LIBRARY OF ST. GREGORY’S UNIVERSITY; THANKS TO ALEV AKMAN.
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CAPTAINS OF THE CIVIL WAR
A CHRONICLE OF THE BLUE AND THE GRAY
BY WILLIAM WOOD
Sixty years ago today the guns that thundered round Fort Sumter began the third and greatest modern civil war fought by English-speaking people. This war was quite as full of politics as were the other two–the War of the American Revolution and that of Puritan and Cavalier. But, though the present Chronicle never ignores the vital correlations between statesmen and commanders, it is a book of warriors, through and through.
I gratefully acknowledge the indispensable assistance of Colonel G. J. Fiebeger, a West Point expert, and of Dr. Allen Johnson, chief editor of the series and Professor of American History at Yale.
Late Colonel commanding 8th Royal Rifles, and Officer-in-charge, Canadian Special Mission Overseas.
QUEBEC, April 18, 1921, CONTENTS
I. THE CLASH: 1861
II. THE COMBATANTS
III. THE NAVAL WAR: 1862
IV. THE RIVER WAR: 1861
V. LINCOLN: WAR STATESMAN
VI. LEE AND JACKSON: 1862-3
VII. GRANT WINS THE RIVER WAR: 1863 VIII. GETTYSBURG: 1863
IX. FARRAGUT AND THE NAVY: 1863-4
X. GRANT ATTACKS THE FRONT: 1864
XI. SHERMAN DESTROYS THE BASE: 1864
XII. THE END: 1865
CAPTAINS OF THE CIVIL WAR
CHAPTER I. THE CLASH: 1861
States which claimed a sovereign right to secede from the Union naturally claimed the corresponding right to resume possession of all the land they had ceded to that Union’s Government for the use of its naval and military posts. So South Carolina, after leading the way to secession on December 20,1860, at once began to work for the retrocession of the forts defending her famous cotton port of Charleston. These defenses, being of vital consequence to both sides, were soon to attract the strained attention of the whole country.
There were three minor forts: Castle Pinckney, dozing away, in charge of a solitary sergeant, on an island less than a mile from the city; Fort Moultrie, feebly garrisoned and completely at the mercy of attackers on its landward side; and Fort Johnson over on James Island. Lastly, there was the world-renowned Fort Sumter, which then stood, unfinished and ungarrisoned, on a little islet beside the main ship channel, at the entrance to the harbor, and facing Fort Moultrie just a mile away. The proper war garrison of all the forts should have been over a thousand men. The actual garrison–including officers, band, and the Castle Pinckney sergeant–was less than a hundred. It was, however, loyal to the Union; and its commandant, Major Robert Anderson, though born in the slave-owning State of Kentucky, was determined to fight.
The situation, here as elsewhere, was complicated by Floyd, President Buchanan’s Secretary of War, soon to be forced out of office on a charge of misapplying public funds. Floyd, as an ardent Southerner, was using the last lax days of the Buchanan Government to get the army posts ready for capitulation whenever secession should have become an accomplished fact. He urged on construction, repairs, and armament at Charleston, while refusing to strengthen the garrison, in order, as he said, not to provoke Carolina. Moreover, in November he had replaced old Colonel Gardner, a Northern veteran of “1812,” by Anderson the Southerner, in whom he hoped to find a good capitulator. But this time Floyd was wrong.
The day after Christmas Anderson’s little garrison at Fort Moultrie slipped over to Fort Sumter under cover of the dark, quietly removed Floyd’s workmen, who were mostly Baltimore Secessionists, and began to prepare for. defense. Next morning Charleston was furious and began to prepare for attack. The South Carolina authorities at once took formal possession of Pinckney and Moultrie; and three days later seized the United States Arsenal in Charleston itself. Ten days later again, on January 9, 1861, the Star of the West, a merchant vessel coming in with reinforcements and supplies for Anderson, was fired on and forced to turn back. Anderson, who had expected a man-of-war, would not fire in her defense, partly because he still hoped there might yet be peace.
While Charleston stood at gaze and Anderson at bay the ferment of secession was working fast in Florida, where another tiny garrison was all the Union had to hold its own. This garrison, under two loyal young lieutenants, Slemmer and Gilman, occupied Barrancas Barracks in Pensacola Bay. Late at night on the eighth of January (the day before the Star of the West was fired on at Charleston) some twenty Secessionists came to seize the old Spanish Fort San Carlos, where, up to that time, the powder had been kept. This fort, though lying close beside the barracks, had always been unoccupied; so the Secessionists looked forward to an easy capture. But, to their dismay, an unexpected guard challenged them, and, not getting the proper password in reply, dispersed them with the first shots of the Civil War.
Commodore Armstrong sat idle at the Pensacola Navy Yard, distracted between the Union and secession. On the ninth Slemmer received orders from Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief at Washington, to use all means in defense of Union property. Next morning Slemmer and his fifty faithful men were landed on Santa Rosa Island, just one mile across the bay, where the dilapidated old Fort Pickens stood forlorn. Two days later the Commodore surrendered the Navy Yard, the Stars and Stripes were lowered, and everything ashore fell into the enemy’s hands. There was no flagstaff at Fort Pickens; but the Union colors were at once hung out over the northwest bastion, in full view of the shore, while the Supply and Wyandotte, the only naval vessels in the bay, and both commanded by loyal men, mastheaded extra colors and stood clear. Five days afterwards they had to sail for New York; and Slemmer, whose total garrison had been raised to eighty by the addition of thirty sailors, was left to hold Fort Pickens if he could.
He had already been summoned to surrender by Colonel Chase and Captain Farrand, who had left the United States Army and Navy for the service of the South. Chase, like many another Southern officer, was stirred to his inmost depths by his own change of allegiance. “I have come,” he said, “to ask of you young officers, officers of the same army in which I have spent the best and happiest years of my life, the surrender of this fort; and fearing that I might not be able to say it as I ought, and also to have it in proper form, I have put it in writing and will read it.” He then began to read. But his eyes filled with tears, and, stamping his foot, he said: “I can’t read it. Here, Farrand, you read it.” Farrand, however, pleading that his eyes were weak, handed the paper to the younger Union officer, saying, “Here, Gilman, you have good eyes, please read it.” Slemmer refused to surrender and held out till reinforced in April, by which time the war had begun in earnest. Fort Pickens was never taken. On the contrary, it supported the bombardment of the Confederate longshore positions the next New Year (1869.) and witnessed the burning and evacuation of Pensacola the following ninth of May.
While Charleston and Pensacola were fanning the flames of secession the wildfire was running round the Gulf, catching well throughout Louisiana, where the Governor ordered the state militia to seize every place belonging to the Union, and striking inland till it reached the farthest army posts in Texas. In all Louisiana the Union Government had only forty men. These occupied the Arsenal at Baton Rouge under Major Haskins. Haskins was loyal. But when five hundred state militiamen surrounded him, and his old brother-officer, the future Confederate General Bragg, persuaded him that the Union was really at an end, to all intents and purposes, and when he found no orders, no support, and not even any guidance from the Government at Washington, he surrendered with the honors of war and left by boat for St. Louis in Missouri.
There was then in Louisiana another Union officer; but made of sterner stuff. This was Colonel W. T. Sherman, Superintendent of the State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy at Alexandria, up the Red River. He was much respected by all the state authorities, and was carefully watching over the two young sons of another future Confederate leader, General Beauregard. William Tecumseh Sherman had retired from the Army without seeing any war service, unlike Haskins, who was a one-armed veteran of the Mexican campaign. But Sherman was determined to stand by the Union, come what might. Yet he was equally determined to wind up the affairs of the State Academy so as to hand them over in perfect order. A few days after the seizure of the Arsenal, and before the formal secession of the State, he wrote to the Governor:
“Sir: As I occupy a quasi-military position under the laws of the State, I deem it proper to acquaint you that I accepted such position when Louisiana was a State of the Union, and when the motto of this seminary was inserted in marble over the main door: “By the liberality of the General Government of the United States. The Union–esto perpetua.” Recent events foreshadow a great change, and it becomes all men to choose …. I beg you to take immediate steps to relieve me as superintendent, the moment the State determines to secede, for on no earthly account will I do any act or think any thought hostile to, or in defiance of, the old Government of the United States.”
Then, to the lasting credit of all concerned, the future political enemies parted as the best of personal friends. Sherman left everything in perfect order, accounted for every cent of the funds, and received the heartiest thanks and best wishes of all the governing officials, who embodied the following sentence in their final resolution of April 1, 1861: “They cannot fail to appreciate the manliness of character which has always marked the actions of Colonel Sherman.” Long before this Louisiana had seceded, and Sherman had gone north to Lancaster, Ohio, where he arrived about the time of Lincoln’s inauguration.
Meanwhile, on the eighteenth of February, the greatest of all surrenders had taken place in Texas, where nineteen army posts were handed over to the State by General Twiggs. San Antonio was swarming with Secessionist rangers. Unionist companies were marching up and down. The Federal garrison was leaving the town on parole, with the band playing Union airs and Union colors flying. The whole place was at sixes and sevens, and anything might have happened.
In the midst of this confusion the colonel commanding the Second Regiment of United States Cavalry arrived from Fort Mason. He was on his way to Washington, where Winfield Scott, the veteran General-in-Chief, was anxiously waiting to see him; for this colonel was no ordinary man. He had been Scott’s Chief of Staff in Mexico, where he had twice won promotion for service in the field. He had been a model Superintendent at West Point and an exceedingly good officer of engineers before he left them, on promotion, for the cavalry. Very tall and handsome, magnificently fit in body and in mind, genial but of commanding presence, this flower of Southern chivalry was not only every inch a soldier but a leader born and bred. Though still unknown to public fame he was the one man to whom the most insightful leaders of both sides turned, and rightly turned; for this was Robert Lee, Lee of Virginia, soon to become one of the very few really great commanders of the world.
As Lee came up to the hotel at San Antonio he was warmly greeted by Mrs. Barrow, the anxious wife of the confidential clerk to Major Vinton, the staunch Union officer in charge of the pay and quartermaster services. “Who are those men?” he asked, pointing to the rangers, who wore red flannel shoulder straps. “They are McCulloch’s,” she answered; “General Twiggs surrendered everything, to the State this morning.” Years after, when she and her husband and Vinton had suffered for one side and Lee had suffered for the other, she wrote her recollection of that memorable day in these few, telling words: “I shall never forget his look of astonishment, as, with his lips trembling and his eyes full of tears, he exclaimed, ‘Has it come so soon as this?’ In a short time I saw him crossing the plaza on his way to headquarters and noticed particularly that he was in citizen’s dress. He returned at night and shut himself into his room, which was over mine; and I heard his footsteps through the night, and sometimes the murmur of his voice, as if he was praying. He remained at the hotel a week and in conversations declared that the position he held was a neutral one.”
