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Chapter 15.

  • Davis's proclamation for privateers-
  • -- Lincoln's proclamation of blockade -- the call for three years volunteers -- Southern military preparations -- rebel capital moved to Richmond -- Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas admitted to Confederate States -- desertion of army and Navy officers -- Union troops fortify Virginia shore of the Potomac -- concentration at Harper's Ferry -- concentration at Fortress Monroe and Cairo -- English neutrality -- Seward's 21st-of -- May despatch -- Lincoln's Corrections -- preliminary skirmishes -- forward to Richmond -- plan of McDowell's campaign
    From the slower political developments in the border slave States we must return and follow up the primary hostilities of the rebellion. The bombardment of Sumter, President Lincoln's call for troops, the Baltimore riot, the burning of Harper's Ferry armory and Norfolk navy-yard, and the interruption of railroad communication which, for nearly a week, isolated the capital and threatened it with siege and possible capture, fully demonstrated the beginning of serious civil war.

    Jefferson Davis's proclamation, on April 17, of intention to issue letters of marque, was met two days later by President Lincoln's counter-proclamation instituting a blockade of the Southern ports, and declaring that privateers would be held amenable to the laws against piracy. His first call for seventy-five thousand three [206] months' militia was dictated as to numbers by the sudden emergency, and as to form and term of service by the provisions of the Act of 1795. It needed only a few days to show that this form of enlistment was both cumbrous and inadequate; and the creation of a more powerful army was almost immediately begun. On May 3 a new proclamation was issued, calling into service 42,034 three years volunteers, 22,714 enlisted men to add ten regiments to the regular army, and 18,000 seamen for blockade service: a total immediate increase of 82,748, swelling the entire military establishment to an army of 156,861 and a navy of 25,000.

    No express authority of law yet existed for these measures; but President Lincoln took the responsibility of ordering them, trusting that Congress would legalize his acts. His confidence was entirely justified. At the special session which met under his proclamation, on the fourth of July, these acts were declared valid, and he was authorized, moreover, to raise an army of a million men and $250,000,000 in money to carry on the war to suppress the rebellion; while other legislation conferred upon him supplementary authority to meet the emergency.

    Meanwhile, the first effort of the governors of the loyal States was to furnish their quotas under the first call for militia. This was easy enough as to men. It required only a few days to fill the regiments and forward them to the State capitals and principal cities; but to arm and equip them for the field on the spur of the moment was a difficult task which involved much confusion and delay, even though existing armories and foundries pushed their work to the utmost and new ones were established. Under the militia call, the governors appointed all the officers required by their respective quotas, from company lieutenant to majorgeneral [207] of division; while under the new call for three years volunteers, their authority was limited to the simple organization of regiments.

    In the South, war preparation also immediately became active. All the indications are that up to their attack on Sumter, the Southern leaders hoped to effect separation through concession and compromise by the North. That hope, of course, disappeared with South Carolina's opening guns, and the Confederate government made what haste it could to meet the ordeal it dreaded even while it had provoked it. The rebel Congress was hastily called together, and passed acts recognizing war and regulating privateering; admitting Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas to the Confederate States; authorizing a $50,000,000 loan; practically confiscating debts due from Southern to Northern citizens; and removing the seat of government from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia.

    Four different calls for Southern volunteers had been made, aggregating 82,000 men; and Jefferson Davis's message now proposed to further organize and hold in readiness an army of 100,000. The work of erecting forts and batteries for defense was being rapidly pushed at all points: on the Atlantic coast, on the Potomac, and on the Mississippi and other Western streams. For the present the Confederates were well supplied with cannon and small arms from the captured navy-yards at Norfolk and Pensacola and the six or eight arsenals located in the South. The martial spirit of their people was roused to the highest enthusiasm, and there was no lack of volunteers to fill the companies and regiments which the Confederate legislators authorized Davis to accept, either by regular calls on State executives in accordance with, [208] or singly in defiance of, their central dogma of States Rights, as he might prefer.

