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The Day of the Confederacy by Nathaniel W. Stephenson

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the effects which may be produced upon our social

"The reasons that induce me to recommend the employment of negro
troops at all render the effect of the measures...upon
slavery immaterial, and in my opinion the best means of securing
the efficiency and fidelity of this auxiliary force would be to
accompany the measure with a well-digested plan of gradual and
general emancipation. As that will be the result of the
continuance of the war, and will certainly occur if the enemy
succeed, it seems to me most advisable to adopt it at once, and
thereby obtain all the benefits that will accrue to our cause..."

"I can only say in conclusion, that whatever measures are to be
adopted should be adopted at once. Every day's delay increases
the difficulty. Much time will be required to organize and
discipline the men, and action may be deferred until it is too

Lee wrote these words on January 11, 1865. At that time a fresh
wave of despondency had gone over the South because of Hood's
rout at Nashville; Congress was debating intermittently the
possible arming of the slaves; and the newspapers were
prophesying that the Administration would presently force the
issue. It is to be observed that Lee did not advise Virginia to
wait for Confederate action. He advocated emancipation by the
State. After all, to both Lee and Smith, Virginia was their

During the next sixty days Lee rejected two great
opportunities--or, if you will, put aside two great temptations.
If tradition is to be trusted, it was during January that Lee
refused to play the role of Cromwell by declining to intervene
directly in general Confederate politics. But there remained open
the possibility of his intervention in Virginia politics, and the
local crisis was in its own way as momentous as the general
crisis. What if Virginia had accepted the views of Lee and
insisted upon the immediate arming of the slaves? Virginia,
however, did not do so; and Lee, having made public his position,
refrained from further participation. Politically speaking, he
maintained a splendid isolation at the head of the armies.

Through January and February the Virginia crisis continued
undetermined. In this period of fateful hesitation, the
"mountains of prejudice" proved too great to be undermined even
by the influence of Lee. When at last Virginia enacted a law
permitting the arming of her slaves, no provision was made for
their manumission.

Long before the passage of this act in Virginia, Congress had
become the center of the controversy. Davis had come to the point
where no tradition however cherished would stand, in his mind,
against the needs of the moment. To reinforce the army in great
strength was now his supreme concern, and he saw but one way to
do it. As a last resort he was prepared to embrace the bold plan
which so many people still regarded with horror and which as late
as the previous November he himself had opposed. He would arm the
slaves. On February 10, 1865, bills providing for the arming of
the slaves were introduced both in the House and in the Senate.

On this issue all the forces both of the Government and the
opposition fought their concluding duel in which were involved
all the other basal issues that had distracted the country since
1862. Naturally there was a bewildering criss-cross of political
motives. There were men who, like Smith and Lee, would go along
with the Government on emancipation, provided it was to be
carried out by the free will of the States. There were others who
preferred subjugation to the arming of the slaves; and among
these there were clashings of motive. Then, too, there were those
who were willing to arm the slaves but were resolved not to give
them their freedom.

The debate brings to the front of the political stage the figure
of R. M. T. Hunter. Hitherto his part has not been conspicuous
either as Secretary of State or as Senator from Virginia. He now
becomes, in the words of Davis, "a chief obstacle" to the passage
of the Senate bill which would have authorized a levy of negro
troops and provided for their manumission by the War Department
with the consent of the State in which they should be at the time
of the proposed manumission. After long discussion, this bill was
indefinitely postponed. Meanwhile a very different bill had
dragged through the House. While it was under debate, another
appeal was made to Lee. Barksdale, who came as near as any one to
being the leader of the Administration, sought Lee's aid. Again
the General urged the enrollment of negro soldiers and their
eventual manumission, but added this immensely significant

"I have no doubt that if Congress would authorize their [the
negroes'] reception into service, and empower the President to
call upon individuals or States for such as they are willing to
contribute, with the condition of emancipation to all enrolled, a
sufficient number would be forthcoming to enable us to try the
experiment [of determining whether the slaves would make good
soldiers]. If it proved successful, most of the objections to the
measure would disappear, and if individuals still remained
unwilling to send their negroes to the army, the force of public
opinion in the States would soon bring about such legislation as
would remove all obstacles. I think the matter should be left, as
far as possible, to the people and to the States, which alone can
legislate as the necessities of this particular service may

The fact that Congress had before it this advice from Lee
explains why all factions accepted a compromise bill, passed on
the 9th of March, approved by the President on the 13th of March,
and issued to the country in a general order on the 23d of March.
It empowered the President to "ask for and accept from the owners
of slaves" the service of such number of negroes as he saw fit,
and if sufficient number were not offered to "call on each State
...for her quota of 300,000 troops...to be raised from
such classes of the population, irrespective of color, in each
State as the proper authorities thereof may determine." However,
"nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize a change in
the relation which the said slaves shall bear toward their
owners, except by consent of the owners and of the States in
which they may reside and in pursuance of the laws thereof."

