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[191]

Chapter 14.

  • President's proclamation calling for seventy-five regiments
  • -- responses of the governors- -- Maryland and Virginia -- the Baltimore riot -- Washington isolated -- Lincoln takes the responsibility -- Robert E. Lee -- arrival of the New York seventh -- suspension of Habeas corpus -- the Annapolis route -- Butler in Baltimore -- Taney on the Merryman case -- Kentucky -- Missouri -- Lyon captures camp Jackson -- Boonville skirmish -- the Missouri convention -- Gamble made Governor -- the border States
    The bombardment of Fort Sumter changed the political situation as if by magic. There was no longer room for doubt, hesitation, concession, or compromise. Without awaiting the arrival of the ships that were bringing provisions to Anderson's starving garrison, the hostile Charleston batteries had opened their fire on the fort by the formal order of the Confederate government, and peaceable secession was, without provocation, changed to active war. The rebels gained possession of Charleston harbor; but their mode of obtaining it awakened the patriotism of the American people to a stern determination that the insult to the national authority and flag should be redressed, and the unrighteous experiment of a rival government founded on slavery as its corner-stone should never succeed. Under the conflict thus begun the long-tolerated barbarous institution itself was destined ignobly to perish. [192]

    On his journey from Springfield to Washington Mr. Lincoln had said that, devoted as he was to peace, he might find it necessary “to put the foot down firmly.” That time had now come. On the morning of April 15, 1861, the leading newspapers of the country printed the President's proclamation reciting that, whereas the laws of the United States were opposed and the execution thereof obstructed in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, was called forth to suppress said combinations and cause the laws to be duly executed. The orders of the War Department specified that the period of service under this call should be for three months; and to further conform to the provisions of the Act of 1795, under which the call was issued, the President's proclamation also convened the Congress in special session on the coming fourth of July.

    Public opinion in the free States, which had been sadly demoralized by the long discussions over slavery, and by the existence of four factions in the late presidential campaign, was instantly crystallized and consolidated by the Sumter bombardment and the President's proclamation into a sentiment of united support to the government for the suppression of the rebellion. The several free-State governors sent loyal and enthusiastic responses to the call for militia, and tendered double the numbers asked for. The people of the slave States which had not yet joined the Montgomery Confederacy-namely, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware-remained, however, more or less divided [193] on the issue as it now presented itself. The governors of the first six of these were already so much engaged in the secret intrigues of the secession movement that they sent the Secretary of War contumacious and insulting replies, and distinct refusals to the President's call for troops. The governor of Delaware answered that there was no organized militia in his State which he had legal authority to command, but that the officers of organized volunteer regiments might at their own option offer their services to the United States; while the governor of Maryland, in complying with the requisition, stipulated that the regiments from his State should not be required to serve outside its limits, except to defend the District of Columbia.

    A swift, almost bewildering rush of events, however, quickly compelled most of them to take sides. Secession feeling was rampant in Baltimore; and when the first armed and equipped Northern regiment, the Massachusetts Sixth, passed through that city on the morning of April 19, on its way to Washington, the last four of its companies were assailed by street mobs with missiles and firearms while marching from one depot to the other; and in the running fight which ensued, four of its soldiers were killed and about thirty wounded, while the mob probably lost two or three times as many. This tragedy instantly threw the whole city into a wild frenzy of insurrection. That same afternoon an immense secession meeting in Monument Square listened to a torrent of treasonable protest and denunciation, in which Governor Hicks himself was made momentarily to join. The militia was called out, preparations were made to arm the city, and that night the railroad bridges were burned between Baltimore and the Pennsylvania line to prevent the further transit of Union regiments. The revolutionary furor spread [194] to the country towns, and for a whole week the Union flag practically disappeared from Maryland.

    While these events were taking place to the north, equally threatening incidents were occurring to the south of Washington. The State of Virginia had been for many weeks balancing uneasily between loyalty and secession. In the new revolutionary stress her weak remnant of conditional Unionism gave way; and on April 17, two days after the President's call, her State convention secretly passed a secession ordinance, while Governor Letcher ordered a military seizure of the United States navy-yard at Norfolk and the United States armory at Harper's Ferry. Under orders from Washington, both establishments were burned to prevent their falling into insurrectionary hands; but the destruction in each case was only partial, and much valuable war material thus passed to rebel uses.

