It is fortunate that the impending general contest has also been recently preceded by a local one, which, though waged under circumstances far less favorable to the North, yet afforded important hints by its results. It was worth all the cost of Kansas to have the lesson she taught, in passing through her ordeal. It was not the Emigrant Aid Society which gave peace at last to her borders, nor was it her shifting panorama of evanescent governors; it was the sheer physical superiority of her Free-State emigrants, after they took up arms. Kansas afforded the important discovery, as some Southern officers once naively owned at Lecompton, that "Yankees would fight." Patient to the verge of humiliation, the settlers rose at last only to achieve a victory so absurdly rapid that it was almost a new disappointment; the contest was not so much a series of battles as a succession of steeplechases, of efforts to get within shot,—Missouri, Virginia, and South Carolina invariably disappearing over one prairie-swell, precisely as the Sharp's rifles of the emigrants appeared on the verge of the next. The slaveholders had immense advantages: many of the settlers were in league with them to drive out the remainder; they had the General Government always aiding them, more or less openly, with money, arms, provisions, horses, men, and leaders; they had always the Missouri border to retreat upon, and the Missouri River to blockade. Yet they failed so miserably, that every Kansas boy at last had his story to tell of the company of ruffians whom he had set scampering by the casual hint that Brown or Lane was lurking in the bushes. The terror became such a superstition, that the largest army which ever entered Kansas—three thousand men, by the admission of both sides—turned back before a redoubt at Lawrence garrisoned by only two hundred, and retreated over the border without risking an engagement.
It is idle to say that these wore not fair specimens of Southern companies. They were composed of precisely the same material as the flower of the Secession army,—if flower it have. They were members of the first families, planters' sons and embryo Wigfalls. South Carolina sent them forth, like the present troops, with toasts and boasts and everything but money. They had officers of some repute; and they had enthusiasm with no limit except the supply of whiskey. Slavery was divine, and Colonel Buford was its prophet. The city of Atchison was before the dose of 1857 to be made the capital of a Southern republic. Kansas was to be conquered: "We will make her a Slave State, or form a chain of locked arms and hearts together, and die in the attempt." Yet in the end there were no chains, either of flesh or iron,—no chains, and little dying, but very liberal running away. Thus ended the war in Kansas. It seems impossible that Slavery should not make in this case a rather better fight, where all is at stake. But it is well to remember that no Border Ruffian of Secession can now threaten more loudly, swear more fiercely, or retreat more rapidly, than his predecessors did then.
One does not hear much lately of that pleasant fiction, so abundant a year or two ago, that North and South really only needed to visit each other and become better acquainted. How cordially these endearing words sounded, to be sure, from the lips of Southern gentlemen, as they sat at Northern banquets and partook unreluctantly of Northern wine! Can those be the gay cavaliers who are now uplifting their war-whoops with such a modest grace at Richmond and Montgomery? Can the privations of the camp so instantaneously dethrone Bacchus and set up Mars? It is to be regretted; they appeared more creditably in their cups, and one would gladly appeal from Philip sober to Philip drunk. Intimate intercourse has lost its charm. New York merchants more than ever desire an increased acquaintance with the coffers of their repudiating debtors; but so far as the knowledge of their peculiar moral traits is concerned, enough is as good as a feast. No Abolitionist has ever dared to pillory the slave-propagandists so conspicuously as they are doing it for themselves every day. Sumner's "Barbarism of Slavery" seemed tolerably graphic in its time, but how tamely it reads beside the "New Orleans Delta"!
A Scotchman once asked Dr. Johnson what opinion he would form of Scotland from what strangers had said of it.
"Sir," said the Doctor, "I should think it a region of the earth to be avoided, so far as convenient."
"But how," persisted the patriot, "if you listened to what its natives say of it?"
"Then, Sir," roared Old Obstinacy, "I should avoid it altogether."
Take the seceded States upon their own showing, and it is absurd to suppose that they can ever resume their former standing in the nation. Are there any stronger oaths than their generals have broken, any closer ties to honesty than their financiers have spurned, any deeds more damning than their legislatures have voted thanks for? No one supposes that the individual traitors can be restored to confidence, that Twiggs can re-dye his reputation, or any deep-sea-soundings fish up Maury's drowned honor. But the influence of the States is gone with that of their representatives. They may worship the graven image of President Lincoln in Mobile; they may do homage to the ample stuffed regimentals of General Butler in Charleston; but it will not make the nation forget. Could their whole delegation resume its seat in Congress to-morrow, with the three-fifths representation intact, it would not help them. Can we ever trust them to build a ship or construct a rifle again? No time, no formal act can restore the past relations, so long as slavery shall live. It is easy for the Executive to pardon some convict from the penitentiary; but who can pardon him out of that sterner prison of public distrust which closes its disembodied walls around him, moves with his motions, and never suffers him to walk unconscious of it again? Henceforth he dwells as under the shadow of swords, and holds intercourse with men only by courtesy, not confidence. And so will they.
Not that the United States Government is yet prepared to avow itself anti-slavery, in the sense in which the South is pro-slavery. We conscientiously strain at gnats of Constitutional clauses, while they gulp down whole camels of treason. We still look after their legal safeguards long after they have hoisted them with their own petards. But both sides have trusted themselves to the logic of events, and there is no mistaking the direction in which that tends. In times like these, men care more for facts than for phrases, and reason quite as rapidly as they act. It is impossible to blink the fact that Slavery is the root of the rebellion; and so War is proving itself an Abolitionist, whoever else is. Practically speaking, the verdict is already entered, and the doom of the destructive institution pronounced, in the popular mind. Either the Secessionists will show fight handsomely, or they will fail to do so. If they fail to do it, they are the derision of the world forever,—since no one ever spares a beaten bully,—and thenceforward their social system must go down of itself. If, on the other hand, they make a resistance which proves formidable and costly, then the adoption of the John-Quincy-Adams policy of military emancipation is an ultimate necessity, and there is nobody more likely to put it in effective operation than a certain gentleman who lately wrote an eloquent letter to his Governor on the horrors of slave-insurrection. No doubt insurrection is a terrible thing, but so is all war, and every man of humanity approaches either with a shudder. But if the truth were told, it would be that the Anglo-Saxon habitually despises the negro because he is not an insurgent, for the Anglo-Saxon would certainly be one in his place. Our race does not take naturally to non-resistance, and has far more spontaneous sympathy with Nat Turner than with Uncle Tom. But be it as it may with our desires, the rising of the slaves, in case of continued war, is a mere destiny. We must take facts as they are.
Insurrection is one of the risks voluntarily assumed by Slavery,—and the greatest of them. The slaves know it, and so do the masters. When they seriously assert that they feel safe on this point, there is really no answer to be made but that by which Traddles in "David Copperfield" puts down Uriah Heep's wild hypothesis of believing himself an innocent man. "But you don't, you know," quoth the straightforward Traddles; "therefore, if you please, we won't suppose any such thing." They cannot deceive us, for they do not deceive themselves. Every traveller who has seen the faces of a household suddenly grow pale, in a Southern city, when some street tumult struck to their hearts the fear of insurrection,—every one who has seen the heavy negro face brighten unguardedly at the name of John Brown, though a thousand miles away from Harper's Ferry,—has penetrated the final secret of the military weakness which saved Washington for us and lost the war for them.
It is time to expose this mad inconsistency which paralyzes common sense on all Southern tongues, so soon as Slavery becomes the topic. These same negroes, whom we hear claimed, at one moment, as petted darlings whom no allurements can seduce, are denounced, next instant, as fiends whom a whisper can madden. Northern sympathizers are first ridiculed as imbecile, then lynched as destructive. Either position is in itself intelligible, but the combination is an absurdity. We can understand why the proprietor of a powder-house trembles at the sight of flint and steel; and we can also understand why some new journeyman, being inexperienced, may regard the peril without due concern. But we should decide either to be a lunatic, if he in one breath proclaimed his gunpowder to be incombustible, and at the next moment assassinated a visitor for lighting a cigar on the premises. A slave population is either contented and safe, or discontented and unsafe; it cannot at the same time be friendly and hostile, blissful and desperate.
