More States Secede, Confederate Government Formed: January and February 1861

150 Years Ago in the Civil War

As the new year began, several southern states began seizing federal military installations as a precaution while the issue of secession was considered. Arsenals were seized in Alabama and Florida.  Alabama took over Forts Morgan and Gaines in Mobile Bay;  Georgia seized Fort Pulaski near Savannah and Florida took over Fort Marion at St. Augustine, all in the first week of the year.  Many more military posts and Federal government properties would be seized in the weeks ahead, and most had been lightly guarded and fell easily to state authorities.

U.S. troops did reinforce Fort Taylor at Key West, Florida, preventing its capture. Also in Florida, Company G of the 1st U.S. Artillery, the force garrisoning the U.S. Navy Yard in Pensacola Bay, left the mainland and assumed a more defensible position in Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. Lieutenant Adam Slemmer, the officer in charge of the Federal troops, refused surrender demands.

Secession picked up steam, with Mississippi becoming the second state to secede on January 9th, followed by Florida on January 10th, and Alabama on January 11th. Delaware considered it, but opted to stay in the Union. Two more states left in January; Georgia on January 19th, and Louisiana on January 26th

On January 9th, the merchant vessel Star of the West arrived at Charleston, South Carolina with supplies and 250 troops for Fort Sumter. The Federal government decided to try sending an unarmed  civilian ship instead of a U.S. Navy ship for resupply and reinforcement of the garrison in the hope of not provoking the South Carolina authorities. It didn’t work. Shots were fired at the ship, and it turned back. There were protests from both sides over the incident.

February opened with a convention in Texas voting in favor of secession by a wide margin. The voters of Texas would make the final decision in a vote on February 23rd; the referendum passed and Texas seceded.

Representatives of the seceded states met in Montgomery, Alabama on February 4th for the purpose of forming a government.  The delegates adapted a provisional constitution on February 8th. And on February 9th, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi was selected to be President of the Confederate States of America on a provisional basis, until an election was held (Davis was elected to a six year term in November).

On February 11th, Jefferson Davis left his Mississippi plantation home on his way to the Confederate capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. In Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln began his journey to Washington DC.  “I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington” Lincoln told the crowd seeing him off at the train station.  Lincoln’s route was well known, and there were several stops along the way. To avoid trouble in pro southern Baltimore, Lincoln changed travel plans, and secretly took a different train into Washington, arriving on February 23rd.

Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the provisional President of the Confederate States on February 18th. He immediately began the work of selecting a cabinet.

In San Antonio, Texas, state authorities seized the United States Arsenal and Barracks on February 16th. Two days later, Major General David Twiggs surrendered all U.S. Army posts and forts in Texas  to the state. A native of Georgia, Twiggs loyalty had been questioned, and the War Department sent another officer to replace him, but Twiggs acted before he could be relieved of command.  His actions were regarded as treason, and Twiggs would be dismissed from the army on March 1st. He accepted a commission as a major general in the Confederate States Army, but served only a few months before retiring at age 71.

Colonel Robert E. Lee, United States Army, passed through San Antonio on his way to Washington just after the Twiggs surrender.  When informed of recent events, Lee was shaken, saying  “Has it come so soon to this?” Indeed, events were occurring rapidly as the divided nation edged closer to Civil War.

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