THE DAY OF THE CONFEDERACY,
A CHRONICLE OF THE EMBATTLED SOUTH
By Nathaniel W. Stephenson
Volume 30 In The Chronicles of America Series
New Haven: Yale University Press
Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Co.
London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press
I. THE SECESSION MOVEMENT
II. THE DAVIS GOVERNMENT
III. THE FALL OF KING COTTON
IV. THE REACTION AGAINST RICHMOND
V. THE CRITICAL YEAR
VI. LIFE IN THE CONFEDERACY
VII. THE TURNING OF THE TIDE
VIII. A GAME OF CHANCE
IX. DESPERATE REMEDIES
XI. AN ATTEMPTED REVOLUTION
XII. THE LAST WORD
THE DAY OF THE CONFEDERACY
Chapter I. The Secession Movement
The secession movement had three distinct stages. The first, beginning with the news that Lincoln was elected, closed with the news, sent broadcast over the South from Charleston, that Federal troops had taken possession of Fort Sumter on the night of the 28th of December. During this period the likelihood of secession was the topic of discussion in the lower South. What to do in case the lower South seceded was the question which perplexed the upper South. In this period no State north of South Carolina contemplated taking the initiative. In the Southeastern and Gulf States immediate action of some sort was expected. Whether it would be secession or some other new course was not certain on the day of Lincoln's election. Various States earlier in the year had provided for conventions of their people in the event of a Republican victory. The first to assemble was the convention of South Carolina, which organized at Columbia, on December 17, 1860. Two weeks earlier Congress had met. Northerners and Southerners had at once joined issue on their relation in the Union. The House had appointed its committee of thirty-three to consider the condition of the country. So unpromising indeed from the Southern point of view had been the early discussions of this committee that a conference of Southern members of Congress had sent out their famous address To Our Constituents: "The argument is exhausted. All hope of relief in the Union... is extinguished, and we trust the South will not be deceived by appearances or the pretense of new guarantees. In our judgment the Republicans are resolute in the purpose to grant nothing that will or ought to satisfy the South. We are satisfied the honor, safety, and independence of the Southern people require the organization of a Southern Confederacy—a result to be obtained only by separate state secession." Among the signers of this address were the two statesmen who had in native talent no superiors at Washington—Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi.
The appeal To Our Constituents was not the only assurance of support tendered to the convention of South Carolina. To represent them at this convention the governors of Alabama and Mississippi had appointed delegates. Mr. Hooker of Mississippi and Mr. Elmore of Alabama made addresses before the convention on the night of the 17th of December. Both reiterated views which during two days of lobbying they had disseminated in Columbia "on all proper occasions." Their argument, summed up in Elmore's report to Governor Moore of Alabama, was "that the only course to unite the Southern States in any plan of cooperation which could promise safety was for South Carolina to take the lead and secede at once without delay or hesitation... that the only effective plan of cooperation must ensue after one State had seceded and presented the issue when the plain question would be presented to the other Southern States whether they would stand by the seceding State engaged in a common cause or abandon her to the fate of coercion by the arms of the Government of the United States."
Ten years before, in the unsuccessful secession movement of 1850 and 1851, Andrew Pickens Butler, perhaps the ablest South Carolinian then living, strove to arrest the movement by exactly the opposite argument. Though desiring secession, he threw all his weight against it because the rest of the South was averse. He charged his opponents, whose leader was Robert Barnwell Rhett, with aiming to place the other Southern States "in such circumstances that, having a common destiny, they would be compelled to be involved in a common sacrifice." He protested that "to force a sovereign State to take a position against its consent is to make of it a reluctant associate.... Both interest and honor must require the Southern States to take council together."
That acute thinker was now in his grave. The bold enthusiast whom he defeated in 1851 had now no opponent that was his match. No great personality resisted the fiery advocates from Alabama and Mississippi. Their advice was accepted. On December 20, 1860, the cause that ten years before had failed was successful. The convention, having adjourned from Columbia to Charleston, passed an ordinance of secession.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, at a hundred meetings, the secession issue was being hotly discussed. But there was not yet any certainty which way the scale would turn. An invitation from South Carolina to join in a general Southern convention had been declined by the Governor in November. Governor Brown has left an account ascribing the comparative coolness and deliberation of the hour to the prevailing impression that President Buchanan had pledged himself not to alter the military status at Charleston. In an interview between South Carolina representatives and the President, the Carolinians understood that such a pledge was given. "It was generally understood by the country," says Governor Brown, "that such an agreement... had been entered Into... and that Governor Floyd of Virginia, then Secretary of War, had expressed his determination to resign his position in the Cabinet in case of the refusal of the President to carry out the agreement in good faith. The resignation of Governor Floyd was therefore naturally looked upon, should it occur, as a signal given to the South that reinforcements were to be sent to Charleston and that the coercive policy had been adopted by the Federal Government."
While the "canvass in Georgia for members of the State convention was progressing with much interest on both sides," there came suddenly the news that Anderson had transferred his garrison from Fort Moultrie to the island fortress of Sumter. That same day commissioners from South Carolina, newly arrived at Washington, sought in vain to persuade the President to order Anderson back to Moultrie. The Secretary of War made the subject an issue before the Cabinet. Unable to carry his point, two days later he resigned. *
* The President had already asked for Floyd's resignation because of financial irregularities, and Floyd was shrewd enough to use Anderson's coup as an excuse for resigning. See Rhodes, "History of the United States," vol. II pp. 225, 236 (note).
The Georgia Governor, who had not hitherto been in the front rank of the aggressives, now struck a great blow. Senator Toombs had telegraphed from Washington that Fort Pulaski, guarding the Savannah River, was "in danger." The Governor had reached the same conclusion. He mustered the state militia and seized Fort Pulaski. Early in the morning on January 3,1861, the fort was occupied by Georgia troops. Shortly afterward, Brown wrote to a commissioner sent by the Governor of Alabama to confer with him: "While many of our most patriotic and intelligent citizens in both States have doubted the propriety of immediate secession, I feel quite confident that recent events have dispelled those doubts from the minds of most men who have, till within the past few days, honestly sustained them." The first stage of the secession movement was at an end; the second had begun.
A belief that Washington had entered upon a policy of aggression swept the lower South. The state conventions assembling about this time passed ordinances of secession—Mississippi, January 9; Florida, January 10; Alabama, January 11; Georgia, January 19; Louisiana, January 26; Texas, February 1. But this result was not achieved without considerable opposition. In Georgia the Unionists put up a stout fight. The issue was not upon the right to secede—virtually no one denied the right—but upon the wisdom of invoking the right. Stephens, gloomy and pessimistic, led the opposition. Toombs came down from Washington to take part with the secessionists. From South Carolina and Alabama, both ceaselessly active for secession, commissioners appeared to lobby at Milledgeville, as commissioners of Alabama and Mississippi had lobbied at Columbia. Besides the out-and-out Unionists, there were those who wanted to temporize, to threaten the North, and to wait for developments. The motion on which these men and the Unionists made their last stand together went against them 164 to 133. Then at last came the square question: Shall we secede? Even on this question, the minority was dangerously large. Though the temporizers came over to the secessionists, and with them came Stephens, there was still a minority of 89 irreconcilables against the majority numbering 208.
"My allegiance," said Stephens afterwards, "was, as I considered it, not due to the United States, or to the people of the United States, but to Georgia, in her sovereign capacity. Georgia had never parted with her right to demand the ultimate allegiance of her citizens."
The attempt in Georgia to restrain impetuosity and advance with deliberation was paralleled in Alabama, where also the aggressives were determined not to permit delay. In the Alabama convention, the conservatives brought forward a plan for a general Southern convention to be held at Nashville in February. It was rejected by a vote of 54 to 45. An attempt to delay secession until after the 4th of March was defeated by the same vote.
The determination of the radicals to precipitate the issue received interesting criticism from the Governor of Texas, old Sam Houston. To a commissioner from Alabama who was sent out to preach the cause in Texas the Governor wrote, in substance, that since Alabama would not wait to consult the people of Texas he saw nothing to discuss at that time, and he went on to say:
Recognizing as I do the fact that the sectional tendencies of the Black Republican party call for determined constitutional resistance at the hands of the united South, I also feel that the million and a half of noble-hearted, conservative men who have stood by the South, even to this hour, deserve some sympathy and support. Although we have lost the day, we have to recollect that our conservative Northern friends cast over a quarter of a million more votes against the Black Republicans than we of the entire South. I cannot declare myself ready to desert them as well as our Southern brethren of the border (and such, I believe, will be the sentiment of Texas) until at least one firm attempt has been made to preserve our constitutional rights within the Union.
