* * * * *
There is a second question, equally important. What is a nation's capacity for naval production? What ship-yards has it? What docks? What machine-shops? What stores of timber, iron, and hemp? And what skilled workmen to make these resources available? A nation is not strong simply because it has a hundred ships complete and armed floating on its waters. "Iron and steel will bend and break," runs the old nursery-tale. And practice shows that iron and steel wrought into ships have no better fortune, and that the stoutest barks will strand and founder, or else decay, and, amid the sharp exigencies of war, with wonderful rapidity. Not what a nation has, then, but how soon it can fill up these gaps of war, how great is its capacity to produce and reproduce, tells the story of its naval power.
When Louis Napoleon completed that triumph of skill and labor, the port of Cherbourg, England trembled more than if he had launched fifty frigates. And well she might. For what is Cherbourg? Nothing less than an immense permanent addition to the French power of naval production. Here, protected from the sea by a breakwater miles in extent, and which might have been the work of the Titans, and girdled by almost impregnable fortifications, is more than a safe harbor for all the fleets of the world. For here are docks for the repairs I dare not say of how many vessels, and ship-houses for the construction of one knows not how many more, and work-shops and arsenals and stores of timber and iron well-nigh inexhaustible. This is to have more than a hundred ships. This is to create productive capacity out of which may come many hundred ships, when they are wanted. The faith men have in the maritime greatness of England rests not simply on the fact that she has afloat a few hundred frail ships, but rather on this more pregnant fact, that England, from Pentland Frith to Land's End, is one gigantic work-shop,—and that, whether she turn her attention to the clothing of the world or the building of navies, there is no outmeasuring her mechanical activity. The world has called us a weak naval power. But the world has been mistaken. We are strong almost as the strongest, if not in fleets, then in the capacity to produce fleets. Three hundred armed vessels, extemporized in eighteen months, and maintaining what, considering the extent of coast to be watched, must be called a most efficient blockade, will stand as an impressive evidence that capacity to produce is one of the best of nautical gifts.
* * * * *
But passing from these questions, which relate to what may be called a nation's innate character and capacity, we come to a third consideration, of perhaps even more immediate interest. One of the elements which help to make a nation's power is certainly its available strength. An important question, then, is, not only, How many ships can a nation produce? but, How many has it complete and ready for use? In an emergency, what force could it send at a moment's notice to the point of danger? If we apply this consideration to European powers, we shall appreciate better how young we are, and how little of our latent strength has been organized into actual efficiency. In 1857 England had 300 steam ships-of-war, carrying some 7,000 guns, nearly as many more sailing ships, carrying 9,000 guns, an equal number of gun-boats and smaller craft, besides a respectable navy connected with her East Indian colonies: a grand sum-total of more than 900 vessels and not less than 20,000 guns. Here, then, is a fleet, built and ready for service, which is many times stronger than that which we have been able to gather after eighteen months of constant and strenuous effort. And behind this array there is a community essentially mercantile, unsurpassed in mechanic skill and productiveness, and full of sailors of the best stamp. What tremendous elements of naval power are these! One does not wonder that the remark often made is so nearly true,—that, if there is any trouble in the farthest port on the globe, in a few hours you will see a British bull-dog quietly steaming up the harbor, to ask what it is all about, and whether England can make anything out of the transaction.
* * * * *
There is another consideration which perhaps many would put foremost. Has the nation kept pace with the progress of science and mechanic arts? Once her superior seamanship almost alone enabled England to keep the sea against all comers. But it is not quite so now. Naval warfare has undergone a complete revolution. The increasing weight of artillery, and the precision with which it can be used, make it imperative that the means of defence should approximate at least in effectiveness to the means of offence. The question now is not, How many ships has England? but, How many mail-clad ships? how many that would be likely to resist a hundred-pound ball hurled from an Armstrong or Parrott gun? And if it should turn out that in this race France had outrun England, and had twenty or thirty of these gladiators of the sea, most would begin to doubt whether the old dynasty could maintain its power. The interest and curiosity felt on this subject have almost created a new order of periodical literature. You open your "Atlantic," and the chances are ten to one that you skip over the stories and the dainty bits of poetry and criticism to see what Mr. Derby has to say about iron-clads. You receive your "Harper" and you feel aggrieved, if you do not find a picture of the Passaic, or of Timby's revolving turret, or of something similar which will give you a little more light concerning these monsters which are threatening to turn the world upside down. Now all this intense curiosity shows how general and instinctive is the conviction of the importance of this new element in naval force.
* * * * *
The considerations to which we have alluded have already received a large share of the public attention. They have been examined and discussed from almost every possible point of view. Probably every one has some ideas, more or less correct, concerning them. But there is a consideration which is equally important, which has received very little attention in this country, which indeed seems to have been entirely overlooked. It is this: The degree to which naval efficiency is dependent upon a wise colonial system.
If the only work of a fleet were to defend one's own harbors, then colonies, whatever might be their commercial importance, as an arm of naval strength, would be of but little value. If all the use England had for her navy were to defend London and Liverpool, she would do well to abandon many of her distant strongholds, which have been won at such cost, and which are kept with such care. If all our ships had to do were to keep the enemy out of Boston harbor and New York bay, it would not matter much, if every friendly port fifty miles from our own borders were closed against us. But the protection of our own ports is not by any means the chief work of fleets. The protection of commerce is as vital a duty. Commerce is the life-blood of a nation. Destroy that, and you destroy what makes and mans your fleets. Destroy that, and you destroy what supports the people and the government which is over the people. But if commerce is to be protected, war-ships must not hug timidly the shore. They must put boldly out to sea, and be wherever commerce is. They must range the stormy Atlantic. They must ply to and fro over that primitive home of commerce, the Mediterranean. Doubling the Cape, they must visit every part of the affluent East and of the broad Pacific. With restless energy they must plough every sea and explore every water where the hope of honest gain may entice the busy merchantman.
See what new and trying conditions are imposed upon naval power. A ship, however stanch, has her points of positive weakness. She can carry only a limited supply either of stores or of ammunition. She is liable, like everything else of human construction, to accidents of too serious a nature to be repaired on ship-board. If, now, from any reason, from disasters of storm or sea, or from deficient provisions, she is disabled, and no friendly port be near,—and in time of war no ports but our own are sure to be friendly,—then her efficiency is gone. And this difficulty increases almost in the ratio that modern science adds to her might. The old galley, which three thousand years ago, propelled by a hundred strong oarsmen, swept the waters of the Great Sea, was a poor thing indeed compared with a modern war-ship, in whose bosom beats a power as resistless as the elements. But its efficiency, such as it was, was not likely to be impaired. It had no furnace to feed, no machinery to watch, only the rude wants of rude men to supply, and rough oars to replace. A sailing ship, dependent upon the uncertain breeze, liable to be driven from her course by storms or to be detained by calms, gives no such impression of power as a steamship, mistress of her own movements, scorning the control of the elements, and keeping straight on to her destination in storm and calm alike. But in some respects the weak is strong. The ship is equal to most of the chances of a sea-experience. If the spar break, it can be replaced. If the storm rend the sails to ribbons, there are skilful hands which can find or make new ones. But the steamer has inexorable limitations. Break her machinery, and, if there be no friendly dock open to receive her, she is reduced at once to a sailing ship, and generally a poor one, too. Nor need you suppose accidents to cause this loss of efficiency. The mode of propulsion implies brevity of power. The galley depended upon the stalwart arms of its crew, and they were as likely to be strong to-morrow as to-day, and next month as to-morrow. The ship puts her trust in her white sails and in the free winds of heaven, which, however fickle they may be, never absolutely fail. But the steamer must carry in her own hold that upon which she feeds. You can reckon in weeks, yes, in days, the time when, unless her stock be renewed, her peculiar power will be lost.
