previous next

Chapter 6: the call to arms.

The assault upon Fort Sumter had doubtless been ordered by the rebel government under the hope, if not the belief, that it would not provoke immediate or widespread civil war. It is probable that they anticipated it would bring on military movements and measures of a local and defensive character; but neither the size of the Federal army, nor the very limited war organization set on foot by the rebel congress, pointed as yet to hostilities on an extended scale. The South well knew that the frontier could not be entirely stripped of regulars; they assumed, or so pretended, that existing laws authorized no call of the militia; and, judging from the neglect of Congress, at its recent session, to pass a force bill, they might reasonably infer that it would be difficult for the new administration to obtain coercive legislation. Most of all, however, they relied upon a friendly feeling toward the South from their late Democratic party allies. Throughout the last presidential election, Northern Democrats had magnified Southern complaints as insufferable grievances, and predicted the coming revolution as a terror to obstinate voters. President Buchanan even went so far in his annual message as to assert that a neglect of Northern States to repeal their personal liberty laws would justify the South in revolutionary resistance. The newspaper [70] press was full of kindred echoes. Potent public voices had declared that the North would not entertainnay, would not permit, a policy of subjugation. ExPresi-dent Franklin Pierce-Buchanan's predecessor-had given Jefferson Davis very broad confidential assurances on this head. “Without discussing the question of right,” wrote he, January 6, 1860, “of abstract power to secede, I have never believed that actual disruption of the Union can occur without blood; and if, through the madness of Northern Abolitionism, that dire calamity must come, the fighting will not be along Mason's and Dixon's line merely. It [will] be within our own borders, in our own streets, between the two classes of citizens to whom I have referred. Those who defy law and scout constitutional obligations will, if we ever reach the arbitrament of arms, find occupation enough at home.”

As the oracle of another faction, Douglas had made an elaborate argument in the Senate to show that the President possessed no right of coercion; repeating the theory of Buchanan's message, that the army and navy and the militia of the States could not move except behind a marshal with his writ, and that both the tongue and the arms of justice were dead in South Carolina. Similar encouragement came from many individuals of lesser note. It even appeared that the spirit of secession was finding a lodgment in the North. A member had declared on the floor of Congress that the Empire State would set up her own separate sovereignty; while in a still more radical ambition the Mayor of New York City, in an official message, proposed the secession of that metropolis, and its assumption of territorial independence as a “free city.” The firing on the Star of the West, in January, had in a slight degree touched the national pride, and somewhat checked the gathering current of seditious utterance; [71] but there was no lack of cliques and coteries in the great cities of the North who secretly nursed plots and projects contingent on possible insurrectionary commotions and chances. One of the rebel commissioners to Washington, in the interim during which Justice Campbell relieved them of their labors of diplomatic intrigue, visited New York, where he was waited upon by the spokesman of one of these Northern cabals, who poured into the ears of his credulous listener the recital of a most marvellous scheme of local conspiracy. Two hundred of New York's best citizens, he said, were at that moment elaborating a plan to secede from both the Union and the State, seize the navy yard at Brooklyn, and the forts in the harbor, and declare New York a free city. The informant was perhaps an adventurer anxious to pocket a liberal subsidy; yet, as an echo of Mayor Wood's official proposition, the incident was not without its significance, and the eager commissioner repeated the tale by letter to Jefferson Davis, countersigned by his own personal faith that there was “something in it.”

Jefferson Davis was by far too shrewd a leader to look for a literal fulfilment of any of these extravagant predictions or projects; but they afforded him a substantial basis for the belief that this class of sentiment would at least oppose and thwart the new administration in any quick or extended measures to suppress the “confederate” revolt.

On the part of the North, also, there had been grave misapprehension of the actual state of Southern opinion. For ten years the Southern threats of disunion had been empty bluster. The half-disclosed conspiracy of 1856 did not seem to extend beyond a few notorious agitators. The more serious revolutionary signs of the last three months--the retirement of Southern members from Congress, the secession of States, the seizure of federal forts and the formation of [72] the Montgomery provisional government — were not realized in their full force by the North, because of the general confusion of politics, the rush and hurry of events, the delusive hopes of compromise held out by Congressional committees and factions, and the high-sounding professions of the Washington peace conference. More potent than all was the underlying disbelief of the North that the people at large in the South felt the stress of any real grievance. The loss of slave runaways was their most tangible accusation. Would that evil be cured by moving the Canada line down to the Ohio? If separate nationality was the object, could ten millions overcome twenty millions?-could precarious Southern credit cope with the solid accumulations of Northern capital?-could a monotonous Southern agriculture try expedients with the famous mechanical skill of the Free States?-could cotton crops feed armies like the great corn, wheat, hay, pork, and cattle regions?-and finally, would the great West permit a foreign flag to close or cover the mouth of the Mississippi? The bare suggestion seemed, and was, nonsense. They indeed saw clearly enough the ambition, treachery, and desperation of certain Southern leaders; but the North did not believe that these leaders could, in Yancey's language, “precipitate the Cotton States into a revolution” ; that passing chagrin over a lost election could goad the whole Southern people, without substantial cause, into the horror and ruin of a hopeless civil war.