Nevertheless, Houston was not able to control his State. Delegates from Texas attended the later sessions of a general Congress of the seceding States which, on the invitation of Alabama, met at Montgomery on the 4th of February. A contemporary document of singular interest today is the series of resolutions adopted by the Legislature of North Carolina, setting forth that, as the State was a member of the Federal Union, it could not accept the invitation of Alabama but should send delegates for the purpose of persuading the South to effect a readjustment on the basis of the Crittenden Compromise as modified by the Legislature of Virginia. The commissioners were sent, were graciously received, were accorded seats in the Congress, but they exerted no influence on the course of its action.
The Congress speedily organized a provisional Government for the Confederate States of America. The Constitution of the United States, rather hastily reconsidered, became with a few inevitable alterations the Constitution of the Confederacy. * Davis was unanimously elected President; Stephens, Vice-President. Provision was made for raising an army. Commissioners were dispatched to Washington to negotiate a treaty with the United States; other commissioners were sent to Virginia to attempt to withdraw that great commonwealth from the Union.
* To the observer of a later age this document appears a thing of haste. Like the framers of the Constitution of 1787, who omitted from their document some principles which they took for granted, the framers of 1861 left unstated their most distinctive views. The basal idea upon which the revolution proceeded, the right of secession, is not to be found in the new Constitution. Though the preamble declares that the States are acting in their sovereign and independent character, the new Confederation is declared "permanent." In the body of the document are provisions similar to those in the Federal Constitution enabling a majority of two-thirds of the States to amend at their pleasure, thus imposing their will upon the minority. With three notable exceptions the new Constitution, subsequent to the preamble, does little more than restate the Constitution of 1787 rearranged so as to include those basal principles of the English law added to the earlier Constitution by the first eight amendments. The three exceptions are the prohibitions (1) of the payment of bounties, (2) of the levying of duties to promote any one form of industry, and (3) of appropriations for internal improvements. Here was a monument to the battle over these matters in the Federal Congress. As to the mechanism of the new Government it was the same as the old except for a few changes of detail. The presidential term was lengthened to six years and the President was forbidden to succeed himself. The President was given the power to veto items in appropriation bills. The African slave-trade was prohibited.
The upper South was thus placed in a painful situation. Its sympathies were with the seceding States. Most of its people felt also that if coercion was attempted, the issue would become for Virginia and North Carolina, no less than for South Carolina and Alabama, simply a matter of self-preservation. As early as January, in the exciting days when Floyd's resignation was being interpreted as a call to arms, the Virginia Legislature had resolved that it would not consent to the coercion of a seceding State. In May the Speaker of the North Carolina Legislature assured a commissioner from Georgia that North Carolina would never consent to the movement of troops "from or across" the State to attack a seceding State. But neither Virginia nor North Carolina in this second stage of the movement wanted to secede. They wanted to preserve the Union, but along with the Union they wanted the principle of local autonomy. It was a period of tense anxiety in those States of the upper South. The frame of mind of the men who loved the Union but who loved equally their own States and were firm for local autonomy is summed up in a letter in which Mrs. Robert E. Lee describes the anguish of her husband as he confronted the possibility of a divided country.
The real tragedy of the time lay in the failure of the advocates of these two great principles—each so necessary to a far-flung democratic country in a world of great powers!—the failure to coordinate them so as to insure freedom at home and strength abroad. The principle for which Lincoln stood has saved Americans in the Great War from playing such a trembling part as that of Holland. The principle which seemed to Lee even more essential, which did not perish at Appomattox but was transformed and not destroyed, is what has kept us from becoming a western Prussia. And yet if only it had been possible to coordinate the two without the price of war! It was not possible because of the stored up bitterness of a quarter century of recrimination. But Virginia made a last desperate attempt to preserve the Union by calling the Peace Convention. It assembled at Washington the day the Confederate Congress met at Montgomery. Though twenty-one States sent delegates, it was no more able to effect a working scheme of compromise than was the House committee of thirty-three or the Senate committee of thirteen, both of which had striven, had failed, and had gone their ways to a place in the great company of historic futilities.
And so the Peace Convention came and went, and there was no consolation for the troubled men of the upper South who did not want to secede but were resolved not to abandon local autonomy. Virginia was the key to the situation. If Virginia could be forced into secession, the rest of the upper South would inevitably follow. Therefore a Virginia hothead, Roger A. Pryor, being in Charleston in those wavering days, poured out his heart in fiery words, urging a Charleston crowd to precipitate war, in the certainty that Virginia would then have to come to their aid. When at last Sumter was fired upon and Lincoln called for volunteers, the second stage of the secession movement ended in a thunderclap. The third period was occupied by the second group of secessions: Virginia on the 17th of April, North Carolina and Arkansas during May, Tennessee early in June.
Sumter was the turning-point. The boom of the first cannon trained on the island fortress deserves all the rhetoric it has inspired. Who was immediately responsible for that firing which was destiny? Ultimate responsibility is not upon any person. War had to be. If Sumter had not been the starting-point, some other would have been found. Nevertheless the question of immediate responsibility, of whose word it was that served as the signal to begin, has produced an historic controversy.
When it was known at Charleston that Lincoln would attempt to provision the fort, the South Carolina authorities referred the matter to the Confederate authorities. The Cabinet, in a fateful session at Montgomery, hesitated—drawn between the wish to keep their hold upon the moderates of the North, who were trying to stave off war, and the desire to precipitate Virginia into the lists. Toombs, Secretary of State in the new Government, wavered; then seemed to find his resolution and came out strong against a demand for surrender. "It is suicide, murder, and will lose us every friend at the North.... It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal," said he. But the Cabinet and the President decided to take the risk. To General Pierre Beauregard, recently placed in command of the militia assembled at Charleston, word was sent to demand the surrender of Fort Sumter.
On Thursday, the 7th of April, besides his instructions from Montgomery, Beauregard was in receipt of a telegram from the Confederate commissioners at Washington, repeating newspaper statements that the Federal relief expedition intended to land a force "which will overcome all opposition." There seems no doubt that Beauregard did not believe that the expedition was intended merely to provision Sumter. Probably every one in Charleston thought that the Federal authorities were trying to deceive them, that Lincoln's promise not to do more than provision Sumter was a mere blind. Fearfulness that delay might render Sumter impregnable lay back of Beauregard's formal demand, on the 11th of April, for the surrender of the fort. Anderson refused but "made some verbal observations" to the aides who brought him the demand. In effect he said that lack of supplies would compel him to surrender by the fifteenth. When this information was taken back to the city, eager crowds were in the streets of Charleston discussing the report that a bombardment would soon begin. But the afternoon passed; night fell; and nothing was done. On the beautiful terrace along the sea known as East Battery, people congregated, watching the silent fortress whose brick walls rose sheer from the midst of the harbor. The early hours of the night went by and as midnight approached and still there was no flash from either the fortress or the shore batteries which threatened it, the crowds broke up.
Meanwhile there was anxious consultation at the hotel where Beauregard had fixed his headquarters. Pilots came in from the sea to report to the General that a Federal vessel had appeared off the mouth of the harbor. This news may well explain the hasty dispatch of a second expedition to Sumter in the middle of the night. At half after one, Friday morning, four young men, aides of Beauregard, entered the fort. Anderson repeated his refusal to surrender at once but admitted that he would have to surrender within three days. Thereupon the aides held a council of war. They decided that the reply was unsatisfactory and wrote out a brief note which they handed to Anderson informing him that the Confederates would open "fire upon Fort Sumter in one hour from this time." The note was dated 3:20 A.M. The aides then proceeded to Fort Johnston on the south side of the harbor and gave the order to fire.
The council of the aides at Sumter is the dramatic detail that has caught the imagination of historians and has led them, at least in some cases, to yield to a literary temptation. It is so dramatic—that scene of the four young men holding in their hands, during a moment of absolute destiny, the fate of a people; four young men, in the irresponsible ardor of youth, refusing to wait three days and forcing war at the instant! It is so dramatic that one cannot judge harshly the artistic temper which is unable to reject it. But is the incident historic? Did the four young men come to Sumter without definite instructions? Was their conference really anything more than a careful comparing of notes to make sure they were doing what they were intended to do? Is not the real clue to the event a message from Beauregard to the Secretary of War telling of his interview with the pilots? *
* A chief authority for the dramatic version of the council of the aides is that fiery Virginian, Roger A. Pryor. He and another accompanied the official messengers, the signers of the note to Anderson, James Chestnut and Stephen Lee. Years afterwards Pryor told the story of the council in a way to establish its dramatic significance. But would there be anything strange if a veteran survivor, looking back to his youth, as all of us do through more or less of mirage yielded to the unconscious artist that is in us all and dramatized this event unaware?
