Mr. Seward assented and the matter remained thus comfortably settled until so late as March 2, 1861, when Seward wrote a brief note asking “leave to withdraw his consent.” Apparently the Democratic complexion of the cabinet, and the suggestions of suspicious friends, made him fear that his influence in the ministry would be inferior to that of Chase. Coming at this eleventh hour, which already had its weighty burden of many anxieties, this brief destructive note was both embarrassing and exasperating. It meant the entire reconstruction of the cabinet. Never did Lincoln’s tranquil indifference to personal provocation stand him in better stead than in this crisis,–for a crisis it was when Seward, in discontent and distrust, desired to draw aloof from the administration. He held the note of the recalcitrant politician for two days unanswered, then he wrote a few lines: “Your note,” he said, “is the subject of the most painful solicitude with me; and I feel constrained to beg that you will countermand the withdrawal. The public interest, I think, demands that you should; and my personal feelings are deeply enlisted in the same direction.” These words set Mr. Seward right again; on March 5 he withdrew his letter of March 2, and in a few hours was appointed.
Immediately after the installation of the new government three commissioners from the Confederacy came to Washington, and requested an official audience. They said that seven States of the American Union had withdrawn therefrom, had reassumed sovereign power, and were now an independent nation in fact and in right; that, in order to adjust upon terms of amity and good-will all questions growing out of this political separation, they were instructed to make overtures for opening negotiations, with the assurance that the Confederate government earnestly desired a peaceful solution and would make no demand not founded in strictest justice, neither do any act to injure their late confederates. From the Confederate point of view these approaches were dignified and conciliatory; from the Northern point of view they were treasonable and insolent. Probably the best fruit which Mr. Davis hoped from them was that Mr. Seward, who was well known to be desirous of finding some peace-assuring middle course, might be led into a discussion of the situation, inevitably provoking divisions in the cabinet, in the Republican party, and in the country. But though Seward’s frame of mind about this time was such as to put him in great jeopardy of committing hurtful blunders, he was fortunate enough to escape quite doing so. To the agent of the commissioners he replied that he must “consult the President,” and the next day he wrote, in terms of personal civility, that he could not receive them. Nevertheless they remained in Washington a few weeks longer, gathering and forwarding to the Confederate government such information as they could. In this they were aided by Judge Campbell of Alabama, a Secessionist, who still retained his seat upon the bench of the Supreme Court. This gentleman now became a messenger between the commissioners and Mr. Seward, with the purpose of eliciting news and even pledges from the latter for the use of the former. His errands especially related to Fort Sumter, and he gradually drew from Mr. Seward strong expressions of opinion that Sumter would in time be evacuated, even declarations substantially to the effect that this was the arranged policy of the government. Words which fell in so agreeably with the wishes of the judge and the commissioners were received with that warm welcome which often outruns correct construction, and later were construed by them as actual assurances, at least in substance, whereby they conceived themselves to have been “abused and overreached,” and they charged the government with “equivocating conduct.” In the second week in April, contemporaneously with the Sumter crisis, they addressed to Mr. Seward a high-flown missive of reproach, in which they ostentatiously washed the hands of the South, as it were, and shook from their own departing feet the dust of the obdurate North, where they had not been met “in the conciliatory and peaceful spirit” in which they had come. They invoked “impartial history” to place the responsibility of blood and mourning upon those who had denied the great fundamental doctrine of American liberty; and they declared it “clear that Mr. Lincoln had determined to appeal to the sword to reduce the people of the Confederate States to the will of the section or party whose President he is.” In this dust-cloud of glowing rhetoric vanished the last deceit of peaceful settlement.
About the same time, April 13, sundry commissioners from the Virginia convention waited upon Lincoln with the request that he would communicate the policy which he intended to pursue towards the Confederate States. Lincoln replied with a patient civility that cloaked satire: “Having at the beginning of my official term expressed my intended policy as plainly as I was able, it is with deep regret and some mortification I now learn that there is great and injurious uncertainty in the public mind as to what that policy is, and what course I intend to pursue.” To this ratification of the plain position taken in his inaugural, he added that he might see fit to repossess himself of the public property, and that possibly he might withdraw the mail service from the seceding States.
The inauguration of Mr. Lincoln was followed by a lull which endured for several weeks. A like repose reigned contemporaneously in the Confederate States. For a while the people in both sections received with content this reaction of quiescence. But as the same laws of human nature were operative equally at the North and at the South, it soon came about that both at the North and at the South there broke forth almost simultaneously strong manifestations of impatience. The genuine President at Washington and the sham President at Montgomery were assailed by the like pressing demand: Why did they not do something to settle this matter? Southern irascibility found the situation exceedingly trying. The imposing and dramatic attitude of the Confederate States had not achieved an appropriate result. They had organized a government and posed as an independent nation, but no power in the civilized world had yet recognized them in this character; on the contrary, Abraham Lincoln, living hard by in the White House, was explicitly denying it, contumaciously alleging himself to be their lawful ruler, and waiting with an exasperating patience to see what they were really going to do in the business which they had undertaken. They must make some move or they would become ridiculous, and their revolution would die and their confederacy would dissolve from sheer inanition. The newspapers told their leaders this plainly; and a prominent gentleman of Alabama said to Mr. Davis: “Sir, unless you sprinkle blood in the face of the people of Alabama, they will be back in the Union in ten days.” On the other hand, the people of the North were as energetic as the sons of the South were excitable, and with equal urgency they also demanded a conclusion. If the Union was to be enforced, why did not Mr. Lincoln enforce it? How long did he mean placidly to suffer treason and a rival government to rest undisturbed within the country?
With this state of feeling growing rapidly more intense in both sections, action was inevitable. Yet neither leader wished to act first, even for the important purpose of gratifying the popular will. As where two men are resolved to fight, yet have an uneasy vision of a judge and jury in waiting for them, each seeks to make the other the assailant and himself to be upon his defense, so these two rulers took prudent thought of the tribunal of public sentiment not in America alone but in Europe also, with perhaps a slight forward glance towards posterity. If Mr. Lincoln did not like to “invade” the Southern territory, Mr. Davis was equally reluctant to make the Southern “withdrawal” actively belligerent through operations of military offense. Both men were capable of statesmanlike waiting to score a point that was worth waiting for; Davis had been for years biding the ripeness of time, but Lincoln had the capacity of patience beyond any precedent on record.
The spot where the strain came, where this question of the first blow must be settled, was at Fort Sumter, in the mid-throat of Charleston harbor. On December 27, 1860, by a skillful movement at night, Major Anderson, the commander at Fort Moultrie, had transferred his scanty force from that dilapidated and untenable post on the shore to the more defensible and more important position of Fort Sumter. Thereafter a precarious relationship betwixt peace and war had subsisted between him and the South Carolinians. It was distinctly understood that, sooner or later, by negotiation or by force, South Carolina intended to possess herself of this fortress. From her point of view it certainly was preposterous and unendurable that the key to her chief harbor and city should be permanently held by a “foreign” power. Gradually she erected batteries on the neighboring mainland, and kept a close surveillance upon the troops now more than half besieged in the fort.
Under the Buchanan regime the purpose of the United States government had been less plain than it became after Mr. Lincoln’s accession; for Buchanan had not the courage either to order a surrender, or to provoke real warfare by reinforcing the place. In vain did the unfortunate Major Anderson seek distinct instructions; the replies which he received were contradictory and more obscure than Delphic oracles. This unfair, vacillating, and contemptible conduct indicated the desire to lay upon him alone the whole responsibility of the situation, with a politic and selfish reservation to the government of the advantage of disavowing and discrediting him, whatever he might do. On January 9 a futile effort at communication was made by the steamer Star of the West; it failed, and left matters worse rather than better. On March 3, 1861, the Confederate government put General Beauregard in command at Charleston, thereby emphasizing the resolution to have Sumter ere long. Such was the situation on March 4, when Mr. Lincoln came into control and declared a policy which bound him to “hold, occupy, and possess” Sumter. On the same day there came a letter from Major Anderson, describing his position. There were shut up in the fort together a certain number of men and a certain quantity of biscuit and of pork; when the men should have eaten the biscuit and the pork, which they would probably do in about four weeks, they would have to go away. The problem thus became direct, simple, and urgent.
Lincoln sought an opinion from Scott, and was told that “evacuation seems almost inevitable.” He requested a more thorough investigation, and a reply to specific questions: “To what point of time can Anderson maintain his position in Sumter? Can you, with present means, relieve him in that time? What additional means would enable you to do so?” The general answered that four months would be necessary to prepare the naval force, and an even longer time to get together the 5000 regular troops and 20,000 volunteers that would be needed, to say nothing of obtaining proper legislation from Congress. Equally discouraging were the opinions of the cabinet officers. On March 15 Lincoln put to them the question: “Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances is it wise to attempt it?” Only Chase and Blair replied that it would be wise; Seward, Cameron, Wells, Smith, and Bates were against it.
The form of this question indicated that Lincoln contemplated a possibility of being compelled to recede from the policy expressed in his inaugural. Yet it was not his temperament to abandon a purpose deliberately matured and definitely announced, except under absolute necessity. To determine now this question of necessity he sent an emissary to Sumter and another to Charleston, and meantime stayed offensive action on the part of the Confederates by authorizing Seward to give assurance through Judge Campbell that no provisioning or reinforcement should be attempted without warning. Thus he secured, or continued, a sort of truce, irregular and informal, but practical. Meantime he was encouraged by the earnest propositions of Mr. G.V. Fox, until lately an officer of the navy, who was ready to undertake the relief of the fort. Eager discussions ensued, wherein naval men backed the project of Mr. Fox, and army men condemned it. Such difference of expert opinion was trying, for the problem was of a kind which Mr. Lincoln’s previous experience in life did not make it easy for him to solve with any confidence in the correctness of his own judgment.
Amid this puzzlement day after day glided by, and the question remained unsettled. Yet during this lapse of time sentiment was ripening, and perhaps this was the real purpose of Lincoln’s patient waiting. On March 29 his ministers again put their opinions in writing, and now Chase, Welles, and Blair favored an effort at reinforcement; Bates modified his previous opposition so far as to say that the time had come either to evacuate or relieve the fort; Smith favored evacuation, but only on the ground of military necessity; and Seward alone advocated evacuation in part on the ground of policy; he deemed it unwise to “provoke a civil war,” especially “in rescue of an untenable position.”
Was it courtesy or curiosity that induced the President to sit and listen to this warm debate between his chosen advisers? They would have been angry had they known that they were bringing their counsel to a chief who had already made his decision. They did not yet know that upon every occasion of great importance Lincoln would make up his mind for and by himself, yet would not announce his decision, or save his counselors the trouble of counseling, until such time as he should see fit to act. So in this instance he had already, the day before the meeting of the cabinet, directed Fox to draw up an order for such ships, men, and supplies as he would require, and when the meeting broke up he at once issued formal orders to the secretaries of the navy and of war to enter upon the necessary preparation.
Contemporaneously with this there was also undertaken another enterprise for the relief of Fort Pickens at Pensacola. It was, however, kept so strictly secret that the President did not even communicate it to Mr. Welles. Apparently his only reason for such extreme reticence lay in the proverb: “If you wish your secret kept, keep it.” But proverbial wisdom had an unfortunate result upon this occasion. Both the President and Mr. Welles set the eye of desire upon the warship Powhatan, lying in New York harbor. The secretary designed her for the Sumter fleet; the President meant to send her to Pensacola. Of the Sumter expedition she was an absolutely essential part; for the Pensacola plan she was not altogether indispensable.
