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Abraham Lincoln, Vol. II
by John T. Morse
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American Statesmen

STANDARD LIBRARY EDITION



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ABRAHAM LINCOLN

BY

JOHN T. MORSE, JR.

IN TWO VOLUMES

VOL. II.

1899

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CONTENTS

I. EMANCIPATION AND POLITICS II. THE SECOND ACT OF THE MCCLELLAN DRAMA III. THE THIRD AND CLOSING ACT OF THE MCCLELLAN DRAMA IV. THE AUTUMN ELECTIONS OF 1862, AND THE PROCLAMATION OF EMANCIPATION V. BATTLES AND SIEGES: DECEMBER, 1862-DECEMBER, 1863 VI. SUNDRIES VII. THE TURN OF THE TIDE VIII. RECONSTRUCTION IX. RENOMINATION X. MILITARY SUCCESSES, AND THE REELECTION OF THE PRESIDENT XI. THE END COMES INTO SIGHT: THE SECOND INAUGURATION XII. EMANCIPATION COMPLETED XIII. THE FALL OF RICHMOND, AND THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

INDEX

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ILLUSTRATIONS

STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS

From a photograph by Brady in the Library of the State Department at Washington.

Autograph from the Chamberlain collection, Boston Public Library.

The vignette of Mr. Lincoln's home, corner Eighth and Jackson streets, Springfield, Ill., is from a photograph.

SIMON CAMERON

From a photograph by Mr. Le Rue Lemer, Harrisburg, Pa.

Autograph from the Chamberlain collection, Boston Public Library.

LINCOLN SUBMITTING THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION TO HIS CABINET

From the painting by Carpenter in the Capitol at Washington.

ISAAC N. ARNOLD

From a photograph by Brady in the Library of the State Department at Washington.

Autograph from one furnished by his daughter, Mrs. Mary A. Scudder, Chicago, Ill.

MONTGOMERY BLAIR

From a photograph by Brady in the Library of the State Department at Washington.

Autograph from the Chamberlain collection, Boston Public Library.

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ABRAHAM LINCOLN

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CHAPTER I

EMANCIPATION AND POLITICS

During the spring and summer of 1861 the people of the North presented the appearance of a great political unit. All alleged emphatically that the question was simply of the Union, and upon this issue no Northerner could safely differ from his neighbors. Only a few of the more cross-grained ones among the Abolitionists were contemptuously allowed to publish the selfishness of their morality, and to declare that they were content to see the establishment of a great slave empire, provided they themselves were free from the taint of connection with it. If any others let Southern proclivities lurk in the obscure recesses of their hearts they were too prudent to permit these perilous sentiments to appear except in the masquerade of dismal presagings. So in appearance the Northern men were united, and in fact were very nearly so—for a short time.

This was a fortunate condition, which the President and all shrewd patriots took great pains to maintain. It filled the armies and the Treasury, and postponed many jeopardies. But too close to the surface to be long suppressed lay the demand that those who declared the Union to be the sole issue should explain how it came about that the Union was put in issue at all, why there was any dissatisfaction with it, and why any desire anywhere to be rid of it. All knew the answer to that question; all knew that if the war was due to disunion, disunion in turn was due to slavery. Unless some makeshift peace should be quickly patched up, this basic cause was absolutely sure to force recognition for itself; a long and stern contest must inevitably wear its way down to the bottom question. It was practical wisdom for Mr. Lincoln in his inaugural not to probe deeper than secession; and it was well for multitudes to take arms and contribute money with the earnest asseveration that they were fighting and paying only for the integrity of the country. It was the truth, or rather it was a truth; but there was also another and a deeper truth: that he who fought for the integrity of the country, also, by a necessity inherent in the case and far beyond the influence of his volition, fought for the destruction of slavery. Just as soon as this second truth came up and took distinct shape beside the other, angry political divisions sundered the Unionists. Abolition of slavery never displaced Union as a purpose of the war; but the two became mingled, in a duality which could not afterward be resolved into its component parts so that one could be taken and the other could be left. The union of the two issues meant the disunion of the people of the Middle and even of the Northern States.

In the Border States a considerable proportion of the people was both pro-slavery and pro-Union. These men wished to retain their servile laborers under their feet and the shelter of the Union over their heads. At first they did not see that they might as well hope to serve both God and Mammon. Yet for the moment they seemed to hold the balance of power between the contestants; for had all the pro-slavery men in the Border States gone over in a mass to the South early in the war, they might have settled the matter against the North in short order. The task of holding and conciliating this important body, with all its Northern sympathizers, became a controlling purpose of the President, and caused the development of his famous "border-state policy," for which he deserved the highest praise and received unlimited abuse.

The very fact that these men needed, for their comfort, reiterated assurances of a policy not hostile to slavery indicated the jeopardy of their situation. The distinct language of the President alleviated their anxiety so far as the Executive was concerned, but they desired to commit the legislative branch to the same doctrine. Among all those who might have been Secessionists, but were not, no other could vie in respect and affection with the venerable and patriotic John J. Crittenden of Kentucky. This distinguished statesman now became the spokesman for the large body of loyal citizens who felt deeply that the war ought not to impinge in the least upon the great institution of the South. In the extra session of Congress, convened in July, 1861, he offered a resolution pledging Congress to hold in mind: "That this war is not waged upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor with any purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those [the revolted] States; but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired." After the example of the Constitution, this resolution was carefully saved from the contamination of a certain offensive word; but every one knew its meaning and its purpose; and with this knowledge all the votes save two in the House of Representatives, and all save five in the Senate, were given for it.[1] "It was," says Mr. Blaine, "a fair reflection of the popular sentiment throughout the North." So Mr. Lincoln's inaugural was ratified.

But events control. The Northern armies ran against slavery immediately. Almost in the very hours when the resolution of Mr. Crittenden was gliding so easily through the House, thousands of slaves at Manassas were doing the work of laborers and servants, and rendering all the whites of the Southern army available for fighting. The handicap was so severe and obvious that it immediately provoked the introduction of a bill freeing slaves belonging to rebels and used for carrying on the war. The Democrats and the men of the Border States generally opposed the measure, with very strong feeling. No matter how plausible the reason, they did not wish slavery to be touched at all. They could not say that this especial bill was wrong, but they felt that it was dangerous. Their protests against it, however, were of no avail, and it became law on August 6. The extreme anti-slavery men somewhat sophistically twisted it into an assistance to the South.

The principle of this legislation had already been published to the country in a very fortunate way by General Butler. In May, 1861, being in command at Fortress Monroe, he had refused, under instructions from Cameron, to return three fugitive slaves to their rebel owner, and he had ingeniously put his refusal on the ground that they were "contraband of war." The phrase instantly became popular. General Butler says that, "as a lawyer, [he] was never very proud of it;" but technical inaccuracy does not hurt the force of an epigram which expresses a sound principle. "Contraband" underlay the Emancipation Proclamation.

Thus the slaves themselves were forcing the issue, regardless of polities and diplomacy. With a perfectly correct instinctive insight into the true meaning of the war, they felt that a Union camp ought to be a place of refuge, and they sought it eagerly and in considerable numbers. Then, however, their logical owners came and reclaimed them, and other commanders were not so apt at retort as General Butler was. Thus it came to pass that each general, being without instructions, carried out his own ideas, and confusion ensued. Democratic commanders returned slaves; Abolitionist commanders refused to do so; many were sadly puzzled what to do. All alike created embarrassing situations for the administration.

General Fremont led off. On August 30, being then in command of the Western Department, he issued an order, in which he declared that he would "assume the administrative powers of the State." Then, on the basis of this bold assumption, he established martial law, and pronounced the slaves of militant or active rebels to be "free men." The mischief of this ill-advised proceeding was aggravated by the "fires of popular enthusiasm which it kindled." The President wrote to Fremont, expressing his fear that the general's action would "alarm our Southern Union friends, and turn them against us; perhaps ruin our rather fair prospect in Kentucky." Very considerately he said: "Allow me, therefore, to ask that you will, as of your own motion, modify that paragraph so as to conform to" the Act of August 6. Fremont replied, in substance, that the President might do this, but that he himself would not! Thereupon Mr. Lincoln, instead of removing the insubordinate and insolent general, behaved in his usual passionless way, and merely issued an order that Fremont's proclamation should be so modified and construed as "to conform with and not to transcend" the law. By this treatment, which should have made Fremont grateful and penitent, he was in fact rendered angry and indignant; for he had a genuine belief in the old proverb about laws being silent in time of war, and he really thought that documents signed in tents by gentlemen wearing shoulder-straps were deserving of more respect, even by the President, than were mere Acts of Congress. This was a mistaken notion, but Fremont never could see that he had been in error, and from this time forth he became a vengeful thorn in the side of Mr. Lincoln.

