Tuesday, February 9, 2016

February 9, 1861: A fateful choice is made--Davis to be President

On this day 150 years ago, the Montgomery Convention selected Jefferson Davis to serve as the President of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America. In less than a week, the new Southern nation had acquired a name, a constitution, and a leader. A telegram and a special messenger were dispatched, summoning Davis to Montgomery.
MONTGOMERY, ALA., February 9, 1861.




We are directed to inform you that you were this day unanimously elected President of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America, and to request you to come to Montgomery immediately. We send also a special messenger. Do not wait for him.

Davis was a complicated man with many strengths and many flaws. In many respects he was the best the South had to offer--certainly he represented the ideal of the planter aristocracy that had engineered the secession crisis in order to protect slavery from the rising tide of abolitionism in the North. On the downside, Davis was combative and thought of himself as a soldier as much as a statesman. Davis was a hammer, and to him, every problem tended to look like a nail.

The convention's choice for vice president was more complicated. Three Georgians were considered for the position, indeed, they had been considered for the presidency but the inability of the Georgia delegation to settle on just one of them made Davis' selection inevitable. Robert Toombs had departed from the U.S. Senate with the following words on his lips: “We want no negro equality, no negro citizenship; we want no negro race to degrade our own; and as one man [we] would meet you upon the border with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other.” Toombs wrecked his chances for the vice presidency by turning up drunk every night at the convention. Toombs then threw his support behind Alexander Stephens, crowding Howell Cobb out of the vice presidency.Like Davis, a message was dispatched summoning Stephens:
MONTGOMERY, ALA., February 9, 1861.


SIR: The Congress for the Provisional Government for the Confederate States of America have this day unanimously elected you to the office of Vice-President of the Confederate States, and we have been appointed to communicate the fact, and to respectfully invite your acceptance. In performing this pleasing duty, allow us to express the hope that you will accept, and we beg to suggest that it would be most agreeable to the body we represent, as you are a member of the Congress, that you should signify to it in person your consent to serve the country in the high position to which you have been called.

We have the honor to be, very respectfully, yours,

Stephens was an odd choice. He had been sickly all his life and his weight frequently dipped below one hundred pounds, but his frail body housed a powerful intellect. Stephens was highly regarded in the South, and he represented, almost personified, the Southern ideological case for secession. Things that Davis chose to conceal with genteel innuendo, Stephens willingly addressed in plain language.

While Davis and Stephens were each exceptional in their own way, it remained to be seen how they would work together. Although Davis had his own health issues, he nevertheless considered himself a soldier and a planter: someone who lived a vigorous outdoor life. Stephens was an intellectual with strongly held views on what was right and what was wrong, and very little capacity for compromise of those beliefs under difficult circumstances. For better or worse, Jefferson Davis was now president of the Confederacy and he would have to rely on Stephens for the support of his policies.

Monday, February 8, 2016

February 8, 1861: "Officers of the Southern Army"

Brevet Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, U.S. Army, c.1860

On February 8, 1861 Richmond's Daily Dispatch speculated about the leadership of the new Southern Army. The Dispatch thought that the obvious choice to command the armies of the South was General Jefferson Davis, and there were many who agreed with that judgement. Davis was a graduate of West Point, had served in combat in the Mexican War, had served as Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce, and four days after his resignation from the U.S. Senate, he had accepted a commission as a major general in command of Mississippi's troops. The paper also mentioned Robert E. Lee, who was at the time a Lieutenant Colonel of Cavalry serving in the U.S. Army in Texas. Lee was viewed by many as a rising star.
Officers of the Southern Army.

It is gratifying to observe that the Seceding States, in organizing their military forces, have placed the chief command, whenever practicable, in the hands of regular officers who have resigned their posts in the U. S. Army and offered their services to their native States. We could have expected nothing less from the intelligence and conservatism which characterizes Southern communities, and which enable them to appreciate at its true value the preposterous idea that the intricate science of war can be easily mastered by any civilian, and does not require, like other sciences, profound study and life-long devotion. Such a notion in time of peace may be as harmless as it is absurd, but when war has imperiled the lives and interests of a community, it will no more place uneducated officers at the head of its armies than the head of a family would call in a horse doctor to prescribe for his sick children. The Black Republicans understand the value of military science when they entrust to Gen. Scott the organization of the Army of Occupation in Washington, and it would be suicidal in the South, which has infinitely more at stake than the North, to manifest less intelligence and vigilance in the defence of its most sacred rights. General Davis, who is spoken of as the Commander-in-Chief of the Southern forces, is a regularly educated officer, and one of the best military men of the day. Virginia has sons in the U. S. Army who, in the event of her invasion, would, beyond all doubt, assist in her defence, and to them the command of her armies ought to be given. Such men as Col.Robert Lee, who has no superior as a soldier in the United States, ought to be placed at the head of her forces. It cannot be expected that the rank and file of any service can discharge their duty efficiently unless they have the most perfect confidence in the Generalship of their Chief, and such confidence is only complete when, in addition to a thorough military education, the life of their commander has been spent in the practical duties of his profession.
The Dispatch also paid a left-handed compliment to General Winfield Scott, noting that this eminent soldier--a Virginia native--had decided to remain loyal to the Union and serve the "Black Republicans" by organizing the "Army of Occupation." These sneering political references aside, the Dispatch was right: Winfield Scott was an extremely able and loyal officer. He had a record of heroic and skillful service to his country that would eventually stretch to nearly fifty years. In 1861, Scott was too old and unhealthy to actively take the field, but Winfield Scott would help Abraham Lincoln formulate several key strategies early in the war that contributed greatly to eventual Union victory.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

