Meanwhile the military authorities looked facts in the face and had a different tale to tell. They complained that in various parts of the country, especially in the mountain districts, they were unable to obtain men. Lee reported that his army melted away before his eye and asked for an increase of authority to compel stragglers to return. At the same time Brown was quarreling with the Administration as to who should name the officers of the Georgia troops. Zebulon B. Vance, the newly elected Governor of North Carolina and an anti-Davis man, said to the Legislature: "It is mortifying to find entire brigades of North Carolina soldiers commanded by strangers, and in many cases our own brave and war-worn colonels are made to give place to colonels from distant States." In addition to such indications of discontent a vast mass of evidence makes plain the opposition to conscription toward the close of 1862 and the looseness of various parts of the military system.
It was a moment of intense excitement and of nervous strain. The country was unhappy, for it had lost faith in the Government at Richmond. The blockade was producing its effect. European intervention was receding into the distance. One of the characteristics of the editorials and speeches of this period is a rising tide of bitterness against England. Napoleon's proposal in November to mediate, though it came to naught, somewhat revived the hope of an eventual recognition of the Confederacy but did not restore buoyancy to the people of the South. The Emancipation Proclamation, though scoffed at as a cry of impotence, none the less increased the general sense of crisis.
Worst of all, because of its immediate effect upon the temper of the time, food was very scarce and prices had risen to indefensible heights. The army was short of shoes. In the newspapers, as winter came on, were to be found touching descriptions of Lee's soldiers standing barefoot in the snow. A flippant comment of Benjamin's, that the shoes had probably been traded for whiskey, did not tend to improve matters. Even though short of supplies themselves, the people as a whole eagerly subscribed to buy shoes for the army.
There was widespread and heartless speculation in the supplies. Months previous the Courier had made this ominous editorial remark: "Speculators and monopolists seem determined to force the people everywhere to the full exercise of all the remedies allowed by law." In August, 1862, the Governor of Florida wrote to the Florida delegation at Richmond urging them to take steps to meet the "nefarious smuggling" of speculators who charged extortionate prices. In September, he wrote again begging for legislation to compel millers, tanners, and saltmakers to offer their products at reasonable rates. As these men were exempt from military duty because their labor was held to be a public service, feeling against them ran high. Governor Vance proposed a state convention to regulate prices for North Carolina and by proclamation forbade the export of provisions in order to prevent the seeking of exorbitant prices in other markets. Davis wrote to various Governors urging them to obtain state legislation to reduce extortion in the food business. In the provisioning of the army the Confederate Government had recourse to impressment and the arbitrary fixing of prices. Though the Attorney-General held this action to be constitutional, it led to sharp contentions; and at length a Virginia court granted an injunction to a speculator who had been paid by the Government for flour less than it had cost him.
In an attempt to straighten out this tangled situation, the Confederate Government began, late, in 1862, by appointing as its new Secretary of War, * James A. Seddon of Virginia—at that time high in popular favor. The Mercury hailed his advent with transparent relief, for no appointment could have seemed to it more promising. Indeed, as the new year (1863) opened the Mercury was in better humor with the Administration than perhaps at any other time during the war. To the President's message it gave praise that was almost cordial. This amicable temper was short-lived, however, and three months later the heavens had clouded.
* There were in all six Secretaries of War: Leroy P. Walker, until September 16, 1861; Judah P. Benjamin, until March 18, 1862; George W. Randolph, until November 17, 1868; Gustavus W. Smith (temporarily), until November 21, 1862; James A. Seddon, until February 6, 1865; General John C. Breckinridge, again, for the Government had entered upon a course that consolidated the opposition in anger and distrust.
Early in 1863 the Confederate Government presented to the country a program in which the main features were three. Of these the two which did not rouse immediate hostility in the party of the Examiner and the Mercury were the Impressment Act of March, 1863 (amended by successive acts), and the act known as the Tax in Kind, which was approved the following month. Though the Impressment Act subsequently made vast trouble for the Government, at the time of its passage its beneficial effects were not denied. To it was attributed by the Richmond Whig the rapid fall of prices in April, 1863. Corn went down at Richmond from $12 and $10 a bushel to $4.20, and flour dropped in North Carolina from $45 a barrel to $25. Under this act commissioners were appointed in each State jointly by the Confederate President and the Governor with the duty of fixing prices for government transactions and of publishing every two months an official schedule of the prices to be paid by the Government for the supplies which it impressed.
The new Tax Act attempted to provide revenues which should not be paid in depreciated currency. With no bullion to speak of, the Confederate Congress could not establish a circulating medium with even an approximation to constant value. Realizing this situation, Memminger had advised falling back on the ancient system of tithes and the support of the Government by direct contributions of produce. After licensing a great number of occupations and laying a property tax and an income tax, the new law demanded a tenth of the produce of all farmers. On this law the Mercury pronounced a benediction in an editorial on The Fall of Prices, which it attributed to "the healthy influence of the tax bill which has just become law." *
* The fall of prices was attributed by others to a funding act,—one of several passed by the Confederate Congress— which, in March, 1863, aimed by various devices to contract the volume of the currency. It was very generally condemned, and it anticipated the yet more drastic measure, the Funding Act of 1864, which will be described later.
Had these two measures been the whole program of the Government, the congressional session of the spring of 1863 would have had a different significance in Confederate history. But there was a third measure that provoked a new attack on the Government. The gracious words of the Mercury on the tax in kind came as an interlude in the midst of a bitter controversy. An editorial of the 12th of March headed "A Despotism over the Confederate States Proposed in Congress" amounted to a declaration of war. From this time forward the opposition and the Government drew steadily further and further apart and their antagonism grew steadily more relentless.
What caused this irrevocable breach was a bill introduced into the House by Ethelbert Barksdale of Mississippi, an old friend of President Davis. This bill would have invested the President with authority to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in any part of the Confederacy, whenever in his judgment such suspension was desirable. The first act suspending the privilege of habeas corpus had long since expired and applied only to such regions as were threatened with invasion. It had served usefully under martial law in cleansing Richmond of its rogues, and also had been in force at Charleston. The Mercury had approved it and had exhorted its readers to take the matter sensibly as an inevitable detail of war. Between that act and the act now proposed the Mercury saw no similarity. Upon the merits of the question it fought a furious journalistic duel with the Enquirer, the government organ at Richmond, which insisted that President Davis would not abuse his power. The Mercury replied that if he "were a second Washington, or an angel upon earth, the degradation such a surrender of our rights implies would still be abhorrent to every freeman." In retort the Enquirer pointed out that a similar law had been enacted by another Congress with no bad results. And in point of fact the Enquirer was right, for in October, 1862, after the expiration of the first act suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, Congress passed a second giving to the President the immense power which was now claimed for him again. This second act was in force several months. Then the Mercury made the astounding declaration that it had never heard of the second act, and thereupon proceeded to attack the secrecy of the Administration with renewed vigor.
On this issue of reviving the expired second Habeas Corpus Act, a battle royal was fought in the Confederate Congress. The forces of the Administration defended the new measure on the ground that various regions were openly seditious and that conscription could not be enforced without it. This argument gave a new text for the cry of "despotism." The congressional leader of the opposition was Henry S. Foote, once the rival of Davis in Mississippi and now a citizen of Tennessee. Fierce, vindictive, sometimes convincing, always shrewd, he was a powerful leader of the rough and ready, buccaneering sort. Under his guidance the debate was diverted into a rancorous discussion of the conduct of the general's in the execution of martial law. Foote pulled out all the stops in the organ of political rhetoric and went in for a chant royal of righteous indignation. The main object of this attack was General Hindman and his doings in Arkansas. Those were still the days of pamphleteering. Though General Albert Pike had written a severe pamphlet condemning Hindman, to this pamphlet the Confederate Government had shut its eyes. Foote, however, flourished it in the face of the House. He thundered forth his belief that Hindman was worse even than the man most detested in the South, than "beast Butler himself, for the latter is only charged with persecuting and oppressing the avowed enemies of his Government, while Hindman, if guilty as charged, has practised cruelties unnumbered" on his people. Other representatives spoke in the same vein. Baldwin of Virginia told harrowing tales of martial law in that State. Barksdale attempted to retaliate, sarcastically reminding him of a recent scene of riot and disorder which proved that martial law, in any effective form, did not exist in Virginia. He alluded to a riot, ostensibly for bread, in which an Amazonian woman had led a mob to the pillaging of the Richmond jewelry shops, a riot which Davis himself had quelled by meeting the rioters and threatening to fire upon them. But sarcasm proved powerless against Foote. His climax was a lurid tale of a soldier who while marching past his own house heard that his wife was dying, who left the ranks for a last word with her, and who on rejoining the command, "hoping to get permission to bury her," was shot as a deserter. And there was no one on the Government benches to anticipate Kipling and cry out "flat art!" Resolutions condemning martial law were passed by a vote of 45 to 27.
