If Abraham Lincoln made a choice that he knew might risk war in 1861 when he decided to resupply the garrison at Fort Sumter, Jefferson Davis made a choice that ensured the commencement of hostilities. There were alternatives before him. He could have allowed Fort Sumter to be resupplied; he might have ordered the commander of Confederate forces at Charleston, Pierre G. T. Beauregard, to fire on the relief expedition; or he could choose (as he did) to authorize firing on Fort Sumter itself. The first choice would have prolonged the stalemate in Charleston Harbor; the second would have been a repeat of the Star of the West incident in January 1861, when South Carolinians fired upon a vessel approaching Sumter to resupply and reinforce the garrison; the third was clearly the most provocative and confrontational response.
Much is made of the notion that Lincoln somehow forced Davis’s hand. Continue reading