Three other Union witnesses show how Lee agonized over the fateful decision he was being forced to make. Captain R. M. Potter says: “I have seldom seen a more distressed man. He said, ‘When I get to Virginia I think the world will have one soldier less. I shall resign and go to planting corn.'” Colonel Albert G. Brackett says: “Lee was filled with sorrow at the condition of affairs, and, in a letter to me, deploring the war in which we were about to engage, made use of these words: ‘I fear the liberties of our country will be buried in the tomb of a great nation.'” Colonel Charles Anderson, quoting Lee’s final words in Texas, carries us to the point of parting: “I still think my loyalty to Virginia ought to take precedence over that which is due to the Federal Government; and I shall so report myself in Washington. If Virginia stands by the old Union, so will I. But if she secedes (though I do not believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution) then I will still follow my native State with my sword, and, if need be, with my life. I know you think and feel very differently. But I can’t help it. These are my principles; and I must follow them.”
Lee reached Washington on the first of March. Lincoln, delivering his Inaugural on the fourth, brought the country one step nearer war by showing the neutrals how impossible it was to reconcile his, principles as President of the whole United States with those of Jefferson Davis as President of the seceding parts. “The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government.” Three days later the provisional Confederate Congress at Montgomery in Alabama passed an Army Act authorizing the enlistment of one hundred thousand men for one year’s service. Nine days later again, having adopted a Constitution in the meantime, this Congress passed a Navy Act, authorizing the purchase or construction of ten little gunboats.
In April the main storm center went whirling back to Charleston, where Sherman’s old friend Beauregard commanded the forces that encircled Sumter. Sumter, still unfinished, had been designed for a garrison of six hundred and fifty combatant men. It now contained exactly sixty-five. It was to have been provisioned for six months. The actual supplies could not be made to last beyond two weeks. Both sides knew that Anderson’s gallant little garrison must be starved out by the fifteenth. But the excited Carolinians would not wait, because they feared that the arrival of reinforcements might balk them of their easy prey. On the eleventh Beauregard, acting under orders from the Confederate Government, sent in a summons to surrender. Anderson refused. At a quarter to one the next morning the summons was repeated, as pilots had meanwhile reported a Federal vessel approaching the harbor. Anderson again refused and again admitted that he would be starved out on the fifteenth. Thereupon Beauregard’s aides declared immediate surrender the only possible alternative to a bombardment and signed a note at 3:20 A.M. giving Anderson formal warning that fire would be opened in an hour.
Fort Sumter stood about half a mile inside the harbor mouth, fully exposed to the converging fire of four relatively powerful batteries, three about a mile away, the fourth nearly twice as far. At the northern side of the harbor mouth stood Fort Moultrie; at the southern stood the batteries on Cummings Point; and almost due west of Sumter stood Fort Johnson. Near Moultrie was a four-gun floating battery with an iron shield. A mile northwest of Moultrie, farther up the harbor, stood the Mount Pleasant battery, nearly two miles off from Sumter. At half-past four, in the first faint light of a gray morning, a sudden spurt of flame shot out from Fort Johnson, the dull roar of a mortar floated through the misty air, and the big shell–the first shot of the real war–soared up at a steep angle, its course distinctly marked by its burning fuse, and then plunged down on Sumter. It was a capital shot, right on the center of the target, and was followed by an admirable burst. Then all the converging batteries opened full; while the whole population of perfervid Charleston rushed out of doors to throng their beautiful East Battery, a flagstone marine parade three miles in from Sumter, of which and of the attacking batteries it had a perfect view.
But Sumter remained as silent as the grave. Anderson decided not to return the fire till it was broad daylight. In the meantime all ranks went to breakfast, which consisted entirely of water and salt pork. Then the gun crews went to action stations and fired back steadily with solid shot. The ironclad battery was an exasperating target; for the shot bounced off it like dried peas. Moultrie seemed more vulnerable. But appearances were deceptive; for it was thoroughly quilted with bales of cotton, which the solid shot simply rammed into an impenetrable mass. Wishing to save his men, in which he was quite successful, Anderson had forbidden the use of the shell-guns, which were mounted on the upper works and therefore more exposed. Shell fire would have burst the bales and set the cotton flaming. This was so evident that Sergeant Carmody, unable to stand such futile practice any longer, quietly stole up to the loaded guns and fired them in succession. The aim lacked final correction; and the result was small, except that Moultrie, thinking itself in danger, concentrated all its efforts on silencing these guns. The silencing seemed most effective; for Carmody could not reload alone, and so his first shots were his last.
At nightfall Sumter ceased fire while the Confederates kept on slowly till daylight. Next morning the officers’ quarters were set on fire by red-hot shot. Immediately the Confederates redoubled their efforts. Inside Sumter the fire was creeping towards the magazine, the door of which was shut only just in time. Then the flagstaff was shot down. Anderson ran his colors up again, but the situation was rapidly becoming impossible. Most of the worn-out men were fighting the flames while a few were firing at long intervals to show they would not yet give in. This excited the generous admiration of the enemy, who cheered the gallantry of Sumter while sneering at the caution of the Union fleet outside. The fact was, however, that this so-called fleet was a mere assemblage of vessels quite unable to fight the Charleston batteries and without the slightest chance of saving Sumter.
Having done his best for the honor of the flag, though not a man was killed within the walls, Anderson surrendered in the afternoon. Charleston went wild with joy; but applauded the generosity of Beauregard’s chivalrous terms. Next day, Sunday the fourteenth, Anderson’s little garrison saluted the Stars and Stripes with fifty guns, and then, with colors flying, marched down on board a transport to the strains of Yankee Doodle.
Strange to say, after being four years in Confederate hands, Sumter was recaptured by the Union forces on the anniversary of its surrender. It was often bombarded, though never taken, in the meantime.
The fall of Sumter not only fired all Union loyalty but made Confederates eager for the fray. The very next day Lincoln called for 75,000 three-month volunteers. Two days later Confederate letters of marque were issued to any privateers that would prey on Union shipping. Two days later again Lincoln declared a blockade of every port from South Carolina round to Texas. Eight days afterwards he extended it to North Carolina and Virginia.
But in the meantime Lincoln had been himself marooned in Washington. On the nineteenth of April, the day he declared his first blockade, the Sixth Massachusetts were attacked by a mob in Baltimore, through which the direct rails ran from North to South. Baltimore was full of secession, and the bloodshed roused its fury. Maryland was a border slave State out of which the District of Columbia was carved. Virginia had just seceded. So when the would-be Confederates of Maryland, led by the Mayor of Baltimore, began tearing up rails, burning bridges, and cutting the wires, the Union Government found itself enisled in a hostile sea. Its own forces abandoned the Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry and the Navy Yard at Norfolk. The work of demolition at Harper’s Ferry had to be bungled off in haste, owing to shortness of time and lack of means. The demolition of Norfolk was better done, and the ships were sunk at anchor. But many valuable stores fell into enemy hands at both these Virginian outposts of the Federal forces. Through six long days of dire suspense not a ship, not a train, came into Washington. At last, on the twentyfifth, the Seventh New York got through, having come south by boat with the Eighth Massachusetts, landed at Annapolis, and commandeered a train to run over relaid rails. With them came the news that all the loyal North was up, that the Seventh had marched through miles of cheering patriots in New York, and that these two fine regiments were only the vanguard of a host.
But just a week before Lincoln experienced this inexpressible relief he lost, and his enemy won, a single officer, who, according to Winfield Scott, was alone worth more than fifty thousand veteran men. On the seventeenth of April Virginia voted for secession. On the eighteenth Lee had a long confidential interview with his old chief, Winfield Scott. On the twentieth he resigned, writing privately to Scott at the same time: “My resignation would have been presented at once but for the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted the best years of my life. During the whole of that time I have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors and a most cordial friendship from my comrades. I shall carry to the grave the most grateful recollections of your kind consideration, and your name and fame shall always be dear to me. Save in the defense of my native State I never desire again to draw my sword.”
The three great motives which finally determined his momentous course of action were: first, his aversion from taking any part in coercing the home folks of Virginia; secondly, his belief in State rights, tempered though it was by admiration for the Union; and thirdly, his clear perception that war was now inevitable, and that defeat for the South would inevitably mean a violent change of all the ways of Southern life, above all, a change imposed by force from outside, instead of the gradual change he wished to see effected from within. He was opposed to slavery; and both his own and his wife’s slaves had long been free. Like his famous lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson, he was particularly kind to the blacks; none of whom ever wanted to leave, once they had been domiciled at Arlington, the estate that came to him through his wife, Mary Custis, great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. But, like Lincoln before the war, he wished emancipation to come from the slave States themselves, as in time it must have come, with due regard for compensation.
On the twenty-third of this eventful April Lee was given the chief command of all Virginia’s forces. Three days later “Joe” Johnston took command of the Virginians at Richmond. One day later again “Stonewall” Jackson took command at Harper’s Ferry. Johnston played a great and noble part throughout the war; and we shall meet him again and again, down to the very end. But Jackson claims our first attention here.
Like all the great leaders on both sides Jackson had been an officer of regulars. He was, however, in many ways unlike the army type. He disliked society amusements, was awkward, shy, reserved, and apparently recluse. Moderately tall, with large hands and feet, stiff in his movements, ungainly in the saddle, he was a mere nobody in public estimation when the war broke out. A few brother-officers had seen his consummate skill and bravery as a subaltern in Mexico; and still fewer close acquaintances had seen his sterling qualities at Lexington, where, for ten years, he had been a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. But these few were the only ones who were not surprised when this recluse of peace suddenly became a very thunderbolt of war–Puritan in soul, Cavalier in daring: a Cromwell come to life again.
Harper’s Ferry was a strategic point in northern Virginia. It was the gate to the Shenandoah Valley as well as the point where the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad crossed the Potomac some sixty miles northwest of Washington. Harper’s Ferry was known by name to North and South through John Brown’s raid two years before. It was now coveted by Virginia for its Arsenal as well as for its command of road, rail, and water routes. The plan to raid it was arranged at Richmond on the sixteenth of April. But when the raiders reached it on the eighteenth they found it abandoned and its Arsenal in flames. The machine shops, however, were saved, as well as the metal parts of twenty thousand stand of arms. Then the Virginia militiamen and volunteers streamed in, to the number of over four thousand. They were a mere conglomeration of semi-independent units, mostly composed of raw recruits under officers who themselves knew next to nothing. As usual with such fledgling troops there was no end to the fuss and feathers among the members of the busybody staffs, who were numerous enough to manage an army but clumsy enough to spoil a platoon. It was said, and not without good reason, that there was as much gold lace at Harper’s Ferry, when the sun was shining, as at a grand review in Paris.