Several months later, on May 9, 1862, General Hunter proclaimed martial law in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, and said: "Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible. The persons in these States, heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free." At once, though not without reluctance, Mr. Lincoln revoked this order, as unauthorized. He further said that, if he had power to "declare the slaves of any State or States free," the propriety of exercising that power was a question which he reserved exclusively to himself. These words he fully made good. The whole country, wild with excitement and teeming with opinions almost co-numerous with its citizens, threatened to bury him beneath an avalanche of advice. But while all talked and wrote madly and endlessly, he quietly held his peace, did what he chose when he chose, and never delegated any portion of his authority over this most important business to any one. He took emancipation for his own special and personal affair; it was a matter about which he had been doing much thinking very earnestly for a long while, and he had no notion of forming now any partnership for managing it.

The trend, however, was not all in one direction. While Butler, Fremont, and Hunter were thus befriending the poor runaways, Buell and Hooker were allowing slave-owners to reclaim fugitives from within their lines; Halleck was ordering that no fugitive slave should be admitted within his lines or camp, and that those already there should be put out; and McClellan was promising to crush "with an iron hand" any attempt at slave insurrection. Amid such confusion, some rule of universal application was sorely needed. But what should it be?

Secretary Cameron twice nearly placed the administration in an embarrassing position by taking very advanced ground upon the negro question. In October, 1861, he issued an order to General Sherman, then at Port Royal, authorizing him to employ negroes in any capacity which he might "deem most beneficial to the service." Mr. Lincoln prudently interlined the words: "This, however, not to mean a general arming of them for military service." A few weeks later, in the Report which the secretary prepared to be sent with the President's message to Congress, he said: "As the labor and service of their slaves constitute the chief property of the rebels, they should share the common fate of war.... It is as clearly a right of the government to arm slaves, when it becomes necessary, as it is to use gunpowder taken from the enemy. Whether it is expedient to do so is purely a military question." He added more to the same purport. He then had his report printed, and sent copies, by mail, to many newspapers throughout the country, with permission to publish it so soon as the telegraph should report the reading before Congress. At the eleventh hour a copy was handed to Mr. Lincoln, to accompany his message; and then, for the first time, he saw these radical passages. Instantly he directed that all the postmasters, to whose offices the printed copies had been sent on their way to the newspaper editors, should be ordered at once to return these copies to the secretary. He then ordered the secretary to make a change, equivalent to an omission, of this inflammatory paragraph. After this emasculation the paragraph only stated that "slaves who were abandoned by their owners on the advance of our troops" should not be returned to the enemy.

When the Thirty-seventh Congress came together for the regular session, December 2, 1861, anti-slavery sentiment had made a visible advance. President Lincoln, in his message, advised recognizing the independence of the negro states of Hayti and Liberia. He declared that he had been anxious that the "inevitable conflict should not degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle," and that he had, therefore, "thought it proper to keep the integrity of the Union prominent as the primary object of the contest on our part." Referring to his enforcement of the law of August 6, he said: "The Union must be preserved, and hence all indispensable means must be employed." The shadow which pro-slavery men saw cast by these words was very slightly, if at all, lightened by an admission which accompanied it,—that "we should not be in haste to determine that radical and extreme measures, which may reach the loyal as well as the disloyal, are indispensable." Further he said that already, by the operation of the Act of August 6, numbers of persons had been liberated, had become dependent on the United States, and must be provided for. He anticipated that some of the States might pass similar laws for their own benefit; in which case he recommended Congress to "provide for accepting such persons from such States, according to some mode of valuation, in lieu, pro tanto, of direct taxes, or upon some other plan to be agreed on." He desired that these negroes, being "at once deemed free," should be colonized in some "climate congenial to them," and he wished an appropriation for acquiring territory for this purpose. Thus he indicated with sufficient clearness the three cardinal points of his own theory for emancipation: voluntary action of the individual slave States by the exercise of their own sovereign power; compensation of owners; and colonization. Congress soon showed that it meant to strike a pace much more rapid than that set by the President; and the friends of slavery perceived an atmosphere which made them so uneasy that they thought it would be well to have the Crittenden resolution substantially reaffirmed. They made the effort, and they failed, the vote standing 65 yeas to 71 nays. All which this symptom indicated as to the temper of members was borne out during the session by positive and aggressive legislation. Only a fortnight had passed, when Henry Wilson, senator from Massachusetts, introduced a bill to emancipate the slaves in the District of Columbia, and to pay a moderate compensation to owners. The measure, rightly construed as the entering point of the anti-slavery wedge, gave rise to bitter debates in both houses. The senators and representatives from the slave States manifested intense feeling, and were aided with much spirit by the Democrats of the free States. But resistance was useless; the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 29 to 14, and the House by 92 to 38. On April 16 the President signed it, and returned it with a message, in which he said: "If there be matters within and about this Act which might have taken a course or shape more satisfactory to my judgment, I do not attempt to specify them. I am gratified that the two principles of compensation and colonization are both recognized and practically applied in the Act." It was one of the coincidences of history that by his signature he now made law that proposition which, as a member of the House of Representatives in 1849, he had embodied in a bill which then hardly excited passing notice as it went on its quick way to oblivion.

The confused condition concerning the harboring and rendition of fugitive slaves by military commanders, already mentioned, was also promptly taken in hand. Various bills and amendments offered in the Senate and in the House were substantially identical in the main purpose of making the recovery of a slave from within the Union lines practically little better than impossible. The shape which the measure ultimately took was the enactment of an additional article of war, whereby all officers in the military service of the United States were "prohibited from using any portion of the forces under their respective commands for the purpose of returning fugitives from service or labor;" any officer who should violate the article was to be dismissed from the service. Again the men from the Border States, rallying their few Democratic allies from the North to their assistance, made vehement opposition, and again they were overwhelmed beneath an irresistible majority: 83 to 42 in the House, 29 to 9 in the Senate. The President signed the bill on March 13, 1862, and thereafter "nigger hunting" was a dangerous sport in the Union camps.

On March 24, Mr. Arnold[2] of Illinois introduced a bill ambitiously purporting "to render freedom national and slavery sectional." It prohibited slavery wherever Congress could do so, that is to say, in all Territories, present and future, in all forts, arsenals, dockyards, etc., in all vessels on the high seas and on all national highways beyond the territory and jurisdiction of the several States. Both by its title and by its substance it went to the uttermost edge of the Constitution and, in the matter of Territories, perhaps beyond that edge. Mr. Arnold himself supported it with the bold avowal that slavery was in deadly hostility to the national government, and therefore must be destroyed. Upon a measure so significant and so defended, debate waxed hot, so that one gentleman proposed that the bill should be sent back to the committee with instructions not to report it back "until the cold weather." The irritation and alarm of the Border States rendered modification necessary unless tact and caution were to be wholly thrown to the winds. Ultimately, therefore, the offensive title was exchanged for the simple one of "An Act to secure freedom to all persons within the Territories of the United States," and the bill, curtailed to accord with this expression, became law by approval of the President on June 19.

A measure likely in its operation to affect a much greater number of persons than any other of those laws which have been mentioned was introduced by Senator Trumbull of Illinois. This was "for the confiscation of the property of rebels, and giving freedom to the persons they hold in slavery." It made the slaves of all who had taken up arms against the United States "forever thereafter free." It came up for debate on February 25, and its mover defended it as "destroying to a great extent the source and origin of the rebellion, and the only thing which had ever seriously threatened the peace of the Union." The men of the Border States, appalled at so general a manumission, declared that it would produce intolerable conditions in their States, leading either to reenslavement or extermination. So strenuous an anti-slavery man as Senator Hale also suggested that the measure was unconstitutional. Similar discussion upon similar propositions went forward contemporaneously in the House. For once, in both bodies, the Democrats won in many skirmishes. Ultimately, as the outcome of many amendments, substitutes, recommitments, and conferences, a bill was patched up, which passed by 27 to 12 in the Senate and 82 to 42 in the House, and was approved by the President July 17. It was a very comprehensive measure; so much so, that Mr. Blaine has said of it: "Even if the war had ended without a formal and effective system of emancipation, it is believed that this statute would have so operated as to render the slave system practically valueless."

