Two days later the President formally authorized General Scott to suspend the writ of habeas corpus along his military lines, or in their vicinity, if resistance should render it necessary. Arrivals of additional troops enabled the General to strengthen his military hold on Annapolis and the railroads; and on May 13 General B.F. Butler, with about one thousand men, moved into Baltimore and established a fortified camp on Federal Hill, the bulk of his force being the Sixth Massachusetts, which had been mobbed in that city on April 19. Already, on the previous day, the bridges and railroad had been repaired, and the regular transit of troops through the city reestablished.
Under these changing conditions the secession majority of the Maryland legislature did not venture on any official treason. They sent a committee to interview the President, vented their hostility in spiteful reports and remonstrances, and prolonged their session by a recess. Nevertheless, so inveterate was their disloyalty and plotting against the authority of the Union, that four months later it became necessary to place the leaders under arrest, finally to head off their darling project of a Maryland secession ordinance.
One additional incident of this insurrectionary period remains to be noticed. One John Merryman, claiming to be a Confederate lieutenant, was arrested in Baltimore for enlisting men for the rebellion, and Chief Justice Taney of the United States Supreme Court, the famous author of the Dred Scott decision, issued a writ of habeas corpus to obtain his release from Fort McHenry. Under the President's orders, General Cadwalader of course declined to obey the writ. Upon this, the chief justice ordered the general's arrest for contempt, but the officer sent to serve the writ was refused entrance to the fort. In turn, the indignant chief justice, taking counsel of his passion instead of his patriotism, announced dogmatically that "the President, under the Constitution and laws of the United States, cannot suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, nor authorize any military officer to do so"; and some weeks afterward filed a long written opinion in support of this dictum. It is unnecessary here to quote the opinions of several eminent jurists who successfully refuted his labored argument, nor to repeat the vigorous analysis with which, in his special message to Congress of July 4, President Lincoln vindicated his own authority.
While these events were occurring in Maryland and Virginia, the remaining slave States were gradually taking sides, some for, others against rebellion. Under radical and revolutionary leadership similar to that of the cotton States, the governors and State officials of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas placed their States in an attitude of insurrection, and before the middle of May practically joined them to the Confederate government by the formalities of military leagues and secession ordinances.
But in the border slave States—that is, those contiguous to the free States—the eventual result was different. In these, though secession intrigue and sympathy were strong, and though their governors and State officials favored the rebellion, the underlying loyalty and Unionism of the people thwarted their revolutionary schemes. This happened even in the northwestern part of Virginia itself. The forty-eight counties of that State lying north of the Alleghanies and adjoining Pennsylvania and Ohio repudiated the action at Richmond, seceded from secession, and established a loyal provisional State government. President Lincoln recognized them and sustained them with military aid; and in due time they became organized and admitted to the Union as the State of West Virginia. In Delaware, though some degree of secession feeling existed, it was too insignificant to produce any note-worthy public demonstration.
In Kentucky the political struggle was deep and prolonged. The governor twice called the legislature together to initiate secession proceedings; but that body refused compliance, and warded off his scheme by voting to maintain the State neutrality. Next, the governor sought to utilize the military organization known as the State Guard to effect his object. The Union leaders offset this movement by enlisting several volunteer Union regiments. At the June election nine Union congressmen were chosen, and only one secessionist; while in August a new legislature was elected with a three-fourths Union majority in each branch. Other secession intrigues proved equally abortive; and when, finally, in September, Confederate armies invaded Kentucky at three different points, the Kentucky legislature invited the Union armies of the West into the State to expel them, and voted to place forty thousand Union volunteers at the service of President Lincoln.
In Missouri the struggle was more fierce, but also more brief. As far back as January, the conspirators had perfected a scheme to obtain possession, through the treachery of the officer in charge, of the important Jefferson Barracks arsenal at St. Louis, with its store of sixty thousand stand of arms and a million and a half cartridges. The project, however, failed. Rumors of the danger came to General Scott, who ordered thither a company of regulars under command of Captain Nathaniel Lyon, an officer not only loyal by nature and habit, but also imbued with strong antislavery convictions. Lyon found valuable support in the watchfulness of a Union Safety Committee composed of leading St. Louis citizens, who secretly organized a number of Union regiments recruited largely from the heavy German population; and from these sources Lyon was enabled to make such a show of available military force as effectively to deter any mere popular uprising to seize the arsenal.
A State convention, elected to pass a secession ordinance, resulted, unexpectedly to the conspirators, in the return of a majority of Union delegates, who voted down the secession program and adjourned to the following December. Thereupon, the secession governor ordered his State militia into temporary camps of instruction, with the idea of taking Missouri out of the Union by a concerted military movement. One of these encampments, established at St. Louis and named Camp Jackson in honor of the governor, furnished such unquestionable evidences of intended treason that Captain Lyon, whom President Lincoln had meanwhile authorized to enlist ten thousand Union volunteers, and, if necessary, to proclaim martial law, made a sudden march upon Camp Jackson with his regulars and six of his newly enlisted regiments, stationed his force in commanding positions around the camp, and demanded its surrender. The demand was complied with after but slight hesitation, and the captured militia regiments were, on the following day, disbanded under parole. Unfortunately, as the prisoners were being marched away a secession mob insulted and attacked some of Lyon's regiments and provoked a return fire, in which about twenty persons, mainly lookers-on, were killed or wounded; and for a day or two the city was thrown into the panic and lawlessness of a reign of terror.
Upon this, the legislature, in session at Jefferson City, the capital of the State, with a three-fourths secession majority, rushed through the forms of legislation a military bill placing the military and financial resources of Missouri under the governor's control. For a month longer various incidents delayed the culmination of the approaching struggle, each side continuing its preparations, and constantly accentuating the rising antagonism. The crisis came when, on June 11, Governor Jackson and Captain Lyon, now made brigadier-general by the President, met in an interview at St. Louis. In this interview the governor demanded that he be permitted to exercise sole military command to maintain the neutrality of Missouri, while Lyon insisted that the Federal military authority must be left in unrestricted control. It being impossible to reach any agreement, Governor Jackson hurried back to his capital, burning railroad bridges behind him as he went, and on the following day, June 12, issued his proclamation calling out fifty thousand State militia, and denouncing the Lincoln administration as "an unconstitutional military despotism."
Lyon was also prepared for this contingency. On the afternoon of June 13, he embarked with a regular battery and several battalions of his Union volunteers on steamboats, moved rapidly up the Missouri River to Jefferson City, drove the governor and the secession legislature into precipitate flight, took possession of the capital, and, continuing his expedition, scattered, after a slight skirmish, a small rebel military force which had hastily collected at Boonville. Rapidly following these events, the loyal members of the Missouri State convention, which had in February refused to pass a secession ordinance, were called together, and passed ordinances under which was constituted a loyal State government that maintained the local civil authority of the United States throughout the greater part of Missouri during the whole of the Civil War, only temporarily interrupted by invasions of transient Confederate armies from Arkansas.
It will be seen from the foregoing outline that the original hope of the Southern leaders to make the Ohio River the northern boundary of their slave empire was not realized. They indeed secured the adhesion of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas, by which the territory of the Confederate States government was enlarged nearly one third and its population and resources nearly doubled. But the northern tier of slave States—Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri—not only decidedly refused to join the rebellion, but remained true to the Union; and this reduced the contest to a trial of military strength between eleven States with 5,115,790 whites, and 3,508,131 slaves, against twenty-four States with 21,611,422 whites and 342,212 slaves, and at least a proportionate difference in all other resources of war. At the very outset the conditions were prophetic of the result.
Davis's Proclamation for Privateers—Lincoln's Proclamation of Blockade—The Call for Three Years' Volunteers—Southern Military Preparations—Rebel Capital Moved to Richmond—Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas Admitted to Confederate States—Desertion of Army and Navy Officers—Union Troops Fortify Virginia Shore of the Potomac—Concentration at Harper's Ferry—Concentration at Fortress Monroe and Cairo—English Neutrality—Seward's 21st-of-May Despatch—Lincoln's Corrections—Preliminary Skirmishes—Forward to Richmond—Plan of McDowell's Campaign
From the slower political developments in the border slave States we must return and follow up the primary hostilities of the rebellion. The bombardment of Sumter, President Lincoln's call for troops, the Baltimore riot, the burning of Harper's Ferry armory and Norfolk navy-yard, and the interruption of railroad communication which, for nearly a week, isolated the capital and threatened it with siege and possible capture, fully demonstrated the beginning of serious civil war.
Jefferson Davis's proclamation, on April 17, of intention to issue letters of marque, was met two days later by President Lincoln's counter-proclamation instituting a blockade of the Southern ports, and declaring that privateers would be held amenable to the laws against piracy. His first call for seventy-five thousand three months' militia was dictated as to numbers by the sudden emergency, and as to form and term of service by the provisions of the Act of 1795. It needed only a few days to show that this form of enlistment was both cumbrous and inadequate; and the creation of a more powerful army was almost immediately begun. On May 3 a new proclamation was issued, calling into service 42,034 three years' volunteers, 22,714 enlisted men to add ten regiments to the regular army, and 18,000 seamen for blockade service: a total immediate increase of 82,748, swelling the entire military establishment to an army of 156,861 and a navy of 25,000.