The firing on Sumter cleared up the political atmosphere as if by magic. The roar of Beauregard's guns changed incredulity into fact. There was no longer room for doubt. This was no mere emeute. Seven seceding States, with their machinery of local government and the crazy zeal of an inflamed reaction, stood behind the guns The cool deliberation of the assault betokened plan, purpose, [73] and confidence. The conspiracy had given way to revolution.

The news of the assault on Sumter reached Washington on Saturday, April 13th; on Sunday morning, the 14th, the President and Cabinet were met to discuss the surrender and evacuation. Sunday, though it was, Lincoln with his own hand immediately drafted the following proclamation, which was dated, issued, telegraphed, and published to the whole country on Monday morning, April 15th.

Proclamation by the President of the United States.

Whereas, the laws of the United States have been for some time past and now are 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, or by the powers vested in the marshals by law: now therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress said combinations and to cause the laws to be duly executed.

The details for this object will be immediately communicated to the State authorities through the War Department. I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government, and to redress wrongs already long enough endured. I deem it proper to say that the first service assigned to the forces hereby called forth will probably be to repossess the forts, places, and property which have been seized from the Union; and in every event the utmost care will be observed, consistently with the objects aforesaid, to avoid any devastation, any destruction of, or interference [74] with property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens in any part of the country; and I hereby command the persons composing the combinations aforesaid to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes within twenty days from this date.

Deeming that the present condition of public affairs presents an extraordinary occasion, I do hereby, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, convene both Houses of Congress. Senators and Representatives are therefore summoned to assemble at their respective chambers at twelve o'clock, noon, on Thursday, the fourth day of July next, then and there to consider and determine such measures as, in their wisdom, the public safety and interest may seem to demand.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this fifteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-fifth.

Abraham Lincoln.
By the President.
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

The possible contingency foreshadowed by Lincoln in his Trenton address had come; and he not only redeemed his promise to “put the foot down firmly,” but he took care to place it on a solid foundation. Nominally the call of the militia was based on the Act of 1795. But the broad language of the proclamation was an “appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government.” The President had taken care to so shape the issue-so to strip it of all provocation or ingenious excuse, as to show the reckless malignity of the rebellion in showering red-hot shot on a starving garrison; he now asked the people to maintain their assaulted dignity and outraged authority; touching not merely the machinery of forms and statutes, but invoking directly that [75] spirit of free government to preserve itself, against which in his opinion “the gates of hell” could not prevail.

The correctness of his faith was equal to the wisdom of his policy; for now there was seen one of those mighty manifestations of national will and national strength that mark the grand epochs of civilized history. The whole country seemed to awaken as from the trouble of a feverish dream, and once again men entered upon a conscious recognition of their proper relations to the Government. Crosspurpose and perplexed counsel faded from the public mind. Parties vanished from politics. Universal opinion recognized but two rallying-points — the camps of the South which gathered to assail the Union, and the armies of the North that rose to defend it.

From every Governor of the Free States came a prompt response of readiness to furnish to the President the desired quota of militia. In almost every county of the North was begun the enlistment of volunteers. Meetings, speeches, and parades voiced the public exhortation to patriotism. Flags and badges symbolized an eager and universal loyalty. Munificent individual donations, and subscriptions, and liberal appropriations from State Legislatures and municipal councils, poured forth lavish contributions to arm, clothe, and equip the recruits. More than double the number of men required tendered their service. Before the lapse of forty-eight hours, armed companies and regiments of volunteers were in motion toward the expected border of conflict. Public opinion became intolerant of dissent and cavil; in many instances tumultuous mobs silenced or destroyed newspapers which had ventured to print disloyal or treasonable language. There was not the slightest sign or movement of the predicted division of Northern sentiment. New York joyfully ranged herself under the flag in a monster [76] meeting of two hundred thousand of her people. Before the surging crowds that filled the streets, and drowned all noises in their huzzas for the Union, the New York Herald displayed the stars and stripes, and changed its editorials from a tone of sneering lament to a fierce and incessant war-cry. Every prominent individual in the whole North was called or came voluntarily to prompt espousal of the Union cause by public letter or speech. Ex-President Buchanan, ex-President Pierce, Edward Everett, General Cass, Archbishop Hughes, Mayor Fernando Wood, John A. Dix, Wendell Phillips, Robert J. Walker, Wm. M. Evarts, Edward D. Baker, David Dudley Field, John J. Crittenden, Caleb Gushing, Hannibal Hamlin, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and radicals, natives and foreigners, Catholics and Protestants, Maine and Oregon, all uttered a common call to their countrymen to come to the defence of the Constitution, the Government, and the Union. Of all these recognized public leaders, however, the most energetic and powerful, next to Lincoln, was Stephen A. Douglas, who in the late election had received 1,128,049 Northern votes, and 163,525 Southern votes for President. As already mentioned, he had, in a bold Senate speech, announced himself as opposed to a policy of coercion. But the wanton bombardment of Sumter exhausted his party patience, and stirred his patriotic blood to fresher and healthier impulses. On Sunday, April 14th, when the proclamation had not yet been many hours written and signed, he sought his lifelong political antagonist, Abraham Lincoln, now President of the United States, and, in a long, confidential interview, assured him of his readiness to join him in unrelenting warfare against rebellion. The next morning's telegraphic despatches gave the country an authorized notice of the patriotic alliance. In a few days he started to his home in Illinois; [77] and everywhere on his journey, and until his sudden death a few weeks later, he scarcely ceased his eloquent appeal to his fellow-citizens to rise in vindication of good faith, of system, of order in government; declaring, with sententious vigor, “every man must be for the United States or against it; there can be no neutrals in this war-only patriots and traitors.”

