In 1861, on this day the commander at Charleston Harbor, General P.G.T. Beauregard (pictured) was instructed "under no circumstances are you to prevent provisions to be sent to Fort Sumter" in a telegraph from the Confederate Secretary of War, Leroy Pope Walker.
Showdown at Fort SumterSince his inauguration on March 4th, President Abraham Lincoln been under intense pressure to order the evacuation of Major Robert Anderson and his garrison from Fort Sumter. Believing that giving up the Fort meant giving up the Union, the decision to evacuate had been postponed so long that the only option now appeared to be unconditional surrender. But during the last week of March, Northern opinion against evacuation had hardened.
The confrontation appeared to have reached a point of no turn when the Fort ran out of provisions. But in a stroke of genius, acting upon a suggestion from Gustavus V. Fox, Lincoln chose to resupply by sending unarmed tugs carrying provisions instead of using warships to force Charleston Harbour.
The trouble was that Lincoln had only been a Commander-in-Chief for four weeks. His only military service consisted of just thirty days as a captain of volunteers and fifty days as a private entering the fight against Chief Black Hawk's Sac and Fox Indian tribe under General Zachary Taylor. Records show he was an ineffective leader of men, having been reprimanded twice, once for failing to stop his men from stealing Army booze and getting drunk and again for shooting off their weapons in camp. When his thirty-day hitch as an officer was up, he signed over as a private in an Independent Ranger company, and when that was over, in twenty days, he reupped for thirty more in an Independent Spy Corps.
Whereas his adversary, the Confederate President Jefferson Davis had served with great distinction as the 23rd US Secretary of War. As a result of this superior experience, Davis immediately sensed that it was a trap to fire the first shop by attacking a "mission of humanity" bringing "food for hungry men".
Realising that Lincoln had been outplayed by a master, fears for the preservation of the Union began to grow. Perhaps there were something worst than a Civil War. Cessation without an armed struggle, or perhaps a belligerent response from the Union might provoke intervention from the other Great Powers.