No express authority of law yet existed for these measures; but President Lincoln took the responsibility of ordering them, trusting that Congress would legalize his acts. His confidence was entirely justified. At the special session which met under his proclamation, on the fourth of July, these acts were declared valid, and he was authorized, moreover, to raise an army of a million men and $250,000,000 in money to carry on the war to suppress the rebellion; while other legislation conferred upon him supplementary authority to meet the emergency.
Meanwhile, the first effort of the governors of the loyal States was to furnish their quotas under the first call for militia. This was easy enough as to men. It required only a few days to fill the regiments and forward them to the State capitals and principal cities; but to arm and equip them for the field on the spur of the moment was a difficult task which involved much confusion and delay, even though existing armories and foundries pushed their work to the utmost and new ones were established. Under the militia call, the governors appointed all the officers required by their respective quotas, from company lieutenant to major-general of division; while under the new call for three years' volunteers, their authority was limited to the simple organization of regiments.
In the South, war preparation also immediately became active. All the indications are that up to their attack on Sumter, the Southern leaders hoped to effect separation through concession and compromise by the North. That hope, of course, disappeared with South Carolina's opening guns, and the Confederate government made what haste it could to meet the ordeal it dreaded even while it had provoked it. The rebel Congress was hastily called together, and passed acts recognizing war and regulating privateering; admitting Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas to the Confederate States; authorizing a $50,000,000 loan; practically confiscating debts due from Southern to Northern citizens; and removing the seat of government from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia.
Four different calls for Southern volunteers had been made, aggregating 82,000 men; and Jefferson Davis's message now proposed to further organize and hold in readiness an army of 100,000. The work of erecting forts and batteries for defense was being rapidly pushed at all points: on the Atlantic coast, on the Potomac, and on the Mississippi and other Western streams. For the present the Confederates were well supplied with cannon and small arms from the captured navy-yards at Norfolk and Pensacola and the six or eight arsenals located in the South. The martial spirit of their people was roused to the highest enthusiasm, and there was no lack of volunteers to fill the companies and regiments which the Confederate legislators authorized Davis to accept, either by regular calls on State executives in accordance with, or singly in defiance of, their central dogma of States Rights, as he might prefer.
The secession of the Southern States not only strengthened the rebellion with the arms and supplies stored in the various military and naval depots within their limits, and the fortifications erected for their defense: what was of yet greater help to the revolt, a considerable portion of the officers of the army and navy—perhaps one third—abandoned the allegiance which they had sworn to the United States, and, under the false doctrine of State supremacy taught by Southern leaders, gave their professional skill and experience to the destruction of the government which had educated and honored them. The defection of Robert E. Lee was a conspicuous example, and his loss to the Union and service to the rebel army cannot easily be measured. So, also, were the similar cases of Adjutant-General Cooper and Quartermaster-General Johnston. In gratifying contrast stands the steadfast loyalty and devotion of Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott, who, though he was a Virginian and loved his native State, never wavered an instant in his allegiance to the flag he had heroically followed in the War of 1812, and triumphantly planted over the capital of Mexico in 1847. Though unable to take the field, he as general-in-chief directed the assembling and first movements of the Union troops.
The largest part of the three months' regiments were ordered to Washington city as the most important position in a political, and most exposed in a military point of view. The great machine of war, once started, moved, as it always does, by its own inherent energy from arming to concentration, from concentration to skirmish and battle. It was not long before Washington was a military camp. Gradually the hesitation to "invade" the "sacred soil" of the South faded out under the stern necessity to forestall an invasion of the equally sacred soil of the North; and on May 24 the Union regiments in Washington crossed the Potomac and planted themselves in a great semicircle of formidable earthworks eighteen miles long on the Virginia shore, from Chain Bridge to Hunting Creek, below Alexandria.
Meanwhile, a secondary concentration of force developed itself at Harper's Ferry, forty-nine miles northwest of Washington. When, on April 20, a Union detachment had burned and abandoned the armory at that point, it was at once occupied by a handful of rebel militia; and immediately thereafter Jefferson Davis had hurried his regiments thither to "sustain" or overawe Baltimore; and when that prospect failed, it became a rebel camp of instruction. Afterward, as Major-General Patterson collected his Pennsylvania quota, he turned it toward that point as a probable field of operations. As a mere town, Harper's Ferry was unimportant; but, lying on the Potomac, and being at the head of the great Shenandoah valley, down which not only a good turnpike, but also an effective railroad ran southeastward to the very heart of the Confederacy, it was, and remained through the entire war, a strategical line of the first importance, protected, as the Shenandoah valley was, by the main chain of the Alleghanies on the west and the Blue Ridge on the east.
A part of the eastern quotas had also been hurried to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, lying at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, which became and continued an important base for naval as well as military operations. In the West, even more important than St. Louis was the little town of Cairo, lying at the extreme southern end of the State of Illinois, at the confluence of the Ohio River with the Mississippi. Commanding, as it did, thousands of miles of river navigation in three different directions, and being also the southernmost point of the earliest military frontier, it had been the first care of General Scott to occupy it; and, indeed, it proved itself to be the military key of the whole Mississippi valley.
It was not an easy thing promptly to develop a military policy for the suppression of the rebellion. The so-called Confederate States of America covered a military field having more than six times the area of Great Britain, with a coast-line of over thirty-five hundred miles, and an interior frontier of over seven thousand miles. Much less was it possible promptly to plan and set on foot concise military campaigns to reduce the insurgent States to allegiance. Even the great military genius of General Scott was unable to do more than suggest a vague outline for the work. The problem was not only too vast, but as yet too indefinite, since the political future of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri still hung in more or less uncertainty.
The passive and negligent attitude which the Buchanan administration had maintained toward the insurrection during the whole three months between the presidential election and Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, gave the rebellion an immense advantage in the courts and cabinets of Europe. Until within three days of the end of Buchanan's term not a word of protest or even explanation was sent to counteract the impression that disunion was likely to become permanent. Indeed, the non-coercion doctrine of Buchanan's message was, in the eyes of European statesmen, equivalent to an acknowledgment of such a result; and the formation of the Confederate government, followed so quickly by the fall of Fort Sumter, seemed to them a practical realization of their forecast. The course of events appeared not merely to fulfil their expectations, but also, in the case of England and France, gratified their eager hopes. To England it promised cheap cotton and free trade with the South. To France it appeared to open the way for colonial ambitions which Napoleon III so soon set on foot on an imperial scale.
Before Charles Francis Adams, whom President Lincoln appointed as the new minister to England, arrived in London and obtained an interview with Lord John Russell, Mr. Seward had already received several items of disagreeable news. One was that, prior to his arrival, the Queen's proclamation of neutrality had been published, practically raising the Confederate States to the rank of a belligerent power, and, before they had a single privateer afloat, giving these an equality in British ports with United States ships of war. Another was that an understanding had been reached between England and France which would lead both governments to take the same course as to recognition, whatever that course might be. Third, that three diplomatic agents of the Confederate States were in London, whom the British minister had not yet seen, but whom he had caused to be informed that he was not unwilling to see unofficially.
Under the irritation produced by this hasty and equivocal action of the British government, Mr. Seward wrote a despatch to Mr. Adams under date of May 21, which, had it been sent in the form of the original draft, would scarcely have failed to lead to war between the two nations. While it justly set forth with emphasis and courage what the government of the United States would endure and what it would not endure from foreign powers during the Southern insurrection, its phraseology, written in a heat of indignation, was so blunt and exasperating as to imply intentional disrespect.
When Mr. Seward read the document to President Lincoln, the latter at once perceived its objectionable tone, and retained it for further reflection. A second reading confirmed his first impression. Thereupon, taking his pen, the frontier lawyer, in a careful revision of the whole despatch, so amended and changed the work of the trained and experienced statesman, as entirely to eliminate its offensive crudeness, and bring it within all the dignity and reserve of the most studied diplomatic courtesy. If, after Mr. Seward's remarkable memorandum of April 1, the Secretary of State had needed any further experience to convince him of the President's mastery in both administrative and diplomatic judgment, this second incident afforded him the full evidence.
No previous President ever had such a sudden increase of official work devolve upon him as President Lincoln during the early months of his administration. The radical change of parties through which he was elected not only literally filled the White House with applicants for office, but practically compelled a wholesale substitution of new appointees for the old, to represent the new thought and will of the nation. The task of selecting these was greatly complicated by the sharp competition between the heterogeneous elements of which the Republican party was composed. This work was not half completed when the Sumter bombardment initiated active rebellion, and precipitated the new difficulty of sifting the loyal from the disloyal, and the yet more pressing labor of scrutinizing the organization of the immense new volunteer army called into service by the proclamation of May 3. Mr. Lincoln used often to say at this period, when besieged by claims to appointment, that he felt like a man letting rooms at one end of his house, while the other end was on fire. In addition to this merely routine work was the much more delicate and serious duty of deciding the hundreds of novel questions affecting the constitutional principles and theories of administration.