    All these hostile occurrences put the national capital in the greatest danger. For three days it was entirely cut off from communication with the North by either telegraph or mail. Under the orders of General Scott, the city was hastily prepared for a possible siege. The flour at the mills, and other stores of provisions were taken possession of. The Capitol and other public buildings were barricaded, and detachments of troops stationed in them. Business was suspended by a common impulse; streets were almost deserted except by squads of military patrol; shutters of stores, and even many residences, remained unopened throughout the day. The signs were none too reassuring. In addition to the public rumors whispered about by serious faces on the streets, General Scott reported in writing to President Lincoln on the evening of April 22:

    Of rumors, the following are probable, viz.: First, [195] that from fifteen hundred, to two thousand troops are at the White House (four miles below Mount Vernon, a narrow point in the Potomac), engaged in erecting a battery; Second, that an equal force is collected or in progress of assemblage on the two sides of the river to attack Fort Washington; and Third, that extra cars went up yesterday to bring down from Harper's Ferry about two thousand other troops to join in a general attack on this capital — that is, on many of its fronts at once. I feel confident that with our present forces we can defend the Capitol, the Arsenal, and all the executive buildings (seven) against ten thousand troops not better than our District volunteers.

    Throughout this crisis President Lincoln not only maintained his composure, but promptly assumed the high responsibilities the occasion demanded. On Sunday, April 21, he summoned his cabinet to meet at the Navy Department, and with their unanimous concurrence issued a number of emergency orders relating to the purchase of ships, the transportation of troops and munitions of war, the advance of $2,000,000 of money to a Union Safety Committee in New York, and other military and naval measures, which were despatched in duplicate by private messengers over unusual and circuitous routes. In a message to Congress, in which he afterward explained these extraordinary transactions, he said:

    It became necessary for me to choose whether, using only the existing means, agencies, and processes which Congress had provided, I should let the government fall at once into ruin, or whether, availing myself of the broader powers conferred by the Constitution in cases of insurrection, I would make an effort to save it with all its blessings for the present age and for posterity.

    [196]

    Unwelcome as was the thought of a possible capture of Washington city, President Lincoln's mind was much more disturbed by many suspicious indications of disloyalty in public officials, and especially in officers of the army and navy. Hundreds of clerks of Southern birth employed in the various departments suddenly left their desks and went South. The commandant of the Washington navy-yard and the quartermaster-general of the army resigned their positions to take service under Jefferson Davis. One morning the captain of a light battery on which General Scott had placed special reliance for the defense of Washington came to the President at the White House to asseverate and protest his loyalty and fidelity; and that same night secretly left his post and went to Richmond to become a Confederate officer.

    The most prominent case, however, was that of Colonel Robert E. Lee, the officer who captured John Brown at Harper's Ferry, and who afterward became the leader of the Confederate armies. As a lieutenant he had served on the staff of General Scott in the war with Mexico. Personally knowing his ability, Scott recommended him to Lincoln as the most suitable officer to command the Union army about to be assembled under the President's call for seventy-five regiments; and this command was informally tendered him through a friend. Lee, however, declined the offer, explaining that “though opposed to secession, and deprecating war, I could take no part in an invasion of the Southern States.” He resigned his commission in a letter written on April 20, and, without waiting for notice of its acceptance, which alone could discharge him from his military obligation, proceeded to Richmond, where he was formally and publicly invested with the command of the Virginia military and naval [197] forces on April 22; while, two days later, the rebel Vice-President, Alexander H. Stephens, and a committee of the Richmond convention signed a formal military league making Virginia an immediate member of the Confederate States, and placing her armies under the command of Jefferson Davis.

    The sudden uprising in Maryland and the insurrectionary activity in Virginia had been largely stimulated by the dream of the leading conspirators that their new confederacy would combine all the slave States, and that by the adhesion of both Maryland and Virginia they would fall heir to a ready-made seat of government. While the bombardment of Sumter was in progress, the rebel Secretary of War, announcing the news in a jubilant speech at Montgomery, in the presence of Jefferson Davis and his colleagues, confidently predicted that the rebel flag would before the end of May “float over the dome of the Capitol at Washington.” The disloyal demonstrations in Maryland and Virginia rendered such a hope so plausible that Jefferson Davis telegraphed to Governor Letcher at Richmond that he was preparing to send him thirteen regiments, and added: “Sustain Baltimore if practicable. We reinforce you” ; while Senator Mason hurried to that city personally to furnish advice and military assistance.

    But the flattering expectation was not realized. The requisite preparation and concert of action were both wanting. The Union troops from New York and New England, pouring into Philadelphia, flanked the obstructions of the Baltimore route by devising a new one by way of Chesapeake Bay and Annapolis; and the opportune arrival of the Seventh Regiment of New York in Washington, on April 25, rendered that city entirely safe against surprise or attack, relieved the [198] apprehension of officials and citizens, and renewed its business and public activity. The mob frenzy of Baltimore and the Maryland towns subsided almost as quickly as it had risen. The Union leaders and newspapers asserted themselves,, and soon demonstrated their superiority in numbers and activity.