The possibility of enlisting negroes as soldiers received early consideration. Black troops had fought in the Revolution; why, then, should not black men now fight in a war of which they themselves were the ultimate provocation? The idea pleased the utilitarian side of the Northern mind and shocked no Northern prejudice. In fact, as early as the spring of 1862 General Hunter, in the Department of the South, organized a negro regiment. In July, 1862, pending consideration of a bill concerning calling forth the militia, reported by the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, amendments were moved declaring that "there should be no exemption from military service on account of color," permitting the enlistment of "persons of African descent," and making "forever thereafter free" each person so enlisted, his mother, his wife, and his children. No other measure so aroused the indignation of the border-state men. Loyalty to the Union could not change their opinion of the negro. To put arms into the hands of slaves, or ex-slaves, was a terrible proposition to men who had too often vividly conceived the dread picture of slave insurrection. To set black men about the business of killing white men, to engage the inferior race to destroy the superior race, seemed a blasphemy against Nature. A few also of the Northerners warmly sympathized with this feeling. Black men shooting down white men was a spectacle which some who were friends of the black men could not contemplate without a certain shudder. Also many persons believed that the white soldiers of the North would feel degraded by having regiments of ex-slaves placed beside them in camp and in battle. Doubts were expressed as to whether negroes would fight, whether they would not be a useless charge, and even a source of peril to those who should depend upon them. Language could go no farther in vehemence of protest and denunciation than the words of some of the slave-state men in the House and Senate. Besides this, Garrett Davis of Kentucky made a very effective argument when he said: "There is not a rebel in all Secessia whose heart will not leap when he hears that the Senate of the United States is originating such a policy. It will strengthen his hopes of success by an ultimate union of all the slave States to fight such a policy to the death." It was, however, entirely evident that, in the present temper of that part of the country which was represented in Congress, there was not much use in opposing any anti-slavery measure by any kind of argument whatever; even though the special proposition might be distasteful to many Republicans, yet at last, when pressed to the issue, they all faithfully voted Yea. In this case the measure, finally so far modified as to relate only to slaves of rebel owners, was passed and was signed by the President on July 17. Nevertheless, although it thus became law, the certainty that, by taking action under it, he would alienate great numbers of loyalists in the Border States induced him to go very slowly. At first actual authority to enlist negroes was only extorted from the administration with much effort. On August 25 obstinate importunity elicited an order permitting General Saxton, at Hilton Head, to raise 5,000 black troops; but this was somewhat strangely accompanied, according to Mr. Wilson, with the suggestive remark, that it "must never see daylight, because it was so much in advance of public sentiment." After the process had been on trial for a year, however, Mr. Lincoln said that there was apparent "no loss by it in our foreign relations, none in our home popular sentiment, none in our white military force,—no loss by it anyhow or anywhere." On the other hand, it had brought a reinforcement of 130,000 soldiers, seamen, and laborers. "And now," he said, "let any Union man who complains of this measure test himself by writing down in one line that he is for subduing the rebellion by force of arms, and in the next that he is for taking these 130,000 men from the Union side, and placing them where they would be best for the measure he condemns." Yet so ineradicable was the race prejudice that it was not until the spring of 1864, after all efforts for action by Congress had failed, that the attorney-general declared black soldiers to be entitled to the same pay as white soldiers. Regarding a soldier merely as a marketable commodity, doubtless the white was worth more money; yet life was about the same to each, and it was hard to see why one should be expected to sell his life for fewer dollars than satisfied the other.

Besides these measures, Congress gave evidence of its sentiments by passing an act for appointing diplomatic representatives to Hayti and Liberia; also further evidence by passing certain legislation against the slave trade.

The recital of all these doings of the legislators sufficiently indicates the hostility of Congress towards slavery. In fact, a large majority both in the Senate and in the House had moved out against it upon nearly every practicable line to the extremity of the constitutional tether. Neither arguments, nor the entreaties of the border-state men, nor any considerations of policy, had exercised the slightest restraining influence. It is observable that this legislation did not embody that policy which Mr. Lincoln had suggested, and to which he had become strongly attached. On the contrary, Congress had done everything to irritate, where the President wished to do everything to conciliate; Congress made that compulsory which the President hoped to make voluntary. Mr. Lincoln remained in 1862, as he had been in 1858, tolerant towards the Southern men who by inheritance, tradition, and the necessity of the situation, constituted a slaveholding community. To treat slave-ownership as a crime, punishable by confiscation and ruin, seemed to him unreasonable and merciless. Neither does he seem ever to have accepted the opinion of many Abolitionists, that the negro was the equal of the white man in natural endowment. There is no reason to suppose that he did not still hold, as he had done in the days of the Douglas debates, that it was undesirable, if not impossible, that the two races should endeavor to abide together in freedom as a unified community. In the inevitable hostility and competition he clearly saw that the black man was likely to fare badly. It was by such feelings that he was led straight to the plan of compensation of owners and colonization of freedmen, and to the hope that a system of gradual emancipation, embodying these principles, might be voluntarily undertaken by the Border States under the present stress. If the executive and the legislative departments should combine upon the policy of encouraging and aiding such steps as any Border State could be induced to take in this direction, the President believed that he could much more easily extend loyalty and allegiance among the people of those States,—a matter which he valued far more highly than other persons were inclined to do. Such were his views and such his wishes. To discuss their practicability and soundness would only be to wander in the unprofitable vagueness of hypothesis, for in spite of all his efforts they were never tested by trial. It must be admitted that general opinion, both at that day and ever since, has regarded them as visionary; compensation seemed too costly, colonization probably was really impossible.

After the President had suggested his views in his message he waited patiently to see what action Congress would take concerning them. Three months elapsed and Congress took no such action. On the contrary, Congress practically repudiated them. Not only this, it was industriously putting into the shape of laws many other ideas, which were likely to prove so many embarrassments and obstructions to that policy which the President had very thoughtfully and with deep conviction marked out for himself. He determined, therefore, to present it once more, before it should be rendered forever hopeless. On March 6, 1862, he sent to Congress a special message, recommending the adoption of a joint resolution: "That the United States ought to cooperate with any State which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion, to compensate for the inconvenience, both public and private, produced by such change of system." The first paragraph in the message stated briefly the inducements to the North: "The Federal government would find its highest interest in such a measure, as one of the most efficient means of self-preservation. The leaders of the existing insurrection entertain the hope that this government will ultimately be forced to acknowledge the independence of some part of the disaffected region, and that all the slave States north of such part will then say: 'The Union for which we have struggled being already gone, we now choose to go with the Southern section.' To deprive them of this hope substantially ends the rebellion; and the initiation of Emancipation completely deprives them of it as to all the States initiating it. The point is that ... the more northern [States] shall, by such initiation, make it certain to the more southern that in no event will the former ever join the latter in their proposed Confederacy. I say 'initiation,' because in my judgment gradual and not sudden emancipation is better for all. In the mere financial or pecuniary view, any member of Congress, with the census tables and Treasury reports before him, can readily see for himself how very soon the current expenditures of this war would purchase, at fair valuation, all the slaves in any named State."

The second paragraph hinted at that which it would have been poor tact to state plainly,—the reasons which would press the Border States to accept the opportunity extended to them. "If resistance continues, the war must also continue; and it is impossible to foresee all the incidents which may attend, and all the ruin which may follow it. Such as may seem indispensable, or may obviously promise great efficiency toward ending the struggle, must and will come. The proposition now made, though an offer only, I hope it may be esteemed no offense to ask whether the pecuniary consideration tendered would not be of more value to the States and private persons concerned than are the institution and property in it, in the present aspect of affairs." The suggestion, between the lines, to the border slave-owners could not be misunderstood: that they would do better to sell their slaves now than to be deprived of them later. The President's proposition was not cordially received. Pro-slavery men regarded it as an underhand movement against the institution. Mr. Crittenden expressed confidence in the President personally, but feared that the resolution "would stir up an emancipation party" in the loyal slave States. Thus the truth was made plain that emancipation, by any process, was not desired. In a debate upon a cognate measure, another Kentuckian said that there was "no division of sentiment on this question of emancipation, whether it is to be brought about by force, by fraud, or by purchase of slaves out of the public treasury." Democrats from Northern States, natural allies of the border-state men, protested vehemently against taxing their constituents to buy slave property in other States. Many Republicans also joined the Democracy against Mr. Lincoln, and spoke even with anger and insult. Thaddeus Stevens, the fierce and formidable leader of the Radicals, gave his voice against "the most diluted milk-and-water gruel proposition that had ever been given to the American nation." Hickman of Pennsylvania, until 1860 a Democrat, but now a Republican, with the characteristic vehemence of a proselyte said: "Neither the message nor the resolution is manly and open. They are both covert and insidious. They do not become the dignity of the President of the United States. The message is not such a document as a full-grown, independent man should publish to the nation at such a time as the present, when positions should be freely and fully defined." In the Senate, Mr. Powell of Kentucky translated the second paragraph into blunt words. He said that it held a threat of ultimate coercion, if the cooperative plan should fail; and he regarded "the whole thing" as "a pill of arsenic, sugar-coated."

But, though so many insisted upon uttering their fleers in debate, yet, when it came to voting, they could not well discredit their President by voting down the resolution on the sole ground that it was foolish and ineffectual. So, after it had been abused sufficiently, it was passed by about the usual party majority: 89 to 34 in the House; 32 to 10 in the Senate. Thus Congress somewhat sneeringly handed back to the President his bantling, with free leave to do what he could with it.

Not discouraged by such grudging and unsympathetic permission, Mr. Lincoln at once set about his experiment. He told Lovejoy and Arnold, strenuous Abolitionists, but none the less his near friends, that they would live to see the end of slavery, if only the Border States would cooperate in his project. On March 10, 1862, he gathered some of the border-state members and tried to win them over to his views. They listened coldly; but he was not dismayed by their demeanor, and on July 12 he again convened them, and this time laid before them a written statement. This paper betrays by its earnestness of argument and its almost beseeching tone that he wrote it from his heart. The reasons which he urged were as follows:—

"Believing that you of the Border States hold more power for good than any other equal number of members, I felt it a duty which I cannot justifiably waive to make this appeal to you.

"I intend no reproach or complaint when I assure you that, in my opinion, if you all had voted for the resolution in the gradual emancipation message of last March, the war would now be substantially ended.