Two weeks later the Mercury preached a burial sermon over the Barksdale Bill, which had now been rejected by the House. Congress was about to adjourn, and before it reassembled elections for the next House would be held. "The measure is dead for the present," said the Mercury, "but power is ever restive and prone to accumulate power; and if the war continues, other efforts will doubtless be made to make the President a Dictator. Let the people keep their eyes steadily fixed on their representatives with respect to this vital matter; and should the effort again be made to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act, demand that a recorded vote should show those who shall strike down their liberties."
Chapter V. The Critical Year
The great military events of the year 1863 have pushed out of men's memories the less dramatic but scarcely less important civil events. To begin with, in this year two of the greatest personalities in the South passed from the political stage: in the summer Yancey died; and in the autumn, Rhett went into retirement.
The ever malicious Pollard insists that Yancey's death was due ultimately to a personal encounter with a Senator from Georgia on the floor of the Senate. The curious may find the discreditable story embalmed in the secret journal of the Senate, where are the various motions designed to keep the incident from the knowledge of the world. Whether it really caused Yancey's death is another question. However, the moment of his passing has dramatic significance. Just as the battle over conscription was fully begun, when the fear that the Confederate Government had arrayed itself against the rights of the States had definitely taken shape, when this dread had been reenforced by the alarm over the suspension of habeas corpus, the great pioneer of the secession movement went to his grave, despairing of the country he had failed to lead. His death occurred in the same month as the Battle of Gettysburg, at the very time when the Confederacy was dividing against itself.
The withdrawal of Rhett from active life was an incident of the congressional elections. He had consented to stand for Congress in the Third District of South Carolina but was defeated. The full explanation of the vote is still to be made plain; it seems clear, however, that South Carolina at this time knew its own mind quite positively. Five of the six representatives returned to the Second Congress, including Rhett's opponent, Lewis M. Ayer, had sat in the First Congress. The subsequent history of the South Carolina delegation and of the State Government shows that by 1863 South Carolina had become, broadly speaking, on almost all issues an anti-Davis State. And yet the largest personality and probably the ablest mind in the State was rejected as a candidate for Congress. No character in American history is a finer challenge to the biographer than this powerful figure of Rhett, who in 1861 at the supreme crisis of his life seemed the master of his world and yet in every lesser crisis was a comparative failure. As in Yancey, so in Rhett, there was something that fitted him to one great moment but did not fit him to others. There can be little doubt that his defeat at the polls of his own district deeply mortified him. He withdrew from politics, and though he doubtless, through the editorship of one of his sons, inspired the continued opposition of the Mercury to the Government, Rhett himself hardly reappears in Confederate history except for a single occasion during the debate a year later upon the burning question of arming the slaves.
The year was marked by very bitter attacks upon President Davis on the part of the opposition press. The Mercury revived the issue of the conduct of the war which had for some time been overshadowed by other issues. In the spring, to be sure, things had begun to look brighter, and Chancellorsville had raised Lee's reputation to its zenith. The disasters of the summer, Gettysburg and Vicksburg, were for a time minimized by the Government and do not appear to have caused the alarm which their strategic importance might well have created. But when in the latter days of July the facts became generally known, the Mercury arraigned the President's conduct of the war as "a vast complication of incompetence and folly"; it condemned the whole scheme of the Northern invasion and maintained that Lee should have stood on the defensive while twenty or thirty thousand men were sent to the relief of Vicksburg. These two ideas it bitterly reiterated and in August went so far as to quote Macaulay's famous passage on Parliament's dread of a decisive victory over Charles and to apply it to Davis in unrestrained language that reminds one of Pollard.
Equally unrestrained were the attacks upon other items of the policy of the Confederate Government. The Impressment Law began to be a target. Farmers who were compelled to accept the prices fixed by the impressment commissioners cried out that they were being ruined. Men of the stamp of Toombs came to their assistance with railing accusations such as this: "I have heard it said that we should not sacrifice liberty to independence, but I tell you, my countrymen, that the two are inseparable.... If we lose our liberty we shall lose our independence.... I would rather see the whole country the cemetery of freedom than the habitation of slaves." Protests which poured in upon the Government insisted that the power to impress supplies did not carry with it the power to fix prices. Worthy men, ridden by the traditional ideas of political science and unable to modify these in the light of the present emergency, wailed out their despair over the "usurpation" of Richmond.
The tax in kind was denounced in the same vein. The licensing provisions of this law and its income tax did not satisfy the popular imagination. These provisions concerned the classes that could borrow. The classes that could not borrow, that had no resources but their crops, felt that they were being driven to the wall. The bitter saying went around that it was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight." As land and slaves were not directly taxed, the popular discontent appeared to have ground for its anger. Furthermore, it must never be forgotten that this was the first general tax that the poor people of the South were ever conscious of paying. To people who knew the tax-gatherer as little more than a mythical being, he suddenly appeared like a malevolent creature who swept off ruthlessly the tenth of their produce. It is not strange that an intemperate reaction against the planters and their leadership followed. The illusion spread that they were not doing their share of the fighting; and as rich men were permitted to hire substitutes to represent them in the army, this really baseless report was easily propped up in the public mind with what appeared to be reason.
In North Carolina, where the peasant farmer was a larger political factor than in any other State, this feeling against the Confederate Government because of the tax in kind was most dangerous. In the course of the summer, while the military fortunes of the Confederacy were toppling at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the North Carolina farmers in a panic of self-preservation held numerous meetings of protest and denunciation. They expressed their thoughtless terror in resolutions asserting that the action of Congress "in secret session, without consulting with their constituents at home, taking from the hard laborers of the Confederacy one-tenth of the people's living, instead of taking back their own currency in tax, is unjust and tyrannical." Other resolutions called the tax "unconstitutional, anti-republican, and oppressive"; and still others pledged the farmers "to resist to the bitter end any such monarchical tax."
A leader of the discontented in North Carolina was found in W. W. Holden, the editor of the Raleigh Progress, who before the war had attempted to be spokesman for the men of small property by advocating taxes on slaves and similar measures. He proposed as the conclusion of the whole matter the opening of negotiations for peace. We shall see later how deep-seated was this singular delusion that peace could be had for the asking. In 1863, however, many men in North Carolina took up the suggestion with delight. Jonathan Worth wrote in his diary, on hearing that the influential North Carolina Standard had come out for peace: "I still abhor, as I always did, this accursed war and the wicked men, North and South, who inaugurated it. The whole country at the North and the South is a great military despotism." With such discontent in the air, the elections in North Carolina drew near. The feeling was intense and riots occurred. Newspaper offices were demolished—among them Holden's, to destroy which a detachment of passing soldiers converted itself into a mob. In the western counties deserters from the army, combined in bands, were joined by other deserters from Tennessee, and terrorized the countryside. Governor Vance, alarmed at the progress which this disorder was making, issued a proclamation imploring his rebellious countrymen to conduct in a peaceable manner their campaign for the repeal of obnoxious laws.
The measure of political unrest in North Carolina was indicated in the autumn when a new delegation to Congress was chosen. Of the ten who composed it, eight were new men. Though they did not stand for a clearly defined program, they represented on the whole anti-Davis tendencies. The Confederate Administration had failed to carry the day in the North Carolina elections; and in Georgia there were even more sweeping evidences of unrest. Of the ten representatives chosen for the Second Congress nine had not sat in the First, and Georgia now was in the main frankly anti-Davis. There had been set up at Richmond a new organ of the Government called the Sentinel, which was more entirely under the presidential shadow than even the Enquirer and the Courier. Speaking of the elections, the Sentinel deplored the "upheaval of political elements" revealed by the defeat of so many tried representatives whose constituents had not returned them to the Second Congress.
