As usual in the North, a wild howl went up against McClellan. In response to this brutum fulmen, he was promptly removed by Halleck, for not conquering an army that had proved itself invincible!
Bitter indeed was the hour that brought to Richmond the story of Sharpsburg. Flushed with hope, undoubting of triumph, her citizens only listened for the wild cheer that would echo back from conquered Washington. But the sound that reached their ears was the menacing roar from retreating ranks that left near one-third their number stark and ghastly on that grim field, where the Death Angel has so darkly flapped his wings.
Thus ended the first Maryland campaign.
It had given the people their wish; it had carried the gray jackets over the border and stricken the enemy sorely on his own soil. But it had left that soil drenched with the blood of some of the bravest and best; the noble Branch and chivalric Starke had both fallen where their men lay thickest—torn and ghastly on that terrible field.
The details of that field which the Richmond people gathered from the northern papers, deepened their gloom. And through it rose a hoarse whisper, swelling at last into angry query, why had the campaign miscarried? If the army was inadequate in numbers, why had General Lee carried it over that river he had never crossed before, when his own army was better and the enemy less prepared? And if, as stated, the men were ill-provided in munitions and transportation—as they were known to be with clothes and rations—why had Government forced its only bulwark well-nigh to annihilation?
It mattered little, the people said, that the results had been far more disastrous to the North than to the South—both in prestige and loss. The North could far better afford it. What was the killing of a few thousand raw troops, or the destruction of a few thousand stand of arms, compared to the precious cost of holding the field at Sharpsburg?
And gradually these complaints, as in all such cases, answered themselves; and then the vials of southern wrath began to empty over the unfortunate Marylanders, who had not risen to aid their brothers in their sore need. How unjust were these charges will soon be shown.
And so the people murmured to relieve their overfull hearts, until the calm and steady course of the general they had never doubted, quieted them once more.
The outcry in the North resulted in the choice of General A. E. Burnside to command the new invasion; and he was of course hailed as the augur, who was surely this time to read the oracle. Watchful, calm, and steadfast, the Confederate waited, through the months of preparation, to meet the new advance—so disposing part of his force about Winchester as to prevent the favorite Valley-road On-to-Richmond. With a renewed, and splendidly appointed, army, Burnside moved in November toward Fredericksburg; thinking that this time he had really gotten between Lee and Richmond.
What was his disgust to find, when he reached the Rappahannock, that the Confederate army was not all at Winchester, but was before him to dispute his crossing. After some unavailing manoeuvers for position, the Federals sat down on the heights of Stafford, opposite Fredericksburg; made works at their leisure; and spread a perfect city of tents and booths over a line of some five miles. Outnumbered as he was, General Lee could do nothing but watch and wait for the crossing that must come, sooner or later; and meantime he chose his line of battle.
Just back of Fredericksburg, stretching some two miles southward, is a semi-circular plain bordered by a range of hills. These stretch from Hamilton's crossing beyond Mayre's Hill on the left; and are covered with dense oak growth and a straggling fringe of pines. On these hills, Lee massed his artillery, to sweep the whole plain where the enemy must form, after his crossing; and arranged his line of battle with A. P. Hill holding the right and Longstreet the left. On the night of December 10th, Stafford Heights opened a furious bombardment of the town, tearing great gaps through the thickest populated quarters.
Into the bitter winter night tender women and young children were driven, shivering with fright and cold, half clad; seeking safety from the screaming shells that chased them everywhere. Under this bombardment, the pioneers commenced their pontoons at three points. The storm of grape and canister was too great to contest the landing, which was effected next day.
As the heavy fog that had obscured the sun cleared away, the regular lines of the Federals advanced to the attack, raked and torn by batteries. Broken, they were formed again, only to be mowed down afresh; while the scream of a thousand shells from Stafford filled the air with a continuous whoo, amid which the rattle of southern musketry sang ever fiercer and swifter. Then dark masses of blue came out of the town and formed for the charge, under a terrific fire from the Washington Artillery on Mayre's Hill. Steadily and fearlessly did Meagher's First Brigade move to the attack. Crowded into the narrow road, swept by the accurate fire of the Louisianians and McLaws' veterans—the head of the column went down, only to be filled by the gallant fellows behind. Into the jaws of death they came, up to the very works—then, with half their number dead and dying about their feet, they broke, the left gave way—and the bloody field was won at all points. The victory was terrible and complete.
But it had cost dear, and the rejoicing in Richmond was tempered with sorrow for the loss of such as Maxcy Gregg, Cobb, and many others, lying cold upon the field of victory.
And with the first feeling of triumph the news brought, came the thought that this time surely the enemy would be pushed—this time he was indeed a prey! Broken and demoralized, with a deep river in his rear that he must cross in pontoons, the people felt that he could surely be destroyed before reaching his Stafford stronghold. But once again, as ever, the shattered and broken legions of Burnside were allowed two days to recover from their demoralization; to pass at leisure, over the trap behind them.
Great was the amaze, bitter the disappointment of the people; and the inquiry how and why this had been done, became universal. But the southern people above every other feeling had now come to cherish a perfect and unquestioning faith in General Lee; and even while they wondered at a policy that invariably left a beaten enemy to recover, and only become stronger—still they questioned with a firm reliance that there must be some reason, invisible to them but good and potent still.
There were no active operations immediately succeeding Fredericksburg. Picket fighting; cavalry skirmishes, severe but fruitless; and temporary raids of the enemy to devastate the country around the rear of their army, and to penetrate into that beyond their lines, occupying the winter and early spring. But there was full leisure for the people to look upon the ugliest features of the war. Fredericksburg was a ruin, riddled with shot and shell, tenanted only by the poorest classes. Her once cheerful and elegant population were ruined and starving refugees in Richmond; the smiling tracts stretching back to the Potomac were one broad, houseless waste—browned by fire, and cut with the winding wagon-roads of the enemy. Constant incursions of his cavalry—for "raiding" had now become a feature of the war—harassed the people, everywhere removed from the immediate army lines. These slaughtered and drove off their cattle, stole and consumed their supplies, burned their barns, and destroyed their farming utensils!—a refinement of barbarity to non-combatants, never before practiced by a civilized race.
Then, too, the news from the West, heretofore sketched, reacted on Richmond; and the gloom in the Capital grew deep and universal. Burnside had, meantime, been dismissed in disgrace for his shameful failure. The inevitable howl had again gone up in the North; then the inevitable result had come. Joseph Hooker was now the coming man—the war-gong was sounded more loudly than ever; the army was re-enforced to greater size than ever; and so equipped that its general proclaimed it the "finest army on the planet." Agog with preparation, and stuffed full with promises of certain success this time, the North forgot the many slips between its lips and the coveted cup of triumph, and waited in secure impatience for the moment when the roads would permit Hooker to advance.
And the South waited, too—not hopefully, nor with the buoyant anticipation of the past, but still with a confidence in its cause and its defenders nowise diminished; with even more fixed determination never to yield, while there were muskets left and hands to grasp them.
At last the movement came. Late in April, Hooker divided his immense army into two columns, one menacing right crossing below Fredericksburg, to hold the troops at that point; the other crossing above, to flank and pass to their rear, combining with the other wing and cutting communication with Richmond. Taking command in person of his right wing—while the left was confided to General Slocum—Hooker rapidly crossed the river, concentrating not less than 60,000 men on the Chancellorsville road, eleven miles above Fredericksburg. Grasping the situation at once, Lee ordered the small force there back to Mine Run, until re-enforced; and then, on the 2d of May, Stonewall Jackson completed that wonderful and painful circuit of the enemy—so brilliant in conception, so successful in result. Late in the afternoon he reached their extreme right and rear, secure and unsuspecting. Never stopping to rest, the Eldest Son of War hurled himself like a thunderbolt on the confident and intrenched enemy—scattering the eleventh corps (Sigel's) like chaff, and hurling them, broken and demoralized, upon their supports. The very key of the enemy's campaign was driven out; and the "one hour more of daylight!" the hero-general prayed for—or the merciful sparing of his priceless life by the God of Battles—would have shown complete defeat, even annihilation, of Hooker's right.
But it was not so written in the Book of Life! A wise dispensation, whose object we may see, removed the best and greatest soldier of the war—sorely stricken by the hands of his own devoted men, in the darkness; the routed enemy was given, by this unequaled misfortune, and by fast falling night, opportunity for partial reorganization.
Hooker's right was turned and doubled upon his center; but he was still strong in numbers, and had the advantage of position and heavy works, abatis and rifle-pits.