Dawn was breaking gray, with a faint rain in the air, when the first boom of the cannon awakened the city. Other detonations followed in quick succession. Shells rose into the night from both sides of the harbor and from floating batteries. How lightly Charleston slept that night may be inferred from the accounts in the newspapers. "At the report of the first gun," says the Courier, "the city was nearly emptied of its inhabitants who crowded the Battery and the wharves to witness the conflict."
The East Battery and the lower harbor of the lovely city of Charleston have been preserved almost without alteration. What they are today they were in the breaking dawn on April 12, 1861. Business has gone up the rivers between which Charleston lies and has left the point of the city's peninsula, where East Battery looks outward to the Atlantic, in its perfect charm. There large houses, pillared, with high piazzas, stand apart one from another among gardens. With few exceptions they were built before the middle of the century and all, with one exception, show the classical taste of those days. The mariner, entering the spacious inner sea that is Charleston Harbor, sights this row of stately mansions even before he crosses the bar seven miles distant. Holding straight onward up into the land he heads first for the famous little island where, nowadays, in their halo of thrilling recollection, the walls of Sumter, rising sheer from the bosom of the water, drowse idle. Close under the lee of Sumter, the incoming steersman brings his ship about and chooses, probably, the eastward of two huge tentacles of the sea between which lies the city's long but narrow peninsula. To the steersman it shows a skyline serrated by steeples, fronted by sea, flanked southward by sea, backgrounded by an estuary, and looped about by a sickle of wooded islands. This same scene, so far as city and nature go, was beheld by the crowds that swarmed East Battery, a flagstone marine parade along the seaward side of the boulevard that faces Sumter; that filled the windows and even the housetops; that watched the bombardment with the eagerness of an audience in an amphitheater; that applauded every telling shot with clapping of hands and waving of shawls and handkerchiefs. The fort lay distant from them about three miles, but only some fifteen hundred yards from Fort Johnston on one side and about a mile from Fort Moultrie on the other. From both of these latter, the cannon of those days were equal to the task of harassing Sumter. Early in the morning of the 12th of April, though not until broad day had come, did Anderson make reply. All that day, at first under heavily rolling cloud and later through curiously misty sunshine, the fire and counterfire continued. "The enthusiasm and fearlessness of the spectators," says the Charleston Mercury, "knew no bounds." Reckless observers even put out in small boats and roamed about the harbor almost under the guns of the fort. Outside the bar, vessels of the relieving squadron were now visible, and to these Anderson signaled for aid. They made an attempt to reach the fort, but only part of the squadron had arrived; and the vessels necessary to raise the siege were not there. The attempt ended in failure. When night came, a string of rowboats each carrying a huge torch kept watch along the bar to guard against surprise from the sea.
On that Friday night the harbor was swept by storm. But in spite of torrents of rain East Battery and the rooftops were thronged. "The wind was inshore and the booming was startlingly distinct." At the height of the bombardment, the sky above Sumter seemed to be filled with the flashes of bursting shells. But during this wild night Sumter itself was both dark and silent. Its casements did not have adequate lamps and the guns could not be used except by day. When morning broke, clear and bright after the night's storm, the duel was resumed.
The walls of Sumter were now crumbling. At eight o'clock Saturday morning the barracks took fire. Soon after it was perceived from the shore that the flag was down. Beauregard at once sent offers of assistance. With Sumter in flames above his head, Anderson replied that he had not surrendered; he declined assistance; and he hauled up his flag. Later in the day the flagstaff was shot in two and again the flag fell, and again it was raised. Flames had been kindled anew by red-hot shot, and now the magazine was in danger. Quantities of powder were thrown into the sea. Still the rain of red-hot shot continued. About noon, Saturday, says the Courier, "flames burst out from every quarter of Sumter and poured from many of its portholes... the wind was from the west driving the smoke across the fort into the embrasures where the gunners were at work." Nevertheless, "as if served with a new impulse," the guns of Sumter redoubled their fire. But it was not in human endurance to keep on in the midst of the burning fort. This splendid last effort was short. At a quarter after one, Anderson ceased firing and raised a white flag. Negotiations followed ending in terms of surrender—Anderson to be allowed to remove his garrison to the fleet lying idle beyond the bar and to salute the flag of the United States before taking it down. The bombardment had lasted thirty-two hours without a death on either side. The evacuation of the fort was to take place next day.
The afternoon of Sunday, the 14th of April, was a gala day in the harbor of Charleston. The sunlight slanted across the roofs of the city, sparkled upon the sea. Deep and rich the harbor always looks in the spring sunshine on bright afternoons. The filmy atmosphere of these latitudes, at that time of year, makes the sky above the darkling, afternoon sea a pale but luminous turquoise. There is a wonderful soft strength in the peaceful brightness of the sun. In such an atmosphere the harbor was flecked with brilliantly decked craft of every description, all in a flutter of flags and carrying a host of passengers in gala dress. The city swarmed across the water to witness the ceremony of evacuation. Wherry men did a thriving business carrying passengers to the fort.
Anderson withdrew from Sumter shortly after two o'clock amid a salute of fifty guns. The Confederates took possession. At half after four a new flag was raised above the battered and fire-swept walls.
Chapter II. The Davis Government
It has never been explained why Jefferson Davis was chosen President of the Confederacy. He did not seek the office and did not wish it. He dreamed of high military command. As a study in the irony of fate, Davis's career is made to the hand of the dramatist. An instinctive soldier, he was driven by circumstances three times to renounce the profession of arms for a less congenial civilian life. His final renunciation, which proved to be of the nature of tragedy, was his acceptance of the office of President. Indeed, why the office was given to him seems a mystery. Rhett was a more logical candidate. And when Rhett, early in the lobbying at Montgomery, was set aside as too much of a radical, Toombs seemed for a time the certain choice of the majority. The change to Davis came suddenly at the last moment. It was puzzling at the time; it is puzzling still.
Rhett, though doubtless bitterly disappointed, bore himself with the savoir faire of a great gentleman. At the inauguration, it was on Rhett's arm that Davis leaned as he entered the hall of the Confederate Congress. The night before, in a public address, Yancey had said that the man and the hour were met. The story of the Confederacy is filled with dramatic moments, but to the thoughtful observer few are more dramatic than the conjunction of these three men in the inauguration of the Confederate President. Beneath a surface of apparent unanimity they carried, like concealed weapons, points of view that were in deadly antagonism. This antagonism had not revealed itself hitherto. It was destined to reveal itself almost immediately. It went so deep and spread so far that unless we understand it, the Confederate story will be unintelligible.
A strange fatality destined all three of these great men to despair. Yancey, who was perhaps most directly answerable of the three for the existence of the Confederacy, lost influence almost from the moment when his dream became established. Davis was partly responsible, for he promptly sent him out of the country on the bootless English mission. Thereafter, until his death in 1863, Yancey was a waning, overshadowed figure, steadily lapsing into the background. It may be that those critics are right who say he was only an agitator. The day of the mere agitator was gone. Yancey passed rapidly into futile but bitter antagonism to Davis. In this attitude he was soon to be matched by Rhett.
The discontent of the Rhett faction because their leader was not given the portfolio of the State Department found immediate voice. But the conclusion drawn by some that Rhett's subsequent course sprang from personal vindictiveness is trifling. He was too large a personality, too well defined an intellect, to be thus explained. Very probably Davis made his first great blunder in failing to propitiate the Rhett faction. And yet few things are more certain than that the two men, the two factions which they symbolized, could not have formed a permanent alliance. Had Rhett entered the Cabinet he could not have remained in it consistently for any considerable time. The measures in which, presently, the Administration showed its hand were measures in which Rhett could not acquiesce. From the start he was predestined to his eventual position—the great, unavailing genius of the opposition.
As to the comparative ignoring of these leaders of secession by the Government which secession had created, it is often said that the explanation is to be found in a generous as well as politic desire to put in office the moderates and even the conservatives. Davis, relatively, was a moderate. Stephens was a conservative. Many of the most pronounced opponents of secession were given places in the public service. Toombs, who received the portfolio of State, though a secessionist, was conspicuously a moderate when compared with Rhett and Yancey. The adroit Benjamin, who became Attorney-General, had few points in common with the great extremists of Alabama and South Carolina.
However, the dictum that the personnel of the new Government was a triumph for conservatism over radicalism signifies little. There was a division among Southerners which scarcely any of them had realized except briefly in the premature battle over secession in 1851. It was the division between those who were conscious of the region as a whole and those who were not. Explain it as you will, there was a moment just after the secession movement succeeded when the South seemed to realize itself as a whole, when it turned intuitively to those men who, as time was to demonstrate, shared this realization. For the moment it turned away from those others, however great their part in secession, who lacked this sense of unity.