The great departments of government, especially those of war and navy, could not immediately expedite either the supervision or clerical details of this sudden expansion, and almost every case of resulting confusion and delay was brought by impatient governors and State officials to the President for complaint and correction. Volunteers were coming rapidly enough to the various rendezvous in the different States, but where were the rations to feed them, money to pay them, tents to shelter them, uniforms to clothe them, rifles to arm them, officers to drill and instruct them, or transportation to carry them? In this carnival of patriotism, this hurly-burly of organization, the weaknesses as well as the virtues of human nature quickly developed themselves, and there was manifest not only the inevitable friction of personal rivalry, but also the disturbing and baneful effects of occasional falsehood and dishonesty, which could not always be immediately traced to the responsible culprit. It happened in many instances that there were alarming discrepancies between the full paper regiments and brigades reported as ready to start from State capitals, and the actual number of recruits that railroad trains brought to the Washington camps; and Mr. Lincoln several times ironically compared the process to that of a man trying to shovel a bushel of fleas across a barn floor.
While the month of May insensibly slipped away amid these preparatory vexations, camps of instruction rapidly grew to small armies at a few principal points, even under such incidental delay and loss; and during June the confronting Union and Confederate forces began to produce the conflicts and casualties of earnest war. As yet they were both few and unimportant: the assassination of Ellsworth when Alexandria was occupied; a slight cavalry skirmish at Fairfax Court House; the rout of a Confederate regiment at Philippi, West Virginia; the blundering leadership through which two Union detachments fired upon each other in the dark at Big Bethel, Virginia; the ambush of a Union railroad train at Vienna Station; and Lyon's skirmish, which scattered the first collection of rebels at Boonville, Missouri. Comparatively speaking all these were trivial in numbers of dead and wounded—the first few drops of blood before the heavy sanguinary showers the future was destined to bring. But the effect upon the public was irritating and painful to a degree entirely out of proportion to their real extent and gravity.
The relative loss and gain in these affairs was not greatly unequal. The victories of Philippi and Boonville easily offset the disasters of Big Bethel and Vienna. But the public mind was not yet schooled to patience and to the fluctuating chances of war. The newspapers demanded prompt progress and ample victory as imperatively as they were wont to demand party triumph in politics or achievement in commercial enterprise. "Forward to Richmond," repeated the "New York Tribune," day after day, and many sheets of lesser note and influence echoed the cry. There seemed, indeed, a certain reason for this clamor, because the period of enlistment of the three months' regiments was already two thirds gone, and they were not yet all armed and equipped for field service.
President Lincoln was fully alive to the need of meeting this popular demand. The special session of Congress was soon to begin, and to it the new administration must look, not only to ratify what had been done, but to authorize a large increase of the military force, and heavy loans for coming expenses of the war. On June 29, therefore, he called his cabinet and principal military officers to a council of war at the Executive Mansion, to discuss a more formidable campaign than had yet been planned. General Scott was opposed to such an undertaking at that time. He preferred waiting until autumn, meanwhile organizing and drilling a large army, with which to move down the Mississippi and end the war with a final battle at New Orleans. Aside from the obvious military objections to this course, such a procrastination, in the present irritation of the public temper, was not to be thought of; and the old general gracefully waived his preference and contributed his best judgment to the perfecting of an immediate campaign into Virginia.
The Confederate forces in Virginia had been gathered by the orders of General Lee into a defensive position at Manassas Junction, where a railroad from Richmond and another from Harper's Ferry come together. Here General Beauregard, who had organized and conducted the Sumter bombardment, had command of a total of about twenty-five thousand men which he was drilling. The Junction was fortified with some slight field-works and fifteen heavy guns, supported by a garrison of two thousand; while the main body was camped in a line of seven miles' length behind Bull Run, a winding, sluggish stream flowing southeasterly toward the Potomac. The distance was about thirty-two miles southwest of Washington. Another Confederate force of about ten thousand, under General J.E. Johnston, was collected at Winchester and Harper's Ferry on the Potomac, to guard the entrance to the Shenandoah valley; and an understanding existed between Johnston and Beauregard, that in case either were attacked, the other would come to his aid by the quick railroad transportation between the two places.
The new Union plan contemplated that Brigadier-General McDowell should march from Washington against Manassas and Bull Run, with a force sufficient to beat Beauregard, while General Patterson, who had concentrated the bulk of the Pennsylvania regiments in the neighborhood of Harper's Ferry, in numbers nearly or quite double that of his antagonist, should move against Johnston, and either fight or hold him so that he could not come to the aid of Beauregard. At the council McDowell emphasized the danger of such a junction; but General Scott assured him: "If Johnston joins Beauregard, he shall have Patterson on his heels." With this understanding, McDowell's movement was ordered to begin on July 9.
Congress—The President's Message—Men and Money Voted—The Contraband—Dennison Appoints McClellan—Rich Mountain—McDowell—Bull Run—Patterson's Failure—McClellan at Washington
While these preparations for a Virginia campaign were going on, another campaign was also slowly shaping itself in Western Virginia; but before either of them reached any decisive results the Thirty-seventh Congress, chosen at the presidential election of 1860, met in special session on the fourth of July, 1861, in pursuance of the President's proclamation of April 15. There being no members present in either branch from the seceded States, the number in each house was reduced nearly one third. A great change in party feeling was also manifest. No more rampant secession speeches were to be heard. Of the rare instances of men who were yet to join the rebellion, ex-Vice-President Breckinridge was the most conspicuous example; and their presence was offset by prominent Southern Unionists like Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, and John J. Crittenden of Kentucky. The heated antagonisms which had divided the previous Congress into four clearly defined factions were so far restrained or obliterated by the events of the past four months, as to leave but a feeble opposition to the Republican majority now dominant in both branches, which was itself rendered moderate and prudent by the new conditions.
The message of President Lincoln was temperate in spirit, but positive and strong in argument. Reciting the secession and rebellion of the Confederate States, and their unprovoked assault on Fort Sumter, he continued:
"Having said to them in the inaugural address, 'You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors,' he took pains not only to keep this declaration good, but also to keep the case so free from the power of ingenious sophistry that the world should not be able to misunderstand it. By the affair at Fort Sumter, with its surrounding circumstances, that point was reached. Then and thereby the assailants of the government began the conflict of arms, without a gun in sight or in expectancy to return their fire, save only the few in the fort sent to that harbor years before for their own protection, and still ready to give that protection in whatever was lawful.... This issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic or democracy—a government of the people by the same people—can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes."
With his singular felicity of statement, he analyzed and refuted the sophism that secession was lawful and constitutional.
"This sophism derives much, perhaps the whole, of its currency from the assumption that there is some omnipotent and sacred supremacy pertaining to a State—to each State of our Federal Union. Our States have neither more nor less power than that reserved to them in the Union by the Constitution—no one of them ever having been a State out of the Union.... The States have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do so against law and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence and their liberty. By conquest or purchase the Union gave each of them whatever of independence or liberty it has. The Union is older than any of the States, and, in fact, it created them as States. Originally some dependent colonies made the Union, and, in turn, the Union threw off their old dependence for them, and made them States, such as they are. Not one of them ever had a State constitution independent of the Union."
A noteworthy point in the message is President Lincoln's expression of his abiding confidence in the intelligence and virtue of the people of the United States.
"It may be affirmed," said he, "without extravagance that the free institutions we enjoy have developed the powers and improved the condition of our whole people beyond any example in the world. Of this we now have a striking and an impressive illustration. So large an army as the government has now on foot was never before known, without a soldier in it but who has taken his place there of his own free choice. But more than this, there are many single regiments whose members, one and another, possess full practical knowledge of all the arts, sciences, professions and whatever else, whether useful or elegant, is known in the world; and there is scarcely one from which there could not be selected a President, a cabinet a congress, and, perhaps, a court, abundantly competent to administer the government itself.... This is essentially a people's contest. On the side of the Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance in the race of life.... I am most happy to believe that the plain people understand and appreciate this. It is worthy of note that while in this, the government's hour of trial, large numbers of those in the army and navy who have been favored with the offices have resigned and proved false to the hand which had pampered them, not one common soldier or common sailor is known to have deserted his flag."
Hearty applause greeted that portion of the message which asked for means to make the contest short and decisive; and Congress acted promptly by authorizing a loan of $250,000,000 and an army not to exceed one million men. All of President Lincoln's war measures for which no previous sanction of law existed were duly legalized; additional direct income and tariff taxes were laid; and the Force Bill of 1795, and various other laws relating to conspiracy, piracy, unlawful recruiting, and kindred topics, were amended or passed.
