[Sidenote] Buchanan to Commissioners,
Dec. 31, 1860. W.R. Vol. I.,
You are carefully to avoid every act which would needlessly tend to provoke aggression, and for that reason you are not, without evident and imminent necessity, to take up any position which could be construed into the assumption of a hostile attitude. But you are to hold possession of the forts in this harbor, and if attacked you are to defend yourself to the last extremity. The smallness of your force will not permit you, perhaps, to occupy more than one of the three forts, but an attack on or attempt to take possession of either one of them will be regarded as an act of hostility, and you may then put your command into either of them which you may deem most proper, to increase its power of resistance. You are also authorized to take similar defensive steps whenever you have tangible evidence of a design to proceed to a hostile act.
D.C. BUELL, Assistant
FORT MOULTRIE, S.C., December 11, 1860.
This is in conformity to my instructions to Major Buell.
JOHN B. FLOYD, Secretary of War.
[Sidenote] Doubleday, “Forts Sumter and Moultrie,” p. 51.
Upon mere superficial inspection these instructions disclosed only the then dominant anxiety of the Administration to prevent collision. But if we remember that they were sent to Major Anderson without the President’s knowledge, and without the knowledge of General Scott, and especially if we keep in sight the state of public sentiment of both Charleston and Washington and the paramount official influences which had taken definite shape in the President’s truce, we can easily read between the lines that they were most artfully contrived to lull suspicion while effectually restraining Major Anderson from any act or movement which might check or control the insurrectionary preparations. He must do nothing to provoke aggression; he must take no hostile attitude without evident and imminent necessity; he must not move his troops into Fort Sumter, unless it were attempted to attack or take possession of one of the forts or such a design were tangibly manifested. Practically, when the attempt to seize the vacant forts might come it would be too late to prevent it, and certainly too late to move his own force into either of them. Practically, too, any serious design of that nature would never be permitted to come to his knowledge. Supplement these literal negations and restrictions by the unrecorded verbal explanations and comments said to have been made by Major Buell, by his disapproval of the meager defensive preparations which had been made, such as his declaration that a few loop-holes “would have a tendency to irritate the people,” and we can readily imagine how a faithful officer, whose reiterated calls for help had been refused, felt, that under such instructions, such surroundings, and such neglect “his hands were tied,” and that he and his little command were a foredoomed sacrifice.