"And the plan therein proposed is yet one of the most potent and swift means of ending it. Let the States which are in rebellion see definitely and certainly that in no event will the States you represent ever join their proposed Confederacy, and they cannot much longer maintain the contest. But you cannot divest them of their hope to ultimately have you with them as long as you show a determination to perpetuate the institution within your own States; beat them at election as you have overwhelmingly done, and, nothing daunted, they still claim you as their own. You and I know what the lever of their power is. Break that lever before their faces, and they can shake you no more forever. Most of you have treated me with kindness and consideration; and I trust you will not now think I improperly touch what is exclusively your own, when, for the sake of the whole country, I ask: can you, for your States, do better than to take the course I urge? Discarding punctilio and maxims adapted to more manageable times, and looking only to the unprecedentedly stern facts of our case, can you do better in any possible event? You prefer that the constitutional relation of the States to the nation shall be practically restored without disturbance of the institution; and if this were done, my whole duty in this respect under the Constitution and my oath of office would be performed. But it is not done, and we are trying to accomplish it by war.

"The incidents of the war cannot be avoided. If the war continues long, as it must if the object be not sooner attained, the institution in your States will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion,—by the mere incidents of the war. It will be gone, and you will have nothing valuable in lieu of it. Much of its value is gone already. How much better for you and your people to take the step which at once shortens the war, and secures substantial compensation for that which is sure to be wholly lost in any other event. How much better to thus save the money which else we sink forever in the war. How much better to do it while we can, lest the war erelong render us pecuniarily unable to do it. How much better for you, as seller, and the nation, as buyer, to sell out and buy out that without which the war never could have been, than to sink both the thing to be sold and the price of it in cutting one another's throats. I do not speak of emancipation at once, but of a decision at once to emancipate gradually."

He closed with an ardent appeal to his hearers, as "patriots and statesmen," to consider his proposition, invoking them thereto as they "would perpetuate popular government for the best people in the world."

Thirty gentlemen listened to this paper and took two days to consider it. Then twenty of them signed a response which was, in substance, their repudiation of the President's scheme. They told him that hitherto they had been loyal "under the most discouraging circumstances and in face of measures most distasteful to them and injurious to the interests they represented, and in the hearing of doctrines, avowed by those who claimed to be his friends, most abhorrent to themselves and their constituents." They objected that the measure involved "interference with what exclusively belonged to the States;" that perhaps it was unconstitutional; that it would involve an "immense outlay," beyond what the finances could bear; that it was "the annunciation of a sentiment" rather than a "tangible proposition;" they added that the sole purpose of the war must be "restoring the Constitution to its legitimate authority." Seven others of the President's auditors said politely, but very vaguely, that they would "ask the people of the Border States calmly, deliberately, and fairly to consider his recommendations." Maynard, of the House, and Henderson, of the Senate, alone expressed their personal approval.

Even this did not drive all hope out of Mr. Lincoln's heart. His proclamation, rescinding that order of General Hunter which purported to free slaves in certain States, was issued on May 19. In it he said that the resolution, which had been passed at his request, "now stands an authentic, definite, and solemn proposal of the nation to the States and people most interested in the subject-matter. To the people of these States I now earnestly appeal. I do not argue; I beseech you to make the arguments for yourselves. You cannot, if you would, be blind to the signs of the times. I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partisan politics. This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any. It acts not the Pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews from Heaven, not rending or wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done by one effort in all past time as in the providence of God it is now your high privilege to do. May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it!"

This eloquent and beautiful appeal sounds deeply moving in the ears of those who read it in these days, so remote from the passions and prejudices of a generation ago; but it stirred little responsive feeling and no responsive action in 1862. In fact, the scheme was not practicable.

It may be—it probably must be—believed that compensated emancipation and colonization could never have been carried out even if Northern Republicans had been willing to pay the price and Southern slave-owners had been willing to accept it, and if both had then cordially united in the task of deporting the troublesome negro from the country. The vast project was undoubtedly visionary; it was to be criticised, weighed, and considered largely as a business enterprise, and as such it must be condemned. But Mr. Lincoln, who had no capacity for business, was never able to get at this point of view, and regarded his favorite plan strictly in political and humanitarian lights. Yet even thus the general opinion has been that the unfortunate negroes, finding themselves amid the hard facts which must inevitably have attended colonization, would have heartily regretted the lost condition of servitude. Historically the merits of the experiment, which the Southern Unionists declined to have put to the test of trial, are of no consequence; it is only as the scheme throws light upon the magnanimity of Mr. Lincoln's temperament and upon certain limitations of his intellect, that the subject is interesting. That he should rid himself of personal vindictiveness and should cherish an honest and intense desire to see the question, which had severed the country, disposed of by a process which would make possible a sincere and cordial reunion, may be only moderately surprising; but it is most surprising to note the depth and earnestness of his faith that this condition could really be reached, and that it could be reached by the road which he had marked out. This confidence indicated an opinion of human nature much higher than human nature has yet appeared entitled to. It also anticipated on the part of the Southerners an appreciation of the facts of the case which few among them were sufficiently clear-minded to furnish. It is curious to observe that Lincoln saw the present situation and foresaw the coming situation with perfect clearness, at the same time that he was entirely unable to see the uselessness of his panacea; whereas, on the other hand, those who rejected his impracticable plan remained entirely blind to those things which he saw. It seems an odd combination of traits that he always recognized and accepted a fact, and yet was capable of being wholly impractical.

In connection with these efforts in behalf of the slaveholders, which show at least a singular goodness of heart towards persons who had done everything to excite even a sense of personal hatred, it may not be seriously out of place to quote a paragraph which does not, indeed, bear upon slavery, but which does illustrate the remarkable temper which Mr. Lincoln maintained towards the seceding communities. In December, 1861, in his annual message to this Congress, whose searching anti-slavery measures have just been discussed, he said:—

"There are three vacancies on the bench of the Supreme Court.... I have so far forborne making nominations to fill these vacancies for reasons which I will now state. Two of the outgoing judges resided within the States now overrun by revolt; so that if successors were appointed in the same localities, they could not now serve upon their circuits; and many of the most competent men there probably would not take the personal hazard of accepting to serve, even here, upon the Supreme Bench. I have been unwilling to throw all the appointments northward, thus disabling myself from doing justice to the South on the return of peace; although I may remark that to transfer to the North one which has heretofore been in the South would not, with reference to territory and population, be unjust."[3] To comment upon behavior and motives so extraordinary is, perhaps, as needless as it is tempting.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Also in the House Thaddeus Stevens and Lovejoy, and in the Senate Sumner, did not vote.

[2] Lincoln's intimate personal and political friend, and afterward his biographer.

[3] Annual Message to Congress, December, 1861.



CHAPTER II

THE SECOND ACT OF THE MCCLELLAN DRAMA

It is time now to return to the theatre of war in Virginia, where, it will be remembered, we left the Confederate forces in the act of rapidly withdrawing southward from the line of intrenchments which they had so long held at Manassas. This unexpected backward movement upon their part deprived the Urbana route, which McClellan had hitherto so strenuously advocated, of its chief strategic advantages, and therefore reopened the old question which had been discussed between him and Mr. Lincoln. To the civilian mind a movement after the retreating enemy along the direct line to Richmond, now more than ever before, seemed the natural scheme. But to this McClellan still remained unalterably opposed. In the letter of February 3 he had said: "The worst coming to the worst, we can take Fort Monroe as a base and operate with complete security, although with less celerity and brilliancy of results, up the Peninsula." This route, low as he had then placed it in order of desirability, he now adopted as the best resource, or rather as the only measure; and his judgment was ratified upon March 13 by unanimous approval on the part of his four corps commanders. They however made their approval dependent upon conditions, among which were: that, before beginning the advance along this line, the new rebel ram Merrimac (or Virginia), just finished at Norfolk on the James River, should be neutralized, and that a naval auxiliary force should silence, or be ready to aid in silencing, the rebel batteries on the York River. In fact, and very unfortunately, the former of these conditions was not fulfilled until the time of its usefulness for this specific purpose was over, and the latter condition was entirely neglected. It was also distinctly stipulated that "the force to be left to cover Washington shall be such as to give an entire feeling of security for its safety from menace." Keyes, Heintzelman and McDowell conceived "that, with the forts on the right bank of the Potomac fully garrisoned, and those on the left bank occupied, a covering force, in front of the Virginia line, of 25,000 men would suffice." Sumner said: "A total of 40,000 for the defense of the city would suffice."[4] On the same day Stanton informed McClellan that the President "made no objection" to this plan, but directed that a sufficient force should be left to hold Manassas Junction and to make Washington "entirely secure." The closing sentence was: "At all events, move ... at once in pursuit of the enemy by some route." Thus at last two important facts were established: that the route up the Peninsula should be tried; and that the patience of the administration was exhausted.