    The secession of the Southern States not only strengthened the rebellion with the arms and supplies stored in the various military and naval depots within their limits, and the fortifications erected for their defense: what was of yet greater help to the revolt, a considerable portion of the officers of the army and navy-perhaps one third-abandoned the allegiance which they had sworn to the United States, and, under the false doctrine of State supremacy taught by Southern leaders, gave their professional skill and experience to the destruction of the government which had educated and honored them. The defection of Robert E. Lee was a conspicuous example, and his loss to the Union and service to the rebel army cannot easily be measured. So, also, were the similar cases of Adjutant-General Cooper and Quartermaster-General Johnston. In gratifying contrast stands the steadfast loyalty and devotion of Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott, who, though he was a Virginian and loved his native State, never wavered an instant in his allegiance to the flag he had heroically followed in the War of 1812, and triumphantly planted over the capital of Mexico in 1847. Though unable to take the field, he as general-in-chief directed the assembling and first movements of the Union troops.

    The largest part of the three months regiments were ordered to Washington city as the most important position in a political, and most exposed in a military point of view. The great machine of war, once started, moved, as it always does, by its own inherent energy from arming to concentration, from concentration to skirmish and battle. It was not long before Washington was a military camp. Gradually the hesitation [209] to “invade” the “sacred soil” of the South faded out under the stern necessity to forestall an invasion of the equally sacred soil of the North; and on May 24 the Union regiments in Washington crossed the Potomac and planted themselves in a great semicircle of formidable earthworks eighteen miles long on the Virginia shore, from Chain Bridge to Hunting Creek, below Alexandria.

    Meanwhile, a secondary concentration of force developed itself at Harper's Ferry, forty-nine miles northwest of Washington. When, on April 20, a Union detachment had burned and abandoned the armory at that point, it was at once occupied by a handful of rebel militia; and immediately thereafter Jefferson Davis had hurried his regiments thither to “sustain” or overawe Baltimore; and when that prospect failed, it became a rebel camp of instruction. Afterward, as Major-General Patterson collected his Pennsylvania quota, he turned it toward that point as a probable field of operations. As a mere town, Harper's Ferry was unimportant; but, lying on the Potomac, and being at the head of the great Shenandoah valley, down which not only a good turnpike, but also an effective railroad ran southeastward to the very heart of the Confederacy, it was, and remained through the entire war, a strategical line of the first importance, protected, as the Shenandoah valley was, by the main chain of the Alleghanies on the west and the Blue Ridge on the east.

    A part of the eastern quotas had also been hurried to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, lying at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, which became and continued an important base for naval as well as military operations. In the West, even more important than St. Louis was the little town of Cairo, lying at the extreme southern [210] end of the State of Illinois, at the confluence of the Ohio River with the Mississippi. Commanding, as it did, thousands of miles of river navigation in three different directions, and being also the southernmost point of the earliest military frontier, it had been the first care of General Scott to occupy it; and, indeed, it proved itself to be the military key of the whole Mississippi valley.

    It was not an easy thing promptly to develop a military policy for the suppression of the rebellion. The so-called Confederate States of America covered a military field having more than six times the area of Great Britain, with a coast-line of over thirty-five hundred miles, and an interior frontier of over seven thousand miles. Much less was it possible promptly to plan and set on foot concise military campaigns to reduce the insurgent States to allegiance. Even the great military genius of General Scott was unable to do more than suggest a vague outline for the work. The problem was not only too vast, but as yet too indefinite, since the political future of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri still hung in more or less uncertainty.