Next morning General Lee assaulted in force, all along the line; and after heavy and bloody fighting, drove him from his position at all points. Sedgwick, however, had crossed the river at Fredericksburg, driving the Confederates from the town and carrying Mayre's Hill by assault. This acted as a check to Lee, who was forced to detach McLaws' division to drive Sedgwick back from his own rear. This he successfully accomplished, and—Anderson reaching McLaws just in time—on the 4th of May, the last of the series of the battles of the Rappahannock resulted in complete defeat of Sedgwick.
Still, Hooker was permitted to withdraw his army across the river; but the campaign of the week had been successful in utterly breaking his plans and clearly defeating him in every engagement.
OVER AGAIN, TO GETTYSBURG.
The campaign of the Rappahannock had shown brilliant flashes of strategy and valor. It had proved that a badly-provided army of less than 50,000 Confederates—barefooted, blanketless and half-fed, but properly led—could, even when surrounded and out-flanked, defeat and set at naught 120,000 of the best-appointed troops ever sent against them. It revived, in some degree, the drooping spirits of the people; but a sorrow that rose to agony wrung the heart of the South, when what was earth of her peerless, pure and idolized Jackson was laid in the Capitol, wrapped in the flag he had made immortal.
Shattered and emaciated veterans, noble-browed matrons and pale, delicate maidens gathered around that sacred bier, in the awed hush of a common sorrow, too deep for words. Tears coursed over cheeks that had been bronzed in the fire of battle; sobs rose from hearts that had lost their dearest and nearest without a murmur, save—Thy will be done! And little children were lifted up to look upon what was left of him who would ever be the greatest one of earth to them. And through the coffin-lid, that calm, still face seemed hourly to grow more holy and more radiant; the light of battle faded out from its softening lines and the seal of the God of Peace rested in plain token upon the glorified brow.
Truly did every one who looked upon it feel:
"O, gracious God! not gainless is the loss! A glorious sunbeam gilds thy sternest frown— For, while his country staggers 'neath the Cross, He rises with the Crown!"
And when the funeral procession passed the streets of the Capital, the whole people stood bareheaded and mute. Following the wailing notes of the dirge with unsteady feet, moved the escort of ragged and war-worn soldiers—their tattered banners furled—and every torn dress and dented gun-carriage speaking eloquently of the right they had earned to sorrow for him. It was no mocking pageant. No holiday soldiery, spruce and gay, followed that precious bier—no chattering crowds pointed out the beauties of the sight. Solemn and mourning the escort passed; sad and almost voiceless the people turned away and, going to their homes, sat with their sorrow.
After the Rappahannock fights came a lull of several weeks; and it was early in June when General Lee advanced to force the enemy out of the state. His army had been reorganized and strengthened as much as possible; General R. S. Ewell was chosen successor to Jackson; and to him, Longstreet and A. P. Hill—raised now to a full lieutenant-general—was given command of the three corps.
Diverging from the main line, after some little coquetting for position, Ewell charged Jackson's "foot cavalry" upon Winchester, capturing the town with its heavy depots of stores and munitions; while Hill kept Hooker amused, and Longstreet slowly forged his way toward the river.
Great was the joy of the poor town when it once more welcomed the gray-jackets. From the beginning it had been battle-ground and billet of both armies a dozen times. Tossed from Federal to Confederate possession—a very shuttlecock of war—it had been harassed, robbed and pillaged by the one; drained of the very dregs by free gifts to the other. But the people of Winchester never faltered in their faith; and to-day her noble women go down the roll of heroism and steadfast truth, hand in hand with the noblest ones of our history.
And the joy in Winchester was somewhat reflected at the harassed and eager-watching Capital. Undiminished by the sorrows of the last fall, undimmed by its reverses, still burned the southern desire to plant its victorious flag on hostile soil. It was neither a thirst for vengeance nor an empty boast; rather a yearning for relief—a craving for the rest from blood and battle-shocks that such a campaign would give.
It was with deep satisfaction, then, that Richmond heard that Ewell had crossed the Potomac at Williamsport, pushed on through Hagerstown and, leaving Early at York, had passed to Carlisle; that Longstreet had followed him at Williamsport; and that A. P. Hill had crossed at Shepherdstown and pushed for Chambersburg, reaching there on the 27th of June.
Hooker, falling rapidly back upon Washington—at which point he believed the movement aimed—had been sacrificed, and with more justice than usual, to popular clamor. General Geo. G. Meade replaced him in command, and strained every nerve to collect numbers of men, irrespective of quality—seeming to desire to crush the invasion by weight alone.
Wild was the alarm in the North when the rebel advance had penetrated the heart of Pennsylvania; when York was held by Early and laid under contribution and Harrisburg was threatened by Ewell. The whole North rose in its might. Governors Seymour, of New York, Andrew, of Massachusetts, and Curtin, of Pennsylvania, put their whole militia at the service of the President; the energy at Washington, momentarily paralyzed, soon recovered; and by the last day of the month, Meade had collected an army of near 200,000 men. Many of these were, of course, new levies and raw militia; but near one-half were the veterans of the armies of McClellan, Burnside and Hooker; men who had fought gallantly on southern soil and might be expected to do so on their own.
It seems that Lee's intention was to flank Meade; and leaving him in Maryland, to pass into Pennsylvania, occupy Harrisburg, destroy communications between Washington and the North and reduce Philadelphia.
Such, at least, was the universal belief of the southern people; and so rapidly did their mercurial temperament rise under it, and so great was their reliance in the army that was to accomplish the brilliant campaign, that they looked upon it already as a fixed fact. Now, at last, they felt, we will teach the Yankees what invasion really means. With their Capital leaguered, their President and Cabinet fugitives by water, and their great thoroughfare and second city in our hands, we will dictate our own terms, and end the war.
Such might have been the case, had Gettysburg been won, or had that battle never been fought.
If Lee's intention was to flank Meade and avoid a fight at the outset of the campaign, it was thwarted by the rapid concentration of troops in his front, near Gettysburg. To prevent being struck in detail and secure his communications, Lee was forced to recall Ewell and to concentrate his army. Hill and Longstreet were ordered up from Chambersburg; and by July 1st the opposing armies faced each other; each feeling its way cautiously and knowing that the result of this grapple of the giants must in a great measure decide the war. Meade's defeat would lose Washington, leave the heart of the North open, and demoralize the only army in that section. Lee's defeat, on the other hand, would jeopardy his very existence and probably leave Richmond an easy prey to fresh advance.
But in Richmond none of this was felt; for all that was known of the army was its victorious entry into Pennsylvania; and absurdly exaggerated stories of the dire panic and demoralization of the enemy received perfect credence.
Then the shock came.
On the 1st of July, Hill's advance encountered the enemy under Reynolds; and—after a fierce struggle, in which their general was killed—drove them back into and through the town. Here they were reformed on a semi-circular crest of hills; massing their artillery and holding their position until dark. Their loss was heavier far than Hill's, and the men not in as good fighting trim; but it was very late, and General Lee feared pressing their reserve. Had he known that it was only the advance of Meade, broken and demoralized, that held the crest, he could undoubtedly have carried and occupied it. The fearful battles of the next two days, with their terrific loss of life, doubtless hung on this lost opportunity.
By next morning the enemy had massed the remainder of his army behind these hills, now frowning with two hundred guns and blue with one dense line of soldiery. Under a fearful cannonade, through a hail of bullets that nothing living might stand, Stewart works his way slowly and steadily forward on the enemy's left; driving him from line after line of works and holding every inch gained, by dogged valor and perseverance. Hays and Hoke (of Early's) advance into the ploughing fire of the rifled guns—march steadily on and charge over their own dead and dying, straight for Cemetery Heights. This is the key of the enemy's position. That once gained the day is won; and on the brave fellows go, great gaps tearing through their ranks—answering every fresh shock with a savage yell. Line after line of the enemy gives way before that terrible charge. The breastwork is occupied—they are driven out! Melting under the horrid fire, unfaltering still—the gray-jackets reach the very hill!
Nothing mortal can stand the enfilading fire. They give way—again they charge—they are at the very works! But the fire is too heavy for their thinned ranks to stand; and night falls over the field, illumined by the red flash of cannon—drenched with blood and horrid with carnage of friend and foe. But there is no advantage gained, save a slight advance of Stewart's position on their left.
With the morning of the third day came the conviction that the vital struggle must be made for Cemetery Heights. Lee must win them—and then for victory!