    Serious embarrassment had been created by the timidity of Governor Hicks, who, while Baltimore remained under mob terrorism, officially protested against the landing of Union troops at Annapolis; and, still worse, summoned the Maryland legislature to meet on April 26-a step which he had theretofore stubbornly refused to take. This event had become doubly dangerous, because a Baltimore city election held during the same terror week had reinforced the legislature with ten secession members, creating a majority eager to pass a secession ordinance at the first opportunity. The question of either arresting or dispersing the body by military force was one of the problems which the crisis forced upon President Lincoln. On full reflection, he decided against either measure.

    “I think it would not be justifiable,” he wrote to General Scott, “nor efficient for the desired object. First, they have a clearly legal right to assemble; and we cannot know in advance that their action will not be lawful and peaceful. And if we wait until they shall have acted, their arrest or dispersion will not lessen the effect of their action. Secondly, we cannot permanently prevent their action. If we arrest them, we cannot long hold them as prisoners; and, when liberated, they will immediately reassemble and take their action. And precisely the same if we simply disperse them: they will immediately reassemble in some other place. I therefore conclude that it is only left to the commanding general to watch and await their action, [199] which, if it shall be to arm their people against the United States, he is to adopt the most prompt and efficient means to counteract, even if necessary to the bombardment of their cities; and, in the extremest necessity, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

    Two days later the President formally authorized General Scott to suspend the writ of habeas corpus along his military lines, or in their vicinity, if resistance should render it necessary. Arrivals of additional troops enabled the General to strengthen his military hold on Annapolis and the railroads; and on May 13 General B. F. Butler, with about one thousand men, moved into Baltimore and established a fortified camp on Federal Hill, the bulk of his force being the Sixth Massachusetts, which had been mobbed in that city on April 19. Already, on the previous day, the bridges and railroad had been repaired, and the regular transit of troops through the city reestablished.

    Under these changing conditions the secession majority of the Maryland .legislature did not venture on any official treason. They sent a committee to interview the President, vented their hostility in spiteful reports and remonstrances, and prolonged their session by a recess. Nevertheless, so inveterate was their disloyalty and plotting against the authority of the Union, that four months later it became necessary to place the leaders under arrest, finally to head off their darling project of a Maryland secession ordinance.

    One additional incident of this insurrectionary period remains to be noticed. One John Merryman, claiming to be a Confederate lieutenant, was arrested in Baltimore for enlisting men for the rebellion, and Chief Justice Taney of the United States Supreme Court, the famous author of the Dred Scott decision, issued a writ of habeas corpus to obtain his release from [200] Fort McHenry. Under the President's orders, General Cadwalader of course declined to obey the writ. Upon this, the chief justice ordered the general's arrest for contempt, but the officer sent to serve the writ was refused entrance to the fort. In turn, the indignant chief justice, taking counsel of his passion instead of his patriotism, announced dogmatically that “the President, under the Constitution and laws of the United States, cannot suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, nor authorize any military officer to do so” ; and some weeks afterward filed a long written opinion in support of this dictum. It is unnecessary here to quote the opinions of several eminent jurists who successfully refuted his labored argument, nor to repeat the vigorous analysis with which, in his special message to Congress of July 4, President Lincoln vindicated his own authority.

    While these events were occurring in Maryland and Virginia, the remaining slave States were gradually taking sides, some for, others-against rebellion. Under radical and revolutionary leadership similar to that of the cotton States, the governors and State officials of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas placed their States in an attitude of insurrection, and before the middle of May practically joined them to the Confederate government by the formalities of military leagues and secession ordinances.

    But in the border slave States--that is, those contiguous to the free States--the eventual result was different. In these, though secession intrigue and sympathy were strong, and though their governors and State officials favored the rebellion, the underlying loyalty and Unionism of the people thwarted their revolutionary schemes. This happened even in the northwestern part of Virginia itself. The forty-eight counties [201] of that State lying north of the Alleghanies and adjoining Pennsylvania and Ohio repudiated the action at Richmond, seceded from secession, and established a loyal provisional State government. President Lincoln recognized them and sustained them with military aid; and in due time they became organized and admitted to the Union as the State of West Virginia. In Delaware, though some degree of secession feeling existed, it was too insignificant to produce any noteworthy public demonstration.