The result described is inevitable, should the Secessionists dare to tempt the ordeal by battle long enough. If it stop short of this, it will be because the prestige of Southern military power is so easily broken down that there is no temptation to declare the Adams policy. But even this consummation must have the most momentous results, and entirely modify the whole anti-slavery movement of the nation. Should the war cease to-morrow, it has inaugurated a new era in our nation's history. The folly of the Gulf States, in throwing away a political condition where the conservative sentiment stood by them only too well, must inevitably recoil on their own heads, whether the strife last a day or a generation. No man can estimate the new measures and combinations to which it is destined to give rise. There stands the Constitution, with all its severe conditions,—severe or weak, however, according to its interpretations;—which interpretations, again, will always prove plastic before the popular will. The popular will is plainly destined to a change; and who dare predict the results of its changing? The scrupulous may still hold by the letter of the bond; but since the South has confessedly prized all legal guaranties only for the sake of Slavery, the North, once free to act, will long to construe them, up to the very verge of faith, in the interest of Liberty. Was the original compromise, a Shylock bond?—the war has been our Portia. Slavery long ruled the nation politically. The nation rose and conquered it with votes. With desperate disloyalty, Slavery struck down all political safeguards, and appealed to arms. The nation has risen again, ready to meet it with any weapons, sure to conquer with any Twice conquered, what further claim will this defeated desperado have? If it was a disturbing element before, and so put under restriction, shall it be spared when it has openly proclaimed itself a destroying element also? Is this to be the last of American civil wars, or only the first one? These are the questions which will haunt men's minds, when the cannon are all bushed, and the bells are pealing peace, and the sons of our hearth-stones come home. The watchword "Irrepressible Conflict" only gave the key, but War has flung the door wide open, and four million slaves stand ready to file through. It is merely a question of time, circumstance, and method. There is not a statesman so wise but this war has given him new light, nor an Abolitionist so self-confident but must own its promise better than his foresight. Henceforth, the first duty of an American legislator must be, by the use of all legitimate means, to weaken Slavery. Delenda est Servitudo. What the peace which the South has broken was not doing, the war which she has instituted must secure.
* * * * *
THE UNITED STATES AND EUROPE.
The modern world differs from the world of antiquity in nothing more than in the existence of a brotherhood of nations, which was unknown to the ancients, who seem to have been incapable of understanding that it was impossible for either good or evil to be confined within certain limits. The attempts of the Persians to extend their dominion into Europe did for a time cause some faint approach to ideas and practices that are common to the moderns; but, as a general rule, every monarchy or people had its own system, to which it adhered until it was worn out by internal decay, or was overthrown by foreign conquest. It was owing to this exclusiveness, and to the inability of ancient statesmen to work out an international system, that the Romans were enabled to extend their dominion until it comprehended the best parts of the world. Had the rulers and peoples of Carthage, Macedonia, Greece, and Syria been capable of forming an alliance for common defence, the conquests of Rome in the East might have been early checked, and her efforts have been necessarily confined to the North and the West. But no international system then existed, and the rude attempts at mutual assistance that were occasionally made, as the conquering race strode forward, were of no avail; and the swords of the legionaries reaped the whole field. It is singular that what is so well known to the moderns, and was known to them at times when they were far inferior to the best races of antiquity, should have remained unknown to the latter. The chief reason of this want of combining power in men who have never been surpassed in ability is to be found in the then prevailing idea, that every stranger was an enemy. There was a total want of confidence in one another among the peoples of the ante-Christian period. Differences of race were augmented by differences in religion, and by the absence of strong business interests. Christianity had not been vouchsafed to man, and commerce had very imperfectly done its work, while war was carried on in the most ruthless and destructive manner.
The modern world differs in this matter entirely from the ancient world; and though the change is perfect only in Christendom, the effect of it is felt in countries where the Christian religion does not prevail, but into which Christian armies and Christian merchants have penetrated. Christendom is the leading portion of the world, and is fast giving law to lands in which Christianity is still hated. It is the policy of Christendom that orders the world. A Christian race rules over the whole of that immense country, or collection of countries, which is known as India. Another Christian race threatens to seize upon Persia. Christians from the extreme West of Europe have dictated the terms of treaties to the Tartar lords of China; and Christians from America have led the way in breaking through the exclusive system of Japan. Christian soldiers have for a year past acted as the police of Syria, Christianity's early home, but now held by the most bigoted and cruel of Mussulmans; and it is only the circumstance that they cannot agree upon a division of the spoil that prevents the five great powers of Europe—the representatives of the leading branches of the Christian religion—from partitioning the vast, but feeble Ottoman Empire. The Christian idea of man's brotherhood, so powerful in itself, is supported by material forces so vast, and by ingenuity and industry so comprehensive and so various in themselves and their results, that it must supersede all others, and be accepted in every country where there are people capable of understanding it. From the time of the first Crusade there has been a steady tendency to the unity of Christian countries; and notwithstanding all their conflicts with one another, and partly as one of the effects of those conflicts, they have "fraternized," until now there exists a mighty Christian Commonwealth, the members of which ought to be able to govern the world in accordance with the principles of a religion that is in itself peace. Under the influence of these principles, the Christian nations, though not in equal degrees, have developed their resources, and a commercial system has been created which has enlisted the material interests of men on the same side with the highest teachings of the purest religion. Selfishness and self-denial march under the same banner, and men are taught to do unto others as they would that others should do unto them, because the rule is as golden economically as it is morally. This teaching, however, it must be allowed, is very imperfectly done, and it encounters so many disturbing forces to its proper development that an observer of the course of Christian nations might be pardoned, if he were at times to suppose there is little of the spirit of Christianity in the ordering of the policy of Christendom, and also that the true nature of material interests is frequently misunderstood. Still, it is undeniable that there is a general bond of union in Christendom, and that no part of that division of the world can be injured or improved without all the other parts of it being thereby affected. What is known as "the business world" exists everywhere, but it is in Christendom that it has its principal seats, and in which its mightiest works are done. It forms one community of mankind; and what depresses or exalts one nation is felt by its effects in all nations. There cannot be a Russian war, or a Sepoy mutiny, or an Anglo-French invasion of China, or an emancipation of the serfs of Russia, without the effect thereof being sensibly experienced on the shores of Superior or on the banks of the Sacramento; and the civil war that is raging in the United States promises to produce permanent consequences to the inhabitants of Central India and of Central Africa. The wars, floods, plagues, and famines of the farthest East bear upon the people of the remotest West. The Oregon flows in sympathy with the Ganges; and a very mild winter in New England might give additional value to the ice-crop of the Neva. So closely identified are all nations at this time, that the hope that there may be no serious difficulties between the United States and the Western powers of Europe, as a consequence of the Federal Government's blockade of the Southern ports of the Union, is based as much upon the prospect of the European food-crops being small this year as upon the sense of justice that may exist in the bosoms of the rulers of France and England. If those crops should prove to be of limited amount, peace could be counted upon; if abundant, we might as well make ample preparation for a foreign war. Nations threatened with scarcity cannot afford to begin war, though they may find themselves compelled to wage it. A cold season in Europe would be the best security that we could have that we shall not be vexed with European intervention in our troubles; for then Europeans would desire to have the privilege of securing that portion of our food which should not be needed for home-consumption. This is the fair side of the picture that is presented by the bond of nations. There is another side to the picture, which is far from being so agreeable to us, and which may be called the Cotton side; and it is because England, and to a lesser degree France, is of opinion that American cotton must be had, that our civil troubles threaten to bring upon us, if not a foreign war, at least grave disputes and difficulties with those European nations with which we are most desirous of remaining on the best of terms, and to secure the friendship of which all Americans are disposed to make every sacrifice that is compatible with the preservation of national honor.