All the artillery was massed upon this point. Then awoke the infernal echoes of such an artillery duel as the war was never to see again. The air was black with flying shot and shell, and their wild whoo! made one continuous song through the sultry noon. Forth from the canopy of smoke and their screen of trees, comes the chosen storming party—Pickett's division of Virginians; supported on the right by Wilcox and on the left by Heth's division under Pettigrew, its own general having been wounded in the head the day before.
Unmindful of the fire-sheeted storm into which they march—down into the Valley of the Shadow of Death stride that devoted band. Now, they emerge into the Emmetsburg road, straight on for the coveted heights. On! never blenching, never faltering—with great gaps crashing through them—filling the places of the dead with the living next to die—On! into the jaws of death goes the forlorn hope! They are at the rise—they reach the crest; and then their batteries are suddenly silent!
Behind them is the ghastly road, furrowed and ploughed by ceaseless shot, slippery with blood and dotted thick with their writhing, bleeding brothers. Behind them is death—defeat! Before them a hundred belching cannon—a dense, dark mass of blue, relieved only by the volleying flash that shakes and rolls along their shattered line! Still up they go! on—ever on! That small Virginia division, shattered, bleeding—and alone reaches the works—fights for one moment and then—has won them!
But there are no supports—Pettigrew has not come up; and the decimated Virginians are literally overwhelmed by the fresh masses poured upon them. Broken, torn, exhausted, they fall back—scattered into terrible death-dealing knots, that fight their way sullenly and terribly home to their own lines!
That charge—unequaled in history—has fearfully crippled the enemy. He can not pursue. But it has failed, and the battle of Gettysburg is over!
That night General Lee fell back toward Hagerstown, turning in his retreat to show front to the enemy that dared not attack. Nine days he stayed on the Maryland shore, waiting the advance that never came; then he recrossed the river, on the night of the 13th, and again fell back to the Rappahannock lines.
The second Maryland campaign had failed!
Into the midst of the general elation in Richmond crashed the wild rumors from the fight. We had driven the enemy through the town; we held the height; we had captured Meade and 40,000 prisoners. Washington was at our mercy; and Lee would dictate terms of peace from Philadelphia!
These were the first wild rumors; eagerly sought and readily credited by the people. They were determined to believe and would see no change of plan in General Lee's forced battle at Gettysburg, instead of on the plains at Harrisburg.
Then over the general joy, creeping none knew whence nor how, but rapidly gaining shape and substance, came a shadow of doubt. Crowds besieged the War Department, anxious, excited, but still hopeful. Then the truth came; tempered by the Government, but wildly exaggerated by northern sources.
Down to zero dropped the spirits of the people; down to a depth of despairing gloom, only the deeper from the height of their previous exultation. The dark cloud from Gettysburg rolled back over Richmond, darkened and made dense a hundred fold in the transit.
The terrible carnage of that field was exaggerated by rumor. Pickett's gallant division was declared annihilated; it was believed that the army had lost 20,000 men; and it was known that such priceless blood as that of Garnett, Pettigrew, Armistead, Pender, Kemper, Semmes and Barksdale had sealed the dreadful defeat.
It only needed what came the next day, to dash the last drop from the cup of hope the people still tried to hold to their lips; and that was the news of the fall of Vicksburg, on the 4th of July.
And out of the thick darkness that settled on the souls of all, came up the groan of inquiry and blame. Why had the campaign failed? they asked. Why had General Lee been forced into battle on ground of the enemy's choosing? Why had he attacked works that only an army like his would have made an effort to take, when he could have flanked the enemy and forced him to fight him on his own terms? Why had the Government—as was alleged—allowed the crucial test of liberty—the crisis campaign of the war—to be undertaken without proper transportation and supplies of ammunition?
And why, above all, had the general they still loved and trusted, spite of their doubts—why had he sent their beloved Virginians unsupported to the shambles? Why had he fought the whole Yankee army with one division?
Such were the murmurs on every side. And though they gradually died away, after the first shock of surprise and grief had passed; still they left a vague feeling behind that all was not well; that grave errors had been committed somewhere. For the southern people could not get over the feeling that there were no odds of numbers and position that could cause defeat to a southern army, properly supplied and properly handled. So, although the murmurs ceased, the conviction did not die with them that the battle of Gettysburg was a grave error; that there had been a useless waste of priceless lives; and that the campaign had been nullified, which else had ended the war.
And unlike other post-disaster conclusions of the southern people, this did not die out. It only became strengthened and fixed, the more light was thrown on the vexed questions and the more they were canvassed. The excuses of the War Department that ammunition had given out, were scornfully rejected. Then, said the people, that was your fault. General Lee could not depend—in a campaign in the heart of an enemy's country and far away from his base—upon his captures. And as to his not intending to fight a pitched battle, how could he calculate upon that, or why then did he fight it; and upon ground of the enemy's choice?
And with the other objections to the conduct of the campaign, came that of the general's treatment of the people of Pennsylvania. It was felt to be an excess of moderation to a people whose armies had not spared the sword, the torch and insult to our unprotected tracts; and it was argued—without a shadow of foundation—that Lee's knightly courtesy to the Dutch dames of Pennsylvania had disgusted his troops.
Those starving and barefooted heroes would have thought it right if their beloved chief had fallen down and worshiped the makers of apple-butter! They felt he could do no wrong; and it was indirect injustice to the gallant dead that dotted Cemetery Hill—and to the no less gallant living ready to march up to those frowning heights again—to intimate that any action of their general would, or could, have made them fight better.
Excessive as was that moderation—ill advised as it might have proved, in case of a long campaign—it could have had no possible effect on the fortunes of the disastrous and brief one just ended.
Equally unjust as that popular folly, was the aspersion upon southern sympathizers in Maryland, that they did not come forth to aid their friends. The part of Maryland through which southern armies passed in both campaigns were sparsely settled, and that with strong Union population. The Marylander of Baltimore and the lower counties—whatever may have been his wishes, was gagged and bound too closely to express, far less carry them out. Baltimore was filled with an armed guard and was, moreover, the passage-way of thousands of troops; the lower counties were watched and guarded. And, moreover, the Confederate army was not practically in Maryland, but from the 20th of June to the 1st of July.
The taunt to the down-trodden Marylanders—oppressed and suffering bravely for conscience sake—we must in justice to ourselves believe only the result of grief and disappointment. Men, like goods, can only be judged "by sample;" and, from the beginning to the end of the war, Maryland may point to Archer, Winder, Elzey, Johnson and many another noble son—unhonored now, or filling, perhaps, a nameless grave—and ask if such men came from among a people who talked but would not act! And so in sorrow, disappointment and bitterness ended the second Maryland campaign.
And with it ended all hopes of carrying the war beyond our own gates in future; happy could we beat it thence, baffled and crushed as ever before.
For the short, sharp raid of General Early—penetrating to the gates of the Capital and with possible capabilities of even entering them—can hardly be considered an organized scheme of invasion. It was rather the spasmodic effort by a sharp, hard blow to loosen the tightening and death-dealing grip upon our throat, and give us time for one long, deep breath before the final tug for life.
THE CONFEDERACY AFLOAT.
Measured by the popular test, success, the Confederate States Navy would, perhaps, be accorded little merit. Even cursory examination into the vast difficulties and discouragements with which it contended, will do it prompt justice.
No men who joined the southern service sacrificed more than her navy officers. The very flower of the old service, they had grown gray in their slow promotion to its positions of honor; their families depended for sole support upon the pittance of pay they received. Still they hesitated not a moment to range themselves under the banners their native states had unfurled. Once there, no men labored more faithfully—and efficiently. Subject to misconstruction, to jealousy, to petty annoyances—and later, to the most pinching straits of poverty—they were ever uncomplaining and ever ready.
Many and varied were the calls upon them. They commanded land batteries, trained raw gunners and drilled lubberly conscripts; they were bridge-builders, carpenters, wood-cutters, chemists and colliers; and, at the best, it was hard for the veteran who had, for forty years, trod the deck of a frigate, to be cooped in the contracted limits of a razeed tug, or an armed pilot boat. But once there he made the best of it; and how well he wrought in the new sphere, the names of Hollins, Lynch, Buchanan and Tucker still attest.
At the time the first Army Bill was passed by Congress, a law was also made securing to resigned naval officers the same rank they held in the United States service. But there was scarcely a keel in Confederate waters, and small indeed was the prospect for the future; so these impatient spirits, panting for active work, were put into unsuitable positions at the very outset. Later, a bill was passed for a provisional navy, but there was no fleet for their occupation. The department, therefore, used the discretion given it to confer a few honorary titles, and to appoint a vast number of subordinate officers, for shore duty in its work-shops and navy-yards.