What a tremendous limitation this is! A passenger-boat, whose engines move with the utmost possible economy, having no cargo but the food of her inmates, will carry only coal enough for thirty-three or -four days' consumption. This is the maximum. The majority cannot carry twenty-five days' supply. And when we add the armament and ammunition, and all that goes to make up a well-furnished ship, you cannot depend upon carrying twenty days' supply. Put now, in time of war with a great maritime power, your ship where she would be most wanted, in the East Indies, and close against her the ports of the civilized world, and the sooner she takes out her propeller, and sends up her masts higher, and spreads her wings wider, the better for her. That is, under such circumstances, modern improvements would be worse than useless; a sailing ship would be the best possible ship. Or come nearer home. Here is the Alabama, swift as the wind, the dread of every loyal merchantman. How long would she remain a thing of terror, if she were shut out from all ports but her own, or if our ships were permitted to frequent British and French ports for her destruction, as she is permitted to frequent them for our destruction? Or consider another case equally pertinent. We are told, and no doubt truly, that the loss of Norfolk, at the commencement of the war, was an incalculable injury to us. That is to say, the removal of our place of naval supply and repair only the few hundred miles which divide the Chesapeake from the Hudson was an untold loss. Suppose it were removed as many thousand miles, what then? One single fact, showing what, under the best of circumstances, is the difficulty and expense of modern warfare, is worth a thousand theories. In 1857, then, it took two hundred thousand tons of coal to supply that part of the English fleet which was in the East,—two hundred thousand tons to be brought from somewhere in sailing ships. If ever a contest shall arise among great commercial powers, it will be seen that modern science has made new conditions, and that the first inexorable demand of modern warfare is coal depots, and docks and machine-shops, established in ports easy of access, and protected by natural and artificial strength, and scattered at easy distances all over the commercial world. In short, men will appreciate better than they do now, that the right arm of naval warfare is not mail-clad steamers, but well-chosen colonies.
* * * * *
The sagacity of England was never more clearly shown than in the foresight with which she has provided against such an emergency. Let war come when it may, it will not find England in this respect unprepared. So thickly are her colonies scattered over the face of the earth, that her war-ships can go to every commercial centre on the globe without spreading so much as a foot of canvas to the breeze.
There is the Mediterranean Sea. A great centre of commerce. It was a great centre as long ago as when the Phoenician traversed it, and, passing through the Straits of Hercules, sped on his way to distant and then savage Britain. It was a great centre when Rome and Carthage wrestled in a death-grapple for its possession. But England is as much at home in the Mediterranean as if it were one of her own lakes. At Gibraltar, at its entrance, she has a magnificent bay, more than five miles in diameter, deep, safe from storms, protected from man's assault by its more than adamantine rock. In the centre, at Malta, she has a harbor, land-locked, curiously indented, sleeping safely beneath the frowning guns of Valetta. But from Southampton to Gibraltar is for a steamship an easy six days' sail; from Gibraltar to Malta not more than five days; and from Malta to the extreme eastern coast of the sea and back again hardly ten days' sail.
Take the grand highway of nations to India. England has her places of refreshment scattered all along it with almost as much regularity as depots on a railroad. From England to Gibraltar is six days' sail; thence to Sierra Leone twelve days; to Ascension six days; to St. Helena three days; to Cape Colony eight days; to Mauritius not more; to Ceylon about the same; and thence to Calcutta three or four days. Going farther east, a few days' sail will bring you to Singapore, and a few more to Hong Kong, and then you are at the gates of Canton. Mark now that in this immense girdle of some twelve or fifteen thousand miles there is no distance which a well-appointed steamer may not easily accomplish with such store of coal as she can carry. She may not, indeed, stop at all these ports. It may be more convenient and economical to use sails a part of the distance, rather than steam. But, if an exigency required it, she could stop and find everywhere a safe harbor.
What is true of the East Indies is true of the West Indies, England has as much power as we have to control the waters of the Western Atlantic and of the Gulf of Mexico. If we have Boston and New York and Pensacola and New Orleans and Key West, she has Halifax and the Bermudas and Balize and Jamaica and Nassau and a score more of island-harbors stretching in an unbroken line from the Florida Reefs to the mouth of the Orinoco. And if our civil war were ended to-day, and we were in peaceable possession of all our ports, she could keep a strong fleet in the Gulf and along our coast quite as easily as we could.
* * * * *
But it is not simply the number of the British colonies, or the evenness with which they are distributed, that challenges our highest admiration. The positions which these colonies occupy, and their natural military strength, are quite as important facts. There is not a sea or a gulf in the world, which has any real commercial importance, that England has not a stronghold in the throat of it. And wherever the continents trending southward come to points around which the commerce of nations, must sweep, there, upon every one of them, is a British settlement, and the cross of St. George salutes you as you are wafted by. There is hardly a little desolate, rocky island or peninsula, formed apparently by Nature for a fortress, and formed for nothing else, but the British lion has it secure beneath his paw.
This is literal fact. Take, for example, the great overland route from Europe to Asia. Despite its name, its real highway is on the waters of the Mediterranean and Red Seas. It has three gates,—three alone. They are the narrow strait of Gibraltar, fifteen miles wide, that place where the Mediterranean narrows between Sicily and Africa to less than a hundred miles wide, and the strait of Bab-el-mandeb, seventeen miles wide. England holds the keys to every one of these gates. Count them,—Gibraltar, Malta, and at the mouth of the Red Sea, not one, but many keys. There, midway in the narrow strait, is the black, bare rock of Perim, sterile, precipitous, a perfect counterpart of Gibraltar; and on either side, between it and the main-land, are the ship-channels which connect the Red Sea with the great Indian Ocean. This England seized in 1857. A little farther out is the peninsula of Aden, another Gibraltar, as rocky, as sterile, as precipitous, connected with the mainland by a narrow strait, and having at its base a populous little town, a harbor safe in all winds, and a central coal-depot. This England bought, after her fashion of buying, in 1839. And to complete her security, we are now told that she has purchased of some petty Sultan the neighboring islands of Socotra and Kouri, giving, as it were, a retaining-fee, that, though she does not need them herself, no rival power shall ever possess them.
As we sail a little farther on, we come to the Chinese Sea. What a beaten track of commerce is this! What wealth of comfort and luxury is wafted over it by every breeze! The teas of China! The silks of farther India! The spices of the East! What ships of every clime and nation swarm on its waters! The stately barks of England, France, and Holland! Our own swift ships! And mingled with them, in picturesque confusion, the clumsy junk of the Chinaman, the Malay prahu and the slender, darting bangkong of the Sea Dyak! Has England neglected to secure on a permanent basis her mercantile interests in the Chinese Sea? At the lower end of that sea, where it narrows and bends into Malacca Strait, she holds Singapore, a little island, mostly covered with jungles and infested by tigers, which to this day destroy annually from two to three hundred lives,—a spot of no use to her whatever, except as a commercial depot, but of inestimable value for that, and which, under her fostering care, is growing up to take its place among the great emporiums of the world. Half-way up this sea is the island of Labuan, whose chief worth is this, that beneath its surface and that of the neighboring mainland are hidden inexhaustible treasures of coal, which are likely soon to be developed, and to yield wealth and power to the hand that controls them. At the upper end of the sea is Hong Kong, a hot, unhealthy, and disagreeable island, but which gives her what she wants, a depot and a base from which to threaten and control the neighboring waters. Clearly the Chinese Sea, the artery of Oriental commerce, belongs far more to England than to the races which border it.
Even in the broad and as yet comparatively untracked Pacific she is making silent advances toward dominion. The continent of Australia, which she has monopolized, forms its southwestern boundary. And pushed out from this, six hundred miles eastward, like a strong outpost, is New Zealand; itself larger than Great Britain; its shores so scooped and torn by the waves that it must be a very paradise of commodious bays and safe havens for the mariner; and lifted up, as if to relieve it from island tameness, are great mountains and dumb volcanoes, worthy of a continent, and which hide in their bosoms deep, broad lakes. Yet the soil of the lowlands is of extraordinary fertility, and the climate, though humid, deals kindly with the Anglo-Saxon constitution. Nor is this all; for, advanced from it north and south, like picket-stations, are Norfolk isle and the Auckland group, which, if they have no other attractions, certainly have this great one, good harbors. And it requires no prophet's eye to see, that, when England needs posts farther eastward, she will find them among the innumerable green coral islets which stud the Pacific.