From the beginning of the troubles in this country that have led to civil war, the desire to know what course would be pursued by the principal nations of Europe toward the contending parties has been very strongly felt on both sides; but the feeling has been greater on the side of the rebels than on that of the nation, because the rebellion has depended even for the merest chance of success upon the favorable view of European governments, and the nation has got beyond the point of caring much for the opinions or the actions of those governments. The Union's existence depends not upon European friendship or enmity; but without the aid of the Old World, the new Confederacy could not look for success, had it received twice the assistance it did from the Buchanan administration, and were it formed of every Slaveholding State, with not a Union man in it to wound the susceptible minds of traitors by his presence. The belief among the friends of order was, that Europe would maintain a rigid neutrality, not so much from regard to this country as from disgust at the character of the Confederacy's polity, and at the opinions avowed by its officers, its orators, and its journals, opinions which had been most forcibly illustrated in advance by acts of the grossest robbery. That any civilized nation should be willing to afford any countenance, and exclusively on grounds of interest, to a band of ruffians who avowed opinions that could not now find open supporters in Bokhara or Barbary, was what the American people could not believe. Conscious that the Southern rebellion was utterly without provocation, and that it had been brought about by the arts of disappointed politicians, most of us were convinced that the rebels would be discountenanced by the rulers of every European state to whom their commissioners should apply either for recognition or for assistance. We knew the power of King Cotton was great, though much exaggerated in words by his servile subjects; but we did not, because we could not, believe that he was able to control the policy of old empires, to subvert the principle of honor upon which aristocracies profess to rely as their chief support, and to turn whole nations from the roads in which they had been accustomed to travel. That Cotton has done this we do not assert; but it has done not a little to show how feeble; the regard of certain classes in Europe for morality, when adherence to principle may possibly cause them some trouble, and perhaps lead to some loss. If the Southern plant has not become the tyrant of Europe, as for a long time it was of America, it has certainly done much in a brief time to unsettle English opinion, and to convert the Abolitionists of Great Britain, the men who could tax the whites of their empire in the annual interest of one hundred million dollars in order that the slavery of the blacks in that empire might come to an end, into the supporters of American slavery, and of its extension over this continent, which might be made into a Cotton paradise, if the supply of negroes from Africa should not be interrupted; and the logical conclusion from the position laid down by Lord John Russell is, that the slave-trade must be revived, as that is what his "belligerent" friends of the Southern Confederacy are contending for. The American people had long been taunted by the English with their subserviency to the slaveholding interest, and with their readiness to sacrifice the welfare of a weak and wronged race on the altars of Mammon. Whether these taunts were well deserved by us, we shall not stop to inquire; but it is the most melancholy of facts, that, no sooner have we given the best evidence which it is in our power to give of our determination to confine slavery within its present limits, and to put an end to the abuse of our Government's power by the slaveholders, than the Government of Great Britain, acting as the agent and representative of the British nation, places itself directly across our path, and prepares to tell us to stay our hand, and not dare to meddle with the institution of slavery, because from the success of that institution proceeds cotton, and upon the supply of cotton not being interfered with depend the welfare and the strength of the liberty-and-order loving and morality-and-religion worshipping race! So far as they have dared to do it, the British ministers have placed their country on the side of those men who have revolted in America because they saw that they could no longer make use of slavery to misgovern the Union; and we must wait to see how far they are to be supported by the opinion of that country, before a distinction can be made between the ministers and the people. Left to themselves, and unbiased by any of those selfish motives that go to make up the sum of politics, we have not the slightest doubt that the English people, in the proportion of ten to one, would decide in behalf of the supporters of freedom in this country; but we are by no means so sure that the ministers would not be sustained, were they to plunge their country into a third American War, and sustained, too, in sending fleets to raise our blockade of the American coast of Africa, and armies to fight the battles of Slavery in Virginia and the Carolinas, where British officers stole negroes eighty years ago, and sent them to the West India markets, and found that that kind of commerce flourished well in war. A war for the maintenance of American slavery, and to secure for slaveholders the full and perfect enjoyment of all the "rights" of their "peculiar" property, would be no worse than was the war which was waged against our ancestors of the Revolution, or than those wars which were carried on against Republican and Imperial France, ostensibly for the preservation of order, but really for the restoration of a despotism which cannot now find a single apologist on earth. There is often a wide distinction to be made between a nation and its government, as our own recent history but too deplorably proves; and the men who govern England may be enabled to do that now which has more than once been done by their predecessors, array their country in support of evil against that country's sense and wishes. We should be prepared for this, and should look the evil that threatens us fairly in the face, as the first thing to be done to prevent it from getting beyond the threatening-point. The words of Sir Boyle Roche, that the best way to avoid danger is to meet it plump, are strikingly applicable to our condition. If we would not have a foreign war on our hands before we shall have settled with the rebels, we should make it very clear to foreigners that to fight with us would be a sort of business that would be sure not to pay.
That war may follow from the course which England has elected to pursue toward the parties to our civil conflict will not appear a strange view of affairs to those who know something of the history of Great Britain and the United States in the early part of this century. That which the British Government is now doing bears strong resemblance to the course which the same Government, with different ministers, pursued toward the United States during the war with Napoleon I., and which led to the contest of 1812,—a contest which Franklin had predicted, and which he said would be our War of Independence, as that of 1775-83 had been our War of Revolution. The same ignorance of America, and the same disposition to insult, to annoy, and to injure Americans, that were so common under the ministries of Pitt, Portland, and Perceval, and which move both our mirth and our indignation when we read of them long after the tormentors and the tormented have gone to their last repose, are exhibited by the Palmerston Ministry,—though it is but justice to Lord Palmerston to say, that he has borne himself more manfully toward us than have his associates. England treats us as she would not dare to treat any European power, making an exception in our case to her general policy, which has been, since 1815, to truckle before her contemporaries. She has crouched before France repeatedly, when she had much better ground for fighting her than she now has for taking preliminary steps to fight us. We are not entitled to the same treatment that she thinks is due to the nations of the continent of Europe. She cannot rid herself of the feeling that we still are colonists, and that the rules which apply to her intercourse with old nations cannot apply to her intercourse with us, the United States having been a portion of the British Empire within the recollection of persons yet living. No sooner, therefore, had a state of things arisen here that seemed to warrant a renewal of the insulting treatment that was a thing of course in 1807, than we were made to see how hollow were those professions of friendship for America that were not uncommon in the mouths of British statesmen during the ten or twelve years that preceded the advent of Secession. So long as we were deemed powerful, we received assurances of "the most distinguished consideration"; but we have at last ascertained that those assurances were as false as they are when they are appended to the letter of some diplomatist who is engaged in the work of cheating some one who is neither better nor worse than himself. It is positively mortifying to think how shockingly we have been taken in, and that the "cordial understanding" that had, apparently, been growing up between the two nations was a misunderstanding throughout, though we were sincere in desiring its existence. Perhaps, when the evidences of the strength that we possess, in spite of Secession, shall have all been placed before the rulers of England, they will be found less ready to quarrel with the American people than they were a month ago. A nation that is capable of placing a quarter of a million of men in the field in sixty days, and of giving to that immense force a respectable degree of consistency and organization, is worth being conciliated after having been insulted. But would any amount of conciliation suffice to restore the feeling that existed here when the Prince of Wales was our guest? We fear that it would not, and that for some years to come the sentiment in America toward England will be as hostile as it was in the last generation, when it was in the power of any politician to make political capital by assailing the mother-land. The belief is created that England in her heart hates us as profoundly as ever she did, that the forty-six years' peace has produced no change in her feeling with respect to us, and that she is watching ever for an opportunity to gratify the grudge of which we are the object. Practically it will matter very little whether this belief shall be well founded or not, so long as English ministers, whether from want of judgment or from any other cause, shall omit no occasion for the insulting and annoying of the United States. An opinion that is sincerely held by the people of a powerful nation is in itself a fact of the first importance, no matter whether it be founded in truth or not; and if the blundering of another powerful nation shall help to maintain that opinion, that nation would have no right to complain of any consequences that should follow from its inability to comprehend the condition of its neighbor. This country will not submit to the degradation which England would inflict upon it, and which no other European nation appears inclined to aid the insular empire in inflicting. Even Spain, proverbially foolish in her foreign policy, and seemingly unable to get within a hundred years of the present time, observes a decorum in the premises to which Great Britain is a stranger.