The acceptability of Mr. Mallory to the people, at the outset of his career, has been noted. They believed that his long experience in the committee of naval affairs was guarantee for the important trust confided to him. Moreover, he was known to be relied upon by Mr. Davis as a man of solid intellect, of industry and perseverance. If his knowledge of naval affairs was entirely theoretical, it mattered little so long as he could turn that knowledge to practical account, by the counsel and aid of some of the most efficient of the scientific sailors of the Union.
Mr. Mallory took charge of the Navy Department in March, '61. At this time the question of iron-clads had attention of naval builders on both sides of the Atlantic; and deeming them indispensable to naval warfare, the Secretary's first movement was a strong memoir to Congress, urging immediate and heavy appropriations for their construction at New Orleans and Mobile. With a treasury empty and immovably averse to anything like decisive action, the astute lawgivers of Montgomery hesitated and doubted. The most that could be forced from them were small appropriations for the fitting out of privateers.
The first venture, the "Sumter," was bought, equipped and put into commission at the end of April; and in the course of a few weeks she ran out of New Orleans, in command of Raphael Semmes, and the stars and bars were floating solitary, but defiant, over the seas. The history of her cruise, the terror she spread among the enemy's shipping, and the paralysis she sent to the very heart of his commerce, are too well known to need repetition here. Badly-built craft as she was for such a service, she was still more badly equipped; but so eminently successful was she that both Government and Congress must have been incurably blind, not to put a hundred like her upon every sea where the Union flag could float.
Had one-twentieth the sum frittered away in useless iron-clads, and worse than useless "gunboats," been put into saucy and swift wasps like the "Sumter," their stings must have driven northern commerce from the sea; and the United States ports would have been more effectually blockaded, from a thousand miles at sea, than were those of the southern fleet-bound coast.
It may not be irrelevant here to allude to the finale of the Confederate cruisers; and to recall the most inane farce of all those enacted by the madmen who held power in '66.
In the January of that year, Raphael Semmes was seized and thrown into prison. He was now charged—not with having violated his parole given to General Grant, who was personally and morally responsible for his persecution—not with doing aught but "obeying the laws themselves;" but he was charged with having escaped, the year before, from the custody of a man whose prisoner he was not and had never been—with having broken from a durance that ought to have existed! From incontrovertible testimony, we know that Captain Semmes only raised the white flag, after his vessel began to sink; that he stayed on her deck until she went down beneath him; that no boat came to him from the "Kearsage," and that he was in the water full an hour, before the boat of the "Deerhound" picked him up and carried him aboard that yacht.
But radical hatred, and thirst for vengeance on a disarmed enemy, raised the absurd plea that Semmes became a prisoner of war by raising the white flag; that by so doing he gave a moral parole! and violated it by saving himself from a watery grave and afterward taking up arms again. It is only a proof that the country was a little less mad than the radical leaders, that the unheard-of absurdity of its Navy Department was not sustained by popular opinion. It would have no doubt been chivalric and beautiful in Raphael Semmes to have drowned in the ocean, because the boat of the "Kearsage" would not pick him up after accepting his "moral parole;" but, as he did not see it in that light, and as he was never called upon to surrender by any officer of that ship, he was perfectly free the moment his own deck left him in the waves. The white flag was but a token that he desired to save the lives of his men; and would surrender them and himself, if opportunity were given. But even granting the nonsensical claim that it made him a prisoner—the laws of war demand absolute safety for prisoners; and the fact of the "Kearsage" leaving him to drown was, in itself, a release.
There is no necessity for defense of Captain Semmes' position; but it may be well to record how blind is the hate which still attempts to brand as "Pirate" a regularly-commissioned officer in service, whose long career gained him nothing but respect under the northern—nothing but glory under the southern flag. If Raphael Semmes be a "pirate," then was the northern recognition of belligerents but an active lie! Then was Robert E. Lee a marauder—Wade Hampton but a bushwhacker, and Joseph E. Johnston but a guerrilla!
When the "Sumter" began her work, she was soon followed by the "Florida"—a vessel somewhat better, but still of the same class. Under the dashing and efficient Maffitt, the "Florida," too, wrought daring destruction. Her record, like that of her rival, is too familiar for repetition; as is the later substitution of the "Alabama" for the worn-out "Sumter."
During the long war, these three vessels—and but two of them at one time—were the only cruisers the Confederacy had afloat; until just before its close, the "Shenandoah" went out to strike fresh terror to the heart and pocket of New England. Then, also, that strong-handed and cool-headed amphiboid, Colonel John Taylor Wood, made—with wretched vessels and hastily-chosen crews—most effective raids on the coasting shipping of the Northeast.
One popular error pervades all which has been said or written, on both sides of the line, about the Confederate navy. This is the general title of "privateer," given to all vessels not cooped up in southern harbors. Regularly-commissioned cruisers, like the "Alabama" and "Florida," the property of the Navy Department, and commanded by its regularly-commissioned officers, were no more "privateers" than were the "Minnesota," or "Kearsage."
There was a law passed, regulating the issue of letters of marque; and from time to time much was heard of these in the South. But after the first spirt of the saucy little "Jeff Davis," not more than two or three ever found their way to sea; and even these accomplished nothing.
At one time, a company with heavy capital was gotten up in Richmond, for the promotion of such enterprises; but it was looked upon as a job and was little successful in any sense.
So, with all the ports of the world open to belligerent ships; with unsurpassed sailors "panting for the very lack of element" in musty offices, privateers did not increase in number; and one of the most effective engines of legitimate warfare was but illustrated, instead of being utilized.
Meantime, the Navy Department had ceased to importune for appropriations to build iron-clads at New Orleans; an omission that carried the grave responsibility for loss of that city, and for the far graver disaster of the closing of the whole river and the blockade of the trans-Mississippi. For had the "Louisiana" been furnished with two companion ships of equal strength—or even had she been completely finished and not had been compelled to succumb to accidents within, while she braved the terrific fire from without—the Federal fleet might have been crushed like egg-shells; the splendid exertions of Hollins and Kennon in the past would not have been nullified; the blood of McIntosh and Huger would not have been useless sacrifice; and the homes of the smiling city and the pure vicinage of her noble daughters might not have been polluted by the presence of the commandant, who crawled in after the victorious fleet.
Norfolk, however, had come into southern possession, by the secession of Virginia; and the vast resources of her navy-yard—only partly crippled by the haste of the Federal retreat—stimulated the Government. A meager appropriation was passed for the construction of the "Merrimac;" or rather for an iron-clad ship upon the hull of the half-destroyed frigate of that name. Had the whole amount necessary for her completion been given, the vessel would have been ready weeks before she was, under the dribblet system adopted. Then, indeed, it would be hard to overestimate her value; damage to shipping in Hampton Roads; or her ultimate effect upon McClellan's campaign.
No appropriation for an object of vital import could be shaken free from its bonds of red tape; and this one was saddled with an incubus, in the bill for the "construction of one hundred gunboats." The scheme to build that number of wooden vessels of small size seemed equally short-sighted and impracticable. They could only be built on inland rivers and creeks, to prevent attacks by the enemy's heavier vessels; and hence they were necessarily small and ineffective. The interior navy-yards had, moreover, to be guarded against surprises by the enemy's cavalry; and as men were so scarce, it was generally arranged that the navy-yard should follow the army lines. Constantly shifting position—caused by the rapid movements of the enemy, left these impromptu ship-yards unprotected; and then a small party of raiders would either burn them, or force their builders to do so. It was not until the appropriation was nearly spent—although not one efficient gunboat of this class was ever finished—that the system was abandoned as utterly worthless and impracticable.
Had the large sum thus wasted been applied to the purchase of swift and reliable cruisers—or to the speedy and energetic completion of one iron-clad at a time—it would have read a far more telling story to the enemy, both in prestige and result.
But even in the case of these, energy and capital were divided and distracted. On completion of the "Merrimac," there were in the course of construction at New Orleans, two mailed vessels of a different class—one of them only a towboat covered with railroad iron. There were also two small ones on the stocks at Charleston, and another at Savannah. The great difficulty of procuring proper iron; of rolling it when obtained; and the mismanagement of transportation, even when the plates were ready—made the progress of all these boats very slow. Practicality would have concentrated the whole energy of the Department upon one at a time; not have left them all unfinished, either to prove utterly useless at the trying moment, or to fall a prey to superior force of the enemy.
