The traitor Floyd took great pains to put the United States forts in Charleston harbor into the hands of the South Carolinians, without expense of men or money. For this purpose he refused the constant entreaties of Colonel John L. Gardner, the officer in command at Fort Moultrie, for troops. Just at the time the danger was becoming imminent, he sent, instead of soldiers for defence, a body of laborers, who, under the direction of an engineer, were orddered to repair the fort in such a way and at such a time as to render the fort defenceless against the seceders. These laborers were to be fed from the supplies at the fort. This made it necessary to purchase provisions in Charleston from week to week, so that, in the event of a siege, the garrison would be starved out in a few days. By desperate efforts the repairs were finished in such a way that the forty-five men in the fort could make some defence; but being dependent on Charleston for food, the South Carolinians and Floyd well knew that the fort was completely in their power whenever they should see fit to cut off supplies from the city.
In this dilemma Colonel Gardner practised the piece of strategy which finally enabled Anderson to hold the fort and make his defence. Colonel G. wrote to an old friend, the chief of the commissary department, to send him provisions for one hundred men for six months; at the same time significantly hinting to him that he could obey this requisition in the ordinary discretionary routine of his duty without consulting with the Secretary of War. He added also the further request that the transport should be ordered to land her cargo at Fort Moultrie immediately on her arrival in the harbor, and before she should go to Charleston. The patriotic commissary officer, Colonel Taylor, the brother of the late President Taylor, understood the hint conveyed, and the reason for it, and took the responsibility of acting on Colonel Gardner’s requisition. The provisions were thus safely landed at Fort Moultrie, the traitor Secretary being not a whit the wiser for the operation. These were the provisions which were gradually carried over to Fort Sumter in the engineer’s boats, and supported Major Anderson and his gallant command during the memorable siege. Floyd, not knowing the ruse that had been played upon him by Colonel Gardner, expected every day that hunger would do the business for the little garrison, which he intended to hand over, bound hand and foot, to the enemy.
While these matters were going on, Floyd sent down a young officer to look after the carrying out of his plans, and to represent to Colonel G., by various indirect processes, the Secretary’s idea of an officer’s duty in command at Fort Moultrie. Colonel Gardner had reported to the Secretary that, though he had but one man for each great gun, he was determined to defend the place to the utmost against whatever force should be sent against it. Floyd’s spy found Colonel Gardner’s men at work day and night adding to the defences of the place. He found even the brick quarters within the fort loopholed for a stand with musketry, in case of an escalade by a sudden rush of a large number of men. All this was evidently directly the opposite of the Secretary’s policy, as represented in various indirect ways by the officer whom he had sent. He was shown all the preparations for a desperate defence, which Colonel Gardner had made, and was told that they would be used against any force which should march from Charleston, as soon as they came within range of the guns. He was, moreover, requested to tell the Secretary all that he had seen and heard. The consequence was, that the commandant, disposed to do his duty too well, was suspended, and an officer of Kentucky birth, who had married in Georgia, was put in command.
From Major Anderson’s birth and connections Floyd evidently supposed that he had obtained a pliant tool for his purposes. A few days’ observation convinced Major Anderson that he had been sent there to sacrifice his honor, and that he could save it only by carrying out the desperate measures of defence already begun by Colonel Gardner. The retreat to Fort Sumter, its repair, its siege, and bombardment were the natural sequel. All these events, so important already in history, turned upon the ruse by which Colonel Gardner’s requisition for provisions was met by Colonel Taylor and kept secret from Floyd. This is a scrap of history well worth remembering, and is given on the best of authority.