Turn now your steps homeward, and pause a moment at the Bermudas, "the still vexed Bermoothes." Beautiful isles, with their fresh verdure, green gems in the ocean, with airs soft and balmy as Eden's were! They have their homely uses too. They furnish arrowroot for the sick, and ample supplies of vegetables earlier than sterner climates will grant. Is this all that can be said? Reflect a little more deeply. Here is a military and naval depot, and here a splendid harbor, land-locked, amply fortified, difficult of access to strangers,—and all this as near to the whole Southern coast as Boston and New York are, all this within three or four days' sail of any one of the Atlantic ports North or South. England keeps this, no doubt, as a sort of halfway house on the road to her West Indian possessions; but should we go to war with her, she would use it none the less as a base of offensive operations, where she might gather and hurl upon any unprotected port all her gigantic naval power.
We have asserted that England holds all the Southern points in which the continents of the world terminate. Examine this statement, and see how much it means. Take your map of the world, and you will find that the land-surface of the globe culminates at the south in five points, no more,—America at Cape Horn, Africa at the Cape of Good Hope, Asia in Ceylon and the Malayan peninsula, and Australia in the island of Tasmania. Is it not surprising that these wedges which cut into the steady flowing stream of commerce, these choice points of mercantile and naval advantage, are all in the hands of one single power? Can it be of chance? Or rather, is it not the result of a well-ordered purpose, which, waiting its time, seizing every favorable opportunity, has finally achieved success?
[Footnote 5: It is not absolutely true that England holds Cape Horn; for the region is unfit for the residence of civilized man. And were it not so, the perpetual storms leave no secure anchorage. But Great Britain does hold the nearest habitable land, the Falkland Islands,—and notwithstanding the rudeness of the climate, Stanley, the principal settlement, does a considerable business in refitting and repairing ships bound round the Cape.]
The topic is not exhausted, but the facts already adduced prove clearly enough that somewhere in the English government there has been sagacity to plant colonies, not only at convenient distances, but also in such commanding positions that they do their part to confirm and perpetuate her maritime supremacy. Can any one fail to see how immeasurably this system increases naval force? Of course such strongholds, wherever placed, would be of no use to a power which had not ships. They could not be held by such a power. But, given a fleet as powerful as ever rode the waves, given seamen gallant and skilful as ever furled a sail or guided the helm, and these depots and havens, scattered, but not blindly, over the earth, quadruple the efficiency of the power which they could not create.
* * * * *
The number of the English colonies, their happy distribution, and, above all, their commanding position, furnish subjects of exceeding interest. But the patience with which England has waited, the skill with which she has seized the proper moment for success, and especially the fixed determination with which she has held her prizes, are topics of equal or greater interest.
The history of the Rock of Gibraltar, one of the earliest of these prizes, supplies a good illustration. This had many owners before it came under British rule. But none of them seemed to know its true value. All held it with a loose grasp. Its surprise and capture by the sailors from Admiral Rooke's fleet, creditable as it was to its captors, who swarmed up the steep cliffs as they would have swarmed up the shrouds and yards of their own frigates, leaping from rock to rock with fearless activity, was equally discreditable to its defenders, who either did not appreciate the worth of their charge or else had not the courage to hold it as such a trust should have been held. But when England closed her strong hand upon it, nothing could open it again, neither motives of profit nor motives of fear. In 1729 Spain offered no less than ten million dollars for its return. A great sum in those times, and to offer to a people who had been impoverished by long wars! But the descendants of those sea-kings, Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher, who had carried England's flag and England's renown into every sea, would not part with the brightest jewel in her crown, and for a price. Three times, too, the besieger has appeared before Gibraltar, and vainly. From 1779 to 1782 France and Spain exhausted all their resources in a three-years' siege, which is one of the most remarkable episodes in military history. By sea and by land, by blockade, by bombardment, by assault, was it pressed. But the tenacity of England was more than a match for the fire and pride of France and Spain, and it ended in signal and disastrous failure.
Glance for a moment at the history of the seizure of Malta. For generations the value of this citadel had been known. All the strong nations of Europe had looked with covetous eyes upon it. But it was a difficult thing to find any pretext for its capture. It was held by the Knights of St. John, the decrepit remnant of an order whose heroism had many times been the shield of Christendom against the Turk, and whose praise had once filled the whole earth. They were now as inoffensive as they were incapable. Their helplessness was their true defence,—and the memory of their good deeds. At last, in 1798, Napoleon, on his way to Egypt, partly by force and partly by treaty, obtained possession of it. So strong were its fortresses, that he himself acknowledged that the knights needed only to have shut their gates against him to have baffled him. Two years after, the English, watching their time, by blockade, starved out the French garrison. Its new owners held it with their usual determination. Rather than surrender it,—though they had made treaty-stipulations to that effect,—they deliberately entered upon a ten-years' war with France. The indignation which Napoleon felt, and the language which he used, show that he knew the value of the prize for which he was struggling. "I would rather," said he, "see you in possession of Montmartre than in possession of Malta." "Malta gives the dominion of the Mediterranean; I thus lose the most important sea in the world, and the respect of Europe. Let the English obtain a port to put into; to that I have no objection; but I am determined that they shall not have two Gibraltars in one sea,—one at the entrance, and one in the middle." Nevertheless he was forced to yield to destiny stronger than his own iron will. Eleven years more found him in sad exile, and the British flag still waving over the Valetta.
Nothing better illustrates the firmness with which England holds her purpose than the fate of Aden. This is the halfway station between England and her East Indian possessions. It commands the Red Sea. It is the best spot for a coal-depot in the East. Properly defended, it is almost impregnable. The wide-roving eye of mercantile England had long ago searched out and in fancy possessed it. Hear what one of her own historians has said:—"Eager eyes had long been turned toward this spot." To find an excuse, real or apparent, for its appropriation was the trouble. The Sultan of Lahidge, its owner, was indeed little better than a freebooter. But, though wild, lawless, and of piratical tendencies, he had for a long time the wisdom not to molest British traders. In 1839, however, whether from ignorance of its nationality, or from recklessness, is uncertain, he seized and pillaged a native Madras boat sailing under British colors. The East Indian government at once took advantage of the opportunity thus afforded. An ambassador was sent to demand remuneration, and this remuneration was—Aden. The Sultan was at first disposed to accede to this demand, but soon kindling into rage, he attempted to lay violent hands upon the ambassador. The reply was—a fleet and a military force, which first cannonaded and then stormed the stronghold at the point of the bayonet. So Aden passed into the hands which had been waiting for years to grasp it. It is said by some writers that a compensation has been made to the Sultan; but the sum is not mentioned, nor the authority for so doubtful a statement given.
Hong Kong furnishes another illustration. Most, no doubt, are familiar with the general outlines of the first Chinese War: how England stormed, one after another, the ill-constructed and worse-defended Chinese forts, until the courage and insolence of the Lord of the Central Flowery Kingdom alike failed. Why, now, did not England retain military possession of Canton, or some other important commercial town? That would have given her much trouble and little profit. She chose rather to retain only one sterile island of a few miles in diameter, whose possession would awaken nobody's jealousy, but which would furnish a sufficient base for operations in any future wars.
One more example. Until about the beginning of the present century, Ceylon and Cape Colony were Dutch possessions. This is the history of their loss. Soon after the French Revolution broke out, Holland, with the consent of a portion of her people, was incorporated, if not in name, yet in reality, into the French Empire. During the long wars of Napoleon, she shared the fortunes of her master, and when continual defeats broke the power of both on the sea, her colonies were left defenceless. Ceylon and Cape Colony fell into the hands of the English; but so, too, did Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Essequibo, Berbice, and, indeed, with but little exception, all her colonial possessions, East and West. At the peace of 1814, England restored to Holland the larger portion of this territory, though not without many remonstrances from her own merchants and statesmen. But Ceylon and Cape Colony she did not restore. These were more to her than rich islands. They were links in a grand chain of commercial connection. As Aden is the half-way station on the overland route, so Cape Colony is the half-way station on the ocean route; and Ceylon, while it rounds out and completes the great peninsula of which it may be considered to be a part, furnishes in Point de Galle, at the south, a most needed port of refuge, and on the east, at Trincomalee, one of the finest of naval harbors, with dock-yards, machine-shops, and arsenal complete. Even England could be generous to a fallen foe, whose enmity had been quite as much a matter of necessity as inclination. But by no mistimed clemency could she sacrifice such solid advantages as these.