Into this gaudy assemblage rode Thomas Jonathan Jackson, mounted on Little Sorrel, a horse as unpretentious as himself, and dressed in his faded old blue professor’s uniform without one gleam of gold. He had only two staff officers, both dressed as plainly as himself. He was not a major-general, nor even a brigadier; just a colonel. He held no trumpeting reviews. He made no flowery speeches. He didn’t even swear. The armed mob at Harper’s Ferry felt that they would lose caste on Sunday afternoons under a commandant like this. Their feelings were still more outraged when they heard that every officer above the rank of captain was to lose his higher rank, and that all new reappointments were to be made on military merit and direct from Richmond. Companies accustomed to elect their officers according to the whim of the moment eagerly joined the higher officers in passing adverse resolutions. But authorities who were unanimous for Lee were not to be shaken by such absurdities in face of a serious war. And when the froth had been blown off the top, and the dregs drained out of the bottom, the solid mass between, who really were sound patriots, settled down to work.
There was seven hours’ drill every day except Sunday; no light task for a mere armed mob groping its ignorant way, however zealously, towards the organized efficiency of a real army. The companies had to be formed into workable battalions, the battalions into brigades. There was a deplorable lack of cavalry, artillery, engineers, commissariat, transport, medical services, and, above all, staff. Armament was bad; other munitions were worse. There would have been no chance whatever of holding Harper’s Ferry unless the Northern conglomeration had been even less like a fighting army than the Southern was.
Harper’s Ferry was not only important in itself but still more important for what it covered: the wonderfully fruitful Shenandoah Valley, running southwest a hundred and forty miles to the neighborhood of Lexington, with an average width of only twenty-four. Bounded on the west by the Alleghanies and on the east by the long Blue Ridge this valley was a regular covered way by which the Northern invaders might approach, cut Virginia in two (for West Virginia was then a part of the State) and, after devastating the valley itself (thus destroying half the foodbase of Virginia) attack eastern Virginia through whichever gaps might serve the purpose best. More than this, the only direct line from Richmond to the Mississippi ran just below the southwest end of the valley, while a network of roads radiated from Winchester near the northeast end, thirty miles southwest of Harper’s Ferry.
Throughout the month of May Jackson went on working his men into shape and watching the enemy, three thousand strong, at Chambersburg, forty-five miles north of Harper’s Ferry, and twelve thousand strong farther north still. One day he made a magnificent capture of rolling stock on the twenty-seven miles of double track that centered in Harper’s Ferry. This greatly hampered the accumulation of coal at Washington besides helping the railroads of the South. Destroying the line was out of the question, because it ran through West Virginia and Maryland, both of which he hoped to see on the Confederate side. He was himself a West Virginian, born at Clarksburg; and it grieved him greatly when West Virginia stood by the Union.
Apart from this he did nothing spectacular. The rest was all just sheer hard work. He kept his own counsel so carefully that no one knew anything about what he would do if the enemy advanced. Even the officers of outposts were forbidden to notice or mention his arrival or departure on his constant tours of inspection, lest a longer look than usual at any point might let an awkward inference be drawn. He was the sternest of disciplinarians when the good of the service required it. But no one knew better that the finest discipline springs from self-sacrifice willingly made for a worthy cause; and no one was readier to help all ranks along toward real efficiency in the kindest possible way when he saw they were doing their best.
At the end of May Johnston took over the command of the increasing force at Harper’s Ferry, while Jackson was given the First Shenandoah Brigade, a unit soon, like himself, to be raised by service into fame.
On the first and third of May Virginia issued calls for more men; and on the third Lincoln, who quite understood the signs of the times, called for men whose term of service would be three years and not three months.
Just a week later Missouri was saved for the Union by the daring skill of two determined leaders, Francis P. Blair, a Member of Congress who became a good major-general, and Captain Nathaniel Lyon, an excellent soldier, who commanded the little garrison of regulars at St. Louis. When Lincoln called upon Governor Claiborne Jackson to supply Missouri’s quota of three-month volunteers the Governor denounced the proposed coercion as “illegal, unconstitutional, revolutionary, inhuman, and diabolical”; and thereafter did his best to make Missouri join the South. But Blair and Lyon were too quick for him. Blair organized the Home Guards, whom Lyon armed from the arsenal. Lyon then sent all the surplus arms and stores across the river into Illinois, while he occupied the most commanding position near the arsenal with his own troops, thus forestalling the Confederates, under Brigadier-General D. M. Frost, who was now forced to establish Camp Jackson in a far less favorable place. So vigorously had Blair and Lyon worked that they had armed thousands while Frost had only armed hundreds. But when Frost received siege guns and mortars from farther south Lyon felt the time had come for action.
Lyon was a born leader, though Grant and Sherman (then in St. Louis as junior ex-officers, quite unknown to fame) were almost the only men, apart from Blair, to see any signs of preeminence in this fiery little redheaded, weather-beaten captain, who kept dashing about the arsenal, with his pockets full of papers, making sure of every detail connected with the handful of regulars and the thousands of Home Guards.
On the ninth of May Lyon borrowed an old dress from Blair’s mother-in-law, completing the disguise with a thickly veiled sunbonnet, and drove through Camp Jackson. That night he and Blair attended a council of war, at which, overcoming all opposition, answering all objections, and making all arrangements, they laid their plans for the morrow. When Lyon’s seven thousand surrounded Frost’s seven hundred the Confederates surrendered at discretion and were marched as prisoners through St. Louis. There were many Southern sympathizers among the crowds in the streets; one of them fired a pistol; and the Home Guards fired back, killing several women and children by mistake. This unfortunate incident hardened many neutrals and even Unionists against the Union forces; so much so that Sterling Price, a Unionist and former governor, became a Confederate general, whose field for recruiting round Jefferson City on the Missouri promised a good crop of enemies to the Union cause.
Lyon and Blair wished to march against Price immediately and smash every hostile force while still in the act of forming. But General Harney, who commanded the Department of the West, returned to St. Louis the day after the shooting and made peace instead of war with Price. By the end of the month, however, Lincoln removed Harney and promoted Lyon in his place; whereupon Price and Governor Jackson at once prepared to fight. Then sundry neutrals, of the gabbling kind who think talk enough will settle anything, induced the implacables to meet in St. Louis. The conference was ended by Lyon’s declaration that he would see every Missourian under the sod before he would take any orders from the State about any Federal matter, however small. “This,” he said in conclusion, “means war.” And it did.
Again a single week sufficed for the striking of the blow. The conference was held on the eleventh of June. On the fourteenth Lyon reached Jefferson City only to find that the Governor had decamped for Boonville, still higher up the Missouri. Here, on the seventeenth, Lyon attacked him with greatly superior numbers and skill, defeated him utterly, and sent him flying south with only a few hundred followers left. Boonville was, in itself, a very small affair indeed. But it had immense results. Lyon had seized the best strategic point of rail and river junction on the Mississippi by holding St. Louis. He had also secured supremacy in arms, munitions, and morale. By turning the Governor out of Jefferson City, the State capital, he had deprived the Confederates of the prestige and convenience of an acknowledged headquarters. Now, by defeating him at Boonville and driving his forces south in headlong flight he had practically made the whole Missouri River a Federal line of communication as well as a barrier between would-be Confederates to the north and south of it. More than this, the possession of Boonville struck a fatal blow at Confederate recruiting and organization throughout the whole of that strategic area; for Boonville was the center to which pro-Southern Missourians were flocking. The tide of battle was to go against the Federals at Wilson’s Creek in the southwest of the State, and even at Lexington on the Missouri, as we shall presently see; but this was only the breaking of the last Confederate waves. As a State, Missouri was lost to the South already.
In Kentucky, the next border State, opinions were likewise divided; and Kentuckians fought each other with help from both sides. Anderson, of Fort Sumter fame, was appointed to the Kentucky command in May. But here the crisis did not occur for months, while a border campaign was already being fought in West Virginia.
West Virginia, which became a separate State during the war, was strongly Federal, like eastern Tennessee. These Federal parts of two Confederate States formed a wedge dangerous to the whole South, especially to Virginia and the Carolinas. Each side therefore tried to control this area itself. The Federals, under McClellan, of whom we shall soon hear more, had two lines of invasion into West Virginia, both based on the Ohio. The northern converged by rail, from Wheeling and Parkersburg, on Grafton, the only junction in West Virginia. The southern ran up the Great Kanawha, with good navigation to Charleston and water enough for small craft on to Gauley Bridge, which was the strategic point.
In May the Confederates cut the line near Grafton. As this broke direct communication between the West and Washington, McClellan sent forces from which two flying columns, three thousand strong, converged on Philippi, fifteen miles south of Grafton, and surprised a thousand Confederates. These thereupon retired, with little loss, to Beverly, thirty miles farther south still. Here there was a combat at Rich Mountain on the eleventh of July. The Confederates again retreated, losing General Garnett in a skirmish the following day. This ended McClellan’s own campaign in West Virginia. But the Kanawha campaign, which lasted till November, had only just begun, with Rosecrans as successor to McClellan (who had been recalled to Washington for very high command) and with General Jacob D. Cox leading the force against Gauley. The Confederates did all they could to keep their precarious foothold. They sent political chiefs, like Henry A. Wise, ex-Governor of Virginia, and John B. Floyd, the late Federal Secretary of War, both of whom were now Confederate brigadiers. They even sent Lee himself in general commend. But, confronted by superior forces in a difficult and thoroughly hostile country, they at last retired east of the Alleghanies, which thenceforth became the frontier of two warring States.
The campaign in West Virginia was a foregone conclusion. It was not marked by any real battles; and there was no scope for exceptional skill of the higher kind on either side. But it made McClellan’s bubble reputation.
McClellan was an ex-captain of United States Engineers who had done very well at West Point, had distinguished himself in Mexico, had represented the American army with the Allies in the Crimea, had written a good official report on his observations there, had become manager of a big railroad after leaving the service, and had so impressed people with his ability and modesty on the outbreak of war that his appointment to the chief command in West Virginia was hailed with the utmost satisfaction. Then came the two affairs at Philippi and Rich Mountain, the first of which was planned and carried out by other men, while the second was, if anything, spoiled by himself; for here, as afterwards on a vastly greater scene of action, he failed to strike home at the critical moment.
Yet though he failed in arms he won by proclamations; so much so, in fact, that WORDS NOT DEEDs might well have been his motto. He began with a bombastic address to the inhabitants and ended with another to his troops, whom he congratulated on having “annihilated two armies, commanded by educated and experienced soldiers, intrenched in mountain fastnesses fortified at their leisure.”
It disastrously happened that the Union public were hungering for heroes at this particular time and that Union journalists were itching to write one up to the top of their bent. So all McClellan’s tinsel was counted out for gold before an avaricious mob of undiscriminating readers; and when, at the height of the publicity campaign, the Government wanted to retrieve Bull Run they turned to the ”Man of Destiny” who had been given the noisiest advertisement as the “Young Napoleon of the West.” McClellan had many good qualities for organization, and even some for strategy. An excited press and public, however, would not acclaim him for what he was but for what he most decidedly was not.