The manner of proceeding on the part of the British Government, and the arguments which have been put forward in justification of its pro-slavery policy, are serious aggravations of its original offence. The first declaration of Lord John Russell, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, was to the effect that England would not show any favor to the Secessionists. His subordinate (Lord Wodehouse, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) was even more emphatic than his chief in speaking to the same purpose. Suddenly, the Foreign Secretary turned about, with a facility and promptness for which men had not been prepared even by his rapid changes on the questions of the Russian War and Italian Nationality, and said that the Southern Confederacy would be recognized as a belligerent, which is, to all intents and purposes of a practical character, the same thing as acknowledging it to be a nation. What was the cause of this sudden change? We have only to look at the dates of the events that, followed the fall of Fort Sumter to find an answer. Lord John Russell believed that the capital of the United States had fallen into the hands of the rebels, and he was anxious to please the masters of the cotton-fields by showing them that he had not waited to hear of their victory to behold their virtues. There was some excuse for his belief that the raid upon Washington had succeeded; for down to the 27th of April there was but too much reason for supposing that that city was in serious danger of becoming the prey of the Confederates, who might have taken it, if they had been half as forward in their preparations for war as they were supposed to have been by the chiefs of the British Government. But this belief that the rebels had delivered an effective blow at the Union only places the meanness of Lord John Russell and his associates in a worse light than we could view it in, if they had acted solely upon principle. Their political opinions had pledged them to oppose the principles of the Secessionists; but they were in a hurry to give all the support they could to those principles, because they had come to the conclusion that victory was to be with the Secessionists. They desired to appropriate the merit of being the first of European statesmen to welcome the destroyers of the American Union into the family of nations. Had the event justified their expectations, they would have gained much by their action, and would have enjoyed whatever of glory the European world might have been disposed to accord to the allies of American pirates.
The Royal Proclamation of May 13th, in which the neutrality of England is peremptorily laid down, and all British subjects are forbidden to take any part in the war "between the Government of the United States of America and certain States calling themselves the Confederate States of America," is a paper in many respects most offensive to the people of this country, though probably it was better in its intention than it is in its execution. That part of it which most concerns us is the recognition of "any blockade lawfully and actually established by or on behalf of either of the said contending parties." It is important to us that the British Government has admitted our right to blockade the ports of the rebels, provided we shall do so in force; and though Lord Derby has exhibited his ignorance of our naval power by saying that we cannot enforce the blockade we have declared and instituted, we shall show to the world, before the next cotton-crop shall be ready for exportation, that we are fully up to the work that is demanded of us, by having at least one hundred vessels, strongly armed and well manned, employed in watching every part of the Southern coast to which any foreign ship would think of going with a cargo or for the purpose of receiving one. The naval strength of the Union is as capable of vast and effective development as its military strength; and there is no reason why we should not have afloat, and ready for action, by the beginning of autumn, fleets sufficient to close up the Confederate ports as thoroughly as the Allies closed those of Russia in 1854-6, and the advanced guard of other fleets to be made ready to contend with the forces that insolent foreign nations may send into the waters of America for the purpose of fighting the battles of the slaveholders.
With the single exception of the admission of the right of blockade, the Royal Proclamation is unfriendly to the United States. It admits the right of the Confederacy's Government to issue letters of marque, from which it follows that American ships captured by cruisers of the rebels could be taken into English ports, and there sold, after having been condemned by prize courts sitting at any one of the places belonging to the Confederacy. This is no light aid to the pirates; for there are English ports on every sea, and on almost every one of the ocean's tributaries. Vessels belonging to America, and captured by the Confederacy's privateers in the Mediterranean, could be taken into Gibraltar, into Valetta, and into Corfu, all of which are English ports. Those captured in the Mexican Gulf and the Caribbean could be sent into any one of the many ports that belong to England in the West Indies. If captured in the North Atlantic, or the Baltic, or any other of the waters of Northern Europe, they could be sent into the ports of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. In the South Atlantic are St. Helena and Cape Town, which would afford shelter to Mr. Davis's privateers and their prizes. In the East Indies British ports are numerous, from Aden to the last places wrested from the Chinese, and they would be all open to the enterprise of the Confederacy's cruisers. In the Pacific are the English harbors on the Northwest Coast; and in Australia there are British ports that ought, considering their origin, to be particularly friendly to men who should enter the navy of the Secessionists. England has in advance provided places for the transaction of all the business that shall be necessary to render privateering profitable to the "lawless brood" of the whole world. Into all of her thousand seaports could the lucky Confederates go, and dispose of their captures, just as the old Buccaneers used to sell their prizes in the ports of the English colonies. Nor could all the efforts of all the navies of the world prevent privateers from preying upon our commerce, as they are to be commissioned in foreign countries, and will sail from the ports of those countries. The East Indian seas, the Levant, and the Caribbean are the old homes and haunts of pirates; and under the encouragement which England is disposed to afford to piracy, for the especial benefit of Slavery, the buccaneering business could not fail to flourish exceedingly. True, our Government would not allow privateers to be fitted out in our ports, during the Russian War, to prey upon the commerce of France and England; but what of that? One good turn does not deserve another, according to the public morality of nations so orderly and pious as are England and France.
According to the Royal Proclamation, the blockade of any one of the Northern ports by one of the ships of the Secessionists would be as lawful an act as the blockade of Charleston by a dozen of the Union's cruisers; and England allows that a privateer from Pensacola could seize an English ship that should be engaged in bringing arras to New York or Philadelphia. Thus are the two "parties" to the war placed on the same footing by the decision of the English Government, though the one party is a nation having treaties with England, and engaged in maintaining the cause of order, and the other is only a band of conspirators, who have established their power through the institution of a system of terror, much after the fashion of Monsieur Robespierre and his associates, whose conduct was so offensive to all Britons seven-and-sixty years ago. But Montgomery is much farther from England than Paris, and the French had no cotton to tempt the British statesmen of 1793-4 to strike an account between manufacturing and morality. Distance and time appear to have united their powers to make things appear fair in the eyes of Russell that inexpressibly horrible to those of "the monster Pitt."
The Royal Proclamation forbids Englishmen affording the Union assistance in any way. No British gunmaker can sell us a weapon, no English merchant can use one of his ships to send us the cannon and rifles we have purchased in his country, and no English subject of any degree can lawfully carry a despatch for our Government. Never was there—a more forbidding state-paper put forth; and the arid language of the Proclamation is rendered doubly disagreeable by the purpose for which it is employed. We are placed by its terms on the level of the men of Montgomery, who must be vastly pleased to see that they are held in as much esteem in England as are the constitutional authorities of the United States. If we were to seek for a contrast to this extraordinary document, we should find it in the proclamation put forth by our own Government at the time of the "Canadian Rebellion," and in which it was not sought to convey the impression that we had the right to regard rebels and loyalists as men entitled to the same treatment at our hands. It is a source of pride to Americans, that nothing in their own history can be quoted in justification of the cold-blooded conduct of the British Government.
It has been sought to defend the action of England by referring to precedents. We are reminded by Lord John Russell of the acknowledgment of the Greeks as belligerents by England; and others have pointed to her acknowledgment of the Belgians, and of those Spanish—Americans who had revolted against the rule of Old Spain. We cannot go into an extended examination of these precedents, for the purpose of showing that they do not apply to the present case; but we may say, and an examination into the facts will be found to justify our assertion, that England was in no such hurry to acknowledge the Greeks, the Belgians, and the Spanish-Americans as she has been to acknowledge the Secessionists. Years elapsed after the beginning of the struggle in Greece before the English Government professed to regard the parties to that memorable conflict even with indifference. The British historian of the Greek Revolution, writing of the year 1821, says,—"Among the European Governments, England was probably, next to Austria, the one most hostile to Greece at that period, when her foreign policy was guided by a spirit akin to that of Metternich; the hired organs of Ministry were loud in defence of Islam, and gall dropped from their pens on the Christian cause." And when, some years later, England did profess neutrality between the "parties" to the war, it was less to prevent the Greeks from falling into the hands of the Turks than to prevent the Turks from falling into the hands of the Russians. Another object she had in view was the suppression of that horrible piracy which then raged in the Hellenic seas. She was then as anxious to suppress piracy because it was injurious to her commerce, as, apparently, she is now anxious to promote it because its existence would be injurious to our commerce. The famous Treaty of London, made in 1827, the parties to which were Russia, France, and England, was justified on the ground of "the necessity of putting an end to the sanguinary contest which, by delivering up the Greek provinces and the isles of the Archipelago to the disorders of anarchy, produces daily fresh impediments to the commerce of the European states, and gives occasion to piracies which not only expose the subjects of the contracting powers to considerable losses, but render necessary burdensome measures of suppression and protection." In the autumn of the same year, an Order in Council decreed that "the British ships in the Mediterranean should seize every vessel they saw under the Greek flag, or armed and fitted out at a Greek port, except such as were under the immediate orders of the Greek Government." The object of this strong measure was the suppression of piracy. Thus England had to interfere to put down the Greek pirates; and if she means to insist upon there being any resemblance between the case of the Greeks and that of the Secessionists, (President Lincoln to appear as the Grand Turk, or Sultan Mahmoud II., the destroyer of the Janizaries,) we should not object, so far as relates to the finale of the piece, which is very likely, through her most injudicious action, to produce a large crop of Selims and Abdallahs, by whom any amount of sea-roving will be done, but as much at Britain's expense as at ours.
