James Ford Rhodes (18481927). History of the Civil War, 18611865. 1917.
THAT war is an economic waste is a commonplace; that the man is much more valuable than the dollar a truism, for the great evil of war is the killing of men. Homers thought when speaking of a lusty stripling who was smitten to the death cannot fail to occur, He repaid not his dear parents the recompense of his nurture.1 It is the tragedy of war that the high-spirited men are at the front and the skulkers in the rear; that the hearts of a large number of men are not in the fight. And these flee from danger, saying with Falstaff, The better part of valor is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life.2
In the course of this story we have seen how civilians were made into soldiers to fight bloody battles which presaged still greater sacrifices and a carnage of nearly three more years. We have now to consider another factor in the situation: to wit, money, which has come to mean the sinews of war. It was indispensable that the United States should keep up its credit among nations, and this, in view of its daily expenditure having increased from $178,000 to a million and a half dollars,3 was work requiring the highest kind of financial ability. Until December 31, 1861, the war had been carried on by the placing of loans through the coöperation of the United States Treasury and the banks and by the issue of about 25 millions of United States notes payable on demand without interest; all transactions had been on a specie basis. But the loans had exhausted the resources of the banks and at the end of the year 1861, they were obliged to suspend specie payments, leaving the government in the same plight. At home and in England it was thought that national bankruptcy was threatened. By the end of January, 1862, there were 100 million of accrued indebtedness and further requirements to June 30 of 250 to 300 millions. Both popular sentiment and congressional resolution approved heavy direct and indirect taxation, but it was certain that no tax bill could be framed and got to work in time to meet the pressing exigency. The expedient finally adopted was a striking innovation in finance. Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to issue 150 million United States treasury notes, payable to bearer, not bearing interest, and made these notes a legal-tender for all debts public and private.4
Action so unprecedented was not taken without serious consideration and debate. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, came with reluctance to the conclusion that the legal-tender clause is a necessity.5 The two best financial authorities in the Senate, John Sherman and William Pitt Fessenden, the chairman of the Committee on Finance, differed, Sherman favoring the clause, Fessenden opposing it. Fessenden wrote in a private letter: This legal-tender clause is opposed to all my views of right and expediency. It shocks all my notions of political, moral and national honor.6 The argument which prevailed was urged by Thaddeus Stevens, chairman of the House Committee of Ways and Means, This bill is a measure of necessity, not of choice. Sumner came to its support, but warned the Senate that the medicine of the Constitution must not become its daily bread. Sumner, Sherman and many others, perhaps most of the senators and representatives favoring it, regarded the measure as only a temporary expedient. But the apparent ease of solving a financial difficulty by making irredeemable paper a legal-tender acted like a stimulant which called for repeated doses; additional legal-tender, which became known as greenbacks, were authorized and issued until January 3, 1864, when the amount reached but a little short of 450 millions.7 The act of February 25, 1862, under which the first legal-tenders were issued, authorized also the issue of 500 millions 520 six per cent bonds, into which these legal-tender notes might be funded; interest on these bonds was payable in coin, for which the duties on foreign imports, payable in the same medium, were pledged.
It is impossible to read the debates covering the legal-tender act without recognizing the patriotic note. The advocates felt that it was necessary to avoid bankruptcy and to carry on the military and naval operations. True enough, we see its ill effects in increasing the cost of the war and in debauching the public mind with the idea that the government could create money by its fiat; and we know not what would have been the result of the alternative scheme. But as the legal-tender clause was opposed to sound principles of finance and to valuable precedent, it might have been worth while to try the other plan first. It was generally conceded that Treasury notes must be issued; the difference arose on the proposition to make them a full legal-tender. With the issue of the amount deemed necessary, and made legal-tender only as between the government and the public, even as Pitt had restricted that quality of the Bank of England notes during the Napoleonic wars, it is reasonable to suppose that the war might have been carried on for six months or a year longer and possibly to the end; provided also that the Secretary of the Treasury had made a proper construction of section 2 of the Act of February 25, which authorized him to dispose of the 500 millions 520 six per cents at their market value for coin or for Treasury notes. Chase construed market value to mean par, the result of this construction being very different from what would have been obtained if the bonds had been sold in the market for what they would fetch. The difference of the plans was the difference between a forced loan without interest and a voluntary loan secured by selling the bonds at their real market value. Our financiers who carried through their scheme were victims of the illusion that to make money by legislation was cheaper and better than to obtain it by bargaining.8
Congress at this session9 authorized the President to take possession of the railroads and telegraph lines when necessary for the public safety,10 and it created a comprehensive and searching scheme of internal taxation, which became a law by the Presidents approval on July 1 and may be briefly described as an act taxing everything, framed on the principle, Whenever you find an article, a product, a trade, a profession or a source of revenue tax it.11 This Congress was further notable in imposing for the first time in our history a graduated federal income tax. A tax of three per cent on incomes less than $10,000 and of five per cent on incomes over $10,000, with an exemption of $600 was laid,12 although certain deductions were permitted in making the return. The tax upon the incomes of citizens residing abroad was five per cent, without the usual exemptions. The duties on imports were increased by an act approved by the President on July 14.13
Lincoln was not an adept in finance and left this department to his Secretary of the Treasury who, in spite of mistakes and some personal failings, made a good finance minister. In diplomatic matters Lincolns hand may be traced and generally for the good. He was a hard student of the art of war and, through untoward circumstances and miserable failures, groped his way to the correct method of conducting large military operations. But from the first, he handled the slavery question with scarcely a flaw.