At this point, geography becomes essential. The South fell, institutionally, into two grand divisions: one, with an old and firmly established social order, where consciousness of the locality went back to remote times; another, newly settled, where conditions were still fluid, where that sense of the sacredness of local institutions had not yet formed.
A typical community of the first-named class was South Carolina. Her people had to a remarkable degree been rendered state-conscious partly by their geographical neighbors, and partly by their long and illustrious history, which had been interwoven with great European interests during the colonial era and with great national interests under the Republic. It is possible also that the Huguenots, though few in numbers, had exercised upon the State a subtle and pervasive influence through their intellectual power and their Latin sense for institutions.
In South Carolina, too, a wealthy leisure class with a passion for affairs had cultivated enthusiastically that fine art which is the pride of all aristocratic societies, the service of the State as a profession high and exclusive, free from vulgar taint. In South Carolina all things conspired to uphold and strengthen the sense of the State as an object of veneration, as something over and above the mere social order, as the sacred embodiment of the ideals of the community. Thus it is fair to say that what has animated the heroic little countries of the Old World Switzerland and Serbia and ever-glorious Belgium—with their passion to remain themselves, animated South Carolina in 1861. Just as Serbia was willing to fight to the death rather than merge her identity in the mosaic of the Austrian Empire, so this little American community saw nothing of happiness in any future that did not secure its virtual independence.
Typical of the newer order in the South was the community that formed the President of the Confederacy. In the history of Mississippi previous to the war there are six great names—Jacob Thompson, John A. Quitman, Henry S. Foote, Robert J. Walker, Sergeant S. Prentiss, and Jefferson Davis. Not one of them was born in the State. Thompson was born in North Carolina; Quitman in New York; Foote in Virginia; Walker in Pennsylvania; Prentiss in Maine; Davis in Kentucky. In 1861 the State was but forty-four years old, younger than its most illustrious sons—if the paradox may be permitted. How could they think of it as an entity existing in itself, antedating not only themselves but their traditions, circumscribing them with its all-embracing, indisputable reality? These men spoke the language of state rights. It is true that in politics, combating the North, they used the political philosophy taught them by South Carolina. But it was a mental weapon in political debate; it was not for them an emotional fact.
And yet these men of the Southwest had an ideal of their own as vivid and as binding as the state ideal of the men of the eastern coast. Though half their leaders were born in the North, the people themselves were overwhelmingly Southern. From all the older States, all round the huge crescent which swung around from Kentucky coastwise to Florida, immigration in the twenties and thirties had poured into Mississippi. Consequently the new community presented a composite picture of the whole South, and like all composite pictures it emphasized only the factors common to all its parts. What all the South had in common, what made a man a Southerner in the general sense—in distinction from a Northerner on the one hand, or a Virginian, Carolinian, Georgian, on the other—could have been observed with clearness in Mississippi, just before the war, as nowhere else. Therefore, the fulfillment of the ideal of Southern life in general terms was the vision of things hoped for by the new men of the Southwest. The features of that vision were common to them all—country life, broad acres, generous hospitality, an aristocratic system. The temperaments of these men were sufficiently buoyant to enable them to apprehend this ideal even before it had materialized. Their romantic minds could see the gold at the end of the rainbow. Theirs was not the pride of administering a well-ordered, inherited system, but the joy of building a new system, in their minds wholly elastic, to be sure, but still inspired by that old system.
What may be called the sense of Southern nationality as opposed to the sense of state rights, strictly speaking, distinguished this brilliant young community of the Southwest. In that community Davis spent the years that appear to have been the most impressionable of his life. Belonging to a "new" family just emerging into wealth, he began life as a West Pointer and saw gallant service as a youth on the frontier; resigned from the army to pursue a romantic attachment; came home to lead the life of a wealthy planter and receive the impress of Mississippi; made his entry into politics, still a soldier at heart, with the philosophy of state rights on his lips, but in his heart that sense of the Southern people as a new nation, which needed only the occasion to make it the relentless enemy of the rights of the individual Southern States. Add together the instinctive military point of view and this Southern nationalism that even in 1861 had scarcely revealed itself; join with these a fearless and haughty spirit, proud to the verge of arrogance, but perfectly devoted, perfectly sincere; and you have the main lines of the political character of Davis when he became President. It may be that as he went forward in his great undertaking, as antagonisms developed, as Rhett and others turned against him, Davis hardened. He lost whatever comprehension he once had of the Rhett type. Seeking to weld into one irresistible unit all the military power of the South, he became at last in the eyes of his opponents a monster, while to him, more and more positively, the others became mere dreamers.
It took about a year for this irrepressible conflict within the Confederacy to reveal itself. During the twelve months following Davis's election as provisional President, he dominated the situation, though the Charleston Mercury, the Rhett organ, found opportunities to be sharply critical of the President. He assembled armies; he initiated heroic efforts to make up for the handicap of the South in the manufacture of munitions and succeeded in starting a number of munition plants; though powerless to prevent the establishment of the blockade, he was able during that first year to keep in touch with Europe, to start out Confederate privateers upon the high seas, and to import a considerable quantity of arms and supplies. At the close of the year the Confederate armies were approaching general efficiency, for all their enormous handicap, almost if not quite as rapidly as were the Union armies. And the one great event of the year on land, the first battle of Manassas, or Bull Run, was a signal Confederate victory.
To be sure Davis was severely criticized in some quarters for not adopting an aggressive policy. The Confederate Government, whether wisely or foolishly, had not taken the people into its confidence and the lack of munitions was not generally appreciated. The easy popular cries were all sounded: "We are standing still!" "The country is being invaded!" "The President is a do-nothing!" From the coast regions especially, where the blockade was felt in all its severity, the outcry was loud.
Nevertheless, the South in the main was content with the Administration during most of the first year. In November, when the general elections were held, Davis was chosen without opposition as the first regular Confederate President for six years, and Stephens became the Vice-President. The election was followed by an important change in the Southern Cabinet. Benjamin became Secretary of War, in succession to the first War Secretary, Leroy P. Walker. Toombs had already left the Confederate Cabinet. Complaining that Davis degraded him to the level of a mere clerk, he had withdrawn the previous July. His successor in the State Department was R. M. T. Hunter of Virginia, who remained in office until February, 1862, when his removal to the Confederate Senate opened the way for a further advancement of Benjamin.
Richmond, which had been designated as the capital soon after the secession of Virginia, was the scene of the inauguration, on February 22, 1862. Although the weather proved bleak and rainy, an immense crowd gathered around the Washington monument, in Capitol Square, to listen to the inaugural address. By this time the confidence in the Government, which was felt generally at the time of the election, had suffered a shock. Foreign affairs were not progressing satisfactorily. Though England had accorded to the Confederacy the status of a belligerent, this was poor consolation for her refusal to make full recognition of the new Government as an independent power. Dread of internal distress was increasing. Gold commanded a premium of fifty percent. Disorder was a feature of the life in the cities. It was known that several recent military events had been victories for the Federals. A rumor was abroad that some great disaster had taken place in Tennessee. The crowd listened anxiously to hear the rumor denied by the President. But it was not denied. The tense listeners noted two sentences which formed an admission that the situation was grave: "A million men, it is estimated, are now standing in hostile array and waging war along a frontier of thousands of miles. Battles have been fought, sieges have been conducted, and although the contest is not ended, and the tide for the moment is against us, the final result in our favor is not doubtful."
Behind these carefully guarded words lay serious alarm, not only with regard to the operations at the front but as to the composition of the army. It had been raised under various laws and its portions were subject to conflicting classifications; it was partly a group of state armies, partly a single Confederate army. None of its members had enlisted for long terms. Many enlistments would expire early in 1862. The fears of the Confederate Administration with regard to this matter, together with its alarm about the events at the front, were expressed by Davis in a frank message to the Southern Congress, three days later. "I have hoped," said he, "for several days to receive official reports in relation to our discomfiture at Roanoke Island and the fall of Fort Donelson. They have not yet reached Me.... The hope is still entertained that our reported losses at Fort Donelson have been greatly exaggerated...." He went on to condemn the policy of enlistments for short terms, "against which," said he, "I have steadily contended"; and he enlarged upon the danger that even patriotic men, who intended to reenlist, might go home to put their affairs in order and that thus, at a critical moment, the army might be seriously reduced. The accompanying report of the Confederate Secretary of War showed a total in the army of 340,250 men. This was an inadequate force with which to meet the great hosts which were being organized against it in the North. To permit the slightest reduction of the army at that moment seemed to the Southern President suicidal.