Though the enemy upon his retreat was burning bridges and destroying railroads behind him, and making his possible return towards Washington a slow, difficult process, which he obviously had no mind to undertake, still this security of the capital rested as weightily as ever upon Lincoln's mind. His reiteration and insistence concerning it made perfectly plain that he was still nervous and disquieted about it, though now certainly with much less reason than heretofore. But with or against reason, it was easy to see that he was far from resting in the tranquillity of conviction that Washington could never be so safe as when the army of Virginia was far away upon the Peninsula. Nevertheless, after the condition in its foregoing shape had been so strenuously imposed by Mr. Lincoln and tacitly accepted by McClellan, the matter was left as if definitely settled; and the President never demanded[5] from the general any distinct statement concerning the numerical or specific allotment of the available forces between the two purposes. The neglect was disastrous in its consequences; and must also be pronounced both blameworthy and inexplicable, for the necessity of a plain understanding on the subject was obvious.

The facts seem to be briefly these: in his letter of February 3, McClellan estimated the force necessary to be taken with him for his campaign at 110,000 to 140,000 men, and said: "I hope to use the latter number by bringing fresh troops into Washington." On April 1 he reported[6] the forces left behind him as follows:—

At Warrenton, there is to be 7,780 men At Manassas, there is to be 10,859 men In the Valley of the Shenandoah 35,467 men On the Lower Potomac 1,350 men ————————————————————————- In all 55,456 men

He adds: "There will thus be left for the garrisons, and the front of Washington, under General Wadsworth, 18,000 men, exclusive of the batteries under instruction." New levies, nearly 4,000 strong, were also expected. He considered all these men as properly available "for the defense of the national capital and its approaches." The President, the politicians, and some military men were of opinion that only the 18,000 ought to be considered available for the capital. It was a question whether it was proper to count the corps of Banks in the Shenandoah Valley. McClellan's theory was that the rebels, by the circumstances attendant upon their present retreating movement, had conclusively annulled any chance of their own return by way of Manassas. Banks greatly outnumbered Stonewall Jackson, who had only about 15,000 men, or less, in the Shenandoah Valley. Also Washington was now entirely surrounded by satisfactory fortifications. McClellan, therefore, was entirely confident that he left everything in good shape behind him. In fact, it was put into even better shape than he had designed; for on March 31 the President took from him Blenker's division of 10,000 men in order to strengthen Fremont, who was in the mountain region westward of the Shenandoah Valley. "I did so," wrote Mr. Lincoln, "with great pain.... If you could know the full pressure of the case, I am confident that you would justify it." It was unfortunate that the President could not stand against this "pressure," which was not military, but political. Fremont could do, and did, nothing at all, and to reinforce him was sheer absurdity.[7] Against it McClellan protested almost indignantly, but was "partially relieved by the President's positive and emphatic assurance" that no more troops "should in any event be taken from" him, or "in any way detached from [his] command."

Orders had been issued on February 27, to Mr. Tucker, assistant secretary of war, to prepare means of transporting down the Potomac, troops, munitions, artillery, horses, wagons, food, and all the vast paraphernalia of a large army. He showed a masterly vigor in this difficult task, and by March 17 the embarkation began. On April 2 McClellan arrived at Fortress Monroe. On the very next day he was disturbed by the revocation of the orders which had left him in command of that place and had allowed him to "draw from the troops under General Wool a division of about 10,000 men, which was to be assigned to the First Corps." Another and a serious disappointment also occurred at once; he found that the navy could not be utilized for assisting in an attack on Yorktown, or for running by it so as to land forces in rear of it. He must therefore depend wholly upon his army to force a way up the Peninsula. This he had stated to be an unsatisfactory alternative, because it involved delay at Yorktown. Nevertheless, having no choice, he began his advance on April 4. He had with him only 58,000 men; but more were on the way, and McDowell's corps was to be brought forward to join him as rapidly as transportation would permit. His total nominal force was smaller than the minimum which, on February 3, he had named as necessary; yet it was a fine body of troops, and he had lately said to them: "The army of the Potomac is now a real army, magnificent in material, admirable in discipline, excellently equipped and armed. Your commanders are all that I could wish."

In two days he was before the fortifications which the rebels had erected at Yorktown, and which stretched thence across the Peninsula to the James River. He estimated the force behind these intrenchments, commanded by General Magruder, at 15,000 to 20,000 men, easily to be reinforced; in fact, it was much less. Thereupon, he set about elaborate preparations for a siege of that city, according to the most thorough and approved system of military science. He was afterward severely blamed for not endeavoring to force his way through some point in the rebel lines by a series of assaults.[8] This was what Mr. Lincoln wished him to do, and very nearly ordered him to do; for on April 6 he sent this telegram: "You now have over 100,000 troops with you.... I think you better break the enemy's line from Yorktown to Warwick River at once." An entry in McClellan's "Own Story," under date of April 8, comments upon this message and illustrates the unfortunate feeling of the writer towards his official superior: "I have raised an awful row about McDowell's corps. The President very coolly telegraphed me yesterday that he thought I had better break the enemy's lines at once! I was much tempted to reply that he had better come and do it himself." Thus is made evident the lamentable relationship between the President, who could place no confidence in the enterprise and judgment of the military commander, and the general, who had only sneers for the President's incapacity to comprehend warfare. It so happened, however, that the professional man's sarcasm was grossly out of place, and the civilian's proposal was shrewdly right, as events soon plainly proved. In fact what Mr. Lincoln urged was precisely what General Johnston anticipated and feared would be done, because he knew well that if it were done it would be of fatal effect against the Confederates. But, on the other hand, even after the clear proof had gone against him, McClellan was abundantly supplied with excuses, and the vexation of the whole affair was made the greater by the fact that these excuses really seemed to be good. His excuses always were both so numerous and so satisfactory, that many reasonably minded persons knew not whether they had a right to feel so angry towards him as they certainly could not help doing. The present instance was directly in point. General Keyes reported to him that no part of the enemy's line could "be taken by assault without an enormous waste of life;" and General Barnard, chief engineer of the army, thought it uncertain whether they could be carried at all. Loss of life and uncertainty of result were two things so abhorred by McClellan in warfare, that he now failed to give due weight to the consideration that the design of the Confederates in interposing an obstacle at this point was solely to delay him as much as possible, whereas much of the merit of his own plan of campaign lay in rapid execution at the outset. The result was, of course, that he did not break any line, nor try to, but instead thereof "presented plausible reasons" out of his inexhaustible reservoir of such commodities. It was unfortunate that the naval cooeperation, which McClellan had expected,[9] could not be had at this juncture; for by it the Yorktown problem would have been easily solved without either line-breaking or reason-giving.

Precisely at this point came into operation the fatal effect of the lack of understanding between the President and the general as to the division of the forces. In the plan of campaign, it had been designed to throw the corps of McDowell into the rear of Yorktown by such route as should seem expedient at the time of its arrival, probably landing it at Gloucester and moving it round by West Point. This would have made Magruder's position untenable at once, long before the natural end of the siege. But at the very moment when McClellan's left, in its advance, first came into actual collision with the enemy, he received news that the President had ordered McDowell to retain his division before Washington—"the most infamous thing that history has recorded," he afterward wrote.[10] Yet the explanation of this surprising news was so simple that surprise was unjustifiable. On April 2, immediately after McClellan's departure, the President inquired as to what had been done for the security of Washington. General Wadsworth, commanding the defenses of the city, gave an alarming response: 19,000 or 20,000 entirely green troops, and a woeful insufficiency of artillery. He said that while it was "very improbable" that the enemy would attack Washington, nevertheless the "numerical strength and the character" of his forces rendered them "entirely inadequate to and unfit for their important duty." Generals Hitchcock and Thomas corroborated this by reporting that the order to leave the city "entirely secure" had "not been fully complied with." Mr. Lincoln was horror-struck. He had a right to be indignant, for those who ought to know assured him that his reiterated and most emphatic command had been disobeyed, and that what he chiefly cared to make safe had not been made safe. He promptly determined to retain McDowell, and the order was issued on April 4. Thereby he seriously attenuated, if he did not quite annihilate, the prospect of success for McClellan's campaign. It seems incredible and unexplainable that amid this condition of things, on April 3, an order was issued from the office of the secretary of war, to stop recruiting throughout the country!

This series of diminutions, says McClellan, had "removed nearly 60,000 men from my command, and reduced my force by more than one third.... The blow was most discouraging. It frustrated all my plans for impending operations. It fell when I was too deeply committed to withdraw.... It was a fatal error."

Error or not, it was precisely what McClellan ought to have foreseen as likely to occur. He had not foreseen it, however, and nothing mitigated the disappointment. Unquestionably the act was of supreme gravity. Was Mr. Lincoln right or wrong in doing it? The question has been answered many times both Yea and Nay, and each side has been maintained with intense acrimony and perfect good faith. It is not likely that it will ever be possible to say either that the Yeas have it, or that the Nays have it.[11] For while it is certain that what actually did happen coincided very accurately with McClellan's expectations; on the other hand, it can never be known what might have happened if Lincoln had not held McDowell, and if, therefore, facts had not been what they were.