The action of Congress during the spring and early summer of 1862 indicated the progress of public sentiment since the first shot at Sumter. The Republicans, in neither of their national platforms, had deemed it prudent to demand the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia but, in April, Congress enacted this, providing at the same time for compensation to the loyal owners of slaves, which was duly made. In June, it crystallized in a formal statute the cardinal principle of the Republican party, the very reason of its existence, by prohibiting slavery in all the Territories of the United States.14 Lincoln went further than Congress. As early as March, 1862, he proposed the gradual abolishment of all slavery with compensation for the slave-owners and Congress adopted his recommendation. This offer was made during the military successes of the North and though, as a practical measure, there was no expectation that any but the Union border slave States would avail themselves of it, the offer was open to all; and, if the people of any or all of the Confederate States had at this time laid down their arms and respected the authority of the national government they would have received, in a plan of gradual emancipation, about four hundred dollars for each slave set free.
Lincoln measured the steps forward with discretion and kept the determination of the slavery question entirely in his own hands. On May 9, General Hunter, who commanded the Department of the South, issued an order declaring free all the slaves in South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. Lincoln heard of this a week later through the newspapers and at the same time received a letter from Chase, saying that in his judgment the order should be suffered to stand. The President replied to his Secretary, No commanding general shall do such a thing upon my responsibility without consulting me, and, on May 19, he issued a proclamation declaring Hunters order void. In this proclamation, he made an earnest appeal to the people of the Union border slave States to give freedom gradually to their slaves and accept the compensation proffered them by himself and Congress. I do not argue, he said; I beseech you to make arguments for yourselves. You cannot, if you would, be blind to the signs of the times. The abolition of slavery contemplated would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything.
Then came the utter failure of McClellans campaign, which convinced the President that slavery must be struck at. He grew eager to develop his policy of gradual emancipation of the slaves, compensation of their owners by the Federal government and colonization of the freed negroes in Hayti, South America and Liberia; for he believed that the abolition of slavery by the slave States in the Union would make it difficult for the Southern Confederacy to maintain the contest much longer. Before Congress adjourned, he invited the senators and representatives of the Union border slave States to the White House [July 12] and asked them earnestly to influence their States to adopt his policy. If the war continues long, he said, slavery in your States will be extinguished by the mere incidents of the war. It will be gone and you will have nothing valuable in lieu of it. How much better for you and for your people to take the step which at once shortens the war and secures substantial compensation for that which is sure to be wholly lost in any other event! He told them of the pressure upon him to interfere with slavery and of the dissatisfaction with him by the Radical supporters of the government, threatening division among those who united are none too strong. Our common country is in great peril, he continued; and as lofty views and bold action on their part would bring speedy relief, he begged them to emancipate their slaves. But Lincoln was unable to secure the assent of the border States to his plan. Bound up as was slavery with their social and political life, they could not understand that its doom was certain.
The lack of military success hampered the President in this as in all other action. It was a part of the plan that payment for the slaves should be made in United States six per cent bonds, and, though property in negroes had become admittedly precarious, the question must have suggested itself, in view of the enormous expenditure of the government, the recent military reverses and the present strength of the Confederacy, whether the nations promises to pay were any more valuable. Gold, now become a measure of the Union fortune, sold on June 3 at three and one-half per cent premium; on July 12, owing to McClellans defeat and the further authorized issue of paper money,15 it fetched fourteen per cent. But it is certain that, if the border slave States had acted promptly, they would have received for their slaves a fair compensation in United States bonds instead of having subsequently to sustain a flat monetary loss through the gift of freedom to the negroes.