The plan of the "Merrimac" was unique, in the submersion of her projecting eaves; presenting a continuous angling coat of mail even below the water-surface. She was built upon the razeed hull of the old "Merrimac," of four-and-a-half-inch iron, transverse plates; and carried an armament of seven-inch rifled Brooke guns, made expressly for her. There was much discussion at one time, as to whom the credit for her plan was really due. It finally was generally conceded, however, that her origin and perfection were due to Commander John M. Brooke; and the terrible banded rifle-gun and bolt, she used with such effect on the "Cumberland," was his undisputed invention.
Much wonder had the good people of Norfolk expressed in their frequent visits to the strange-looking, turtle-like structure. Day by day she slowly grew; and at length, after weary work and weary waiting, took on her armament; then her crew was picked carefully from eager volunteers: her grand old captain took his place, and all was ready for the trial.
During all this time Hampton Roads had been gay with Federal shipping. Frigates, gunboats, transports and supply ships ran defiantly up and down; laughing at the futile efforts of the point batteries to annoy them, and indulging in a dream of security that was to be most rudely broken. The "Susquehanna" frigate, with heaviest armament in the Federal navy, laid in the channel at Newport News, blockading the mouth of James river and cutting off communication from Norfolk. The "Congress" frigate was lying near her, off the News; while the "Minnesota" lay below, under the guns of Fortress Monroe. The Ericsson Monitor—the first of her class, and equally an experiment as her rebel rival—had come round a few days before to watch the "Virginia," as the new iron-clad was now rechristened.
The great ship being ready, Flag-Officer Buchanan ordered the "Jamestown," Captain Barney, and the "Yorktown," Captain Tucker, down from Richmond; while he went out with the "Raleigh" and "Beaufort"—two of the smallest class of gunboats, saved by Captain Lynch from Roanoke Island. This combined force—four of the vessels being frail wooden shells, formerly used as river passenger boats—carried only twenty-seven guns. But Buchanan steamed boldly out, on the morning of the 8th of March, to attack an enemy carrying quite two hundred and twenty of the heaviest guns in the United States navy!
It was a moment of dreadful suspense for the soldiers in the batteries and the people of Norfolk. They crowded the wharves, the steeples, and the high points of the shore; and every eye was strained upon the black specks in the harbor.
Slowly—with somewhat of majesty in her stolid, even progress—the "Virginia" steamed on—down the harbor—past the river batteries—out into the Roads. Steadily she kept her way, heading straight for the "Cumberland;" and close to her stuck the frail wooden boats that a single shell might have shattered. On she went—into full range. Then suddenly, as if from one match, shipping and shore batteries belched forth the great shells hurtling over her, hissing into the water—bounding from her side like raindrops from a rock! On she headed—straight for the "Cumberland;" the crew of that ship steadily working their heated guns and wondering at the strange, silent monster that came on so evenly, so slowly—so regardless alike of shot and shell. Suddenly she spoke.
The terrible shell from her bow-gun tore the huge frigate from stern to bow; driving in her quarter, dismounting guns and scattering death along its course. Shocked and staggered, Uncle Sam's tars still stuck to their work. Once more the "Cumberland" delivered her whole broadside, full in her enemy's face at pistol range. It was her death volley. The submerged ram had struck home. A great rent yawned in the ship's side; she filled rapidly—careened—went down by the bows—her flag still flying—her men still at quarters!
On past her—scarce checked in her deadly-slow course—moved the "Virginia." Then she closed on the "Congress," and one terrific broadside after another raked the frigate; till, trembling like a card-house, she hauled down her colors and raised the white flag. The "Beaufort" ranged alongside and received the flag of the "Congress", and her captain, William R. Smith, and Lieutenant Pendergrast as prisoners of war. These officers left their side-arms on the "Beaufort" and returned to the "Congress;" when—notwithstanding the white flag—a hot fire was opened from shore upon the "Beaufort", and she was compelled to withdraw. Lieutenant Robert Minor was then sent in a boat from the "Virginia" to fire the frigate; but was badly wounded by a Minie-ball, from under the white flag; and Captain Buchanan was seriously hit in the leg by the same volley. Then it was determined to burn the "Congress" with hot shot.
There is no room for comment here; and no denial of these facts has ever been made, or attempted.
Meanwhile, the frigates "Minnesota", "St. Lawrence" and "Roanoke" had advanced and opened fire on the "Virginia"; but upon her approach to meet it, they retired under the guns of the fort; the "Minnesota" badly damaged by the heavy fire of her antagonist, while temporarily aground.
Next day the "Virginia" had a protracted but indecisive fight with the "Monitor;" the latter's lightness preventing her being run down and both vessels seeming equally impenetrable. Later in the day the victorious ship steamed back to Norfolk, amid the wildest enthusiasm of its people. The experiment had proved a success beyond the wildest expectation: and a new era seemed opened in naval warfare.
But however great the meed of praise deserved by the iron ship and her crew, at least as much was due to those of the wooden gun-boats that had so gallantly seconded her efforts. All day long had those frail shells been urged into the thickest of that terrific fire. Shot flew by, over and through them; and it seemed miraculous that they were not torn into shreds!
The success of the "Virginia", while it gave food for much comment at the North and in Europe, had the effect of stimulating the Department to renewed exertions elsewhere. At the same time it raised the navy greatly in the estimation of the people, who began now to see of what material it was composed, to accomplish so much with such limited means and opportunity. And this opinion was to be strengthened, from time to time, by the brilliant flashes of naval daring that came to illumine some of the darkest hours of the war.
Who does not remember that defense of Drewry's Bluff when Eben Farrand had only three gunboat crews and three hastily mounted guns, with which to drive back the heavy fleet that knew Richmond city lay helpless at its mercy?
And those desperate, yet brilliant fights off New Orleans, against every odds of metal, numbers, and worse, of internal mismanagement. Do they not illustrate the character of the navy, and bring it out in bold relief of heroism? Nor should we forget the brief but brilliant life of the "Arkansas"—born in danger and difficulty; surrounded on every side by numberless active foes; and finally dying, not from the blow of an enemy, but from the fault of those who sent her forth unfinished and incomplete!
Those trying times recall the conduct of Captain Lynch and his squadron of shells; and of the veteran Cooke in the batteries, on the dark day that lost Roanoke Island. Nor may we lose sight of the splendid conduct of that latter grim old seadog, when, returning wounded and prison-worn, he bore down on Plymouth in the "Albemarle" and crushed the Federal gunboats like egg-shells.
And conspicuous, even among these fellow-sailors, stands John Taylor Wood. Quick to plan and strong to strike, he ever and anon would collect a few trusty men and picked officers; glide silently out from Richmond, where his duties as colonel of cavalry on the President's staff chained him most of the time. Soon would come an echo from the frontier, telling of quick, sharp struggle; victorious boarding and a Federal gunboat or two given to the flames. I have already alluded to his dashing raid upon the fishery fleet; but his cunning capture of the gunboats in the Rappahannock, or his cool and daring attack on the "Underwriter," during Pickett's movement on Newberne, would alone give him undying reputation.
The United States had a navy in her waters that would class as the third maritime power of the world; and this she rapidly increased by every appliance of money, skill and energy. She bought and built ships and spent vast sums and labor in experiments in ordnance, armoring and machinery. As result of this, the Federal navy, at the end of the second year of the war, numbered some 390 vessels of all grades, carrying a fraction over 3,000 guns. Before the end of the war it had increased to near 800 vessels of war of all grades; the number of guns had doubled and were infinitely heavier and more effective; and the number of tenders, tugs, transports and supply ships would have swelled the navy list to over 1,300 vessels.
To meet this formidable preparation, the Confederate Navy Department in May, '61, had one gulf steamer in commission; had the fragments of the Norfolk Navy Yard; the refuse of the harbor boats of Charleston, New Orleans, Savannah and Mobile to select from; and had, besides, the neglect of Congress and the jealousy of the other branch of the service.
Spite of all these drawbacks, the rare powers of the navy officers forced themselves into notice and use.
Before the close of the war, the only two rolling-mills in the Confederacy were in charge of navy officers. They built powder-mills and supplied their own demands; and, to a great extent, those of the army. They established rope-walks and became the seekers for the invaluable stores of niter and coal that both branches of the service so much needed. More than this, they made from nothing—and in spite of constant losses from exposure to the enemy and incomplete supplies—a fleet of iron-clads numbering at one time nine vessels; and a wooden navy at the same moment reaching some thirty-five.
But these—scattered over the vast area of water courses, far from supporting each other—were unable to cope with the superior strength of metal and construction brought against them.