    In Kentucky the political struggle was deep and prolonged. The governor twice called the legislature together to initiate secession proceedings; but that body refused compliance, and warded off his scheme by voting to maintain the State neutrality. Next, the governor sought to utilize the military organization known as the State Guard to effect his object. The Union leaders offset this movement by enlisting several volunteer Union regiments. At the June election nine Union congressmen were chosen, and only one secessionist; while in August a new legislature was elected with a three-fourths Union majority in each branch. Other secession intrigues proved equally abortive; and when, finally, in September, Confederate armies invaded Kentucky at three different points, the Kentucky legislature invited the Union armies of the West into the State to expel them, and voted to place forty thousand Union volunteers at the service of President Lincoln.

    In Missouri the struggle was more fierce, but also more brief. As far back as January, the conspirators had perfected a scheme to obtain possession, through the treachery of the officer in charge, of the important Jefferson Barracks arsenal at St. Louis, with its store of sixty thousand stand of arms and a million and a [202] half cartridges. The project, however, failed. Rumors of the danger came to General Scott, who ordered thither a company of regulars under command of Captain Nathaniel Lyon, an officer not only loyal by nature and habit, but also imbued with strong antislavery convictions. Lyon found valuable support in the watchfulness of a Union Safety Committee composed of leading St. Louis citizens, who secretly organized a number of Union regiments recruited largely from the heavy German population; and from these sources Lyon was enabled to make such a show of available military force as effectively to deter any mere popular uprising to seize the arsenal.

    A State convention, elected to pass a secession ordinance, resulted, unexpectedly to the conspirators, in the return of a majority of Union delegates, who voted down the secession program and adjourned to the following December. Thereupon, the secession governor ordered his State militia into temporary camps of instruction, with the idea of taking Missouri out of the Union by a concerted military movement. One of these encampments, established at St. Louis and named Camp Jackson in honor of the governor, furnished such unquestionable evidences of intended treason that Captain Lyon, whom President Lincoln had meanwhile authorized to enlist ten thousand Union volunteers, and, if necessary, to proclaim martial law, made a sudden march upon Camp Jackson with his regulars and six of his newly enlisted regiments, stationed his force in commanding positions around the camp, and demanded its surrender. The demand was complied with after but slight hesitation, and the captured militia regiments were, on the following day, disbanded under parole. Unfortunately, as the prisoners were being marched away a secession mob insulted and attacked some of [203] Lyon's regiments and provoked a return fire, in which about twenty persons, mainly lookers-on, were killed or wounded; and for a day or two the city was thrown into the panic and lawlessness of a reign of terror.

    Upon this, the legislature, in session at Jefferson City, the capital of the State, with a three-fourths secession majority, rushed through the forms of legislation a military bill placing the military and financial resources of Missouri under the governor's control. For a month longer various incidents delayed the culmination of the approaching struggle, each side continuing its preparations, and constantly accentuating the rising antagonism. The crisis came when, on June i , Governor Jackson and Captain Lyon, now made brigadier-general by the President, met in an interview at St. Louis. In this interview the governor demanded that he be permitted to exercise sole military command to maintain the neutrality of Missouri, while Lyon insisted that the Federal military authority must be left in unrestricted control. It being impossible to reach any agreement, Governor Jackson hurried back to his capital, burning railroad bridges behind him as he went, and on the following day, June 12, issued his proclamation calling out fifty thousand State militia, and denouncing the Lincoln administration as “an unconstitutional military despotism.”

    Lyon was also prepared for this contingency. On the afternoon of June 13, he embarked with a regular battery and several battalions of his Union volunteers on steamboats, moved rapidly up the Missouri River to Jefferson City, drove the governor and the secession legislature into precipitate flight, took possession of the capital, and, continuing his expedition, scattered, after a slight skirmish, a small rebel military force which had hastily collected at Boonville. Rapidly following [204] these events, the loyal members of the Missouri State convention, which had in February refused to pass a secession ordinance, were called together, and passed ordinances under which was constituted a loyal State government that maintained the local civil authority of the United States throughout the greater part of Missouri during the whole of the Civil War, only temporarily interrupted by invasions of transient Confederate armies from Arkansas.

    It will be seen from the foregoing outline that the original hope of the Southern leaders to make the Ohio River the northern boundary of their slave empire was not realized. They indeed secured the adhesion of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas, by which the territory of the Confederate States government was enlarged nearly one third and its population and resources nearly doubled. But the northern tier of slave States-Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri--not only decidedly refused to join the rebellion, but remained true to the Union; and this reduced the contest to a trial of military strength between eleven States with 5, I 5,790 whites, and 3,508,131 slaves, against twenty-four States with 21,611,422 whites and 342,212 slaves, and at least a proportionate difference in all other resources of war. At the very outset the conditions were prophetic of the result.

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