What was Davis doing while the ground was thus being cut from under his feet? For one thing he gave his endorsement to the formation of "Confederate Societies" whose members bound themselves to take Confederate money as legal tender. He wrote a letter to one such society in Mississippi, praising it for attempting "by common consent to bring down the prices of all articles to the standard of the soldiers' wages" and adding that the passion of speculation had "seduced citizens of all classes from a determined prosecution of the war to an effort to amass money." The Sentinel advocated the establishment of a law fixing maximum prices. The discussion of this proposal seems to make plain the raison d'etre for the existence of the Sentinel. Even such stanch government organs as the Enquirer and the Courier shied at the idea, but the Mercury denounced it vigorously, giving long extracts from Thiers, and discussed the mistakes, of the French Revolution with its "law of maximum."
Davis, however, did not take an active part in the political campaign, nor did the other members of the Government. It was not because of any notion that the President should not leave the capital that Davis did not visit the disaffected regions of North Carolina when the startled populace winced under its first experience with taxation. Three times during his Administration Davis left Richmond on extended journeys: late in 1862, when Vicksburg had become a chief concern of the Government, he went as far afield as Mississippi in order to get entirely in touch with the military situation in those parts; in the month of October, 1863, when there was another moment of intense military anxiety, Davis again visited the front; and of a third journey which he undertook in 1864, we shall hear in time. It is to be noted that each of these journeys was prompted by a military motive; and here, possibly, we get an explanation of his inadequacy as a statesman. He could not lay aside his interest in military affairs for the supremely important concerns of civil office; and he failed to understand how to ingratiate his Administration by personal appeals to popular imagination.
In October, 1863,—the very month in which his old rival Rhett suffered his final defeat,—Davis undertook a journey because Bragg, after his great victory at Chickamauga, appeared to be letting slip a golden opportunity, and because there were reports of dissension among Bragg's officers and of general confusion in his army. After he had, as he thought, restored harmony in the camp, Davis turned southward on a tour of appeal and inspiration. He went as far as Mobile, and returning bent his course through Charleston, where, at the beginning of November, less than two weeks after Rhett's defeat, Davis was received with all due formalities. Members of the Rhett family were among those who formally received the President at the railway station. There was a parade of welcome, an official reception, a speech by the President from the steps of the city hall, and much applause by friends of the Administration. But certain ominous signs were not lacking. The Mercury, for example, tucked away in an obscure column its account of the event, while its rival, the Courier, made the President's visit the feature of the day.
Davis returned to Richmond, early in November, to throw himself again with his whole soul into problems that were chiefly military. He did not realize that the crisis had come and gone and that he had failed to grasp the significance of the internal political situation. The Government had failed to carry the elections and to secure a working majority in Congress. Never again was it to have behind it a firm and confident support, The unity of the secession movement had passed away. Thereafter the Government was always to be regarded with suspicion by the extreme believers in state sovereignty and by those who were sullenly convinced that the burdens of the war were unfairly distributed. And there were not wanting men who were ready to construe each emergency measure as a step toward a coup d'etat.
Chapter VI. Life In The Confederacy
When the fortunes of the Confederacy in both camp and council began to ebb, the life of the Southern people had already profoundly changed. The gallant, delightful, carefree life of the planter class had been undermined by a war which was eating away its foundations. Economic no less than political forces were taking from the planter that ideal of individual liberty as dear to his heart as it had been, ages before, to his feudal prototype. One of the most important details of the changing situation had been the relation of the Government to slavery. The history of the Confederacy had opened with a clash between the extreme advocates of slavery—the slavery-at-any-price men—and the Administration. The Confederate Congress had passed a bill ostensibly to make effective the clause in its constitution prohibiting the African slave-trade. The quick eye of Davis had detected in it a mode of evasion, for cargoes of captured slaves were to be confiscated and sold at public auction. The President had exposed this adroit subterfuge in his message vetoing the bill, and the slavery-at-any-price men had not sufficient influence in Congress to override the veto, though they muttered against it in the public press.
The slavery-at-any-price men did not again conspicuously show their hands until three years later when the Administration included emancipation in its policy. The ultimate policy of emancipation was forced upon the Government by many considerations but more particularly by the difficulty of securing labor for military purposes. In a country where the supply of fighting men was limited and the workers were a class apart, the Government had to employ the only available laborers or confess its inability to meet the industrial demands of war. But the available laborers were slaves. How could their services be secured? By purchase? Or by conscription? Or by temporary impressment?
Though Davis and his advisers were prepared to face all the hazards involved in the purchase or confiscation of slaves, the traditional Southern temper instantly recoiled from the suggestion. A Government possessed of great numbers of slaves, whether bought or appropriated, would have in its hands a gigantic power, perhaps for industrial competition with private owners, perhaps even for organized military control. Besides, the Government might at any moment by emancipating its slaves upset the labor system of the country. Furthermore, the opportunities for favoritism in the management of state-owned slaves were beyond calculation. Considerations such as these therefore explain the watchful jealousy of the planters toward the Government whenever it proposed to acquire property in slaves.
It is essential not to attribute this social-political dread of government ownership of slaves merely to the clutch of a wealthy class on its property. Too many observers, strangely enough, see the latter motive to the exclusion of the former. Davis himself was not, it would seem, free from this confusion. He insisted that neither slaves nor land were taxed by the Confederacy, and between the lines he seems to attribute to the planter class the familiar selfishness of massed capital. He forgot that the tax in kind was combined with an income tax. In theory, at least, the slave and the land—even non-farming land—were taxed. However, the dread of a slave-owning Government prevented any effective plan for supplying the army with labor except through the temporary impressment of slaves who were eventually to be returned to their owners. The policy of emancipation had to wait.
Bound up in the labor question was the question of the control of slaves during the war. In the old days when there were plenty of white men in the countryside, the roads were carefully patrolled at night, and no slave ventured to go at large unless fully prepared to prove his identity. But with the coming of war the comparative smallness of the fighting population made it likely from the first that the countryside everywhere would be stripped of its white guardians. In that event, who would be left to control the slaves? Early in the war a slave police was provided for by exempting from military duty overseers in the ratio approximately of one white to twenty slaves. But the marvelous faithfulness of the slaves, who nowhere attempted to revolt, made these precautions unnecessary. Later laws exempted one overseer on every plantation of fifteen slaves, not so much to perform patrol duty as to increase the productivity of plantation labor.
This "Fifteen Slave" Law was one of many instances that were caught up by the men of small property as evidence that the Government favored the rich. A much less defensible law, and one which was bitterly attacked for the same reason, was the unfortunate measure permitting the hiring of substitutes by men drafted into the army. Eventually, the clamor against this law caused its repeal, but before that time it had worked untold harm as apparent evidence of "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight." Extravagant stories of the avoidance of military duty by the ruling class, though in the main they were mere fairy tales, changed the whole atmosphere of Southern life. The old glad confidence uniting the planter class with the bulk of the people had been impaired. Misapprehension appeared on both sides. Too much has been said lately, however, in justification of the poorer classes who were thus wakened suddenly to a distrust of the aristocracy; and too little has been said of the proud recoil of the aristocracy in the face of a sudden, credulous perversion of its motives—a perversion inspired by the pinching of the shoe, and yet a shoe that pinched one class as hard as it did another. It is as unfair to charge the planter with selfishness in opposing the appropriation of slaves as it is to make the same charge against the small farmers for resisting tithes. In face of the record, the planter comes off somewhat the better of the two; but it must be remembered that he had the better education, the larger mental horizon.