During a drive to the funeral of Secretary Stantons infant son on the day after his interview with the border State representatives, Lincoln broached to Seward and Welles the subject which was uppermost in his mind. The reverses before Richmond, the formidable power of the Confederacy, convinced him of the necessity of a new policy. Since the slaves were growing the food for the Confederate soldiers and served as teamsters and laborers on intrenchments in the army service, he had about come to the conclusion that it was a military necessity, absolutely essential for the salvation of the nation, that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.16 As he afterwards described the situation, Things had gone on from bad to worse, until I felt that we had reached the end of our rope on the plan of operations we had been pursuing; that we had about played our last card and must change our tactics or lose the game!17
On July 22, Lincoln read to his Cabinet, to the surprise of all probably, except Seward and Welles, a proclamation of emancipation which he purposed to issue. Reiterating that the object of the war was the restoration of the Union, he proposed emancipation as a fit and necessary military measure for effecting this object. Seward pleaded for delay, fearing that on account of the depression of the public mind the proclamation might be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help, the government stretching forth its hands to Ethiopia in a last shriek on the retreat. Now while I approve the measure, he added, I suggest sir that you postpone its issue until you can give it to the country supported by military success instead of issuing it, as would be the case now, upon the greatest disasters of the war. The President had not seen the matter in this light; struck with the wisdom of Sewards objection, he put the draft of the proclamation aside waiting for a victory.18
The secret of this conference was well kept and the Radicals, not knowing that Lincoln was disposed to go as far as they wished, continued their criticism. What a pity, wrote Charles Eliot Norton, that the President should not have issued a distinct and telling Proclamation!19 Thaddeus Stevens characterized Lincolns proposal of compensated emancipation as the most diluted milk-and-water gruel proposition that was ever given to the American nation, and declared that the blood of thousands moldering in untimely graves is upon the souls of this Congress and Cabinet. The administration, he said, should free the slaves, enlist and arm them and set them to shooting their masters if they will not submit to this government.20 Sumner, restlessly pacing up and down his room, exclaimed with uplifted hand: I pray that the President may be right in delaying. But I am afraid, I am almost sure, he is not. I trust his fidelity but I cannot understand him.21 Carl Schurz sympathized with Sumner and criticized the President for not adopting the policy of immediate emancipation, but afterwards frankly confessed that Lincoln was wiser than he.22 Greeley, in his Prayer of Twenty Millions, printed in the New York Tribune, said to the President, We complain that the Union cause has suffered and is now suffering immensely from your mistaken deference to rebel slavery. This gave the President an opportunity for a public reply [August 22]. My paramount object in this struggle, he wrote, is to save the Union and is not either to save or destroy slavery. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.
Lincoln and Greeley may be looked upon as representative exponents of the two policies. There was in their personal relations a fundamental lack of sympathy; they could not see things alike. Lincoln knew men, Greeley did not; Lincoln had a keen sense of humor, Greeley had none; indeed, in all their intercourse of many years, Lincoln never told the serious-minded editor an anecdote or joke, for he knew it would be thrown away. Greeley and the Tribune, though not so powerful at this time in forming public opinion as they had been from 1854 to 1860, exerted still a far-reaching influence and gave expression to thoughts rising in the minds of many earnest men. No one knew this better than the President, who, in stating his policy in a public despatch to Greeley, complimented the editor and those for whom the Tribune spoke. Lincolns words received the widest publication and were undoubtedly read by nearly every man and women at the North. They were sound indeed. His position could not have been more cogently put. His policy was right and expedient, appealed to the reason of his people and inspired their hopes.23
The months of July and August, 1862, were one of the periods of gloom when the Northern people would probably have abandoned the contest had they not had at their head an unfaltering leader like Abraham Lincoln. The retreat to the James was a rude shock to their confidence in McClellan and the Army of the Potomac. When Norton asked George William Curtis, Do you think the Army on the James river is safe?24 he was expressing the anxious solicitude of many, as Lowell put into words the apprehensions of countless others when he wrote, I dont see how we are to be saved but by a miracle.25
History has answered Nortons question, Will Lincoln be master of the opportunities or will they escape him? Is he great enough for the time?26 Schurz wrote to Lincoln that his personal influence upon public opinion, his moral power was immense:27 this he now used to raise the men necessary to continue the war. From McClellans despatch of June 2828 he was convinced that the plan for taking Richmond had failed and that the Union armies must be increased. With a view to starting fresh enlistments he furnished Seward with a letter, making clear the need of additional troops. This letter was used by the Secretary, during his journey to New York City, Boston and Cleveland, in his conferences with men of influence and with the governors of several States. In it Lincoln declared, I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsakes me; and I would publicly appeal to the country for this new force were it not that I fear a general panic and stampede would follow, so hard is it to have a thing understood as it really is. The result of Sewards conferences and of his counsel by wire with the President and Secretary of War was a telegram to the governors of the States of the Union, asking them to unite in a letter to the President, in which they should request him to call upon the several States for men enough to speedily crush the rebellion. The governors fell in with the plan; the President accepted the patriotic offer and, after a free interchange of thought between him and Seward and between Seward and the governors, made the call for 300,000 men.29