    The passive and negligent attitude which the Buchanan administration had maintained toward the insurrection during the whole three months between the presidential election and Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, gave the rebellion an immense advantage in the courts and cabinets of Europe. Until within three days of the end of Buchanan's term not a word of protest or even explanation was sent to counteract the impression that disunion was likely to become permanent. Indeed, the non-coercion doctrine of Buchanan's message was, in the eyes of European statesmen, equivalent to an acknowledgment of such a result; and the formation of the Confederate government, followed so quickly [211] by the fall of Fort Sumter, seemed to them a practical realization of their forecast. The course of events appeared not merely to fulfil their expectations, but also, in the case of England and France, gratified their eager hopes. To England it promised cheap cotton and free trade with the South. To France it appeared to open the way for colonial ambitions which Napoleon III so soon set on foot on an imperial scale.

    Before Charles Francis Adams, whom President Lincoln appointed as the new minister to England, arrived in London and obtained an interview with Lord John Russell, Mr. Seward had already received several items of disagreeable news. One was that, prior to his arrival, the Queen's proclamation of neutrality had been published, practically raising the Confederate States to the rank of a belligerent power, and, before they had a single privateer afloat, giving these an equality in British ports with United States ships of war. Another was that an understanding had been reached between England and France which would lead both governments to take the same course as to recognition, whatever that course might be. Third, that three diplomatic agents of the Confederate States were in London, whom the British minister had not yet seen, but whom he had caused to be informed that he was not unwilling to see unofficially.

    Under the irritation produced by this hasty and equivocal action of the British government, Mr. Seward wrote a despatch to Mr. Adams under date of May 21, which, had it been sent in the form of the original draft, would scarcely have failed to lead to war between the two nations. While it justly set forth with emphasis and courage what the government of the United States would endure and what it would not endure from foreign powers during the Southern insurrection, [212] its phraseology, written in a heat of indignation, was so blunt and exasperating as to imply intentional disrespect.

    When Mr. Seward read the document to President Lincoln, the latter at once perceived its objectionable tone, and retained it for further reflection. A second reading confirmed his first impression. Thereupon, taking his pen, the frontier lawyer, in a careful revision of the whole despatch, so amended and changed the work of the trained and experienced statesman, as entirely to eliminate its offensive crudeness, and bring it within all the dignity and reserve of the most studied diplomatic courtesy. If, after Mr. Seward's remarkable memorandum of April i, the Secretary of State had needed any further experience to convince him of the President's mastery in both administrative and diplomatic judgment, this second incident afforded him the full evidence.

    No previous President ever had such a sudden increase of official work devolve upon him as President Lincoln during the early months of his administration. The radical change of parties through which he was elected not only literally filled the White House with applicants for office, but practically compelled a wholesale substitution of new appointees for the old, to represent the new thought and will of the nation. The task of selecting these was greatly complicated by the sharp competition between the heterogeneous elements of which the Republican party was composed. This work was not half completed when the Sumter bombardment initiated active rebellion, and precipitated the new difficulty of sifting the loyal from the disloyal, and the yet more pressing labor of scrutinizing the organization of the immense new volunteer army called into service by the proclamation of May 3. Mr. Lincoin [213] used often to say at this period, when besieged by claims to appointment, that he felt like a man letting rooms at one end of his house, while the other end was on fire. In addition to this merely routine work was the much more delicate and serious duty of deciding the hundreds of novel questions affecting the constitutional principles and theories of administration.

    The great departments of government, especially those of war and navy, could not immediately expedite either the supervision or clerical details of this sudden expansion, and almost every case of resulting confusion and delay was brought by impatient governors and State officials to the President for complaint and correction. Volunteers were coming rapidly enough to the various rendezvous in the different States, but where were the rations to feed them, money to pay them, tents to shelter them, uniforms to clothe them, rifles to arm them, officers to drill and instruct them, or transportation to carry them? In this carnival of patriotism, this hurly-burly of organization, the weaknesses as well as the virtues of human nature quickly developed themselves, and there was manifest not only the inevitable friction of personal rivalry, but also the disturbing and baneful effects of occasional falsehood and dishonesty, which could not always be immediately traced to the responsible culprit. It happened in many instances that there were alarming discrepancies between the full paper regiments and brigades reported as ready to start from State capitals, and the actual number of recruits that railroad trains brought to the Washington camps; and Mr. Lincoln several times ironically compared the process to that of a man trying to shovel a bushel of fleas across a barn floor.