February 7, 1861: What to call the new Southern nation?

With the benefit of hindsight we take the name "The Confederate States of America for granted, but many other names were considered for the Southern nation, as the Daily Dispatch noted on February 7, 1861:
The name of the Southern Confederacy.

--The Charleston Courier has an article on the name to be given to the Southern League, or Confederacy. Among those suggested our contemporary mentions the following; ‘" Apalachian League,"’ ‘"Apalachia,"’ ‘"Alleghania,"’ ‘"Columbia,"’ ‘"Chicora,"’ ‘"Fredonia,"’ ‘"Washington League,"’ ‘"Washington States,"’ ‘"Atlanta, "’ ‘"Augusta,"’ ‘"Carolana,"’ ‘"Florida,"’ ‘"Georgia,"’ ‘"Alabama,"’ ‘"Louisiana,"’ ‘"Carolina,"’ ‘"Georgia League,"’ ‘"Georgia Confederacy, "’ &c. That is certainly a pretty good list to choose from; but then a rose by any name will smell as sweet. Therefore any short name will be as satisfactory.

February 7, 1861: Little Rock Arsenal taken

Little Rock Arsenal

On February 7, 1861 Congressman Alfred Rust sent a frantic telegram to Governor Henry Massey Rector warning him not to attack the federal arsenal in Little Rock, Arkansas.
WASHINGTON, February 7, 1861.

Governor RECTOR,
Little Rock, Ark.:

For God's sake allow no attack to be made on Fort Totten.

Rust was too late. Thousands of pro-secession militia men had massed in Little Rock earlier that week and had strong-armed Governor Rector into demanding the surrender of the Little Rock arsenal. The federal commander of the arsenal was Captain James Totten and he had fewer than ninety men at his disposal to defend the post. Totten was a tough soldier, but he knew that the odds were impossible--he took steps to ensure that he and his men would live to fight another day.
Little Rock, Ark., February 7, 1861.

His Excellency H. M. RECTOR,
Governor of Arkansas:

SIR: Being entirely without instructions to meet the grave responsibilities so suddenly thrust upon me, and the solemn circumstances by which my command is now surrounded, and believing that the Administration of the Federal Union would deprecate and condemn any act of mine which might bring on collision and bloodshed between the U. S. troops under my command and the citizens of the State of Arkansas, and futhermore, believing that civil war would immediately and inevitably result throughout the country from the effusion of blood at this point, or elsewhere in the United States, connected with the political topics of the day, I regret the necessity which forces me to retire from this arsenal with my command. It is, however, without the sanction of the United States Government that I do this, and entirely results from my judgment and discretion, under existing circumstances, and for the reason above stated. I have to acknowledge the receipt of Your Excellencys communication of this date, and the lateness of the hour makes it necessary that this response be brief. It is, however, understood that in consideration of Your Excellency's guarantee that the conditions demanded in my communication of yesterday shall be complied with, certain amendments referred to in your letter of this date excepted, I shall retire from the arsenal on or before 12 oclock to-morrow, m. Your Excellency will please cause to be prepared, or permit me to do so, the final papers embodying the conditions upon which I retire from this arsenal, as already understood between us, which is necessary for my protection with the Federal Government.

I am, very respectfully,

Captain, Second Artillery, Commanding Post.
Governor Rector gratefully accepted the opportunity offered by Totten to get control of the arsenal, avoid a bloody clash, and allow the federal troops to withdraw with honor.
Little Rock, Ark., February 7, 1861.

Commander U. S. Arsenal, Little Rock:

SIR: I am in receipt of your communication of this instant and announce that on to-morrow, at 11 a.m., the Executive, by conference with yourself, will prepare the stipulations agreed to touching the U. S. arsenal under your command, and at 12 o'clock he will receive from you that post, with the privilege on your part to remove any articles belonging to your command, at such time as you may find convenient.


Governor of Arkansas.
A collision had been narrowly avoided, but civil war seemed just a matter of time. Total haul of weapons at the arsenal included about 9,000 muskets or rifles and 40 cannon.