This steady march toward the control of the commercial waters of the earth, some of whose footsteps we have now traced, reveals the existence of as steady a purpose. This colonial empire, so wide, so consistent, and so well compacted, is not the work of dull men, or the result of a series of fortunate blunders. Back of its history, and creating its history, there must have been a clear, calm, persistent, ambitious policy,—a policy which has usually regarded appearances, but which has also managed to accomplish its cherished purposes. And the end towards which this policy tends is always one and the same: to enlarge England's commercial resources, and to build up side by side with this peaceful strength a naval power which shall keep untarnished her proudest title,—"Mistress and sovereign of the seas."
* * * * *
With justice England is called the mightiest naval power in the world. And well she may be. She has every element to make her mighty. The waves which beat upon all her coasts train up a race of seamen as hardy, as skilful, as courageous as ever sailed the sea. In her bosom are hidden inexhaustible stores of iron, copper, and coal. Her Highland hills are covered with forests of oak and larch, growing while men sleep. Her borders are crowded with workshops, and her skies are dark with the smoke of their chimneys, and the air rings with the sound of their hammers. Her docks are filled with ships, and her watchful guardians are on every sea. Her eyes are open to profit by every invention. And her strong colonies, overlooking all waters, give new vigor and a better distribution to her naval resources. A mighty naval power she is, and, for good or evil, a mighty naval power she is likely to continue. The great revolutions in warfare, which in our day are proceeding with such wonderful rapidity, may for a time disturb this supremacy; but in the end, the genius of England, essentially maritime, and as clear and strong on the sea as it is apt to be weak and confused upon the land, will enable her to stand on her own element, as she has stood for centuries, with no superior, and with scarcely a rival.
* * * * *
An officer on General Butler's staff, residing constantly, while in New Orleans, under his roof, having had direct personal observation of him during the entire progress of the "Ship-Island Expedition," may perhaps be pardoned for putting on record in this magazine some characteristic traits of the man whom this war has brought so prominently, not only before our own people, but also the people of Europe.
In the execution of this task I shall confine myself to the mention of incidents of his administration at New Orleans, and the relation of the inside history (the history of motive and cause) of many of his public acts which elicited from the European press and the enemies of the Union in our own land the bitterest abuse,—believing that in so doing I offer stronger proof of the injustice of their attacks than I could possibly furnish by any attempt to argue them down. And that the patience of my readers may not be unnecessarily taxed, I shall proceed without further introduction to the consideration of OUR GENERAL in New Orleans.
* * * * *
One of the first difficulties which General Butler found in the way of the restoration of the national authority in that city was the attitude of the foreign consuls. Under the leadership of Mr. George Coppell, who was acting for the British Government in the absence of the consul, Mr. Muir, they tacitly declared an offensive and defensive war of the guerrilla stamp against every step or order for the promotion of loyal sentiment or the inculcation of a belief in the strength of our Government. Nothing excited greater hostility abroad than the General's treatment of these gentlemen, and in nothing has he been more admired by his loyal countrymen than in his complete discomfiture of them.
I have noticed this little episode in the history of the Rebellion simply with the view of showing, that, while officially he met their combined attacks with "war to the knife," his personal intercourse with them was friendly and pleasant.
After the consuls had apparently abandoned their unsuccessful alliance in despair, Mr. Coppell, who had never yet met the General, expressed, through the commander of Her Britannic Majesty's frigate Rinaldo, a desire for an introduction to him.
The General received Mr. Coppell with marked cordiality, and was, I think, pleased with his appearance; at all events, from that time until we left the city Mr. Coppell was frequently at the office, oftentimes by invitation of the General, and nothing ever occurred to disturb the harmony of their personal relations.
On one occasion they were discussing the French and English statutes prohibiting the subjects of those powers from holding slaves. A large number of French and English subjects were living in open violation of this prohibition in New Orleans, and the General remarked to Mr. Coppell that he had a great mind to heap coals of fire on the heads of his friends across the Atlantic by enforcing their laws. Mr. Coppell with eager enthusiasm applauded the project, and urged the General to carry it into effect.
The Spanish Government was represented in New Orleans by Don Juan Callejon. Early in the summer the strictness of our quarantine of vessels from Cuba produced some ill feeling on his part, which manifested itself in the refusal of a clean bill of health to the steamer Roanoke, about to leave New Orleans for Havana. In response to a request from the General, Don Juan called immediately at the office; but owing to the unfortunate circumstance of his entire ignorance of the English language, and the consequent necessity of conversing through the medium of an interpreter, a serious misunderstanding ensued, and the General, supposing the Consul to be contemptuously setting our Government at defiance, threatened to send him out of the country; but afterwards learning that their difference had arisen purely from misinterpretation, and that Senor Callejon had proved himself a patriot and hero in his country's service, the General, with the honest admiration which one brave man always feels toward another, took especial pains to render their intercourse, both official and personal, as agreeable as might be. And to show the Spanish consul that in the matter of quarantine he was inspired by no dislike toward his Government, he placed more rigid restrictions, if possible, on American vessels from infected ports than on the vessels of Spain.
To Senor Ruiz, the acting consul of the Republic of Mexico, who had the singular consular virtue of sympathizing warmly with the free North, the General's attentions were something more sincere than the hackneyed "assurances of distinguished consideration" so necessary to diplomatic correspondence and intercourse.
Indeed, I doubt if any of the foreign commercial agents at New Orleans would claim that they ever had cause to complain against General Butler on account of any personal grievance.
* * * * *
Probably nothing in the history of General Butler's administration in New Orleans drew from the foes of free government in every land such unmeasured execration as the celebrated "Order No. 28," relating to the conduct of women in the street, and I wish to give the most decided testimony upon this subject. That something was necessary to be done to stop the insults to which we were continually subjected by the other sex, I presume no one who is well informed as to their frequency and humiliating character will for a moment doubt. Upon our arrival in the city I flattered myself that such demonstrations would excite in me no sentiment more serious than pity for the childishness that prompted them; but I confess, that, after a day or two, the sneers and contortions of countenance, the angry withholding of the dress from contact with my person, and the abrupt departure from the sidewalk to the middle of the street to avoid even passing the hated uniform, were too much for my philosophy, and gave me a sense of humiliation more painful than I can express. And yet the insults I received were slight, compared to those offered to many of our officers and men.
This condition of affairs continued about two weeks, until it became positively intolerable.
Young officers, too gallant, and too deeply imbued with the American respect for woman, to resent, by word or deed, the indignity, would come to the General with their cheeks crimson with shame and the effort to repress their just indignation, and beg him to take some measure for the suppression of the evil.
Most men would have seen no other solution of the difficulty than the arrest and punishment of a few of the offenders as a warning to the rest. But General Butler foresaw, what was afterwards proved in the case of Mrs. Larue, that the arrest of women would invariably provoke a street-disturbance, which might lead to bloodshed; he, therefore, remembering an old ordinance of the city of London, republished it in the form of the General Order which has gained so universal a celebrity.
Mr. Monroe, who was mayor of the city at the time of its capture, came in a paroxysm of anger to protest against the order as a libel on every lady in New Orleans.
The General, with perfect good-nature, went over every word of it with him, explaining its origin and its intent, and demonstrating beyond doubt that it simply gave the female population of the city the opportunity to choose in which of the two categories they would be classed,—ladies or "common women,"—and assured the Mayor, that, above all, his idea was to promulgate such an order as would execute itself, and prevent the very thing which the Rebels have since charged upon him,—"a war upon women."
Three times Mr. Monroe left the General with the firm conviction that the act was perfectly proper; but, instigated by crafty and able conspirators, of whom the ruling spirit was Mr. Pierre Soule, he repeatedly returned with fresh attacks on the General's administration, and especially on this order, until, the General's patience being exhausted, he said to him,—"Mr. Mayor, you have played with me long enough. Your case is settled. The boat leaves for Fort Jackson this afternoon, and you must be ready to take passage on her at four o'clock."
I never witnessed greater forbearance than the General displayed in his treatment of the Mayor; indeed, I was at the time quite indignant that he allowed him such liberty of speech and action.