But Davis waited some time longer before proposing to the Confederate Congress the adoption of conscription. Meanwhile, the details of two great reverses, the loss of Roanoke Island and the loss of Fort Donelson, became generally known. Apprehension gathered strength. Newspapers began to discuss conscription as something inevitable. At last, on March 28, 1862, Davis sent a message to the Confederate Congress advising the conscription of all white males between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. For this suggestion Congress was ripe, and the first Conscription Act of the Confederacy was signed by the President on the 16th of April. The age of eligibility was fixed as Davis had advised; the term of service was to be three years; every one then in service was to be retained in service during three years from the date of his original enlistment.
This statute may be thought of as a great victory on the part of the Administration. It was the climax of a policy of centralization in the military establishment to which Davis had committed himself by the veto, in January, of "A bill to authorize the Secretary of War to receive into the service of the Confederate States a regiment of volunteers for the protection of the frontier of Texas." This regiment was to be under the control of the Governor of the State. In refusing to accept such troops, Davis laid down the main proposition upon which he stood as military executive to the end of the war, a proposition which immediately set debate raging: "Unity and cooperation by the troops of all the States are indispensable to success, and I must view with regret this as well as all other indications of a purpose to divide the power of States by dividing the means to be employed in efforts to carry on separate operations."
In these military measures of the early months of 1862 Davis's purpose became clear. He was bent upon instituting a strong government, able to push the war through, and careless of the niceties of constitutional law or of the exact prerogatives of the States. His position was expressed in the course of the year by a Virginia newspaper: "It will be time enough to distract the councils of the State about imaginary violations of constitutional law by the supreme government when our independence is achieved, established, and acknowledged. It will not be until then that the sovereignty of the States will be a reality." But there were many Southerners who could not accept this point of view. The Mercury was sharply critical of the veto of the Texas Regiment Bill. In the interval between the Texas veto and the passing of the Conscription Act, the state convention of North Carolina demanded the return of North Carolina volunteers for the defense of their own State. No sooner was the Conscription Act passed than its constitutionality was attacked. As the Confederacy had no Supreme Court, the question came up before state courts. One after another, several state supreme courts pronounced the act constitutional and in most of the States the constitutional issue was gradually allowed to lapse.
Nevertheless, Davis had opened Pandora's box. The clash between State and Confederate authority had begun. An opposition party began to form. In this first stage of its definite existence, the opposition made an interesting attempt to control the Cabinet. Secretary Benjamin, though greatly trusted by the President, seems never to have been a popular minister. Congress attempted to load upon Benjamin the blame for Roanoke Island and Fort Donelson. In the House a motion was introduced to the effect that Benjamin had "not the confidence of the people of the Confederate States nor of the army... and that we most respectfully request his retirement" from the office of Secretary of War. Friends of the Administration tabled the motion. Davis extricated his friend by taking advantage of Hunter's retirement and promoting Benjamin to the State Department. A month later a congressional committee appointed to investigate the affair of Roanoke Island exonerated the officer in command and laid the blame on his superiors, including "the late Secretary of War."
With Benjamin safe in the Department of State, with the majority in the Confederate Congress still fairly manageable, with the Conscription Act in force, Davis seemed to be strong enough in the spring of 1862 to ignore the gathering opposition. And yet there was another measure, second only in the President's eyes to the Conscription Act, that was to breed trouble. This was the first of the series of acts empowering him to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. Under this act he was permitted to set up martial law in any district threatened with invasion. The cause of this drastic measure was the confusion and the general demoralization that existed wherever the close approach of the enemy created a situation too complex for the ordinary civil authorities. Davis made use of the power thus given to him and proclaimed martial law in Richmond, in Norfolk, in parts of South Carolina, and elsewhere. It was on Richmond that the hand of the Administration fell heaviest. The capital was the center of a great camp; its sudden and vast increase in population bad been the signal for all the criminal class near and far to hurry thither in the hope of a new field of spoliation; to deal with this immense human congestion, the local police were powerless; every variety of abominable contrivance to entrap and debauch men for a price was in brazen operation. The first care of the Government under the new law was the cleansing of the capital. General John H. Winder, appointed military governor, did the job with thoroughness. He closed the barrooms, disarmed the populace, and for the time at least swept the city clean of criminals. The Administration also made certain political arrests, and even imprisoned some extreme opponents of the Government for "offenses not enumerated and not cognizable under the regular process of law." Such arrests gave the enemies of the Administration another handle against it. As we shall see later, the use that Davis made of martial law was distorted by a thousand fault-finders and was made the basis of the charge that the President was aiming at absolute power.
At the moment, however, Davis was master of the situation. The six months following April 1, 1862, were doubtless, from his own point of view, the most satisfactory part of his career as Confederate President. These months were indeed filled with peril. There was a time when McClellan's advance up the Peninsula appeared so threatening that the archives of the Government were packed on railway cars prepared for immediate removal should evacuation be necessary. There were the other great disasters during that year, including the loss of New Orleans. The President himself experienced a profound personal sorrow in the death of his friend, Albert Sidney Johnston, in the bloody fight at Shiloh. It was in the midst of this time that tried men's souls that the Richmond Examiner achieved an unenvied immortality for one of its articles on the Administration. At a moment when nothing should have been said to discredit in any way the struggling Government, it described Davis as weak with fear telling his beads in a corner of St. Paul's Church. This paper, along with the Charleston Mercury, led the Opposition. Throughout Confederate history these two, which were very ably edited, did the thinking for the enemies of Davis. We shall meet them time and again.
A true picture of Davis would have shown the President resolute and resourceful, at perhaps the height of his powers. He recruited and supplied the armies; he fortified Richmond; he sustained the great captain whom he had placed in command while McClellan was at the gates. When the tide had turned and the Army of the Potomac sullenly withdrew, baffled, there occurred the one brief space in Confederate history that was pure sunshine. In this period took place the splendid victory of Second Manassas. The strong military policy of the Administration had given the Confederacy powerful armies. Lee had inspired them with victory. This period of buoyant hope culminated in the great offensive design which followed Second Manassas. It was known that the Northern people, or a large part of them, had suffered a reaction; the tide was setting strong against the Lincoln Government; in the autumn, the Northern elections would be held. To influence those elections and at the same time to drive the Northern armies back into their own section; to draw Maryland and Kentucky into the Confederate States; to fall upon the invaders in the Southwest and recover the lower Mississippi—to accomplish all these results was the confident expectation of the President and his advisers as they planned their great triple offensive in August, 1862. Lee was to invade Maryland; Bragg was to invade Kentucky; Van Dorn was to break the hold of the Federals in the Southwest. If there is one moment that is to be considered the climax of Davis's career, the high-water mark of Confederate hope, it was the moment of joyous expectation when the triple offensive was launched, when Lee's army, on a brilliant autumn day, crossed the Potomac, singing "Maryland, my Maryland".
Chapter III. The Fall Of King Cotton
While the Confederate Executive was building up its military establishment, the Treasury was struggling with the problem of paying for it. The problem was destined to become insoluble. From the vantage-point of a later time we can now see that nothing could have provided a solution short of appropriation and mobilization of the whole industrial power of the country along with the whole military power—a conscription of wealth of every kind together with conscription of men. But in 1862 such an idea was too advanced for any group of Americans. Nor, in that year, was there as yet any certain evidence that the Treasury was facing an impossible situation. Its endeavors were taken lightly—at first, almost gaily-because of the profound illusion which permeated Southern thought that Cotton was King. Obviously, if the Southern ports could be kept open and cotton could continue to go to market, the Confederate financial problem was not serious. When Davis, soon after his first inauguration, sent Yancey, Rost, and Mann as commissioners to Europe to press the claims of the Confederacy for recognition, very few Southerners had any doubt that the blockade, would be short-lived. "Cotton is King" was the answer that silenced all questions. Without American cotton the English mills would have to shut down; the operatives would starve; famine and discontent would between them force the British ministry to intervene in American affairs. There were, indeed, a few far-sighted men who perceived that this confidence was ill-based and that cotton, though it was a power in the financial world, was not the commercial king. The majority of the population, however, had to learn this truth from keen experience.
Several events of 1861 for a time seemed to confirm this illusion. The Queen's proclamation in the spring, giving the Confederacy the status of a belligerent, and, in the autumn, the demand by the British Government for the surrender of the commissioners, Mason and Slidell, who had been taken from a British packet by a Union cruiser—both these events seemed to indicate active British sympathy. In England, to be sure, Yancey became disillusioned. He saw that the international situation was not so simple as it seemed; that while the South had powerful friends abroad, it also had powerful foes; that the British anti-slavery party was a more formidable enemy than he had expected it to be; and that intervention was not a foregone conclusion. The task of an unrecognized ambassador being too annoying for him, Yancey was relieved at his own request and Mason was sent out to take his place. A singular little incident like a dismal prophecy occurred as Yancey was on his way home. He passed through Havana early in 1862, when the news of the surrender of Fort Donelson had begun to stagger the hopes and impair the prestige of the Confederates. By the advice of the Confederate agent in Cuba, Yancey did not call on the Spanish Governor but sent him word that "delicacy alone prompted his departure without the gratification of a personal interview." The Governor expressed himself as "exceedingly grateful for the noble sentiment which prevented" Yancey from causing international complications at Havana.