The Confederacy had long recognized women of all classes as the most dauntless defenders of the cause. The women of the upper classes passed without a tremor from a life of smiling ease to a life of extreme hardship. One day, their horizon was without a cloud; another day, their husbands and fathers had gone to the front. Their luxuries had disappeared, and they were reduced to plain hard living, toiling in a thousand ways to find provision and clothing, not only for their own children but for the poorer families of soldiers. The women of the poor throughout the South deserve similar honor. Though the physical shock of the change may not have been so great, they had to face the same deep realities—hunger and want, anxiety over the absent soldiers, solicitude for children, grief for the dead. One of the pathetic aspects of Confederate life was the household composed of several families, all women and children, huddled together without a man or even a half-grown lad to be their link with the mill and the market. In those regions where there were few slaves and the exemption of overseers did not operate, such households were numerous.
The great privations which people endured during the Confederacy have passed into familiar tradition. They are to be traced mainly to three causes: to the blockade, to the inadequate system of transportation, and to the heartlessness of speculators. The blockade was the real destroyer of the South. Besides ruining the whole policy based on King Cotton, besides impeding to a vast extent the inflow of munitions from Europe, it also deprived Southern life of numerous articles which were hard to relinquish—not only such luxuries as tea and coffee, but also such utter necessities as medicines. And though the native herbs were diligently studied, though the Government established medical laboratories with results that were not inconsiderable, the shortage of medicines remained throughout the war a distressing feature of Southern life. The Tredegar Iron Works at Richmond and a foundry at Selma, Alabama, were the only mills in the South capable of casting the heavy ordnance necessary for military purposes. And the demand for powder mills and gun factories to provide for the needs of the army was scarcely greater than the demand for cotton mills and commercial foundries to supply the wants of the civil population. The Government worked without ceasing to keep pace with the requirements of the situation, and, in view of the immense difficulties which it had to face, it was fairly successful in supplying the needs of the army. Powder was provided by the Niter and Mining Bureau; lead for Confederate bullets was collected from many sources—even from the window-weights of the houses; iron was brought from the mines of Alabama; guns came from newly built factories; and machines and tools were part of the precious freight of the blockade-runners. Though the poorly equipped mills turned a portion of the cotton crop into textiles, and though everything that was possible was done to meet the needs of the people, the supply of manufactures was sadly inadequate. The universal shortage was betrayed by the limitation of the size of most newspapers to a single sheet, and the desperate situation clearly and completely revealed by the way in which, as a last resort, the Confederates were compelled to repair their railroads by pulling up the rails of one road in order to repair another that the necessities of war rendered indispensable.
The railway system, if such it can be called, was one of the weaknesses of the Confederacy. Before the war the South had not felt the need of elaborate interior communication, for its commerce in the main went seaward, and thence to New England or to Europe. Hitherto the railway lines had seen no reason for merging their local character in extensive combinations. Owners of short lines were inclined by tradition to resist even the imperative necessities of war and their stubborn conservatism was frequently encouraged by the shortsighted parochialism of the towns. The same pitiful narrowness that led the peasant farmer to threaten rebellion against the tax in kind led his counterpart in the towns to oppose the War Department in its efforts to establish through railroad lines because they threatened to impair local business interests. A striking instance of this disinclination towards cooperation is the action of Petersburg. Two railroads terminated at this point but did not connect, and it was an ardent desire of the military authorities to link the two and convert them into one. The town, however, unable to see beyond its boundaries and resolute in its determination to save its transfer business, successfully obstructed the needs of the army. *
* See an article on "The Confederate Government and the Railroads" in the "American Historical Review," July, 1917, by Charles W. Ramsdell.
As a result of this lack of efficient organization an immense congestion resulted all along the railroads. Whether this, rather than a failure in supply, explains the approach of famine in the latter part of the war, it is today very difficult to determine. In numerous state papers of the time, the assertion was reiterated that the yield of food was abundant and that the scarcity of food at many places, including the cities and the battle fronts, was due to defects in transportation. Certain it is that the progress of supplies from one point to another was intolerably slow.
All this want of coordination facilitated speculation. We shall see hereafter how merciless this speculation became and we shall even hear of profits on food rising to more than four hundred per cent. However, the oft-quoted prices of the later years—when, for instance, a pair of shoes cost a hundred dollars—signify little, for they rested on an inflated currency. None the less they inspired the witticism that one should take money to market in a basket and bring provisions home in one's pocketbook. Endless stories could be told of speculators hoarding food and watching unmoved the sufferings of a famished people. Said Bishop Pierce, in a sermon before the General Assembly of Georgia, on Fast Day, in March, 1863: "Restlessness and discontent prevail.... Extortion, pitiless extortion is making havoc in the land. We are devouring each other. Avarice with full barns puts the bounties of Providence under bolts and bars, waiting with eager longings for higher prices.... The greed of gain... stalks among us unabashed by the heroic sacrifice of our women or the gallant deeds of our soldiers. Speculation in salt and bread and meat runs riot in defiance of the thunders of the pulpit, and executive interference and the horrors of threatened famine." In 1864, the Government found that quantities of grain paid in under the tax as new-grown were mildewed. It was grain of the previous year which speculators had held too long and now palmed off on the Government to supply the army.
Amid these desperate conditions the fate of soldiers' families became everywhere, a tragedy. Unless the soldier was a land-owner his family was all but helpless. With a depreciated currency and exaggerated prices, his pay, whatever his rank, was too little to count in providing for his dependents. Local charity, dealt out by state and county boards, by relief associations, and by the generosity of neighbors, formed the barrier between his family and starvation. The landless soldier, with a family at home in desperate straits, is too often overlooked when unimaginative people heap up the statistics of "desertion" in the latter half of the war.
It was in this period, too, that amid the terrible shrinkage of the defensive lines "refugeeing" became a feature of Southern life. From the districts over which the waves of war rolled back and forth helpless families—women, children, slaves—found precarious safety together with great hardship by withdrawing to remote places which invasion was little likely to reach. An Odyssey of hard travel, often by night and half secret, is part of the war tradition of thousands of Southern families. And here, as always, the heroic women, smiling, indomitable, are the center of the picture. Their flight to preserve the children was no small test of courage. Almost invariably they had to traverse desolate country, with few attendants, through forests, and across rivers, where the arm of the law was now powerless to protect them. Outlaws, defiant of the authorities both civil and military,—ruthless men of whom we shall hear again,—roved those great unoccupied spaces so characteristic of the Southern countryside. Many a family legend preserves still the sense of breathless caution, of pilgrimage in the night-time intently silent for fear of these masterless men. When the remote rendezvous had been reached, there a colony of refugees drew together in a steadfast despair, unprotected by their own fighting men. What strange sad pages in the history of American valor were filled by these women outwardly calm, their children romping after butterflies in a glory of sunshine, while horrid tales drifted in of deeds done by the masterless men in the forest just beyond the horizon, and far off on the soul's horizon fathers, husbands, brothers, held grimly the lines of last defense!
Chapter VII. The Turning Of The Tide
The buoyancy of the Southern temper withstood the shock of Gettysburg and was not overcome by the fall of Vicksburg. Of the far-reaching significance of the latter catastrophe in particular there was little immediate recognition. Even Seddon, the Secretary of War, in November, reported that "the communication with the Trans-Mississippi, while rendered somewhat precarious and insecure, is found by no means cut off or even seriously endangered." His report was the same sort of thing as those announcements of "strategic retreats" with which the world has since become familiar. He even went so far as to argue that on the whole the South had gained rather than lost; that the control of the river was of no real value to the North; that the loss of Vicksburg "has on our side liberated for general operations in the field a large army, while it requires the enemy to maintain cooped up, inactive, in positions insalubrious to their soldiers, considerable detachments of their forces."
Seddon attempted to reverse the facts, to show that the importance of the Mississippi in commerce was a Northern not a Southern concern. He threw light upon the tactics of the time by his description of the future action of Confederate sharpshooters who were to terrorize such commercial crews as might attempt to navigate the river; he also told how light batteries might move swiftly along the banks and, at points commanding the channel, rain on the passing steamer unheralded destruction. He was silent upon the really serious matter, the patrol of the river by Federal gunboats which rendered commerce with the Trans-Mississippi all but impossible.
This report, dated the 26th of November, gives a roseate view of the war in Tennessee and enlarges upon that dreadful battle of Chickamauga which "ranks as one of the grandest victories of the war." But even as the report was signed, Bragg was in full retreat after his great disaster at Chattanooga. On the 30th of November the Administration at Richmond received from him a dispatch that closed with these words: "I deem it due to the cause and to myself to ask for relief from command and an investigation into the causes of the defeat." In the middle of December, Joseph E. Johnston was appointed to succeed him.