Meanwhile, before McClellan went to Washington and Lee to West Virginia, the main Union army had been disastrously defeated by the main Confederate army at Bull Run, on that vital ground which lay between the rival capitals.
In April Lincoln had called for three-month volunteers. In May the term of service for new enlistments was three years. In June the military chiefs at Washington were vainly doing all that military men could do to make something like the beginnings of an army out of the conglomerating mass. Winfield Scott, the veteran General-in-Chief, rightly revered by the whole service as a most experienced, farsighted, and practical man, was ably assisted by W. T. Sherman and Irvin McDowell. But civilian interference ruined all. Even Lincoln had not yet learned the quintessential difference between that civil control by which the fighting services are so rightly made the real servants of the whole people and that civilian interference which is very much the same as if a landlubber owning, a ship should grab the wheel repeatedly in the middle of a storm. Simon Cameron, then Secretary of War, was good enough as a party politician, but all thumbs when fumbling with the armies in the field. The other members of the Cabinet had war nostrums of their own; and every politician with a pull did what he could to use it. Behind all these surged a clamorous press and an excited people, both patriotic and well meaning; but both wholly ignorant of war, and therefore generating a public opinion that forced the not unwilling Government to order an armed mob “on to Richmond” before it had the slightest chance of learning how to be an army.
The Congress that met on the Fourth of July voted five hundred thousand men and two hundred and fifty million dollars. This showed that the greatness of the war was beginning to be seen. But the men, the money, and the Glorious Fourth were so blurred together in the public mind that the distinction between a vote in Congress and its effect upon some future battlefield was never realized. The result was a new access of zeal for driving McDowell “on to Richmond.” Making the best of a bad business, Scott had already begun his preparations for the premature advance.
By the end of May Confederate pickets had been in sight of Washington, while McDowell, crossing the Potomac, was faced by his friend of old West Point and Mexican days, General Beauregard, fresh from the capture of Fort Sumter. By the beginning of July General Patterson, a veteran of “1812” and Mexico, was in command up the Potomac near Harper’s Ferry. He was opposed by “Joe” Johnston, who had taken over that Confederate command from “Stonewall” Jackson. Down the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay there was nothing to oppose the Union navy. General Benjamin Butler, threatening Richmond in flank, along the lower Chesapeake, was watched by the Confederates Huger and Magruder. Meanwhile, as eve have seen already, the West Virginian campaign was in full swing, with superior Federal forces under McClellan.
Thus the general situation in July was that the whole of northeastern Virginia was faced by a semicircle of superior forces which began at the Kanawha River, ran northeast to Grafton, then northeast to Cumberland, then along the Potomac to Chesapeake Bay and on to Fortress Monroe. From the Kanawha to Grafton there were only roads. From Grafton to Cumberland there was rail as well. From Cumberland to Washington there were road, rail, river, and canal. From Washington to Fortress Monroe there was water fit for any fleet. The Union armies along this semicircle were not only twice as numerous as the Confederates facing them but they were backed by a sea-power, both naval and mercantile, which the Confederates could not begin to challenge, much less overcome. Lee was the military adviser to the Confederate Government at Richmond as Scott then was to the Union Government at Washington.
Such was the central scene of action, where the first great battle of the war was fought. The Union forces were based on the Potomac from Washington to Harper’s Ferry. The Confederates faced them from Bull Run to Winchester, which points were nearly sixty miles apart by road and rail. The Union forces were fifty thousand strong, the Confederate thirty-three thousand. The Union problem was how to keep “Joe” Johnston in the Winchester position by threatening or actually making an invasion of the Shenandoah Valley with Patterson’s superior force, while McDowell’s superior force attacked or turned Beauregard’s position at Bull Run. The Confederate problem was how to give Patterson the slip and reach Bull Run in time to meet McDowell with an equal force. The Confederates had the advantage of interior lines both here and in the semicircle as a whole, though the Union forces enjoyed in general much better means of transportation. The Confederates enjoyed better control from government headquarters, where the Cabinet mostly had the sense to trust in Lee. Scott, on the other hand, was tied down by orders to defend Washington by purely defensive means as well as by the “on to Richmond” march. Patterson was therefore obliged to watch the Federal back door at Harper’s Ferry as well as the Confederate side doors up the Shenandoah : an impossible task, on exterior lines, with the kind of force he had. The civilian chiefs at Washington did not see that the best of all defense was to destroy the enemy’s means of destroying THEM, and that his greatest force of fighting MEN, not any particular PLACE, should always be their main objective.
On the fourteenth of June Johnston had destroyed everything useful to the enemy at Harper’s Ferry and retired to Winchester. On the twentieth Jackson’s brigade marched on Martinsburg to destroy the workshops of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway and to support the three hundred troopers under J. E. B. Stuart, who was so soon to be the greatest of cavalry commanders on the Confederate side. Unknown at twenty-nine, killed at thirty-one, “Jeb” Stuart was a Virginian ex-officer of United States Dragoons, trained in frontier fighting, and the perfect type of what a cavalry commander should be: tall, handsome, splendidly supple and strong, hawk-eyed and lion-hearted, quick, bold, determined, and inspiring, yet always full of knowledge and precaution too; indefatigable at all times, and so persistent in carrying out a plan that the enemy could no more shake him off than they could escape their shadows.
On the second of July the first brush took place at Falling Waters, five miles south of the Potomac, where Jackson came into touch with Patterson’s advanced guard. As Jackson withdrew his handful of Virginian infantry the Federal cavalry came clattering down the turnpike and were met by a single shot from a Confederate gun that smashed the head of their column and sent the others flying. Meanwhile Stuart, who had been reconnoitering, came upon a company of Federal infantry resting in a field. Galloping among them suddenly he shouted, “Throw down your arms or you are all dead men!” Whereupon they all threw down their arms; and his troopers led them off. Patterson, badly served by his very raw staff, reported Jackson’s little vanguard as being precisely ten times stronger than it was. He pushed out cautiously to right and left; and when he tried to engage again he found that Jackson had withdrawn. Falling Waters was microscopically small as a fight. But it served to raise Confederate morale and depress the Federals correspondingly.
Patterson occupied Martinsburg,while Johnston, drawn up in line of battle, awaited his further advance four days before retiring. Then, with his fourteen thousand, Patterson advanced again, stood irresolute under distracting orders from the Government in Washington, and finally went to Charlestown on the seventeenth of July–almost back to Harper’s Ferry. Johnston, with his eleven thousand, now stood fast at Winchester, fifteen miles southwest, while Stuart, like a living screen, moved to and fro between them.
Meanwhile McDowell’s thirty-six thousand had marched past the President with bands playing and colors flying amid a scene of great enthusiasm. The press campaign was at its height; so was the speechifying; and ninety-nine people out of. every hundred thought Beauregard’s twenty-two thousand at Bull Run would be defeated in a way that would be sure to make the South give in. McDowell had between two and three thousand regulars: viz., seven troops of cavalry, nine batteries of artillery, eight companies of infantry, and a little battalion of marines. Then there was the immense paper army voted on the Glorious Fourth. And here, for the general public to admire, was a collection of armed and uniformed men that members of Congress and writers in the press united in calling one of the best armies the world had ever seen. Moreover, the publicity campaign was kept up unflaggingly till the very clash of arms began. Reporters marched along and sent off reams of copy. Congressmen, and even ladies, graced the occasion in every way they could. “The various regiments were brilliantly uniformed according to the aesthetic taste of peace,” wrote General Fry, then an officer on McDowell’s staff, and “during the nineteenth and twentieth the bivouacs at Centreville, almost within cannon range of the enemy, were thronged with visitors, official and unofficial, who came in carriages from Washington, were under no military restraint, and passed to and fro among the troops as they pleased, giving the scene the appearance of a monster military picnic.”
Had McDowell been able to attack on either of these two days he must have won. But previous Governments had never given the army the means of making proper surveys; so here, within a day’s march of the Federal capital, the maps were worthless for military use. Information had to be gleaned by reconnaissance; and reconnaissance takes time, especially without trustworthy guides, sufficient cavalry, and a proper staff. Moreover, the army was all parts and no whole, through no fault of McDowell’s or of his military chiefs. The three-month volunteers, whose term of service was nearly over, had not learned their drill as individuals before being herded into companies, battalions, and brigades, of course becoming more and more inefficient as the units grew more and more complex. Of the still more essential discipline they naturally knew still less. There was no lack of courage; for these were the same breed of men as those with whom Washington had won immortal fame, the same as those with whom both Grant and Lee were yet to win it. But, as Napoleon used to say, mere men are not the same as soldiers. Nor are armed mobs the same as armies.
The short march to the front was both confused and demoralizing. No American officer had ever had the chance even of seeing, much less handling, thirty-six thousand men under arms. This force was followed by an immense and unwieldy train of supplies, manned by wholly undisciplined civilian drivers; while other, and quite superfluous, civilians clogged every movement and made confusion worse confounded. “The march,” says Sherman, who commanded a brigade, “demonstrated little save the general laxity of discipline; for, with all my personal efforts, I could not prevent the men from straggling for water, blackberries, or anything on the way they fancied.” In the whole of the first long summer’s day, the sixteenth of July, the army only marched six miles; and it took the better part of the seventeenth to herd its stragglers back again. “I wished them, ” says McDowell, “to go to Centreville the second day [only another six miles out] but the men were footweary, not so much by the distance marched as by the time they had been on foot.” That observant private, Warren Lee Goss, has told us how hard it is to soldier suddenly. “My canteen banged against my bayonet; both tin cup and bayonet badly interfered with the butt of my musket, while my cartridge-box and haversack were constantly flopping up and down–the whole jangling like loose harness and chains on a runaway horse.” The weather was hot. The roads were dusty. And many a man threw away parts of his kit for which he suffered later on. There was food in superabundance. But, with that unwieldy and grossly undisciplined supply-and-transport service, the men and their food never came together at the proper time.
Early on the eighteenth McDowell, whose own work was excellent all through, pushed forward a brigade against Blackburn’s Ford, toward the Confederate right, in order to distract attention from the real objective, which was to be the turning of the left. The Confederate outposts fell back beyond the ford. The Federal brigade followed on; when suddenly sharp volleys took it in front and flank. The opposing brigade, under Longstreet (of whom we shall often hear again), had lain concealed and sprung its trap quite neatly. Most of the Federals behaved extremely well under these untoward circumstances. But one whole battery and another whole battalion, whose term of service expired that afternoon, were officially reported as having “moved to the rear to the sound of the enemy’s cannon.” Thereafter, as military units, they simply ceased to exist.