On April 6 Captain Mercer, on board the Powhatan as his flagship, and on the very point of weighing anchor to sail in command of the Sumter reinforcement, under orders from Secretary Welles, was astounded to find himself dispossessed and superseded by Lieutenant Porter, who suddenly came upon the deck bringing an order signed by the President himself. A few hours later, at Washington, a telegram startled Mr. Welles with the news. Utterly confounded, he hastened, in the early night-time, to the White House, and obtained an audience of the President. Then Mr. Lincoln learned what a disastrous blunder he had made; greatly mortified, he requested Mr. Seward to telegraph with all haste to New York that the Powhatan must be immediately restored to Mercer for Sumter. Lieutenant Porter was already far down the bay, when he was overtaken by a swift tug bringing this message. But unfortunately Mr. Seward had so phrased the dispatch that it did not purport to convey an order either from the President or the secretary of the navy, and he had signed his own name: “Give up the Powhatan to Mercer. SEWARD.” To Porter, hurriedly considering this unintelligible occurrence, it seemed better to go forward under the President’s order than to obey the order of an official who had no apparent authority to command him. So he steamed on for Pensacola.
On April 8, discharging the obligation of warning, Mr. Lincoln notified General Beauregard that an attempt would be made to put provisions into Sumter, but not at present to put in men, arms, or ammunition, unless the fort should be attacked. Thereupon Beauregard, at two o’clock P.M. on April 11, sent to Anderson a request for a surrender. Anderson refused, remarking incidentally that he should be starved out in a few days. At 3.20 A.M., on April 12, Beauregard notified Anderson that he should open fire in one hour. That morning the occupants of Sumter, 9 commissioned officers, 68 non-commissioned officers and privates, 8 musicians, and 43 laborers, breakfasted on pork and water, the last rations in the fort. Before daybreak the Confederate batteries were pouring shot and shell against the walls. Response was made from as many guns as the small body of defenders could handle. But the fort was more easily damaged than were the works on the mainland, and on the morning of the 13th, the officers’ quarters having caught fire, and the magazine being so imperiled that it had to be closed and covered with earth, the fort became untenable. Early in the evening terms of capitulation were agreed upon.
Meantime three transports of the relief expedition were lying outside the bar. The first arrived shortly before the bombardment began, the other two came only a trifle later. All day long these vessels lay to, wondering why the Powhatan did not appear. Had she been there upon the critical night of the 12th, the needed supplies could have been thrown into the fort, for the weather was so dark that the rebel patrol was useless, and it was actually believed in Charleston that the relief had been accomplished. But the Powhatan was far away steaming at full speed for Pensacola. For this sad blunder Lincoln generously, but fairly enough, took the blame to himself. The only excuse which has ever been advanced in behalf of Mr. Lincoln is that he allowed himself to be led blindfold through this important business by Mr. Seward, and that he signed such papers as the secretary of state presented to him without learning their purport and bearing. But such an excuse, even if it can be believed, seems fully as bad as the blunder which it is designed to palliate.
Other blame also has been laid upon Lincoln on the ground that he was dilatory in reaching the determination to relieve the fort. That the decision should have been reached and the expedition dispatched more promptly is entirely evident; but whether or not Lincoln was in fault is quite another question. Three facts are to be considered: 1. The highest military authority in the country advised him, a civilian, that evacuation was a necessity. 2. Most of his ministers were at first against reinforcement, and they never unanimously recommended it; especially his secretary of state condemned it as bad policy. 3. The almost universal feeling of the people of the North, so far as it could then be divined, was compromising, conciliatory, and thoroughly opposed to any act of war. Under such circumstances it was rather an exhibition of independence and courage that Lincoln reached the conclusion of relieving the fort at all, than it was a cause of fault-finding that he did not come to the conclusion sooner. He could not know in March how the people were going to feel after the 13th of April; in fact, if they had fancied that he was provoking hostilities, their feeling might not even then have developed as it did. Finally, he gained his point in forcing the Confederacy into the position of assailant, and there is every reason to believe that he bought that point cheaply at the price of the fortress.
The news of the capture of Sumter had an instant and tremendous effect. The States which had seceded were thrown into a pleasurable ferment of triumph; the Northern States arose in fierce wrath; the Middle States, still balancing dubiously between the two parties, were rent with passionate discussion. For the moment the North seemed a unit; there had been Southern sympathizers before, and Southern sympathizers appeared in considerable numbers later, but for a little while just now they were very scarce. Douglas at once called upon the President, and the telegraph carried to his numerous followers throughout the land the news that he had pledged himself “to sustain the President in the exercise of all his constitutional functions to preserve the Union, and maintain the government, and defend the Federal capital.” By this prompt and generous action he warded off the peril of a divided North. Douglas is not in quite such good repute with posterity as he deserves to be; his attitude towards slavery was bad, but his attitude towards the country was that of a zealous patriot. His veins were full of fighting blood, and he was really much more ready to go to war for the Union than were great numbers of Republicans whose names survive in the strong odor of patriotism. During the presidential campaign he had been speaking out with defiant courage regardless of personal considerations, and in this present juncture he did not hesitate an instant to bring to his successful rival an aid which at the time and under the circumstances was invaluable.
In every town and village there were now mass meetings, ardent speeches, patriotic resolutions, a confusing stir and tumult of words that would become deeds as fast as definite plans could furnish opportunity. The difficulty lay in utilizing this abundant, this exuberant zeal. Historians say rhetorically that the North sprang to arms; and it really would have done so if there had been any arms to spring to; but muskets were scarce, and that there were any at all was chiefly due to the fact that antiquated and unserviceable weapons had been allowed to accumulate undestroyed. Moreover, no one knew even the manual of arms; and there were no uniforms, or accoutrements, or camp equipment of any sort. There was, however, the will which makes the way. Simultaneously with the story of Sumter came also the President’s proclamation of April 15. He called for seventy-five thousand volunteers to serve for three months,–an insignificant body of men, as it now seems, and a period of time not sufficient to change them from civilians into soldiers. Yet for the work immediately visible the demand seemed adequate. Moreover, as the law stood, a much longer term could not have been named, and an apparently disproportionate requisition in point of numbers might have been of injurious effect; for nearly every one was cheerfully saying that the war would be no such very great affair after all. In his own mind the President may or may not have forecast the future more accurately than most others were doing; but his idea plainly was to ask no more than was necessary for the visible occasion. He stated that the troops would be used to “repossess the forts, places, and property which had been seized from the Union,” and that great care would be taken not to disturb peaceful citizens. Amid all the prophesying and theorizing, and the fanciful comparisons of the respective fighting qualities of the Northern and Southern populations, a sensible remark is attributed to Lincoln: “We must not forget that the people of the seceded States, like those of the loyal States, are American citizens with essentially the same characteristics and powers. Exceptional advantages on one side are counterbalanced by exceptional advantages on the other. We must make up our minds that man for man the soldier from the South will be a match for the soldier from the North, and _vice versa_.” This was good common sense, seasonably offsetting the prevalent but foolish notion that the Southerners were naturally a better fighting race than the Northerners. Facts ultimately sustained Lincoln’s just estimate of equality; for though the North employed far greater numbers than did the South, it was because the North had the burdens of attack and conquest upon exterior lines of great extent, because it had to detail large bodies of troops for mere garrison and quasi-police duty, and because during the latter part of the war it took miserable throngs of bounty-bought foreigners into its ranks. Man for man, as Lincoln said at the outset, the war proved that Northern Americans and Southern Americans were closely matched.
By the same instrument the President summoned Congress to assemble in extra session on July 4. It seemed a distant date; and many thought that the Executive Department ought not to endeavor to handle alone all the possible novel developments of so long a period. But Mr. Lincoln had his purposes. By July 4 he and circumstances, together, would have wrought out definite conditions, which certainly did not exist at present; perhaps also, like most men who find themselves face to face with difficult practical affairs, he dreaded the conclaves of the law-makers; but especially he wished to give Kentucky a chance to hold a special election for choosing members of this Congress, because the moral and political value of Kentucky could hardly be overestimated, and the most tactful manoeuvring was necessary to control her.
The Confederate cabinet was said to have greeted Mr. Lincoln’s proclamation with “bursts of laughter.” The governors of Kentucky, North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri telegraphed that no troops would be furnished by their respective States, using language clearly designed to be offensive and menacing. The Northern States, however, responded promptly and enthusiastically. Men thronged to enlist. Hundreds of thousands offered themselves where only 75,000 could be accepted. Of the human raw material there was excess; but discipline and equipment could not be created by any measure of mere willingness. Yet there was great need of dispatch. Both geographically and politically Washington lay as an advanced outpost in immediate peril. General Scott had been collecting the few companies within reach; but all, he said on April 8, “may be too late for this place.” By April 15, however, he believed himself able to hold the city till reinforcements should arrive. The total nominal strength of the United States army, officers and men, was only 17,113, of whom not two thirds could be counted upon the Union side, and even these were scattered over a vast expanse of country, playing police for Indians, and garrisoning distant posts. Rumors of Southern schemes to attack Washington caused widespread alarm; the government had no more definite information than the people, and all alike feared that there was to be a race for the capital, and that the South, being near and prepared, would get there first. As matter of fact, the Southern leaders had laid no military plan for this enterprise, and the danger was exaggerated. The Northerners, however, did not know this, and made desperate haste.
The first men to arrive came from Philadelphia, 460 troops, as they were called, though they came “almost entirely without arms.” In Massachusetts, Governor Andrew, an anti-slavery leader, enthusiastic, energetic, and of great executive ability, had been for many months preparing the militia for precisely this crisis, weeding out the holiday soldiers and thoroughly equipping his regiments for service in the field. For this he had been merrily ridiculed by the aristocracy of Boston during the winter; but inexorable facts now declared for him and against the local aristocrats. On April 15 he received the call from Washington, and immediately sent forth his own summons through the State. All day on the 16th, amid a fierce northeasterly storm, the troops poured into Boston, and by six o’clock on that day three full regiments were ready to start. Three days before this the governor had asked Secretary Cameron for 2000 rifled muskets from the national armory at Springfield, in the State. The secretary refused, and the governor managed to supply his regiment with the most improved arms without aid from the national government. On the forenoon of the 17th, the Sixth Regiment started for Washington. Steamers were ready to take it to Annapolis; but the secretary of war, with astonishing ignorance of facts easily to be known, ordered it to come through Baltimore. Accordingly the regiment reached Baltimore on the 19th, the anniversary of the battle of Lexington. Seven companies were transported in horse-cars from the northern to the southern station without serious hindrance; but then the tracks of the street railway were torn up, and the remaining four companies had to leave the cars and march. A furious mob of “Plug Uglies” and Secessionists assailed them with paving-stones, brickbats, and pistol-shots. The mayor and the marshal of the police force performed fairly their official duty, but were far from quelling the riot. The troops, therefore, thrown on their own resources, justifiably fired upon their assailants. The result of the conflict was that 4 soldiers were killed and 36 were wounded, and of the rioters 12 were killed, and the number of wounded could not be ascertained. The troops reached Washington at five o’clock in the afternoon, the first armed rescuers of the capital; their presence brought a comforting sense of relief, and they were quartered in the senate chamber itself.
* * * * *
What would be the effect of the proclamation, of the mustering of troops in the capital, and of the bloodshed at Baltimore upon the slave States which still remained in the Union, was a problem of immeasurable importance. The President, who had been obliged to take the responsibility of precipitating the crisis in these States, appreciated more accurately than any one else the magnitude of the stake involved in their allegiance. He watched them with the deepest anxiety, and brought the utmost care and tact of his nature to the task of influencing them. The geographical position of Maryland, separating the District of Columbia from the loyal North, made it of the first consequence. The situation there, precarious at best, seemed to be rendered actually hopeless by what had occurred. A tempest of uncontrollable rage whirled away the people and prostrated all Union feeling. Mayor Brown admits that “for some days it looked very much as if Baltimore had taken her stand decisively with the South;” and this was putting it mildly, when the Secessionist Marshal Kane was telegraphing: “Streets red with Maryland blood. Send express over the mountains of Maryland and Virginia for the riflemen to come without delay.” Governor Hicks was opposed to secession, but he was shaken like a reed by this violent blast. Later on this same April 19, Mayor Brown sent three gentlemen to President Lincoln, bearing a letter from himself, in which he said that it was “not possible for more soldiers to pass through Baltimore unless they fight their way at every step.” That night he caused the northward railroad bridges to be burned and disabled; and soon afterward the telegraph wires were cut.