From June 28 to July 1, Lincoln had no news of McClellan, and was in doubt as to the safety of his army for yet two more days; during this period, he grew thin and haggard. Sumner in despair wrote to Schurz: I wish you were here to tell the President the true way. In vain will he appeal for troops at the North, so it seems to many of us. I have insisted that the appeal shall be made to the slaves and the rear-guard of the rebellion be changed into the advance-guard to the Union.30 A month later, Sumner appreciated the hold Lincoln had on the people, writing to John Bright: The last call for three hundred thousand men is received by the people with enthusiasm, because it seems to them a purpose to push the war vigorously. There is no thought in the Cabinet or the President of abandoning the contest. We shall easily obtain the new levy, wrote Lincoln in a private letter (August 4). In spite of the misfortunes of the Army of the Potomac, he had the support of the plain people, who shared the enthusiasm of a mass meeting in Chicago that listened to the reading of a poem whose theme was, We are coming Father Abraham three hundred thousand more.31
Gloomy as was the outlook, worse was yet to come owing to further blunders in generalship. What General Meade wrote in May, We must expect disaster so long as the armies are not under one master mind,32 Lincoln knew perfectly well, and gladly would he have devolved the military conduct of affairs on one man could he have found that master mind for whom he made a painful quest during almost two years. The armies of the West, as contrasted with the Army of the Potomac, had accomplished positive results and to the ability there developed he looked for aid. He brought John Pope from the West where he had achieved an inconsiderable victory and made him commander of the Army of Virginia, composed of the corps of McDowell, Banks and Frémont. At the same time he appointed Halleck General-in-chief of the whole land forces of the United States with headquarters in Washington. If is difficult to comprehend the assignment of Pope, whose reported wonderful military operations on the Mississippi and at Corinth had not somehow been fully substantiated. Admiral Foote used to laugh at his gasconade and bluster.33 Hallecks promotion is easily understood. He had received much more than his share of the glory for the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson: this and his advance upon Corinth gave him the confidence of the country and of most of the army.34 It is remarkable that there was apparently no thought of three really able generals in the West, Grant, William T. Sherman and George H. Thomas, whose achievements at the time were greater than Popes and Hallecks.
Pope began his brief career as commander with a tactless address to his army. I have come to you from the West, he said, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies. I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so and that speedily. He followed his address with four published orders, one of which was unjustifiable and impossible of execution and the other three unnecessary. Lee at once began the study of Pope.
Frederick the Great, wrote Carlyle, always got to know his man, after fighting him a month or two; and took liberties with him or did not take accordingly. Learning to comprehend ones adversary was commanders easy in our civil war as most of the opposing commanders had been acquainted at West Point or during service in Mexico. Longstreet was graduated in the same class with Pope and undoubtedly conveyed to Lee his judgment of West Point days that Pope was a handsome, dashing fellow and a splendid cavalryman, who did not apply himself to his books very closely. At all events Lee accepted the general academic estimate of the new commander as a boastful, ambitious man and not a hard student or a close thinker. When he heard of Popes address to the army, his estimate was lowered: the Federal general had shown contempt for the military maxim of centuries, Do not despise your enemy.
McClellans army was at Harrisons Landing on the James river. He desired that it should be reënforced, after which he would again take the offensive against Richmond; at first the President inclined to the Generals view, but he returned from his visit to the Army (July 8) perplexed in mind. In May he had told General Meade, I am trying to do my duty but no one can imagine what influences are brought to bear on me.35 Conditions in this respect were worse in July. The Radicals not only pressed him to make a declaration against slavery but urged him to remove McClellan, whom they denounced as incompetent or disloyal and utterly out of sympathy with any attack upon slavery. They had induced the President to give Frémont another command after he had shown his incapacity in Missouri; they had another favorite in Benjamin F. Butler; but Pope had a military education which the others lacked and seemed to be equally zealous against slavery. Stanton and Chase desired the President to remove McClellan and send Pope to take command of the army on the James river; this he declined to do but he offered the command of the Army of the Potomac to Burnside, who peremptorily declined it.
On July 23, Halleck reached Washington, went next day to the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac and had a frank talk with McClellan, who, eager to remain on the James river, said that with a reënforcement of 20,000 to 30,000, he would cross the James river, attack Petersburg, an important railway centre, and cut the communication between Richmond and the States farther South. Halleck did not approve this plan and, on his return to Washington, the President, guided by his and other advice, determined to withdraw McClellans army to Aquia Creek in spite of the Generals warm protest. Then Lee decided to attack Pope who, well-informed and wary, retreated before the superior Confederate force. Lee, watching the movement from a hill, said to Longstreet, with a sigh of disappointment, General, we little thought that the enemy would turn his back upon us thus early in the campaign.