At one o’clock in the morning of this same day Johnston received a telegram at Winchester, from Richmond, warning him that McDowell was advancing on Bull Run, with the evident intention of seizing Manassas Junction, which would cut the Confederate rail communication with the Shenandoah Valley and so prevent all chance of immediate concentration at Bull Run. Johnston saw that the hour had come. It could not have come before, as Lee and the rest had foreseen; because an earlier concentration at Bull Run would have drawn the two superior Federal forces together on the selfsame spot. There was still some risk about giving Patterson the slip. True, his three-month special-constable array was semi-mutinous already; and its term of service had only a few more days to run. True, also, that the men had cause for grievance. They were all without pay, and some of them were reported as being still “without pants.” But, despite such drawbacks, a resolute attack by Patterson’s fourteen thousand could have at least held fast Johnston’s eleven thousand, who were mostly little better off in military ways. Patterson, however, suffered from distracting orders, and that was his undoing. Johnston, admirably screened by Stuart, drew quietly away, leaving his sick at Winchester and raising the spirits of his whole command by telling them that Beauregard was in danger and that they were to “make a forced march to save the country.”
Straining every nerve they stepped out gallantly and covered mile after mile till they reached the Shenandoah, forded it, and crossed the Blue Ridge at Ashby’s Gap. But lack of training and march discipline told increasingly against them. “The discouragement of that day’s march,” said Johnston, “is indescribable. Frequent and unreasonable delays caused so slow a rate of marching as to make me despair of joining General Beauregard in time to aid him.” Even the First Brigade, with all the advantages of leading the march and of having learnt the rudiments of drill and discipline, was exhausted by a day’s work that it could have romped through later on. Jackson himself stood guard alone till dawn while all his soldiers slept.
As Jackson’s men marched down to take the train at Piedmont, Stuart gayly trotted past, having left Patterson still in ignorance that Johnston’s force had gone. By four in the afternoon of the nineteenth Jackson was detraining at Manassas. But, as we shall presently see, it was nearly two whole days before the last of Johnston’s brigades arrived, just in time for the crisis of the battle. When Johnston had joined Beauregard their united effective total was thirty thousand men. There had been a wastage of three thousand. McDowell also had no more than thirty thousand effectives present on the twenty-first; for he left one division at Centreville and lost the rest by straggling and by the way in which the battery and battalion already mentioned had “claimed their discharge” at Blackburn’s Ford. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth, while, sorely against his will, the Federals were having their “monster military picnic” at Centreville, he was reconnoitering his constantly increasing enemy under the greatest difficulties, with his ill-trained staff, bad maps, and lack of proper guides.
Lee had chosen six miles of Bull Run as a good defensive position. But Beauregard intended to attack, hoping to profit by the Federal disjointedness. Consequently none of the eight fords were strongly defended except at Union Mills on the extreme right and the Stone Bridge on the extreme left, where the turnpike from Centreville to Warrenton crossed the Run. Bull Run itself was a considerable obstacle, having fairly high banks and running along the Confederate front like the ditch of a fortress. Three miles in rear stood Manassas Junction on a moderate plateau intersected by several creeks. The most important of these creeks, Young’s Branch, joined Bull Run on the extreme left, near the Stone Bridge and Warrenton turnpike, after flowing through the little valley between the Henry Hill and Matthews Hill. Three miles in front, across Bull Run, stood Centreville, the Federal camp and field base during the battle.
Sunday, July 21, 1861, was a beautiful midsummer day. Both armies were stirring soon after dawn. But a miscarriage of orders delayed the Confederate offensive so much that the initiative of attack passed to the Federals, who advanced against the Stone Bridge shortly after six. This attack, however, though made by a whole division against a single small brigade, was immediately recognized as a mere feint when, two hours later, Evans, commanding the Confederate brigade, saw dense clouds of dust rising above the woods on his left front, where the road crossed Sudley Springs, nearly two miles beyond his own left. Perceiving that this new development must be a regular attempt to turn the whole Confederate left by crossing Bull Run, he sent back word to Beauregard, posted some men to hold the Stone Bridge, and marched the rest to crown the Matthews Hill, facing Sudley Springs a mile away. Meanwhile four of “Joe” Johnston’s five Shenandoah brigades–Bee’s, Bartow’s, Bonham’s, and Jackson’s–had been coming over from the right reserve to strengthen Evans at the Bridge. As the great Federal turning movement developed against the Confederate left these brigades followed Evans and were themselves followed by other troops, till the real battle raged not along Bull Run but across the Matthews Hill and Henry Hill.
Forming the new front at right angles to the old, so as to attack and defend the Confederate left on the Matthews and Henry Hills, caused much confusion on both sides; but more on the Federal, as the Confederates knew the ground better. By eleven Bee had reached Evans and sent word back to hurry Bartow on. But the Federals, having double numbers and a great preponderance in guns, soon drove the Confederates off the Matthews Hill. As the Confederates recrossed Young’s Branch and climbed the Henry Hill the regular artillery of the Federals limbered up smartly, galloped across the Matthews Hill, and from its nearer slope plied the retreating Confederates on the opposite slope with admirably served shell. Under this fire the raw Confederates ran in confusion, while their uncovered guns galloped back to find a new position. “Curse them for deserting the guns,” snapped Imboden, whose battery came face to face with Jackson’s brigade. “I’ll support you,” said Jackson, “unlimber right here.” At the same time, half-past eleven, Bee galloped up on his foaming charger, saying, “General, they’re beating us back.” “Then, Sir,” said Jackson, “we’ll give them the bayonet”; and his lips shut tight as a vice.
Bee then went back behind the Henry Hill, where his broken brigade was trying to rally, and, pointing toward the crest with his sword, shouted in a voice of thunder: “Rally behind the Virginians! Look! There’s Jackson standing like a stone wall!” From that one cry of battle Stonewall Jackson got his name.
While the rest of the Shenandoahs were rallying, in rear of Jackson, Beauregard and Johnston came up, followed by two batteries. Miles behind them, all the men that could be spared from the fords were coming too. But the Federals on the Matthews Hill were still in more than double numbers; and they enjoyed the priceless advantage of having some regulars among them. If the Federal division at the Stone Bridge had only pushed home its attack at this favorable moment the Confederates must have been defeated. But the division again fumbled about to little purpose; and for the second time McDowell’s admirable plan was spoilt.
It was now past noon on that sweltering midsummer day; and there was a welcome lull for the rallying Confederates while the Federals were coming down the Matthews Hill, struggling across the swamps and thickets of Young’s Branch, and climbing the Henry Hill. Within another hour the opposing forces were at close grips again, and the Federals, flushed with success and steadied by the regulars, seemed certain to succeed.
Imboden has vividly described his meeting Jackson at this time. “The fight was just then hot enough to make him feel well. His eyes fairly blazed. He had a way of throwing up his left hand with the open palm towards the person he was addressing; and, as he told me to go, he made this gesture. The air was full of flying missiles, and as he spoke he jerked down his hand, and I saw that blood was streaming from it. I exclaimed, ‘General, you are wounded.’ ‘Only a scratch–a mere scratch,’ he replied; and, binding it hastily with a handkerchief, he galloped away along his line.”
Five hundred yards apart the opposing cannon thundered, while the musketry of the long lines of infantry swelled the deafening roar. Suddenly two Federal batteries of regulars dashed forward to even shorter range, covered by two battalions on their flank. But the gaudy Zouaves of the outer battalion lost formation in their advance; whereupon “Jeb” Stuart, with only a hundred and fifty horsemen, swooped down and smashed them to pieces by a daring charge. Then, just as the scattered white turbans went wildly bobbing about, into the midst of the inner battalion, out rushed the Thirty-third Virginians, straight at the guns. The battery officers held their fire, uncertain in the smoke whether the newcomers were friend or foe, till a deadly volley struck home at less than eighty yards. Down went the gunners to a man; down went the teams to a horse; and off ran the Zouaves and the other supporting battalion, helter-skelter for the rear.
But other Federals were still full of fight and in superior numbers. They came on with great gallantry, considering they were raw troops who were now without the comfort of the guns. Once more a Federal victory seemed secure; and if the infantry had only pressed on (not piecemeal, by disjoined battalions, but by brigades) without letting the Confederates recover from one blow before another struck them, the day would have certainly been theirs. Moreover, they would have inflicted not simply a defeat but a severe disaster on their enemy, who would have been caught in flank by the troops at the Stone Bridge; for these troops, however dilatory, must have known what to do with a broken and flying Confederate flank right under their very eyes. Premonitory symptoms of such a flight were not wanting. Confederate wounded, stragglers, and skulkers were making for the rear; and the rallied brigades were again in disorder, with Bee and Bartow, two first-rate brigadiers, just killed, and other seniors wounded. Another ominous sign was the limbering up of Confederate guns to cover the expected retreat from the Henry Hill.
But on its reverse slope lay Jackson’s Shenandoahs, three thousand strong, and by far the best drilled and disciplined brigade that either side had yet produced apart, of course, from regulars. Jackson had ridden up and down before them, calm as they had ever seen him on parade, quietly saying, “Steady, men, steady! All’s well.” In this way he had held them straining at the leash for hours. Now, at last, their time had come. Riding out to the center of his line he gave his final orders: “Reserve your fire till they come within fifty yards. Then fire and give them the bayonet; and yell like furies when you charge!” Five minutes later, as the triumphant Federals topped the crest, the long gray line rose up, stood fast, fired one crashing point-blank volley, and immediately charged home with the first of those wild, high rebel yells that rang throughout the war. The stricken and astounded Federal front caved in, turned round, and fled. At the same instant the last of the Shenandoahs–Kirby Smith’s brigade, detrained just in the nick of time–charged the wavering flank. Then, like the first quiver of an avalanche, a tremor shook the whole massed Federals one moment on that fatal hill: the next, like a loosened cliff, they began the landslide down.
There, in the valley, along Young’s Branch, McDowell established his last line of battle, based on the firm rock of the regulars. But by this time the Confederates had brought up troops from the whole length of their line; the balance of numbers was at last in their favor; and nothing could stay the Federal recoil. Lack of drill and discipline soon changed this recoil into a disorderly retreat. There was no panic; but most of the military units “dissolved into a mere mob whose heart was set on getting back to Washington in any way left ”’Open. The regulars and a few formed bodies in reserve did their best to stem the stream. But all in vain.
One mile short of Centreville there was a sudden upset and consequent block on the bridge across Cub Run. Then the stream of men retreating, mixed with clogging masses of panic-struck civilians, became a torrent.
Bull Run was only a special-constable affair on a gigantic scale. The losses were comparatively small–3553 killed and wounded on both sides put together: not ten per cent of the less than forty thousand who actually fought. Moreover, the side that won the battle lost the war. And yet Bull Run had many points of very great importance. In spite of all shortcomings it showed the good quality of the troops engaged: if not as soldiers, at all events as men. It proved that the war, unlike the battle, would not be fought by special constables, some of whom first fired their rifles when their target was firing back at them. It brought one great leader–Stonewall Jackson–into fame. Above all, it profoundly affected the popular points of view, both North and South. In the South there was undue elation, followed by the absurd belief that one Southerner could beat two Northerners any day and that the North would now back down en masse, as its army had from the Henry Hill. A dangerous slackening of military preparation was the unavoidable result. In the North, on the other hand, a good many people began to see the difference between armed mobs and armies; and the thorough Unionists, led by the wise and steadfast Lincoln, braced themselves for real war.