One word more about "Order No. 28." General Beauregard's fierce anger, and his horrible construction of its provisions, intended for effect on his troops, will be well remembered by my readers. It may not be uninteresting to them to know that Beauregard's sister in New Orleans, when asked her opinion of the order, answered,—"I have no interest in or objection to it; it does not apply to me." Is it difficult to guess to which class she belonged?
Can I say anything stronger in vindication of the propriety of this order, or of the General's sagacity in issuing it, than that the first twenty-four hours after its promulgation witnessed a complete, and, it seemed to us who were there, almost miraculous, change in the deportment of the ladies of the Crescent City? If success is the test of merit, then was it one of the most meritorious acts of the war.
* * * * *
The severity with which General Butler punished crimes against the Government that he was determined should be respected, or against the poor and oppressed, was of course in the Confederacy and in Europe denounced as the most fiendish cruelty, and he was characterized as a man whose every impulse was prompted by the most brutal passions.
I do not expect the people of the South to believe my statement, that I never met a man of greater generosity and kindness of heart, or one more pleased to do an act of clemency; but I think the loyal reader will find in the following illustrations of these traits evidence of its truth.
Among the Rebel soldiers who were captured at the surrender of Fort Jackson, in April, 1862, were four men who, with the remainder of the garrison, were paroled as prisoners of war, but were soon after discovered in an attempt to organize a company, of which they were elected officers, with the view of crossing our lines by force and rejoining the Rebel army, and upon their own confession were convicted and sentenced to be shot,—the only expiation known to the rules of civilized warfare for so flagrant a violation of the parole.
During the interval between their conviction and the day appointed for their execution, I had occasion to see them frequently, and was strongly impressed with the idea that they had sinned in ignorance of the magnitude of their offence, and that a commutation of the death-penalty would be of more benefit than injury to our cause. As the day of their death rapidly drew near, and I observed their agonized despair of a reprieve, and their earnest, sincere efforts to prepare for a fate they deemed inevitable, I determined to make an urgent appeal to the General for their lives.
On the afternoon previous to the day of their expected execution, I went to the General's room and implored him to relent toward the unhappy men.
The General, in a kind, but apparently decided manner, met my urgent request by referring to the proofs of their guilt, and the necessity of the severest punishment as an example to others.
I was well aware of the futility of attempting to reason with the astute lawyer, who had all the law on his side, and twenty years' experience at the bar in cases where he had met every argument that ingenuity could devise; so, avoiding his reasoning, I appealed directly to his feelings. In this I was most earnestly and efficiently aided by one of his household, whose heart and influence were always on the side of tenderness and mercy.
The earnestness with which I urged the cause of the wretched prisoners excited in me an interest I was not before conscious of feeling, and I suddenly found myself almost unable to speak from the choking emotions which swelled up into my throat.
Beneath the General's argument for abstract justice, I thought, however, I discovered a warm sympathy for my distress, and I gathered encouragement.
In a few minutes an officer who had been in the room during our interview, and from whom the General desired to conceal his benevolent intention toward the men, took his leave. The General turned to me immediately, and, in a voice scarcely audible, said,—"Do not feel so badly, Captain; it shall be all right."
Not daring to trust my voice, I bowed my thanks and left the room, happy in the possession of so agreeable a secret.
The next morning, as I rode out to the spot assigned for the terrible tragedy, and gazed upon the silent, curious crowd that followed, and upon the four men sitting there upon those rough pine coffins, straining their eager eyes for one long last look at the glorious sun whose rising they were never again to see, I doubted if their happiness, when an hour hence they would be returning to the city with joyous anticipations of assured life, would be any more sincere than his,—"the American Haynau's,"—who, in his room at the St. Charles Hotel, rejoiced that he had been able to indulge the inclinations of his heart without detriment to the service.
In justice to others, I ought to add that a strong effort for the pardon of these prisoners was made by a number of the prominent residents of New Orleans.
It was in June of last year, I think, that a German bookseller named Keller was sent by General Butler to Ship Island for two years for exhibiting in his shop-window a human skeleton labelled "Chickahominy," claiming it to be the bones of some gallant soldier of the Union, army who had fallen in one of the disastrous battles in Virginia.
At his examination, Keller protested that he was a Union man, and had been imposed upon by some designing person who had taken advantage of his ignorance to make his shop the medium of displaying contempt and hatred of our cause by the revolting spectacle I have mentioned. It was proved, however, that Keller had said these were the bones of a Yankee. His defence may or may not have been true; but, at all events, he was apparently not an evil-disposed person, and I always believed the General punished the offence rather than the man.
After Keller had been on Ship Island some two or three months, his wife, a very modest, respectable little woman, came to me frequently with a piteous story of the suffering occasioned herself and her children by the prolonged absence of her husband, and begged me to intercede with the General for his pardon. Satisfied that the cause could suffer no injury by the return of the unfortunate man to his home, I promised to do my best to obtain his release. Accordingly, I took advantage of every favorable opportunity to drop a word in the hearing of the General for the benefit of poor Keller, who was pining away in his confinement at a rate that bade fair soon to render him as valuable a subject for anatomical research as the article he had exhibited in his shop-window.
At first my efforts met with very doubtful encouragement; but I was satisfied that the General's obduracy was caused by a conflict between his sense of public duty and his natural tendency toward forgiveness; so, fully assured that a few weeks would produce the desired result, I contented myself with merely recalling the ease to his memory whenever an opportunity offered.
Toward the last of October, being somewhat impatient at my tardy progress, I had just resolved to abandon my previous policy of waiting for time to do its work, and to make a vigorous onslaught upon the General's sympathies, when I learned that he had issued an order for Keller's release; and thus I was confirmed in my opinion that the General's heart was not proof against the claims of the unfortunate erring.
In the case of Mrs. Phillips, who was banished to Ship Island for her ghastly levity over the dead body of the gallant and lamented young De Kay, the General ordered a release after three months of exile, because he learned that her health was suffering in consequence of separation from her friends; and I doubt very much if she would have remained in duress three weeks, if the Rebel newspapers had not taunted the General so much, and threatened an expedition against the island for the purpose of rescuing the fair prisoner.
Mrs. Larue and Mrs. Cowen, the only other women who were imprisoned,—the former for openly distributing treasonable pamphlets in the street, thereby causing a riot, and the latter for publishing in a newspaper a card of defiance against the national authority,—after two weeks of punishment, were pardoned on the first intimation that they were suffering in health or comfort. Indeed, the General never desired the imprisonment of any person a single day beyond the time necessary for his correction, or longer than the requirements of justice demanded. I presume very few persons are aware that one of his last acts in New Orleans was to recommend to General Banks the pardon of all prisoners confined on mere political charges.
* * * * *
On account of the great and increasing pressure on the General's time by the immense and miscellaneous crowd of visitors, it was found necessary to establish an office outside of his, where every unknown caller should state his business to the officer in charge, who would decide whether or not it was essential for the person to see the General.
For a few weeks I had charge of this office, and nearly all my time was occupied in refusing passes outside of our lines. In a majority of instances, the applicants for the privilege of going into the Confederacy—many of them women—told the most sorrowful tales of destitution that could be relieved only by reaching their friends in the enemy's country; others urged, that a husband, a father, or a brother was enjoined by the physician to seek the country as the sole means of securing a return of health; in short, I was plied with every conceivable story of heart-rending woe and misery, related to induce the granting of passes, which the General, in consequence of the fact that in almost every instance where he had yielded to such importunities his confidence had been abused by the carrying of supplies and information to the Rebel army, had ordered me invariably to refuse. Ordinarily I succeeded in steeling my heart against these urgent entreaties; but occasionally some story, peculiarly harrowing in its details, seemed to demand a special effort in behalf of the applicant, and I would go to the General, and, in the desperation of my cause, exclaim,—
"General, you must see some of these people. I know, if you would only hear their stories, you would give them passes."
"You are entirely correct, Captain," he would reply. "I am sure I should; and that is precisely why I want you to see them for me."
And with this very doubtful satisfaction I would return to my desk, convinced that sensibility in a man who was allowed no discretion in its exercise was an entirely useless attribute, and that in future I would set my face as a flint against every appeal to my feelings.
* * * * *
Since my return to the North, I have heard a number of gentlemen—former political associates of General Butler—compare his "marvellous conversion" (here they always look, and apparently mean to be, severely sarcastic) on the slavery-question with that of Saul of Tarsus to Christianity.
