From the Archives: A Letter Written to Robert C. Winthrop from Fort Sumter
While looking through the Winthrop Family Papers for poetry written by Theodore Winthrop, one of the first soldiers killed in the Civil war, Stephen T. Riley Librarian Peter Drummey came across a remarkable letter that Robert Anderson, the commander of Fort Sumter, wrote to Robert C. Winthrop just after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. Writing just a month before Confederate batteries opened fire on the fort, Anderson thanks Winthrop for praising his refusal to surrender Fort Sumter to the Confederate forces. He predicts that the fort can not be resupplied and that a “patricidal” war will ensue. Anderson recollects that he had met Winthrop in Boston when Gen. Winfield Scott was on his way to Maine. Anderson, who had been Scott’s aide, believed that if Scott had been in the “Presidential Chair,” the Civil War could have been avoided. In August 1861, Winthrop received a second letter from Anderson—who had been quickly promoted to the rank of brigadier general—thanking Winthrop for the gift of a Bible as a token of thanks for Anderson’s service.
Robert Charles Winthrop (1809-1894) was a sixth-generation descendant of Gov. John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Winthrop read law with Daniel Webster and represented Massachusetts in the United States House of Representatives, where he was the Speaker of the House from 1847 to 1849, and Senate. A Unionist, but not an abolitionist, Winthrop was a celebrated public speaker and active philanthropist. He was a Member of the Massachusetts Historical Society for 55 years and served as President of the Society from 1855 to 1885. He assembled and donated large portions of the Society’s extraordinary collection of Winthrop family papers.
Fort Sumter, S. C.
March 8. 181
Hon. Robt. C. Winthrop
My Dear Sir:
Accept my sincere thanks for the kind and complimentary manner in which, you allude to me, in your glorious letter to the Union Meeting at Troy— Would to God, that our people; in every part of our Country, were imbued with the patriotic sentiments which fill your heart— then, soon, very soon, by the blessing of God, would the dark Clouds, which now obscure our vision and chill our hopes, be dispelled, and “Peace Liberty and Union” return, and unfurl, once (more)
more, and I trust, forever, the glorious Stars and Stripes over a united and happy people. The prospect looks to us here, very gloomy. The Inaugural, as understood by these people, confirms them in the opinion, that there will be bloodshed— I do not yet despond— but confess that war seems, to me, inevitable if the President intends keeping possession of this work, and collecting the revenue— Our provisions can not be made to last many weeks longer— the Southern Confederacy will not permit supplies of any kind to enter without a fight— and the approaches to this harbor are so perfectly guarded by batteries, well situated and strongly armed, that an entrance can only be effected (after)
after a bloody and well contested battle. Vessels will be under fire, from the time they cross the bar— and all the cannels may be closed— until they reach this work— and, even then, they would e within range of the guns of some of the batteries which have been constructed to pour their shot upon us. I hope that God will have mercy upon us, and spare us from a patricidal war— My trust is in Him; as I feel that in the complications, in which we are entangled. He, and He, only, can save us from the ruin our own doings are bringing upon us— Your are correct in saying that you think you (saw)
saw me when our friend Genl. Scott was on his way to Maine— as I remember, then, to have had the pleasure of seeing you— Had the Genl. been in the Presidential Chair, our country, by God’s blessing, would not have been in the sad condition in which it is now. Again thanking you for your kind message of greeting, in these troublous times, and wishing you every blessing.
I am, Sir,
Very Sincerely Your friend