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Doc. 211. Gen. Phelps' proclamation.

Headquarters Middlesex Brigade, ship Island, Mississippi, December 4, 1861.
To the loyal citizens of the Southwest:
Without any desire of my own, but contrary to my private inclinations, I again find myself among you as a military officer of the Government. A proper respect for my fellow-country-men renders it not out of place that I should make known to you the motives and principles by which my command will be governed.

We believe that every State that has been admitted as a slave State into the Union since the adoption of the Constitution, has been admitted in direct violation of that Constitution.

We believe that the slave States which existed, as such, at the adoption of our Constitution, are, by becoming parties to that compact, under the highest obligations of honor and morality to abolish slavery.

It is our conviction that monopolies are as destructive, as competition is conservative of the principles and vitalities of republican government; that slave labor is a monopoly which excludes free labor and competition; that slaves are kept in comparative idleness and ease in a fertile half of our arable national territory, while free white laborers, constantly augmenting in numbers from Europe, are confined to the other half, and are often distressed by want; that the free labor of the North has more need of expansion into the Southern States, from which it is virtually excluded, than slavery had into Texas in 1846; that free labor is essential to free institutions; that these institutions are naturally better adapted and more congenial to the Anglo-Saxon race than are the despotic tendencies of slavery; and, finally, that the dominant political principles of this North American Continent, so long as the Caucasian race continues to flow in upon us from Europe, must needs be that of free institutions and free government. Any obstructions to that form of government in the United States, must inevitably be attended with discord and war.

Slavery, from the condition of a universally recognized social and moral evil, has become at length a political institution, demanding political recognition. It demands rights, to the expulsion of those rights which are insured to us by the [450] Constitution; and we must choose between them which we will have, for we cannot have both. The Constitution was made for freemen, not for slaves. Slavery, as a social evil, might for a time be tolerated and endured; but as a political institution, it becomes imperious and exacting, controlling, like a dread necessity, all whom circumstances have compelled to live under its sway, hampering their action, and thus impeding our national progress. As a political institution, it could exist as a co-ordinate part only of two forms of government, viz., the despotic and the free; and it could exist under a free government only when public sentiment, in the most unrestricted exercise of a robust freedom, leading to extravagance and licentiousness, had swayed the thoughts and habits of the people beyond the bounds and limits of their own moderate constitutional provisions. It could exist under a free government only where the people, in a period of unreasoning extravagance, had permitted popular clamor to overcome public reason, and had attempted the impossibility of setting up permanently, as a political institution, a social evil which is opposed to moral law.

By reverting to the history of the past, we find that one of the most destructive wars on record — that of the French Revolution — was originated by the attempt to give political character to an institution which was not susceptible of political character. The Church, by being endowed with political power, with its convents, its schools, its immense landed wealth, its associations, secret and open, became the ruling power of the State, and thus occasioned a war of more strife and bloodshed, probably, than any other war which has desolated the earth.

Slavery is still less susceptible of political character than was the Church. It is as fit at this moment for the lumber-room of the past as were, in 1793, the landed wealth, the exclusive privilege, etc., of the Catholic Church in France.

It behooves us to consider, as a self-governing people, bred and reared and practiced in the habits of self-government, whether we cannot, whether we ought not, revolutionize slavery out of existence, without the necessity of a conflict of arms like that of the French Revolution.

Indeed, we feel assured that the moment slavery is abolished, from that moment our Southern brethren, every ten of whom have probably seven relatives in the North, would begin to emerge from a hateful delirium. From that moment, relieved from imaginary terrors, their days become happy and their nights peaceful and free from alarm; the aggregate amount of labor, under the new stimulus of fair competition, becomes greater day by day; property rises in value; invigorating influences succeed to stagnation, degeneracy, and decay; and union, harmony, and peace, to which we have so long been strangers, become restored, and bind us again in the bonds of friendship and amity, as when we first began our national career under our glorious government of 1789.

Why do the leaders of the rebellion seek to change the form of your ancient Government? Is it because the growth of the African element of your population has come at length to render a change necessary? Will you permit the free Government under which you have thus far lived, and which is so well suited for the development of true manhood, to be altered to a narrow and belittling despotism in order to adapt it to the necessities of ignorant slaves, and the requirements of their proud and aristocratic owners? Will the laboring men of the South bend their necks to the same yoke that is suited to the slave? We think not. We may safely answer that the time has not yet arrived when our Southern brethren, for the mere sake of keeping Africans in slavery, will abandon their long-cherished Free Institutions and become slaves themselves.

It is the conviction of my command, as a part of the national forces of the United States, that labor — manual labor — is inherently noble; that it cannot be systematically degraded by any nation without ruining its peace, happiness, and power; that free labor is the granite basis on which Free Institutions must rest; that it is the right, the capital, the inheritance, the hope of the poor man everywhere; that it is especially the right of five millions of our fellow-country-men in the slave States as well as of the four millions of Africans there; and all our efforts, therefore, however small or great, whether directed against the interference of governments from abroad, or against rebellious combinations at home, shall be for Free Labor. Our motto and our standard shall be, here and everywhere, and on all occasions, free labor and Workingmen's rights. It is on this basis, and this basis alone, that our munificent Government, the asylum of nations, can be perpetuated and preserved.