CHAPTER II. THE COMBATANTS
No map can show the exact dividing line between the actual combatants of North and South. Eleven States seceded: Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. But the mountain folk of western Virginia and eastern Tennessee were strong Unionists; and West Virginia became a State while the war was being fought. On the other hand, the four border States, though officially Federal under stress of circumstances, were divided against themselves. In Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Kansas, many citizens took the Southern side. Maryland would have gone with the South if it had not been for the presence of overwhelming Northern sea-power and the absence of any good land frontier of her own. Kentucky remained neutral for several months. Missouri was saved for the Union by those two resourceful and determined men, Lyon and Blair. Kansas, though preponderantly Unionist, had many Confederates along its southern boundary. On the whole the Union gained greatly throughout the borderlands as the war went on; and the remaining Confederate hold on the border people was more than counterbalanced by the Federal hold on those in the western parts of old Virginia and the eastern parts of Tennessee. Among the small seafaring population along the Southern coast there were also some strongly Union men.
Counting out Northern Confederates and Southern Federals as canceling each other, so far as effective fighting was concerned a comparison made between the North and South along the line of actual secession reveals the one real advantage the South enjoyed all through–an overwhelming party in favor of the war. When once the die was cast there was certainly not a tenth of the Southern whites who did not belong to the war party; and the peace party always had to hold its tongue. The Southerners formed simpler and far more homogeneous communities of the old long-settled stock, and were more inclined to act together when once their feelings were profoundly stirred.
The Northern communities, on the other hand, being far more complex and far less homogeneous, were plagued with peace parties that grew like human weeds, clogging the springs of action everywhere. There were immigrants new to the country and therefore not inclined to take risks for a cause they had not learned to make their own. There were also naturalized, and even American-born, aliens, aliens in speech, race, thought, and every way of life. Then there were the oppositionists of different kinds, who would not support any war government, however like a perfect coalition it might be. Among these were some Northerners who did business with the South, especially the men who financed the cotton and tobacco crops. Others, again, were those loose-tongued folk who think any vexed question can be settled by unlimited talk. Next came those “defeatist” cranks who always think their own side must be wrong, and who are of no more practical use than the out-and-out “pacifists” who think everybody wrong except themselves. Finally, there were those slippery folk who try to evade all public duty, especially when it smacks of danger. These skulkers flourish best in large and complex populations, where they may even masquerade as patriots of the kind so well described by Lincoln when he said how often he had noticed that the men who were loudest in proclaiming their readiness to shed their last drop of blood were generally the most careful not to shed the first.
Many of these fustian heroes formed the mushroom secret societies that played their vile extravaganza right under the shadow of the real tragedy of war. Worse still, not content with the abracadabra of their silly oaths, the busybody members made all the mischief they could during Lincoln’s last election. Worst of all, they not only tried their hands at political assassination in the North but they lured many a gallant Confederate to his death by promising to rise in their might for a “Free Northwest” the moment the Southern troopers should appear. Needless to say, not a single one of the whole bombastic band of cowards stirred a finger to help the Confederate troopers who rode to their doom on Morgan’s Raid through Indiana and Ohio. The peace party wore a copper as a badge, and so came to be known as “Copperheads,” much to the disgust of its more inflated members, who called themselves the Sons of Liberty. The war party, with a better appreciation of how names and things should be connected, used their own descriptive “Copperhead” in its appropriate meaning of a poisonous snake in the grass behind.
The Indians would have preferred neutrality between the two kinds of inevitably dispossessing whites. But neutrality was impossible in what was then the Far West. Not ten thousand Indians fought for both sides put together. On the whole they fought well as skirmishers, though they rarely withstood shell fire, even when their cover was good and their casualties small.
The ten times more numerous negroes were naturally a much more serious factor. The North encouraged the employment of colored labor corps and even colored soldiers, especially after Emancipation. But the vast majority of negroes, whether slave or free, either preferred or put up with their Southern masters, whom they generally served faithfully enough either in military labor corps or on the old plantations. As the colored population of the South was three and a half millions this general fidelity was of great importance to the forces in the field.
The total population of the United States in 1861 was about thirty-one and a half millions. Of this total twenty-two and a half belonged to the North and nine to the South. The grand total odds were therefore five against two. The odds against the South rise to four against one if the blacks are left out. There were twenty-two million whites in the North against five and a half in the South. But to reach the real fighting odds of three to one we must also eliminate the peace parties, large in the North, small in the South. If we take a tenth off the Southern whites and a third off the Northern grand total we shall get the approximate war-party odds of three to one; for these subtractions leave fifteen millions in the North against only five in the South.
This gives the statistical key to the startling contrasts which were so often noted by foreign correspondents at the time, and which are still so puzzling in the absence of the key. The whole normal life of the South was visibly changed by the war. But in the North the inquiring foreigner could find, on one hand, the most steadfast loyalty and heroic sacrifice, both in the Northern armies and among their folks at home, while on the other he could find a wholly different kind of life flaunting its most shameless features in his face. The theaters were crowded. Profiteers abounded, taking their pleasures with ravenous greed; for the best of their blood-money would end with the war. Everywhere there was the same fundamental difference between the patriots who carried on the war and the parasites who hindered them. Of course the two-thirds who made up the war party were not all saints or even perfect patriots. Nor was the other third composed exclusively of wanton sinners. There were, for instance, the genuine settlers whom the Union Government encouraged to occupy the West, beyond the actual reach of war. But the distinction still remains.
Though sorely hampered, the Union Government did, on the whole, succeed in turning the vast and varied resources of the North against the much smaller and less varied resources of the South. The North held the machinery of national government, though with the loss of a good quarter of the engineers. In agriculture of, all kinds both North and South were very strong for purposes of peace. Each had food in superabundance. But the trading strength of the South lay in cotton and tobacco, neither of which could be turned into money without going north or to sea. In finance the North was overwhelmingly strong by comparison, more especially because Northern sea-power shut off the South from all its foreign markets. In manufactures the South could not compare at all.
Northern factories alone could not supply the armies. But finance and factories together could. The Southern soldier looked to the battlefield and the raiding of a base for supplying many of his most pressing needs in arms, equipment, clothing, and even food– for Southern transport suffered from many disabilities. Fierce wolfish cries would mingle with the rebel yell in battle when the two sides closed. “You’ve got to leave your rations!”–“Come out of them clothes!”–“Take off them boots, Yank!”–“Come on, blue bellies, we want them blankets!”
It was the same in almost every kind of goods. The South made next to none for herself and had to import from the North or overseas. The North could buy silk for balloons. The South could not. The Southern women gave in their whole supply of silk for the big balloon that was lost during the Seven Days’ Battle in the second year of the war. The Southern soldiers never forgave what they considered the ungallant trick of the Northerners who took this many-hued balloon from a steamer stranded on a bar at low tide down near the mouth of the James. Thus fell the last silk dress, a queer tribute to Northern seapower! Northern seapower also cut off nearly everything the sick and wounded needed; which raised the death rate of the Southern forces far beyond the corresponding death rate in the North. Again, preserved rations were almost unknown in the South. But they were plentiful throughout the Northern armies: far too plentiful, indeed, for the taste of the men, who got “fed up” on the dessicated vegetables and concentrated milk which they rechristened “desecrated vegetables” and “consecrated milk.”
There is the same tale to tell about transport and munitions. Outside the Tredegar Iron Works at Richmond the only places where Southern cannon could be made were Charlotte in North Carolina, Atlanta and Macon in Georgia, and Selma in Alabama. The North had many places, each with superior plant, besides which the oversea munition world was far more at the service of the open-ported North than of the close-blockaded South. What sea-power meant in this respect may be estimated from the fact that out of the more than three-quarters of a million rifles bought by the North in the first fourteen months of the war all but a beggarly thirty thousand came from overseas.
Transport was done by road, rail, sea, and inland waters. Other things being equal, a hundred tons could be moved by water as easily as ten by rail or one by road. Now, the North not only enjoyed enormous advantages in sea-power, both mercantile and naval, but in road, rail, canal, and river transport too. The road transport that affected both sides most was chiefly in the South, because most maneuvering took place there. “Have you been through Virginia?–Yes, in several places” is a witticism that might be applied to many another State where muddy sloughs abounded. In horses, mules, and vehicles the richer North wore out the poorer and blockaded South. Both sides sent troops, munitions, and supplies by rail whenever they could; and here, as a glance at the map will show, the North greatly surpassed the South in mileage, strategic disposition, and every other way.
The South had only one through line from the Atlantic to the Mississippi; and this ran across that Northern salient which threatened the South from the southwestern Alleghanies. The other rails all had the strategic defect of not being convenient for rapid concentration by land; for most of the Southern rails were laid with a view to getting surplus cotton and tobacco overseas. The strategic gap at Petersburg was due to a very different cause; for there, in order to keep its local transfers, the town refused to let the most important Virginian lines connect.
Taking sea-power in its fullest sense, to include all naval and mercantile parts on both salt and fresh water, we can quite understand how it helped the nautical North to get the strangle-hold on the landsman’s South. The great bulk of the whole external trade of the South was done by shipping. But, though the South was strong in exportable goods, it was very weak in ships. It owned comparatively few of the vessels that carried its rice, cotton, and tobacco crops to market and brought back made goods in return. Yankees, Britishers, and Bluenoses (as Nova Scotian craft were called) did most of the oversea transportation.
Moreover, the North was vastly stronger than the South on all the inland waters that were not “Secesh” from end to end. The map shows how Northern sea-power could not only divide the South in two but almost enisle the eastern part as well. Holding the Mississippi would effect the division, while holding the Ohio would make the eastern part a peninsula, with the upper end of the isthmus safe in Northern hands between Pittsburgh, the great coal and iron inland port, and Philadelphia, the great seaport, less than three hundred miles away. The same isthmus narrows to less than two hundred miles between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg (on the Susquehanna River); and its whole line is almost equally safe in Northern hands. A little farther south, along the disputed borderlands, it narrows to less than one hundred miles, . from Pittsburgh to Cumberland (on the Potomac canal). Even this is not the narrowest part of the isthmus, which is less than seventy miles across from Cumberland to Brownsville (on the Monongahela) and less than fifty from Cumberland to the Ohiopyle Falls (on the Youghiogheny). These last distances are measured between places that are only fit for minor navigation. But even small craft had an enormous advantage over road and rail together when bulky stores were moved. So Northern sea-power could make its controlling influence felt in one continuous line all round the eastern South, except for fifty miles where small craft were concerned and for two hundred miles in the case of larger vessels. These two hundred miles of land were those between the Ohio River port of Wheeling and the Navy Yard at Washington.
