Friday, April 29, 2011

My Appointment as Federal Marshal

I investigated the prison system in Washington City. My duties as United States Federal Marshal of the Districct of Columbia will include being the prisons’ administrator, feeding and transporting prisoners, and serving whatever other duties were assigned to me by the President. I would get a base salary and then expenses for whatever was needed in the feeding and transporting as needed.
The President wanted me close by in social settings at the White House, especially at times when there would be an important reception or dinner. Being a “social” dandy, I was certainly open to those additional duties. Mr. Lincoln was emphatic, saying that due to the importance of my position, I was not allowed to drink at those functions. That certainly put a damper on my enthusiasm for attending said events.
I also continued to keep an eye on Mr. Lincoln, as his self-appointed bodyguard. Washington City was full of scoundrels, not all of those being held in my jails. There were many southern sympathizers walking the streets, plus unfriendly politicians who had not been enamored by the Lincoln election, plus a whole list of other unsavory characters.  As my wife Sally would have said if she had been here, “this ain’t Paris.”
W. H. Lamon

Friday, April 22, 2011

President Lincoln Suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus

Excitement was mounting in Washington. The first troops arrived to defend the capital on April 18, 1861, a fine group of 400 from the 25th Pennsylvania Volunteers and led by Colonel Henry L. Cake, a newspaper man from Northumberland. The following day, the president received the troubling news that the 6th Massachusetts regiment on its way to Washington City was attacked by a mob while passing through Baltimore, Maryland.  Three soldiers were killed and another eleven were wounded.  The troops fired in retaliation, killing eleven civilians and injuring many more.
As Mr. Lincoln was being pulled in every possible direction, needed here and there to make another split second decision, I tried to shelter him in the bowls of the White House for a few minutes at a time. 
I was sworn in as U.S. Federal Marshal to the District of Columbia, pending approval by the Senate that is not in session. I am to be in charge of the federal prisons and prisoners, and to report directly to Mr. Lincoln.
Today Mr. Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the country. He said he thought it necessary in time of war. He expressed to me that he thought he would be hearing from Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger B. Taney on that subject in the not too distant future.
W. H. Lamon

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Bombardment of Fort Sumter -- The War Starts

April 12, 1861 is a day I will always remember. It was the day I was commissioned as the U.S. Federal Marshal of the District of Columbia. Other probably will also remember the day but for a very different reason.
In the early morning hours, before the sun came up, cannons started the bombardment of Major Anderson and his men at Fort Sumter in the Charleston harbor.  Thirty six hours later, the fort surrendered.  The war had begun.  It was only thirty-nine days into Mr. Lincoln’s presidency.
Mr. Lincoln did not have time to think about what might have been.  His leadership skills were being pressed to the limit. Congress did not meet until the fall. Technically only Congress could declare war.
On April 15, a call went out to all the states to send 75,000 men to help defend the Union. No one thought a war would be long and drawn out. Men were asked to enlist for 90 days. That seemed to me to be all that would be needed.
I personally think the attack on Fort Sumter woke a sleeping Northern population and quickly united them in purpose. The newspapers and the people blamed the South. The North, who seemed to be just hanging around, certain that there would be no war, were suddenly alarmed. Men and boys enlisted from every state to heed the president’s call.
I volunteered to raise a regiment myself. I was going to go into Maryland and try to raise a unit of Virginia boys willing to fight for the North.
W. H. Lamon

Friday, April 8, 2011

the President sent provisions to Fort Sumter -- Knowing the possible repercussions

Mr. Lincoln told me of a ship President Buchanan had sent to Fort Sumter in January, 1861 that was fired on and turned back by the South Carolina troops. That ship, The Star of the West, carried two hundred fifty soldiers to help reinforce Major Anderson’s eighty-five men.
Mr. Lincoln was determined to help Anderson and his men, but took a different tact. On the morning of April 4, 1861, President Lincoln gave the order to send provisions to the fort, and inform Governor Pickens that only provisions, not men, were being sent. That way, whatever Governor Pickens did in response would be deemed a provocative action. If the South fired first, they would be blamed to have started the war.
I was not real sure that Mr. Lincoln was not only counting on that, but that may have even been part of his plan. No matter what the South Carolinians did, Mr. Lincoln would have the upper hand.
Before leaving that meeting, Mr. Lincoln told me that I would be accepting my commission as U.S. Federal Marshal on April 12. I would be serving with him his entire four years as president. And that he wouldn’t actually be starting his job as marshal until July 26.
That evening I relaxed for the first time while in Washington City. I sat in the portico of the White House, within shouting distance of my friend the president, and softly strummed a tune on my banjo.  I thought perhaps the country was going to soon explode into a war, and that this night was perhaps the last time I could take a quite reprieve in preparation for the days ahead.
W. H. Lamon

Friday, April 1, 2011

Passing on the information from Fort Sumter to the President

Upon my return from Charleston, South Carolina and my visit to Fort Sumter, I passed on to Mr. Lincoln everything that I had seen and heard in Charleston.  The information, I could tell, was not comforting to the president. He paced back and forth in front of me, his hands clasp together behind his back, an action I had seen hundreds of times in the courtrooms of Illinois. I knew not to interrupt. 
I had known the man who was president since 1848. I knew that he often asked advice from all those around him, but rarely actually took it. He knew the decision at Charleston rested on his shoulders. He was the president. It was his decision and his alone. He was processing the pros and cons as I watched silently.
I was always amazed by how this man processed information. Thousands of times he asked the advice of the men around him. In court, he sought that input from other lawyers and his law partners. I got the feeling each and every time that it made no difference what that input was. Mr. Lincoln made up his own mind, often in complete opposition to what the majority had told him. Yet more often than not, what he decided on the subject turned out to be the most effective and fair decision.
He continued to march back and forth, negotiating as he did so expertly with others, only this time he appeared to me to be negotiating with himself. He was looking for a way to do what needed to be done while at the same time coming out on top.
It is my humble opinion (and I haven’t been drinking tonight) that before he wore a path in the carpet on the floor, he would figure this whole Fort Sumter out to his advantage.
W. H. Lamon