The rest of Popes campaign consisted of a series of blunders on his part aggravated by the indecision of Halleck, who evinced an utter incapacity for directing the movements of the two armies. There was also a lack of hearty coöperation with Pope by the Army of the Potomac. Halleck, Pope, the President, Stanton, Chase and McClellan, all had a hand in the management of the troops. Against these contended one able head, Lee, who had two powerful arms in Jackson and Longstreet. By a swift march Jackson got in Popes rear, tore up the railroad and cut the telegraph wires, severing his line of supplies and direct telegraph communication with Washington, but before Pope could catch him, he had fled and taken up a position to await calmly Longstreets arrival. Pope, reënforced by two corps from the Army of the Potomac, attacked the Confederates on August 29 and was repulsed, although he thought that he had gained a victory. In pursuance of this illusion, he brought on next day the Second Battle of Bull Run, wherein acting as if in obedience to Lees own wishes, he delivered himself into the enemys hands, met with a crushing defeat, which became a rout, the men fleeing in panic from the field.
The common belief in Washington was that Pope had on August 29 won a great victory. Everything seemed to be going well and hilarious on Saturday (August 30), wrote John Hay in his Diary, and we went to bed expecting glad tidings at sunrise. But about eight oclock the President came to my room as I was dressing and calling me out said: Well, John, we are whipped again, I am afraid. The enemy reinforced on Pope and drove back his left wing, and he has retired to Centreville where he says he will be able to hold his men. I dont like that expression. I dont like to hear him admit that his men need holding.36 The despatches from Pope were indeed alarming. In one of them he asked whether Washington were secure if his army should be destroyed; in another he disclosed his lack of confidence in the Army of the Potomac and its officers lack of confidence in him. McClellan, who was now at Alexandria, did not regard Washington as safe against the rebels. If I can quietly slip over there, he said in a letter to his wife, I will send your silver off.
September 2 was an anxious day in Washington. Early in the morning came a despatch from Pope telling a sad tale of demoralization of his own army and of excessive straggling from many regiments of the Army of the Potomac. Unless something can be done, he continued, to restore tone to this army, it will melt away before you know it. The President knew the one remedy and, in spite of the bitter opposition and remonstrance he was certain to encounter, placed McClellan, who in the shifting of troops had been deprived of all actual authority, in command of all the soldiers for the defence of the capital. Halleck had already ordered Pope to bring his forces within or near the lines of the fortifications; there his authority passed to McClellan. In view of the great danger to Washington, Halleck asked that all the available troops be sent as rapidly as possible to the capital. A number of gunboats were ordered up the river, and anchored at different points in proximity to the city, and a war steamer was brought to the Navy Yard. All the clerks and employees of the civil departments and all employees in the public buildings were called to arms for the defence of Washington. The sale of spirituous liquors at retail within the District of Columbia was prohibited. It was a moment of acute anxiety.
McClellan, elated at being called to the rescue, went forward to meet his soldiers. Encountering J. D. Cox, he said, Well, General, I am in command again. Warm congratulations ensued. The two rode on until they met the advancing column of the army, Pope and McDowell at its head. When it became known that McClellan had been placed in command, cheers upon cheers from the head to the rear of the column were given with wild delight. Inspired by the confidence of his men, he wrought with zeal. His talent for organization had full play and in a few days he had his army ready for an active campaign. Lincolns comment was, McClellan is working like a beaver. He seems to be aroused to doing something by the sort of snubbing he got last week.
At the Cabinet meeting of September 2, the opposition to McClellan broke forth. Stanton, trembling with excitement, spoke in a suppressed voice.37 Chase maintained that as a military commander McClellan had been a failure, that his neglect to urge forward reënforcements to Pope proved him unworthy of trust and that giving command to him was equivalent to giving Washington to the rebels. This and more I said, set down Chase in his diary. All the members of the Cabinet except Seward (who was out of the city) and Blair expressed a general concurrence. Lincoln was distressed and perplexed; he would gladly resign his place; (the presidency) but he could not see who could do the work wanted as well as McClellan. Chase replied that either Hooker, Sumner or Burnside could do it better.38
The President again offered the command of the army in the field to Burnside, who again declined it, saying, I do not think that there is anyone who can do as much with that army as McClellan, if matters can be so arranged as to remove your and the Secretary of Wars objection to him.
At the Cabinet meeting two days later (September 4) all the members present except Blair were unanimous against McClellan and almost ready to denounce the President for reinstating him in command. On the morrow, Lincoln said to John Hay: McClellan has acted badly in this matter, but we must use what tools we have. There is no man in the army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he. Unquestionably he has acted badly toward Pope. He wanted him to fail. That is unpardonable. But he is too useful now to sacrifice. And at another time Lincoln said, If he cant fight himself he excels in making others ready to fight.39
The intelligence came that Lee with his army was crossing the Potomac into Maryland. The Union troops must be sent in pursuit and a commander for them must be designated. The President said to McClellan, General, you will take command of the forces in the field. To Pope was sent an order which ended his service as a general in the Civil War.
