The President has done me the honor to propose certain military questions, concerning Fort Sumter to which he desires replies.
“1st.” To what point of time can Major Anderson maintain his position at Fort Sumter without fresh supplies or reinforcements?
Answer. In respect to subsistence he has bread, flour, and rice for about 26 days, and salt meat (pork) for about forty eight days. Without additional supplies of provisions he may hold out some forty days without much suffering from hunger.
The besiegers are understood to be about 3,500 men, now somewhat disciplined, and they have four powerful batteries on land, and one floating battery, all mounting guns and mortars of large calibre and of the best patterns, bearing on Fort Sumter. Supposing Major Anderson not to be reinforced and the means of the assailants to be skilfully and vigorously employed – Fort Sumter being defended by less than 100 men, including common laborers and musicians – it might be taken, at any time, by a single assault, and easily, if previously harassed, perseveringly, for many days and nights; the assailants having the ability (by the force of numbers) of converting one out of every three or four of those demonstrations, into a real attack.
“2d.” Can you, with all the means now in your control, supply or reinforce Fort Sumter within the period you specify as the time, within which Major Anderson may hold out without fresh supplies?”
Answer. No, not within many months; But not to speak of October or November, when the proposition was first made, and repeated, in writing, the third time, December 30th – it would have been easy to reinforce Fort Sumter, with war vessels, down to about the 12th of February. In this long delay, twice that time, Fort Moultrie has been re-armed and greatly strengthened, in every way, and many powerful new land batteries (besides rafts) have been constructed. Hulks have also been sunk in the principal channel, so as to render access to Fort Sumter, from the sea, impractical, without first carrying all the batteries of the secessionists. The difficulty of reinforcing has thus, by delay, been increased 1 or 12 fold. First, the late President refused to allow any attempt to be made, because he was holding negotiations with South Carolina Commissioners. Afterwards, Secretary Holt and myself endeavored to obtain a ship of war for the purpose; but failing in this we were obliged to employ the steamer Star of the West. That vessel, but for the hesitation of the commander, might then have landed, it is generally believed, men and subsistence. That attempt having failed, I next, before the late Cabinet, submitted, orally, either that succor be sent by ships of war, fighting their way to the Fort, or, that Major Anderson should ameliorate his condition by the muzzles of his guns; that is, enforcing supplies by bombardment, and by bringing-to merchant vessels and helping himself (giving orders for payment) or else should be allowed to surrender, as, sooner or later, had then become inevitable.
But before any resolution was taken – the late Secretary of the Navy making difficulties about the want of suitable vessels; – another commissioner from South Carolina arrived, causing further delay. When that had passed away, Secretaries Holt & Toucy, Capt. Ward of the Navy and myself, with the knowledge of President Buchanan, settled upon the employment, under the Captain (who was eager for the expedition) of four or more small steamers belonging to the Coast Survey.- At that time, I have no doubt Captain Ward would have suceeded with all his vessels. But he was kept back by something like a truce established between the late President and a number of principal seceders, here, in the Senate, & from South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana &c., and this truce continued to the termination of that administration. That plan and all others like it, are now pronounced, from the change of circumstances, impracticable, by Major Anderson Captain Foster and all the other officers of the Fort, as well as by Brig. General Totten, Chief of the Corps of Engineers: and, in this opinion, I fully concur. The three or four steamers would have been obliged to attempt to make their way past the hostile batteries in an obstructed channel. Possibly one of them might have reached the fort, with (being small) a few days subsistence, but would, certainly probably, have been destroyed on arriving at the entrance (by the concentrated fire of three or four powerful batteries), before landing a man or a ration. In this opinion Captain Ward finally concurred.
“3d.” If I could not supply or reinforce Fort Sumter, within the time specified, with all the means in my control, then what amount of means and of what description, in addition to that already at my control, would enable me to supply and reinforce the fortress within that time.”
Answer. I should need a fleet of war vessels and transports which, in the scattered disposition of the Navy (as understood) could not be collected in less than four months; – 5,000 additional regular troops, and 20,000 volunteers – that is, a force sufficient to take all the batteries both in the harbour (including Ft. Moultrie) as well as in the approach or outer bay. To raise, organize and discipline such an army (not to speak of necessary legislation by Congress, not now in session) would require from six to eight months. As a practical military question, the time for succoring Fort Sumter, with any means at hand, had passed away nearly a month ago. Since then a surrender under assault, or from starvation, has been merely a question of time.
It is, therefore, my opinion and advice that Major Anderson be instructed to evacuate the Fort – so long gallantly held by him and his companions – immediately on procuring suitable water transportation, and that he embark, with his command, for New York.
I have the honor to return, herewith, the reports and communications of Major Anderson and his officers, submitted to me by the President. These papers of themselves demonstrate how the Fort has become untenable during the delays I have described above.
Head Qrs. of the Army
Washington, March 12, 1861.
SOURCE: Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.