-- Aftermath --

Thursday April 17, 1861

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The Powhatan Steams into Pensacola

During the early morning hours of April 17, while the reinforcement of Fort Pickens was underway, the Powhatan arrived on the scene. It had been delayed by "heavy gales, head winds, and defective boilers." Lieutenant Porter disguised his vessel as an English steamer and, flying English colors and burning English coal, determined to "run the gantlet" into Pensacola Harbor.

Colonel Brown, recognizing the Powhatan, sent Meigs to stop Porter, whose mission now interfered with the reinforcement of the fort and might even precipitate an unwanted battle. With Porter ignoring signals obviously intended for him, Meigs placed a ship in Porter's path and blocked his entry into the harbor. Informing Porter that present circumstances rendered it imperative that he discontinue his course, Meigs brought the Powhatan to anchor near the Atlantic. In this manner, Meigs wrote, "I stopped this gallant officer, bent on a desperate deed of self-sacrifice and devotion to his country."

A few days later, Porter sent a letter to Washington explaining that he had been prevented from carrying out his orders. The letter was addressed, not to the secretary of the navy, but to Secretary of State Seward, who was requested to place the information before President Lincoln.

Bibliography: OR, pp. 396-97; ORN, pp. 122-24, 143; Nicolay and Hay, Lincoln, 4: 16-17; Crawford, Genesis of the Civil War, pp. 415-16.

Southern Responses

[Stars and Bars] On April 17, as Fort Pickens was being reinforced, the Virginia convention adopted an ordinance of secession. On a first vote, the tally stood 88-55, but once the issue was decided, a second vote was taken which yielded a margin of 103-46 in favor of joining the Confederacy. The following month, three other states of the upper South followed Virginia out of the Union, Arkansas (May 6), Tennessee (May 7), and North Carolina (May 20).

In Montgomery on April 17, Jefferson Davis responded to Lincoln's proclamation by inviting applications for letters of marque and reprisal, which permitted privateers to prey upon the commerce of the United States. Richard N. Current considers Davis's proclamation as amounting to a declaration of war.

Two days later, on April 19, partly to offset Davis's action, Lincoln issued another proclamation, which held that privateering would be considered piracy. It also established a blockade of southern ports from South Carolina through Texas. A second proclamation on April 27, applied the blockade to Virginia and North Carolina as well. The Supreme Court later considered Lincoln's proclamations of blockade as the legal beginning of the Civil War.


Bibliography: Current, Lincoln and the First Shot, pp. 162-65; Randall and Donald, Civil War, pp. 180-89, 275; Nicolay and Hay, Lincoln, 4: 88-89.

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