Nor was this virtual enislement the only advantage to be won. For while the strong right arm of Union sea-power, facing northward from the Gulf, could hold the coast, and its sinewy left could hold the Mississippi, the supple left fingers could feel their way along the tributary streams until the clutching hand had got its grip on the whole of the Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Red rivers. This meant that the North would not only enjoy the vast advantages of transport by water over transport by land but that it would cause the best lines of invasion to be opened up as well.
Of course the South had some sea-power of her own. Nine-tenths of the United States Navy stood by the Union. But, with the remaining tenth and some foreign help, the South managed to contrive the makeshift parts of what might have become a navy if the North had only let it grow. The North, however, did not let it grow.
The regular navy of the United States, though very small to start with, was always strong enough to keep the command of the sea and to prevent the makeshift Southern parts of a navy from ever becoming a whole. Privateers took out letters of marque to prey on Northern shipping. But privateering soon withered off, because prizes could not be run through the blockade in sufficient numbers to make it pay; and no prize would be recognized except in a Southern port. Raiders did better and for a much longer time. The Shenandoah was burning Northern whalers in Bering Sea at the end of the war. The Sumter and the Florida cut a wide swath under instructions which “left much to discretion and more to the torch.” The famous Alabama only succumbed to the U.S.S. Kearsarge after sinking the Hatteras man-of-war and raiding seventy other vessels. Yet still the South, in spite of her ironclads, raiders, and rams, in spite of her river craft, of the home ships or foreigners that ran the blockade, and of all her other efforts, was a landsman’s country that could make no real headway against the native seapower of the North.
Perhaps the worst of all the disabilities under which the abortive Southern navy suffered was lubberly administration and gross civilian interference. The Administration actually refused to buy the beginnings of a ready-made sea-going fleet when it had the offer of ten British East Indiamen specially built for rapid conversion into men-of-war. Forty thousand bales of cotton would have bought the lot. The Mississippi record was even worse. Five conflicting authorities divided the undefined and overlapping responsibilities between them: the Confederate Government, the State governments, the army, the navy, and the Mississippi skippers. A typical result may be seen in the fate of the fourteen “rams” which were absurdly mishandled by fourteen independent civilian skippers with two civilian commodores. This “River Defense Fleet” was “backed by the whole Missouri delegation” at Richmond, and blessed by the Confederate Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin, that very clever lawyer-politician and eversmiling Jew. Six of the fourteen “rams” were lost, with sheer futility, at New Orleans in April, ’62; the rest at Memphis the following June.
As a matter of fact the Confederate navy never had but one real man-of-war, the famous Merrimac; and she was a mere razee, cut down for a special purpose, and too feebly engined to keep the sea. Even the equally famous Alabama was only a raider, never meant for action with a fleet. Over three hundred officers left the United States Navy for the South; but, as in the case of the Army, they were followed by very few men. The total personnel of the regular Confederate navy never exceeded four thousand at any one time. The irregular forces afloat often did gallant, and sometimes even skillful, service in little isolated ways. But when massed together they were always at sixes and sevens; and they could never do more than make the best of a very bad business indeed. The Secretary of the Confederate navy, Stephen R. Mallory, was not to blame. He was one of the very few civilians who understood and tried to follow any naval principles at all. He had done good work as chairman of the Naval Committee in the Senate before the war, and had learnt a good deal more than his Northern rival, Gideon Welles. He often saw what should have been done. But men and means were lacking.
Men and means were also lacking in the naval North at the time the war began. But the small regular navy was invincible against next to none; and it enjoyed many means of expansion denied to the South.
On the outbreak of hostilities the United States Navy had ninety ships and about nine thousand men–all ranks and ratings (with marines) included. The age of steam had come. But fifty vessels had no steam at all. Of the rest one was on the Lakes, five were quite unserviceable, and thirty-four were scattered about the world without the slightest thought of how to mobilize a fleet at home. The age of ironclads had begun already overseas. But in his report to Congress on July 4, 1861, Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, only made some wholly non-committal observations in ponderous “officialese.” In August he appointed a committee which began its report in September with the sage remark that “Opinions differ amongst naval and scientific men as to the policy of adopting the iron armament for ships-of-war.” In December Welles transmitted this report to Congress with the still sager remark that “The subject of iron armature for ships is one of great general interest, not only to the navy and country, but is engaging the attention of the civilized world.” Such was the higher administrative preparation for the ironclad battle of the following year.
It was the same in everything. The people had taken no interest in the navy and Congress had faithfully represented them by denying the service all chance of preparing for war till after war had broken out. Then there was the usual hurry and horrible waste. Fortunately for all concerned, Gideon Welles, after vainly groping about the administrative maze for the first five months, called Gustavus V. Fox to his assistance. Fox had been a naval officer of exceptional promise, who had left the service to go into business, who had a natural turn for administration, and who now made an almost ideal Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He was, indeed, far more than this; for, in most essentials, he acted throughout the war as a regular Chief of Staff.
One of the greatest troubles was the glut of senior officers who were too old and the alarming dearth of juniors fit for immediate work afloat. It was only after the disaster at Bull Run that Congress authorized the formation of a Promotion Board to see what could be done to clear the active list and make it really a list of officers fit for active service. Up to this time there had been no system of retiring men for inefficiency or age. An officer who did not retire of his own accord simply went on rising automatically till he died. The president of this board had himself turned sixty. But he was the thoroughly efficient David Glasgow Farragut, a man who was to do greater things afloat than even Fox could do ashore. How badly active officers were wanted may be inferred from the fact that before the appointment of Farragut’s promotion board the total number of regular officers remaining in the navy was only 1457. Intensive training was tried at the Naval Academy. Yet 7500 volunteer officers had to be used before the war was over. These came mostly from the merchant service and were generally brave, capable, first-rate men. But a nautical is not the same as a naval training; and the dearth of good professional naval officers was felt to the end. The number of enlisted seamen authorized by Congress rose from 7600 to 51,500. But the very greatest difficulty was found in “keeping up to strength,” even with the most lavish use of bounties.
The number of vessels in the navy kept on growing all through. Of course not nearly all of them were regular men-of-war or even fighting craft “fit to go foreign.” At the end of the first year there were 264 in commission; at the end of the second, 427; at the end of the third, 588; and at the end of the fourth, 671.
Bearing this in mind, and remembering the many other Northern odds, one might easily imagine that the Southern armies fought only with the courage of despair. Yet such was not the case. This was no ordinary war, to be ended by a treaty in which compromise would play its part. There could be only two alternatives: either the South would win her independence or the North would have to beat her into complete submission. Under the circumstances the united South would win whenever the divided North thought that complete subjugation would cost more than it was worth. The great aim of the South was, therefore, not to conquer the North but simply to sicken the North of trying to conquer her. “Let us alone and we’ll let you alone” was her insinuating argument; and this, as she knew very well, was echoed by many people in the North. Thus, as regards her own objective, she began with hopes that the Northern peace party never quite let die.
Then, so far as her patriotic feelings were concerned, the South was not fighting for any one point at issue–not even for slavery, because only a small minority held slaves–but for her whole way of life, which, rightly or wrongly, she wanted to live in her own Southern way; and she passionately resented the invasion of her soil. This gave her army a very high morale, which, in its turn, inclined her soldiers the better to appreciate their real or imagined advantages over the Northern hosts. First, they and their enemies both knew that they enjoyed the three real advantages of fighting at home under magnificent leaders and with interior lines. Robert Lee and Stonewall Jackson stood head and shoulders above any Northern leaders till Grant and Sherman rose to greatness during the latter half of the war. Lee himself was never surpassed; and he, like Jackson and several more, made the best use of home surroundings and of interior lines. Anybody can appreciate the prime advantage of interior lines by imagining two armies of equal strength operating against each other under perfectly equal conditions except that one has to move round the circumference of a circle while the other moves to meet it along the shorter lines inside. The army moving round the circumference is said to be operating on exterior lines, while the army moving from point to point of the circumference by the straighter, and therefore shorter, lines inside is said to be operating on interior lines. In more homely language the straight road beats the crooked one. In plain slang, it’s best to have the inside track.
Of course there is a reverse to all this. If the roads, rails, and waterways are better around the circle than inside it, then the odds may be turned the other way; and this happens most often when the forces on the exterior lines are the better provided with sea-power. Again, if the exterior forces are so much stronger than the interior forces that these latter dare not leave any strategic point open in case the enemy breaks through, then it is evident that the interior forces will suffer all the disadvantages of being surrounded, divided, worn out, and defeated.
This happened at last to the South, and was one of the four advantages she lost. Another was the hope of foreign intervention, which died hard in Southern hearts, but which was already moribund halfway through the war. A third was the hope of dissension in the North, a hope which often ran high till Lincoln’s reelection in November, ’64, and one which only died out completely with the surrender of Lee. The fourth was the unfounded belief that Southerners were the better fighting men. They certainly had an advantage at first in having a larger proportion of men accustomed to horses and arms and inured to life in the open. But, other things being equal, there was nothing to choose between the two sides, so far as natural fighting values were concerned.
Practically all the Southern “military males” passed into the ranks; and a military male eventually meant any one who could march to the front or do non-combatant service with an army, from boys in their teens to men in their sixties. Conscription came after one year; and with very few exemptions, such as the clergy, Quakers, many doctors, newspaper editors, and “indispensable” civil servants. Lee used to express his regret that all the greatest strategists were tied to their editorial chairs. But sterner feelings were aroused against that recalcitrant State Governor, Joseph Brown of Georgia, who declared eight thousand of his civil servants to be totally exempt. From first to last, conscripts and volunteers, nearly a million men were enrolled: equaling one-fifth of the entire war-party white population of the seceding States.
All branches of the service suffered from a constant lack of arms and munitions. As with the ships for the navy so with munitions for the army, the South did not exploit the European markets while her ports were still half open and her credit good, Jefferson Davis was spotlessly honest, an able bureaucrat, and full of undying zeal. But, though an old West Pointer, he was neither a foresightful organizer nor fit to exercise any of the executive power which he held as the constitutional commander-in-chief by land and sea. He ordered rifles by the thousand instead of by the hundred thousand; and he actually told his Cabinet that if he could only take one wing while Lee took the other they would surely beat the North. Worse still, he and his politicians kept the commissariat under civilian orders and full of civilian interference, even at the front, which, in this respect, was always a house divided against itself.
The little regular army of ’61, only sixteen thousand strong, stood by the Union almost to a man; though a quarter of the officers went over to the South. Yet the enlisted man was despised even by the common loafers who would not fight if they could help it. “Why don’t you come in?” asked a zealous lady at a distribution of patriotic gifts, “aren’t you one of our heroes?” “No, ma’am,” answered the soldier, “I’m only a regular.”
The question of command was often a very vexed one; and many mistakes were made before the final answers came. The most significant of all emergent facts was this: that though the officers who had been regulars before the war did not form a hundredth part of all who held commissions during it, yet these old regulars alone supplied every successful high commander, Federal and Confederate alike, both afloat and ashore.