The case of Belgium is not at all to the point, the Dutch being by no means anxious that the foolish arrangement made at Vienna, by which Holland and Belgium had been formally united, should be continued, though the House of Orange was averse to the loss of so much of its dominions. The disputes that followed the expulsion of the Dutch from Belgium were about details, and the whole matter was finally settled by the action of the Great Powers, and England was not then in a condition to decide it, had it been left for her decision. The makers of the Kingdom of the Netherlands destroyed their own work, after it had been found to be a bad job, and had had fifteen years and upward of fair trial. England had no choice in the matter,—especially as the effect of determined opposition on her part would have thrown Belgium into the arms of France, and have brought about a French war, which would have extended to the whole of Europe, with the revolutionists in every country for the allies of France. Louis Philippe either would have been overthrown very speedily after his elevation, or he would have been enabled to wear his new crown only by placing the old bonnet rouge above it.
That England recognized the Spanish-Americans is true; but why did she recognize them? Because she had to choose between doing that and allowing the Holy Alliance to enter upon the reconquest of the Spanish colonies. Mr. Canning declared that he had called a new world into existence to redress the balance of the old,—and that, if France, as the tool of the Holy Alliance, should have Spain, it should not be "Spain—with the Indies." This was in 1823, though it was not until 1826 that Mr. Canning made use of the language quoted; and so serious was the matter, that our country was prepared to make common cause with England in resisting the interference of the Allies and their dependants in the affairs of Spanish-America. The question was one which did not relate to English interests alone, but concerned those of the whole world; and it was not decided with reference to the interests of any one country, but after it had been ascertained that its decision would closely and immediately affect the welfare of Christendom. England had to choose between diplomatic resistance to the Continental Powers and the support of a policy which she could not adopt without degrading herself. Naturally she elected to resist, and she did so with success. The Spanish-American countries, however, were freed from the rule of Spain long before she recognized them, and Spain had not the means of subduing them. England, therefore, did not acknowledge them as against Spain, but as against France, and in opposition to the Holy Alliance, the decrees of which France was engaged in enforcing at the expense of the Spanish Constitutionalists, and which process of enforcement the French Government was prepared to extend to Peru and Mexico, and to the whole of that part of America which had belonged to the Spanish Bourbons. Mr. Canning's conduct was statesmanlike, but it was also spiteful; and had England been in the condition to send sixty thousand men to Spain, probably the recognition of the independence of Spanish-America would have been much longer delayed. He had to strike a blow at a mighty enemy, and he delivered it skilfully at that enemy's only exposed point, where it told at once, and where it is telling to this day. But his action affords no precedent to the present rulers of England for the treatment of our case, for he moved not until after the colonies had achieved their independence. Now the British Government proclaims its purpose to acknowledge the Southern Confederacy in less than a month after the beginning of the attack on Fort Sumter, and in about a week after it had heard of the fall of that ill-used fortress! Is there not some difference between the two cases?
England did not admit the Poles to the honors she has allowed to the American Secessionists, after their revolt from the Czar, in 1830-31, though their cause was popular in that country, and they had achieved such successes over the Russian armies as the Secessionists have not won over the armies of the Union. Neither did she acknowledge the Hungarians, in 1849, though they had actually won their independence, which they would have preserved but for the intervention of Russia. It was not for her interest that Austria should be weakened. Is it for her interest that the United States should be weakened? Is it the purpose of her Government to give our rebels encouragement, step by step, in order that the American nation may be thrown back to the place it held twenty years ago?
The Cottonocracy of England, and those who for reasons of political interest support them, proceed erroneously, we think, when they assume that American cotton is the chief necessary of English life, and that without a full supply of it there must ensue great suffering throughout the British Empire. That it would be better for England to receive her cotton without interruption may be admitted, without its following that she must be ruined if there should be a discontinuance of the American cotton-trade. Men are so accustomed to think that that which is must ever continue to be, or all will be lost, that it is not surprising that British manufacturers should suppose change in this instance to be ruin. They are quite ready to innovate on the British Constitution, because in that way they hope to obtain political power, and to injure the landed aristocracy; but the idea of change in modes of business strikes them with terror, and hence all their wonted sagacity is now at fault. Lancashire is to become a Sahara, because President Lincoln, in accordance with the demands of twenty million Americans, proclaims the ports of the rebels under blockade, and enforces that blockade with a fleet quite sufficient to satisfy even Lord John Russell's notions as to effectiveness. We have never believed, and we do not now believe, that it is in the power of any part of America thus to control the condition of England. We would not have it so, if we could, as we are sure that the power would be abused. If America really possessed the ability to rule England that her cotton-manufacturers assert she possesses, all Englishmen should rejoice that events have occurred here that promise to work out their country's deliverance from so degrading a vassalage. But it is not so, and England will survive the event of our conflict, no matter what that event may be. The nation that triumphed over the Continental System of Napoleon, and which was not injured by our Embargo Acts of fifty years ago, should be ashamed to lay so much stress upon the value of our cotton-crop, when it has its choice of the lands of the tropics from which to draw the raw material it requires. As to France, it would be most impolitic in her to seek our destruction, unless she wishes to see the restoration of England's maritime supremacy. The French navy, great and powerful as it now is, can be regarded only as the result of a skilful and most costly forcing process, carried on by Bourbons, Orleanists, Republicans, and Imperialists, during forty-six years of maritime peace. It could not be maintained against the attacks of England, which is a naval country by position and interest. We never could be the rival of France, but we could always be relied upon to throw our weight on her side in a maritime war; and while our policy would never allow of our having a very large navy in time of peace, we have in abundance all the elements of naval power. Nor should England be indifferent to the aid which we could afford her, were she to be assailed by the principal nations of Continental Europe. Strike the American Union out of the list of the nations, or cause it to be sensibly weakened, or treat it so as to revive in force the old American hatred of England, and it is possible that the predictions of those who see in Napoleon III. only the Avenger of Napoleon I. may be justified by the event.
* * * * *
WASHINGTON AS A CAMP.
OUR BARRACKS AT THE CAPITOL.
We marched up the hill, and when the dust opened there was our Big Tent ready pitched.
It was an enormous tent,—the Sibley pattern modified. A simple soul in our ranks looked up and said,—"Tent! canvas! I don't see it: that's marble!" Whereupon a simpler soul informed us,—"Boys, that's the Capitol."
And so it was the Capitol,—as glad to see the New York Seventh Regiment as they to see it. The Capitol was to be our quarters, and I was pleased to notice that the top of the dome had been left off for ventilation.
The Seventh had had a wearisome and anxious progress from New York, as I have chronicled in the June "Atlantic." We had marched from Annapolis, while "rumors to right of us, rumors to left of us, volleyed and thundered." We had not expected that the attack upon us would be merely verbal. The truculent citizens of Maryland notified us that we were to find every barn a Concord and every hedge a Lexington. Our Southern brethren at present repudiate their debts; but we fancied they would keep their warlike promises. At least, everybody thought, "They will fire over our heads, or bang blank cartridges at us." Every nose was sniffing for the smell of powder. Vapor instead of valor nobody looked for. So the march had been on the qui vive. We were happy enough that it was over, and successful.