The results of this act were negligible. Its failure to offer the
slave-soldier his freedom was at once seized upon by critics as
evidence of the futility of the course of the Administration. The
sneer went round that the negro was to be made to fight for his
own captivity. Pollard--whose words, however, must be taken with
grain of salt--has left this account of recruiting under the new
act: "Two companies of blacks, organized from some negro
vagabonds in Richmond, were allowed to give balls at the Libby
Prison and were exhibited in fine fresh uniforms on Capitol
Square as decoys to obtain recruits. But the mass of their
colored brethren looked on the parade with unenvious eyes, and
little boys exhibited the early prejudices of race by pelting the
fine uniforms with mud."

Nevertheless both Davis and Lee busied themselves in the endeavor
to raise black troops. Governor Smith cooperated with them. And
in the mind of the President there was no abandonment of the
program of emancipation, which was now his cardinal policy. Soon
after the passage of the act, he wrote to Smith: "I am happy to
receive your assurance of success [in raising black troops], as
well as your promise to seek legislation to secure unmistakable
freedom to the slave who shall enter the Army, with a right to
return to his old home, when he shall have been honorably
discharged from military service."

While this final controversy was being fought out in Congress,
the enthusiasm for the Administration had again ebbed. Its
recovery of prestige had run a brief course and was gone, and now
in the midst of the discussion over the negro soldiers' bills,
the opposition once more attacked the Cabinet, with its old
enemy, Benjamin, as the target. Resolutions were introduced into
the Senate declaring that "the retirement of the Honorable Judah
P. Benjamin from the State Department will be subservient of the
public interests"; in the House resolutions were offered
describing his public utterances as "derogatory to his position
as a high public functionary of the Confederate Government, a
reflection on the motives of Congress as a deliberative body, and
an insult to public opinion."

So Congress wrangled and delayed while the wave of fire that was
Sherman's advance moved northward through the Carolinas. Columbia
had gone up in smoke while the Senate debated day after
day--fifteen in all--what to do with the compromise bill sent up
to it from the House. It was during this period that a new
complication appears to have been added to a situation which was
already so hopelessly entangled, for this was the time when
Governor Magrath made a proposal to Governor Vance for a league
within the Confederacy, giving as his chief reason that
Virginia's interests were parting company with those of the lower
South. The same doubt of the upper South appears at various times
in the Mercury. And through all the tactics of the opposition
runs the constant effort to discredit Davis. The Mercury scoffed
at the agitation for negro soldiers as a mad attempt on the part
of the Administration to remedy its "myriad previous blunders."

In these terrible days, the mind of Davis hardened. He became
possessed by a lofty and intolerant confidence, an absolute
conviction that, in spite of all appearances, he was on the
threshold of success. We may safely ascribe to him in these days
that illusory state of mind which has characterized some of the
greatest of men in their over-strained, concluding periods. His
extraordinary promises in his later messages, a series of vain
prophecies beginning with his speech at the African Church,
remind one of Napoleon after Leipzig refusing the Rhine as a
boundary. His nerves, too, were all but at the breaking point. He
sent the Senate a scolding message because of its delay in
passing the Negro Soldiers' Bill. The Senate answered in a report
that was sharply critical of his own course. Shortly afterward
Congress adjourned refusing his request for another suspension of
the writ of habeas corpus.

Davis had hinted at important matters he hoped soon to be able to
submit to Congress. What he had in mind was the last, the
boldest, stroke of this period of desperation. The policy of
emancipation he and Benjamin had accepted without reserve. They
had at last perceived, too late, the power of the anti-slavery
movement in Europe. Though they had already failed to coerce
England through cotton and had been played with and abandoned by
Napoleon, they persisted in thinking that there was still a
chance for a third chapter in their foreign affairs.