The President met the emergency with coolness and straightforward simplicity, abiding firmly by his main purpose, but conciliatory as to means. He wrote to the governor and the mayor: “For the future troops _must_ be brought here, but I make no point of bringing them _through_ Baltimore;” he would “march them _around_ Baltimore,” if, as he hoped, General Scott should find it feasible to do so. In fulfillment of this promise he ordered a detachment, which had arrived at a station near Baltimore, to go all the way back to Philadelphia and come around by water. He only demurred when the protests were extended to include the whole “sacred” soil of Maryland,–for it appeared that the presence of slavery accomplished the consecration of soil! His troops, he said, could neither fly over the State, nor burrow under it; therefore they must cross it, and the Marylanders must learn that “there was no piece of American soil too good to be pressed by the foot of a loyal soldier on his march to the defense of the capital of his country.” For a while, however, until conditions in Baltimore changed, Eastern regiments came by way of Annapolis, though with difficulty and delay. Yet, even upon this route, conflict was narrowly avoided.
Soon, however, these embarrassments came to an end, and the President’s policy was vindicated by its fruits. It had been strictly his own; he alone ruled the occasion, and he did so in the face of severe pressure to do otherwise, some of which came even from members of his cabinet. Firmness, reasonableness, and patience brought things right; Lincoln spoke sensibly to the Marylanders, and gave them time to consider the situation. Such treatment started a reaction; Unionism revived and Unionists regained courage. Moreover, the sure pressure of material considerations was doing its work. Baltimore, as an isolated secession outpost, found, even in the short space of a week, that business was destroyed and that she was suffering every day financial loss. In a word, by the end of the month, “the tide had turned.” Baltimore, if not quite a Union city, at least ceased to be secessionist. On May 9 Northern troops passed unmolested through it. On May 13 General Butler with a body of troops took possession of Federal Hill, which commands the harbor and city, and fortified it. If the Baltimore question was still open at that time, this settled it. Early in the same month the state legislature came together, Mr. Lincoln refusing to accept the suggestion of interfering with it. This body was by no means Unionist, for it “protested against the war as unjust and unconstitutional, announced a determination to take no part in its prosecution, and expressed a desire for the immediate recognition of the Confederate States.” Yet practically it put a veto on secession by voting that it was inexpedient to summon a convention; it called on all good citizens “to abstain from violent and unlawful interference with the troops.” Thus early in May this brand, though badly scorched, was saved from the conflagration; and its saving was a piece of good fortune of which the importance cannot be exaggerated; for without Maryland Washington could hardly have been held, and with the national capital in the hands of the rebels European recognition probably could not have been prevented. These momentous perils were in the mind of the administration during those anxious days, and great indeed was the relief when the ultimate turn of affairs became assured. For a week officials in Washington were painfully taught what it would mean to have Baltimore a rebel city and Maryland a debatable territory and battle-ground. For a week Mr. Lincoln and his advisers lived almost in a state of siege; they were utterly cut off from communication with the North; they could get no news; they could not learn what was doing for their rescue, nor how serious were the obstructions in the way of such efforts; in place of correct information they heard only the most alarming rumors. In a word, they were governing a country to which they really had no access. The tension of those days was awful; and it was with infinite comfort that they became certain that, whatever other strain might come, this one at least could not be repeated. Henceforth the loyalty of Maryland, so carefully nurtured, gradually grew in strength to the end. Many individuals long remained in their hearts disloyal, and thousands joined the Confederate ranks; but they had to leave their State in order to get beneath a secessionist standard, for Maryland was distinctly and conclusively in the Union.
The situation, resources, and prestige of Virginia made her next to Maryland in importance among the doubtful States. Her Unionists were numerically preponderant; and accordingly the convention, which assembled early in January, was opposed to secession by the overwhelming majority of 89 to 45. But the Secessionists here as elsewhere in the South were propagandists, fiery with enthusiasm and energy, and they controlled the community although they were outnumbered by those who held, in a more quiet way, contrary opinions. When the decisive conflict came it was short and sharp and carried with a rush. By intrigue, by menace, by passionate appeals seasonably applied with sudden intensity of effort at the time of the assault upon Sumter, the convention was induced to pass an ordinance of secession. Those who could not bring themselves to vote in the affirmative were told that they might “absent themselves or be hanged.” On the other hand, there were almost no lines along which the President could project any influence into the State to encourage the Union sentiment. He sought an interview with a political leader, but the gentleman only sent a substitute, and the colloquy amounted to nothing. He fell in with the scheme of General Scott concerning Robert E. Lee, which might have saved Virginia; but this also miscarried. General Lee has always been kindly spoken of at the North, whether deservedly or not is a matter not to be discussed here. Only a few bare facts and dates can be given: April 17, by a vote of 88 to 55, the dragooned convention passed an “ordinance to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States,” but provided that this action should for the present be kept secret, and that it might be annulled by the people at a popular voting, which should be had upon it on the fourth Thursday in May. The injunction of secrecy was immediately broken, and before the polls were to be opened for the balloting Virginia was held by the military forces of the Confederacy, so that the vote was a farce. April 18 Mr. F.P. Blair, Jr., had an interview in Washington with Lee, in which he intimated to Lee that the President and General Scott designed to place him in command of the army which had just been summoned. Accounts of this conversation, otherwise inconsistent, all agree that Lee expressed himself as opposed to secession, but as unwilling to occupy the position designed for him, because he “could take no part in an invasion of the Southern States.” April 20 he tendered his resignation of his commission in the army, closing with the words, “Save in defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword.” On April 22-23 he was appointed to, and accepted, the command of the state forces. In so accepting he said: “I devote myself to the service of my native State, in whose behalf alone will I ever again draw my sword.” April 24 a military league was formed between Virginia and the Confederate States, and her forces were placed under the command of Jefferson Davis; also an invitation was given, and promptly accepted, to make Richmond the Confederate capital. May 16 Virginia formally entered the Confederacy, and Lee became a general–the third in rank–in the service of the Confederate States, though the secession of his State was still only inchoate and might never become complete, since the day set for the popular vote had not arrived, and it was still a possibility that the Unionists might find courage to go to the polls. Thus a rapid succession of events settled it that the President could save neither Virginia nor Robert E. Lee for the Union. Yet the failure was not entire. The northwestern counties were strongly Union in their proclivities, and soon followed to a good end an evil example; for they in turn seceded from Virginia, established a state government, sought admission into the Union, and became the State of West Virginia.
Next in order of importance came Kentucky. The Secessionists, using here the tactics so successful in other States, endeavored to drive through by rush and whirl a formal act of secession. But the Unionists of Kentucky were of more resolute and belligerent temper than those of Georgia and Virginia, and would not submit to be swept away by a torrent really of less volume than their own. Yet in spite of the spirited head thus made by the loyalists the condition in the State long remained such as to require the most skillful treatment by the President; during several critical weeks one error of judgment, a single imprudence, upon his part might have proved fatal. For the condition was anomalous and perplexing, and the conflict of opinion in the State had finally led to the evolution of a theory or scheme of so-called “neutrality.” A similar notion had been imperfectly developed in Maryland, when her legislature declared that she would take no part in a war. The idea was illogical to the point of absurdity, for by it the “neutral” State would at once stay in the Union and stand aloof from it. Neutrality really signified a refusal to perform those obligations which nevertheless were admitted to be binding, and it made of the State a defensive barrier for the South, not to be traversed by Northern troops on an errand of hostility against Confederate Secessionists. It was practical “non-coercion” under a name of fairer sound, and it involved the inconsequence of declaring that the dissolution of an indissoluble Union should not be prevented; it was the proverbial folly of being “for the law but ag’in the enforcement of it.” In the words of a resolution passed by a public meeting in Louisville: it was the “duty” of Kentucky to maintain her “independent position,” taking sides neither with the administration nor with the seceding States, “_but with the Union against them both_.”
Nevertheless, though both logic and geography made neutrality impracticable, yet at least the desire to be neutral indicated a wavering condition, and therefore it was Mr. Lincoln’s task so to arrange matters that, when the State should at last see that it could by no possibility avoid casting its lot with one side or the other, it should cast it with the North. For many weeks the two Presidents played the game for this invaluable stake with all the tact and skill of which each was master. It proved to be a repetition of the fable of the sun and the wind striving to see which could the better make the traveler take off his cloak, and fortunately the patience of Mr. Lincoln represented the warmth of the sun. He gave the Kentuckians time to learn by observation and the march of events that neutrality was an impossibility, also to determine with which side lay the probable advantages for themselves; also he respected the borders of the State during its sensitive days, though in doing so he had to forego some military advantages of time and position. Deliberation brought a sound conclusion. Kentucky never passed an ordinance of secession, but maintained her representation in Congress and contributed her quota to the armies; and these invaluable results were largely due to this wise policy of the President. Many of her citizens, of course, fought upon the Southern side, as was the case in all these debatable Border States, where friends and even families divided against each other, and each man placed himself according to his own convictions. It may seem, therefore, in view of this individual independence of action, that the ordinance of secession was a formality which would not have greatly affected practical conditions; and many critics of Mr. Lincoln at the time could not appreciate the value of his “border-state policy,” and thought that he was making sacrifices and paying prices wholly against wisdom, and out of proportion to anything that could be gained thereby. But he understood the situation and comparative values correctly. Loyalty to the State governed multitudes; preference of the State over the United States cost the nation vast numbers of would-be Unionists in the seceding States, and in fact made secession possible; and the same feeling, erroneous though it was from the Unionist point of view, yet saved for the Unionist party very great numbers in these doubtful States which never in fact seceded. Mr. Davis appreciated this just as much as Mr. Lincoln did; both were shrewd men, and were wasting no foolish efforts when they strove so hard to carry or to prevent formal state action. They appreciated very well that success in passing an ordinance would gain for the South throngs of adherents whose allegiance was, by their peculiar political creed, due to the winner in this local contest.
In Tennessee the Unionist majority, as indicated early in February, was overwhelming. Out of a total vote of less than 92,000, more than 67,000 opposed a state convention. The mountaineers of the eastern region especially were stalwart loyalists, and later held to their faith through the severe ordeal of a peculiarly cruel invasion. But the political value of these scattered settlements was small; and in the more populous parts the Secessionists pursued their usual aggressive and enterprising tactics with success. Ultimately the governor and the legislature despotically compelled secession. It was not decreed by a popular vote, not even by a convention, but by votes of the legislature cast in secret session, a proceeding clearly _ultra vires_ of that body. Finally, on June 8, when a popular vote was taken, the State was in the military control of the Confederacy.
Very similar was the case of North Carolina. The people of the uplands, like their neighbors of Tennessee, were Unionists, and in the rest of the State there was a prevalent Union sentiment; but the influence of the political leaders, their direct usurpations of power, and the customary energetic propagandism, ultimately won. After a convention had been once voted down by popular vote, a second effort to bring one together was successfully made, and an ordinance of secession was passed on May 20. Arkansas was swept along with the stream, seceding on May 6, although prior to that time the votes both for holding a state convention and afterward in the convention itself had shown a decided Unionist preponderance. These three States, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas, were entirely beyond the reach of the President. He had absolutely no lines of influence along which he could work to restrain or to guide them.