Successful, because Mumbo Jumbo was not installed in the White House. It is safe to call Jeff. Davis Mumbo Jumbo now. But there is no doubt that the luckless man had visions of himself receiving guests, repudiating debts, and distributing embassies in Washington, May 1, 1861. And as to La' Davis, there seems to be documentary evidence that she meant to be "At Home" in the capital, bringing the first strawberries with her from Montgomery for her May-day soiree. Bah! one does not like to sneer at people who have their necks in the halter; but one happy result of this disturbance is that the disturbers have sent themselves to Coventry. The Lincoln party may be wanting in finish. Finish comes with use. A little roughness of manner, the genuine simplicity of a true soul like Lincoln, is attractive. But what man of breeding could ever stand the type Southern Senator? But let him rest in such peace as he can find! He and his peers will not soon be seen where we of the New York Seventh were now entering.
They gave us the Representatives Chamber for quarters. Without running the gauntlet of caucus primary and election, every one of us attained that sacred shrine.
In we marched, tramp, tramp. Bayonets took the place of buncombe. The frowzy creatures in ill-made dress-coats, shimmering satin waistcoats, and hats of the tile model, who lounge, spit, and vociferate there, and name themselves M.C., were off. Our neat uniforms and bright barrels showed to great advantage, compared with the usual costumes of the usual dramatis personae of the scene.
It was dramatic business, our entrance there. The new Chamber is gorgeous, but ineffective. Its ceiling is flat, and panelled with transparencies. Each panel is the coat-of-arms of a State, painted on glass. I could not see that the impartial sunbeams, tempered by this skylight, had burned away the insignia of the malecontent States. Nor had any rampant Secessionist thought to punch any of the seven lost Pleiads out from that firmament with a long pole. Crimson and gold are the prevailing hues of the decorations. There is no unity and breadth of coloring. The desks of the members radiate in double files from a white marble tribune at the centre of the semicircle.
In came the new actors on this scene. Our presence here was the inevitable sequel of past events. We appeared with bayonets and bullets because of the bosh uttered on this floor; because of the bills—with treasonable stump-speeches in their bellies—passed here; because of the cowardice of the poltroons, the imbecility of the dodgers, and the arrogance of the bullies, who had here cooperated to blind and corrupt the minds of the people. Talk had made a miserable mess of it. The ultima ratio was now appealed to.
Some of our companies were marched up-stairs into the galleries. The sofas were to be their beds. With their white cross-belts and bright breastplates, they made a very picturesque body of spectators for whatever happened in the Hall, and never failed to applaud in the right or the wrong place at will.
Most of us were bestowed in the amphitheatre. Each desk received its man. He was to scribble on it by day, and sleep under it by night. When the desks were all taken, the companies overflowed into the corners and into the lobbies. The staff took committee-rooms. The Colonel reigned in the Speaker's parlor.
Once in, firstly, we washed.
Such a wash merits a special paragraph. I compliment the M.C.s, our hosts, upon their water-privileges. How we welcomed this chief luxury after our march! And thenceforth how we prized it! For the clean face is an institution which requires perpetual renovation at Washington. "Constant vigilance is the price" of neatness. When the sky here is not travelling earthward in rain, earth is mounting skyward in dust. So much dirt must have an immoral effect.
After the wash we showed ourselves to the eyes of Washington, marching by companies, each to a different hotel, to dinner. This became one of the ceremonies of our barrack-life. We liked it. The Washingtonians were amused and encouraged by it. Three times a day, with marked punctuality, our lines formed and tramped down the hill to scuffle with awkward squads of waiters for fare more or less tolerable. In these little marches, we encountered by-and-by the other regiments, and, most soldierly of all, the Rhode Island men, in blue flannel blouses and bersagliere hats. But of them hereafter.
It was a most attractive post of ours at the Capitol. Spring was at its freshest and fairest. Every day was more exquisite than its forerunner. We drilled morning, noon, and evening, almost hourly, in the pretty square east of the building. Old soldiers found that they rattled through the manual twice as alert as ever before. Recruits became old soldiers in a trice. And as to awkward squads, men that would have been the veriest louts and lubbers in the piping times of peace now learned to toe the mark, to whisk their eyes right and their eyes left, to drop the butts of their muskets without crushing their corns, and all the mysteries of flank and file,—and so became full-fledged heroes before they knew it.
In the rests between our drills we lay under the young shade on the sweet young grass, with the odors of snowballs and horse-chestnut blooms drifting to us with every whiff of breeze, and amused ourselves with watching the evolutions of our friends of the Massachusetts Eighth, and other less experienced soldiers, as they appeared upon the field. They, too, like ourselves, were going through the transformations. These sturdy fellows were then in a rough enough chrysalis of uniform. That shed, they would look worthy of themselves.
But the best of the entertainment was within the Capitol. Some three thousand or more of us were now quartered there. The Massachusetts Eighth were under the dome. No fear of want of air for them. The Massachusetts Sixth were eloquent for their State in the Senate Chamber. It was singularly fitting, among the many coincidences in the history of this regiment, that they should be there, tacitly avenging the assault upon Sumner and the attempts to bully the impregnable Wilson.
In the recesses, caves, and crypts of the Capitol what other legions were bestowed I do not know. I daily lost myself, and sometimes when out of my reckoning was put on the way by sentries of strange corps, a Reading Light Infantry man, or some other. We all fraternized. There was a fine enthusiasm among us: not the soldierly rivalry in discipline that may grow up in future between men of different States acting together, but the brotherhood of ardent fellows first in the field and earnest in the cause.
All our life in the Capitol was most dramatic and sensational.
Before it was fairly light in the dim interior of the Representatives Chamber, the reveilles of the different regiments came rattling through the corridors. Every snorer's trumpet suddenly paused. The impressive sound of the hushed breathing of a thousand sleepers, marking off the fleet moments of the night, gave way to a most vociferous uproar. The boy element is large in the Seventh Regiment. Its slang dictionary is peculiar and unabridged. As soon as we woke, the pit began to chaff the galleries, and the galleries the pit. We were allowed noise nearly ad libitum. Our riotous tendencies, if they existed, escaped by the safety-valve of the larynx. We joked, we shouted, we sang, we mounted the Speaker's desk and made speeches,—always to the point; for if any but a wit ventured to give tongue, he was coughed down without ceremony. Let the M.C.s adopt this plan and silence their dunces.
With all our jollity we preserved very tolerable decorum. The regiment is assez bien compose. Many of its privates are distinctly gentlemen of breeding and character. The tone is mainly good, and the esprit de corps high. If the Colonel should say, "Up, boys, and at 'em!" I know that the Seventh would do brilliantly in the field. I speak now of its behavior in-doors. This certainly did it credit. Our thousand did the Capitol little harm that a corporal's guard of Biddies with mops and tubs could not repair in a forenoon's campaign.
Perhaps we should have served our country better by a little Vandalism. The decorations of the Capitol have a slight flavor of the Southwestern steamboat saloon. The pictures (now, by the way, carefully covered) would most of them be the better, if the figures were bayoneted and the backgrounds sabred out. Both—pictures and decorations—belong to that bygone epoch of our country when men shaved the moustache, dressed like parsons, said "Sir," and chewed tobacco,—a transition epoch, now become an historic blank.
The home-correspondence of our legion of young heroes was illimitable. Every one had his little tale of active service to relate. A decimation of the regiment, more or less, had profited by the tender moment of departure to pop the question and to receive the dulcet "Yes." These lucky fellows were of course writing to Dulcinea regularly, three meals of love a day. Mr. Van Wyck, M.C., and a brace of colleagues were kept hard at work all day giving franks and saving threepennies to the ardent scribes. Uncle Sam lost certainly three thousand cents a day in this manner.
What crypts and dens, caves and cellars there are under that great structure! And barrels of flour in every one of them this month of May, 1861. Do civilians eat in this proportion? Or does long standing in the "Position of a Soldier" (vide "Tactics" for a view of that graceful pose) increase a man's capacity for bread and beef so enormously?