That much-discussed torpedo system, too—regarding the utility of which there was such diversity of opinion—had its birth and perfection in the navy. It was a service of science and perseverance; frequently of exposure to every peril. It required culture, nerve and administrative ability; and it was managed in the main with success. Still the results were hardly commensurate with the outlay involved; for though James river, some of the western streams, and Charleston harbor were literally sown with torpedoes, yet only in rare and isolated instances—such as the "De Kalb" and "Commodore Jones"—did the results equal the expectation. Thousands of tons of valuable powder, much good metal and more valuable time at the work-shops were expended on torpedoes; and, on the whole, it is very doubtful if the amount destroyed was not more than balanced by the amount expended.
Thus, with varying fortunes—but with unceasing endeavor and unfailing courage—the navy worked on. That hue and cry against it—which a brilliant success would partially paralyze—soon gathered force in its intervals of enforced inaction. Just after the triumph of Hampton Roads was, perhaps, the brightest hour for the navy in public estimation. People then began to waver in their belief that its administration was utterly and hopelessly wrong; and to think that its chief had not perhaps sinned quite as much as he had been sinned against.
The old adage about giving a bad name, however, was more than illustrated in Mr. Mallory's case. He had no doubt been unfortunate; but that he really was guilty of one-half the errors and mishaps laid at his door was simply impossible. Not taking time—and, perhaps, without the requisite knowledge—to compare the vast discrepancy of force between the two governments, the masses only saw the rapid increase of the Federal navy and felt the serious effects of its efficiency. Then they grumbled that the Confederate secretary—with few work-shops, scattered navy-yards, little money and less transportation—did not proceed pari passu to meet these preparations. Every result of circumstance, every accident, every inefficiency of a subordinate was visited upon Mr. Mallory's head. Public censure always makes the meat it feeds on; and the secretary soon became the target for shafts of pitiable malice, or of unreflecting ridicule. When the enemy's gunboats—built at secure points and fitted out without stint of cost, labor or material—ascended to Nashville, a howl was raised that the Navy Department should have had the water defenses ready. True, Congress had appropriated half a million for the defenses of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers; but the censorious public forgot that the money had been voted too late. Even then it was quite notorious, that in the red-tape system of requisition and delay that hedged the Treasury—an appropriation and the money it named were totally diverse things.
When New Orleans fell, curses loud and deep went up against the Navy Department. Doubtless there was some want of energy in pushing the iron-clads there; but again in this case the money was voted very late; and even Confederate machine-shops and Confederate laborers could not be expected to give their material, time and labor entirely for nothing. Had Congress made the appropriations as asked, and had the money been forthcoming at the Treasury—New Orleans might not have fallen as she did.
Later still, when the "Virginia" was blown up on the evacuation of Norfolk, a howl of indignation was raised against Secretary, Department and all connected with it. A Court of Inquiry was called; and Commodore Tatnall himself demanded a court-martial, upon the first court not ordering one.
The facts proved were that the ship, with her iron coating and heavy armament, drew far too much water to pass the shoal at Harrison's Bar—between her and Richmond. With Norfolk in the enemy's hands, the hostile fleet pressing her—and with no point whence to draw supplies—she could not remain, as the cant went, "the grim sentinel to bar all access to the river." It was essential to lighten her, if possible; and the effort was made by sacrificing her splendid armament. Even then she would not lighten enough by two feet; the enemy pressed upon her, now perfectly unarmed; and Tatnall was forced to leave and fire her.
People forgot the noble achievements of the ship under naval guidance; that, if destroyed by naval men, she was the offspring of naval genius. With no discussion of facts, the cry against the navy went on, even after that splendid defense of Drewry's Bluff by Farrand, which alone saved Richmond!
As a pioneer, the "Virginia" was a great success and fully demonstrated the theory of her projector. But there were many points about her open to grave objections; and she was, as a whole, far inferior to the smaller vessels afterward built upon her model at Richmond. Armed with the same gun, there is little doubt but the "Monitor" would have proved—from her superior lightness and obedience to her helm—no less than from her more compact build—at least her equal. Officers on the "Virginia" shared in this belief of her advantages over her terrible antagonist.
On the whole, the experience of the war tells of honest endeavor and brilliant achievement, under surpassing difficulty, for the Confederate navy. That it was composed of gallant, noble-hearted men, none who were thrown with them can doubt; that they wrought heart and hand for the cause, in whatever strange and novel position, none ever did doubt.
They made mistakes. Who in army, or government, did not?
But from the day they offered their swords; through the unequal contest of the Sounds, the victorious one of Hampton Roads; pining for the sea in musty offices, or drilling green conscripts in sand batteries; marching steadily to the last fight at Appomattox—far out of their element—the Confederate sailors flinched not from fire nor fled from duty. Though their country grumbled, and detraction and ingratitude often assailed them; yet at the bitter ending no man nor woman in the broad South but believed they had done their devoir—honestly—manfully—well!
Who in all that goodly throng of soldiers, statesmen and critics—did more?
THE CHINESE-WALL BLOCKADE, ABROAD AND AT HOME.
Potent factor in sapping the foundations of Confederate hope and of Confederate credit, was the blockade.
First held in contempt; later fruitful mother of errors, as to the movements and intentions of European powers; ever the growing constrictor—whose coil was slowly, but surely, to crush out life—it became each year harder to bear:—at last unbearable!
At first, Mr. Lincoln's proclamation was laughed to scorn at the South. The vast extent of South Atlantic and Gulf coast—pierced with innumerable safe harbors—seemed to defy any scheme for hermetic sealing. The limited Federal navy was powerless to do more than keep loose watch over ports of a few large cities; and, if these were even effectually closed, it was felt that new ones would open, on every hand, inviting the ventures of enterprising sailors.
This reasoning had good basis, at first; and—had the South made prompt and efficient use of opportunity and resources at hand, by placing credits abroad and running in essential supplies—the result of the first year's blockade might largely have nullified its effect, for the last three. But there seemed indurated contempt for the safety-bearing look ahead; and its very inefficiency, at the outset, of the blockade lulled the South into false security.
The preceding pages note the rapid and vast growth of the Union navy; but the South misjudged—until error had proved fatal—that enterprise and "grit" of Yankee character; that fixed steadiness of purpose which forced both, ever, into most resultful effort. And, so gradual were appreciable results of this naval growth; so nearly imperceptible was the actual closing of southern ports—that the masses of the people realized no real evil, until it had long been accomplished fact.
Already record has been made of the urgence on Government of sending cotton abroad, and importing arms, munitions and clothing, which ordinary foresight declared so needful. But—only when the proper moment had long passed—was the then doubtful experiment made.
A twin delusion to the kingship of cotton besotted the leaders as to the blockade. Arguing its illegality equal to its inefficiency, they were convinced that either could be demonstrated to Europe. And here let us glance briefly at the South's suicidal foreign policy; and at the feeling of other people regarding it.
Under the Treaty of Paris, no blockade was de facto, or to be recognized, unless it was demonstrated to be effectual closing of the port, or ports, named. Now, in the South, were one or two ships, at most, before the largest ports; with an average of one vessel for every hundred miles of coast! And so inefficient was the early blockade of Charleston, Wilmington and New Orleans, that traders ran in and out, actually with greater frequency than before those ports were proclaimed closed. Their Government declared—and the southern people believed—that such nominal blockade would not be respected by European powers; and reliant upon the kingship of cotton inducing early recognition, both believed that the ships of England and France—disregarding the impotent paper closure—would soon crowd southern wharves and exchange the royal fleece for the luxuries, no less than the necessaries, of life.
When the three first commissioners to Europe—Messrs. Yancey, Rost and Mann—sailed from New Orleans, on March 31, '61, their mission was hailed as harbinger to speedy fruition of these delusive thoughts, to which the wish alone was father. Then—though very gradually—began belief that they had reckoned too fast; and doubt began to chill glowing hopes of immediate recognition from Europe. But there was none, as yet, relative to her ultimate action. The successful trial trip of the "Nashville," Captain Pegram, C.S.N.—and her warm reception by the British press and people—prevented that. And, after every victory of the South, her newspapers were filled with praise from the press of England. But gradually—as recognition did not come—first wonder, then doubt, and finally despair took the place of certainty.
When Mr. Yancey came back, in disgust, and made his plain statement of the true state of foreign sentiment, he carried public opinion to his side; and—while the Government could then do nothing but persist in effort for recognition, now so vital—the people felt that dignity was uselessly compromised, while their powerless representatives were kept abroad, to knock weakly at the back door of foreign intervention.