Missouri had a career peculiar to herself. In St. Louis there was a strong Unionist majority, and especially the numerous German population was thoroughly anti-slavery, and was vigorously led by F.P. Blair, Jr. But away from her riverfront the State had a sparse population preserving the rough propensities of frontiersmen; these men were not unevenly divided between loyalty and secession and they were an independent, fighting set of fellows, each one of whom intended to follow his own fancy. The result was that Missouri for a long while carried on a little war of her own within her own borders, on too large a scale to be called “bushwhacking,” and yet with a strong flavor of that irregular style of conflict. The President interested himself a good deal in the early efforts of the loyalists, and amid a puzzling snarl of angry “personal politics” he tried to extend to them aid and countenance, though with imperfect success. It was fortunate that Missouri was away on the outskirts, for she was the most vexatious and perplexing part of the country. Her population had little feeling of state allegiance, or, indeed, of any allegiance at all, but what small amount there was fell upon the side of the Union; for though the governor and a majority of the legislature declared for secession, yet the state convention voted for the Union by a large majority. It is true that a sham convention passed a sham ordinance, but this had no weight with any except those who were already Secessionists.
Thus by the close of May, 1861, President Lincoln looked forth upon a spectacle tolerably definite at last, and certainly as depressing as ever met the eyes of a great ruler. Eleven States, with area, population, and resources abundant for constituting a powerful nation and sustaining an awful war, were organized in rebellion; their people were welded into entire unity of feeling, were enthusiastically resolute, and were believed to be exceptionally good fighters. The population of three Border States was divided between loyalty and disloyalty. The Northern States, teeming with men and money, had absolutely no experience whatsoever to enable them to utilize their vast resources with the promptitude needful in the instant emergency. There was a notion, prevalent even among themselves, that they were by temperament not very well fitted for war; but this fancy Mr. Lincoln quietly set aside, knowing better. He also had confidence in the efficiency of Northern men in practical affairs of any kind whatsoever, and he had not to tax his patience to see this confidence vindicated. His appeal for military support seemed the marvelous word of a magician, and wrought instant transformation throughout the vast loyal territory. One half of the male population began to practice the manual, to drill, and to study the text-books of military science; the remainder put at least equal energy into the preparations for equipment; every manufacturer in the land set the proverbial Yankee enterprise and ingenuity at work in the adaptation of his machinery to the production of munitions of war and all the various outfit for troops. Every foundry, every mill, and every shipyard was at once diverted from its accustomed industries in order to supply military demands; patriotism and profit combined to stimulate sleepless toil and invention. In a hard-working community no one had ever before worked nearly so hard as now. The whole North was in a ferment, and every human being strained his abilities of mind and of body to the utmost in one serviceable direction or another; the wise and the foolish, the men of words and the men of deeds, the projectors of valuable schemes and the venders of ridiculous inventions, the applicants for military commissions and the seekers after the government’s contracts, all hustled and crowded each other in feverish eagerness to get at work in the new condition of things. It was going to take time for all this energy to produce results,–yet not a very long time; the President had more patience than would be needed, and the spirit of his people reassured him. If the lukewarm, compromising temper of the past winter had caused him to feel any lurking anxious doubts as to how the crisis would be met, such illusive mists were now cleared away in a moment before the sweeping gale of patriotism.
 At New Bedford, in a lecture “which was interrupted by frequent hisses.” Schouler, _Hist. of Mass. in the Civil War_, i. 44-47.
 The Act of 1795 only permitted the use of the militia until thirty days after the next session of Congress; this session being now summoned for July 4, the period of service extended only until August 3.
 When General Grant took command of the Eastern armies he said that the country should be cautioned against expecting too great success, because the loyal and rebel armies were made up of men of the same race, having about the same experience in war, and neither able justly to claim any great superiority over the other in endurance, courage, or discipline. Chittenden, _Recoll._ 320.
 The third, fourth, and sixth. Schouler, _Mass. in the Civil War_, i. 52.
 Schouler, _Mass. in the Civil War_, i. 72.
 Mayor Brown thinks that the estimate of these at 20,000 is too great. Brown, _Baltimore and Nineteenth April_, 1861, p. 85.
 N. and H. iv. 98; Chittenden, 102; Lee’s biographer, Childe, says that “President Lincoln offered him the effective command of the Union Army,” and that Scott “conjured him … not to quit the army.” Childe, _Lee_, 30.
 Shortly before this time he had written to his son that it was “idle to talk of secession,” that it was “nothing but revolution” and “anarchy.” N. and H. iv. 99.
 Childe, _Lee_, 32; Mr. Childe, p. 33, says that Lee’s resignation was accepted on the 20th (the very day on which his letter was dated!), so that he “ceased to be a member of the United States Army” before he took command of the state forces. _Per contra_, N. and H. iv. 101.
 Childe, _Lee_, 34.
 Greeley in his _Amer. Conflict_, i. 349, says that the “open Secessionists were but a handful.” This, however, is clearly an exaggerated statement.
A REAL PRESIDENT, AND NOT A REAL BATTLE
The capture of Fort Sumter and the call for troops established one fact. There was to be a war. The period of speculation was over and the period of action had begun. The transition meant much. The talking men of the country had not appeared to advantage during the few months in which they had been busy chiefly in giving weak advice and in concocting prophecies. They now retired before the men of affairs, who were to do better. To the Anglo-Saxon temperament it was a relief to have done with waiting and to begin to do something. Activity cleared the minds of men, and gave to each his appropriate duty.
The gravity of the crisis being undeniable, the people of the North queried, with more anxiety than ever before, as to what kind of a chief they had taken to carry them through it. But the question which all asked none could answer. Mr. Lincoln had achieved a good reputation as a politician and a stump speaker. Whatever a few might _think_, this was all that any one _knew_. The narrow limitations of his actual experience certainly did not encourage a belief in his probable fitness to encounter duties more varied, pressing, numerous, novel, and difficult than had ever come so suddenly to confound any ruler within recorded time. Later on, when it was seen with what rare capacity he met demands so exacting, many astonished and excitable observers began to cry out that he was inspired. This, however, was sheer nonsense. That the very peculiar requirements of these four years found a president so well responding to them may be fairly regarded, by those who so please, as a specific Providential interference,–a striking one among many less striking. But, in fact, nothing in Mr. Lincoln’s life requires, for its explanation, the notion of divine inspiration. His doings, one and all, were perfectly intelligible as the outcome of honesty of purpose, strong common sense, clear reasoning powers, and a singular sagacity in reading the popular mind. Intellectually speaking, a clear and vigorous thinking capacity was his chief trait. This sounds commonplace and uninteresting, but a more serviceable qualification could not have been given him. The truth is, that it was part of the good fortune of the country that the President was not a brilliant man. Moreover, he was cool, shrewd, dispassionate, and self-possessed, and was endowed really in an extraordinary degree with an intermingling of patience and courage, whereby he was enabled both to await and to endure results. Above all he was a masterful man; not all the time and in small matters, and not often in an opinionated way; but, from beginning to end, whenever he saw fit to be master, master he was.
This last fact, when it became known, answered another question which people were asking: In whose hands were the destinies of the North to be? In those of Mr. Lincoln? or in those of the cabinet? or in those of influential advisers, something like what have been called “favorites” in Europe, and “kitchen cabinet” in the more homely phrase of the United States? The early impression was that Mr. Lincoln did not know a great deal. How could he? Where and how could he have learned much? It must be admitted that it was entirely natural that his advisers, and other influential men concerned in public affairs, should adopt and act upon the theory that Mr. Lincoln, emerging so sharply from such a past as his had been, into such a crisis as was now present, must need a vast amount of instruction, guidance, suggestion. Accordingly there were many gentlemen who stood ready, not to say eager, to supply these fancied wants, and who could have supplied them very well had they existed. Therefore one of the first things which Mr. Lincoln had to do was, without antagonizing Mr. Seward and Mr. Chase, to indicate to them that they were to be not only in name but also in rigid fact his secretaries, and that he was in fact as well as by title President. This delicate business was done so soon as opportunity offered, not in any disguised way but with plain simplicity. Mr. Chase never took the disposition quite pleasantly. He managed his department with splendid ability, but in the personal relation of a cabinet adviser upon the various matters of governmental policy he was always somewhat uncomfortable to get along with, inclined to fault-finding, ever ready with discordant suggestions, and in time also disturbed by ambition.
Mr. Seward behaved far better. After the question of supremacy had been settled, though in a way quite contrary to his anticipation, he frankly accepted the subordinate position, and discharged his duties with hearty good-will. Indeed, this settlement had already come, before the time which this narrative has reached; but the people did not know it; it was a private matter betwixt the two men who had been parties to it. Only Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward knew that the secretary had suggested his willingness to run the government for the President, and that the President had replied that he intended to run it himself. It came about in this way: on April 1 Mr. Seward presented, in writing, “Some thoughts for the President’s consideration.” He opened with the statement, not conciliatory, that “We are at the end of a month’s administration, and yet without a policy, either domestic or foreign.” He then proceeded to offer suggestions for each. For the “policy at home” he proposed, as the “ruling idea:” “Change the question before the public from one upon slavery, or about slavery, for a question upon Union or Disunion.” It was odd and not complimentary that he should seem to forget or ignore that precisely this thing had already been attempted by Mr. Lincoln in his inaugural address. Also within a few days, as we all know now, events were to show that the attempt had been successful. Further comment upon the domestic policy of Mr. Seward is, therefore, needless. But his scheme “For Foreign Nations” is more startling:–
“I would demand explanations from Spain and France categorically at once.
“I would seek explanations from Great Britain and Russia, and send agents into Canada, Mexico, and Central America, to rouse a vigorous spirit of independence on this continent against European intervention.
“And, if satisfactory explanations are not received from Spain and France,
“Would convene Congress and declare war against them.
“But whatever policy we adopt, there must be an energetic prosecution of it.
“For this purpose it must be somebody’s business to pursue and direct it incessantly.
“Either the President must do it himself, and be all the while active in it, or
“Devolve it on some member of his cabinet.
“Once adopted, debates on it must end, and all agree and abide.
“It is not in my especial province.
“But I neither seek to evade nor assume responsibility.”
Suggestions so wild could not properly constitute material for “consideration” by the President; but much consideration on the part of students of those times and men is provoked by the fact that such counsel emanated from such a source. The secretary of state, heretofore the most distinguished leader in the great Republican movement, who should by merit of actual achievement have been the Republican candidate for the presidency, and who was expected by a large part of the country to save an ignorant president from bad blunders, was advancing a proposition to create pretexts whereby to force into existence a foreign war upon a basis which was likely to set one half of the civilized world against the other half. The purpose for which he was willing to do this awful thing was: to paralyze for a while domestic discussions, and to undo and leave to be done anew by the next generation all that vast work which he himself, and the President whom he advised, and the leaders of the great multitude whom they both represented, had for years been engaged in prosecuting with all the might that was in them. But the explanation is simple: like many another at that trying moment, the secretary was smitten with sudden panic at the condition which had been brought about so largely by his own efforts. It was strictly a panic, for it passed away rapidly as panics do.
The biographer of Mr. Seward may fairly enough glide lightly over this episode, since it was nothing more than an episode; but one who writes of Mr. Lincoln must, in justice, call attention to this spectacle of the sage statesman from whom, if from any one, this “green hand,” this inexperienced President, must seek guidance, thus in deliberate writing pointing out a course which was ridiculous and impossible, and which, if it had been possible, would have been an intolerably humiliating retreat. The anxious people, who thought that their untried President might, upon the worst estimate of his own abilities, get on fairly well by the aid of wise and skilled advisers, would have been aghast had they known that, inside of the government, the pending question was: not whether Mr. Lincoln would accept sound instruction, but whether he would have sense to recognize bad advice, and independence to reject it. Before Mr. Seward went to bed on that night of April 1, he was perhaps the only man in the country who knew the solution of this problem. But he knew it, for Mr. Lincoln had already answered his letter. It had not taken the President long! The secretary’s extraordinary offer to assume the responsibility of pursuing and directing the policy of the government was rejected within a few hours after it was made; rejected not offensively, but briefly, clearly, decisively, and without thanks. Concerning the proposed policies, domestic and foreign, the President said as little as was called for; he actually did not even refer to the scheme for inaugurating gratuitously a war with a large part of Europe, in order for a while to distract attention from slavery.