It was infinitely picturesque in these dim vaults by night. Sentries were posted at every turn. Their guns gleamed in the gaslight. Sleepers were lying in their blankets wherever the stones were softest. Then in the guard-room the guard were waiting their turn. We have not had much of this scenery in America, and the physiognomy of volunteer military life is quite distinct from anything one sees in European service. The People have never had occasion until now to occupy their Palace with armed men.
THE FOLLOWING IS THE OATH.
We were to be sworn into the service of the United States the afternoon of April 26th. All the Seventh, raw men and ripe men, marched out into the sweet spring sunshine. Every fellow had whitened his belts, burnished his arms, curled his moustache, and was scowling his manliest for Uncle Sam's approval.
We were drawn up by companies in the Capitol Square for mustering in.
Presently before us appeared a gorgeous officer, in full fig. "Major McDowell!" somebody whispered, as we presented arms. He is a General, or perhaps a Field Marshal, now. Promotions come with a hop, skip, and jump, in these times, when demerit resigns and merit stands ready to step to the front.
Major-Colonel-General McDowell, in a soldierly voice, now called the roll, and we all answered, "Here!" in voices more or less soldierly. He entertained himself with this ceremony for an hour. The roll over, we were marched and formed in three sides of a square along the turf. Again the handsome officer stepped forward, and recited to us the conditions of our service. "In accordance with a special arrangement, made with the Governor of New York," says the Major, "you are now mustered into the service of the United States, to serve for thirty days, unless sooner discharged"; and continues he, "The oath will now be read to you by the magistrate."
Hereupon a gentleman en mufti, but wearing a military cap with an oil-skin cover, was revealed. Until now he had seemed an impassive supernumerary. But he was biding his time, and—with due respect be it said—saving his wind, and now in a Stentorian voice he ejaculated,—
"The following is the oath!"
Per se this remark was not comic. But there was something in the dignitary's manner which tickled the regiment. As one man the thousand smiled, and immediately adopted this new epigram among its private countersigns.
But the good-natured smile passed away as we listened to the impressive oath, following its title.
We raised our right hands, and, clause by clause, repeated the solemn obligation, in the name of God, to be faithful soldiers of our country. It was not quite so comprehensive as the beautiful knightly pledge administered by King Arthur to his comrades, and transmitted to our time by Major-General Tennyson of the Parnassus Division. We did not swear, as they did of yore, to be true lovers as well as loyal soldiers. Ca va sans dire in 1861,—particularly when you were engaged to your Amanda the evening before you started, as was the case with many a stalwart brave and many a mighty man of a corporal or sergeant in our ranks.
We were thrilled and solemnized by the stately ceremony of the oath. This again was most dramatic. A grand public recognition of a duty. A reavowal of the fundamental belief that our system was worthy of the support, and our Government of the confidence, of all loyal men. And there was danger in the middle distance of our view into the future, —danger of attack, or dangerous duty of advance, just enough to keep any trifler from feeling that his pledge was mere holiday business.
So, under the cloudless blue sky, we echoed in unison the sentences of the oath. A little low murmur of rattling arms, shaken with the hearty utterance, made itself heard in the pauses. Then the band crashed in magnificently.
We were now miserable mercenaries, serving for low pay and rough rations. Read the Southern papers and you will see us described. "Mudsills,"—that, I believe, is the technical word. By repeating a form of words after a gentleman in a glazed cap and black raiment, we had suffered change into base assassins, the offscouring of society, starving for want of employment, and willing to "imbrue our coarse fists in fraternal blood" for the sum of eleven dollars a month, besides hard tack, salt junk, and the hope of a Confederate States bond apiece for bounty, or free loot in the treasuries of Florida, Mississippi, and Arkansas, after the war. How carefully from that day we watched the rise and fall of United States stocks! If they should go low among the nineties, we felt that our eleven dollars per mensem would be imperilled.
We stayed in our palace for a week or so after April 26th, the day of the oath. That was the most original part of our duty thus far. New York never had so unanimous a deputation on the floor of the Representatives Chamber before, and never a more patriotic one. Take care, Gentlemen Members of Congress! look to your words and your Acts honestly and wisely in future! don't palter with Liberty again! it is not well that soldiers should get into the habit of thinking they are always to unravel the snarls and cut the knots twisted and tied by clumsy or crafty fingers. The traitor States already need the main de fer,—yes, and without the gant de velours. Let us beware, and keep ourselves worthy of the boon of self-government, man by man! I do not wish to hear, "Order arms!" and "Charge bayonets!" in the Capitol. But this present defence of Free Speech and Free Thought ends, let us hope, that danger forever.
When we had been ten days in our showy barracks we began to quarrel with luxury. What had private soldiers to do with the desks of law-givers? Why should we be allowed to revel longer in the dining-rooms of Washington hotels, partaking the admirable dainties there?
The May sunshine, the birds and the breezes of May, invited us to Camp,—the genuine thing, under canvas. Besides, Uncles Sam and Abe wanted our room for other company. Washington was filling up fast with uniforms. It seemed as if all the able-bodied men in the country were moving, on the first of May, with all their property on their backs, to agreeable, but dusty lodgings on the Potomac.
We also made our May move. One afternoon, my company, the Ninth, and the Engineers, the Tenth, were detailed to follow Captain Viele, and lay out a camp on Meridian Hill.
As we had the first choice, we got, on the whole, the best site for a camp. We occupy the villa and farm of Dr. Stone, two miles due north of Willard's Hotel. I assume that hotel as a peculiarly American point of departure, and also because it is the hub of Washington,—the centre of an eccentric, having the White House at the end of its shorter, and the Capitol at the end of its longer radius,—moral, so they say, as well as geometrical.
Sundry dignitaries, Presidents and what not, have lived here in times gone by. Whoever chose the site ought to be kindly remembered for his good taste. The house stands upon the pretty terrace commanding the plain of Washington. From the upper windows we can see the Potomac opening southward like a lake, and between us and the water ambitious Washington stretching itself along and along, like the shackly files of an army of recruits.
Oaks love the soil of this terrace. There are some noble ones on the undulations before the house. It may be permitted even for one who is supposed to think of nothing but powder and ball to notice one of these grand trees. Let the ivy-covered stem of the Big Oak of Camp Cameron take its place in literature! And now enough of scenery. The landscape will stay, but the troops will not. There are trees and slopes of green-sward elsewhere, and shrubbery begins to blossom in these bright days of May before a thousand pretty homes. The tents and the tent-life are more interesting for the moment than objects which cannot decamp.
The old villa serves us for head-quarters. It is a respectable place, not without its pretensions. Four granite pillars, as true grit as if the two Presidents Adams had lugged them on their shoulders all the way from Quincy, Mass., make a carriage-porch. Here is the Colonel in the big west parlor, the Quartermaster and Commissary in the rooms with sliding-doors on the east, the Hospital upstairs, and so on. Other rooms, numerous as the cells in a monastery, serve as quarters for the Engineer Company. These dens are not monastic in aspect. The house is, of course, a Certosa, so far as the gentler sex are concerned; but no anchorites dwell here at present. If the Seventh disdained everything but soldiers' fare,—which it does not,—common civility would require that it should do violence to its disinclination for comfort and luxury, and consume the stores sent down by ardent patriots in New York. The cellars of the villa overflow with edibles, and in the greenhouse is a most appetizing array of barrels, boxes, cans, and bottles, shipped here that our Sybarites might not sigh for the flesh-pots of home. Such trash may do very well to amuse the palate in these times of half-peace, half-hostility; but when
"war, which for a space does fail, Shall doubly thundering swell the gale,"
then every soldier should drop gracefully to the simple ration, and cease to dabble with frying-pans. Cooks to their aprons, and soldiers to their guns!