Throughout the whole history of the South, by no means the least of the evils entailed by the institution of slavery was the dread of slave insurrections which haunted every master's household; and this vague terror was at once intensified by the outbreak of civil war. It stands to the lasting credit of the negro race in the United States that the wrongs of their long bondage provoked them to no such crime, and that the Civil War appears not to have even suggested, much less started, any such organization or attempt. But the John Brown raid had indicated some possibility of the kind, and when the Union troops began their movements Generals Butler in Maryland and Patterson in Pennsylvania, moving toward Harper's Ferry, and McClellan in West Virginia, in order to reassure non-combatants, severally issued orders that all attempts at slave insurrection should be suppressed. It was a most pointed and significant warning to the leaders of the rebellion how much more vulnerable the peculiar institution was in war than in peace, and that their ill-considered scheme to protect and perpetuate slavery would prove the most potent engine for its destruction.
The first effect of opening hostilities was to give adventurous or discontented slaves the chance to escape into Union camps, where, even against orders to the contrary, they found practical means of protection or concealment for the sake of the help they could render as cooks, servants, or teamsters, or for the information they could give or obtain, or the invaluable service they could render as guides. Practically, therefore, at the very beginning, the war created a bond of mutual sympathy based on mutual helpfulness, between the Southern negro and the Union volunteer; and as fast as the Union troops advanced, and secession masters fled, more or less slaves found liberation and refuge in the Union camps.
At some points, indeed, this tendency created an embarrassment to Union commanders. A few days after General Butler assumed command of the Union troops at Fortress Monroe, the agent of a rebel master who had fled from the neighborhood came to demand, under the provisions of the fugitive-slave law, three field hands alleged to be in Butler's camp. Butler responded that as Virginia claimed to be a foreign country the fugitive-slave law was clearly inoperative, unless the owner would come and take an oath of allegiance to the United States. In connection with this incident, the newspaper report stated that as the breastworks and batteries which had been so rapidly erected for Confederate defense in every direction on the Virginia peninsula were built by enforced negro labor under rigorous military impressment, negroes were manifestly contraband of war under international law. The dictum was so pertinent, and the equity so plain, that, though it was not officially formulated by the general until two months later, it sprang at once into popular acceptance and application; and from that time forward the words "slave" and "negro" were everywhere within the Union lines replaced by the familiar, significant term "contraband."
While Butler's happy designation had a more convincing influence on public thought than a volume of discussion, it did not immediately solve the whole question. Within a few days he reported that he had slave property to the value of $60,000 in his hands, and by the end of July nine hundred "contrabands," men, women, and children, of all ages. What was their legal status, and how should they be disposed of? It was a knotty problem, for upon its solution might depend the sensitive public opinion and balancing, undecided loyalty and political action of the border slave States of Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri. In solving the problem, President Lincoln kept in mind the philosophic maxim of one of his favorite stories, that when the Western Methodist presiding elder, riding about the circuit during the spring freshets, was importuned by his young companion how they should ever be able to get across the swollen waters of Fox River, which they were approaching, the elder quieted him by saying he had made it the rule of his life never to cross Fox River till he came to it.
The President did not immediately decide, but left it to be treated as a question of camp and local police, in the discretion of each commander. Under this theory, later in the war, some commanders excluded, others admitted such fugitives to their camps; and the curt formula of General Orders, "We have nothing to do with slaves. We are neither negro stealers nor negro catchers," was easily construed by subordinate officers to justify the practice of either course. Inter arma silent leges. For the present, Butler was instructed not to surrender such fugitives, but to employ them in suitable labor, and leave the question of their final disposition for future determination. Congress greatly advanced the problem, soon after the battle of Bull Run, by adopting an amendment which confiscated a rebel master's right to his slave when, by his consent, such slave was employed in service or labor hostile to the United States. The debates exhibited but little spirit of partizanship, even on this feature of the slavery question. The border State members did not attack the justice of such a penalty. They could only urge that it was unconstitutional and inexpedient. On the general policy of the war, both houses, with but few dissenting votes, passed the resolution, offered by Mr. Crittenden, which declared that the war was not waged for oppression or subjugation, or to interfere with the rights or institutions of States, "but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired." The special session adjourned on August 6, having in a single month completed and enacted a thorough and comprehensive system of war legislation.
The military events that were transpiring in the meanwhile doubtless had their effect in hastening the decision and shortening the labors of Congress. To command the thirteen regiments of militia furnished by the State of Ohio, Governor Dennison had given a commission of major-general to George B. McClellan, who had been educated at West Point and served with distinction in the Mexican War, and who, through unusual opportunities in travel and special duties in surveys and exploration, had gained acquirements and qualifications that appeared to fit him for a brilliant career. Being but thirty-five years old, and having reached only the grade of captain, he had resigned from the army, and was at the moment serving as president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. General Scott warmly welcomed his appointment to lead the Ohio contingent, and so industriously facilitated his promotion that by the beginning of June McClellan's militia commission as major-general had been changed to a commission for the same grade in the regular army, and he found himself assigned to the command of a military department extending from Western Virginia to Missouri. Though this was a leap in military title, rank, and power which excels the inventions of romance, it was necessitated by the sudden exigencies of army expansion over the vast territory bordering the insurrection, and for a while seemed justified by the hopeful promise indicated in the young officer's zeal and activity.
His instructions made it a part of his duty to encourage and support the Unionists of Western Virginia in their political movement to divide the State and erect a Union commonwealth out of that portion of it lying northwest of the Alleghanies. General Lee, not fully informed of the adverse popular sentiment, sent a few Confederate regiments into that region to gather recruits and hold the important mountain passes. McClellan, in turn, advanced a detachment eastward from Wheeling, to protect the Baltimore and Ohio railroad; and at the beginning of June, an expedition of two regiments, led by Colonel Kelly, made a spirited dash upon Philippi, where, by a complete surprise, he routed and scattered Porterfield's recruiting detachment of one thousand Confederates. Following up this initial success, McClellan threw additional forces across the Ohio, and about a month later had the good fortune, on July 11, by a flank movement under Rosecrans, to drive a regiment of the enemy out of strong intrenchments on Rich Mountain, force the surrender of the retreating garrison on the following day, July 12, and to win a third success on the thirteenth over another flying detachment at Carrick's Ford, one of the crossings of the Cheat River, where the Confederate General Garnett was killed in a skirmish-fire between sharp-shooters.
These incidents, happening on three successive days, and in distance forty miles apart, made a handsome showing for the young department commander when gathered into the single, short telegram in which he reported to Washington that Garnett was killed, his force routed, at least two hundred of the enemy killed, and seven guns and one thousand prisoners taken. "Our success is complete, and secession is killed in this country," concluded the despatch. The result, indeed, largely overshadowed in importance the means which accomplished it. The Union loss was only thirteen killed and forty wounded. In subsequent effect, these two comparatively insignificant skirmishes permanently recovered the State of West Virginia to the Union. The main credit was, of course, due to the steadfast loyalty of the people of that region.
This victory afforded welcome relief to the strained and impatient public opinion of the Northern States, and sharpened the eager expectation of the authorities at Washington of similar results from the projected Virginia campaign. The organization and command of that column were intrusted to Brigadier-General McDowell, advanced to this grade from his previous rank of major. He was forty-two years old, an accomplished West Point graduate, and had won distinction in the Mexican War, though since that time he had been mainly engaged in staff duty. On the morning of July 16, he began his advance from the fortifications of Washington, with a marching column of about twenty-eight thousand men and a total of forty-nine guns, an additional division of about six thousand being left behind to guard his communications. Owing to the rawness of his troops, the first few days' march was necessarily cautious and cumbersome.
The enemy, under Beauregard, had collected about twenty-three thousand men and thirty-five guns, and was posted behind Bull Run. A preliminary engagement occurred on Thursday, July 18, at Blackburn's Ford on that stream, which served to develop the enemy's strong position, but only delayed the advance until the whole of McDowell's force reached Centreville Here McDowell halted, spent Friday and Saturday in reconnoitering, and on Sunday, July 21, began the battle by a circuitous march across Bull Run and attacking the enemy's left flank.
It proved that the plan was correctly chosen, but, by a confusion in the march, the attack, intended for day-break, was delayed until nine o'clock. Nevertheless, the first half of the battle, during the forenoon, was entirely successful, the Union lines steadily driving the enemy southward, and enabling additional Union brigades to join the attacking column by a direct march from Centreville.
At noon, however, the attack came to a halt, partly through the fatigue of the troops, partly because the advancing line, having swept the field for nearly a mile, found itself in a valley, from which further progress had to be made with all the advantage of the ground in favor of the enemy. In the lull of the conflict which for a while ensued, the Confederate commander, with little hope except to mitigate a defeat, hurriedly concentrated his remaining artillery and supporting regiments into a semicircular line of defense at the top of the hill that the Federals would be obliged to mount, and kept them well concealed among the young pines at the edge of the timber, with an open field in their front.
