust to the mails, but withheld for other conveyance; opportunities, however, were rare, and hence the delay in its reception.
Such was the first reinforcement of Fort Pickens. The garrison, which, under Lieutenant Slemmer, consisted of only 83 men, was increased to 284 on the 12th of April by a company of artillery and a battalion of marines. Additional troops and abundant supplies arrived a few days later under the command of Colonel (now Brevet Major-General) Harvey Brown; but Pickens would probably have passed into rebel hands ere the last expedition reached Pensacola had not the timely mission of Lieutenant (now Commodore) Worden caused the reinforcement from the squadron on the 12th of April.
The second reinforcement of Pickens was by a secret irregular military expedition initiated under the auspices of the Secretary of State, without the knowledge of the Secretary of War. By law and usage the duty of fitting out such a military expedition devolved on the Secretary of War; but in this instance that functionary was, for some unexplained cause, studiously excluded • from all participation in or knowledge of the important movement which was carried forward within the Department of which he was chief and from the appropriations with which he was intrusted. There was doubtless a reason or purpose for this extraordinary proceeding, and also why the Secretary of State withheld from every member of the Cabinet all knowledge of the transaction. It may have been an exhibition of great executive and administrative skill and ability on the part of the Secretary of State; it may have demonstrated that if the Secretary of the Treasury could, through the instrumentality of an officer of the army and an officer of the navy attached to the Treasury Department, prompt military movements, the Secretary of State could also institute by means of an army and naval officer a still more formidable expedition; or there may have been other reasons and influences for a step that has no parallel. It is without precedent and without imitation. The President himself had only indefinite general information that such a project was maturing. General Meigs, who was the special confidant of the Secretary of State, selected by him to plan the expedition, says it “originated with Mr. Seward.” The first intimation which I received of this irregular proceeding, I obtained at midnight on the 6th of April, when endeavoring to clear up the confusion and difficulty occasioned conflicting orders. I then learned to my astonishment of this secret enterprise, and that the steamer Powbatan, the flag-ship of an expedition which was ordered to relieve Fort Sumter, had been surreptitiously withdrawn from that duty, and that her legitimate commander, Captain Mercer, was deprived of his ship, which was transferred fo Lieutenant D. D. Porter, who was to proceed with her to Pensacola. A large portion of the home squadron was at the time lying off that harbor with troops which had not been landed. Additional supplies and men from the army were appropriate, for they would be wanted; but there was no necessity for the Powhatan to be added to the squadron in the Gulf. She was indispensable for the Sumter expedition. The President, so soon as he understood the condition of things, ordered the restoration of the Powhatan to Captain Mercer, and that there should be no interference with or interruption of measures taken in regard to Sumter. His orders, however, were not effective. A brief telegram of Mr. Seward to Lieutenant Porter was disregarded by that officer, who hastened his departure to Pensacola, carrying off the boats, supplies, and men which had been prepared and were destined for the relief of Sumter. The result proved that while the supplies were opportune, there was no reason why the Secretary of State should have taken upon himself the duties of another Department, or why the Secretary of War, whose duty it was to furnish the supplies, should have been kept in ignorance of the enterprise, or not have ordered the expedition. The mission of the Powbatan was ill-conceived and ill-advised. The purpose for which she was taken was a total failure. She accomplished no one thing specified as an object, intent, or excuse for sending her to Pensacola. She did not arrive off the harbor until five days after Pickens had been reinforced by Vogdes and the marines. The transport Atlantic, having Colonel Brown on board, with troops and supplies, reached her destination on the 16th of April; the Powhatan did not arrive until the 17th. Colonel Brown, without awaiting the arrival of Lieutenant Porter and the Powhatan, was, with his force, promptly landed by the boats of Captains Adams and Poor, and the fort was again relieved and reinforced before Lieutenant Porter made his appearance on the 17th with the Powhatan, having on board the launches and men destined for Sumter.
The detachment of this vessel from the squadron to which she had been ordered without the knowledge of any one connected with the Navy Department, led to no little confusion and was the cause of very serious embarrassment. She was the most important of the few vessels in commission in all our Atlantic ports at that period; but the Government was by these surreptitious and irregular proceedings deprived of her services at Charleston and at Norfolk at a critical juncture. General Meigs, who was the special confidant of the Secretary of State in this matter, and was taken by him to the President as a counsellor and adviser, when his Cabinet associates were treated as not trustworthy, has written two communications on the subject. It appears to him, he says, that it was “within the prerogative of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy” to take such a vessel and designate its commander; and the whole irregular expedition in which he so actively participated seems in his view proper. Had the Secretary of War by any connivance secretly negotiated a treaty with a foreign power without the knowledge of the Secretary of State, or of any member of the Cabinet, aided by a district attorney and a consul to advise the President, General Meigs might have defended such negotiation also, and said, as he now does, that it was within the prerogative of the Chief Magistrate. He forgets, however, that the President, so soon as he learned the facts in the case of the Powhatan, claimed no such prerogative, but directed the Secretary of State to order the immediate restoration of that vessel to her legitimate commander and to her designated duty. The President never intended to interfere with and secretly countermand the orders of one of the Departments, and he promptly directed a correction of the proceeding which the Quartermaster-General tries to defend.