Our tents are pitched on a level clover-field sloping to the front for our parade-ground. We use the old wall tent without a fly. It is necessary to live in one of these awhile to know the vast superiority of the Sibley pattern. Sibley's tent is a wrinkle taken from savage life. It is the Sioux buffalo-skin, lodge, or Tepee, improved,—a cone truncated at the top and fitted with a movable apex for ventilation. A single tent-pole, supported upon a hinged tripod of iron, sustains the structure. It is compacter, more commodious, healthier, and handsomer than the ancient models. None other should be used in permanent encampments. For marching troops, the French Tente d'abri is a capital shelter.
Still our fellows manage to be at home as they are. Some of our model tents are types of the best style of temporary cottages. Young housekeepers of limited incomes would do well to visit and take heed. A whole elysium of household comfort can be had out of a teapot,—tin; a brace of cups,—tin; a brace of plates,—tin; and a frying-pan.
In these days of war everybody can see a camp. Every one who stays at home has a brother or a son or a lover quartered in one of the myriad tents that have blossomed with the daffodil-season all over our green fields of the North. I need not, then, describe our encampment in detail,—its guard-tent in advance,—its guns in battery,—its flagstaff,—its companies quartered in streets with droll and fanciful names,—its officers' tents in the rear, at right angles to the lines of company-tents,—its kitchens, armed with Captain Viele's capital army cooking-stoves,—its big marquees, "The White House" and "Fort Pickens," for the lodging and messing of the new artillery company,—its barbers' shops,—its offices. The same, more or less well arranged, can be seen in all the rendezvous where the armies are now assembling. Instead of such description, then, let me give the log of a single day at our camp.
JOURNAL OF A DAY AT CAMP CAMERON, BY PRIVATE W., COMPANY I.
I would rather not believe it; but it is—yes, it is—the morning gun, uttering its surly "Hullo!" to sunrise.
Yes,—and, to confirm my suspicions, here rattle in the drums and pipe in the fifes, wooing us to get up, get up, with music too peremptory to be harmonious.
I rise up sur mon seant and glance about me. I, Private W., chance, by reason of sundry chances, to be a member of a company recently largely recruited and bestowed all together in a big marquee. As I lift myself up, I see others lift themselves up on those straw bags we kindly call our mattresses. The tallest man of the regiment, Sergeant K., is on one side of me. On the other side I am separated from two of the fattest men of the regiment by Sergeant M., another excellent fellow, prime cook and prime forager.
We are all presently on our pins,—K. on those lengthy continuations of his, and the two stout gentlemen on their stout supporters. The deep sleepers are pulled up from those abysses of slumber where they had been choking, gurgling, strangling, death-rattling all night. There is for a moment a sound of legs rushing into pantaloons and arms plunging into jackets.
Then, as the drums and fifes whine and clatter their last notes, at the flap of our tent appears our orderly, and fierce in the morning sunshine gleams his moustache,—one month's growth this blessed day. "Fall in, for roll-call!" he cries, in a ringing voice. The orderly can speak sharp, if need be.
We obey. Not "Walk in!" "March in!" "Stand in!" is the order; but "Fall in!" as sleepy men must. Then the orderly calls off our hundred. There are several boyish voices which reply, several comic voices, a few mean voices, and some so earnest and manly and alert that one says to himself, "Those are the men for me, when work is to be done!" I read the character of my comrades every morning in each fellow's monosyllable "Here!"
When the orderly is satisfied that not one of us has run away and accepted a Colonelcy from the Confederate States since last roll-call, he notifies those unfortunates who are to be on guard for the next twenty-four hours of the honor and responsibility placed upon their shoulders. Next he tells us what are to be the drills of the day. Then, "Right face! Dismissed! Break ranks! March!"
With ardor we instantly seize tin basins, soap, and towels, and invade a lovely oak-grove at the rear and left of our camp. Here is a delicious spring into which we have fitted a pump. The sylvan scene becomes peopled with "National Guards Washing,"—a scene meriting the notice of Art as much as any "Diana and her Nymphs." But we have no Poussin to paint us in the dewy sunlit grove. Few of us, indeed, know how picturesque we are at all times and seasons.
After this beau ideal of a morning toilet comes the ante-prandial drill. Lieutenant W. arrives, and gives us a little appetizing exercise in "Carry arms!" "Support arms!" "By the right flank, march!" "Double quick!"
Breakfast follows. My company messes somewhat helter-skelter in a big tent. We have very tolerable rations. Sometimes luxuries appear of potted meats and hermetical vegetables, sent us by the fond New Yorkers. Each little knot of fellows, too, cooks something savory. Our table-furniture is not elegant, our plates are tin, there is no silver in our forks; but a la guerre, comme a la guerre. Let the scrubs growl! Lucky fellows, if they suffer no worse hardships than this!
By-and-by, after breakfast, come company-drills, bayonet-practice, battalion-drills, and the heavy work of the day. Our handsome Colonel, on a nice black nag, manoeuvres his thousand men of the line-companies on the parade for two or three hours. Two thousand legs step off accurately together. Two thousand pipe-clayed cross-belts—whitened with infinite pains and waste of time, and offering a most inviting mark to a foe—restrain the beating bosoms of a thousand braves, as they—the braves, not the belts—go through the most intricate evolutions unerringly. Watching these battalion movements, Private W., perhaps, goes off and inscribes in his journal,—"Any clever, prompt man, with a mechanical turn, an eye for distance, a notion of time, and a voice of command, can be a tactician. It is pure pedantry to claim that the manoeuvring of troops is difficult: it is not difficult, if the troops are quick and steady. But to be a general, with patience and purpose and initiative,—ah!" thinks Private W., "for that you must have the man of genius; and already in this war he begins to appear out of Massachusetts and elsewhere."
Private W. avows without fear that about noon, at Camp Cameron, he takes a hearty dinner, and with satisfaction. Private W. has had his feasts in cot and chateau in Old World and New. It is the conviction of said private that nowhere and no-when has he expected his ration with more interest, and remembered it with more affection, than here.
In the middle hours of the day it is in order to get a pass to go to Washington, or to visit some of the camps, which now, in the middle of May, begin to form a cordon around the city. Some of these I may criticize before the end of this paper. Our capital seems arranged by Nature to be protected by fortified camps on the circuit of its hills. It may be made almost a Verona, if need be. Our brother regiments have posts nearly as charming as our own in these fair groves and on these fair slopes on either side of us.
In the afternoon, comes target-practice, skirmishing-drill, more company- or recruit-drill, and, at half-past five, our evening parade. Let me not forget tent-inspection, at four, by the officer of the day, when our band plays deliciously.
At evening parade all Washington appears. A regiment of ladies, rather indisposed to beauty, observe us. Sometimes the Dons arrive,—Secretaries of State, of War, of Navy,—or military Dons, bestriding prancing steeds, but bestriding them as if "'twas not their habit often of an afternoon." All which,—the bad teeth, pallid skins, and rustic toilets of the fair, and the very moderate horsemanship of the brave,—privates, standing at ease in the ranks, take note of, not cynically, but as men of the world.
Wondrous gymnasts are some of the Seventh, and after evening parade they often give exhibitions of their prowess to circles of admirers. Muscle has not gone out, nor nerve, nor activity, if these athletes are to be taken as the types or even as the leaders of the young city-bred men of our time. All the feats of strength and grace of the gymnasiums are to be seen here, and show to double advantage in the open air.
Then comes sweet evening. The moon rises. It seems always full moon at Camp Cameron. Every tent becomes a little illuminated pyramid. Cooking-fires burn bright along the alleys. The boys lark, sing, shout, do all those merry things that make the entertainment of volunteer service. The gentle moon looks on, mild and amused, the fairest lady of all that visit us.
At last, when the songs have been sung and the hundred rumors of the day discussed, at ten the intrusive drums and scolding fifes get together and stir up a concert, always premature, called tattoo. The Seventh Regiment begins to peel for bed: at all events, Private W. does; for said W. takes, when he can, precious good care of his cuticle, and never yields to the lazy and unwholesome habit of soldiers,—sleeping in the clothes. At taps—half-past ten—out go the lights. If they do not, presently comes the sentry's peremptory command to put them out. Then, and until the dawn of another day, a cordon of snorers inside of a cordon of sentries surrounds our national capital. The outer cordon sounds its "All's well"; and the inner cordon, slumbering, echoes it.