Slight reaction came, when Mason and Slidell were captured on the high seas, under a foreign flag. Mr. Seward so boldly defied the rampant Lion; Congress so promptly voted thanks to Captain Wilkes, for violating international law; the Secretary of the Navy—after slyly pulling down the blinds—so bravely patted him on the back—that the South renewed her hope, in the seeming certainty of war between the two countries. But she had calculated justly neither the power of retraction in American policy, nor Secretary Seward's vast capacity for eating his own words; and the rendition of her commissioners—with their perfectly quiet landing upon British soil—was, at last, accepted as sure token of how little they would accomplish. And, for over three years, those commissioners blundered on in thick darkness—that might not be felt; butting their heads against fixed policy at every turn; snubbed by subordinates—to whom alone they had access; yet eating, unsparingly and with seeming appetite, the bountiful banquet of cold shoulder!
It is not supposable that the people of the South realized to the full that humiliation, to which their State Department was subjecting them. Occasionally Mr. Mason, seeing a gleam of something which might some day be light, would send hopeful despatches; or before the hopeful eyes of Mr. Slidell, would rise roseate clouds of promise, light with bubbles of aid—intervention—recognition! Strangely enough, these would never burst until just after their description; and the secretary fostered the widest latitude in press-rumors thereanent, but deemed it politic to forget contradiction, when—as was invariably the case—the next blockade-runner brought flat denial of all that its precedent had carried.
Still, constant promises with no fulfillment, added to limited private correspondence with foreign capitals, begat mistrust in elusive theories, which was rudely changed to simple certainty.
Edwin DeLeon had been sent by Mr. Davis on a special mission to London and Paris, after Mr. Yancey's return; his action to be independent of the regularly established futility. In August, 1863, full despatches from him, to the southern President and State Department, were captured and published in the New York papers. These came through the lines and gave the southern people the full and clear expose of the foreign question, as it had long been fully and clearly known to their government.
This publication intensified what had been vague opposition to further retention abroad of the commissioners. The people felt that their national honor was compromised; and, moreover, they now realized that Europe had—and would have—but one policy regarding the Confederacy.
Diplomatically regarded, the position of the South was actually unprecedented. Europe felt the delicacy—and equally the danger—of interference in a family quarrel, which neither her theories nor her experience had taught her to comprehend. Naturally jealous of the growing power of the American Union, Europe may, moreover, have heard dictates of the policy of letting it exhaust itself, in this internal feud; of waiting until both sides—weakened, wearied and worn out—should draw off from the struggle and make intervention more nominal than needful. This view of "strict neutrality"—openly vaunted only to be practically violated—takes color from the fact of her permitting each side to hammer away at the other for four years, without one word even of protest!
Southern prejudice ever inclined more favorably toward France than England; the scale tilting, perhaps, by weight of Franco-Latin influence among the people, perhaps by belief in the suggested theories of the third Napoleon. Therefore, intimations of French recognition were always more welcomed than false rumors about English aid.
In the North also prevailed an idea that France might intervene—or even recognize the Confederacy—before colder England; but that did not cause impartial Jonathan to exhibit less bitter, or unreasoning, hatred of John Bull. Yet, as a practical fact, the alleged neutrality of the latter was far more operative against the South than the North. For—omitting early recognition of a blockade, invalid under the Treaty of Paris—England denied both belligerent navies the right to refit—or bring in prizes—at her ports. Now, as the United States had open ports and needed no such grace, while the South having no commerce thus afforded no prizes—every point of this decision was against her.
Equally favoring the North was the winking at recruiting; for, if men were not actually enlisted on British soil and under that flag, thousands of "emigrants"—males only; with expenses and bounty paid by United States recruiting agents—were poured out of British territory each month.
When France sent her circular to England and Russia, suggesting that the time had come for mediation, the former summarily rejected the proposition. Besides, England's treatment of the southern commissioners was coldly neglectful; and—from the beginning to the end of the Confederacy, the sole aid she received from England was personal sympathy in isolated instances. But British contractors and traders had tacit governmental permission to build ships for the rebels, or to sell them arms and supplies, at their own risks. And, spite of these well-known facts, northern buncombe never tired of assailing "the rebel sympathies" of England!
With somewhat of race sympathy between the two peoples, the French emperor's movements to feel the pulse of Europe, from time to time, on the question of mediation, kept up the popular delusion at the South. This was shared, to a certain extent, even by her government; and Mr. Slidell's highly-colored despatches would refan the embers of hope into a glow. But while Napoleon, the Little, may have had the subtlest head in Europe, he doubtless had the hardest; and the feeble handling by the southern commissioner, of that edged-tool, diplomacy, could have aroused only amusement in those subordinate officials, whom alone he reached.
The real policy of France was doubtless, from the beginning, as fixed as was that of England; and though she may have hesitated, for a time, at the tempting bait offered—monopoly of southern cotton and tobacco—the reasons coercing that policy were too strong to let her swallow it at last.
For the rest, Russia had always openly sympathized with the North; and other European nations had very vague notions of the merits of the struggle; less interest in its termination; and least of all, sympathy with what to them was mere rebellion.
And this true condition of foreign affairs, the Confederate State Department did know, in great part; should have known in detail; and owed it to the people to explain and promulgate. But for some occult reason, Mr. Benjamin refused to view the European landscape, except through the Claude Lorrain glass which Mr. Slidell persistently held up before him. The expose of Mr. Yancey, the few sturdy truths Mr. Mason later told; and the detailed resume sent by Mr. DeLeon and printed in the North—all these were ignored; and the wishes of the whole people were disregarded, that the line begun upon, should not be deviated from. There may have been something deeply underlying this policy; for Secretary Benjamin was clear-sighted, shrewd and well-informed. But what that something was has never been divulged; and the people—believing the Secretary too able to be deluded by his subordinate—revolted.
The foreign policy grew more and more into popular disfavor; the press condemned it, in no stinted terms; it permeated the other branches of the government and, finally, reacted upon the armies in the field. For the growing dislike of his most trusted adviser began to affect Mr. Davis; his ready assumption of all responsibility at the beginning having taught the people to look direct to him for all of good, or of evil, alike.
As disaster followed disaster to southern arms; as one fair city after another fell into the lap of the enemy; as the blockade drew its coil tighter and tighter about the vitals of the Confederacy—the cry of the people was raised to their chief; demanding the cause of it all. The first warm impulses of patriotic and inflammable masses had pedestaled him as a demigod. The revulsion was gradual; but, with the third year of unrelieved blockade, it became complete. And this was due, in part, to that proclivity of masses to measure men by results, rather than by their means for accomplishment; it was due in greater part, perhaps, to the President's unyielding refusal to sacrifice either his convictions, or his favorites, to popular clamor, however re-enforced by argument, or reason.
Mr. Davis certainly seemed to rely more upon Mr. Benjamin than any member of his Cabinet; and the public laid at that now unpopular official's door all errors of policy—domestic as well as foreign. Popular wrath ever finds a scape-goat; but in the very darkest hour Mr. Benjamin remained placid and smiling, his brow unclouded and his sleek, pleasant manner deprecating the rumbling of the storm he had raised, by his accomplishments and sophistries. When his removal was clamorously demanded by popular voice, his chief closed his ears and moved on unheeding—grave—defiant!
Calm retrospect shows that the Confederacy's commissioners were, from first to last, only played with by the skilled sophists of Europe. And, ere the end came, that absolute conviction penetrated the blockade; convincing the South that her policy would remain one of strict non-intervention.
After each marked southern success, would come some revival of recognition rumors; but these were ever coupled, now, with an important "if!" If New Orleans had not fallen; if we had won Antietam; if Gettysburg had been a victory—then we might have been welcomed into the family of nations. But over the mass of thinkers settled the dark conviction that Europe saw her best interest, in standing by to watch the sections rend and tear each other to the utmost. Every fiber either lost was so much subtraction from that balance of power, threatening to pass across the Atlantic. The greater the straits to which we reduce each other, said the South, the better will it please Europe; and the only faith in her at last, was that she hoped to see the breach permanent and irreconcilable, and with it all hopes of rival power die!
If the theory be correct, that it was the intent of the Great Powers to foster the chance of two rival governments on this continent, it seems short-sighted in one regard. For—had they really recognized the dire extremity, to which the South was at last brought, they should either have furnished her means, directly or indirectly, to prolong the strife; or should have intervened and established a broken and shattered duality, in place of the stable and recemented Union.