Against this second position of the enemy, comprising twelve regiments, twenty-two guns, and two companies of cavalry, McDowell advanced in the afternoon with an attacking force of fourteen regiments, twenty-four guns, and a single battalion of cavalry, but with all the advantages of position against him. A fluctuating and intermitting attack resulted. The nature of the ground rendered a combined advance impossible. The Union brigades were sent forward and repulsed by piecemeal. A battery was lost by mistaking a Confederate for a Union regiment. Even now the victory seemed to vibrate, when a new flank attack by seven rebel regiments, from an entirely unexpected direction, suddenly impressed the Union troops with the belief that Johnston's army from Harper's Ferry had reached the battle-field; and, demoralized by this belief, the Union commands, by a common impulse, gave up the fight as lost, and half marched, half ran from the field. Before reaching Centreville, the retreat at one point degenerated into a downright panic among army teamsters and a considerable crowd of miscellaneous camp-followers; and here a charge or two by the Confederate cavalry companies captured thirteen Union guns and quite a harvest of army wagons.
When the truth came to be known, it was found that through the want of skill and courage on the part of General Patterson in his operations at Harper's Ferry, General Johnston, with his whole Confederate army, had been allowed to slip away; and so far from coming suddenly into the battle of Bull Run, the bulk of them were already in Beauregard's camps on Saturday, and performed the heaviest part of the fighting in Sunday's conflict.
The sudden cessation of the battle left the Confederates in doubt whether their victory was final, or only a prelude to a fresh Union attack. But as the Union forces not only retreated from the field, but also from Centreville, it took on, in their eyes, the proportions of a great triumph; confirming their expectation of achieving ultimate independence, and, in fact, giving them a standing in the eyes of foreign nations which they had hardly dared hope for so soon. In numbers of killed and wounded, the two armies suffered about equally; and General Johnston writes: "The Confederate army was more disorganized by victory than that of the United States by defeat." Manassas was turned into a fortified camp, but the rebel leaders felt themselves unable to make an aggressive movement during the whole of the following autumn and winter.
The shock of the defeat was deep and painful to the administration and the people of the North. Up to late Sunday afternoon favorable reports had come to Washington from the battle-field, and every one believed in an assured victory. When a telegram came about five o'clock in the afternoon, that the day was lost, and McDowell's army in full retreat through Centreville, General Scott refused to credit the news, so contradictory of everything which had been heard up to that hour. But the intelligence was quickly confirmed. The impulse of retreat once started, McDowell's effort to arrest it at Centreville proved useless. The regiments and brigades not completely disorganized made an unmolested and comparatively orderly march back to the fortifications of Washington, while on the following day a horde of stragglers found their way across the bridges of the Potomac into the city.
President Lincoln received the news quietly and without any visible sign of perturbation or excitement; but he remained awake and in the executive office all of Sunday night, listening to the personal narratives of a number of congressmen and senators who had, with undue curiosity, followed the army and witnessed some of the sounds and sights of the battle. By the dawn of Monday morning the President had substantially made up his judgment of the battle and its probable results, and the action dictated by the untoward event. This was, in brief, that the militia regiments enlisted under the three months' call should be mustered out as soon as practicable; the organization of the new three years' forces be pushed forward both east and west; Manassas and Harper's Ferry and the intermediate lines of communication be seized and held; and a joint movement organized from Cincinnati on East Tennessee, and from Cairo on Memphis.
Meanwhile, General McClellan was ordered from West Virginia to Washington, where he arrived on July 26, and assumed command of the Division of the Potomac, comprising the troops in and around Washington on both sides of the river. He quickly cleared the city of stragglers, and displayed a gratifying activity in beginning the organization of the Army of the Potomac from the new three years' volunteers that were pouring into Washington by every train. He was received by the administration and the army with the warmest friendliness and confidence, and for awhile seemed to reciprocate these feelings with zeal and gratitude.
General Scott's Plans—Criticized as the "Anaconda"—The Three Fields of Conflict—Fremont Appointed Major-General—His Military Failures—Battle of Wilson's Creek—Hunter Ordered to Fremont—Fremont's Proclamation—President Revokes Fremont's Proclamation—Lincoln's Letter to Browning—Surrender of Lexington—Fremont Takes the Field—Cameron's Visit to Fremont—Fremont's Removal
The military genius and experience of General Scott, from the first, pretty correctly divined the grand outline of military operations which would become necessary in reducing the revolted Southern States to renewed allegiance. Long before the battle of Bull Run was planned, he urged that the first seventy-five regiments of three months' militia could not be relied on for extensive campaigns, because their term of service would expire before they could be well organized. His outline suggestion, therefore, was that the new three years' volunteer army be placed in ten or fifteen healthy camps and given at least four months of drill and tactical instruction; and when the navy had, by a rigid blockade, closed all the harbors along the seaboard of the Southern States, the fully prepared army should, by invincible columns, move down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, leaving a strong cordon of military posts behind it to keep open the stream, join hands with the blockade, and thus envelop the principal area of rebellion in a powerful military grasp which would paralyze and effectually kill the insurrection. Even while suggesting this plan, however, the general admitted that the great obstacle to its adoption would be the impatience of the patriotic and loyal Union people and leaders, who would refuse to wait the necessary length of time.
The general was correct in his apprehension. The newspapers criticized his plan in caustic editorials and ridiculous cartoons as "Scott's Anaconda," and public opinion rejected it in an overwhelming demand for a prompt and energetic advance. Scott was correct in military theory, while the people and the administration were right in practice, under existing political conditions. Although Bull Run seemed to justify the general, West Virginia and Missouri vindicated the President and the people.
It can now be seen that still a third element—geography—intervened to give shape and sequence to the main outlines of the Civil War. When, at the beginning of May, General Scott gave his advice, the seat of government of the first seven Confederate States was still at Montgomery, Alabama. By the adhesion of the four interior border States to the insurrection, and the removal of the archives and administration of Jefferson Davis to Richmond, Virginia, toward the end of June, as the capital of the now eleven Confederate States, Washington necessarily became the center of Union attack, and Richmond the center of Confederate defense. From the day when McDowell began his march to Bull Run, to that when Lee evacuated Richmond in his final hopeless flight, the route between these two opposing capitals remained the principal and dominating line of military operations, and the region between Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River on the east, and the chain of the Alleghanies on the west, the primary field of strategy.
According to geographical features, the second great field of strategy lay between the Alleghany Mountains and the Mississippi River, and the third between the Mississippi River, the Rocky Mountains, and the Rio Grande. Except in Western Virginia, the attitude of neutrality assumed by Kentucky for a considerable time delayed the definition of the military frontier and the beginning of active hostilities in the second field, thus giving greater momentary importance to conditions existing and events transpiring in Missouri, with the city of St. Louis as the principal center of the third great military field.
The same necessity which dictated the promotion of General McClellan at one bound from captain to major-general compelled a similar phenomenal promotion, not alone of officers of the regular army, but also of eminent civilians to high command and military responsibility in the immense volunteer force authorized by Congress. Events, rather than original purpose, had brought McClellan into prominence and ranking duty; but now, by design, the President gave John C. Fremont a commission of major-general, and placed him in command of the third great military field, with headquarters at St. Louis, with the leading idea that he should organize the military strength of the Northwest, first, to hold Missouri to the Union, and, second, by a carefully prepared military expedition open the Mississippi River. By so doing, he would sever the Confederate States, reclaim or conquer the region lying west of the great stream, and thus reduce by more than one half the territorial area of the insurrection. Though he had been an army lieutenant, he had no experience in active war; yet the talent and energy he had displayed in Western military exploration, and the political prominence he had reached as candidate of the Republican party for President in 1856, seemed to fit him preeminently for such a duty.
While most of the volunteers from New England and the Middle States were concentrated at Washington and dependent points, the bulk of the Western regiments was, for the time being, put under the command of Fremont for present and prospective duty. But the high hopes which the administration placed in the general were not realized. The genius which could lead a few dozen or a few hundred Indian scouts and mountain trappers over desert plains and through the fastnesses of the Sierra Nevada, that could defy savage hostilities and outlive starvation amid imprisoning snows, failed signally before the task of animating and combining the patriotic enthusiasm of eight or ten great northwestern States, and organizing and leading an army of one hundred thousand eager volunteers in a comprehensive and decisive campaign to recover a great national highway. From the first, Fremont failed in promptness, in foresight, in intelligent supervision and, above all, in inspiring confidence and attracting assistance and devotion. His military administration created serious extravagance and confusion, and his personal intercourse excited the distrust and resentment of the governors and civilian officials, whose counsel and cooeperation were essential to his usefulness and success.
While his resources were limited, and while he fortified St. Louis and reinforced Cairo, a yet more important point needed his attention and help. Lyon, who had followed Governor Jackson and General Price in their flight from Boonville to Springfield in southern Missouri, found his forces diminished beyond his expectation by the expiration of the term of service of his three months' regiments, and began to be threatened by a northward concentration of Confederate detachments from the Arkansas line and the Indian Territory. The neglect of his appeals for help placed him in the situation where he could neither safely remain inactive, nor safely retreat. He therefore took the chances of scattering the enemy before him by a sudden, daring attack with his five thousand effectives, against nearly treble numbers, in the battle of Wilson's Creek, at daylight on August 10. The casualties on the two sides were nearly equal, and the enemy was checked and crippled; but the Union army sustained a fatal loss in the death of General Lyon, who was instantly killed while leading a desperate bayonet charge. His skill and activity had, so far, been the strength of the Union cause in Missouri. The absence of his counsel and personal example rendered a retreat to the railroad terminus at Rolla necessary. This discouraging event turned public criticism sharply upon Fremont. Loath to yield to mere public clamor, and averse to hasty changes in military command, Mr. Lincoln sought to improve the situation by sending General David Hunter to take a place on Fremont's staff.
