Friday, March 25, 2011

My Visit with Major Anderson at Fort Sumter

I arrived by train at the station in Charleston, South Carolina the morning of March 24, 1864. What I thought was to be a “secret” mission wasn’t quite what I thought. The first newspaper I picked up announced that Colonel Lamon was arriving from Washington City. (I am often called Colonel as just before I let Illinois the governor named me Colonel of a local Zouaves unit, an honorary title, for sure.)
The next morning I met with Governor Francis Perkins. I anticipated a give-and-take conversation. That’s not what happened at all. Governor Perkins informed me that “Nothing can prevent a war except acquiescence of the president of the United States in secession and his unalterable resolve not to attempt the reinforcement of the Southern forts. To think of South Carolina remaining any longer in the Union is simple preposterous. We have five thousand well-armed soldiers around this city. All the states are arming with great rapidity. This means war with all its consequences. Let your president attempt to reinforce Fort Sumter, and the tocsin of war will be sounded from every hill and valley.”
For once in my life, I had mostly “no comment.” I did ask to see Major Anderson. Governor Pickens provided me with a pass and an escort (which I could have done without) and passage on board the steamer Planter.  Major Anderson presented his situation as “tenuous”. He said that he and his 85 men would have to surrender within a month even if no shots were fired, because they would be out of food.
Upon returning to shore, I actually did meet with Mr. Huger, the postmaster, to act on the guise of my travel there.    
It was my intent in returning to Washington City, to inform the president that Major Anderson either had to be reinforced or evacuated.
W. H. Lamon

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Assignment to Visit South Carolina for the President

It seemed with each passing day, that war was imminent.  Mr. Lincoln polled his Cabinet members as to what their thoughts were on the situation at Fort Sumter in the Charleston, South Carolina harbor.
On the morning of March 16, 1861, Mr. Lincoln called me into his office.  He said the Cabinet couldn’t decide what needed to be done and on top of that, General Winfield Scott didn’t have the men to reinforce the fort. Scott recommended Mr. Lincoln abandon the fort.
Mr. Lincoln told me he needed me to travel to Charleston to be his “eyes and ears” and to assess the situation up close.  He made it quite clear that I was not to speak for him.
He ended our conversation with the following: “Hill, if Major Anderson evacuates Fort Sumter, then I shall have to evacuate the White House.” I think he said that because he wanted me to get the directions straight.
I was to carry a pass indicating that I had business with the postal authorities in Charleston. That was a guise. I was actually scheduled to meet with South Carolina Governor Pickens and even try to see Major Anderson at the fort. My duties were information gathering only. He made it very clear. I understood the assignment. And I prepared to leave.

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Appointment as U.S. Federal Marshal

I got a few minutes by myself following the Inauguration, and wandered the streets of the nation’s capital seeking a place to live.  I decided to seek a rental unit for now, because my wife Sallie was still pouting that she wasn’t able to go to Paris. I wasn’t sure what Paris looked like, but I am sure she would not be impressed by Washington City.
When I met with Mr. Lincoln, he told me that I was to be the United States Federal Marshal of the District of Columbia.  My job, he said, would include having authority over the jails and prisons and being the host of many of the town’s social functions. I would get a fair salary and would be allowed to enhance that with monies derived from transporting and feeding the prisoners. Best of all, Mr. Lincoln would be my sole supervisor. I would report directly to him, with no one else in the way. He assured me that he would also use me for “whatever was needed at the time”.
Not everyone was thrilled with me becoming U.S. Federal Marshal. Local politicians opposed the appointment because I was not a resident of the District. My hometown newspaper, the Bloomington  Pantagraph supported me, by saying in an editorial “Hill will make a good Marshal, we have no doubt. We believe was have never heard of his attempting anything he didn’t accomplish.”
The Washington Bar organization produced over 140 signatures supporting my appointment.
Mr. Lincoln, realizing that every federal job would now turn over since his was the first Republican administration, opened the White House to anyone and everyone. Lines formed as people filed in to see him all day, every day.  I urged that he let me at least check their persons for weapons, but Mr. Lincoln nixed the idea. “People of this country,” he reminded me, “have the right to bear arms.” Yes, but that being true, didn’t make my life any easier.
W. H. Lamon

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Inaguration of President Lincoln

The Inauguration on March 4, 1861 was another logistical nightmare.  Benjamin French asked me to be an assistant marshal for the event. Our job was to work with General Winfield Scott to use all the resources that we could muster to insure that no one would disrupt the ceremony.  That entailed posting sharp shooters on the roofs of buildings, having military personnel, some in uniform and others in civilian clothes, guarding the intersections and standing both on and in front of the platform where the president would speak.
Cavalry were assigned in front, in back and alongside the carriage that carried Mr. Lincoln and President Buchanan to the capitol.  I was uncomfortable with all the potentially disastrous situations. I was serious about being aware and alert and even took the day off from my usual proclivity toward alcoholic beverages.
Fortunately, the day went off without a hitch. Mr. Lincoln seemed comfortable with the new responsibility. Mrs. Lincoln took me aside and asked me if I remembered that she had predicted, probably a dozen years ago, that Mr. Lincoln would someday be President.  I certainly do remember.  She had told me, “He is to be President of the United States someday. If I had not thought so I never would have married him.”  
The day ended with the Inaugural Ball. I was exhausted, but encouraged that our intense planning had made the event safe for the chief executive.
The newspaper reporter writing about the event, mentioned that the presidential carriage was guarded by a cavalry troop that included “a giant, garbed in a coat of military cut, with two pistols and a bowie knife in his sash of red, mounted on a splendid horse in the center of the guards in the rear of the vehicle.”  The man he was describing was me.
W. H. Lamon