The Crisis over Fort Sumter
Digital History ID 328
By late February, Fort Sumter had become a key symbol of whether the Confederate states exercised sovereignty over their territory. South Carolina demanded that President Buchanan surrender Fort Sumter in exchange for monetary compensation. To the rebels' surprise, he refused. As the following letter from Jefferson Davis makes clear, any decision about forcing the surrender of the fort by force carried profound consequences. Eight slave states in the Upper South remained in the Union. But their stance would clearly depend on the steps that South Carolina and the federal government took toward Fort Sumter.
...A resolution which devolves upon the general government of the Confederate States the duty of getting possession of the Forts now held within our limits by the forces has been adopted and a copy is I am informed to be confidentially sent to you this day.
A letter was shown to me this morning which indicated a purpose on the part of the military to attack Fort Sumter on the 25th of this month--I hope you will be able to prevent the issue of peace or war for the Confederate States from being decided by any other than the authorities constituted to conduct our international relations.
The most ardent and sensitive men should believe that we will not be unmindful or regardless of the rights and honor of South Carolina [to fire the first shots].
The importance of success whenever the attack is made upon a garrison to take one of our forts from the possession of the United States, is too apparent not to be appreciated by even the most heedless, and the technical knowledge necessary to solve the problem of attack and defense which is before you can have only been obtained by much both of military study and experience.
Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute
Additional information: Letter from Jefferson Davis to South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens
Copyright 2021 Digital History