The agitation to arm the slaves, with the promise of freedom, had
another motive besides the reinforcement of Lee's army: it was
intended to serve as a basis for negotiations with England and
France. To that end D. J. Kenner was dispatched to Europe early
in 1865. Passing through New York in disguise, he carried word of
this revolutionary program to the Confederate commissioners
abroad. A conference at Paris was held by Kenner, Mason, and
Slidell. Mason, who had gone over to England to sound Palmerston
with regard to this last Confederate hope, was received on the
14th of March. On the previous day, Davis had accepted temporary
defeat, by signing the compromise bill which omitted
emancipation. But as there was no cable operating at the time,
Mason was not aware of this rebuff. In his own words, he "urged
upon Lord P. that if the President was right in his impression
that there was some latent, undisclosed obstacle on the part of
Great Britain to recognition, it should be frankly stated, and we
might, if in our power to do so, consent to remove it."
Palmerston, though his manner was "conciliatory and kind,"
insisted that there was nothing "underlying" his previous
statements, and that he could not, in view of the facts then
existing, regard the Confederacy in the light of an independent
power. Mason parted from him convinced that "the most ample
concessions on our part in the matter referred to would have
produced no change in the course determined on by the British
Government with regard to recognition." In a subsequent interview
with Lord Donoughmore, he was frankly told that the offer of
emancipation had come too late.

The dispatch in which Mason reported the attitude of the British
Government never reached the Confederate authorities. It was
dated the 31st of March. Two days later Richmond was evacuated by
the Confederate Government.

Chapter XII. The Last Word

The evacuation of Richmond broke the back of the Confederate
defense. Congress had adjourned. The legislative history of the
Confederacy was at an end. The executive history still had a few
days to run. After destroying great quantities of records, the
government officials had packed the remainder on a long train
that conveyed the President and what was left of the civil
service to Danville. During a few days, Danville was the
Confederate capital. There, Davis, still unable to conceive
defeat, issued his pathetic last Address to the People of the
Confederate States. His mind was crystallized. He was no longer
capable of judging facts. In as confident tones as ever he
promised his people that they should yet prevail; he assured
Virginians that even if the Confederate army should withdraw
further south the withdrawal would be but temporary, and that
"again and again will we return until the baffled and exhausted
enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of
making slaves of a people resolved to be free."

The surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, compelled another
migration of the dwindling executive company. General Johnston
had not yet surrendered. A conference which he had with the
President and the Cabinet at Greensboro ended in giving him
permission to negotiate with Sherman. Even then Davis was still
bent on keeping up the fight; yet, though he believed that
Sherman would reject Johnston's overtures, he was overtaken at
Charlotte on his way South by the crushing news of Johnston's
surrender. There the executive history of the Confederacy came to
an end in a final Cabinet meeting. Davis, still blindly resolute
to continue the struggle, was deeply distressed by the
determination of his advisers to abandon it. In imminent danger
of capture, the President's party made its way to Abbeville,
where it broke up, and each member sought safety as best he
could. Davis with a few faithful men rode to Irwinsville,
Georgia, where, in the early morning of the l0th of May, he was
surprised and captured. But the history of the Confederacy was
not quite at an end. The last gunshots were still to be fired far
away in Texas on the 13th of May. The surrender of the forces of
the Trans-Mississippi on May 26, 1865, brought the war to a
definite conclusion.

There remains one incident of these closing days, the
significance of which was not perceived until long afterward,
when it immediately took its rightful place among the determining
events of American history. The unconquerable spirit of the Army
of Northern Virginia found its last expression in a proposal
which was made to Lee by his officers. If he would give the word,
they would make the war a duel to the death; it should drag out
in relentless guerrilla struggles; and there should be no
pacification of the South until the fighting classes had been
exterminated. Considering what those classes were, considering
the qualities that could be handed on to their posterity, one
realizes that this suicide of a whole people, of a noble fighting
people, would have maimed incalculably the America of the future.
But though the heroism of this proposal of his men to die on
their shields had its stern charm for so brave a man as Lee, he
refused to consider it. He would not admit that he and his people
had a right thus to extinguish their power to help mold the
future, no matter whether it be the future they desired or not.
The result of battle must be accepted. The Southern spirit must
not perish, luxuriating blindly in despair, but must find a new
form of expression, must become part of the new world that was to
be, must look to a new birth under new conditions. In this spirit
he issued to his army his last address:

"After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed
courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been
compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need
not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have
remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the
result from no distrust of them; but feeling that valor and
devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the
loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I
determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past
services have endeared them to their countrymen.... I bid you
an affectionate farewell."