To us, to-day, it seems that the President could not have missed a course so obvious; yet Mr. Seward, who suggested the absurdity, was a great statesman. In truth, the President had shown not only sense but nerve. For the difference between Seward’s past opportunities and experience and his own was appreciated by him as fully as by any one. He knew perfectly well that what seemed the less was controlling what seemed the greater when he overruled his secretary. It took courage on the part of a thoughtful man to put himself in such a position. Other solemn reflections also could not be avoided. Not less interested than any other citizen in the fate of the nation, he had also a personal relation to the ultimate event which was exclusively his own. For he himself might be called, in a certain sense, the very cause of rebellion; of course the people who had elected him carried the real responsibility; but he stood as the token of the difference, the concrete provocation to the fight. The South had said: _Abraham Lincoln_ brings secession. It was frightful to think that, as he was in fact the signal, so posterity might mistake him for the very cause of the rending of a great nation, the failure of a grand experiment. It might be that this destiny was before him, for the outcome of this struggle no one could foretell; it might be his sad lot to mark the end of the line of Presidents of the United States. Lincoln was not a man who could escape the full weight of these reflections, and it is to be remembered that all actions were taken beneath that weight. It was a strong man, then, who stood up and said, This is my load and I will carry it; and who did carry it, when others offered to shift much of it upon their own shoulders; also who would not give an hour’s thought to a scheme which promised to lift it away entirely, and to leave it for some other who by and by should come after him.
It is worth while to remember that Mr. Lincoln was the most advised man, often the worst advised man, in the annals of mankind. The torrent must have been terribly confusing! Another instance deserves mention: shortly before Mr. Seward’s strange proposal, Governor Hicks, distracted at the tumult in Maryland, had suggested that the quarrel between North and South should be referred to Lord Lyons as arbitrator! It was difficult to know whether to be amused or resentful before a proposition at once so silly and so ignominious. Yet it came from an important official, and it was only one instance among thousands. With war as an actuality, such vagaries as those of Hicks and Seward came sharply to an end. People wondered and talked somewhat as to how long hostilities would last, how much they would cost, how they would end; and were not more correct in these speculations than they had been in others. But though the day of gross absurdities was over, the era of advice endured permanently. That peculiar national trait whereby every American knows at least as much on every subject whatsoever as is known by any other living man, produced its full results during the war. Every clergyman and humanitarian, every village politician and every city wire-puller, every one who conned the maps of Virginia and imbibed the military wisdom of the newspapers, every merchant who put his name to a subscription paper, considered it his privilege and his duty to set the President right upon every question of moral principle, of politics, of strategy, and of finance. In one point of view it was not flattering that he should seem to stand in need of so much instruction; and this was equally true whether it came bitterly, as criticism from enemies, or sugar-coated, as advice from friends. That friends felt obliged to advise so much was in itself a criticism. Probably, however, Mr. Lincoln was not troubled by this view, for he keenly appreciated the idiosyncrasies as well as the better qualities of the people. They, however, were a long while in understanding him sufficiently to recognize that there was never a man whom it was less worth while to advise.
* * * * *
Business crowded upon Mr. Lincoln, and the variety and novelty of it was without limit. On April 17 Jefferson Davis issued a proclamation offering “letters of marque and reprisal” to owners of private armed vessels. Two days later the President retorted by proclaiming a blockade of Confederate ports. Of course this could not be made effective upon the moment. On March 4 the nominal total of vessels in the navy was 90. Of these, 69 were classed as “available;” but only 42 were actually in commission; and even of these many were in Southern harbors, and fell into the hands of the Confederates; many more were upon foreign and distant stations. Indeed, the dispersion was so great that it was commonly charged as having been intentionally arranged by secessionist officials under Mr. Buchanan. Also, at the very moment when this proclamation was being read throughout the country, the great navy yard of Gosport, at Norfolk, Virginia, “always the favored depot” of the government, with all its workshops and a great store of cannon and other munitions, was passing into the hands of the enemy. Most of the vessels and some other property were destroyed by Federals before the seizure was consummated; nevertheless, the loss was severe. Moreover, even had all the vessels of the regular navy been present, they would have had other duties besides lying off Southern ports. Blockading squadrons, therefore, had to be improvised, and orders at once issued for the purchase and equipment of steam vessels from the merchant marine and the coasting service. Fortunately the summer season was at hand, so that these makeshifts were serviceable for many months, during which better craft were rapidly got together by alteration and building. Three thousand miles of coast and many harbors were included within the blockade limits, and were distributed into departments under different commanders. Each commander was instructed to declare his blockade in force as soon as he felt able to make it tolerably effective, with the expectation of rapidly improving its efficiency. The beginning was, therefore, ragged, and was naturally criticised in a very jealous and hostile spirit by those foreign nations who suffered by it. Dangerous disputes threatened to arise, but were fortunately escaped, and in a surprisingly short time “Yankee” enterprise made the blockade too thorough for question.
Amid the first haste and pressure it was ingeniously suggested that, since the government claimed jurisdiction over the whole country and recognized only a rebellion strictly so called, therefore the President could by proclamation simply _close_ ports at will. Secretary Welles favored this course, and in the extra session of the summer of 1861 Congress passed a bill giving authority to Mr. Lincoln to pursue it, in his discretion. Mr. Seward, with better judgment, said that it might be legal, but would certainly be unwise. The position probably could have been successfully maintained by lawyers before a bench of judges; but to have relied upon it in the teeth of the commercial interests and unfriendly sentiment of England and France would have been a fatal blunder. Happily it was avoided; and the President had the shrewdness to keep within a line which shut out technical discussion. Already he saw that, so far as relations with foreigners were concerned, the domestic theory of a rebellion, pure and simple, must be very greatly modified. In a word, that which began as rebellion soon developed into civil war; the two were closely akin, but with some important differences.
Nice points of domestic constitutional law also arose with the first necessity for action, opening the broad question as to what course should be pursued in doubtful cases, and worse still in those cases where the government could not fairly claim the benefit of a real doubt. The plain truth was that, in a condition faintly contemplated in the Constitution, many things not permitted by the Constitution must be done to preserve the Constitution. The present crisis had been very scantily and vaguely provided for by “the fathers.” The instant that action became necessary to save the Union under the Constitution, it was perfectly obvious that the Constitution must be stretched, transcended, and most liberally interlined, in a fashion which would furnish annoying arguments to the disaffected. The President looked over the situation, and decided, in the proverbial phrase, to take the bull by the horns; that which clearly ought to be done he would do, law or no law, doubt or no doubt. He would have faith that the people would sustain him; and that the courts and the lawyers, among whose functions it is to see to it that laws and statutes do not interfere too seriously with the convenience of the community, would arrive, in what subtle and roundabout way they might choose, at the conclusion that whatever must be done might be done. These learned gentlemen did their duty, and developed the “war powers” under the Constitution in a manner equally ingenious, comical, and sensible. But the fundamental basis was, that necessity knows no law; every man in the country knew this, but the well-intentioned denied it, as matter of policy, while the ill-intentioned made such use of the opportunities thus afforded to them as might have been expected. Among the “war Democrats,” however, there was at least ostensible liberality.
An early question related to the writ of habeas corpus. The Maryland legislature was to meet on April 26, 1861, and was expected to guide the State in the direction of secession. Many influential men urged the President to arrest the members before they could do this. He, however, conceived such an interference with a state government, in the present condition of popular feeling, to be impolitic. “We cannot know in advance,” he said, “that the action will not be lawful and peaceful;” and he instructed General Scott to watch them, and, in case they should make a movement towards arraying the people against the United States, to counteract it by “the bombardment of their cities, and, in the extremest necessity, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.” This intimation that the suspension of the venerated writ was a measure graver than even bombarding a city, surely indicated sufficient respect for laws and statutes. The legislators restrained their rebellious ardor and proved the wisdom of Mr. Lincoln’s moderation. In the autumn, however, the crisis recurred, and then the arrests seemed the only means of preventing the passage of an ordinance of secession. Accordingly the order was issued and executed. Public opinion upheld it, and Governor Hicks afterward declared his belief that only by this action had Maryland been saved from destruction.
The privilege of habeas corpus could obviously, however, be made dangerously serviceable to disaffected citizens. Therefore, April 27, the President instructed General Scott: “If at any point on or in the vicinity of any military line which is now, or which shall be, used between the city of Philadelphia and the city of Washington, you find it necessary to suspend the writ of habeas corpus for the public safety, you … are authorized to suspend that writ.” Several weeks elapsed before action was taken under this authority. Then, on May 25, John Merryman, recruiting in Maryland for the Confederate service, was seized and imprisoned in Fort McHenry. Chief Justice Taney granted a writ of habeas corpus. General Cadwalader replied that he held Merryman upon a charge of treason, and that he had authority under the President’s letter to suspend the writ. The chief justice thereupon issued against the general an attachment for contempt, but the marshal was refused admittance to the fort. The chief justice then filed with the clerk, and also sent to the President, his written opinion, in which he said: “I understand that the President not only claims the right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus at his discretion, but to delegate that discretionary power to a military officer;” whereas, according to the view of his honor, the power did not lie even with the President himself, but only with Congress. Warming to the discussion, he used pretty strong language, to the effect that, if authority intrusted to other departments could thus “be usurped by the military power at its discretion, the people … are no longer living under a government of laws; but every citizen holds life, liberty, and property at the will and pleasure of the army officer in whose military district he may happen to be found.” It was unfortunate that the country should hear such phrases launched by the chief justice against the President, or at least against acts done under orders of the President. Direct retort was of course impossible, and the dispute was in abeyance for a short time. But the predilections of the judicial hero of the Dred Scott decision were such as to give rise to grave doubts as to whether or not the Union could be saved by any process which would not often run counter to his ideas of the law; therefore in this matter the President continued to exercise the useful and probably essential power, though taking care, for the future, to have somewhat more regard for form. Thus, on May 10, instead of simply writing a letter, he issued through the State Department a proclamation authorizing the Federal commander on the Florida coast, “if he shall find it necessary, to suspend there the writ of habeas corpus.”
In due time the assembling of Congress gave Mr. Lincoln the opportunity to present his side of the case. In his message he said that arrests, and suspension of the writ, had been made “very sparingly;” and that, if authority had been stretched, at least the question was pertinent: “Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted, and the government itself to go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” He, however, believed that in fact this question was not presented, and that the law had not been violated. “The provision of the Constitution, that the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless when, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it, is equivalent to a provision that such privilege may be suspended when, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety does require it.” As between Congress and the executive, “the Constitution itself is silent as to which or who is to exercise the power; and as the provision was plainly made for a dangerous emergency it cannot be believed that the framers of the instrument intended that in every case the danger should run its course until Congress could be called together, the very assembling of which might be prevented, as was intended in this case by the rebellion.”
If it was difficult, it was also undesirable to confute the President’s logic. The necessity for military arrests and for indefinite detention of the arrested persons was undeniable. Congress therefore recognized the legality of what had been done, and the power was frequently exercised thereafter, and to great advantage. Of course mistakes occurred, and subordinates made some arrests which had better have been left unmade; but these bore only upon discretion in individual cases, not upon inherent right. The topic, however, was in itself a tempting one, not only for the seriously disaffected, but for the far larger body of the quarrelsome, who really wanted the government to do its work, yet maliciously liked to make the process of doing it just as difficult and as disagreeable as possible. Later on, when the malcontent class acquired the organization of a distinct political body, no other charge against the administration proved so plausible and so continuously serviceable as this. It invited to florid declamation profusely illustrated with impressive historical allusions, and to the free use of vague but grand and sonorous phrases concerning “usurpation,” “the subjection of the life, liberty, and property of every citizen to the mere will of a military commander,” and other like terrors. Unfortunately men much more deserving of respect than the Copperheads, men of sound loyalty and high ability, but of anxious and conservative temperament, were led by their fears to criticise severely arrests of men who were as dangerous to the government as if they had been soldiers of the Confederacy.
