On March 25, 1861, the Senate, meeting in special session, agreed to a resolution introduced by Kentucky Senator Lazarus Powell requesting that the new president, Abraham Lincoln, furnish the Senate with the dispatches of Major Robert Anderson. Anderson was in command of Fort Sumter, one of only two forts remaining in Union possession within the seven states comprising the newly formed Confederacy. With supplies at the fort rapidly dwindling, Lincoln faced the imminent decision of reinforcing Anderson or evacuating the fort.
"The reputation of Major Anderson–a bold and gallant officer of my own State–has been assailed by newspaper articles that claim to be predicated upon his dispatches," Powell complained to his colleagues after the president rejected the Senate's request. "I wished those dispatches to be published, in order that he might be vindicated." When the Senate adjourned from their special session on March 28, the president had not yet determined how he would respond to the crisis at Fort Sumter.
On the morning of April 12, Confederates opened fire on the fort, and the Civil War commenced.