Nothing is easier than to point out the mistakes in a military campaign after the event, but some contemporary expressions disclose the belief that, in trusting so much to Halleck and to Pope, the President was leaning on broken reeds. Welles thought that Hallecks mind was heavy and irresolute, that he did not possess originality and had little real military talent. Admiral Foote, who was under Halleck in the West, insisted that he was a military imbecile though he might make a good clerk. Montgomery Blair, who knew Pope intimately, said of him in the Cabinet meeting of September 2, He is a braggart and a liar, with some courage, perhaps, but not much capacity; and, in the meeting of September 12, he declared that Pope ought never to have been intrusted with such a command as that in front. McClellan, Blair also said, is not the man, but he is the best among the major-generals. We have officers of capacity, depend upon it, and they should be hunted out and brought forward. The Secretary of War should dig up these jewels; and one of the men Blair had in mind was William T. Sherman.40
Let us take a look at Lee, as Longstreet saw him in these days. Instead of the well-formed, dignified soldier, mounted at the head of his troops, and exhibiting in every movement the alertness and vigor of rich manhood, we have now before us the closet-student, poring over his maps and papers, with an application so intense as sometimes to cause his thoughts to run no longer straight. Often on these occasions he would send for Longstreet and say that his ideas were working in a circle and that he needed help to find a tangent. He was now at Chantilly in the midst of one of these perplexities. He had no intention of attacking the enemy in his fortifications about Washington, for he could not invest them and could not properly supply his army. He must either fall back to a more convenient base or invade Maryland. In that State, so allied in sympathy with his own, he even hoped for a rising in his favor, but at all events deemed it likely that he could annoy and harass the enemy. Should success attend this movement, he proposed to enter Pennsylvania. Perhaps in the chances of war he might destroy McClellans weakened and demoralized troops and thus conquer a peace. His soldiers were ragged and many of them were destitute of shoes. The army lacked much of the material of war, is feeble in transportation. Still, Lee wrote, we cannot afford to be idle; and he decided to cross the Potomac. Nothing occasioned him uneasiness but supplies of ammunition and subsistence. Desiring the friendly collision with another mind, he talked with Longstreet who, relating how during the Mexican War Worths division had marched around the city of Monterey on two days rations of roasting-ears and green oranges, thought they now could as safely trust themselves to the fields of Maryland laden with ripening corn and fruit.
On September 3, Lee began his march northward and next day wrote to his President that he should proceed with his expedition into Maryland unless you should signify your disapprobation; but before this word could have reached Richmond the Army of Northern Virginia had crossed the Potomac singing Maryland, my Maryland and had continued their rollicking march to Frederick City, which was reached on the 6th by the van led by Jackson.
We have seen that one of Lees designs in crossing the Potomac was to give the people of Maryland an opportunity of liberating themselves; he accordingly issued an address to them declaring that the South had watched with deepest sympathy their wrongs and had seen with profound indignation their sister State deprived of every right and reduced to the condition of a conquered province. To aid you in throwing off this foreign yoke is the object of our invasion. But he soon perceived that, if the people of Maryland were oppressed, they kissed the rod of the oppressor, as they gave no signs of rising. The most serious effect of the cold welcome he received was the difficulty in procuring subsistence. Lee proposed to pay for his supplies, but all that he had to pay with was Confederate currency or certificates of indebtedness of the Confederate States, and these the farmers, millers and drovers would not take for their wheat, their flour and their cattle. The army which had defeated McClellan and Pope could not make the farmers thresh their wheat and the millers grind it, nor prevent the owners of cattle from driving them into Pennsylvania. The citizens of Frederick caring not for the custom offered them by the officers and soldiers, closed their shops.
Lee was hoping to place the Confederacy in a position to propose peace to the Northern government and people on the condition that the independence of the Southern States should be recognized: the rejection of the offer might help the Democratic party at the coming fall elections when a new House of Representatives was to be chosen and might even induce the people to declare for a termination of the conflict. He purposed to attack neither Washington nor Baltimore, but he probably aimed at Harrisburg and the destruction of the long bridge of the Pennsylvania railroad across the Susquehanna river, which, as communication by the Baltimore, and Ohio had been severed, would leave no land connection between the eastern and western States except the railroad line along the lakes. At the same time, by drawing the Union forces away from the capital, he might, if he defeated them, prevent them from falling back upon the intrenchments of Washington.
At no time during the war were Confederate prospects so bright. Kirby Smith had defeated a Union force in Kentucky, had occupied Lexington and was threatening Louisville and Cincinnati, having pushed a detachment of his army to within a few miles of Covington, one of the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati. Bragg with a large army had eluded Buell, and was marching northward toward Louisville in the hope that Kentucky would give her adhesion to the Confederacy. Cincinnati and Louisville were excited and alarmed.