May 3, 1861, by which time military exigencies had become better understood, Mr. Lincoln called “into the service of the United States 42,034 volunteers,” and directed that the regular army should be increased by an aggregate of 22,714 officers and enlisted men. More suggestive than the mere increase was the fact that the volunteers were now required “to serve for a period of three years, unless sooner discharged.” The opinion of the government as to the magnitude of the task in hand was thus for the first time conveyed to the people. They received it seriously and without faltering.
July 4, 1861, the Thirty-seventh Congress met in extra session, and the soundness of the President’s judgment in setting a day which had at first been condemned as too distant was proved. In the interval, nothing had been lost which could have been saved by the sitting of Congress; while, on the other hand, the members had had the great advantage of having time to think soberly concerning the business before them, and to learn the temper and wishes of their constituents.
Mr. Lincoln took great pains with his message, which he felt to be a very important document. It was his purpose to say simply what events had occurred, what questions had been opened, and what necessities had arisen; to display the situation and to state facts fairly and fully, but not apparently to argue the case of the North. Yet it was essential for him so to do this that no doubt could be left as to where the right lay. This peculiar process of argument by statement had constituted his special strength at the bar, and he now gave an excellent instance of it. He briefly sketched the condition of public affairs at the time when he assumed the government; he told the story of Sumter, and of the peculiar process whereby Virginia had been linked to the Confederacy. With a tinge of irony he remarked that, whether the sudden change of feeling among the members of the Virginian Convention was “wrought by their great approval of the assault upon Sumter, or their great resentment at the government’s resistance to that assault, is not definitely known.”
He explained the effect of the neutrality theory of the Border States. “This,” he said, “would be disunion completed. Figuratively speaking, it would be the building of an impassable wall along the line of separation,–and yet not quite an impassable one, for under the guise of neutrality it would tie the hands of the Union men, and freely pass supplies to the insurrectionists…. At a stroke it would take all the trouble off the hands of secession, except what proceeds from the external blockade.” It would give to the disunionists “disunion, without a struggle of their own.”
Of the blockade and the calls for troops, he said: “These measures, whether strictly legal or not, were ventured upon under what appeared to be a popular demand and a public necessity, trusting then, as now, that Congress would ratify them.” At the same time he stated the matter of the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which has been already referred to.
Speaking of the doctrine that secession was lawful under the Constitution, and that it was not rebellion, he made plain the genuine significance of the issue thus raised: “It presents … the question whether a Constitutional Republic or Democracy, a government of the people by the same people, can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control the administration according to the organic law in any case, can always, upon the pretenses made in this case, or any other pretenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up their government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask: Is there in all Republics this inherent fatal weakness? Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?” The Constitution of the Confederacy was a paraphrase with convenient adaptations of the Constitution of the United States. A significant one of these adaptations was the striking out of the first three words, “We, the people,” and the substitution of the words, “We, the deputies of the sovereign and independent States.” “Why,” said Mr. Lincoln, “why this deliberate pressing out of view the rights of men and the authority of the people? This is essentially a people’s contest. On the side of the Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men … to afford to all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life…. This is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend. I am most happy to believe that the plain people understand and appreciate this.”
Many persons, not gifted with the power of thinking clearly, were disturbed at what seemed to them a purpose to “invade” and to “subjugate” sovereign States,–as though a government could invade its own country or subjugate its own subjects! These phrases, he said, were producing “uneasiness in the minds of candid men” as to what would be the course of the government toward the Southern States after the suppression of the rebellion. The President assured them that he had no expectation of changing the views set forth in his inaugural address; that he desired “to preserve the government, that it may be administered for all as it was administered by the men who made it. Loyal citizens everywhere have a right to expect this,… and the government has no right to withhold or neglect it. It is not perceived that in giving it there is any coercion, any conquest, or any subjugation.”
In closing he said that it was with the deepest regret that he had used the war power; but “in defense of the government, forced upon him, he could but perform this duty or surrender the existence of the government.” Compromise would have been useless, for “no popular government can long survive a marked precedent that those who carry an election can only save the government from immediate destruction by giving up the main point upon which the people gave the election.” To those who would have had him compromise he explained that only the people themselves, not their servants, can safely reverse their own deliberate decisions. He had no power to agree to divide the country which he had the duty to govern. “As a private citizen the executive could not have consented that these institutions shall perish; much less could he, in betrayal of so vast and so sacred a trust as these free people have confided to him. He felt that he had no moral right to shrink, nor even to count the chances of his own life in what might follow.”
The only direct request made in the message was that, to make “this contest a short and decisive one,” Congress would “place at the control of the government for the work at least 400,000 men, and $400,000,000. That number of men is about one tenth of those of proper ages within the regions where apparently all are willing to engage, and the sum is less than a twenty-third part of the money value owned by the men who seem ready to devote the whole.”
The message was well received by the people, as it deserved to be.
The proceedings of Congress can only be referred to with brevity. Yet a mere recital of the names of the more noteworthy members of the Senate and the House must be intruded, if merely for the flavor of reminiscence which it will bring to readers who recall those times. In the Senate, upon the Republican side, there were: Lyman Trumbull from Illinois, James Harlan and James W. Grimes from Iowa, William P. Fessenden from Maine, Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson from Massachusetts, Zachariah Chandler from Michigan, John P. Hale from New Hampshire, Benjamin F. Wade from Ohio, and John Sherman, who was elected to fill the vacancy created by the appointment of Salmon P. Chase to the Treasury Department, David Wilmot from Pennsylvania, filling the place of Simon Cameron, Henry B. Anthony from Rhode Island, Andrew Johnson from Tennessee, Jacob Collamer from Vermont, and James R. Doolittle from Wisconsin. On the Democratic side, there were: James A. McDougall of California, James A. Bayard and William Saulsbury of Delaware, Jesse D. Bright of Indiana, who was expelled February 5, 1862, John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky, who a little later openly joined the Secessionists, and was formally expelled December 4, 1861; he was succeeded by Garrett Davis, an “American or Old Line Whig,” by which name he and two senators from Maryland preferred to be described; James W. Nesmith of Oregon. Lane and Pomeroy, the first senators from the free State of Kansas, were seated. In the House Galusha A. Grow of Pennsylvania, who had lately knocked down Mr. Keitt of South Carolina in a fisticuff encounter on the floor of the chamber, was chosen speaker, over Francis P. Blair, Jr., of Missouri. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania was the most prominent man in the body. Among many familiar names in running down the list the eye lights upon James E. English of Connecticut; E.B. Washburne, Isaac N. Arnold, and Owen Lovejoy of Illinois; Julian, Voorhees, and Schuyler Colfax of Indiana; Crittenden of Kentucky; Roscoe Conkling, Reuben E. Fenton, and Erastus Corning of New York; George H. Pendleton, Vallandigham, Ashley, Shellabarger, and S.S. Cox of Ohio; Covode of Pennsylvania; Maynard of Tennessee. The members came together in very good temper; and the great preponderance of Republicans secured dispatch in the conduct of business; for the cliques which soon produced intestine discomfort in that dominant party were not yet developed. No ordinary legislation was entered upon; but in twenty-nine working days seventy-six public Acts were passed, of which all but four bore directly upon the extraordinary emergency. The demands of the President were met, with additions: 500,000 men and $500,000,000 were voted; $207,000,000 were appropriated to the army, and $56,000,000 to the navy. August 6 Congress adjourned.
* * * * *
The law-makers were treated, during their session, to what was regarded, in the inexperience of those days, as a spectacle of real war. During a couple of months past large bodies of men had been gathering together, living in tents, shouldering guns, and taking the name of armies. General Butler was in command at Fortress Monroe, and was faced by Colonel Magruder, who held the peninsula between the York and the James rivers. Early in June the lieutenants of these two commanders performed the comical fiasco of the “battle” of Big Bethel. In this skirmish the Federal regiments fired into each other, and then retreated, while the Confederates withdrew; but in language of absurd extravagance the Confederate colonel reported that he had won a great victory, and Northern men flushed beneath the ridicule incurred by the blunder of their troops.
A smaller affair at Vienna was more ridiculous; several hundred soldiers, aboard a train of cars, started upon a reconnoissance, as if it had been a picnic. The Confederates fired upon them with a couple of small cannon, and they hastily took to the woods. When they got home they talked wisely about “masked batteries.” But the shrewdness and humor of the people were not thus turned aside, and the “masked battery” long made the point of many a bitter jest.
Up the river, Harper’s Ferry was held by “Stonewall” Jackson, who was soon succeeded by J.E. Johnston. Confronting and watching this force was General Patterson, at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, with a body of men rapidly growing to considerable numbers by the daily coming of recruits. Not very far away, southeastward, the main body of the Confederate army, under Beauregard, lay at Manassas, and the main body of the Federal army, under McDowell, was encamped along the Potomac. On May 23 the Northern advance crossed that river, took possession of Arlington Heights and of Alexandria, and began work upon permanent defensive intrenchments in front of the capital.
The people of the North knew nothing about war or armies. Wild with enthusiasm and excitement, they cheered the departing regiments, which, as they vaguely and eagerly fancied, were to begin fighting at once. Yet it was true that no one would stake his money on a “football team” which should go into a game trained in a time so short as that which had been allowed for bringing into condition for the manoeuvres and battlefields of a campaign an army of thirty or forty thousand men, with staff and commissariat, and arms of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, altogether constituting an organization vast, difficult, and complex in the highest degree of human cooeperation. Nevertheless “On to Richmond!” rolled up the imperious cry from every part of the North. The government, either sharing in this madness, or feeling that it must be yielded to, passed the word to the commander, and McDowell very reluctantly obeyed orders and started with his army in that direction,–not, however, with any real hope of reaching this nominal objective; for he was an intelligent man and a good soldier, and was perfectly aware of the unfitness of his army. But when, protesting, he suggested that his troops were “green,” he was told to remember that the Southern troops were of the same tint; for, in a word, the North was bound to have a fight, and would by no means endure that the three months’ men should come home without doing something more positive than merely preventing the capture of Washington.
On July 16, therefore, McDowell began his advance, having with him about 35,000 men, and by the 19th he was at the stream of Bull Run, behind which the Confederates lay. He planned his battle skillfully, and began his attack on the morning of the 21st. On the other hand, Beauregard was at the double disadvantage of misapprehending his opponent’s purpose, and of failing to get his orders conveyed to his lieutenants until the fight was far advanced. The result was, that at the beginning of the afternoon the Federals had almost won a victory which they fully deserved. That they did not finally secure it was due to the inefficiency of General Patterson. This general had crossed the Potomac a few days before and had been instructed to watch Johnston, who had drawn back near Winchester, and either to prevent him from moving his force from the Shenandoah Valley to Manassas, or, failing this, to keep close to him and unite with McDowell. But Patterson neither detained nor followed his opponent. On July 18 Beauregard telegraphed to Johnston: “If you wish to help me, now is the time.” If Patterson wished to help McDowell, then, also, was the time. The Southern general seized his opportunity, and the Northern general let his opportunity go. Johnston, uninterrupted and unfollowed by Patterson, brought his troops in from Manassas Junction upon the right wing of the Federals at the very moment and crisis when the battle was actually in the process of going in their favor. Directly all was changed. Older troops would not have stood, and these untried ones were defeated as soon as they were attacked. Speedily retreat became rout, and rout became panic. At a great speed the frightened soldiers, resolved into a mere disorganized mob of individuals, made their way back to the camps on the Potomac; many thought Washington safer, and some did not stop short of their distant Northern homes.