Whatever had been the illusions of the Government, they were now at an end. There was no denying that the war had entered a new stage and that the odds were grimly against the South. Davis recognized the gravity of the situation, and in his message to Congress in December, 1863, he admitted that the Trans-Mississippi was practically isolated. This was indeed a great catastrophe, for hereafter neither men nor supplies could be drawn from the far Southwest. Furthermore, the Confederacy had now lost its former precious advantage of using Mexico as a means of secret trade with Europe.
These distressing events of the four months between Vicksburg and Chattanooga established also the semi-isolation of the middle region of the lower South. The two States of Mississippi and Alabama entered upon the most desperate chapter of their history. Neither in nor out of the Confederacy, neither protected by the Confederate lines nor policed by the enemy, they were subject at once to the full rigor of the financial and military demands of the Administration of Richmond and to the full ruthlessness of plundering raids from the North. Nowhere can the contrast between the warfare of that day and the best methods of our own time be observed more clearly than in this unhappy region. At the opening of 1864 the effective Confederate lines drew an irregular zigzag across the map from a point in northern Georgia not far below Chattanooga to Mobile. Though small Confederate commands still operated bravely west of this line, the whole of Mississippi and a large part of Alabama were beyond aid from Richmond. But the average man did not grasp the situation. When a region is dominated by mobile armies the appearance of things to the civilian is deceptive. Because the powerful Federal armies of the Southwest, at the opening of 1864, were massed at strategic points from Tennessee to the Gulf, and were not extended along an obvious trench line, every brave civilian would still keep up his hope and would still insist that the middle Gulf country was far from subjugation, that its defense against the invader had not become hopeless.
Under such conditions, when the Government at Richmond called upon the men of the Southwest to regard themselves as mere sources of supply, human and otherwise, mere feeders to a theater of war that did not include their homes, it was altogether natural that they should resent the demand. All the tragic confusion that was destined in the course of the fateful year 1864 to paralyze the Government at Richmond was already apparent in the middle Gulf country when the year began. Chief among these was the inability of the State and Confederate Governments to cooperate adequately in the business of conscription. The two powers were determined rivals struggling each to seize the major part of the manhood of the community. While Richmond, looking on the situation with the eye of pure strategy, wished to draw together the full man-power of the South in one great unit, the local authorities were bent on retaining a large part of it for home defense.
In the Alabama newspapers of the latter half of 1863 strange incidents are to be found throwing light on the administrative duel. The writ of habeas corpus, as was so often the case in Confederate history, was the bone of contention. We have seen that the second statute empowering the President to proclaim martial law and to suspend the operation of the writ had expired by limitation in February, 1863. The Alabama courts were theoretically in full operation, but while the law was in force the military authorities had acquired a habit of arbitrary control. Though warned from Richmond in general orders that they must not take unto themselves a power vested in the President alone, they continued their previous course of action. It thereupon became necessary to issue further general orders annulling "all proclamations of martial law by general officers and others" not invested by law with adequate authority.
Neither general orders nor the expiration of the statute, however, seemed able to put an end to the interference with the local courts on the part of local commanders. The evil apparently grew during 1863. A picturesque instance is recorded with extreme fullness by the Southern Advertiser in the autumn of the year. In the minutely circumstantial account, we catch glimpses of one Rhodes moving heaven and earth to prove himself exempt from military service. After Rhodes is enrolled by the officers of the local military rendezvous, the sheriff attempts to turn the tables by arresting the Colonel in command. The soldiers rush to defend their Colonel, who is ill in bed at a house some distance away. The judge who had issued the writ is hot with anger at this military interference in civil affairs. Thereupon the soldiers seize him, but later, recognizing for some unexplained reason the majesty of the civil law, they release him. And the hot-tempered incident closes with the Colonel's determination to carry the case to the Supreme Court of the State.
The much harassed people of Alabama had still other causes of complaint during this same year. Again the newspapers illumine the situation. In the troubled autumn, Joseph Wheeler swept across the northern counties of Alabama and in a daring ride, with Federal cavalry hot on his trail, reached safety beyond the Tennessee River. Here his pursuers turned back and, as their horses had been broken by the swiftness of the pursuit, returning slowly, they "gleaned the country" to replace their supplies. Incidentally they pounced upon the town of Huntsville. "Their appearance here," writes a local correspondent, "was so sudden and... the contradictory reports of their whereabouts" had been so baffling that the townspeople had found no time to secrete things. The whole neighborhood was swept clean of cattle and almost clean of provision. "We have not enough left," the report continues, "to haul and plow with... and milch cows are non est." Including "Stanley's big raid in July," this was the twenty-first raid which Huntsville had endured that year. The report closes with a bitter denunciation of the people of southern Alabama who as yet do not know what war means, who are accused of complete hardness of heart towards their suffering fellow-countrymen and of caring only to make money out of war prices.
When Davis sent his message to the Southern Congress at the opening of the session of 1864, the desperate plight of the middle Gulf country was at once a warning and a menace to the Government. If the conditions of that debatable land should extend eastward, there could be little doubt that the day of the Confederacy was nearing its close. To remedy the situation west of the main Confederate line, to prevent the growth of a similar condition east of it, Davis urged Congress to revive the statute permitting martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. The President told Congress that in parts of the Confederacy "public meetings have been held, in some of which a treasonable design is masked by a pretense of devotion of state sovereignty, and in others is openly avowed... a strong suspicion is entertained that secret leagues and associations are being formed. In certain localities men of no mean position do not hesitate to avow their disloyalty and hostility to our cause, and their advocacy of peace on the terms of submission and the abolition of slavery."
This suspicion on the part of the Confederate Government that it was being opposed by organized secret societies takes us back to debatable land and to the previous year. The Bureau of Conscription submitted to the Secretary of War a report from its Alabama branch relative to "a sworn secret organization known to exist and believed to have for its object the encouragement of desertion, the protection of deserters from arrest, resistance to conscription, and perhaps other designs of a still more dangerous character." To the operations of this insidious foe were attributed the shifting of the vote in the Alabama elections, the defeat of certain candidates favored by the Government, and the return in their stead of new men "not publicly known." The suspicions of the Government were destined to further verification in the course of 1864 by the unearthing of a treasonable secret society in southwestern Virginia, the members of which were "bound to each other for the prosecution of their nefarious designs by the most solemn oaths. They were under obligation to encourage desertions from the army, and to pass and harbor all deserters, escaped prisoners, or spies; to give information to the enemy of the movements of our troops, of exposed or weakened positions, of inviting opportunities of attack, and to guide and assist the enemy either in advance or retreat." This society bore the grandiloquent name "Heroes of America" and had extended its operations into Tennessee and North Carolina.
In the course of the year further evidence was collected which satisfied the secret service of the existence of a mysterious and nameless society which had ramifications throughout Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. A detective who joined this "Peace Society," as it was called, for the purpose of betraying its secrets, had marvelous tales to tell of confidential information given to him by members, of how Missionary Ridge had been lost and Vicksburg had surrendered through the machinations of this society. *
* What classes were represented in these organizations it is difficult if not impossible to determine. They seem to have been involved in the singular "peace movement" which is yet to be considered. This fact gives a possible clue to the problem of their membership. A suspiciously large number of the "peace" men were original anti-secessionists, and though many, perhaps most, of these who opposed secession became loyal servants of the Confederacy, historians may have jumped too quickly to the assumption that the sincerity of all of these men was above reproach.
In spite of its repugnance to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, Congress was so impressed by the gravity of the situation that early in 1864 it passed another act "to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in certain cases." This was not quite the same as that sweeping act of 1862 which had set the Mercury irrevocably in opposition. Though this act of 1864 gave the President the power to order the arrest of any person suspected of treasonable practices, and though it released military officers from all obligation to obey the order of any civil court to surrender a prisoner charged with treason, the new legislation carefully defined a list of cases in which alone this power could be lawfully used. This was the last act of the sort passed by the Confederate Congress, and when it expired by limitation ninety days after the next meeting of Congress it was not renewed.