If the last two years of our history have failed to educate them up to the meaning of this war, I confess that I think them almost incorrigible; yet I cannot believe that even they, if they had had the experience which has placed not only General Butler, but almost every one of the twenty thousand men composing the old "Army of the Gulf," firmly on the side of freedom to all, of whatever complexion, could longer withstand the dictates of God and humanity.
Let me describe one or two of the scenes I witnessed in New Orleans, that opened our eyes to the true nature of human bondage. The following incident is the same so well told by the General himself to the committee of the New-York Chamber of Commerce, at the Fifth-Avenue Hotel, in January last, and which was then reported in full in the New-York "Times." One of my objects in repeating this story is to illustrate my implicit confidence—inspired by my knowledge of his character—in the General's humanity and championship of the weak and down-trodden.
Just previous to the arrival of General Banks in New Orleans I was appointed Deputy-Provost-Marshal of the city, and held the office for some days after he had assumed command. One day, during the last week of our stay in the South, a young woman of about twenty years called upon me to complain that her landlord had ordered her out of her house, because she was unable longer to pay the rent, and she wished me to authorise her to take possession of one of her father's houses that had been confiscated, he being a wealthy Rebel, then in the Confederacy, and actively engaged in the Rebellion.
The girl was a perfect blonde in complexion: her hair was of a very pretty, light shade of brown, and perfectly straight; her eyes a clear, honest gray; and her skin as delicate and fair as a child's. Her manner was modest and ingenuous, and her language indicated much intelligence.
Considering these circumstances, I think I was justified in wheeling around in my chair and indulging in an unequivocal stare of incredulous amazement, when in the course of conversation she dropped a remark about having been born a slave.
"Do you mean to tell me," said I, "that you have negro blood in your veins?" And I was conscious of a feeling of embarrassment at asking a question so apparently preposterous.
"Yes," she replied, and then related the history of her life, which I shall repeat as briefly as possible.
"My father," she commenced, "is Mr. Cox, formerly a judge of one of the courts in this city. He was very rich, and owned a great many houses here. There is one of them over there," she remarked, naively, pointing to a handsome residence opposite my office in Canal Street. "My mother was one of his slaves. When I was sufficiently grown, he placed me at school at the Mechanics' Institute Seminary, on Broadway, New York. I remained there until I was about fifteen years of age, when Mr. Cox came on to New York and took me from the school to a hotel, where he obliged me to live with him as his mistress; and to-day, at the age of twenty-one, I am the mother of a boy five years old who is my father's son. After remaining some time in New York, he took me to Cincinnati and other cities at the North, in all of which I continued to live with him as before. During this sojourn in the Free States, I induced him to give me a deed of manumission; but on our return to New Orleans he obtained it from me, and destroyed it. At this time I tried to break off the unnatural connection, whereupon he caused me to be publicly whipped in the streets of the city, and then obliged me to marry a colored man; and now he has run off, leaving me without the least provision against want or actual starvation, and I ask you to give me one of his houses that I may have a home for myself and three little children."
Strange and improbable as this story appeared, I remembered, as it progressed, that I had heard it from Governor Shepley, who, as well as General Butler, had investigated it, and learned that it was not only true in every particular, but was perfectly familiar to the citizens of New Orleans, by whom Judge Cox had been elected to administer JUSTICE.
The clerks of my office, most of whom were old residents of the city, were well informed in the facts of the case, and attested the truth of the girl's story.
I was exceedingly perplexed, and knew not what to do in the matter; but after some thought I answered her thus:—
"This Department has changed rulers, and I know nothing of the policy of the new commander. If General Butler were still in authority, I should not hesitate a moment to grant your request,—for, even if I should commit an error of judgment, I am perfectly certain he would overlook it, and applaud the humane impulse that prompted the act; but General Banks might be less indulgent, and make very serious trouble with me for taking a step he would perhaps regard as unwarrantable."
I still hesitated, undecided how to act, when suddenly a happy thought struck me, and, turning to the girl, I added,—
"To-day is Thursday; next Tuesday I leave this city with General Butler for a land where, thank God! such wrongs as yours cannot exist; and, as General Banks is deeply engrossed in the immediate business at head-quarters, he will hardly hear of my action before the ship leaves,—so I am going to give you the house."
I am sure the kind-hearted reader will find no fault with me that I took particular pains to select one of the largest of her father's houses, (it contained forty rooms,) when she told me that she wanted to let the apartments as a means of support to herself and her children.
My only regret in the case was that Mr. Cox had not been considerate enough to leave a carriage and pair of bays on my hands, that I might have had the satisfaction of enabling his daughter to disport herself about the city in a style corresponding to her importance as a member of so wealthy and respectable a family.
And this story that I have just told reminds me of another, similar in many respects.
One Sunday morning, late last summer, as I came down-stairs to the breakfast-room, I was surprised to find a large number of persons assembled in the library.
When I reached the door, a member of the Staff took me by the arm, and drew me into the room toward a young and delicate mulatto girl who was standing against the opposite wall, with the meek, patient bearing of her race, so expressive of the system of repression to which they have been so long subjected.
Drawing down the border of her dress, my conductor showed me a sight more revolting than I trust ever again to behold.
The poor girl's back was flayed until the quivering flesh resembled a fresh beefsteak scorched on a gridiron. With a cold chill creeping through my veins, I turned away from the sickening spectacle, and for an explanation of the affair scanned the various persons about the room.
In the centre of the group, at his writing-table, sat the General. His head rested on his hand, and he was evidently endeavoring to fix his attention upon the remarks of a tall, swarthy-looking man who stood opposite, and who, I soon discovered, was the owner of the girl, and was attempting a defence of the foul outrage he had committed upon the unresisting and helpless person of his unfortunate victim, who stood smarting, but silent, under the dreadful pain inflicted by the brutal lash.
By the side of the slaveholder stood our Adjutant-General, his face livid with almost irrepressible rage, and his fists tight-clenched, as if to violently restrain himself from visiting the guilty wretch with summary and retributive justice. Disposed about the room, in various attitudes, but all exhibiting in their countenances the same mingling of horror and indignation, were other members of the Staff,—while, near the door, stood three or four house-servants, who were witnesses in the case.
To the charge of having administered the inhuman castigation, Landry (the owner of the girl) pleaded guilty, but urged in extenuation that the girl had dared to make an effort for that freedom which her instincts, drawn from the veins of her abuser, had taught her was the God-given right of all who possess the germ of immortality, no matter what the color of the casket in which it is hidden.
I say "drawn from the veins of her abuser," because she declared she was his daughter,—and every one in the room, looking upon the man and woman confronting each other, confessed that the resemblance justified the assertion.
After the conclusion of all the evidence in the case, the General continued in the same position as before, and remained for some time apparently lost in abstraction. I shall never forget the singular expression on his face.
I had been accustomed to see him in a storm of passion at any instance of oppression or flagrant injustice; but on this occasion he was too deeply affected to obtain relief in the usual way.
His whole air was one of dejection, almost listlessness; his indignation too intense, and his anger too stern, to find expression even in his countenance.
Never have I seen that peculiar look but on three or four occasions similar to the one I am narrating, when I knew he was pondering upon the baleful curse that had cast its withering blight upon all around, until the manhood and humanity were crushed out of the people, and outrages such as the above were looked upon with complacency, and the perpetrators treated as respected and worthy citizens,—and that he was realizing the great truth, that, however man might endeavor to guide this war to the advantage of a favorite idea or sagacious policy, the Almighty was directing it surely and steadily for the purification of our country from this greatest of national sins.
But to return to my story. After sitting in the mood which I have described at such length, the General again turned to the prisoner, and said, in a quiet, subdued tone of voice,—
"Mr. Landry, I dare not trust myself to decide to-day what punishment would be meet for your offence, for I am in that state of mind that I fear I might exceed the strict demands of justice. I shall therefore place you under guard for the present, until I conclude upon your sentence."
A few days after, a number of influential citizens having represented to the General that Mr. Landry was not only a "high-toned gentleman," but a person of unusual "AMIABILITY" of character, and was consequently entitled to no small degree of leniency, he answered, that, in consideration of the prisoner's "high-toned" character, and especially of his "amiability," of which he had seen so remarkable a proof, he had determined to meet their views, and therefore ordered that Landry give a deed of manumission to the girl, and pay a fine of five hundred dollars, to be placed in the hands of a trustee for her benefit.