It has not been my purpose, in bringing to light certain truths connected with the destruction of the Norfolk Navy-yard, and the expeditions to Sumter and to Pickens at the commencement of the war, to make charges or prefer accusations against any one, nor to criticise the military plans and operations in those cases. Statements of facts may in some instances be considered unpleasant disclosures, but they are not to be classed as charges and accusations. Truth in these matters should no longer be suppressed or perverted; and if in any respect I am in error, I shall be glad to be corrected. There are records and living witnesses to sustain or controvert my statements.
General Meigs, at that time a Captain of Engineers, planned the military part of the irregular expedition to Pensacola which Colonel (since Brevet-Major General) Harvey Brown was assigned to command. In the two letters which he has published on the subject of the relief of Fort Pickens, General’ Meigs wholly ignores the reinforcement from the squadron on the 12th of April, four days before he or any connected with that expedition arrived in sight of the “sand-hills of Pensacola,” and five days before the Powhatan reached that station. Although confessedly uninformed on many points with which his advice and movements interfered, and to that extent perhaps excusable, he could not have been ignorant of the fact that Vogdes’s company of artillery and the marines from the navy had been thrown into the fort, and the garrison reinforced, before his arrival. He makes no allusion to it, however, but takes to himself and the Secretary of State the exclusive and entire credit of first reinforcing Fort Pickens.
Captain Porter remained at anchor off the fort for several weeks, and had full opportunity and facility for ascertaining the correctness of my statement of its condition and wants. He did not enter or make any attempt to enter the harbor, and never afterwards communicated to me a desire or purpose to do so.
HARVEY BROWN, Brevet Major-General U. S. A.
These extracts, and the course pursued by General Brown in his defence of Pickens, demonstrate the value of the naval part of the plan, and of the advice given by the engineer whom the Secretary of State “carried to the President,” with the remark that “he ought to see some of the younger officers, and not consult only with men who, if war broke out, could not mount a horse.”
In advising that the Powhatan should be taken from the control of the Navy Department, General Meigs pleads ignorance of her legitimate orders. It is his justification. For the ill-advised and abandoned project of running the batteries, perhaps the same plea should be interposed. He did not then know that it was, as General Brown demonstrates, an impossibility, in his two studied communications, he makes no mention of the entire failure of the naval part of the plan which he so unfortunately advised. It has been, and is, my object to make public facts in relation to certain transactions which have been but imperfectly understood, no matter who is affected. Whether it was I or others who extracted from the President orders in relation to a naval vessel which I had in the performance of my duty put in commission, of which I had charge, and her record in my keeping; whether I or others deceived the President, intrigued to defeat the Sumter expedition, are matters of which men will form a correct judgment when in possession of the facts, which have been hitherto perverted or suppressed. No right-minded person will construe the publication of truth into an accusation against any one.
There is no denying the fact that an important vessel was at a critical period surreptitiously withdrawn from her destination and deprived of her legitimate commander by an order~extracted from the President. That the President was deceived in this matter by some one, unintentionally or otherwise, there is no doubt; for as soon as he was made acquainted with the true state of the case he countermanded the order which had been extracted from him, and directed the restoration of the vessel to Mercer. Now who extracted the order, who deceived the President, and what was the object, are matters in issue on which the Quartermaster-General volunteers an opinion, pronounces a judgment, and makes accusations. I merely give the facts and, so far as I know them, the actors.
The Powhatan, instead of going to Charleston and then returning North, as was ordered, where, in the then feeble condition of the navy, she could have rendered valuable service, especially at Norfolk, was diverted to a quarter where she was not needed. Without the knowledge of the Secretary of the Navy and against the final express order of the President, she was sent on a useless mission, ostensibly to perform a service that she did not and could not execute. In this there was error, irregularity—perhaps worse—on the part of some one or more. I for years, in the then condition of affairs, bore the blame and responsibility of these errors and failures, for which others, whose secret operations defeated my measures, were justly accountable. A faithful exposition, now that the condition of the country is changed, is excepted to by one of the principal actors.
In neither of his publications does General Meigs attempt any explanation of the unwarrantable and inexcusable attempt to thrust Captain Barron, a wellknown secessionist, into the Navy Department, and into intimate and confidential relations with the head of that Department without consulting him.