The history of the first year of Confederate foreign affairs is interwoven with the history of Confederate finance. During that year the South became a great buyer in Europe. Arms, powder, cloth, machinery, medicines, ships, a thousand things, had all to be bought abroad. To establish the foreign credit of the new Government was the arduous task of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury, Christopher G. Memminger. The first great campaign of the war was not fought by armies. It was a commercial campaign fought by agents of the Federal and Confederate governments and having for its aim the cornering of the munitions market in Europe. In this campaign the Federal agents had decisive advantages: their credit was never questioned, and their enormous purchases were never doubtful ventures for the European sellers. In some cases their superior credit enabled them to overbid the Confederate agents and to appropriate large contracts which the Confederates had negotiated but which they could not hold because of the precariousness of their credit. And yet, all things considered, the Confederate agents made a good showing. In the report of the Secretary of War in February, 1862, the number of rifles contracted for abroad was put at 91,000, of which 15,000 had been delivered. The chief reliance of the Confederate Treasury for its purchases abroad was at first the specie in the Southern branch of the United States Mint and in Southern banks. The former the Confederacy seized and converted to its own use. Of the latter it lured into its own hands a very large proportion by what is commonly called "the fifteen million loan"—an issue of eight percent bonds authorized in February, 1861. Most of this specie seems to have been taken out of the country by the purchase of European commodities. A little, to be sure, remained, for there was some gold still at home when the Confederacy fell. But the sum was small.
In addition to this loan Memminger also persuaded Congress on August 19, 1861, to lay a direct tax—the "war tax," as it was called—of one-half of one per cent on all property except Confederate bonds and money. As required by the Constitution this tax was apportioned among the States, but if it assumed its assessment before April 1, 1862, each State was to have a reduction of ten per cent. As there was a general aversion to the idea of Confederate taxation and a general faith in loans, what the States did, as a rule, was to assume their assessment, agree to pay it into the Treasury, and then issue bonds to raise the necessary funds, thus converting the war tax into a loan.
The Confederate, like the Union, Treasury did not have the courage to force the issue upon taxation and leaned throughout the war largely upon loans. It also had recourse to the perilous device of paper money, the gold value of which was not guaranteed. Beginning in March, 1861, it issued under successive laws great quantities of paper notes, some of them interest bearing, some not. It used these notes in payment of its domestic obligations. The purchasing value of the notes soon started on a disastrous downward course, and in 1864 the gold dollar was worth thirty paper dollars. The Confederate Government thus became involved in a problem of self-preservation that was but half solved by the system of tithes and impressment which we shall encounter later. The depreciation of these notes left governmental clerks without adequate salaries and soldiers without the means of providing for their families. During most of the war, women and other noncombatants had to support the families or else rely upon local charity organized by state or county boards.
Long before all the evils of paper money were experienced, the North, with great swiftness, concentrated its naval forces so as to dominate the Southern ports which had trade relations with Europe. The shipping ports were at once congested with cotton to the great embarrassment of merchants and planters. Partly to relieve them, the Confederate Congress instituted in May, 1861, what is known today as "the hundred million loan." It was the first of a series of "produce loans." The Treasury was authorized to issue eight percent bonds, to fall due in twenty years, and to sell them for specie or to exchange them for produce or manufactured articles. In the course of the remaining months of 1861 there were exchanged for these bonds great quantities of produce including some 400,000 bales of cotton.
In spite of the distress of the planters, however, the illusion of King Cotton's power does not seem to have been seriously impaired during 1861. In fact, strange as it now seems, the frame of mind of the leaders appears to have been proof, that year, against alarm over the blockade. For two reasons, the Confederacy regarded the blockade at first as a blessing in disguise. It was counted on to act as a protective tariff in stimulating manufactures; and at the same time the South expected interruption of the flow of cotton towards Europe to make England feel her dependence upon the Confederacy. In this way there would be exerted an economic coercion which would compel intervention. Such reasoning lay behind a law passed in May forbidding the export of cotton except through the seaports of the Confederacy. Similar laws were enacted by the States. During the summer, many cotton factors joined in advising the planters to hold their cotton until the blockade broke down. In the autumn, the Governor of Louisiana forbade the export of cotton from New Orleans. So unshakeable was the illusion in 1861, that King Cotton had England in his grip! The illusion died hard. Throughout 1862, and even in 1863, the newspapers published appeals to the planters to give up growing cotton for a time, and even to destroy what they had, so as to coerce the obdurate Englishmen.
Meanwhile, Mason had been accorded by the British upper classes that generous welcome which they have always extended to the representative, of a people fighting gallantly against odds. During the hopeful days of 1862—that Golden Age of Confederacy—Mason, though not recognized by the English Government, was shown every kindness by leading members of the aristocracy, who visited him in London and received him at their houses in the country. It was during this period of buoyant hope that the Alabama was allowed to go to sea from Liverpool in July, 1862. At the same time Mason heard his hosts express undisguised admiration for the valor of the soldiers serving under Jackson and Lee. Whether he formed any true impression of the other side of British idealism, its resolute opposition to slavery, may be questioned. There seems little doubt that he did not perceive the turning of the tide of English public opinion, in the autumn of 1862, following the Emancipation Proclamation and the great reverses of September and October—Antietam-Sharpsburg, Perryville, Corinth—the backflow of all three of the Confederate offensives.
The cotton famine in England, where perhaps a million people were in actual want through the shutting down of cotton mills, seemed to Mason to be "looming up in fearful proportions." "The public mind," he wrote home in November, 1862, "is very much disturbed by the prospect for the winter; and I am not without hope that it will produce its effects on the councils of the government." Yet it was the uprising of the British working people in favor of the North that contributed to defeat the one important attempt to intervene in American affairs. Napoleon III had made an offer of mediation which was rejected by the Washington Government early the next year. England and Russia had both declined to participate in Napoleon's scheme, and their refusal marks the beginning of the end of the reign of King Cotton.
At Paris, Slidell was even more hopeful than Mason. He had won over Emile Erlanger, that great banker who was deep in the confidence of Napoleon. So cordial became the relations between the two that it involved their families and led at last to the marriage of Erlanger's son with Slidell's daughter. Whether owing to Slidell's eloquence, or from secret knowledge of the Emperor's designs, or from his own audacity, Erlanger toward the close of 1862 made a proposal that is one of the most daring schemes of financial plunging yet recorded. If the Confederate Government would issue to him bonds secured by cotton, Erlanger would underwrite the bonds, put the proceeds of their sale to the credit of the Confederate agents, and wait for the cotton until it could run the blockade or until peace should be declared. The Confederate Government after some hesitation accepted his plan and issued fifteen millions of "Erlanger bonds," bearing seven percent, and put them on sale at Paris, London. Amsterdam, and Frankfort.
As a purchaser of these bonds was to be given cotton eventually at a valuation of sixpence a pound, and as cotton was then selling in England for nearly two shillings; the bold gamble caught the fancy of speculators. There was a rush to take up the bonds and to pay the first installment. But before the second installment became due a mysterious change in the market took place and the price of the bonds fell. Holders became alarmed and some even proposed to forfeit their bonds rather than pay on May 1, 1863, the next installment of fifteen percent of the purchase money. Thereupon Mason undertook to "bull" the market. Agents of the United States Government were supposed to be at the bottom of the drop in the bonds. To defeat their schemes the Confederate agents bought back large amounts in bonds intending to resell. The result was the expenditure of some six million dollars with practically no effect on the market. These "Erlanger bonds" sold slowly through 1863 and even in 1864, and netted a considerable amount to the foreign agents of the Confederacy.
The comparative failure of the Erlanger loan marks the downfall of King Cotton. He was an exploded superstition. He was unable, despite the cotton famine, to coerce the English workingmen into siding with a country which they regarded, because of its support of slavery, as inimical to their interests. At home, the Government confessed the powerlessness of King Cotton by a change of its attitude toward export. During the latter part of the war, the Government secured the meager funds at its disposal abroad by rushing cotton in swift ships through the blockade. So important did this traffic become that the Confederacy passed stringent laws to keep the control in its own hands. One more cause of friction between the Confederate and the State authorities was thus developed: the Confederate navigation laws prevented the States from running the blockade on their own account.