It is the passing through such scenes as I have described, and the contemplation of the condition to which Slavery has reduced society at the South, combined with a natural inclination to espouse the cause of the oppressed, that has placed General Butler in the front rank of the "Champions of Freedom."
I remember, so long ago as last July, his turning to me, after reading the story of our sad reverses in Virginia, and remarking that he believed God was directing the issues of the war for a great purpose, and that only in so far as we followed His guidance should we be successful. I have heard him repeat this in effect several times since, and have seen the conviction growing within his mind deeper and deeper, as events proved its correctness, down to the present time.
And yet an Episcopal clergyman of New York told me, the other evening, that General Butler was an Atheist.
* * * * *
General Butler's forbearance and kindness of heart are, I think, well illustrated in the true history of his controversy with General Phelps last summer, in regard to the employment of negroes coming within our lines. His position on that question was at that time somewhat misunderstood. Indeed, a gentleman observed to me only a short time since, referring to General Butler's allowing General Phelps to resign, "General Butler served General Phelps just right."
"So he did," I replied; "but you and I probably differ some in our ideas of right and wrong."
The case, in brief, was this.
General Phelps—as good a man, as honest and whole-souled a patriot, and as brave and thorough a soldier as there is in the service—was in command at Carrolton,—our principal line of defence. The negroes escaping from the plantations had gathered about his camp to the number of many hundreds. General Phelps almost immediately initiated steps toward making them soldiers. The residents, greatly alarmed, or affecting to be, lest they should soon be the victims of an ungovernable armed mob, addressed the most urgent remonstrances to General Butler against General Phelps's proceedings. The General was much perplexed; the Government had not yet indicated any policy on this important subject, and although I am satisfied his sympathies were with General Phelps, (the alacrity with which he soon after organized negro regiments is the best evidence of this,) he did not feel justified in officially approving his course. Determined to avoid anything like a bitter opposition to a measure that his head and heart both told him was intrinsically right, he sought for a means of compromise. Circumstances soon furnished the opportunity.
The enemy was threatening the city with speedy attack, and it was deemed of the highest importance to cut away the thick growth of trees in front of Carrolton for nearly a mile. The General at once ordered General Phelps to set his negro brigade at this work, and in the order was particular to quote General Phelps's own opinion, previously delivered, on the necessity of the project. General Phelps, who was determined that the negroes should be soldiers or nothing, evasively declined obeying the order. General Butler then wrote him a letter presenting fresh arguments, showing how essential it was that the soldiers, who would soon be obliged to defend the city, should be spared as far as possible from unusual fatigue-duty, and inclosed a peremptory order for the performance of the work by the negroes. By the same messenger he also sent a confidential letter, which I wrote at his dictation, in which, in terms of the warmest friendship and honest appreciation of General Phelps's exalted courage, sincere patriotism, and other noble qualities, he begged him not to place himself in an attitude of hostility to his commanding officer. A more delicate, generous, or considerate letter I never read; but it was of no avail. General Phelps persisted in his refusal to obey, and tendered his resignation. What did General Butler do?
He would have been justified in the arrest and court-martial of General Phelps, and few men could resist so good an opportunity to assert their authority; but he knew that General Phelps had been for years the victim of the Slave Power, until his mind had become so absorbed in detestation of the institution that he was conscientiously and inexorably opposed to the slightest step that could even remotely be construed as assisting in its support. Moreover, General Butler's esteem for General Phelps was deep and sincere; and those who know the General well will readily understand how repugnant to his nature is the abrupt change from warm friendship to open hostility.
But to recur to my question,—What did General Butler do? He simply forwarded General Phelps's resignation to Washington, with the earnest request that the Government would proclaim some policy in regard to the contrabands, and shortly after, learning that the story of an intended attack on the city at that time was a canard, allowed the matter to drop. When, a little later, the enrolment of negroes in the United States' service was in order, where were they so promptly enlisted and equipped as in the grand old "Department of the Gulf"?
Reading the other day the retaliatory resolutions of the Rebel Congress recalled to my mind the terrible earnestness with which the General declared in New Orleans, "For every one of my black soldiers who may be murdered by their captors, two Rebel soldiers shall hang." And I know he meant it.
* * * * *
The London "Times" has said that General Butler is a "monster of cruelty," devoid of every sentiment of benevolence or tenderness, and the cry has been taken up and echoed by the press of Continental Europe. Perhaps he is; but the thirty-four thousand poor people of New Orleans whom he fed every day refuse to believe it. I could wish that some of these libellers of his humanity had been in New Orleans to see the character of the crowd that thronged his office from morning till night. There were persons of almost every condition and color,—the great majority being poor and wretched men and women, who brought their every grief and trouble to lay at the feet of the man whom they believed possessed of the power and the will to redress every wrong and heal every sorrow. Was it surprising? Did it look as though they feared his fierce anger and his cruel wrath? Was it not rather the humble testimony of their instinct that he whose first and every act in their city was for the amelioration of suffering was the one to whom they should apply for relief in every woe? And what patience he exhibited under this great and increasing addition to his official cares! Unless the complaint or request were frivolous or disloyal, he always listened respectfully, and then applied the remedy to the wrong, or carefully explained the means suited to the relief of the distress, and the proper course for obtaining it.
Shortly after our arrival in New Orleans, the Sisters in charge of the Orphan Asylum of St. Elizabeth called upon the General and represented that institution as in a state of literal destitution from lack of provisions and the money with which to procure them. This unfortunate condition of suffering was one of the legitimate consequences of active Secession, and no one could be held responsible for it but the leaders of the Rebellion. But the General did not stop to discuss the question of responsibility; he knew that here were several hundred children who were crying for bread, and with characteristic promptitude gave them an order on the Chief Commissary for a very large amount of stores,—to be charged to his personal account,—adding a sum of five hundred dollars in money from his pocket.
The Convent of the Sacred Heart, near New Orleans, owed its continued existence almost entirely to his individual charities; and the same may be said of all the benevolent institutions in and about the city.
I have rarely seen him more angry than when he discovered that a committee of the City Council, who held, as trustees, the Touro Fund, left by its generous donor for the support of orphans, had outraged their trust by applying a large amount of the legacy to the purchase of munitions of war for the Rebellion. He had them brought under guard to the office, and, unable to restrain his contempt for the dishonor of the act, expressed his opinion in terms that must have scathed them fearfully, unless their sensibilities were utterly callous. He then sent them to Fort Pickens, there to remain until every cent of the money they had so wantonly diverted from its legitimate purpose should be repaid.
* * * * *
One of the most striking of the General's traits is the quick comprehension which enables him to meet almost any question with a ready and commonly a witty reply.
During the earlier period of our occupation of New Orleans, persons were constantly applying to him to give them an order to search within our lines for runaway negroes; and it is a good illustration of the assurance of our enemies, that in a majority of cases the persons so applying were avowed traitors. The following is a fair sample of the conversation that would follow such an application.
"General, I wish you would give me an order to search for my negro," the visitor would commence.
"Have you lost your horse?" the General would ask, in reply.
"Have you lost your mule?" the General would add.
"No, Sir," the applicant for the order would answer, looking exceedingly puzzled at such unusual questions.
"Well, Sir, if you had lost your horse or your mule, would you come and ask me to neglect my duty to the Government for the purpose of assisting you to catch them?"
"Of course not," the visitor would reply, with increasing astonishment.
"Then why should you expect me to employ myself in hunting after any other article of your property?"
And with this comforting and practical application of the Dred-Scott decision, the ex-owner of the fugitive slave would take his departure, a wiser, and, I doubt not, a sadder man.
During an interview between the General and the Reverend Doctor Leacock, (Rector of Grace Church in New Orleans, and one of the three Episcopal clergymen who refused to read the prayer for the President, and were therefore sent North as prisoners, under my charge,) in which the General urged upon the Doctor his views on the injurious influence of disloyalty in the pulpit, sustaining his argument by prolific quotations from Scripture, recited with an accuracy and appositeness that few theologians could exceed, the Doctor replied,—
"But, General, your insisting upon the taking of the oath of allegiance is causing half of my church-members to perjure themselves."
