"That day there was little change in the business routine of the Executive office. Mr. Lincoln was never liable to sudden excitement or sudden activity.... So while the Sumter telegrams were on every tongue...leading men and officials called to learn or impart the news. The Cabinet, as by common impulse, came together and deliberated. All talk, however, was brief, sententious, formal. Lincoln said but little beyond making inquiries about the current reports and criticizing the probability or accuracy of their details, and went on as usual receiving visitors, listening to suggestions, and signing routine papers throughout the day." Meanwhile the cannon were booming at Charleston. The people came out on the sea-front of the lovely old city and watched the duel of the cannon far down the harbor, and spoke joyously of the great event. They saw the shells of the shore batteries ignite portions of the fortress on the island. They watched the fire of the defenders--driven by the flames into a restricted area--slacken and cease. At last the flag of the Union fluttered down from above Fort Sumter.
When the news flashed over the North, early Sunday morning, April 14th, the tension broke. For many observers then and afterward, the only North discernible that fateful Sabbath was an enraged, defiant, impulsive nation, forgetful for the moment of all its differences, and uniting all its voices in one hoarse cry for vengeance. There seemed to be no other thought. Lincoln gave it formal utterance, that same day, by assembling his Cabinet and drawing up a proclamation which called for 75,000 volunteer troops.
An incident of this day which is as significant historically as any other was on the surface no more than a friendly talk between two men. Douglas called at the White House. For nearly two hours he and Lincoln conferred in private. Hitherto it had been a little uncertain what course Douglas was going to take. In the Senate, though condemning disunion, he had opposed war. Few matters can have troubled Lincoln more deeply than the question which way Douglas's immense influence would be thrown. The question was answered publicly in the newspapers of Monday, April 15th. Douglas announced that while he was still "unalterably opposed to the Administration on all its political issues, he was prepared to sustain the President in the exercise of all his constitutional functions to preserve the Union, and maintain the Government, and defend the federal capital."
There remained of Douglas's life but a few months. The time was filled with earnest speechmaking in support of the Government. He had started West directly following his conference with Lincoln. His speeches in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, were perhaps the greatest single force in breaking up his own following, putting an end to the principle of doing nothing, and forcing every Democrat to come out and show his colors. In Shakespeare's phrase, it was--"Under which king, Bezonian? speak or die!" In Douglas's own phrase: "There can be no neutrals in this war; ONLY PATRIOTS--OR TRAITORS."
Side by side with Douglas's manifesto to the Democrats there appeared in the Monday papers Lincoln's call for volunteers. The militia of several Northern States at once responded.
On Wednesday, the 17th of April, the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment entrained for Washington. Two days later it was in Baltimore. There it was attacked by a mob; the soldiers fired; and a number of civilians were killed as well as several soldiers.
These shots at Baltimore aroused the Southern party in Maryland. Led by the Mayor of the city, they resolved to prevent the passage of other troops across their State to Washington. Railway tracks were torn up by order of the municipal authorities, and bridges were burnt. The telegraph was cut. As in a flash, after issuing his proclamation, Lincoln found himself isolated at Washington with no force but a handful of troops and the government clerks. And while Maryland rose against him on one side, Virginia joined his enemies on the other. The day the Sixth Massachusetts left Boston, Virginia seceded. The Virginia militia were called to their colors. Preparations were at once set on foot for the seizure of the great federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry and the Navy Yard at Norfolk. The next day a handful of federal troops, fearful of being overpowered at Harper's Ferry, burned the arsenal and withdrew to Washington. For the same reason the buildings of the great Navy Yard were blown up or set on fire, and the ships at anchor were sunk. So desperate and unprepared were the Washington authorities that they took these extreme measures to keep arms and ammunition out of the hands of the Virginians. So hastily was the destruction carried out, that it was only partially successful and at both places large stores of ammunition were seized by the Virginia troops. While Washington was isolated, and Lincoln did not know what response the North had made to his proclamation, Robert E. Lee, having resigned his commission in the federal army, was placed in command of the Virginia troops.
The secretaries of Lincoln have preserved a picture of his desperate anxiety, waiting, day after day, for relief from the North which he hoped would speedily come by sea. Outwardly he maintained his self-control. "But once, on the afternoon of the 23d, the business of the day being over, the Executive office being deserted, after walking the floor alone in silent thought for nearly half an hour, he stopped and gazed long and wistfully out of the window down the Potomac in the direction of the expected ships; and, unconscious of other presence in the room, at length broke out with irrepressible anguish in the repeated exclamation, "Why don't they come! Why don't they come!"