Lee found out that he could not live upon the country and decided that he must open a line of communication through the Shenandoah valley if he would secure adequate supplies of flour. But Harpers Ferry, commanding the valley, was held by a Federal garrison although, according to the principles laid down in military books, it should have been abandoned when the Confederate army crossed the Potomac. Lee had expected and McClellan had advised its evacuation, but Halleck would not give it up. It was a lucky blunder, for Lee was forced on September 10 to divide his army, sending Jackson back into Virginia to capture Harpers Ferry, while he proceeded with Longstreet toward Hagerstown.
The state of feeling at the North now approached consternation. That Lee should threaten Washington and Baltimore, then Harrisburg and Philadelphia, while Bragg threatened Louisville and Cincinnati, was a piling up of menace that shook the nerves of the coolest men, and those who were in a position to receive the fullest information were more anxious than the general public, for it was the inner councils of the nation that were the most sorely perturbed. Although the number of the Confederates was exaggerated, their power as an invading army, by virtue of their mobility and the genius of their leaders, was rated none too high. Considering that 55,000 veteran soldiers led by Lee, Jackson and Longstreet marched out of Frederick with high spirits and confidence of victory, the alarm which spread over the North was no greater than a community so gravely imperilled might be expected to feel. In Washington the anxiety was no longer so much for the safety of the capital, which was well fortified and garrisoned, as for the danger to the cause. Stantons uneasiness showed itself in the fear that communication with the North might be cut off. The President said he had felt badly all day (September 8).41 He was sadly perplexed and distressed. Men in New York City were terrified and panic-stricken.42 When Lee left Frederick and made directly for Pennsylvania, the farmers on the border sent away their women and children, then their cattle, then armed themselves for the protection of their homes against cavalry raids. The despatches from Governor Curtin at Harrisburg manifest concern for that capital: he called out 50,000 militia for the defence of the State. The words which came from Philadelphia were such as one expects from a wealthy city in time of panic. The country is very desponding and much disheartened, wrote Welles. It is evident, however, that the reinstatement of McClellan has inspired strength, vigor and hope in the army. Officers and soldiers appear to be united in his favor and willing to follow his lead.43 The peril in which the country lay could be averted only by McClellan and his army.
McClellan started his troops from Washington on September 5, he himself following two days later. The necessity of reorganizing his depleted army and of covering Baltimore and Washington, together with his own habitual caution and his uncertainty as to the enemys movements, caused him to proceed slowly. The morale of the army is very much impaired by recent events; the spirits of the enemy proportionately raised, wrote General Meade.44 But fortune turned McClellans way. Lees written order, disclosing the division of the Confederate army and the exact scheme of their march, was sent to three generals, of whom one pinned it securely in an inside pocket, another, Longstreet, memorized it and then chewed it up; whilst the third copy was lost, found by a private soldier of the Union Army and at once taken to McClellan, who showed his elation in his despatch to the President, I have all the plans of the rebels and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency.
McClellan acted with energy but not with the energy that Lee or Jackson would have shown under similar circumstances. He marched his army forward, and on September 14 won the battle of South Mountain, securing a passage over the South Mountain range to the field of Antietam; by this victory he restored the morale of the Union Army and gave heart to the President and people of the North. He did not, however, relieve the Harpers Ferry garrison which fell without a struggle.
A citizen friendly to the Confederate cause had been present when Lees lost order was brought to McClellan; he got an inkling of its importance to the Union Army, made his way through the lines and after nightfall gave the information to a cavalry officer who at once transmitted it to the Confederate commander. Having this knowledge before daylight of September 14, Lee, who was disappointed and concerned at the rapid advance of McClellan, left Hagerstown, disputed the passes of South Mountain and took up a strong position behind Antietam Creek, around the village of Sharpsburg. In the order for the division of the Confederate army, Jackson and the different detachments acting with him for the capture of Harpers Ferry were directed to join the main body of the army after accomplishing their object. Lee awaited them with his small force. His Maryland campaign so far was a failure. Circumstances had beaten him and only a decisive victory could bring back that prestige which was his when he marched out of Frederick. Philadelphia and Harrisburg were no longer in danger, but his own army stood in jeopardy.