In neither of his publications does General Meigs attempt any explanation of the unwarrantable and inexcusable attempt to thrust Captain Barron, a wellknown secessionist, into the Navy Department, and into intimate and confidential relations with the head of that Department without consulting him. General Meigs declares that “the overt act of interference with the navy most complained of” is the matter of the Powhatan. This is a serious mistake. Highly improper as was that interference, it is vastly less exceptionable and reprehensible than the executive order to create a new naval bureau and make Barron chief, which was at the same time and by the same parties extracted from the President. Was Captain Meigs, in whose handwriting this mysterious order first appeared detailing Barron for Department duty, the author of this intrigue? Was Lieutenant D. D. Porter, who wrote the remarkable postscript to that remarkable order directing the Secretary of the Navy to establish a new bureau and do other illegal acts, guilty of that impropriety, disrespect, and interference with his superior? Or was there some one else who attempted thus to interfere with the organization of the Navy Department, and to place a rebel captain in a position for “detailing all officers for duty,” whereby the most important commands could be given to rebels; “supervising charges made against officers,” which would enable rebel officers to escape conviction and punishment? This interference with the organization and administration of the Navy Department was attempted by some one. General Meigs would brush it over; says he has “no distinct recollection” of this order and postscript, which was published in THE GALAXY for November; that “of details within the Navy Department, such as are referred to in the postscript in regard to Captain Barron, he had no knowledge, and upon them could not have given advice.” Nevertheless, this strange document—an executive order, creating without authority of law a new bureau in the Navy Department; placing a rebel captain in charge of its operations; empowering him to detail all officers for duty, to supervise charges made against officers, etc., was written by himself and Lieutenant Porter—a joint labor and a divided responsibility. Whether they originated the measure or were the mere instruments of others, has never been disclosed. Until recently this mysterious transaction was not made public. The order, with others, was extracted from the President, who reposed confidence in those who submitted at the same time a multitude of orders and matters in detail for his signature; but this one was promptly disavowed and annulled by him when he knew its character and purport. Some person originated this scheme to change the organization of the Navy Department. It was done by the same parties who extracted the order in relation to the Powhatan, was done at the same time and place, was in the handwriting of two of them, and reached me under the same envelope with other documents of that date. But who was the author?
For the part taken by General, at that time Captain Meigs in these transactions he should not perhaps in all respects be held to a strict accountability. He was acting under orders, was uninformed in regard to measures of Administration that were then in progress of fulfilment, and the order which he wrote and the President signed was evidently penned under dictation. Of that part which related to the assignment of Captain Stringham, he says he has “no distinct recollection,” and he of course knew nothing of “the complications at Vera Cruz,” to which he alludes. When in his recent letter he says his “recommendation to the President originated in a desire to break the toils in which by such a convention a former Administration involved the squadron at Pensacola and Fort Pickens,” he forgets that his recommendation was on the 29th of March or 1st of April, and that neither the President nor any member of the Cabinet knew of any “toils whkh involved the squadron at Pensacola” until the arrival of Lieutenant Gwathmey, on the 6th of April, with despatches from Captain Adams. It was never doubted by the President or the members of the Administration, nor by General Scott, that the order of the latter to Captain Vogdes, on the 12th of March, to land his command, was carried into effect, and that Pickens was to that extent reinforced, until a week after Captain Meigs had made his recommendation and given his advice for a steamer to run the batteries of McRae and Barrancas.
The position of Lieutenant Porter when off Pensacola was doubtless awkward and embarrassing. He had special instructions, written by an engineer, under the direction of the Secretary of State, to perform a duty which it was impossible for him to execute. Having an independent command, his vessel was not legitimately on the station. The senior officer had no instructions in relation to him or the Powhatan, did not recognize him or receive his reports, or forward them to the Department. He was not in communication with the Secretary of the Navy, whose orders he had broken, taken from under his control a vessel which had been duly commissioned, and displaced her commander, who was his superior. His orders were explicit to enter the harbor. That alone was the purpose for which he had been detailed, but that service he could not render. He, therefore, was lying off Pensacola, but was not one of the squadron. He had no authority to go or to remain. He was isolated, disconnected with the Navy Department and the naval service. In this dilemma he wrote letters to the Secretry of State, who knew not what to do with him or his letters, for naval records were not kept in the State Department; instructions to naval officers did not emanate from it, nor was the Secretary of State in a condition to send supplies to this independent command which he had caused to be created.
Feeling his embarrassment, the Secretary of State at length passed over to me Lieutenant Porter’s letters, and requested me to relieve them both from the difficulty in which they were involved. As the steamer and officer had been irregularly withdrawn from the custody and control of the Navy Department, I required she should be duly restored. This was done by the President’s order, and on the 13th of May I sent instructions to Lieutenant Porter that the Powhatan would, until other orders, constitute a part of the Gulf Blockading Squadron, and directed him to report to the senior officer off Pensacola.
In conclusion I may be permitted to say that in what I have written I have endeavored to forbear the mere expression of opinion, but have not hesitated to state the truth in regard to men and measures, although in doing so I may in some instances have given offence to individuals with whom I have been intimate and for whom I have personal regard and friendship. The three papers which THE GALAXY has published in relation to events connected with Norfolk, Sumter, and Pickens have brought to light incidents, naval, military, and civil, which occurred in the month of April, 1861—a month pregnant with facts of unsurpassed interest in American history.
Excerpt from: Welles, Gideon. "Fort Pickens"
The Galaxy, Jan. 1871, Volume 11, Issue 1, PP. 92—108
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