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Chapter 13

  • Causes of failure.
  • -- Misapplication of means. -- Inefficient financial system. -- bad impressment laws. -- no want of zeal or patriotism. -- refutation of charges against Secretary Floyd. -- facts of the case. -- deficiency of small -- arms at the South.

Much has been written and much more said of the cause of the overthrow of the Confederate States in their great contest for independence. One class, and much the largest — for it includes the people who were victorious in the war, and those Europeans who watched the struggle with interest, as well as many of the Southern people-ascribes it to the superior population and greater resources of the Northern States. Another, a class of Southern people, attributes our defeat to a want of perseverance, unanimity, and even of loyalty, on our own part; and the consequent abandonment of the Government of the Confederacy in its efforts, by the people themselves. In my view, both are far wrong.

The cause of the subjugation of the Southern States was neither want of wealth and population, nor of devotion to their own cause on the part of the people of those States. That people was not guilty of the high crime of undertaking a war without the means of waging it successfully. They had ample means, which, unfortunately, were not applied [422] to the object of equipping great armies, and bringing them into the field.

A full treasury was necessary to defray the expenses of a great war. The South had the means of making one, in its cotton alone. But its Government rejected those means, and limited its financial efforts to printing bank-notes, with which the country was soon flooded. The necessity of actual money in the treasury, and the mode of raising it, were generally understood in the country. It was that the Government should take the cotton from the owners and send it to Europe as fast as possible, to be sold there. This was easily practicable; for the owners were ready to accept any terms the Government might fix; and sending to Europe was easy in all the first year of the Confederacy's existence. Its Government went into operation early in February. The blockade of the Southern ports was proclaimed in May, but not at all effective until the end of the following winter; so that there was a period of about twelve months for the operation of converting four or five million bales of cotton into money. The sum raised in that way would have enabled the War Department to procure at once arms enough for half a million of men, and after that expenditure the Confederate treasury would have been much richer than that of the United States. By applying the first money obtained in this way, to the purchase of arms and military accoutrements, or using for the purpose the credit which such an amount of property would have given, the War Department would have been able to equip troops as fast as they could be assembled and organized. And, as the Southern [423] people were full of enthusiasm, five hundred thousand men could have been ready and in the field had such a course been pursued, at the time when the first battle was actually fought — the 21st of July, 1861. Such a force placed on the Northern borders of the Confederacy before the United States had brought a fourth of the number into the field, would probably have prevented the very idea of “coercion.” Such a disposition of such an army, and the possession of financial means of carrying on war for years, would have secured the success of the Confederacy.

The timely adoption of such a financial system would have secured to us the means of success, even without an extraordinary importation of arms, and the immediate organization of large armies. It would have given the Confederacy a treasury richer than that of the United States. We should thus have had, to the end of the war, the means of paying our soldiers; and that would have enabled such of them as belonged to the laboring class to remain in the ranks. This class, in the Confederacy as in all other countries, formed the body of the army. In all the earlier part of the war, when the Confederate money was not much below that of the United States in value, our troops were paid with some regularity, and the soldiers of the laboring class who had families, fed and clothed them with their pay, as they had formerly done with the wages of their labor. And so long as that state of things continued, the strength of the Confederate armies was little impaired; and those armies were maintained on such a footing as to justify the hope, which was general in the South until the fall of 1864, that we were to win [424] in the contest. But after the Confederate currency had become almost worthless-when a soldier's month's pay would scarcely buy one meal for his family-and that was the case in all the last period of ten or twelve months-those soldiers of the laboring class who had families were compelled to choose between their military service and the strongest obligations men know --their duties to wives and children. They obeyed the strongest of those obligations, left the army, and returned to their homes to support their families.

The wretched impressment laws deprived the army of many valuable men of a class less poor than that just referred to. Those laws required the impressment of all articles of military necessity that could not be purchased. The Government had the power of regulating the prices to be paid by it for all such commodities; and its commissioners appointed for the purpose fixed them much below the market values. No one would sell to the Government, of course, when he could get from his neighbors twice the government price for his horses or grain; consequently the officers of the Government could never purchase, but had always to procure supplies by impressment. No rules for their guidance were prescribed; none at least that were observed by them or known to the public, and they were subjected to no supervision. All the property of Confederate citizens applicable to military purposes was, therefore, under their absolute control. The bad and indifferent officers impressed what they were called upon to furnish, in the manner least inconvenient to themselves, usually on the nearest plantations or farms, or those where opposition was not to be apprehended. [425] The farms of soldiers were generally under the management of women, and therefore were, not unusually, drawn upon for much more than their proportion. Hence it was not uncommon for a soldier to be written to by his wife, that so much of the food he had provided for herself and his children had been impressed, that it was necessary that he should return to save them from suffering or starvation. Such a summons, it may well be supposed, was never unheeded.