The effects of the blockade were felt at the ends of the earth. India became an exporter of cotton. Egypt also entered the competition. That singular dreamer, Ismail Pasha, whose reign made Egypt briefly an exotic nation, neither eastern nor western, found one of his opportunities in the American War and the failure of the cotton supply.
Chapter IV. The Reaction Against Richmond
A popular revulsion of feeling preceded and followed the great period of Confederate history—these six months of Titanic effort which embraced between March and September, 1862, splendid success along with catastrophes. But there was a marked difference between the two tides of popular emotion. The wave of alarm which swept over the South after the surrender of Fort Donelson was quickly translated into such a high passion for battle that the march of events until the day of Antietam resounded like an epic. The failure of the triple offensive which closed this period was followed in very many minds by the appearance of a new temper, often as valiant as the old but far more grim and deeply seamed with distrust. And how is this distrust, of which the Confederate Administration was the object, to be accounted for?
Various answers to this question were made at the time. The laws of the spring of 1862 were attacked as unconstitutional. Davis was held responsible for them and also for the slow equipment of the army. Because the Confederate Congress conducted much of its business in secret session, the President was charged with a love of mystery and an unwillingness to take the people into his confidence. Arrests under the law suspending the writ of habeas corpus were made the texts for harangues on liberty. The right of freedom of speech was dragged in when General Van Dorn, in the Southwest, threatened with suppression any newspaper that published anything which might impair confidence in a commanding officer. How could he have dared to do this, was the cry, unless the President was behind him? And when General Bragg assumed a similar attitude toward the press, the same cry was raised. Throughout the summer of victories, even while the thrilling stories of Seven Pines, the Peninsula, Second Manassas, were sounding like trumpets, these mutterings of discontent formed an ominous accompaniment.
Yancey, speaking of the disturbed temper of the time, attributed it to the general lack of information on the part of Southern people as to what the Confederate Government was doing. His proposed remedy was an end of the censorship which that Government was attempting to maintain, the abandonment of the secret sessions of its Congress, and the taking of the people into its full confidence. Now a Senator from Alabama, he attempted, at the opening of the congressional session in the autumn of 1862, to abolish secret sessions, but in his efforts he was not successful.
There seems little doubt that the Confederate Government had blundered in being too secretive. Even from Congress, much information was withheld. A curious incident has preserved what appeared to the military mind the justification of this reticence. The Secretary of War refused to comply with a request for information, holding that he could not do so "without disclosing the strength of our armies to many persons of subordinate position whose secrecy cannot be relied upon." "I beg leave to remind you," said he, "of a report made in response to a similar one from the Federal Congress, communicated to them in secret session, and now a part of our archives."
How much the country was in the dark with regard to some vital matters is revealed by an attack on the Confederate Administration which was made by the Charleston Mercury, in February. The Southern Government was accused of unpardonable slowness in sending agents to Europe to purchase munitions. In point of fact, the Confederate Government had been more prompt than the Union Government in rushing agents abroad. But the country was not permitted to know this. Though the Courier was a government organ in Charleston, it did not meet the charges of the Mercury by disclosing the facts about the arduous attempts of the Confederate Government to secure arms in Europe. The reply of the Courier to the Mercury, though spirited, was all in general terms. "To shake confidence in Jefferson Davis," said the Courier, "is... to bring 'hideous ruin and combustion' down upon our dearest hopes and interests." It made "Mr. Davis and his defensive policy" objects of all admiration; called Davis "our Moses." It was deeply indignant because it had been "reliably informed that men of high official position among us" were "calling for a General Convention of the Confederate States to depose him and set up a military Dictator in his place." The Mercury retorted that, as to the plot against "our Moses," there was no evidence of its existence except the Courier's assertion. Nevertheless, it considered Davis "an incubus to the cause." The controversy between the Mercury and the Courier at Charleston was paralleled at Richmond by the constant bickering between the government organ, the Enquirer, and the Examiner, which shares with the Mercury the first place among the newspapers hostile to Davis. *
* The Confederate Government did not misapprehend the attitude of the intellectual opposition. Its foreign organ, The Index, published in London, characterized the leading Southern papers for the enlightenment of the British public. While the Enquirer and the Courier were singled out as the great champions of the Confederate Government, the Examiner and the Mercury were portrayed as its arch enemies. The Examiner was called the "Ishmael of the Southern press." The Mercury was described as "almost rabid on the subject of state rights."
Associated with the Examiner was a vigorous writer having considerable power of the old-fashioned, furious sort, ever ready to foam at the mouth. If he had had more restraint and less credulity, Edward A. Pollard might have become a master of the art of vituperation. Lacking these qualities, he never rose far above mediocrity. But his fury was so determined and his prejudice so invincible that his writings have something of the power of conviction which fanaticism wields. In midsummer, 1862, Pollard published a book entitled The First Year of the War, which was commended by his allies in Charleston as showing no "tendency toward unfairness of statement" and as expressing views "mainly in accordance with popular opinion."
This book, while affecting to be an historical review, was skillfully designed to discredit the Confederate Administration. Almost every disaster, every fault of its management was traceable more or less directly to Davis. Kentucky had been occupied by the Federal army because of the "dull expectation" in which the Confederate Government had stood aside waiting for things somehow to right themselves. The Southern Congress had been criminally slow in coming to conscription, contenting itself with an army of 400,000 men that existed "on paper." "The most distressing abuses were visible in the ill-regulated hygiene of our camps." According to this book, the Confederate Administration was solely to blame for the loss of Roanoke Island. In calling that disaster "deeply humiliating," as he did in a message to Congress, Davis was trying to shield his favorite Benjamin at the cost of gallant soldiers who had been sacrificed through his incapacity. Davis's promotion of Benjamin to the State Department was an act of "ungracious and reckless defiance of popular sentiment." The President was "not the man to consult the sentiment and wisdom of the people; he desired to signalize the infallibility of his own intellect in every measure of the revolution and to identify, from motives of vanity, his own personal genius with every event and detail of the remarkable period of history in which he had been called upon to act. This imperious conceit seemed to swallow up every other idea in his mind." The generals "fretted under this pragmatism" of one whose "vanity" directed the war "from his cushioned seat in Richmond" by means of the one formula, "the defensive policy."
One of Pollard's chief accusations against the Confederate Government was its failure to enforce the conscription law. His paper, the Examiner, as well as the Mercury, supported Davis in the policy of conscription, but both did their best, first, to rob him of the credit for it and, secondly, to make his conduct of the policy appear inefficient. Pollard claimed for the Examiner the credit of having originated the policy of conscription; the Mercury claimed it for Rhett.
In other words, an aggressive war party led by the Examiner and the Mercury had been formed in those early days when the Confederate Government appeared to be standing wholly on the defensive, and when it had failed to confide to the people the extenuating circumstance that lack of arms compelled it to stand still whether it would or no. And yet, after this Government had changed its policy and had taken up in the summer of 1862 an offensive policy, this party—or faction, or what you will—continued its career of opposition. That the secretive habit of the Confederate Government helped cement the opposition cannot be doubted. It is also likely that this opposition gave a vent to certain jealous spirits who had missed the first place in leadership.
Furthermore, the issue of state sovereignty had been raised. In Georgia a movement had begun which was distinctly different from the Virginia-Carolina movement of opposition, a movement for which Rhett and Pollard had scarcely more than disdainful tolerance, and not always that. This parallel opposition found vent, as did the other, in a political pamphlet. On the subject of conscription Davis and the Governor of Georgia—that same Joseph E. Brown who had seized Fort Pulaski in the previous year—exchanged a rancorous correspondence. Their letters were published in a pamphlet of which Pollard said scornfully that it was hawked about in every city of the South. Brown, taking alarm at the power given the Confederate Government by the Conscription Act, eventually defined his position, and that of a large following, in the extreme words: "No act of the Government of the United States prior to the secession of Georgia struck a blow at constitutional liberty so fell as has been stricken by the conscript acts."
There were other elements of discontent which were taking form as early as the autumn of 1862 but which were not yet clearly defined. But the two obvious sources of internal criticism just described were enough to disquiet the most resolute administration. When the triple offensive broke down, when the ebb-tide began, there was already everything that was needed to precipitate a political crisis. And now the question arises whether the Confederate Administration had itself to blame. Had Davis proved inadequate in his great undertaking?
The one undeniable mistake of the Government previous to the autumn of 1862 was its excessive secrecy. As to the other mistakes attributed to it at the time, there is good reason to call them misfortunes. Today we can see that the financial situation, the cotton situation, the relations with Europe, the problem of equipping the armies, were all to a considerable degree beyond the control of the Confederate Government. If there is anything to be added to its mistaken secrecy as a definite cause of irritation, it must be found in the general tone given to its actions by its chief directors. And here there is something to be said.