So far as Mr. Lincoln is concerned, the question, what military judgment was correct,—that is, whether the capital really was, or was not, absolutely secure,—is of secondary consequence. The valuation which he set on that safety was undeniably correct; it certainly was of more importance than McClellan's success. If he had made a mistake in letting McClellan go without a more distinct understanding, at least that mistake was behind him. Before him was the issue whether he should rest satisfied with the deliberate judgment given by McClellan, or whether, at considerable cost to the cause, he should make the assurance greater out of deference to other advice. He chose the latter course. In so doing, if he was not vacillating, he was at least incurring the evils of vacillation. It would have been well if he could have found some quarter in which permanently to repose his implicit faith, so that one consistent plan could have been carried out without interference. Either he had placed too much confidence in McClellan in the past, or he was placing too little in him now. If he could not accept McClellan's opinion as to the safety of Washington, in preference to that of Wadsworth, Thomas, and Hitchcock, then he should have removed McClellan, and replaced him with some one in whom he had sufficient confidence to make smooth cooeperation a possibility. The present condition of things was illogical and dangerous. Matters had been allowed to reach a very advanced stage upon the theory that McClellan's judgment was trustworthy; then suddenly the stress became more severe, and it seemed that in the bottom of his mind the President did not thus implicitly respect the general's wisdom. Yet he did not displace him, but only opened his ears to other counsels; whereupon the buzz of contradictory, excited, and alarming suggestions which came to him were more than enough to unsettle any human judgment. General Webb speaks well and with authority to this matter: "The dilemma lay here,—whose plans and advice should he follow, where it was necessary for him to approve and decide?... Should he lean implicitly on the general actually in command of the armies, placed there by virtue of his presumed fitness for the position, or upon other selected advisers? We are bold to say that it was doubt and hesitation upon this point that occasioned many of the blunders of the campaign. Instead of one mind, there were many minds influencing the management of military affairs." A familiar culinary proverb was receiving costly illustration.

But, setting the dispute aside, an important fact remains: shorn as he was, McClellan was still strong enough to meet and to defeat his opponents. If he had been one of the great generals of the world he would have been in Richmond before May Day; but he was at his old trick of exaggerating the hostile forces and the difficulties in his way. On April 7 he thought that Johnston and the whole Confederate army were at Yorktown; whereas Johnston's advance division arrived there on the 10th; the other divisions came several days later, and Johnston himself arrived only on the 14th.

On April 9 Mr. Lincoln presented his own view of the situation in this letter to the general:—

"Your dispatches complaining that you are not properly sustained, while they do not offend me, do pain me very much.

... "After you left I ascertained that less than 20,000 unorganized men, without a single field battery, were all you designed to be left for the defense of Washington and Manassas Junction, and part of this even was to go to General Hooker's old position. General Banks's corps, once designed for Manassas Junction, was diverted and tied up on the line of Winchester and Strasburg, and could not leave it without again exposing the upper Potomac and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. This presented, or would present, when McDowell and Sumner should be gone, a great temptation to the enemy to turn back from the Rappahannock and sack Washington. My implicit order that Washington should, by the judgment of all the commanders of army corps, be left entirely secure, had been neglected. It was precisely this that drove me to detain McDowell.

"I do not forget that I was satisfied with your arrangement to leave Banks at Manassas Junction; but when that arrangement was broken up, and nothing was substituted for it, of course I was constrained to substitute something for it myself. And allow me to ask, do you really think I should permit the line from Richmond, via Manassas Junction, to this city, to be entirely open, except what resistance could be presented by less than 20,000 unorganized troops? This is a question which the country will not allow me to evade.

"There is a curious mystery about the number of troops now with you. When I telegraphed you on the 6th, saying you had over a hundred thousand with you, I had just obtained from the secretary of war a statement taken, as he said, from your own returns, making 108,000 then with you and en route to you. You now say you will have but 85,000 when all en route to you shall have reached you. How can the discrepancy of 23,000 be accounted for?

"As to General Wool's command,[12] I understand it is doing for you precisely what a like number of your own would have to do if that command was away.

"I suppose the whole force which has gone forward for you is with you by this time. And if so, I think it is the precise time for you to strike a blow. By delay the enemy will relatively gain upon you,—that is, he will gain faster by fortifications and reinforcements than you can by reinforcements alone. And once more let me tell you, it is indispensable to you that you strike a blow. I am powerless to help this. You will do me the justice to remember I always insisted that going down the bay in search of a field, instead of fighting at or near Manassas, was only shifting, and not surmounting, a difficulty; that we would find the same enemy, and the same or equal intrenchments, at either place. The country will not fail to note, is now noting, that the present hesitation to move upon an intrenched enemy is but the story of Manassas repeated.

"I beg to assure you that I have never written you or spoken to you in greater kindness of feeling than now, nor with a fuller purpose to sustain you, so far as, in my most anxious judgment, I consistently can. But you must act."

McClellan, in consternation and almost despair at the repeated pruning of his force, now begged for at least a part of McDowell's corps, which, he said on April 10, was "indispensable;" "the fate of our cause depends upon it." Accordingly Franklin's division was sent to him; and then, after all this palaver, he kept it a fortnight on shipboard, until Yorktown was evacuated!

On May 1 the President, tortured by the political gadflies in Washington, and suffering painfully from the weariness of hope so long deferred, telegraphed: "Is anything to be done?" A pitiful time of it Mr. Lincoln was having, and it called for a patient fortitude surpassing imagination. Yet one little bit of fruit was at this moment ripe for the plucking! After about four weeks of wearisome labor the general had brought matters to that condition which was so grateful to his cautious soul. At the beginning of May he had reduced success to a certainty, so that he expected to open fire on May 5, and to make short work of the rebel stronghold. But it so happened that another soldier also had at the same time finished his task. General Magruder had delayed the Union army to the latest possible hour, he had saved a whole valuable month; and now, quite cheerfully and triumphantly, in the night betwixt May 3 and May 4, he quietly slipped away. As it had happened at Manassas, so now again the Federals marched unopposed into deserted intrenchments; and a second time the enemy had so managed it that their retreat seemed rather to cast a slur upon Union strategy than to bring prestige to the Union arms.

McClellan at once continued his advance, with more or less fighting, the rebels steadily drawing back without offering battle on a large scale, though there was a sharp engagement at Williamsburg. He had not even the smaller number of men which he had originally named as his requirement, and he continued pertinaciously to demand liberal reinforcements. The President, grievously harassed by these importunate appeals, declared to McClellan that he was forwarding every man that he could, while to friends nearer at hand he complained that sending troops to McClellan was like shoveling fleas across a barnyard; most of them didn't get there! At last he made up his mind to send the remainder of McDowell's corps; not because he had changed his mind about covering Washington, but because the situation had become such that he expected to arrange this matter by other resources.

The fight at Williamsburg took place on May 5. McClellan pushed after the retiring enemy, too slowly, as his detractors said, yet by roads which really were made almost impassable by heavy rains. Two days later, May 7, Franklin's force disembarked and occupied West Point. This advance up the Peninsula now produced one important result which had been predicted by McClellan in his letter of February 3. On May 8 news came that the Confederates were evacuating Norfolk, and two days later a Union force marched into the place. The rebels lost many heavy guns, besides all the advantages of the navy yard with its workshops and stores; moreover, their awe-inspiring ram, the Merrimac, alias the Virginia, was obliged to leave this comfortable nestling-place, whence she had long watched and closed the entrance to the James River. Her commander, Tatnall, would have taken her up that stream, but the pilots declared it not possible to float her over the shoals. She was therefore abandoned and set on fire; and early in the morning of May 11 she blew up, leaving the southern water-way to Richmond open to the Union fleet.[13] It was a point of immense possible advantage. Later McClellan intimated that, if he had been left free to act upon his own judgment, he would probably have availed himself of this route; and some writers, with predilections in his favor, have assumed that he was prevented from doing so by certain orders, soon to be mentioned, which directed him to keep the northerly route for the purpose of effecting a junction with McDowell. But this notion seems incorrect; for though he doubtless had the James River route under consideration, yet dates are against the theory that he wished to adopt it when at last it lay open. On the contrary, he continued his advance precisely as before. On May 16 his leading columns reached White House; headquarters were established there, and steps were immediately taken to utilize it as a depot and base of supplies. The York River route was thus made the definitive choice. Also the advance divisions were immediately pushed out along the York River and Richmond Railroad, which they repaired as they went. On May 20 Casey's division actually crossed the Chickahominy at Bottom's Bridge, and the next day a large part of the army was in position upon the north bank of that stream. Obviously these operations, each and all, ruled out the James River route, at least as a part of the present plan. Yet it was not until they were well under way, viz., on May 18, that the intelligence reached McClellan, on the strength of which he and others afterward assumed that he had been deprived of the power to select the James River route. What this intelligence was and how it came to pass must now be narrated.

By this time, the advance along the Peninsula had so completely "relieved the front of Washington from pressure," that Mr. Lincoln and his advisers, reassured as to the safety of that city, now saw their way clear to make McDowell's corps, strengthened to a force of 41,000 men, contribute actively to McClellan's assistance. They could not, indeed, bring themselves to move it by water, as McClellan desired; but the President ordered McDowell to move down from Fredericksburg, where he now lay, towards McClellan's right wing, which McClellan was ordered to extend to the north of Richmond in order to meet him. But, in the words of the Comte de Paris, "an absurd restriction revealed the old mistrusts and fears." For McDowell was strictly ordered not to uncover the capital; also, with a decisive emphasis indicative of an uneasy suspicion, McClellan was forbidden to dispose of McDowell's force in contravention of this still primary purpose. Whether McDowell was under McClellan's control, or retained an independent command, was left curiously vague, until McClellan forced a distinct understanding.