The sufferings of the soldiers themselves, produced by the want of proper clothing, drove many of the least hardy out of the ranks. Want of food also is said to have had the same effect, especially in the army before Richmond, in the last winter of the war.

It was by such causes, all due to an empty treasury, that our armies were so reduced in the last months of the war.

As to the charge of want of loyalty, or zeal in the war, I assert, from as much opportunity for observation as any individual had, that no people ever displayed so much, under such circumstances, and with so little flagging, for so long a time continuously. This was proved by the long service of the troops without pay, and under exposure to such hardships, from the causes above mentioned, as modern troops have rarely endured; by the voluntary contributions of food and clothing sent to the armies from every district that furnished a regiment; by the general and continued submission of the people to the tyranny of the impressment system as practised-such a tyranny, I believe, as no other high-spirited people ever endured-and by the sympathy [426] and aid given in every house to all professing to belong to the army, or to be on the way to join it. And this spirit continued not only after all hope of success had died, but after the final confession of defeat by their military commanders.

But, even if the men of the South had not been zealous in the cause, the patriotism of their mothers and wives and sisters would have inspired them with zeal or shamed them into its manifestation. The women of the South exhibited that feeling wherever it could be exercised: in the armies, by distributing clothing made with their own hands; at the railroad-stations and their own homes, by feeding the marching soldiers; and, above all, in the hospitals, where they rivaled Sisters of Charity. I am happy in the belief that their devoted patriotism and gentle charity are to be richly rewarded.

An error in relation to the state of preparation for war, of each of the two sections of the country, in the beginning of 1861, has prevailed in the North since then. I refer to the belief that, when the Southern Confederacy was formed, the arms that had been provided by the Government of the United States for the common defense were in the possession of the seceded States.

This belief was produced by the most malignant and industriously circulated slanders by which the reputation of any public man of the United States ever suffered — the accusation against John B. Floyd, of Virginia, that while Secretary of War he had all the public arms removed from Northern to Southern arsenals; to disarm the North and arm the South for the impending war. This accusation was [427] so extensively circulated as to lead to an investigation by a committee of the House of Representatives, in January, 1861. The chairman of that committee was one of the most respected members of the Republican party in that House, Mr. Stanton, of Ohio. The report of that committee completely exonerated Mr. Floyd, and refuted the calumny. Yet it continued to be circulated and believed-while the refutation, although by such a body, was unnoticed-and, I believe, is now forgotten.

The facts that were distorted into that calumny are clearly stated in the report of the committee, and must be well known by the principal officers of the United States Ordnance Bureau, and recorded in that Bureau; for the orders in question were given through that, the proper channel. They are briefly these: Previous to the year 1859, the infantry arms manufactured under the direction of the War Department had been accumulating in the Springfield Armory, in consequence of the neglect of an old rule of the Government which required the distribution of these arms in arsenals constructed for the purpose, in the different sections of the country. In the beginning of that year, the accumulation had filled the places of deposit at Springfield, where the newly-adopted improved arms were made. To make room there for the new arms as they were finished, Mr. Floyd ordered the removal of about a hundred and five thousand muskets1 and ten thousand rifles, [428] to empty Southern arsenals, constructed many years before to receive them, under laws of Congress. These were old-fashioned arms that had been discarded by the Government on account of the recent improvements in small-arms, and the adoption by it of the “rifled musket.” About four hundred thousand of the old discarded arms, and all of the new and improved, were left in the North. About a year later two thousand rifled muskets were offered for distribution to the States under an act of Congress. Only seven hundred of them went to the South, however, because even then there was so little apprehension of war that several Southern States refused or neglected to take their portions. Mr. Floyd's orders, as I have said, were given before secession had been thought of, or war apprehended, by the people of any part of the United States.

The seceding States, in general, made no preparation for war by procuring arms-none of consequence, that is to say. I believe that Georgia procured twenty thousand old-fashioned muskets, and Virginia had forty thousand, made in a State armory more than forty years before. They had, of course, flint locks. Each of the other Southern States, on seceding, claimed, and, when practicable, took possession of, the military property of the United States within its limits. They obtained, in that way, the arms with which they began the war.

To recapitulate: the Confederate States began the war with one hundred and twenty thousand arms of obsolete models, and seven hundred of the recently adopted weapons, “rifled muskets;” and the United States with about four hundred and fifty thousand [429] of the old and all of the modern arms that had been made since the adoption of the new model, about the middle of General Pierce's administration, when Mr. Davis was at the head of the War Department, except, however, the seven hundred held by the Confederacy. The equipped field-batteries and fixed ammunition of all kinds were in the North, as well as the establishments for the manufacture of arms, and the preparation of ammunition; except that at Harper's Ferry, which, being on the border, was abandoned by the United States, after an attempt to destroy it, which left little besides machinery.

1 The chief of ordnance, Colonel Craig, in his report on the subject, states that but sixty thousand of the arms ordered by Mr. Floyd to be sent to the South were actually removed.

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