With all his high qualities of integrity, courage, faithfulness, and zeal, Davis lacked that insight into human life which marks the genius of the supreme executive. He was not an artist in the use of men. He had not that artistic sense of his medium which distinguishes the statesman from the bureaucrat. In fact, he had a dangerous bent toward bureaucracy. As Reuben Davis said of him, "Gifted with some of the highest attributes of a statesman, he lacked the pliancy which enables a man to adapt his measures to the crisis." Furthermore, he lacked humor; there was no safety-valve to his intense nature; and he was a man of delicate health. Mrs. Davis, describing the effects which nervous dyspepsia and neuralgia had upon him, says he would come home from his office "fasting, a mere mass of throbbing nerves, and perfectly exhausted." And it cannot be denied that his mind was dogmatic. Here are dangerous lines for the character of a leader of revolution—the bureaucratic tendency, something of rigidity, lack of humor, physical wretchedness, dogmatism. Taken together, they go far toward explaining his failure in judging men, his irritable confidence in himself.
It is no slight detail of a man's career to be placed side by side with a genius of the first rank without knowing it. But Davis does not seem ever to have appreciated that the man commanding in the Seven Days' Battles was one of the world's supreme characters. The relation between Davis and Lee was always cordial, and it brought out Davis's character in its best light. Nevertheless, so rooted was Davis's faith in his own abilities that he was capable of saying, at a moment of acutest anxiety, "If I could take one wing and Lee the other, I think we could between us wrest a victory from those people." And yet, his military experience embraced only the minor actions of a young officer on the Indian frontier and the gallant conduct of a subordinate in the Mexican War. He had never executed a great military design. His desire for the military life was, after all, his only ground for ranking himself with the victor of Second Manassas. Davis was also unfortunate in lacking the power to overcome men and sweep them along with him—the power Lee showed so conspicuously. Nor was Davis averse to sharp reproof of the highest officials when he thought them in the wrong. He once wrote to Joseph E. Johnston that a letter of his contained "arguments and statements utterly unfounded" and "insinuations as unfounded as they were unbecoming."
Davis was not always wise in his choice of men. His confidence in Bragg, who was long his chief military adviser, is not sustained by the military critics of a later age. His Cabinet, though not the contemptible body caricatured by the malice of Pollard, was not equal to the occasion. Of the three men who held the office of Secretary of State, Toombs and Hunter had little if any qualification for such a post, while the third, Benjamin, is the sphinx of Confederate history.
In a way, Judah P. Benjamin is one of the most interesting men in American politics. By descent a Jew, born in the West Indies, he spent his boyhood mainly at Charleston and his college days at Yale. He went to New Orleans to begin his illustrious career as a lawyer, and from Louisiana entered politics. The facile keenness of his intellect is beyond dispute. He had the Jewish clarity of thought, the wonderful Jewish detachment in matters of pure mind. But he was also an American of the middle of the century. His quick and responsive nature—a nature that enemies might call simulative—caught and reflected the characteristics of that singular and highly rhetorical age. He lives in tradition as the man of the constant smile, and yet there is no one in history whose state papers contain passages of fiercer violence in days of tension. How much of his violence was genuine, how much was a manner of speaking, his biographers have not had the courage to determine. Like so many American biographers they have avoided the awkward questions and have glanced over, as lightly as possible, the persistent attempts of Congress to drive him from office.
Nothing could shake the resolution of Davis to retain Benjamin in the Cabinet. Among Davis's loftiest qualities was his sense of personal loyalty. Once he had given his confidence, no amount of opposition could shake his will but served rather to harden him. When Benjamin as Secretary of War passed under a cloud, Davis led him forth resplendent as Secretary of State. Whether he was wise in doing so, whether the opposition was not justified in its distrust of Benjamin, is still an open question. What is certain is that both these able men, even before the crisis that arose in the autumn of 1862, had rendered themselves and their Government widely unpopular. It must never be forgotten that Davis entered office without the backing of any definite faction. He was a "dark horse," a compromise candidate. To build up a stanch following, to create enthusiasm for his Administration, was a prime necessity of his first year as President. Yet he seems not to have realized this necessity. Boldly, firmly, dogmatically, he gave his whole thought and his entire energy to organizing the Government in such a way that it could do its work efficiently. And therein may have been the proverbial rift within the lute. To Davis statecraft was too much a thing of methods and measures, too little a thing of men and passions.
During the autumn of 1862 and the following winter the disputes over the conduct of the war began to subside and two other themes became prominent: the sovereignty of the States, which appeared to be menaced by the Government, and the personality of Davis, whom malcontents regarded as a possible despot. Contrary to tradition, the first note of alarm over state rights was not struck by its great apostle Rhett, although the note was sounded in South Carolina in the early autumn. There existed in this State at that time an extra assembly called the "Convention," which had been organized in 1860 for the general purpose of seeing the State through the "revolution." In the Convention, in September, 1862, the question of a contest with the Confederate Government on the subject of a state army was definitely raised. It was proposed to organize a state army and to instruct the Legislature to "take effectual measures to prevent the agents of the Confederate Government from raising troops in South Carolina except by voluntary enlistment or by applying to the Executive of the State to call out the militia as by law organized, or some part of it to be mustered into the Confederate service." This proposal brought about a sharp debate upon the Confederate Government and its military policy. Rhett made a remarkable address, which should of itself quiet forever the old tale that he was animated in his opposition solely by the pique of a disappointed candidate for the presidency. Though as sharp as ever against the Government and though agreeing wholly with the spirit of the state army plan, he took the ground that circumstances at the moment rendered the organization of such an army inopportune. A year earlier he would have strongly supported the plan. In fact, in opposition to Davis he had at that time, he said, urged an obligatory army which the States should be required to raise. The Confederate Administration, however, had defeated his scheme. Since then the situation had changed and had become so serious that now there was no choice but to submit to military necessity. He regarded the general conscription law as "absolutely necessary to save" the Confederacy "from utter devastation if not final subjugation. Right or wrong, the policy of the Administration had left us no other alternative...."
The dominant attitude in South Carolina in the autumn of 1862 is in strong contrast, because of its firm grasp upon fact, with the attitude of the Brown faction in Georgia. An extended history of the Confederate movement—one of those vast histories that delight the recluse and scare away the man of the world—would labor to build up images of what might be called the personalities of the four States that continued from the beginning to the end parts of the effective Confederate system—Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia. We are prone to forget that the Confederacy was practically divided into separate units as early as the capture of New Orleans by Farragut, but a great history of the time would have a special and thrilling story of the conduct of the detached western unit, the isolated world of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas—the "Department of the Trans-Mississippi"—cut off from the main body of the Confederacy and hemmed in between the Federal army and the deep sea. Another group of States—Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama—became so soon, and remained so long, a debatable land, on which the two armies fought, that they also had scant opportunity for genuine political life. Florida, small and exposed, was absorbed in its gallant achievement of furnishing to the armies a number of soldiers larger than its voting population.
Thus, after the loss of New Orleans, one thing with another operated to confine the area of full political life to Virginia and her three neighbors to the South. And yet even among these States there was no political solidarity or unanimity of opinion, for the differences in their past experience, social structure, and economic conditions made for distinct points of view. In South Carolina, particularly, the prevailing view was that of experienced, disillusioned men who realized from the start that secession had burnt their bridges, and that now they must win the fight or change the whole current of their lives. In the midst of the extraordinary conditions of war, they never talked as if their problems were the problems of peace. Brown, on the other hand, had but one way of reasoning—if we are to call it reasoning—and, with Hannibal at the gates, talked as if the control of the situation were still in his own hands.
While South Carolina, so grimly conscious of the reality of war and the danger of internal discord, held off from the issue of state sovereignty, the Brown faction in Georgia blithely pressed it home. A bill for extending the conscription age which was heartily advocated by the Mercury was as heartily condemned by Brown. To the President he wrote announcing his continued opposition to a law which he declared "encroaches upon the reserved rights of the State and strikes down her sovereignty at a single blow." Though the Supreme Court of Georgia pronounced the conscription acts constitutional, the Governor and his faction did not cease to condemn them. Linton Stephens, as well as his famous kinsman, took up the cudgels. In a speech before the Georgia Legislature, in November, Linton Stephens borrowed almost exactly the Governor's phraseology in denying the necessity for conscription, and this continued to be the note of their faction throughout the war. "Conscription checks enthusiasm," was ever their cry; "we are invincible under a system of volunteering, we are lost with conscription."