Although McClellan, writing to Lincoln, condemned rather sharply the method selected for giving to him the aid so long implored, yet he felt that, even as it came to him, he could make it serve his turn. Though he grumbled at the President's unmilitary ways, he afterward admitted that the "cheering news" made him "confident" of being "sufficiently strong to overpower the large army confronting" him. There was no doubt of it. He immediately extended his right wing; May 24, he drove the Confederates out of Mechanicsville; May 26, General Porter took position at Hanover Junction only fifteen miles from McDowell's head of column, which had advanced eight miles out of Fredericksburg. The situation was not unpromising; but unfortunately that little interval of fifteen miles was never to be closed up.

May 24, Mr. Lincoln wrote to McClellan, and after suggesting sundry advisable movements, he said: "McDowell and Shields[14] both say they can, and positively will, move Monday morning." Monday was the 26th. In point of fact, McDowell, feeling time to be of great value, urged the President to let him move on the morning of Sunday, the 25th; but Mr. Lincoln positively refused; the battle of Bull Run had been fought on a Sunday, and he dreaded the omen.[15] This feeling which he had about days was often illustrated, and probably the reader has observed that he seemed to like dates already marked by prestige or good luck; thus he had convened Congress for July 4, and had ordered the general advance of the armies for February 22; it was an indication of the curious thread of superstition which ran through his strange nature,—a remnant of his youth and the mysterious influence of the wilderness. But worse than a superstitious postponement arrived before nightfall on Saturday. A dispatch from Lincoln to McClellan, dated at four o'clock that afternoon, said: "In consequence of General Banks's critical position, I have been compelled to suspend General McDowell's movements to join you. The enemy are making a desperate push upon Harper's Ferry, and we are trying to throw General Fremont's force and part of General McDowell's in their rear." The brief words conveyed momentous intelligence. It is necessary to admit that Mr. Lincoln was making his one grand blunder, for which there is not even the scant salvation of possible doubt. All that can be said in palliation is, that he was governed, or at least strongly impelled, by the urgent advice of the secretary of war, whose hasty telegrams to the governors of several States show that he was terror-stricken and had lost his head. Mr. Blaine truly says that McDowell, thus suddenly dispatched by Mr. Lincoln upon a "fruitless chase," "was doing precisely what the President of the Confederate States would have ordered, had he been able to issue the orders of the President of the United States." There is no way to mitigate the painful truth of this statement, made by a civilian, but amply sustained by the military authorities on both sides.[16]

The condition was this. The retention of McDowell's corps before Washington published the anxiety of the administration. The Confederate advantage lay in keeping that anxiety alive and continuing to neutralize that large body of troops. Strategists far less able than the Southern generals could not have missed so obvious a point, neither could they have missed the equally obvious means at their disposal for achieving these purposes. At the upper end of the valley of the Shenandoah Stonewall Jackson had an army, raised by recent accretions to nearly or quite 15,000 men. The Northern generals erelong learned to prognosticate Jackson's movements by the simple rule that at the time when he was least expected, and at the place where he was least wanted, he was sure to turn up.[17] The suddenness and speed with which he could move a body of troops seemed marvelous to ordinary men. His business now was to make a vigorous dashing foray down the valley. To the westward, Fremont lay in the mountains, with an army which checked no enemy and for the existence of which in that place no reasonable explanation could be given. In front was Banks, with a force lately reduced to about 5,000 men. May 14, Banks prudently fell back and took position in Strasburg.[18] Suddenly, on May 23, Jackson appeared at Front Royal; on the next day he attacked Banks at Winchester, and of course defeated him; on the 25th Banks made a rapid retreat to the Potomac, and Jackson made an equally rapid pursuit to Halltown, within two miles of Harper's Ferry. The news of this startling foray threw the civilians of Washington into a genuine panic, by which Mr. Lincoln was, at least for a few hours, not altogether unaffected.[19] Yet, though startled and alarmed, he showed the excellent quality of promptitude in decision and action; and truly it was hard fortune that his decision and his action were both for the worst. He at once ordered McDowell to move 20,000 troops into the Shenandoah Valley, and instructed Fremont also to move his force rapidly into the valley, with the design that the two should thus catch Jackson in what Mr. Lincoln described as a "trap."[20] McDowell was dismayed at such an order. He saw, what every man having any military knowledge at once recognized with entire certainty, and what every military writer has since corroborated, that the movement of Jackson had no value except as a diversion, that it threatened no serious danger, and that to call off McDowell's corps from marching to join McClellan in order to send it against Jackson was to do exactly that thing which the Confederates desired to have done, though they could hardly have been sanguine enough to expect it. It was swallowing a bait so plain that it might almost be said to be labeled. For a general to come under the suspicion of not seeing through such a ruse was humiliating. In vain McDowell explained, protested, and entreated with the utmost vehemence and insistence. When Mr. Lincoln had made up his mind, no man could change it, and here, as ill fortune would have it, he had made it up. So, with a heavy heart, the reluctant McDowell set forth on his foolish errand, and Fremont likewise came upon his,—though it is true that he was better employed thus than in doing nothing,—and Jackson, highly pleased, and calculating his time to a nicety, on May 31 slipped rapidly between the two Union generals,—the closing jaws of Mr. Lincoln's "trap,"—and left them to close upon nothing.[21] Then he led his pursuers a fruitless chase towards the head of the valley, continuing to neutralize a force many times larger than his own, and which could and ought to have been at this very time doing fatal work against the Confederacy. Presumably he had saved Richmond, and therewith also, not impossibly, the chief army of the South. The chagrin of the Union commanders, who had in vain explained the situation with entire accuracy, taxes the imagination.

There is no use in denying a truth which can be proved. The blunder of Mr. Lincoln is not only undeniable, but it is inexcusable. Possibly for a few hours he feared that Washington was threatened. He telegraphed to McClellan May 25, at two o'clock P.M., that he thought the movement down the valley a "general and concerted one," inconsistent with "the purpose of a very desperate defense of Richmond;" and added, "I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond, or give up the job and come to the defense of Washington." How reasonable this view was at the moment is of little consequence, for within a few hours afterward the character of Jackson's enterprise as a mere foray became too palpable to be mistaken. Nevertheless, after the President was relieved from such fear for the capital as he might excusably have felt for a very brief period, his cool judgment seemed for once in his life, perhaps for the only time, to be disturbed. The truth is that Mr. Lincoln was a sure and safe, almost an infallible thinker, when he had time given him; but he was not always a quick thinker, and on this occasion he was driven to think quickly. In consequence he not only erred in repudiating the opinions of the best military advisers, but even upon the basis of his own views he made a mistake. The very fact that he was so energetic in the endeavor to "trap" Jackson in retreat indicates his understanding of the truth that Jackson had so small a force that his prompt retreat was a necessity. This being so, he was in the distinct and simple position of making a choice between two alternatives, viz.: either to endeavor to catch Jackson, and for this object to withhold what was needed by and had been promised to McClellan for his campaign against Richmond; or, leaving Jackson to escape with impunity, to pursue with steadiness that plan which it was Jackson's important and perfectly understood errand to interrupt. It is almost incredible that he chose wrong. The statement of the dilemma involved the decision. Yet he took the little purpose and let the great one go. Nor even thus did he gain this lesser purpose. He had been warned by McDowell that Jackson could not be caught, and he was not. Yet even had this been otherwise, the Northerners would have got little more than the shell while losing the kernel. Probably Richmond, and possibly the Southern army, fell out of the President's hand while he tried without success to close it upon Jackson and 15,000 men.

The result of this civilian strategy was that McClellan, with his projects shattered, was left with his right wing and rear dangerously exposed. Jackson remained for a while a mysterious bete noire, about whose force, whereabouts, and intentions many disturbing rumors flew abroad; at last, on June 26, he settled these doubts in his usual sharp and conclusive way by assailing the exposed right wing and threatening the rear of the Union army, thus achieving "the brilliant conclusion of the operations which [he] had so successfully conducted in the Valley of Virginia."