    While the month of May insensibly slipped away amid these preparatory vexations, camps of instruction [214] rapidly grew to small armies at a few principal points, even under such incidental delay and loss; and during June the confronting Union and Confederate forces began to produce the conflicts and casualties of earnest war. As yet they were both few and unimportant: the assassination of Ellsworth when Alexandria was occupied; a slight cavalry skirmish at Fairfax Court House; the rout of a Confederate regiment at Philippi, West Virginia; the blundering leadership through which two Union detachments fired upon each other in the dark at Big Bethel, Virginia; the ambush of a Union railroad train at Vienna Station; and Lyon's skirmish, which scattered the first collection of rebels at Boonville, Missouri. Comparatively speaking, all these were trivial in numbers of dead and wounded — the first few drops of blood before the heavy sanguinary showers the future was destined to bring. But the effect upon the public was irritating and painful to a degree entirely out of proportion to their real extent and gravity.

    The relative loss and gain in these affairs was not greatly unequal. The victories of Philippi and Boonville easily offset the disasters of Big Bethel and Vienna. But the public mind was not yet schooled to patience and to the fluctuating chances of war. The newspapers demanded prompt progress and ample victory, as imperatively as they were wont to demand party triumph in politics or achievement in commercial enterprise. “Forward to Richmond,” repeated the “New York Tribune,” day after day, and many sheets of lesser note and influence echoed the cry. There seemed, indeed, a certain reason for this clamor, because the period of enlistment of the three months regiments was already two thirds gone, and they were not yet all armed and equipped for field service. [215]

    President Lincoln was fully alive to the need of meeting this popular demand. The special session of Congress was soon to begin, and to it the new administration must look, not only to ratify what had been done, but to authorize a large increase of the military force, and heavy loans for coming expenses of the war. On June 29, therefore, he called his cabinet and principal military officers to a council of war at the Executive Mansion, to discuss a more formidable campaign than had yet been planned. General Scott was opposed to such an undertaking at that time. He preferred waiting until autumn, meanwhile organizing and drilling a large army, with which to move down the Mississippi and end the war with a final battle at New Orleans. Aside from the obvious military objections to this course, such a procrastination, in the present irritation of the public temper, was not to be thought of; and the old general gracefully waived his preference and contributed his best judgment to the perfecting of an immediate campaign into Virginia.

    The Confederate forces in Virginia had been gathered by the orders of General Lee into a defensive position at Manassas Junction; where a railroad from Richmond and another from Harper's Ferry come together. Here General Beauregard, who had organized and conducted the Sumter bombardment, had command of a total of about twenty-five thousand men which he was drilling. The Junction was fortified with some slight field-works and fifteen heavy guns, supported by a garrison of two thousand; while the main body was camped in a line of seven miles' length behind Bull Run, a winding, sluggish stream flowing southeasterly toward the Potomac. The distance was about thirty-two miles southwest of Washington. Another Confederate force of about ten thousand, under General J. E. [216] Johnston, was collected at Winchester and Harper's Ferry on the Potomac, to guard the entrance to the Shenandoah valley; and an understanding existed between Johnston and Beauregard, that in case either were attacked, the other would come to his aid by the quick railroad transportation between the two places.

    The new Union plan contemplated that Brigadier-General McDowell should march from Washington against Manassas and Bull Run, with a force sufficient to beat Beauregard, while General Patterson, who had concentrated the bulk of the Pennsylvania regiments in the neighborhood of Harper's Ferry, in numbers nearly or quite double that of his antagonist, should move against Johnston, and either fight or hold him so that he could not come to the aid of Beauregard. At the council McDowell emphasized the danger of such a junction; but General Scott assured him: “If Johnston joins Beauregard, he shall have Patterson on his heels.” With this understanding, McDowell's movement was ordered to begin on July 9.

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