Friday, February 5, 2016

February 5, 1861: "Iron-Plated Ships"

If you read most American textbooks about this period, you'd get the impression that Americans invented ironclads and were the first to use them in combat. Neither of those claims are true. On February 5, 1861 Richmond's Daily Dispatch described the naval innovations occurring on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Iron-Plated ships.

The most extraordinary changes have been introduced of late in the construction of fighting vessels. Up to a recent period, a vast addition had been made to the destructive power of vessels-of-war, but none whatever to their capacity of resistance. Whilst guns have been introduced a single broadside from which would sink a ship-of-the-line, the ships themselves are no stronger than they were fifty years ago. The inventive genius of Napoleon III has supplied this deficiency, in constructing ships with iron plates, which are able to resist any amount of hammering from other vessels, and even to compete with forts. The English are imitating the French example, and both nations are remodelling their navies, at immense cost. The French frigate Gloire, the first experiment of the French on a large scale, is a wooden ship, with iron armor-plates, whilst the English ships, the Warrior and Black Prince, are iron ships, with timber introduced into certain parts. Ships entirely of iron are by some believed preferable to those of wood, with iron plates; but the French have not the same command of the metal as the English. The English vessels, Warrior and Black Prince, are, with the exception of the Great Eastern, the largest ships afloat. The Warrior, from the bottom up to about five feet below the water line, is wholly of iron. From this point to the level of the upper deck, it is fortified by armor-plates, bolted upon blocks of teak.--The plates are four and a half inches thick, and the teak inside eighteen inches. The bulwarks are of wood. The head and stern are unprotected by iron to the length of one hundred and twenty feet, the iron amidships being three hundred feet. There are, however, fore and aft, bulkheads or partitions fortified with the iron plates. The sills of the main deck ports, as she lies, are eight feet above the water line. She is expected, or hoped, to make fourteen knots. The deck ports, however, have an opening of twelve square feet! It is necessary, of course, not only to protect the vessel, but to make her sufficiently light, buoyant and sea- worthy. The cost is expected to be one million seven hundred thousand dollars. This is not quite double the cost of a first-class steam-frigate of the old fashion, half a dozen of which could scarcely cope with such a vessel as the Gloire, Warrior or Prince.
The first crude European ironclads had seen combat during the Crimean War, but were so underpowered that they were really just floating batteries. The Gloire, Warrior, and Black Prince represented the first generation of armored, ocean-going fighting ships.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

February 4, 1861: Taking stock of the situation and the forts

February 4, 1861 was a quiet turning point in many ways. In Montgomery, Alabama representatives of six of the seven seceded states convened a meeting to draft a provisional constitution for a new confederation of Southern slaveholding states. The representatives from new seceded Texas were still on their way.

In Washington, DC a national peace conference organized by former President John Tyler of Virginia convened in the Willard Hotel. Not everyone was present at this first meeting, but ultimately seven slave states and fourteen free states sent representatives--a total of twenty-one out of thirty-four states. None of the seceded states sent representatives to this meeting of elder (and elderly) statesmen.

Just to the south of this meeting in the Commonwealth of Virginia, voters went to the polls to select delegates to a special convention to consider the question of secession. A total of 145,700 Virginians turned out to elect 152 delegates. Unlike similar conventions in other Southern states, Virginia's convention would contain several genuine Unionists, many of whom hailed from Virginia's northwestern counties.

In Virginia, the Richmond Daily Dispatch paused to take stock of the number of federal forts seized by the seceding states.
Captured Forts.

A few days since we gave a list of the Federal forts situated on the Southern Seaboard. We now give a list of those which have thus far been seized by order of the Governors of the States in which they are respectively located:

Fortifications — Location.Guns.Cost.
Fort Pulaski, Savannah150$923,859
Fort Jackson, Savannah14125,000
Fort Morgan, Mobile1321,212,556
Fort Gaines, Mobile8920,000
Fort Macon. Beaufort, N. C.51460,000
Fort Caswell, Oak Island, N. C.87571,231
Fort Moultrie, Charleston5475,301
Castle Pickney, Charleston2543,809
Fort St. Philip, Louisiana124203,734
Fort Jackson, Louisiana150817,608
Fort Pike, Louisiana49472,901
Fort McComb, Louisiana49447,000
Fort Livingston, Louisiana52342,000
Fort McRae, Florida151384,000
Fort Barrancas, Florida49315,000
Redoubt, Florida26100,000

The following are still in the hands of the Federal authorities:

Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Md.; Fort Washington, on the Potomac, Md.; Fort Monroe, at Old Point Comfort, Va.; Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, S. C.; Key West Barracks, Key West, Fla.; Fort Pickens, Pensacola, Fla.; Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Fla.; Fort Taylor at Key West, and the Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas.
Up to this point, the only casualties have been two Confederate militiamen accidentally shot and killed by their own fellow militiamen.