"General Fremont needs assistance," said his note to Hunter, "which it is difficult to give him. He is losing the confidence of men near him, whose support any man in his position must have to be successful. His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with. He needs to have by his side a man of large experience. Will you not, for me, take that place? Your rank is one grade too high to be ordered to it; but will you not serve the country and oblige me by taking it voluntarily?"
This note indicates, better than pages of description, the kind, helpful, and forbearing spirit with which the President, through the long four years' war, treated his military commanders and subordinates; and which, in several instances, met such ungenerous return. But even while Mr. Lincoln was attempting to smooth this difficulty, Fremont had already burdened him with two additional embarrassments. One was a perplexing personal quarrel the general had begun with the influential Blair family, represented by Colonel Frank Blair, the indefatigable Unionist leader in Missouri, and Montgomery Blair, the postmaster-general in Lincoln's cabinet, who had hitherto been Fremont's most influential friends and supporters; and, in addition, the father of these, Francis P. Blair, Sr., a veteran politician whose influence dated from Jackson's administration, and through whose assistance Fremont had been nominated as presidential candidate in 1856.
The other embarrassment was of a more serious and far-reaching nature. Conscious that he was losing the esteem and confidence of both civil and military leaders in the West, Fremont's adventurous fancy caught at the idea of rehabilitating himself before the public by a bold political manoeuver. Day by day the relation of slavery to the Civil War was becoming a more troublesome question, and exciting impatient and angry discussion. Without previous consultation with the President or any of his advisers or friends, Fremont, on August 30, wrote and printed, as commander of the Department of the West, a proclamation establishing martial law throughout the State of Missouri, and announcing that:
"All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines shall be tried by court-martial, and if found guilty will be shot. The property, real and personal, of all persons in the State of Missouri who shall take up arms against the United States, or who shall be directly proven to have taken an active part with their enemies in the field, is declared to be confiscated to the public use; and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared freemen."
The reason given in the proclamation for this drastic and dictatorial measure was to suppress disorder, maintain the public peace, and protect persons and property of loyal citizens—all simple police duties. For issuing his proclamation without consultation with the President, he could offer only the flimsy excuse that it involved two days of time to communicate with Washington, while he well knew that no battle was pending and no invasion in progress. This reckless misuse of power President Lincoln also corrected with his dispassionate prudence and habitual courtesy. He immediately wrote to the general:
"MY DEAR SIR: Two points in your proclamation of August 30 give me some anxiety:
"First. Should you shoot a man, according to the proclamation, the Confederates would very certainly shoot our best men in their hands, in retaliation; and so, man for man, indefinitely. It is, therefore, my order that you allow no man to be shot under the proclamation, without first having my approbation or consent.
"Second. I think there is great danger that the closing paragraph, in relation to the confiscation of property and the liberating slaves of traitorous owners, will alarm our Southern Union friends and turn them against us; perhaps ruin our rather fair prospect for Kentucky. Allow me, therefore, to ask that you will, as of your own motion, modify that paragraph so as to conform to the first and fourth sections of the act of Congress entitled, 'An act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes,' approved August 6, 1861, and a copy of which act I herewith send you.
"This letter is written in a spirit of caution, and not of censure. I send it by a special messenger, in order that it may certainly and speedily reach you."
But the headstrong general was too blind and selfish to accept this mild redress of a fault that would have justified instant displacement from command. He preferred that the President should openly direct him to make the correction. Admitting that he decided in one night upon the measure, he added: "If I were to retract it of my own accord, it would imply that I myself thought it wrong, and that I had acted without the reflection which the gravity of the point demanded." The inference is plain that Fremont was unwilling to lose the influence of his hasty step upon public opinion. But by this course he deliberately placed himself in an attitude of political hostility to the administration.
The incident produced something of the agitation which the general had evidently counted upon. Radical antislavery men throughout the free States applauded his act and condemned the President, and military emancipation at once became a subject of excited discussion. Even strong conservatives were carried away by the feeling that rebels would be but properly punished by the loss of their slaves. To Senator Browning, the President's intimate personal friend, who entertained this feeling, Mr. Lincoln wrote a searching analysis of Fremont's proclamation and its dangers:
"Yours of the seventeenth is just received; and, coming from you, I confess it astonishes me. That you should object to my adhering to a law which you had assisted in making and presenting to me, less than a month before, is odd enough. But this is a very small part. General Fremont's proclamation as to confiscation of property and the liberation of slaves is purely political, and not within the range of military law or necessity. If a commanding general finds a necessity to seize the farm of a private owner, for a pasture, an encampment, or a fortification, he has the right to do so, and to so hold it as long as the necessity lasts; and this is within military law, because within military necessity. But to say the farm shall no longer belong to the owner or his heirs forever, and this as well when the farm is not needed for military purposes as when it is, is purely political, without the savor of military law about it. And the same is true of slaves. If the general needs them he can seize them and use them, but when the need is past, it is not for him to fix their permanent future condition. That must be settled according to laws made by law-makers, and not by military proclamations. The proclamation in the point in question is simply 'dictatorship.' It assumes that the general may do anything he pleases—confiscate the lands and free the slaves of loyal people, as well as of disloyal ones. And going the whole figure, I have no doubt, would be more popular, with some thoughtless people, than that which has been done! But I cannot assume this reckless position, nor allow others to assume it on my responsibility.
"You speak of it as being the only means of saving the government. On the contrary, it is itself the surrender of the government. Can it be pretended that it is any longer the government of the United States—any government of constitution and laws—wherein a general or a president may make permanent rules of property by proclamation? I do not say Congress might not, with propriety, pass a law on the point, just such as General Fremont proclaimed. I do not say I might not, as a member of Congress, vote for it. What I object to is, that I, as President, shall expressly or impliedly seize and exercize the permanent legislative functions of the government.
"So much as to principle. Now as to policy. No doubt the thing was popular in some quarters, and would have been more so if it had been a general declaration of emancipation. The Kentucky legislature would not budge till that proclamation was modified; and General Anderson telegraphed me that on the news of General Fremont having actually issued deeds of manumission, a whole company of our volunteers threw down their arms and disbanded. I was so assured as to think it probable that the very arms we had furnished Kentucky would be turned against us. I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capital."
If it be objected that the President himself decreed military emancipation a year later, then it must be remembered that Fremont's proclamation differed in many essential particulars from the President's edict of January 1, 1863. By that time, also, the entirely changed conditions justified a complete change of policy; but, above all, the supreme reason of military necessity, upon which alone Mr. Lincoln based the constitutionality of his edict of freedom, was entirely wanting in the case of Fremont.
The harvest of popularity which Fremont evidently hoped to secure by his proclamation was soon blighted by a new military disaster. The Confederate forces which had been united in the battle of Wilson's Creek quickly became disorganized through the disagreement of their leaders and the want of provisions and other military supplies, and mainly returned to Arkansas and the Indian Territory, whence they had come. But General Price, with his Missouri contingent, gradually increased his followers, and as the Union retreat from Springfield to Rolla left the way open, began a northward march through the western part of the State to attack Colonel Mulligan, who, with about twenty-eight hundred Federal troops, intrenched himself at Lexington on the Missouri River. Secession sympathy was strong along the line of his march, and Price gained adherents so rapidly that on September 18 he was able to invest Mulligan's position with a somewhat irregular army numbering about twenty thousand. After a two days' siege, the garrison was compelled to surrender, through the exhaustion of the supply of water in their cisterns. The victory won, Price again immediately retreated southward, losing his army almost as fast as he had collected it, made up, as it was, more in the spirit and quality of a sudden border foray than an organized campaign.
For this new loss, Fremont was subjected to a shower of fierce criticism, which this time he sought to disarm by ostentatious announcements of immediate activity. "I am taking the field myself," he telegraphed, "and hope to destroy the enemy either before or after the junction of forces under McCulloch." Four days after the surrender, the St. Louis newspapers printed his order organizing an army of five divisions. The document made a respectable show of force on paper, claiming an aggregate of nearly thirty-nine thousand. In reality, however, being scattered and totally unprepared for the field, it possessed no such effective strength. For a month longer extravagant newspaper reports stimulated the public with the hope of substantial results from Fremont's intended campaign. Before the end of that time, however, President Lincoln, under growing apprehension, sent Secretary of War Cameron and the adjutant-general of the army to Missouri to make a personal investigation. Reaching Fremont's camp on October 13, they found the movement to be a mere forced, spasmodic display, without substantial strength, transportation, or coherent and feasible plan; and that at least two of the division commanders were without means to execute the orders they had received, and utterly without confidence in their leader, or knowledge of his intentions.
