-- Hesitation and Decision --

Thursday March 21, 1861

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Commentary: Lamon's Activities

Whereas Hurlbut carried out his mission with little publicity, Lamon drew a crowd. His memoirs relate that when news spread "that a great Goliath from the North," a "Lincoln-hireling," had come to Charleston, a riot almost ensued. A mob collected at his hotel and threatened to hang him. It was only dispersed when a South Carolina congressman and friend of Lamon happened by and calmed the crowd.

Lamon clearly conveyed to officials the idea that Sumter was to be shortly abandoned. General Beauregard stated on March 26, that Lamon left Charleston "saying that Major Anderson and command would soon be withdrawn from Fort Sumter in a satisfactory manner." Lamon's visit to Major Anderson also reinforced the commander's expectation that he would soon be withdrawn. Anderson wrote that "since the return of Colonel Lamon to Washington," he had been expecting daily to receive orders to vacate Sumter.

It is highly unlikely that Lamon was reflecting the wishes of President Lincoln or that he had been instructed to mislead Charleston authorities about the administration's intentions. More probable is that Lamon acted impulsively on his own growing conviction that it would be best immediately to evacuate Sumter. The historian Allan Nevins describes Lamon as "a big, loquacious bumbler of more self-assurance than discretion."

Because Lamon promoted the idea that Sumter would be abandoned, some historians have raised the possibility that he was acting on behalf of Seward, the leading administration advocate of withdrawal. Kenneth M. Stampp asserts that Lamon "was close to Seward" and expected that Seward's policy would prevail. Richard N. Current states that Lamon "was acting more as Seward's agent than as Lincoln's," and David M. Potter suggests that Seward might have encouraged Lamon to say that the fort would be evacuated.

There is no conclusive evidence, however, that Seward had a hand in Lamon's mission. It is known only that Lamon corresponded with Seward and agreed with Seward's thinking. As for Lincoln, he disavowed Lamon's assurances as soon as he learned of them on April 1. Finally, it should not be assumed that Lamon's expressions had a measurable effect on Confederate policy. Regardless of Lamon's statements, General Beauregard informed his superiors that he was continuing with his "offensive and defensive batteries."

Bibliography: Nevins, War for the Union, 1: 49, 54; Stampp, And the War Came, p. 277n; Current, Lincoln and the First Shot, p. 73; Potter, Lincoln and His Party, pp. 340-41; Rhodes, History, 3: 336; OR, pp. 230, 282; Bancroft, Seward, 2: 107, 130; Lamon, Recollections, pp. 68-79.

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