fort Sumter, S. C., April 4, 1861.
(Received A. G. O., April 6.)
Col. L. Thomas, Adjutant-General U. S. Army:
Colonel: I have the honor to send herewith a report of the circumstances attending a firing yesterday afternoon by the batteries on Morris Island at a schooner bearing our flag, bound from Boston to Savannah, which, erroneously mistaking the lighthouse off this harbor for that of Tybee, and having failed to get a pilot, was entering the harbor.
The remarks made to me by Colonel Lamon, taken in connection with the tenor of newspaper articles, have induced me, as stated in previous communications, to believe that orders would soon be issued for my abandoning this work. When the firing commenced some of my heaviest guns were concealed from their view by planking, and by the time the battery was ready the firing had ceased. I then, acting in strict accordance with the spirit and wording of the orders of the War Department, as communicated to me in the letter from the Secretary of War dated February 23, 1861, determined not to commence firing until I had sent to the vessel and investigated the circumstances.
The accompanying report presents them. Invested by a force so superior that a collision would, in all probability, terminate in the destruction of our force before relief could reach us, with only a few days’ provisions on hand, and with a scanty supply of ammunition, as will be seen by a reference to my letter of February 27, in hourly expectation of receiving definite instructions from the War Department, and with orders so explicit and peremptory as those I am acting under, I deeply regret that I did not feel myself at liberty to resent the insult thus offered to the flag of my beloved country.
I think that proper notification should be given to our merchant vessels of the rigid instructions under which the commanders of these batteries are acting; that they should be notified that they must, as soon as a shot is fired ahead of them, at once round to and communicate with the batteries.
The authorities here are certainly blamable for not having constantly vessels off to communicate instructions to those seeking entrance into this harbor.
Captain Talbot is relieved, of course, by order No. 7, from duty at this post. I avail myself of this opportunity of stating that he has been zealous, intelligent, and active in the discharge of all his duties here, so far as his health permitted him to attempt their performance. I send him on with these despatches, to give the Department an opportunity, if deemed proper, to modify, in consequence of this unfortunate affair, any order they may have sent to me. I will delay obedience thereto until I have time to receive a telegram after Captain Talbot's having reported to the War Department.
I am Colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major, First Artillery, Commanding.
SOURCES: Samuel Wylie Crawford, The Genesis of the Civil War: The Story of Sumter, 1860-1861, p. 378-9