To give Fremont yet another chance, the Secretary of War withheld the President's order to relieve the general from command, which he had brought with him, on Fremont's insistence that a victory was really within his reach. When this hope also proved delusive, and suspicion was aroused that the general might be intending not only to deceive, but to defy the administration, President Lincoln sent the following letter by a special friend to General Curtis, commanding at St. Louis:
"DEAR SIR: On receipt of this, with the accompanying inclosures, you will take safe, certain, and suitable measures to have the inclosure addressed to Major-General Fremont delivered to him with all reasonable dispatch, subject to these conditions only, that if, when General Fremont shall be reached by the messenger—yourself, or any one sent by you—he shall then have, in personal command, fought and won a battle, or shall then be actually in a battle, or shall then be in the immediate presence of the enemy in expectation of a battle, it is not to be delivered, but held for further orders. After, and not till after, the delivery to General Fremont, let the inclosure addressed to General Hunter be delivered to him."
The order of removal was delivered to Fremont on November 2. By that date he had reached Springfield, but had won no victory, fought no battle, and was not in the presence of the enemy. Two of his divisions were not yet even with him. Still laboring under the delusion, perhaps imposed on him by his scouts, his orders stated that the enemy was only a day's march distant, and advancing to attack him. The inclosure mentioned in the President's letter to Curtis was an order to General David Hunter to relieve Fremont. When he arrived and assumed command the scouts he sent forward found no enemy within reach, and no such contingency of battle or hope of victory as had been rumored and assumed.
Fremont's personal conduct in these disagreeable circumstances was entirely commendable. He took leave of the army in a short farewell order, couched in terms of perfect obedience to authority and courtesy to his successor, asking for him the same cordial support he had himself received. Nor did he by word or act justify the suspicions of insubordination for which some of his indiscreet adherents had given cause. Under the instructions President Lincoln had outlined in his order to Hunter, that general gave up the idea of indefinitely pursuing Price, and divided the army into two corps of observation, which were drawn back and posted, for the time being, at the two railroad termini of Rolla and Sedalia, to be recruited and prepared for further service.
Blockade—Hatteras Inlet—Port Royal Captured—The Trent Affair—Lincoln Suggests Arbitration—Seward's Despatch—McClellan at Washington—Army of the Potomac—McClellan's Quarrel with Scott—Retirement of Scott—Lincoln's Memorandum—"All Quiet on the Potomac"—Conditions in Kentucky—Cameron's Visit to Sherman—East Tennessee—Instructions to Buell—Buell's Neglect—Halleck in Missouri
Following the fall of Fort Sumter, the navy of the United States was in no condition to enforce the blockade from Chesapeake Bay to the Rio Grande declared by Lincoln's proclamation of April 19. Of the forty-two vessels then in commission nearly all were on foreign stations. Another serious cause of weakness was that within a few days after the Sumter attack one hundred and twenty-four officers of the navy resigned, or were dismissed for disloyalty, and the number of such was doubled before the fourth of July. Yet by the strenuous efforts of the department in fitting out ships that had been laid up, in completing those under construction, and in extensive purchases and arming of all classes of vessels that could be put to use, from screw and side-wheel merchant steamers to ferry-boats and tugs, a legally effective blockade was established within a period of six months. A considerable number of new war-ships was also immediately placed under construction. The special session of Congress created a commission to study the subject of ironclads, and on its recommendation three experimental vessels of this class were placed under contract. One of these, completed early in the following year, rendered a momentous service, hereafter to be mentioned, and completely revolutionized naval warfare.
Meanwhile, as rapidly as vessels could be gathered and prepared, the Navy Department organized effective expeditions to operate against points on the Atlantic coast. On August 29 a small fleet, under command of Flag Officer Stringham, took possession of Hatteras Inlet, after silencing the forts the insurgents had erected to guard the entrance, and captured twenty-five guns and seven hundred prisoners. This success, achieved without the loss of a man to the Union fleet, was of great importance, opening, as it did, the way for a succession of victories in the interior waters of North Carolina early in the following year.
A more formidable expedition, and still greater success soon followed. Early in November, Captain Du-Pont assembled a fleet of fifty sail, including transports, before Port Royal Sound. Forming a column of nine war-ships with a total of one hundred and twelve guns, the line steamed by the mid-channel between Fort Beauregard to the right, and Fort Walker to the left, the first of twenty and the second of twenty-three guns, each ship delivering its fire as it passed the forts. Turning at the proper point, they again gave broadside after broadside while steaming out, and so repeated their circular movement. The battle was decided when, on the third round, the forts failed to respond to the fire of the ships. When Commander Rodgers carried and planted the Stars and Stripes on the ramparts, he found them utterly deserted, everything having been abandoned by the flying garrisons. Further reconnaissance proved that the panic extended itself over the whole network of sea islands between Charleston and Savannah, permitting the immediate occupation of the entire region, and affording a military base for both the navy and the army of incalculable advantage in the further reduction of the coast.
Another naval exploit, however, almost at the same time, absorbed greater public attention, and for a while created an intense degree of excitement and suspense. Ex-Senators J.M. Mason and John Slidell, having been accredited by the Confederate government as envoys to European courts, had managed to elude the blockade and reach Havana. Captain Charles Wilkes, commanding the San Jacinto, learning that they were to take passage for England on the British mail steamer Trent, intercepted that vessel on November 8 near the coast of Cuba, took the rebel emissaries prisoner by the usual show of force, and brought them to the United States, but allowed the Trent to proceed on her voyage. The incident and alleged insult produced as great excitement in England as in the United States, and the British government began instant and significant preparations for war for what it hastily assumed to be a violation of international law and an outrage on the British flag. Instructions were sent to Lord Lyons, the British minister at Washington, to demand the release of the prisoners and a suitable apology; and, if this demand were not complied with within a single week, to close his legation and return to England.
In the Northern States the capture was greeted with great jubilation. Captain Wilkes was applauded by the press; his act was officially approved by the Secretary of the Navy, and the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution thanking him for his "brave, adroit, and patriotic conduct." While the President and cabinet shared the first impulses of rejoicing, second thoughts impressed them with the grave nature of the international question involved, and the serious dilemma of disavowal or war precipitated by the imperative British demand. It was fortunate that Secretary Seward and Lord Lyons were close personal friends, and still more that though British public opinion had strongly favored the rebellion, the Queen of England entertained the kindliest feelings for the American government. Under her direction, Prince Albert instructed the British cabinet to formulate and present the demand in the most courteous diplomatic language, while, on their part, the American President and cabinet discussed the affair in a temper of judicious reserve.
President Lincoln's first desire was to refer the difficulty to friendly arbitration, and his mood is admirably expressed in the autograph experimental draft of a despatch suggesting this course.
"The President is unwilling to believe," he wrote, "that her Majesty's government will press for a categorical answer upon what appears to him to be only a partial record, in the making up of which he has been allowed no part. He is reluctant to volunteer his view of the case, with no assurance that her Majesty's government will consent to hear him; yet this much he directs me to say, that this government has intended no affront to the British flag, or to the British nation; nor has it intended to force into discussion an embarrassing question; all which is evident by the fact hereby asserted, that the act complained of was done by the officer without orders from, or expectation of, the government. But, being done, it was no longer left to us to consider whether we might not, to avoid a controversy, waive an unimportant though a strict right; because we, too, as well as Great Britain, have a people justly jealous of their rights, and in whose presence our government could undo the act complained of only upon a fair showing that it was wrong, or at least very questionable. The United States government and people are still willing to make reparation upon such showing.
"Accordingly, I am instructed by the President to inquire whether her Majesty's government will hear the United States upon the matter in question. The President desires, among other things, to bring into view, and have considered, the existing rebellion in the United States; the position Great Britain has assumed, including her Majesty's proclamation in relation thereto; the relation the persons whose seizure is the subject of complaint bore to the United States, and the object of their voyage at the time they were seized; the knowledge which the master of the Trent had of their relation to the United States, and of the object of their voyage, at the time he received them on board for the voyage; the place of the seizure; and the precedents and respective positions assumed in analogous cases between Great Britain and the United States.
"Upon a submission containing the foregoing facts, with those set forth in the before-mentioned despatch to your lordship, together with all other facts which either party may deem material, I am instructed to say the government of the United States will, if agreed to by her Majesty's government, go to such friendly arbitration as is usual among nations, and will abide the award."
The most practised diplomatic pen in Europe could not have written a more dignified, courteous, or succinct presentation of the case; and yet, under the necessities of the moment, it was impossible to adopt this procedure. Upon full discussion, it was decided that war with Great Britain must be avoided, and Mr. Seward wrote a despatch defending the course of Captain Wilkes up to the point where he permitted the Trent to proceed on her voyage. It was his further duty to have brought her before a prize court. Failing in this, he had left the capture incomplete under rules of international law, and the American government had thereby lost the right and the legal evidence to establish the contraband character of the vessel and the persons seized. Under the circumstances, the prisoners were therefore willingly released. Excited American feeling was grievously disappointed at the result; but American good sense readily accommodated itself both to the correctness of the law expounded by the Secretary of State, and to the public policy that averted a great international danger; particularly as this decision forced Great Britain to depart from her own and to adopt the American traditions respecting this class of neutral rights.
