On April 1, 1861, Secretary of State William H. Seward telegraphed George William Summers, a Unionist member of the Virginia Convention, to visit President Abraham Lincoln. Several Unionist delegates sent John Brown Baldwin to meet secretly with Lincoln in Summers's stead. Meeting with the president on April 4, Baldwin urged him not to take any action that would provoke a violent response. Shortly afterward, former Virginia congressman John Minor Botts, one of the state's most outspoken Unionists, also met with Lincoln to urge him to take no provocative action. Unfortunately, later accounts related by the participants in those meetings contain serious differences, and it is not possible to know precisely what they said to Lincoln or what he said to them. On April 8, the convention appointed a three-man delegation to meet with Lincoln to determine his policies toward the states that had seceded. The three delegates arrived in Washington, D.C., on April 12, when events outside of Virginia had begun to force the crisis to its conclusion. Early that morning, in Charleston, South Carolina, Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter after Lincoln attempted to resupply it by ship. The next day, the United States Army officer in command surrendered the fort. Lincoln then called up 75,000 militiamen from all of the states to suppress the rebellion.
Men in South Carolina took the first step toward war, and on April 12, 1861, before the Virginia convention's delegation could confer with Lincoln about his policies toward the seceded states, Confederate artillerists in Charleston opened fire on Fort Sumter after Lincoln attempted to resupply the garrison there.
After the surrender of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 militiamen to put down what he described as a rebellion against the authority of the federal government.