Nor can thinkers, on either side, cavil at Europe's policy during that war; calculating, selfish and cruel as it may seem to the sentimentalist. If corporations really have no bowels, governments can not be looked to for nerves. Interest is the life blood of their systems; and interest was doubtless best subserved by the course of the Great Powers. For the rumors of destitution and of disaffection in France and England—caused by the blockade-begotten "cotton famine"—that crept through the Chinese wall, were absurdly magnified, both as to their proportions and their results. And the sequel proved that it was far cheaper for either nation to feed a few thousand idle operatives—or to quell a few incipient bread riots—than to unsettle a fixed policy, and that at the risk of a costly foreign war.
There was bitter disappointment in the South, immediately succeeding dissipation of these rosy, but nebulous, hopes in the kingship of cotton. Then reaction came—strong, general and fruitful. Sturdy "Johnny Reb" yearned for British rifles, shoes, blankets and bacon; but he wanted them most of all, to win his own independence and to force its recognition!
There are optimists everywhere; and even the dark days of Dixie proved no exception to the rule. It was not unusual to hear prate of the vast benefits derived from the blockade; of the energy, resource and production, expressed under its cruel constriction! Such optimists—equally at fault as were their pessimistic opponents—pointed proudly to the powder-mills, blast-furnaces, foundries and rolling-mills, springing up on every hand. They saw the great truth that the internal resources of the South developed with amazing rapidity; that arms were manufactured and supplies of vital need created, as it were out of nothing; but they missed the true reason for that abnormal development, which was the dire stress from isolation. They rejoiced to very elation at a popular effort, spontaneous—unanimous—supreme! But they realized little that it was exhaustive as well.
Could these life-needs the South was compelled to create within, have been procured from without, they had not alone been far less costly in time, labor and money—but the many hands called from work equally as vital had not then been diverted from it. The South was self-supporting, as the hibernator that crawls into a stump to subsist upon its own fat. But that stump is not sealed up, and Bruin—who goes to bed in autumn, sleek and round, to come out a skeleton at springtime—quickly reproduces lost tissue. With the South, material once consumed was gone forever; and the drain upon her people—material—mental—moral—was permanent and fatal.
One reason why the result of the blockade—after it became actually effective—was not earlier realized generally at the South, was that private speculation promptly utilized opportunities, which the Government had neglected. What appeared huge overstock of clothing and other prime necessities had been "run in," while there was yet time; and before they had advanced in price, under quick depreciation of paper money. Then profits doubled so rapidly that—spite of their enhanced risk from more effective blockade—private ventures, and even great companies formed for the purpose, made "blockade-breaking" the royal road to riches. Almost every conceivable article of merchandise came to southern ports; often in quantities apparently sufficient to glut the market—almost always of inferior quality and manufactured specially for the great, but cheap, trade now sprung up.
Earlier ventures were content with profit of one, or two hundred per cent.; calculating thus for a ship and cargo, occasionally captured. But as such risk increased and Confederate money depreciated, percentage on blockade ventures ran up in compound ratio; and it became no unusual thing for a successful investment to realize from fifteen hundred to two thousand per cent. on its first cost.
Still, even this profit as against the average of loss—perhaps two cargoes out of five—together with the uncertain value of paper money, left the trade hazardous. Only great capital, ready to renew promptly every loss, could supply the demand—heretofore shown to have grown morbid, under lost faith in governmental credit. Hence sprung the great blockade-breaking corporations, like the Bee Company, Collie & Co., or Fraser, Trenholm & Co. With capital and credit unlimited; with branches at every point of purchase, reshipment and entry; with constantly growing orders from the departments—these giant concerns could control the market and make their own terms.
Their growing power soon became quasi dictation to Government itself; the national power was filtered through these alien arteries; and the South became the victim—its Treasury the mere catspaw—of the selfsame system, which clear sight and medium ability could so easily have averted from the beginning!
Even when pressure for supplies was most dire and Government had become almost wholly dependent for them upon the monopoly octopus—it would not move. Deaf to urgent appeals of its trusted officers, to establish a system of light, swift blockade-runners, the Department admitted their practical necessity, by entering into a limited partnership with a blockade-breaking firm. And, it must go without saying that the bargain driven was like the boy's: "You and I will each take half and the rest we'll give to Anne!"
As noted, in considering finance, the mania for exchanging paper money for something that could be enjoyed, grew apace as the war progressed. Fancy articles for dress, table luxuries and frippery of all sorts came now into great demand. Their importation increased to such bulk as, at last, to exclude the more necessary parts of most cargoes; and not less to threaten complete demoralization of such minority as made any money. It may seem a grim joke;—the starving, tattered—moribund Confederacy passing sumptuary laws, as had Venice in her recklessness of riches! But, in 1864, a law was necessitated against importation of all articles, not of utility; forbidden luxuries being named per schedule. That its constant evasion—if not its open defiance—was very simple, may be understood; for the blockade firms had now become a power coequal with Government, and exceptions were listed, sufficient to become the rule.
And so the leeches waxed fat and flourished on the very life-blood of the cause, that represented to them—opportunity! And, whatever has been said of speculators at Richmond, they were far less culpable than these, their chiefs; for, without the arch-priests of greed, speculation would have died from inanition. The speculators were most hungry kites; but their maws were crammed by the great vultures that sat at the coast, blinking ever out over the sea for fresh gains; with never a backward glance at the gaunt, grim legions behind them—naked—worn—famished, but unconquered still!
Transportation needs have been noted, also. No department was worse neglected and mismanaged than that. The existence of the Virginia army wholly depended on a single line, close to the coast and easily tapped. Nor did Government's seizure of its control, in any manner remedy the evil. Often and again, the troops around Richmond were without beef—once for twelve days at a time; they were often without flour, molasses or salt, living for days upon cornmeal alone! and the ever-ready excuse was want of transportation!
Thousands of bushels of grain would ferment and rot at one station; hundreds of barrels of meat stacked at another, while the army starved because of "no transportation!" But who recalls the arrival of a blockader at Charleston, Savannah, or Wilmington, when its ventures were not exposed at the auctions of Richmond, in time unreasonably short!
These facts are not recalled in carping spirit; nor to pronounce judgment just where the blame for gross mismanagement, or favoritism should lie. They are recorded because they are historic truth; because the people, whom they oppressed and ruined—saw, felt and angrily proclaimed them so; because the blockade mismanagement was twin-destroyer with the finance, of the southern cause.
The once fair cities of Charleston, Savannah and Wilmington suffered most from the blockade, both in destruction of property and demoralization of their populations. The first—as "hot-bed of treason" and equally from strategic importance—was early a point of Federal desire; but the fleet had been compelled to stand idly by and witness the bloodless reduction of Sumter. Later—when strengthened armaments threatened constant attack—Lee and Beauregard had used every resource to strengthen defenses of the still open port. What success they had, is told by the tedious and persistent bombardment—perhaps unexampled in the history of gunnery; surely so in devices to injure non-combatant inhabitants.
On the 30th January, '63, the two slow, clumsy and badly-built rams, under Captain Ingraham—of Martin Koszta fame—attacked the blockading squadron and drove the Union flag completely from the harbor; but re-enforced by iron-clads, it returned on the 7th of April. Again, after a fierce battle with the fort, the Federal fleet drew off, leaving the "Keokuk" monitor sunk; only to concentrate troops and build heavy batteries, for persistent attempt to reduce the devoted city. The history of that stubborn siege and defense, more stubborn still; of the woman-shelling "swamp-angel" and the "Greek-fire;" of the deeds of prowess that gleamed from the crumbling walls of Charleston—all this is too familiar for repetition. Yet, ever and again—through wooden mesh of the blockade-net and its iron links, alike—slipped a fleet, arrowy little blockader into port. And with what result has just been seen!
Wilmington—from long and shoal approach to her proper port—was more difficult still to seal up effectually. There—long after every other port was closed—the desperate, but wary, sea-pigeon would evade the big and surly watcher on the coast. Light draught, narrow, low in the water, swift and painted black—these little steamers were commanded by men who knew every inch of coast; who knew equally that on them depended life and death—or more. With banked fires and scarce-turning wheels, they would drop down the Cape Fear, at night, to within a hundred yards of the looming blockade giant. Then, putting on all steam, they would rush by him, trusting to speed and surprise to elude pursuit and distract his aim—and ho! for the open sea.
This was a service of keen excitement and constant danger; demanding clear heads and iron nerves. Both were forthcoming, especially from navy volunteers; and many were "the hair-breadth 'scapes" that made the names of Maffit, Wilkinson and their confreres, household words among the rough sea-dogs of Wilmington.