"If that is the case, I am glad I have not had the spiritual charge of your church for the last nine years," (just the term of Dr. Leacock's pastorate,) the General answered, promptly.
After a lengthy conversation, the Doctor finally asked,—
"Well, General, are you going to shut up the churches?"
"No, Sir, I am more likely to shut up the ministers," he replied.
To the casual observer this would appear but a brilliant repartee, while, in fact, it was significant as indicative of a sagacious policy. Closing the churches would have given warrant to the charge of interference with the observances of religion. So careful was the General to avoid anything of this nature, that, in every instance where a clergyman was removed from his church, the very next Sunday found his pulpit occupied by a loyal minister.
As a great many excellent Churchmen have misunderstood the cause of the arrest of clergymen in New Orleans, I think I must add a word of explanation. The ministers so arrested were of the Episcopal denomination, in which the rector is required to read a liturgy prescribed by the General Convention. In this liturgy occurs "a prayer for the President of the United States," and its omission in their reading of the service was clearly an overt act of disloyalty, in that it was by unmistakable implication a declaration that they did not recognize the authority of the President of the United States; and it is a fact not generally known, that this omission in the service was supplied by the minister's regularly announcing, "A few moments will now be spent in silent prayer." Who can doubt the character and burden of this voiceless petition, when it is understood that it was the successor to an audible appeal—which General Butler suppressed—to Heaven for Jefferson Davis and the success of his cause?
* * * * *
Another of the General's strongest characteristics is his firm faith, his ardent hopefulness. Never have I known him despondent as to the final result of this war. He believes it to be a struggle for principle and right, and therefore his confidence in the ultimate success of our arms never falters. Frequently disheartened myself at our apparent ill-fortune, I have listened to his cheerful predictions and expressions of unflagging trust, and have come away strengthened and confident.
After our return to the North, an ex-mayor of Chicago was introduced to the General at the St. Nicholas Hotel in New York. It was just at a time when our cause looked very gloomy. The Mayor was evidently much depressed by the indications of national misfortune, and in a tone of great despondency asked the General,—
"Do you believe we shall ever get through this war successfully?"
"Yes, Sir," the General answered, very decidedly.
"Well, but how?" asked the Mayor.
"God knows, I don't; but I know He does, so I am satisfied," the General replied.
And in this reply was contained an admirable expression of that earnest faith in the inevitable triumph of good over evil which forms so prominent a part of his nature.
* * * * *
In this short sketch I have either entirely avoided or merely hinted at the traits which have given General Butler a world-wide distinction. His wonderful energy, his sagacity, his courage, his great executive and administrative ability, and, more than all, the marvellous comprehension, which, at the firing of the first gun at Fort Sumter, enabled him to grasp the subject of this Rebellion in all its magnitude and bearings, and in the means and measures for its suppression, are attributes made familiar to the world as "household words" by his unprecedented administration in New Orleans.
The story of the years of experience crowded into those eight short months of our sojourn in that city is worthy the pen of our country's ablest historian, and would fill volumes.
To relate all the instances of General Butler's kindness and generosity, his forbearance and magnanimity, while in New Orleans, would require more than all the space between the covers of the "Atlantic."
I have undertaken the grateful task of recording some of the more prominent scenes, where he displayed the kindly, genial traits so utterly inconsistent with the indiscriminate charges of cruelty, injustice, and wrong, preferred by his enemies,—traits that have inexpressibly endeared their possessor to every officer and soldier in his late army. Said an officer, but just returned from New Orleans, to me a few days since,—"I have heard of the infatuation of the Army of the Potomac to its earlier leader, but I do not believe their devotion is near so deep and earnest as that of the faithful men who followed General Butler from New England and the Northwest, through the campaign of New Orleans."
Not one of us who have been closely associated with him but watches with intense interest for the opportunity to arrive when he shall prove himself to be (as every one of us believes him to be) among the foremost of those predestined to lead our country through its baptism of blood and fire to a higher and grander destiny and glory than the most ardent dared even to hope for before the war.
Happy then shall I be, if in these few pages I have conveyed to the indulgent readers of this article some idea of the inner life and character of OUR GENERAL.
* * * * *
THE CLAIMS TO SERVICE OR LABOR.
Some persons look upon the veneration with which the people of these United States regard the Constitution as savoring of superstition. It is at least a wholesome superstition, which cannot be disturbed without risk.
When a man, in calm moments of deliberate reflection, has settled and adopted the principles of ethics and morality which ought to govern his life, and when, under the pressure of urgent exigency, or in moments of eager excitement, his view of their truth or value undergoes a sudden change, it is not safe to give way to such influence. He would evince wisdom in calling to mind, that, in hours of tranquil judgment, with no passion to blind and no impulse of the moment to urge beyond reason, he had adopted certain principles of action, for guidance and safety.
Doubtless age may correct, and ought to correct, the errors of youth. But when we change a life-rule, it should be from a matured conviction, that, on general principles, the correction is just and proper; not because it would afford relief or satisfaction for the time being, or prove convenient for some special purpose.
So of the Constitution of the United States. Of fallible because human origin, it is imperfect. A rule of political action in a progressive world, it was by its founders properly made subject to amendment. At the first session of the first Congress ten amendments were adopted; two have been added since; and experience has approved this action.
That other amendments may hereafter be necessary and proper it would be presumptuous to deny. But we ought to touch the ark of our political testimony with careful and reverent hand.
All legislative bodies are liable to sudden and wayward impulses. To these the Congress of our young country is more exposed than the Parliaments or Chambers of older nations. It would have been very unsafe to trust a Congressional majority with the power of amending the Constitution.
Difficulties and delays were properly put in the way of exercising such a prerogative. To two-thirds of both houses, or to a convention called by the legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, was granted the power of proposing amendments; while the power to ratify these was not confided to less than to the legislatures, or to the conventions, of three-fourths of the States composing the Union.
To alter the Constitution in any other way—as by the consent of a majority only of the several States—would be a revolutionary act. Doubtless revolutionary acts become a justifiable remedy on rare and great occasions, as in 1776; but they are usually replete with danger. They are never more dangerous than when employed by one section of a confederacy against another, weaker section of the same. To the stability of government, it is necessary that the rights of minorities should be strictly respected. The end does not necessarily justify the means. "No example," says an eminent and philosophical writer, "is more dangerous than that of violence employed for a good purpose by well-meaning men."
[Footnote 6: "Il n'y a pas de plus dangereux exemple que celui de la violence exercee pour le bien et par les gens de bien."—"L'Ancien Regime et la Revolution," par Alexis de Tocqueville, Paris, 1856, p. 310.]
To such considerations has it been, in a measure, due that the people of the United States, with as much unanimity as usually characterizes any national decision, have held back, until now, from following the example of the civilized nations of Europe in emancipating their slaves. Until the Secessionists levied war against the Union, not the Democratic party alone, but the mass of the Republican party also, assented to the declaration in Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural, that they had "no purpose to interfere, directly or indirectly, with the institution of Slavery in the States where it exists." It had never been possible to obtain the votes of three-fourths of the States in favor of emancipation; and a large majority of those who held human servitude to be a moral wrong had looked upon its toleration among our neighbors of the South as an evil of less magnitude than the violation of the Constitution.
Though the wisdom of the ablest statesmen of the Revolution, without distinction of sections, recognized negro slavery as an iniquity and as a political element fraught with inevitable danger in the future, yet the evils and the dangers which are inseparably connected with that element have never been so clearly seen, have never made themselves so terribly apparent, as in the course of this war.
The conviction that Slavery is a standing menace to the integrity of the Union and the one great obstacle to peace gathers strength so rapidly from day to day, that many men are adopting the opinion, that it must needs be extirpated, if even at the cost of a revolutionary act.
It would be a misfortune, if this were the alternative. It is easy to pass the limit of regulated authority, but impossible to estimate the dangers we may encounter when that guardian limit is once transgressed. We may resolve that we will go thus far and no farther. So thought the honest and earnest Girondists of revolutionary France; but the current to which they had first opened a passage swept them away. Though the experiment succeed at last, a long Reign of Terror may overwhelm us ere success is reached.