The Southerners, who had been on the point of running away when the Northerners anticipated them in so doing, now triumphed immoderately, and uttered boastings magniloquent enough for Homeric heroes. Yet they were, as General Johnston said, “almost as much disorganized by victory as were the Federals by defeat.” Many of them also hastened to their homes, spreading everywhere the cheering tidings that the war was over and the South had won.
In point of fact, it was a stage of the war when defeat was more wholesome than victory. Fortunately, too, the North was not even momentarily discouraged. The people had sense enough to see that what had happened was precisely what should have been expected. A little humiliated at their own folly, about as much vexed with themselves as angry with their enemies, they turned to their work in a new spirit. Persistence displaced excitement, as three years’ men replaced three months’ men. The people settled down to a long, hard task. Besides this, they had now some idea of what was necessary to be done in order to succeed in that task. Invaluable lessons had been learned, and no lives which were lost in the war bore fruit of greater usefulness than did those which seemed to have been foolishly thrown away at Bull Run.
 So said Hon. George W. Julian, somewhat ruefully acknowledging that Lincoln “was always himself the President.” _Polit. Recoll._ 190.
 South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas were covered by this proclamation; on April 27, North Carolina and Virginia were added.
 For the documents in this case, and also for some of the more famous professional opinions thereon, see McPherson, _Hist. of Rebellion, 154 et seq._; also (of course from the side of the chief justice), Tyler’s _Taney_, 420-431; and see original draft of the President’s message on this subject; N. and H. iv. 176.
THE FIRST ACT OF THE MCCLELLAN DRAMA
On the day after the battle of Bull Run General George B. McClellan was summoned to Washington, where he arrived on July 26. On the 25th he had been assigned to the command of the army of the Potomac. By all the light which President Lincoln had at the time of making this appointment, it seemed the best that was possible; and in fact it was so, in view of the immediate sphere of usefulness of a commanding general in Virginia. McClellan was thirty-four years old, of vigorous physique and fine address. After his graduation at West Point, in 1846, he was attached to the Engineer Corps; he served through the Mexican war, and for merit received a captaincy. In 1855 he was sent by Jefferson Davis, then secretary of war, to Europe to study the organizing and handling of armies in active service; and he was for a while at the British headquarters during the siege of Sebastopol, observing their system in operation. In January, 1857, he resigned from the army; but with the first threatenings of the civil war he made ready to play an active part. April 23, 1861, he was appointed by the governor of Ohio a major-general, with command of all the state forces. May 13, by an order from the national government, he took command of the Department of the Ohio, in which shortly afterward Western Virginia was included. He found the sturdy mountaineers of this inaccessible region for the most part loyalists, but overawed by rebel troops, and toward the close of May, upon his own sole responsibility, he inaugurated a campaign for their relief. In this he had the good fortune to be entirely successful. By some small engagements he cleared the country of armed Secessionists and returned it to the Union; and in so doing he showed energy and good tactical ability. These achievements, which later in the war would have seemed inconsiderable, now led to confidence and promotion.
In his new and exalted position McClellan became commander of a great number of men, but not of a great army. The agglomeration of civilians, who had run away from Manassas under the impression that they had fought and lost a real battle, was utterly disorganized and demoralized. Some had already reached the sweet safety of the villages of the North; others were lounging in the streets of Washington and swelling the receipts of its numerous barrooms. The majority, it is true, were in camp across the Potomac, but in no condition to render service. All, having been enlisted for three months, now had only a trifling remnant of so-called military life before them, in which it seemed to many hardly worth while to run risks. The new call for volunteers for three years had just gone forth, and though troops began to arrive under it with surprising promptitude and many three months’ men reenlisted, yet a long time had to elapse before the new levies were all on hand. Thus betwixt departing and coming hosts McClellan’s duty was not to use an army, but to create one.
The task looked immeasurable, but there was a fortunate fitness for it upon both sides. The men who in this awful crisis were answering the summons of President Lincoln constituted a raw material of a kind such as never poured into any camp save possibly into that of Cromwell. For the most part they were courageous, intelligent, self-respecting citizens, who were under the noble compulsion of conscience and patriotism in leaving reputable and prosperous callings for a military career. The moral, mental, and physical average of such a body of men was a long way above that of professional armies, and insured readiness in acquiring their new calling. But admirable as were the latent possibilities, and apt as each individual might be, these multitudes arrived wholly uninstructed; few had even so much as seen a real soldier; none had any notion at all of what military discipline was, or how to handle arms, or to manoeuvre, or to take care of their health. Nor could they easily get instruction in these things, for officers knew no more than privates; indeed, for that matter, one of the great difficulties at first encountered lay in the large proportion of utterly unfit men who had succeeded in getting commissions, and who had to be toilfully eliminated.
That which was to be done, McClellan was well able to do. He had a passion for organization, and fine capacity for work; he showed tact and skill in dealing with subordinates; he had a thorough knowledge and a high ideal of what an army should be. He seemed the Genius of Order as he educated and arranged the chaotic gathering of human beings, who came before him to be transmuted from farmers, merchants, clerks, shopkeepers, and what not into soldiers of all arms and into leaders of soldiers. To that host in chrysalis he was what each skillful drill-master is to his awkward squad. Under his influence privates learned how to obey and officers how to command; each individual merged the sense of individuality in that of homogeneousness and cohesion, until the original loose association of units became one grand unit endowed with the solidarity and machine-like quality of an efficient army. Patient labor produced a result so excellent that General Meade said long afterward: “Had there been no McClellan there could have been no Grant, for the army made no essential improvement under any of his successors.”
That the formation of this great complex machine was indispensable, and that it would take much time, were facts which the disaster at Bull Run had compelled both the administration and the people to appreciate moderately well. Accordingly they resolutely set themselves to be patient. The cry of “On to Richmond!” no longer sounded through the land, and the restraint imposed by the excited masses upon their own ardor was the strongest evidence of their profound earnestness. In a steady stream they poured men and material into the camps in Virginia, and they heard with satisfaction of the advance of the levies in discipline and soldierly efficiency. For a while the scene was pleasant and without danger. “It was,” says Arnold, describing that of which he had been an eye-witness, “the era of brilliant reviews and magnificent military displays, of parades, festive parties, and junketings.” Members of Congress found excursions to the camps attractive for themselves and their visitors. Glancing arms, new uniforms, drill, and music constituted a fine show. Thus the rest of the summer passed away, and autumn came and was passing, too. Then here and there signs of impatience began again to be manifested. It was observed with discontent that the glorious days of the Indian Summer, the perfect season for military operations, were gliding by as tranquilly as if there were not a great war on hand, and still the citizen at home read each morning in his newspaper the stereotyped bulletin, “All quiet on the Potomac;” the phrase passed into a byword and a sneer. By this time, too, to a nation which had not European standards of excellence, the army seemed to have reached a high state of efficiency, and to be abundantly able to take the field. Why did not its commander move? Amid all the drilling and band-playing the troops had been doing hard work: a chain of strong fortifications scientifically constructed had been completed around the capital, and rendered it easy of defense. It could be left in safety. Why, then, was it not left? Why did the troops still linger?
For a moment this monotony was interrupted by the ill-conducted engagement at Ball’s Bluff. On October 21 nearly 2000 troops were sent across the Potomac by the local commander, with the foolish expectation of achieving something brilliant. The actual result was that they were corralled in an open field; in their rear the precipitous bank dropped sharply to the river, upon which floated only the two or three little boats which had ferried them across in small parties; in front and flank from the shelter of thick woods an outnumbering force of rebels poured a steady fire upon them. They were in a cruel snare, and suffered terribly in killed and drowned, wounded and captured. The affair was, and the country at once saw that it was, a gross blunder. The responsibility lay upon General Stone and Colonel Baker. Stone, a military man by education, deserved censure, but he was treated in a manner so cruel, so unjust, and so disproportionate to his deserts, that his error has been condoned in sympathy for his wrongs. The injustice was chargeable chiefly to Stanton, in part to the Committee on the Conduct of the War. Apparently Mr. Lincoln desired to know as little as possible about a wrong which he could not set right without injury to the public interests. He said to Stanton concerning the arrest: “I suppose you have good reasons for it, and having good reasons I am glad I knew nothing of it until it was done.” To General Stone himself he said that, if he should tell all he knew about it, he should not tell much. Colonel Baker, senator from Oregon, a personal friend of the President, a brilliant orator, and a man beloved and admired by all who knew him, was a favorable specimen of the great body of new civilian officers. While brimming over with gallantry and enthusiasm, he was entirely ignorant of the military art. In the conduct of this enterprise a considerable discretion had been reposed in him, and he had, as was altogether natural, failed in everything except courage. But as he paid with his life on the battlefield the penalty of his daring and his inexperience, he was thought of only with tenderness and regret.
This skirmish illustrated the scant trust which could yet be reposed in the skill and judgment of subordinate officers. The men behaved with encouraging spirit and constancy under severe trial. But could a commander venture upon a campaign with brigadier-generals and colonels so unfit to assume responsibility?
Nevertheless impatience hardly received a momentary check from this lesson. With some inconsistency, people placed unlimited confidence in McClellan’s capacity to beat the enemy, but no confidence at all in his judgment as to the feasibility of a forward movement. The grumbling did not, however, indicate that faith in him was shaken, for just now he was given promotion by Mr. Lincoln, and it met with general approval. For some time past it had been a cause of discomfort that he did not get on altogether smoothly with General Scott; the elder was irascible and jealous, the younger certainly not submissive. At last, on October 31, the old veteran regretfully but quite wisely availed himself of his right to be placed upon the retired list, and immediately, November 1, General McClellan succeeded him in the distinguished position of commander-in-chief (under the President) of all the armies of the United States. On the same day Mr. Lincoln courteously hastened out to headquarters to make in person congratulations which were unquestionably as sincere as they were generous. Every one felt that a magnificent opportunity was given to a favorite general. But unfortunately among all his admirers there was not one who believed in him quite so fully as he believed in himself; he lost all sense of perspective and proportion, and felt upon a pinnacle from which he could look down even on a president. Being in this masterful temper, he haughtily disregarded the growing demand for an advance. On the other hand the politicians, always eager to minister to the gratification of the people, began to be importunate; they harried the President, and went out to camp to prick their civilian spurs into the general himself. But McClellan had a soldierly contempt for such intermeddling in matters military, and was wholly unimpressible. When Senator Wade said that an unsuccessful battle was preferable to delay, for that a defeat would easily be repaired by swarming recruits, the general tartly replied that he preferred a few recruits before a victory to a great many after a defeat. But, however cleverly and fairly the military man might counter upon the politician, there was no doubt that discontent was developing dangerously. The people had conscientiously intended to do their part fully, and a large proportion of them now sincerely believed that they had done it. They knew that they had been lavish of men, money, and supplies; and they thought that they had been not less liberal of time; wherefore they rebelled against the contrary opinion of the general, whose ideal of a trustworthy army had by no means been reached, and who, being of a stubborn temperament, would not stir till it had been.