The general opinion is that McClellan should have fought Lee before the Harpers Ferry detachments rejoined him, instead of waiting until September 17 when he had to contend with the whole army. On this day was fought the battle of Antietam, a day of isolated attacks and wasted efforts. Seventy-five thousand Union soldiers endeavored to overcome fifty-one thousand Confederates, Lee handling the inferior force in a manner absolutely above criticism. The Union loss in killed and wounded was 11,600, the Confederate about the same.45
The Victory was McClellans as, on September 19, Lee withdrew from the field and re-crossed the Potomac into Virginia. At the time it was exasperating to think how much more McClellan might have accomplished but, as we see it now, no other result was probable as long as McClellan was McClellan was McClellan and Lee and Lee; still, to overcome Lee in any way and on any terms was matter for congratulation. His army had marched through the streets of Frederick full of pride and hope, singing The Girl I Left Behind Me; now it was a horde of disordered fugitives. And the state of feeling at the North had changed from despondency before South Mountain to positive buoyancy after Antietam.46
The chief historical significance of the battle of Antietam is that it furnished Lincoln the victory which in his opinion must precede the issuance of his proclamation of emancipation. This, as we have seen, he had laid aside on July 22 until some military success should give support to the policy. The working of his mind in the interval of two months is an open page to us of to-day. Although he had already come to a decision, he showed the true executive acumen in not regarding the policy of striking directly at slavery as absolutely and finally determined until it had been officially promulgated. From the Cabinet meeting of July 22, when he announced his purpose, to that of September 22, when he informed his advisers that he should issue the irrevocable decree, he endeavored, in his correspondence, formal interviews and private conversation, to get all possible light to aid him in deciding when the proper moment had come to proclaim freedom for the slaves. To Conservatives he argued the Radical side of the question; I shall not surrender this game leaving any available card unplayed, he wrote to Reverdy Johnson. To Radicals he put forth the conservative view or laid stress on the necessity of proceeding with caution. He said to a committee of clergymen, who presented a memorial in favor of national emancipation, I do not want to issue a document that the whole world will see must necessarily be inoperative like the Popes bull against the comet.
There was pressure on the President to issue a proclamation of emancipation and there was pressure against it. He talked with Conservatives and Radicals, listened to their arguments, reasoned with them and left different impressions on different minds. Much of his talk was after his characteristic manner of thinking aloud when the stimulus of contact with sympathetic or captious men afforded him an opportunity to revolve his thoughts and see the question on all sides. There was indeed much to be considered. His warrant was the war powers of the Constitution. There must be a reasonable probability that the proclamation would help the operations of his army in spite of the strong opposition among many officers of high rank to a war for the negro; that it would weaken the Confederates by fostering in the slaves their inborn desire for freedom and so making of them all the secret friends of the North; that it might further lead to the employment of blacks as soldiers. But these considerations being granted, Lincoln must then satisfy himself that public opinion at the North would sustain him in the action. He could not doubt that the cavilling support of the Radicals would turn to enthusiasm and that their influence in the work of raising men and money would be very powerful. But was the sentiment of the plain people, the mass of steady Republicans and war Democrats, ripe for an edict of freedom? Again, the possibility that the policy might alienate the border slave States which had clung to the Union was in Lincolns mind a serious objection; but the difficulty was as great not to act as to act. On the other hand, emancipation would help him in Europe. England and France could not recognize the Southern Confederacy when the real issue between the two sections was thus unmasked. Yet there was reason to fear that an avowed war against slavery would revive the opposition of the Democrats and give them a club to use against the administration; but the President did not regard this an objection of great moment, since party opposition in the North must be expected in any event. In sum, it was only by turning the question over and over in his mind that he finally settled his doubts. He believed that a proclamation of freedom was a military necessity and that the plain people of the North would see this necessity even as he did. As the days went on, he was confirmed in the conclusion to which he had come in July and felt that public sentiment was growing in that direction.
Calling his Cabinet together on September 22, the President read from a book which Artemus Ward had sent to him the story entitled, High-Handed Outrage at Utica: In the Faul of 1856, I showed my show in Utiky, a trooly grate sitty in the State of New York.
1 day as I was givin a descripshun of my Beests and Snaiks in my usual flowry stile what was my skorn & disgust to see a big burly feller walk up to the cage containin my wax figgers of the Lords Last Supper, and cease Judas Iscarrot by the feet and drag him out on the ground. He then commenced fur to pound him as hard as he cood.
Sez he, Thats all very well fur you to say, but I tell you, old man, that Judas Iscarrot cant show hisself in Utiky with impunerty by a darn site! with which observashun he kaved in Judassis hed. The young man belonged to 1 of the first famerlies in Utiky. I sood him, and the Joory brawt in a verdick of Arson in the 3d degree.
Lincoln thought the story very funny and greatly enjoyed the reading of it, while the members of the Cabinet except Stanton laughed with him. Then he fell into a grave tone and told of the working of his thoughts since the meeting of July 22. The rebel army is now driven out of Maryland, he said, and I am going to fulfil the promise I made to myself and my God. I have got you together to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter; for that I have determined for myself. He then read his proclamation of freedom: On the first day of January, 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward and forever free. In the case of the loyal slave States he declared again for his policy of compensated emancipation and colonization of the freed negroes, and said that he should in due time recommend compensation also for the loss of their slaves to loyal citizens of the States in rebellion. All the members of the Cabinet except Blair approved the proclamation on the whole and Blairs objection was on the ground of expediency, not of principle. On the morrow, September 23, this edict was given to the country.
Note 4. Except duties on imports which should be paid in coin; this coin was pledged for the payment of the interest on the bonds. Included in the 150 millions were 50 million United States notes, authorized in July, of which about 25 millions had been issued. [back]