It has already been told how Captain George B. McClellan was suddenly raised in rank, at the very outset of the war, first to a major-generalship in the three months' militia, then to the command of the military department of the Ohio; from that to a major-generalship in the regular army; and after his successful campaign in West Virginia was called to Washington and placed in command of the Division of the Potomac, which comprised all the troops in and around Washington, on both sides of the river. Called thus to the capital of the nation to guard it against the results of the disastrous battle of Bull Run, and to organize a new army for extended offensive operations, the surrounding conditions naturally suggested to him that in all likelihood he would play a conspicuous part in the great drama of the Civil War. His ambition rose eagerly to the prospect. On the day on which he assumed command, July 27, he wrote to his wife:
"I find myself in a new and strange position here; President, cabinet, General Scott, and all, deferring to me. By some strange operation of magic I seem to have become the power of the land."
And three days later:
"They give me my way in everything, full swing and unbounded confidence.... Who would have thought, when we were married, that I should so soon be called upon to save my country?"
And still a few days afterward:
"I shall carry this thing en grande, and crush the rebels in one campaign."
From the giddy elevation to which such an imaginary achievement raised his dreams, there was but one higher step, and his colossal egotism immediately mounted to occupy it. On August 9, just two weeks after his arrival in Washington, he wrote:
"I would cheerfully take the dictatorship and agree to lay down my life when the country is saved;" while in the same letter he adds, with the most naive unconsciousness of his hallucination: "I am not spoiled by my unexpected new position."
Coming to the national capital in the hour of deepest public depression over the Bull Run defeat, McClellan was welcomed by the President, the cabinet, and General Scott with sincere friendship, by Congress with a hopeful eagerness, by the people with enthusiasm, and by Washington society with adulation. Externally he seemed to justify such a greeting. He was young, handsome, accomplished, genial and winning in conversation and manner. He at once manifested great industry and quick decision, and speedily exhibited a degree of ability in army organization which was not equaled by any officer during the Civil War. Under his eye the stream of the new three years' regiments pouring into the city went to their camps, fell into brigades and divisions, were supplied with equipments, horses, and batteries, and underwent the routine of drill, tactics, and reviews, which, without the least apparent noise or friction, in three months made the Army of the Potomac a perfect fighting machine of over one hundred and fifty thousand men and more than two hundred guns.
Recognizing his ability in this work, the government had indeed given him its full confidence, and permitted him to exercise almost unbounded authority; which he fully utilized in favoring his personal friends, and drawing to himself the best resources of the whole country in arms, supplies, and officers of education and experience. For a while his outward demeanor indicated respect and gratitude for the promotion and liberal favors bestowed upon him. But his phenomenal rise was fatal to his usefulness. The dream that he was to be the sole savior of his country, announced confidentially to his wife just two weeks after his arrival in Washington, never again left him so long as he continued in command. Coupled with this dazzling vision, however, was soon developed the tormenting twofold hallucination: first, that everybody was conspiring to thwart him; and, second, that the enemy had from double to quadruple numbers to defeat him.
For the first month he could not sleep for the nightmare that Beauregard's demoralized army had by a sudden bound from Manassas seized the city of Washington. He immediately began a quarrel with General Scott, which, by the first of November, drove the old hero into retirement and out of his pathway. The cabinet members who, wittingly or unwittingly, had encouraged him in this he some weeks later stigmatized as a set of geese. Seeing that President Lincoln was kind and unassuming in discussing military questions, McClellan quickly contracted the habit of expressing contempt for him in his confidential letters; and the feeling rapidly grew until it reached a mark of open disrespect. The same trait manifested itself in his making exclusive confidants of only two or three of his subordinate generals, and ignoring the counsel of all the others; and when, later on, Congress appointed a standing committee of leading senators and representatives to examine into the conduct of the war, he placed himself in a similar attitude respecting their inquiry and advice.
McClellan's activity and judgment as an army organizer naturally created great hopes that he would be equally efficient as a commander in the field. But these hopes were grievously disappointed. To his first great defect of estimating himself as the sole savior of the country, must at once be added the second, of his utter inability to form any reasonable judgment of the strength of the enemy in his front. On September 8, when the Confederate army at Manassas numbered forty-one thousand, he rated it at one hundred and thirty thousand. By the end of October that estimate had risen to one hundred and fifty thousand, to meet which he asked that his own force should be raised to an aggregate of two hundred and forty thousand, with a total of effectives of two hundred and eight thousand, and four hundred and eighty-eight guns. He suggested that to gather this force all other points should be left on the defensive; that the Army of the Potomac held the fate of the country in its hands; that the advance should not be postponed beyond November 25; and that a single will should direct the plan of accomplishing a crushing defeat of the rebel army at Manassas.
On the first of November the President, yielding at last to General Scott's urgent solicitation, issued the orders placing him on the retired list, and in his stead appointing General McClellan to the command of all the armies. The administration indulged the expectation that at last "The Young Napoleon," as the newspapers often called him, would take advantage of the fine autumn weather, and, by a bold move with his single will and his immense force, outnumbering the enemy nearly four to one, would redeem his promise to crush the army at Manassas and "save the country." But the November days came and went, as the October days had come and gone. McClellan and his brilliant staff galloped unceasingly from camp to camp, and review followed review, while autumn imperceptibly gave place to the cold and storms of winter; and still there was no sign of forward movement.
Under his own growing impatience, as well as that of the public, the President, about the first of December, inquired pointedly, in a memorandum suggesting a plan of campaign, how long it would require to actually get in motion. McClellan answered: "By December 15,—probably 25"; and put aside the President's suggestion by explaining: "I have now my mind actively turned toward another plan of campaign that I do not think at all anticipated by the enemy, nor by many of our own people."
December 25 came, as November 25 had come, and still there was no plan, no preparation, no movement. Then McClellan fell seriously ill. By a spontaneous and most natural impulse, the soldiers of the various camps began the erection of huts to shelter them from snow and storm. In a few weeks the Army of the Potomac was practically, if not by order, in winter quarters; and day after day the monotonous telegraphic phrase "All quiet on the Potomac" was read from Northern newspapers in Northern homes, until by mere iteration it degenerated from an expression of deep disappointment to a note of sarcastic criticism.
While so unsatisfactory a condition of affairs existed in the first great military field east of the Alleghanies, the outlook was quite as unpromising both in the second—between the Alleghanies and the Mississippi—and in the third—west of the Mississippi. When the Confederates, about September 1, 1861, invaded Kentucky, they stationed General Pillow at the strongly fortified town of Columbus on the Mississippi River, with about six thousand men; General Buckner at Bowling Green, on the railroad north of Nashville, with five thousand; and General Zollicoffer, with six regiments, in eastern Kentucky, fronting Cumberland Gap. Up to that time there were no Union troops in Kentucky, except a few regiments of Home Guards. Now, however, the State legislature called for active help; and General Anderson, exercising nominal command from Cincinnati, sent Brigadier-General Sherman to Nashville to confront Buckner, and Brigadier-General Thomas to Camp Dick Robinson, to confront Zollicoffer.
Neither side was as yet in a condition of force and preparation to take the aggressive. When, a month later, Anderson, on account of ill health turned over the command to Sherman, the latter had gathered only about eighteen thousand men, and was greatly discouraged by the task of defending three hundred miles of frontier with that small force. In an interview with Secretary of War Cameron, who called upon him on his return from Fremont's camp, about the middle of October, he strongly urged that he needed for immediate defense sixty thousand, and for ultimate offense "two hundred thousand before we were done." "Great God!" exclaimed Cameron, "where are they to come from?" Both Sherman's demand and Cameron's answer were a pertinent comment on McClellan's policy of collecting the whole military strength of the country at Washington to fight the one great battle for which he could never get ready.
Sherman was so distressed by the seeming magnitude of his burden that he soon asked to be relieved; and when Brigadier-General Buell was sent to succeed him in command of that part of Kentucky lying east of the Cumberland River, it was the expectation of the President that he would devote his main attention and energy to the accomplishment of a specific object which Mr. Lincoln had very much at heart.
Ever since the days in June, when President Lincoln had presided over the council of war which discussed and decided upon the Bull Run campaign, he had devoted every spare moment of his time to the study of such military books and leading principles of the art of war as would aid him in solving questions that must necessarily come to himself for final decision. His acute perceptions, retentive memory, and unusual power of logic enabled him to make rapid progress in the acquisition of the fixed and accepted rules on which military writers agree. In this, as in other sciences, the main difficulty, of course, lies in applying fixed theories to variable conditions. When, however, we remember that at the outbreak of hostilities all the great commanders of the Civil War had experience only as captains and lieutenants, it is not strange that in speculative military problems the President's mature reasoning powers should have gained almost as rapidly by observation and criticism as theirs by practice and experiment. The mastery he attained of the difficult art, and how intuitively correct was his grasp of military situations, has been attested since in the enthusiastic admiration of brilliant technical students, amply fitted by training and intellect to express an opinion, whose comment does not fall short of declaring Mr. Lincoln "the ablest strategist of the war."