More Fort Sumter Machinations

Clip from Ken Burns’ Civil War series

There had seemed to be double-dealing by William Seward, Secretary of State under President Abraham Lincoln, regarding whether Fort Sumter should be reinforced and re-supplied. Then Seward had one more trick hidden up his sleeve. (Background: “Fort Sumter Machinations”, Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry of March 22, 2013)

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, kept a diary during his time as a member of Lincoln’s Cabinet, and beyond then until 1869. Welles tells us that William Seward was not happy about Lincoln’s decision to re-supply and reinforce Fort Sumter. But the President went ahead anyway and consulted Gideon Welles about a naval expedition to relieve the Fort. The steam frigate Powhatan, the Pawnee, the Harriet Lane, and other vessels “were ordered to be in readiness for sea service on or before the 6th of April [1861] with one month’s stores on board. These preparatory orders were given on the 30th of March.”

But then, on April 1st (April Fools Day), Gideon Welles received a large package from President Lincoln. Welles opened the package “and found it contained several papers of a singular character, in the nature of instructions, or orders from the Executive in relation to naval matters, and one in reference to the government of the Navy Department more singular and remarkable than either of the others. This extraordinary document was as follows:”

The gist of the “extraordinary document” signed by Abraham Lincoln was (1) the home squadron, commanded by Captain Garrett Pendergrast, was to remain at Vera Cruz, Mexico; (2) Commander Silas Stringham, commanding a different portion of the home squadron, was ordered to hurry off to Pensacola, Florida; (3) a Captain Samuel Barron would be Commander Stringham’s replacement in Washington City.

These orders seemed strange to Gideon Welles so he immediately went to see President Lincoln. “He was alone in his office and, raising his head from the table at which he was writing, inquired, ‘What have I done wrong?'” Welles informed the President about the package he had just received and called his attention to the “extraordinary document” in particular. President Lincoln “expressed as much surprise as I felt,” wrote Gideon Welles in his diary, “that he had sent me such a document. He said Mr. Seward, with two or three young men, had been there through the day on a subject which he (Seward) had in hand, and which he had been some time maturing; that it was Seward’s specialty, to which he, the President, had yielded, but as it involved considerable details, he had left Mr. Seward to prepare the necessary papers. These papers he had signed, many of them without reading, – for he had not time, and if he could not trust the Secretary of State, he knew not whom he could trust.”

As for the Captain Samuel Barron who had been inadvertently approved as Commander Stringham’s replacement, Gideon Welles did not trust Barron and told Lincoln so. Barron was to have been the “detailing officer” of the Navy Department, a sensitive post. Welles informed Lincoln that this Captain Barron was sympathetic to the Secessionists, “that he belonged to a clique of exclusives, most of whom were tainted with secession notions…”

Lincoln only had a vague recollection of this Captain Barron. The President did remember that Seward had been whispering in his ear words favorable to the name. But Captain Barron was a favorite of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy!

And indeed, looking elsewhere than Gideon Welles’ diary, we find the good Captain Samuel Barron, secretly promoted by Union Secretary of State William Seward, to have wound up as a Confederate States naval officer! (


About ersjdamoo

Editor of Conspiracy Nation, later renamed Melchizedek Communique. Close associate of the late Sherman H. Skolnick. Jack of all trades, master of none. Sagittarius, with Sagittarius rising. I'm not a bum, I'm a philosopher.
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