With regard to the administration of the army, Congress can hardly be said to have met the President more than half way. The age of military service was lowered to seventeen and was raised to fifty. But the President was not given—though he had asked for it—general control over exemptions. Certain groups, such as ministers, editors, physicians, were in the main exempted; one overseer was exempted on each plantation where there were fifteen slaves, provided he gave bond to sell to the Government at official prices each year one hundred pounds of either beef or bacon for each slave employed and provided he would sell all his surplus produce either to the Government or to the families of soldiers. Certain civil servants of the Confederacy were also exempted as well as those whom the governors of States should "certify to be necessary for the proper administration of the State Government." The President was authorized to detail for nonmilitary service any members of the Confederate forces "when in his judgment, justice, equity, and necessity, require such details."
This statute retained two features that had already given rise to much friction, and that were destined to be the cause of much more. It was still within the power of state governors to impede conscription very seriously. By certifying that a man was necessary to the civil administration of a State, a Governor could place him beyond the legal reach of the conscripting officers. This provision was a concession to those who looked on Davis's request for authority over exemption as the first step toward absolutism. On the other hand the statute allowed the President a free hand in the scarcely less important matter of "details." Among the imperative problems of the Confederacy, where the whole male population was needed in the public service, was the most economical separation of the two groups, the fighters and the producers. On the one hand there was the constant demand for recruits to fill up the wasted armies; on the other, the need for workers to keep the shops going and to secure the harvest. The two interests were never fully coordinated. Under the act of 1864, no farmer, mechanic, tradesman, between the ages of seventeen and fifty, if fit for military service, could remain at his work except as a "detail" under orders of the President: he might be called to the colors at a moment's notice. We shall see, presently, how the revoking of details, toward the end of what may truly be called the terrible year, was one of the major incidents of Confederate history.
Together with the new conscription act, the President approved on February 17, 1864, a reenactment of the tax in kind, with some slight concessions to the convenience of the farmers. The President's appeal for a law directly taxing slaves and land had been ignored by Congress, but another of his suggestions had been incorporated in the Funding Act. The state of the currency was now so grave that Davis attributed to it all the evils growing out of the attempts to enforce impressment. As the value of the paper dollar had by this time shrunk to six cents in specie and the volume of Confederate paper was upward of seven hundred millions, Congress undertook to reduce the volume and raise the value by compelling holders of notes to exchange them for bonds. By way of driving the note-holders to consent to the exchange, provision was made for the speedy taxation of notes for one-third their face value.
Such were the main items of the government program for 1864. Armed with this, Davis braced himself for the great task of making head against the enemies that now surrounded the Confederacy. It is an axiom of military science that when one combatant possesses the interior line, the other can offset this advantage only by exerting coincident pressure all round, thus preventing him from shifting his forces from one front to another. On this principle, the Northern strategists had at last completed their gigantic plan for a general envelopment of the whole Confederate defense both by land and sea. Grant opened operations by crossing the Rapidan and telegraphing Sherman to advance into Georgia.
The stern events of the spring of 1864 form such a famous page in military history that the sober civil story of those months appears by comparison lame and impotent. Nevertheless, the Confederate Government during those months was at least equal to its chief obligation: it supplied and recruited the armies. With Grant checked at Cold Harbor, in June, and Sherman still unable to pierce the western line, the hopes of the Confederates were high.
In the North there was corresponding gloom. This was the moment when all Northern opponents of the war drew together in their last attempt to shatter the Lincoln Government and make peace with the Confederacy. The value to the Southern cause of this Northern movement for peace at any price was keenly appreciated at Richmond. Trusted agents of the Confederacy were even then in Canada working deftly to influence Northern sentiment. The negotiations with those Northern secret societies which befriended the South belong properly in the story of Northern politics and the presidential election of 1864. They were skillfully conducted chiefly by Jacob Thompson and C. C. Clay. The reports of these agents throughout the spring and summer were all hopeful and told of "many intelligent men from the United States" who sought them out in Canada for political consultations. They discussed "our true friends from the Chicago (Democratic) convention" and even gave names of those who, they were assured, would have seats in McClellan's Cabinet. They were really not well informed upon Northern affairs, and even after the tide had turned against the Democrats in September, they were still priding themselves on their diplomatic achievement, still confident they had helped organize a great political power, had "given a stronger impetus to the peace party of the North than all other causes combined, and had greatly reduced the strength of the war party."
While Clay and Thompson built their house of cards in Canada, the Richmond Government bent anxious eyes on the western battlefront. Sherman, though repulsed in his one frontal attack at Kenesaw Mountain, had steadily worked his way by the left flank of the Confederate army, until in early July he was within six miles of Atlanta. All the lower South was a-tremble with apprehension. Deputations were sent to Richmond imploring the removal of Johnston from the western command. What had he done since his appointment in December but retreat? Such was the tenor of public opinion. "It is all very well to talk of Fabian policy," said one of his detractors long afterward, "and now we can see we were rash to say the least. But at the time, all of us went wrong together. Everybody clamored for Johnston's removal." Johnston and Davis were not friends; but the President hesitated long before acting. And yet, with each day, political as well as military necessity grew more imperative. Both at Washington and Richmond the effect that the fighting in Georgia had on Northern opinion was seen to be of the first importance. Sherman was staking everything to break the Confederate line and take Atlanta. He knew that a great victory would have incalculable effect on the Northern election. Davis knew equally well that the defeat of Sherman would greatly encourage the peace party in the North. But he had no general of undoubted genius whom he could put in Johnston's place. However, the necessity for a bold stroke was so undeniable, and Johnston appeared so resolute to continue his Fabian policy, that Davis reluctantly took a desperate chance and superseded him by Hood.
During August, though the Democratic convention at Chicago drew up its platform favoring peace at any price, the anxiety of the Southern President did not abate his activities. The safety of the western line was now his absorbing concern. And in mid-August that line was turned, in a way, by Farragut's capture of Mobile Bay. As the month closed, Sherman, despite the furious blows delivered by Hood, was plainly getting the upper hand. North and South, men watched that tremendous duel with the feeling that the foundations of things were rocking. At last, on the 2d of September, Sherman, victorious, entered Atlanta.
Chapter VIII. A Game Of Chance
With dramatic completeness in the summer and autumn of 1864, the foundations of the Confederate hope one after another gave way. Among the causes of this catastrophe was the failure of the second great attempt on the part of the Confederacy to secure recognition abroad. The subject takes us back to the latter days of 1862, when the center of gravity in foreign affairs had shifted from London to Paris. Napoleon III, at the height of his strange career, playing half a dozen dubious games at once, took up a new pastime and played at intrigue with the Confederacy. In October he accorded a most gracious interview to Slidell. He remarked that his sympathies were entirely with the South but added that, if he acted alone, England might trip him up. He spoke of his scheme for joint intervention by England, France, and Russia. Then he asked why we had not created a navy. Slidell snapped at the bait. He said that the Confederates would be glad to build ships in France, that "if the Emperor would give only some kind of verbal assurance that the police would not observe too closely when we wished to put on guns and men we would gladly avail ourselves of it." To this, the imperial trickster replied, "Why could you not have them built as for the Italian Government? I do not think it would be difficult but will consult the Minister of Marine about it."
Slidell left the Emperor's presence confident that things would happen. And they did. First came Napoleon's proposal of intervention, which was declined before the end of the year by England and Russia. Then came his futile overtures to the Government at Washington, his offer of mediation—which was rejected early in 1863. But Slidell remained confident that something else would happen. And in this expectation also he was not disappointed. The Emperor was deeply involved in Mexico and was busily intriguing throughout Europe. This was the time when Erlanger, standing high in the favor of the Emperor, made his gambler's proposal to the Confederate authorities about cotton. Another of the Emperor's friends now enters the play. On January 7, 1863, M. Arman, of Bordeaux, "the largest shipbuilder in France," had called on the Confederate commissioner: M. Arman would be happy to build ironclad ships for the Confederacy, and as to paying for them, cotton bonds might do the trick.