How inevitably one calls to mind, in view of the indomitable
valor of Lee's final decision, those great lines from Tennyson:

"Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will."


There is no adequate history of the Confederacy. It is rumored
that a distinguished scholar has a great work approaching
completion. It is also rumored that another scholar, well
equipped to do so, will soon bring out a monumental life of
Davis. But the fact remains that as yet we lack a comprehensive
review of the Confederate episode set in proper perspective.
Standard works such as the "History of the United States from the
Compromise of 1850", by J. F. Rhodes (7 vols., 1893-1908), even
when otherwise as near a classic as is the work of Mr. Rhodes,
treat the Confederacy so externally as to have in this respect
little value. The one searching study of the subject, "The
Confederate States of America," by J. C. Schwab (1901), though
admirable in its way, is wholly overshadowed by the point of view
of the economist. The same is to be said of the article by
Professor Schwab in the 11th edition of "The Encyclopaedia

Two famous discussions of the episode by participants are: "The
Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government," by the President of
the Confederacy (2 vols., 1881), and "A Constitutional View of
the Late War Between the States," by Alexander H. Stephens (2
vols., 1870). Both works, though invaluable to the student, are
tinged with controversy, each of the eminent authors aiming to
refute the arguments of political antagonists.

The military history of the time has so overshadowed the civil,
in the minds of most students, that we are still sadly in need of
careful, disinterested studies of the great figures of
Confederate civil affairs. "Jefferson Davis," by William E. Dodd
("American Crisis Biographies," 1907), is the standard life of
the President, superseding older ones. Not so satisfactory in the
same series is "Judah P. Benjamin," by Pierce Butler (1907), and
"Alexander H. Stephens," by Louis Pendleton (1907). Older works
which are valuable for the material they contain are: "Memoir of
Jefferson Davis," by his Wife (1890); "The Life and Times of
Alexander H. Stephens," by R. M. Johnston and W. M. Browne
(1878); "The Life and Times of William Lowndes Yancey," by J. W.
Du Bose (1891); "The Life, Times, and Speeches of Joseph E.
Brown," by Herbert Fielder (1883); "Public Life and Diplomatic
Correspondence of James M. Mason," by his Daughter (1903); "The
Life and Time of C. G. Memminger," by H. D. Capers (1893). The
writings of E. A. Pollard cannot be disregarded, but must be
taken as the violent expression of an extreme partisan. They
include a "Life of Jefferson Davis" (1869) and "The Lost Cause"
(1867). A charming series of essays is "Confederate Portraits,"
by Gamaliel Bradford (1914). Among books on special topics that
are to be recommended are: "The Diplomatic History of the
Southern Confederacy" by J. M. Callahan (1901); "France and the
Confederate Navy," by John Bigelow (1888); and "The Secret
Service of the Confederate States in Europe," by J. D. Bulloch (2
vols., 1884). There is a large number of contemporary accounts of
life in the Confederacy. Historians have generally given
excessive attention to "A Rebel War Clerk's Diary at the
Confederate States Capital," by J. B. Jones (2 vols., 1866) which
has really neither more nor less value than a Richmond newspaper.
Conspicuous among writings of this type is the delightful "Diary
from Dixie," by Mrs. Mary B. Chestnut (1905) and "My Diary, North
and South," by W. H. Russell (1861).

The documents of the civil history, so far as they are accessible
to the general reader, are to be found in the three volumes
forming the fourth series of the "Official Records of the Union
and Confederate Armies" (128 vols., 1880-1901); the "Journals of
the Congress of the Confederate States" (8 vols., 1904) and
"Messages and Papers of the Confederacy," edited by J. D.
Richardson (2 vols., 1905). Four newspapers are of first
importance: the famous opposition organs, the Richmond Examiner
and the Charleston Mercury, which should be offset by the two
leading organs of the Government, the Courier of Charleston and
the Enquirer of Richmond. The Statutes of the Confederacy have
been collected and published; most of them are also to be found
in the fourth series of the Official Records.

Additional bibliographical references will be found appended to
the articles on the "Confederate States of America," "Secession,"
and "Jefferson Davis," in "The Encyclopaedia Britannica," 11th

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