The North had four times as many whites as the South; it used more blacks as soldiers; and the complete grand total of all the men who joined its forces during the war reached two millions and three-quarters. But this gives a quite misleading idea of the real odds in favor of the North, especially the odds available in battle. A third of the Northern people belonged to the peace party and furnished no recruits at all till after conscription came in. The late introduction of conscription, the abominable substitution clause, and the prevalence of bounty-jumping combined to reduce both the quantity and quality of the recruits obtained by money or compulsion. The Northerners that did fight were generally fighting in the South, among a very hostile population, which, while it made the Southern lines of communication perfectly safe, threatened those of the North at every point and thus obliged the Northern armies to leave more and more men behind to guard the communications that each advance made longer still. Finally, the South generally published the numbers of only its actual combatants, while the Northern returns always included every man drawing pay, whether a combatant or not. On the whole, the North had more than double numbers, even if compared with a Southern total that includes noncombatants. But it should be remembered that a Northern army fighting in the heart of the South, and therefore having to guard every mile of the way back home, could not meet a Southern one with equal strength in battle unless it had left the North with fully twice as many.
Conscription came a year later (1863) in the North than in the South and was vitiated by a substitution clause. The fact that a man could buy himself out of danger made some patriots call it “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” And the further fact that substitutes generally became regular bounty-jumpers, who joined and deserted at will, over and over again, went far to increase the disgust of those who really served. Frank Wilkeson’s “Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac” is a true voice from the ranks when he explains “how the resort to volunteering, the unprincipled dodge of cowardly politicians, ground up the choicest seedcorn of the nation; how it consumed the young, the patriotic, the intelligent, the generous, and the brave; and how it wasted the best moral, social, and political elements of the Republic, leaving the cowards, shirkers, egotists, and moneymakers to stay at home and procreate their kind.”
That is to say, it was so arranged that the fogy-witted lived, while the lion-hearted died.
The organization of the vast numbers enrolled was excellent whenever experts were given a free hand. But this free hand was rare. One vital point only needs special notice here: the wastefulness of raising new regiments when the old ones were withering away for want of reinforcements. A new local regiment made a better “story” in the press; and new and superfluous regiments meant new and superfluous colonels, mostly of the speechifying kind. So it often happened that the State authorities felt obliged to humor zealots set on raising those brand-new regiments which doubled their own difficulties by having to learn their lesson alone, halved the efficiency of the old regiments they should have reinforced, and harassed the commanders and staff by increasing the number of units that were of different and ever-changing efficiency and strength. It was a system of making and breaking all through.
The end came when Northern sea-power had strangled the Southern resources and the unified Northern armies had worn out the fighting force. Of the single million soldiers raised by the South only two hundred thousand remained in arms, half starved, half clad, with the scantiest of munitions, and without reserves of any kind. Meanwhile the Northern hosts had risen to a million in the field, well fed, well clothed, well armed, abundantly provided with munitions, and at last well disciplined under the unified command of that great leader, Grant. Moreover, behind this million stood another million fit to bear arms and obtainable at will from the two millions of enrolled reserves.
The cost of the war was stupendous. But the losses of war are not to be measured in money. The real loss was the loss of a million men, on both sides put together, for these men who died were of the nation’s best.
CHAPTER III. THE NAVAL WAR: 1862
Bull Run had riveted attention on the land between the opposing capitals and on the armies fighting there. Very few people were thinking of the navies and the sea. And yet it was at sea, and not on land, that the Union had a force against which the Confederates could never prevail, a force which gradually cut them off from the whole world’s base of war supplies, a force which enabled the Union armies to get and keep the strangle-hold which did the South to death.
The blockade declared in April was no empty threat. The sails of Federal frigates, still more the sinister black hulls of the new steam men-of-war, meant that the South was fast becoming a land besieged, with every outwork accessible by water exposed to sudden attack and almost certain capture by any good amphibious force of soldiers and sailors combined.
Sea-power kept the North in affluence while it starved the South. Sea-power held Maryland in its relentless grip and did more than land-power to keep her in the Union. Sea-power was the chief factor in saving Washington. Seapower enabled the North to hold such points of vantage as Fortress Monroe right on the flank of the South. And sea-power likewise enabled the North to take or retake other points of similar importance: for instance, Hatteras Island.
In a couple of days at the end of August, 1861, the Confederate forts at Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, were compelled to surrender to a joint naval and military expedition under Flag-Officer Stringham and Major-General B. F. Butler. The immediate result, besides the capture of seven hundred men, was the control of the best entrance to North Carolina waters, which entailed the stoppage of many oversea supplies for the Confederate army. The ulterior result was the securing of a base from which a further invasion could be made with great advantage.
The naval campaign of the following year was truly epoch-making; for the duel between the Monitor and Merrimac in Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, was the first action ever fought between ironclad steam men-of-war.
Eleven months earlier the Federal Government had suddenly abandoned the Norfolk Navy Yard; though their strongest garrison was at Fortress Monroe, only twelve miles north along a waterway which was under the absolute control of their navy, and though the Confederates’, had nothing but an inadequate little untrained force on the spot. Among the spoils of war falling into Confederate hands were twelve hundred guns and the Merrimac, a forty-gun steam frigate. The Merrimac, though fired and scuttled by the Federals, was hove up, cut down, plated over, and renamed the Virginia. (History, however, knows her only as the Merrimac.) John L. Porter, Naval Constructor to the Confederate States, had made a model of an ironclad at Pittsburgh fifteen years before; and he now applied this model to the rebuilding of the Merrimac. He first cut down everything above the water line, except the gun deck, which he converted into a regular citadel with flat top, sides sloping at thirty-five degrees, and ends stopping short of the ship’s own ends by seventy feet fore and aft. The effect, therefore, was that of an ironclad citadel built on the midships of a submerged frigate’s hull. The four-inch iron plating of the citadel knuckled over the wooden sides two feet under water. The engines, which the South had no means of replacing, were the old ones which had been condemned before being sunk. A four-foot castiron ram was clamped on to the bow. Ten guns were mounted: six nine-inch smooth-bores, with two six-inch and two seven-inch rifles. Commodore Franklin Buchanan took command and had magnificent professional officers under him. But the crew, three hundred strong, were mostly landsmen; for, as in the case of the Army, the men of the Navy nearly all took sides with the North, and the South had very few seamen of any other kind.
To oppose the Merrimac the dilatory North contracted with John Ericsson the Swede, who had to build the Monitor much smaller than the Merrimac owing to pressure of time. He enjoyed, however, enormous advantages in every other respect, owing to the vastly superior resources of the North in marine engineering, armor-plating, and all other points of naval construction. The Monitor was launched at New York on January 30, 1869., the hundredth day after the laying of her keel-plate. Her length over all was 172 feet, her beam was 41, and her draught only 10–less than half the draught of the Merrimac. Her whole crew numbered only 58; but every single one was a trained professional naval seaman who had volunteered for dangerous service under Captain John L. Worden. She was not a good sea boat; and she nearly foundered on her way down from New York to Fortress Monroe. Her underwater hull was shipshape enough; but her superstructure–a round iron tower resting on a very low deck–was not. Contemptuous eyewitnesses described her very well as looking like a tin can on a shingle or a cheesebox on a raft. She carried only two guns, eleven-inchers, both mounted inside her turret, which revolved by machinery; but their 180-pound shot were far more powerful than any aboard the Merrimac. In maneuvering the Monitor enjoyed an immense advantage, with her light draft, strong engines, and well-protected screws and rudder.
On the eighth of March, a lovely spring day, the Merrimac made her trial trip by going into action with her wheezy old engines, lubberly crew, and the guns she had never yet fired. She shoveled along at only five knots; but the Confederate garrisons cheered her to the echo. Seven miles north she came upon the astonished fifty-gun Congress and thirty-gun Cumberland swinging drowsily at anchor off Newport News, with their boats alongside and the men’s wash drying in the rigging. Yet the surprised frigates opened fire at twelve hundred yards and were joined by the shore batteries, all converging on the Merrimac, from whose iron sides the shot glanced up without doing more than hammer her hard and start a few rivets. Closing in at top speed–barely six knots–the Merrimac gave the Congress a broadside before ramming the Cumberland and opening a hole “wide enough to drive in a horse and cart.” Backing clear and turning the after-pivot gun, the Merrimac then got in three raking shells against the Congress, which grounded when trying to escape. Meanwhile the Cumberland was listing over and rapidly filling, though she kept up the fight to the very last gasp. When she sank with a roar her topmasts still showed above water and her colors waved defiance. An hour later the terribly mauled Congress surrendered; whereupon her crew was rescued and she was set on fire. By this time various smaller craft on both sides had joined the fray. But the big Minnesota still remained, though aground and apparently at the mercy of the Merrimac. The great draught of the Merrimac and the setting in of the ebb tide, however, made the Confederates draw off for the night.
Next morning they saw the “tin can on the shingle” between them and their prey. The Monitor and Merrimac then began their epoch-making fight. The patchwork engines of the deep-draught Merrimac made her as unhandy as if she had been water-logged, while the light-draught Monitor could not only play round her when close-to but maneuver all over the surrounding shallows as well. The Merrimac put her last ounce of steam into an attempt to ram her agile opponent. But a touch of the Monitor’s helm swung her round just in time to make the blow perfectly harmless. The Merrimac simply barged into her, grated harshly against her iron side, and sheered off beaten. The firing was furious and mostly at pointblank range. Once the Monitor fired while the sides were actually touching. The concussion was so tremendous that all the Merrimac’s gun-crews aft were struck down flat, with bleeding ears and noses. But in spite of this her boarders were called away; whereupon every man who could handle cutlass and revolver made ready and stood by. The Monitor, however, dropped astern too quickly; and the wallowing Merrimac had no chance of catching her. The fight had lasted all through that calm spring morning when the Monitor steamed off, across the shallows, still keeping carefully between the Merrimac and Minnesota. It was a drawn battle. But the effect was that of a Northern victory; for the Merrimac was balked of her easy prey, and the North gained time to outbuild the South completely.
Outbuilding the South of course meant tightening the “anaconda” system of blockade, in the entangling coils of which the South was caught already. Three thousand miles of Southern coastline was, however, more than the North could blockade or even watch to its own satisfaction all at once. Fogs, storms, and clever ruses played their part on behalf of those who ran the blockade, especially during the first two years; and it was almost more than human nature could stand to keep forever on the extreme alert, day after dreary day, through the deadly boredom of a long blockade. Like caged eagles the crews passed many a weary week of dull monotony without the chance of swooping on a chase. “Smoke ho!” would be called from the main-topgallant cross-tree. “Where away?” would be called back from the deck. “Up the river, Sir!”–and there it would stay, the very mark of hope deferred. Occasionally a cotton ship would make a dash, with lights out on