No wonder Slidell was elated, so much so that he seems to have given little heed to the Emperor's sinister intimation that the whole affair must be subterranean. But the wily Bonaparte had not forgotten that six months earlier he had issued a decree of neutrality forbidding Frenchmen to take commissions from either belligerent "for the armament of vessels of war or to accept letters of marque, or to cooperate in any way whatsoever in the equipment or arming of any vessel of war or corsair of either belligerent." He did not intend to abandon publicly this cautious attitude—at least, not for the present. And while Slidell at Paris was completely taken in, the cooler head of A. Dudley Mann, Confederate commissioner at Brussels, saw what an international quicksand was the favor of Napoleon. It was about this time that Napoleon, having dispatched General Forey with a fresh army to Mexico, wrote the famous letter which gave notice to the world of what he was about. Mann wrote home in alarm that the Emperor might be expected to attempt recovering Mexico's ancient areas including Texas. Slidell saw in the Forey letter only "views... which will not be gratifying to the Washington Government."
The adroit Arman, acting on hints from high officers of the Government, applied for permission to build and arm ships of war, alleging that he intended to send them to the Pacific and sell them to either China or Japan. To such a laudable expression of commercial enterprise, one of his fellows in the imperial ring, equipped with proper authority under Bonaparte, hastened to give official approbation, and Erlanger came forward by way of financial backer. There were conferences of Confederate agents; contracts were signed; plans were agreed upon; and the work was begun.
There was no more hopeful man in the Confederate service than Slidell when, in the full flush of pride after Chancellorsville, he appealed to the Emperor to cease waiting on other powers and recognize the Confederacy. Napoleon accorded another gracious interview but still insisted that it was impossible for him to act alone. He said that he was "more fully convinced than ever of the propriety of a general recognition by the European powers of the Confederate States but that the commerce of France and the interests of the Mexican expedition would be jeopardized by a rupture with the United States" and unless England would stand by him he dared not risk such an eventuality. In point of fact, he was like a speculator who is "hedging" on the stock exchange, both buying and selling, and trying to make up his mind on which cast to stake his fortune. At the same time he threw out once more the sinister caution about the ships. He said that the ships might be built in France but that their destination must be concealed.
That Napoleon's choice just then, if England had supported him, would have been recognition of the Confederacy, cannot be doubted. The tangle of intrigue which he called his foreign policy was not encouraging. He was deeply involved in Italian politics, where the daring of Garibaldi had reopened the struggle between clericals and liberals. In France itself the struggle between parties was keen. Here, as in the American imbroglio, he found it hard to decide with which party to break. The chimerical scheme of a Latin empire in Mexico was his spectacular device to catch the imagination, and incidentally the pocketbook, of everybody. But in order to carry out this enterprise he must be able to avert or withstand the certain hostility of the United States. Therefore, as he told Slidell, "no other power than England possessed a sufficient navy" to pull his chestnuts out of the fire. The moment was auspicious, for there was a revival of the "Southern party" in England. The sailing of the Alabama from Liverpool during the previous summer had encouraged the Confederate agents and their British friends to undertake further shipbuilding.
While M. Arman was at work in France, the Laird Brothers were at work in England and their dockyards contained two ironclad rams supposed to outclass any vessels of the United States navy. Though every effort had been made to keep secret the ultimate destination of these rams, the vigilance of the United States minister, reinforced by the zeal of the "Northern party," detected strong circumstantial evidence pointing toward a Confederate contract with the Lairds. A popular agitation ensued along with demands upon the Government to investigate. To mask the purposes of the Lairds, Captain James Bullock, the able special agent of the Confederate navy, was forced to fall lack upon the same tactics that were being used across the Channel, and to sell the rams, on paper, to a firm in France. Neither he nor Slidell yet appreciated what a doubtful refuge was the shadow of Napoleon's wing.
Nevertheless the British Government, by this time practically alined with the North, continued its search for the real owner of the Laird rams. The "Southern party," however, had not quite given up hope, and the agitation to prevent the sailing of the rams was a keen spur to its flagging zeal. Furthermore the prestige of Lee never was higher than it was in June, 1863, when the news of Chancellorsville was still fresh and resounding in every mind. It had given new life to the Confederate hope: Lee would take Washington before the end of the summer; the Laird rams would go to sea; the Union would be driven to the wall. So reasoned the ardent friends of the South. But one thing was lacking—a European alliance. What a time for England to intervene!
While Slidell was talking with the Emperor, he had in his pocket a letter from J. A. Roebuck, an English politician who wished to force the issue in the House of Commons. As a preliminary to moving the recognition of the Confederacy, he wanted authority to deny a rumor going the rounds in London, to the effect that Napoleon had taken position against intervention. Napoleon, when he had seen the letter, began a negotiation of some sort with this politician. It is needless to enter into the complications that ensued, the subsequent recriminations, and the question as to just what Napoleon promised at this time and how many of his promises he broke. He was a diplomat of the old school, the school of lying as a fine art. He permitted Roebuck to come over to Paris for an audience, and Roebuck went away with the impression that Napoleon could be relied upon to back up a new movement for recognition. When, however, Roebuck brought the matter before the Commons at the end of the month and encountered an opposition from the Government that seemed to imply an understanding with Napoleon which was different from his own, he withdrew his motion (in July). Once more the scale turned against the Confederacy, and Gettysburg was supplemented by the seizure of the Laird rams by the British authorities. These events explain the bitter turn given to Confederate feeling toward England in the latter part of 1863. On the 4th of August Benjamin wrote to Mason that "the perusal of the recent debates in 'Parliament satisfies the President" that Mason's "continued residence in London is neither conducive to the interests nor consistent with the dignity of this government," and directed him to withdraw to Paris.
Confederate feeling, as it cooled toward England, warmed toward France. Napoleon's Mexican scheme, including the offer of a ready-made imperial crown to Maximilian, the brother of the Emperor of Austria, was fully understood at Richmond; and with Napoleon's need of an American ally, Southern hope revived. It was further strengthened by a pamphlet which was translated and distributed in the South as a newspaper article under the title France, Mexico, and the Confederate States. The reputed author, Michel Chevalier, was an imperial senator, another member of the Napoleon ring, and highly trusted by his shifty master. The pamphlet, which emphasized the importance of Southern independence as a condition of Napoleon's "beneficent aims" in Mexico, was held to have been inspired, and the imperial denial was regarded as a mere matter of form.
What appeared to be significant of the temper of the Imperial Government was a decree of a French court in the case of certain merchants who sought to recover insurance on wine dispatched to America and destroyed in a ship taken by the Alabama. Their plea was that they were insured against loss by "pirates." The court dismissed their suit and assessed costs against them. Further evidence of Napoleon's favor was the permission given to the Confederate cruiser Florida to repair at Brest and even to make use of the imperial dockyard. The very general faith in Napoleon's promises was expressed by Davis in his message to Congress in December: "Although preferring our own government and institutions to those of other countries, we can have no disposition to contest the exercise by them of the same right of self-government which we assert for ourselves. If the Mexican people prefer a monarchy to a republic, it is our plain duty cheerfully to acquiesce in their decision and to evince a sincere and friendly interest in their prosperity.... The Emperor of the French has solemnly disclaimed any purpose to impose on Mexico a form of government not acceptable to the nation...." In January, 1864, hope of recognition through support of Napoleon's Mexican policy moved the Confederate Congress to adopt resolutions providing for a Minister to the Mexican Empire and giving him instructions with regard to a presumptive treaty. To the new post Davis appointed General William Preston.
But what, while hope was springing high in America, was taking place in France? So far as the world could say, there was little if anything to disturb the Confederates; and yet, on the horizon, a cloud the size of a man's hand had appeared. M. Arman had turned to another member of the Legislative Assembly, a sound Bonapartist like himself, M. Voruz, of Nantes, to whom he had sublet a part of the Confederate contract. The truth about the ships and their destination thus became part of the archives of the Voruz firm. No phase of Napoleonic intrigue could go very far without encountering dishonesty, and to the confidential clerk of M. Voruz there occurred the bright idea of doing something for himself with this valuable diplomatic information. One fine day the clerk was missing and with him certain papers. Then there ensued a period of months during which the firm and their employers could only conjecture the full extent of their loss.