It is difficult to satisfy one’s self of the real fitness of the army to move at or about this time,–that is to say, in or near the month of November, 1861,–for the evidence is mixed and conflicting. The Committee on the Conduct of the War asserted that “the army of the Potomac was well armed and equipped and had reached a high state of discipline by the last of September or first of October;” but the committee was not composed of experts. Less florid commendation is given by the Comte de Paris, of date October 15. McClellan himself said: “It certainly was not till late in November that the army was in any condition to move, nor even then were they capable of assaulting intrenched positions.” At that time winter was at hand, and advance was said to be impracticable. That these statements were as favorable as possible seems probable; for it is familiar knowledge that the call for these troops did not issue until July, that at the close of November the recruits were still continuing “to pour in, to be assigned and equipped and instructed;” that many came unarmed or with useless weapons; and that these “civilians, suddenly called to arms as soldiers and officers, did not take kindly to the subordination and restraints of the camp.” Now McClellan’s temperament did not lead him to run risks in the effort to force achievements with means of dubious adequacy. His purpose was to create a machine perfect in every part, sure and irresistible in operation, and then to set it in motion with a certainty of success. He wrote to Lincoln: “I have ever regarded our true policy as being that of fully preparing ourselves, and then seeking for the most decisive results.” Under favoring circumstances this plan might have been the best. But circumstances were not favoring. Neither he nor the government itself, nor indeed both together, could afford long or far to disregard popular feeling. Before the close of November that popular feeling was such that the people would have endured without flinching the discouragement of a defeat, but would not endure the severe tax of inaction, and from this time forth their impatience gathered volume until it became a controlling element in the situation. Themselves intending to be reasonable, they grew more and more convinced that McClellan was unreasonable. General and people confronted each other: the North would fight, at the risk of defeat; McClellan would not fight, because he was not sure to win. Any one who comprehended the conditions, the institutions of the country, the character of the nation, especially its temper concerning the present conflict, also the necessities beneath which that conflict must be waged, if it was to be waged at all, would have seen that the people must be deferred to. The question was not whether they were right or wrong. Assuming them to be wrong, it would still be a mistake to withstand them beyond a certain point. If yielding to them should result in disastrous consequences, they must be called upon to rally, and could be trusted to do so, instructed but undismayed by their experience. All this McClellan utterly failed to appreciate, thereby leading Mr. Swinton very justly to remark that he was lacking in “the statesmanlike qualities that enter into the composition of a great general.”
On the other hand, no man ever lived more capable than Mr. Lincoln of precisely appreciating the present facts, or more sure to avoid those peculiar blunders which entrapped the military commander. He was very loyal in living up to his pledge to give the general full support, and by his conduct during many months to come he proved his readiness to abide to the last possible point. He knew, however, with unerring accuracy just where that last point lay, and he saw with disquietude that it was being approached too rapidly. He was getting sufficient knowledge of McClellan’s character to see that the day was not distant when he must interfere. Meantime he kept his sensitive finger upon the popular pulse, as an expert physician watches a patient in a fever. With the growth of the impatience his anxiety grew, for the people’s war would not be successfully fought by a dissatisfied people. Repeatedly he tested the situation in the hope that a movement could be forced without undue imprudence; but he was always met by objections from McClellan. In weighing the Northern and the Southern armies against each other, the general perhaps undervalued his own resources and certainly overvalued those of his opponent. He believed that the Confederate “discipline and drill were far better than our own;” wherein he was probably in error, for General Lee admitted that, while the Southerners would always fight well, they were refractory under discipline. Moreover, they were at this time very ill provided with equipment and transportation. Also McClellan said that the Southern army had thrown up intrenchments at Manassas and Centreville, and therefore the “problem was to attack victorious and finely drilled troops in intrenchment.” But the most discouraging and inexplicable assertion, which he emphatically reiterated, concerned the relative numerical strength. He not only declared that he himself could not put into the field the numbers shown by the official returns to be with him, but also he exaggerated the Southern numbers till he became extravagant to the point of absurdity. So it had been from the outset, and so it continued to be to the time when he was at last relieved of his command. Thus, on August 15, he conceived himself to be “in a terrible place; the enemy have three or four times my force.” September 9 he imagined Johnston to have 130,000 men, against his own 85,000; and he argued that Johnston could move upon Baltimore a column 100,000 strong, which he could meet with only 60,000 or 70,000. Later in October he marked the Confederates up to 150,000. He estimated his own requirement at a “total effective force” of 208,000 men, which implied “an aggregate, present and absent, of about 240,000 men.” Of these he designed 150,000 as a “column of active operations;” the rest were for garrisons and guards. He said that in fact he had a gross aggregate of 168,318, and the “force present for duty was 147,695.” Since the garrisons and the guards were a fixed number, the reduction fell wholly upon the movable column, and reduced “the number disposable for an advance to 76,285.” Thus he made himself out to be fatally overmatched. But he was excessively in error. In the autumn Johnston’s effective force was only 41,000 men, and on December 1, 1861, it was 47,000.
Such comparisons, advanced with positiveness by the highest authority, puzzled Mr. Lincoln. They seemed very strange, yet he could not disprove them, and was therefore obliged to face the perplexing choice which was mercilessly set before him: “either to go into winter quarters, or to assume the offensive with forces greatly inferior in number” to what was “desirable and necessary.” “If political considerations render the first course unadvisable, the second alone remains.” The general’s most cheering admission was that, by stripping all other armies down to the lowest numbers absolutely necessary for a strict defensive, and by concentrating all the forces of the nation and all the attention of the government upon “the vital point” in Virginia, it might yet be possible for this “main army, whose destiny it [was] to decide the controversy,… to move with a reasonable prospect of success before the winter is fairly upon us.” A direct assertion of impossibility, provocative of denial or discussion, would have been less disheartening.
In passing, it may be remarked that McClellan’s prevision that the ultimate arbitrament of the struggle must occur in Virginia was correct. But in another point he was wrong, and unfortunately this was of more immediate consequence, because it corroborated him in his purpose to delay till he could make success a certainty. He hoped that when he moved, he should be able to win one or two overwhelming victories, to capture Richmond, and to crush the rebellion in a few weeks. It was a brilliant and captivating programme, but impracticable and undesirable. Even had the Southerners been quelled by so great a disaster,–which was not likely,–they would not have been thoroughly conquered, nor would slavery have been disposed of, and both these events were indispensable to a definitive peace between the two sections. Whether the President shared this notion of his general is not evident. Apparently he was not putting his mind upon theories reaching into the future so much as he was devoting his whole thought to dealing with the urgent problems of the present. If this was the case, he was pursuing the wise and sound course. In the situation, it was more desirable to fight a great battle at the earliest possible moment than to await a great victory many months hence.
It is commonplace wisdom that it is foolish for a civilian to undertake the direction of a war. Yet our Constitution ordains that “the President shall be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several States, when called into the actual service of the United States.” It is not supposable that the delegates who suggested this function, or the people who ordained it, anticipated that presidents generally would be men skilled in military science. Therefore Mr. Lincoln could not escape the obligation on the ground of unfitness for the duty which was imperatively placed upon him. It might be true that to set him in charge of military operations was like ordering a merchant to paint a picture or a jockey to sail a ship, but it was also true that he was so set in charge. He could not shirk it, nor did he try to shirk it. In consequence hostile critics have dealt mercilessly with his actions, and the history of this winter and spring of 1861-62 is a painful and confusing story of bitter controversy and crimination. Further it is to be remembered that, apart from the obligation imposed on the President by the Constitution, it was true that if civilians could not make rapid progress in the military art, the war might as well be abandoned. They were already supposed to be doing so; General Banks, a politician, and General Butler, a lawyer, were already conducting important movements. Still it remains undeniable that finally it was only the professional soldiers who, undergoing successfully the severe test of time, composed the illustrious front rank of strategists when the close of the war left every man in his established place. In discussing this perplexing period, extremists upon one side attribute the miscarriages and failure of McClellan’s campaign to ceaseless, thwarting interference by the President, the secretary of war, and other civil officials. Extremists upon the other side allege the marvel that a sudden development of unerring judgment upon every question involving the practical application of military science took place on Mr. Lincoln’s part. Perhaps the truth lies between the disputants, but it is not likely ever to be definitely agreed upon so long as the controversy excites interest; for the discussion bristles with _ifs_, and where this is the case no advocate can be irremediably vanquished.
It seems right, at this place, to note one fact concerning Mr. Lincoln which ought not to be overlooked and which cannot be denied. This is his entire _political unselfishness_, the rarest moral quality among men in public life. In those days of trouble and distrust slanders were rife in a degree which can hardly be appreciated by men whose experience has been only with quieter times. Sometimes purposes and sometimes methods were assailed; and those prominent in civil life, and a few also in military life, were believed to be artfully and darkly seeking to interlace their personal political fortunes in the web of public affairs, naturally subordinating the latter fabric. Alliances, enmities, intrigues, schemes, and every form of putting the interest of self before that of the nation, were insinuated with a bitter malevolence unknown except amid such abnormal conditions. The few who escaped charges of this kind were believed to cherish their own peculiar fanaticisms, desires, and purposes concerning the object and results of the struggle, which they were resolved to satisfy at almost any cost and by almost any means. While posterity is endeavoring very wisely to discredit and to forget a great part of these painful criminations, it is cheering to find that no effort has to be made to forget anything about the President. In his case injurious gossip has long since died away and been buried. Whatever may be said of him in other respects, at least the purity and the singleness of his patriotism shine brilliant and luminous through all this cloud-dust of derogation. By his position he had more at stake, both in his lifetime and before the tribunal of the future, than any other person in the country. But there was only one idea in his mind, and that was,–not that _he should save the country_, but _that the country should be saved_. Not the faintest shadow of self ever fell for an instant across this simple purpose. He was intent to play his part out faithfully, with all the ability he could bring to it; but any one else, who could, might win and wear the title of savior. He chiefly cared that the saving should be done. Never once did he manipulate any covert magnet to draw toward himself the credit or the glory of a measure or a move. To his own future he seemed to give no thought. It would be unjust to allow the dread of appearing to utter eulogy rather than historic truth to betray a biographer into overlooking this genuine magnanimity.
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It was in December, 1861, that Congress created the famous Committee on the Conduct of the War, to some of whose doings it has already been necessary to allude. The gentlemen who were placed upon it were selected partly of course for political reasons, and were all men who had made themselves conspicuous for their enthusiasm and vehemence; not one of them had any military knowledge. The committee magnified its office almost beyond limit,–investigated everything; haled whom it chose to testify before it; made reports, expressed opinions, insisted upon policies and measures in matters military; and all with a dictatorial assumption and self-confidence which could not be devoid of effect, although every one knew that each individual member was absolutely without fitness for this business. So the committee made itself a great power, and therefore also a great complication, in the war machinery; and though it was sometimes useful, yet, upon a final balancing of its long account, it failed to justify its existence, as, indeed, was to have been expected from the outset. In the present discussions concerning an advance of the army, its members strenuously insisted upon immediate action, and their official influence brought much strength to that side.
The first act indicating an intention on the part of the President to interfere occurred almost simultaneously with the beginning of the general’s illness. About December 21, 1861, he handed to McClellan a brief memorandum: “If it were determined to make a forward movement of the army of the Potomac, without awaiting further increase of numbers or better drill and discipline, how long would it require to actually get in motion? After leaving all that would be necessary, how many troops could join the movement from southwest of the river? How many from northeast of it?” Then he proceeded briefly to hint rather than distinctly to suggest that plan of a direct advance by way of Centreville and Manassas, which later on he persistently advocated. Ten days elapsed before McClellan returned answers, which then came in a shape too curt to be respectful. Almost immediately afterward the general fell ill, an occurrence which seemed to his detractors a most aggravating and unjustifiable intervention of Nature herself in behalf of his policy of delay.
On January 10 a dispatch from General Halleck represented in his department also a condition of check and helplessness. Lincoln noted upon it: “Exceedingly discouraging. As everywhere else, nothing can be done.” Yet something must be done, for the game was not to be abandoned. Under this pressure, on this same day, he visited McClellan, but could not see him; nor could he get any definite idea how long might be the duration of the typhoid fever, the lingering and uncertain disease which had laid the general low. Accordingly he summoned General McDowell and General Franklin to discuss with him that evening the military situation. The secretaries of state and of the treasury, and the assistant secretary of war, also came. The President, says McDowell, “was greatly disturbed at the state of affairs,” “was in great distress,” and said that, “if something was not soon done, the bottom would be out of the whole affair; and if General McClellan did not want to use the army, he would like to ‘_borrow it_,’ provided he could see how it could be made to do something.” The two generals were directed to inform themselves concerning the “actual condition of the army,” and to come again the next day. Conferences followed on January 11 and 12,