J. W. Phelps, Brigadier-General of Volunteers, Commanding.


Gen. Phelps' official report.

ship Island, Mississippi Sound, Dec. 5, 1861.
Major-General B. F. Butler, commanding Department of New England, Boston, Mass.
sir: A part of the Middlesex Brigade, consisting of the Massachusetts Twenty-sixth and Connecticut Ninth Infantry, volunteers, with Capt. Manning's battery of artillery, volunteers, numbering in all (servants included) one thousand nine hundred and eight, arrived off Fortress Monroe, Virginia, on board the steam transport Constitution, on the 26th of November. In compliance with previous orders and commands, I relieved Colonel Jones, of the Massachusetts Twenty-sixth, in command, and we stood out to sea on the afternoon of the 27th.

After a pleasant passage, we reached Ship Island harbor, Mississippi Sound, on the evening of the 3d of December. Despatches for Flag-officer McKean, with which I was intrusted, were sent by Lieut. Winslow, of the [451] R. R. Cuyler, the same evening to Pensacola station, where the flag-officer then was, and to whom I made known my arrival. Captain Smith, of the steamer Massachusetts, offered us all the means within his power to facilitate our landing, an operation which we have not yet completed, and which we should have found very difficult, if not impossible, but for the zealous assistance rendered by Lieut. Buchanan and the officers of his command, aided by two high-pressure steamers which the navy had recently captured. We found in the harbor the United States war vessels Massachusetts and R. R. Cuyler, beside several prizes, and not long afterward the gunboat New London and an armed schooner came in.

Upon the west end of the island a partially finished fort is occupied by about one hundred and seventy sailors and marines, commanded by Lieut. Buchanan, of the navy, who has several large calibre Dahlgren guns in position on navy carriages. The rebels, by whom the island was held several months, abandoned it in September last, and destroyed nearly every thing which they could not carry off. The fort and light-house, with the keeper's lodgings, remain, the former unfinished, and the latter injured to some extent by fire. The walls of the fort have been carried up to a sufficient height by the rebels to form nearly a tier of casemates, and partly covered over. With some considerable mason work, and with materials, (none on the ground except lime,) it might receive some twenty guns on casemate carriages.

The island is a long, narrow strip of land, running north of east some six or seven miles. Toward the west end, where the harbor lies, and where we are encamped, it consists of hummocks of fine white sand, interspersed with sedgy spots of water. It bears evidence of having been overflowed in some extraordinary storms, large trunks of trees having drifted on some of its higher hummocks. The east end widens out in triangular shape, embracing about one square mile, and is covered with pine trees. I made an unsuccessful effort to have it examined the day after our arrival, and regret having been too much occupied since to repeat it.

For the present, I concluded to land here, where I can place, though indifferently well, one or two more regiments. The land is in no respect suitable for a camp, especially in view of such instruction as one of the regiments present particularly needs. Should the stay here be of long continuance, huts with floors will be necessary. I regret to learn that, in landing the baggage, one of Capt. Manning's six-pounders was lost overboard.

Deeming it proper to make known to this people the remote objects of this expedition, I have prepared a proclamation, which I shall endeavor to have disseminated as early and widely as possible, consistent with the more pressing demands of the service.


December 6, 1861.
I have to-day, in accordance with my instructions, held an interview with Capt. Smith, of the Massachusetts, Flag-officer McKean not having arrived. Capt. Smith thinks there is water enough on the island and in the vicinity to supply gunboats and other vessels of the station, although procuring it will be slow and difficult. He says the flag-officer has ordered more guns for the fort, which are daily expected. He suggests a coal depot on the island, and a regular steam packet between the island and Fortress Monroe, or some other Northern port.

The discharging of the Constitution is still going on. The wind since our arrival has prevailed from north and east, and the water last night rose so high that a considerable portion of the island between the fort and lighthouse was overflowed, leaving a thin sheet of water there — an event which, I am informed, is not unfrequent. The narrow strip of land, about a quarter or a third of a mile in width, which forms the western extremity of the island, is but ill-suited for a camp, either for regulars or volunteers. I have visited the eastern extremity of the island, beyond the lagoon. There is sufficient space for five thousand men, but the land is so interspersed with marshes that I consider a camp there for that number out of the question. The water along the northern shore for some distance is so shallow that our row-boats dragged bottom. The beach is lined with a ridge of sand hummocks, some ten feet in height; but beyond these the land is generally low, and covered with pines, scrub oak, scrub palmetto, and marsh grass in patches. Musquitoes would be troublesome there at all seasons, and in rainy weather much of the ground would be under water. The process of reclamation seems still to be going on with an activity as if it had but just begun, although the island is probably as old as the mainland. The animals here are snakes, toads, birds, raccoons, pigs, and, it is said, alligators.

The New London, with four long thirty-twos and one rifled cannon, appears to be, under her present commander, a very effective and well-managed craft, giving the enemy much annoyance. The enemy's gunboats are of light draught, armed with rifled guns, and it is folly to allow them such an advantage. With such an advantage on our side we could make ourselves felt in this quarter.


December 7-2 P. M.
The Constitution has been discharged, and will sail before dark. While re-perusing this report, the De Soto and New London have been engaging the enemy's boats in the direction of New Orleans.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. W. Phelps, Brigadier-General Commanding.


[452]

Note from Major-General Butler to the Adjutant-General.

Washington, Dec. 19, 1861.
To the Adjutant-General of the United States Army:
sir: I have the honor to forward to the Commanding General this report of Brigadier-General Phelps. I have not received from General Phelps any official copy of the proclamation to which he refers, but from other sources have such information as renders it certain that the printed copies are nearly correct. I need hardly say the issuing of any proclamation, upon such occasion, was neither suggested nor authorized by me, and most certainly not such a one. With that exception, I commend the report, and ask attention to its clear and business-like statements. I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

Benj. F. Butler, Brigadier-General Commanding.

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