In reality, from the Confederate point of view, everything was lost. Again the episode becomes too complex to be followed in detail. Suffice it to say that the papers were sold to the United States; that the secret was exposed; that the United States made a determined assault upon the Imperial Government. In the midst of this entanglement, Slidell lost his head, for hope deferred when apparently within reach of its end is a dangerous councilor of state. In his extreme anxiety, Slidell sent to the Emperor a note the blunt rashness of which the writer could not have appreciated. Saying that he feared the Emperor's subordinates might play into the hands of Washington, he threw his fat in the fire by speaking of the ships as "now being constructed at Bordeaux and Nantes for the government of the Confederate States" and virtually claimed of Napoleon a promise to let them go to sea. Three days later the Minister of Foreign Affairs took him sharply to task because of this note, reminding him that "what had passed with the Emperor was confidential" and dropping the significant hint that France could not be forced into war by "indirection." According to Slidell's version of the interview "the Minister's tone changed completely" when Slidell replied with "a detailed history of the affair showing that the idea originated with the Emperor." Perhaps the Minister knew more than he chose to betray. From this hour the game was up. Napoleon's purpose all along seems to have been quite plain. He meant to help the South to win by itself, and, after it had won, to use it for his own advantage. So precarious was his position in Europe that he dared not risk an American war without England's aid, and England had cast the die. In this way, secrecy was the condition necessary to continued building of the ships. Now that the secret was out, Napoleon began to shift his ground. He sounded the Washington Government and found it suspiciously equivocal as to Mexico. To silence the French republicans, to whom the American minister had supplied information about the ships, Napoleon tried at first muzzling the press. But as late as February, 1864, he was still carrying water on both shoulders. His Minister of Marine notified the builders that they must get the ships out of France, unarmed, under fictitious sale to some neutral country. The next month, reports which the Confederate commissioners sent home became distinctly alarming. Mann wrote from Brussels: "Napoleon has enjoined upon Maximilian to hold no official relations with our commissioners in Mexico." Shortly after this Slidell received a shock that was the beginning of the end: Maximilian, on passing through Paris on his way to Mexico, refused to receive him.
The Mexican project was now being condemned by all classes in France. Nevertheless, the Government was trying to float a Mexican loan, and it is hardly fanciful to think that on this loan the last hope of the Confederacy turned. Despite the popular attitude toward Mexico, the loan was going well when the House of Representatives of the United States dealt the Confederacy a staggering blow. It passed unanimous resolutions in the most grim terms, denouncing the substitution of monarchical for republican government in Mexico under European auspices. When this action was reported in France, the Mexican loan collapsed.
Napoleon's Italian policy was now moving rapidly toward the crisis which it reached during the following summer when he surrendered to the opposition and promised to withdraw the French troops from Rome. In May, when the loan collapsed, there was nothing for it but to throw over his dear friends of the Confederacy. Presently he had summoned Arman before him, "rated him severely," and ordered him to make bona fide sales of the ships to neutral powers. The Minister of Marine professed surprise and indignation at Arman's trifling with the neutrality of the Imperial Government. And that practically was the end of the episode.
Equally complete was the breakdown of the Confederate negotiations with Mexico. General Preston was refused recognition. In those fierce days of July when the fate of Atlanta was in the balance, the pride and despair of the Confederate Government flared up in a haughty letter to Preston reminding him that "it had never been the intention of this Government to offer any arguments to the new Government of Mexico... nor to place itself in any attitude other than that of complete equality," and directing him to make no further overtures to the Mexican Emperor.
And then came the debacle in Georgia. On that same 20th of September when Benjamin poured out in a letter to Slidell his stored-up bitterness denouncing Napoleon, Davis, feeling the last crisis was upon him, left Richmond to join the army in Georgia. His frame of mind he had already expressed when he said, "We have no friends abroad."
Chapter IX. Desperate Remedies
The loss of Atlanta was the signal for another conflict of authority within the Confederacy. Georgia was now in the condition in which Alabama had found herself in the previous year. A great mobile army of invaders lay encamped on her soil. And yet there was still a state Government established at the capital. Inevitably the man who thought of the situation from the point of view of what we should now call the general staff, and the man who thought of it from the point of view of a citizen of the invaded State, suffered each an intensification of feeling, and each became determined to solve the problem in his own way. The President of the Confederacy and the Governor of Georgia represented these incompatible points of view.
The Governor, Joseph E. Brown, is one of the puzzling figures of Confederate history. We have already encountered him as a dogged opponent of the Administration. With the whole fabric of Southern life toppling about his ears, Brown argued, quibbled, evaded, and became a rallying-point of disaffection. That more eminent Georgian, Howell Cobb, applied to him very severe language, and they became engaged in a controversy over that provision of the Conscription Act which exempted state officials from military service. While the Governor of Virginia was refusing certificates of exemption to the minor civil officers such as justices of the peace, Brown by proclamation promised his "protection" to the most insignificant civil servants. "Will even your Excellency," demanded Cobb, "certify that in any county of Georgia twenty justices of the peace and an equal number of constables are necessary for the proper administration of the state government?" The Bureau of Conscription estimated that Brown kept out of the army approximately 8000 eligible men. The truth seems to be that neither by education nor heredity was this Governor equipped to conceive large ideas. He never seemed conscious of the war as a whole, or of the Confederacy as a whole. To defend Georgia and, if that could not be done, to make peace for Georgia—such in the mind of Brown was the aim of the war. His restless jealousy of the Administration finds its explanation in his fear that it would denude his State of men. The seriousness of Governor Brown's opposition became apparent within a week of the fall of Atlanta. Among Hood's forces were some 10,000 Georgia militia. Brown notified Hood that these troops had been called out solely with a view to the defense of Atlanta, that since Atlanta had been lost they must now be permitted "to return to their homes and look for a time after important interests," and that therefore he did "withdraw said organizations" from Hood's command. In other words, Brown was afraid that they might be taken out of the State. By proclamation he therefore gave the militia a furlough of thirty days. Previous to the issue of this proclamation, Seddon had written to Brown making requisition for his 10,000 militia to assist in a pending campaign against Sherman. Two days after his proclamation had appeared, Brown, in a voluminous letter full of blustering rhetoric and abounding in sneers at the President, demanded immediate reinforcements by order of the President and threatened that, if they were not sent, he would recall the Georgia troops from the army of Lee and would command "all the sons of Georgia to return to their own State and within their own limits to rally round her glorious flag."
So threatening was the situation in Georgia that Davis attempted to take it into his own hands. In a grim frame of mind he left Richmond for the front. The resulting military arrangements do not of course belong strictly to the subject matter of this volume; but the brief tour of speechmaking which Davis made in Georgia and the interior of South Carolina must be noticed; for his purpose seems to have been to put the military point of view squarely before the people. He meant them to see how the soldier looked at the situation, ignoring all demands of locality, of affiliation, of hardship, and considering only how to meet and beat the enemy. In his tense mood he was not always fortunate in his expressions. At Augusta, for example, he described Beauregard, whom he had recently placed in general command over Georgia and South Carolina, as one who would do whatever the President told him to do. But this idea of military self-effacement was not happily worded, and the enemies of Davis seized on his phraseology as further evidence of his instinctive autocracy. The Mercury compared him to the Emperor of Russia and declared the tactless remark to be "as insulting to General Beauregard as it is false and presumptuous in the President."
Meanwhile Beauregard was negotiating with Brown. Though they came to an understanding about the disposition of the militia, Brown still tried to keep control of the state troops. When Sherman was burning Atlanta preparatory to the March to the Sea, Brown addressed to the Secretary of War another interminable epistle, denouncing the Confederate authorities and asserting his willingness to fight both the South and the North if they did not both cease invading his rights. But the people of Georgia were better balanced than their Governor. Under the leadership of such men as Cobb they rose to the occasion and did their part in what proved a vain attempt to conduct a "people's war." Their delegation at Richmond sent out a stirring appeal assuring them that Davis was doing for them all it was possible to do. "Let every man fly to arms," said the appeal. "Remove your negroes, horses, cattle, and provisions from before Sherman's army, and burn what you cannot carry. Burn all bridges and block up the roads in his route. Assail the invader in front, flank, and rear, by night and by day. Let him have no rest."