Simultaneously with the slipping of Jackson betwixt his two pursuers on May 31, General Johnston made an attack upon the two corps[22] which lay south of the Chickahominy, in position about Seven Pines and Fair Oaks. Battle was waged during two days. Each side claimed a victory; the Southerners because they had inflicted the heavier loss, the Northerners because ultimately they held their original lines and foiled Johnston's design of defeating and destroying the Northern army in detail. The result of this battle ought to have proved to McClellan two facts: that neither in discipline nor in any other respect were the Southern troops more formidable than his own; also that the Southerners were clearly not able to overwhelm him with such superior numbers as he had supposed; for in two days they had not been able to overwhelm much less than half of his army. These considerations should have encouraged him to energetic measures. But no encouragement could counteract the discouragement inflicted by the loss of McDowell's powerful corps and the consequent wrecking of his latest plan. Nearly to the end of June he lay immovable. "June 14, midnight. All quiet in every direction,"—thus he telegraphed to Stanton in words intended to be reassuring, but in fact infinitely vexatious. Was he, then, set at the head of this great and costly host of the nation's best, to rest satisfied with preserving an eternal quietude,—like a chief of police in a disorderly quarter? Still he was indefatigable in declaring himself outnumbered, and in demanding more troops; in return he got assurances, with only the slight fulfillment of McCall's division. Every two or three days he cheeringly announced to the administration that he was on the verge of advancing, but he never passed over the verge. Throughout a season in which blundering seemed to become epidemic, no blunder was greater than his quiescence at this time.[23] As if to emphasize it, about the middle of June General Stuart, with a body of Confederate cavalry, actually rode all around the Union army, making the complete circuit and crossing its line of communication with White House without interruption. The foray achieved little, but it wore the aspect of a signal and unavenged insult.

In Washington the only powerful backing upon which McClellan could still rely was that of the President, and he was surely wearing away the patience of his only friend by the irritating attrition of promises ever reiterated and never redeemed. No man ever kept his own counsel more closely than did Mr. Lincoln, and the indications of his innermost sentiments concerning McClellan at this time are rare. But perhaps a little ray is let in, as through a cranny, by a dispatch which he sent to the general on June 2: "With these continuous rains I am very anxious about the Chickahominy,—so close in your rear, and crossing your line of communication. Please look to it." This curt prompting on so obvious a point was a plain insinuation against McClellan's military competence, and suggests that ceaseless harassment had at last got the better of Lincoln's usually imperturbable self-possession; for it lacked little of being an insult, and Mr. Lincoln, in all his life, never insulted any man. As a spot upon a white cloth sets off the general whiteness, so this dispatch illustrates Lincoln's unweariable patience and long-suffering without parallel. McClellan, never trammeled by respect, retorted sharply: "As the Chickahominy has been almost the only obstacle in my way for several days, your excellency may rest assured that it has not been overlooked." When finally the general became active, it was under the spur of General Jackson, not of President Lincoln. Jackson compelled him to decide and act; and the result was his famous southward movement to the James River. Some, adopting his own nomenclature, have called this a change of base; some, less euphemistically, speak of it as a retreat. According to General Webb, it may be called either the one or the other with equal propriety, for it partook of the features of each.[24] It is no part of the biographer of Lincoln to narrate the suffering and the gallantry of the troops through those seven days of continuous fighting and marching, during which they made their painful way, in the face of an attacking army, through the dismal swamps of an unwholesome region, amid the fierce and humid heats of the Southern summer. On July 1 they closed the dread experience by a brilliant victory in the desperate, prolonged, and bloody battle of Malvern Hill.

In the course of this march a letter was sent by McClellan to Stanton which has become famous. The vindictive lunge, visibly aimed at the secretary, was really designed, piercing this lesser functionary, to reach the President. Even though written amid the strain and stress of the most critical and anxious moment of the terrible "Seven Days," the words were unpardonable. The letter is too long to be given in full, but the closing sentences were:—

"I know that a few thousand more men would have changed this battle[25] from a defeat to a victory. As it is, the government must not and cannot hold me responsible for the result. I feel too earnestly to-night. I have seen too many dead and wounded comrades to feel otherwise than that the government has not sustained this army. If you do not do so now, the game is lost. If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army."[26] It was safe to write thus to Mr. Lincoln, whose marvelous magnanimity was never soiled by a single act of revenge; but the man who addressed such language to Stanton secured a merciless and unscrupulous enemy forever.

Though, at the close of this appalling week, the troops at last were conquerors on the banks of the James, they were in a position not permanently tenable, and before they could rest they had to fall back another march to Harrison's Landing. The rear guard reached this haven on the night of July 3, and the army, thus at last safely placed and in direct communication with the fleet and the transports, was able to recuperate,[27] while those in authority considered of the future. Certain facts were established: first, concerning the army,—that before it met the baptism of heavy fighting it had been brought into a splendid condition of drill and efficiency, and that by that baptism, so severe and so long continued, it had come as near as volunteers could come to the excellence of veterans and regulars; also that it was at least a match for its opponents; and, finally, strange to say, it was very slightly demoralized, would soon again be in condition for an advance, and felt full confidence and strong affection for its commander. Brilliant and enthusiastic tributes have been paid to these men for their endurance amid disease and wounds and battle; but not one word too much has been said. It is only cruel to think of the hideous price which they had paid, and by which they had bought only the capacity to endure further perils and hardship. Second, concerning McClellan; it was to be admitted that his predictions as to points of strategy had been fulfilled; that he had managed his retreat, or "change of base," with skill, and had shown some qualities of high generalship; but it was also evident that he was of a temperament so unenterprising and apprehensive as to make him entirely useless in an offensive campaign. Yet the burden of conducting a successful offense lay upon the North. Must Mr. Lincoln, then, finally accept the opinion of those who had long since concluded that McClellan was not the man for the place?

A collateral question was: What should be done next? McClellan, tenacious and stubborn, was for persisting in the movement against Lee's army and Richmond. He admitted no other thought than that, having paused to gather reinforcements and to refresh his army, he should assume the offensive, approaching the city by the south and southwest from the James River base. Holding this purpose, he was impolitic in sending very dolorous dispatches on July 4 and 7, intimating doubts as to his power to maintain successfully even the defensive. Two or three days later, however, he assumed a better tone; and on July 11 and 12 he reported "all in fine spirits," and urged that his army should be "promptly reinforced and thrown again upon Richmond. If we have a little more than half a chance, we can take it." He continued throughout the month to press these views by arguments which, though overruled at the time, have since been more favorably regarded. Whether or not they were correct is an item in the long legacy of questions left by the war to be disputed over by posterity; in time, one side or the other may desist from the discussion in weariness, but, from the nature of the case, neither can be vanquished.

Whether McClellan was right or wrong, his prestige, fresh as it still remained with his devoted troops, was utterly gone at Washington, where the political host was almost a unit against him. The Committee on the Conduct of the War had long been bitterly denouncing him; and he had so abused the secretary of war that even the duplicity of Mr. Stanton was unequal to the strain of maintaining an appearance of good understanding. New military influences also fell into the same scale. General Pope, the latest "favorite," now enjoying his few weeks of authority, endeavored to make it clear to Mr. Lincoln that to bring McClellan back from the Peninsula was the only safe and intelligent course. Further, on July 11, President Lincoln appointed General Halleck general-in-chief. It may be said, in passing, that the appointment turned out to be a very bad mistake; for Halleck was as dull a man as ever made use of grand opportunities only to prove his own incompetence. Now, however, he came well recommended before Lincoln, and amid novel responsibilities the merit of any man could only be known by trial. Halleck did not arrive in Washington till near the end of the month, then he seemed for a while in doubt, or to be upon both sides of the question as to whether the army should be advanced or withdrawn; but ultimately, in the contemptuous language of Mr. Swinton, he "added his strident voice in favor of the withdrawal of the army from the Peninsula." This settled the matter; for the President had decided to place himself under the guidance of his new military mentor; and, moreover, his endurance was worn out.

In the way of loyalty the President certainly owed nothing further to the general. All such obligations he had exhaustively discharged. In spite of the covert malicious suggestions and the direct injurious charges which tortured the air of the White House and vexed his judgment, he had sustained McClellan with a constancy which deserved warm gratitude. This the general never gave, because he could never forgive Mr. Lincoln for refusing to subordinate his own views to those of such a military expert as himself. This point, it is true, Lincoln never reached; but subject only to this independence of opinion and action, so long as he retained McClellan in command, he fulfilled toward him every requirement of honor and generosity. The movement across the Peninsula, whatever construction might possibly be put upon it, seemed in Washington a retreat, and was for the President a disappointment weighty enough to have broken the spirit of a smaller man. Yet Lincoln, instead of sacrificing McClellan as a scapegoat, sent to him on July 1 and 2 telegrams bidding him do his best in the emergency and save his army, in which case the people would rally and repair all losses; "we still have strength enough in the country and will bring it out," he said,—words full of cheering resolution unshaded by a suspicion of reproach, words which should have come like wine to the weary. The next day, July 3, he sent a dispatch which even McClellan, in his formal report, described as "kind:" "I am satisfied that yourself, officers, and men have done the best you could. All accounts say better fighting was never done. Ten thousand thanks for it." But when it came to judgment and action the President could not alleviate duty with kindness. To get information uncolored by passage through the minds of others, he went down to Harrison's Landing on July 7, observed all that he could see, and talked matters over. Prior to this visit it is supposed that he had leaned towards McClellan's views, and had inclined to renew the advance. Nor is it clearly apparent that he learned anything during this trip which induced him to change his mind. Rather it seems probable that he maintained his original opinion until General Halleck had declared against it, and that then he yielded to General Halleck as he had before yielded to General McClellan, though certainly with much less reluctance. At the same time the question was not considered wholly by itself, but was almost necessarily complicated with the question of deposing McClellan from the command. For the inconsistency of discrediting McClellan's military judgment and retaining him at the head of the army was obvious.

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