Such was the grand uprising of the North. The South, already for three months past in the turmoil of insurrection, was once more quickened to a new activity in her fatal enterprise. She felt that the assault on Sumter was her final cast of the die. Her people are proud and impetuous, stronger in physical than in moral courage, more prone to daring in behalf of error than of suffering to sustain truth. This quality was shrewdly recognized by one of the conspirators when he gave his hesitating confederates the brutal watchword: “You must sprinkle blood in the faces of the people.” Sumter was a bloodless conquest, but it nevertheless filled the South with the intoxication of combat. All sentiment adverse to secession and Southern independence had long since disappeared under the repression of a despotic public opinion; but now the fervor of a fanatical crusade transfused the whole Southern population; and their motley array of palmetto banners, rattlesnake flags, and almost as eccentric varieties of “stars and bars,” became, in their wild political lunacy, the symbols of a holy deliverance.

The Sumter bombardment, Lincoln's proclamation, and the enthusiastic war-spirit of the North, left the Confederate authorities at Montgomery no further hope of obtaining peaceable separation by diplomacy or intrigue. In their scheme of independence, while counting, with much greater accuracy than outsiders, upon the latent military resources of the South, they nevertheless seem to have based their [78] ultimate reliance upon foreign intervention in their behalf “Cotton is king,” they argued; Europe cannot exist without it; therefore, when American civil war locks up that daily food of European looms, and takes the means of earning daily bread from foreign labor, dividends from foreign capital, and activity from foreign commerce, European governments must open our ports by recognizing and protecting our flag, especially if, in addition to their needed manufacturing staple, we tempt them with the commercial harvest of free trade.

As the entering wedge to this policy, Jefferson Davis, on the 17th of April, issued his proclamation, offering letters of marque and reprisal, “under the seal of these Confederate States,” to armed privateers of any nation. The commercial classes of England had, since the secession of South Carolina, manifested a strong sympathy for the rebellion, and he doubtless expected that the seas would soon swarm with predatory adventurers under shelter of the “stars and bars.” A few vessels of this character did, in the subsequent years of the war, inflict incalculable damage upon shipping sailing under the Federal flag; but the extravagant scheme, of which this privateering proclamation was the key-note, withered in an early blight. Two days after its appearance President Lincoln issued a counter-proclamation, instituting a rigid blockade of the insurgent ports, and threatening that Jefferson Davis' privateers should be “held amenable to the laws of the United States for the prevention and punishment of piracy” --a warning which, from motives of public policy and the humane personal instincts of the President, was not literally enforced. The unexampled increase of the United States Navy, the extraordinary efficiency of the blockade, the vigilant foreign diplomatic service of the administration, and, above all, its vigorous prosecution of the war, [79] left foreign powers no sufficient excuse, and overawed all passing temptations to intervene. And when the hour of distress and trial finally came to the industrial classes of England, the noble devotion of the Manchester cotton operatives to universal liberty put to shame and impotence the greedy cupidity of the cotton merchants of Liverpool.

In addition to the six or seven thousand rebel troops assembled at Charleston to aid in the reduction of Sumter, and the four or five thousand sent to Pensacola to undertake the capture of Fort Pickens, Jefferson Davis' Secretary of War had, in anticipation of the results of the bombardment, on the 8th of April called upon the seceded States for a contingent of 20,000, to which there was again, on the 16th of April, added a further call of 34,000 volunteers. In seizing the Southern arsenals the seceded States had become possessed of over one hundred thousand “serviceable” arms; at least thirty thousand others had been secured by purchase from Secretary Floyd. The arsenals also contained considerable quantities of military equipments. A variety of military stores were among the property surrendered by Twiggs in Texas; the seaboard forts, particularly those in Charleston Harbor, furnished a supply of heavy guns. Southern recruits were abundant; and out of these ready materials the Montgomery authorities proceeded as rapidly as possible, with the assistance of many skilful officers resigned or deserted from the Federal service, to improvise an army. Diplomatic agents were sent in haste to European courts. Measures were taken to thoroughly fortify the coast; permission was sought from the neighboring States to blockade the Mississippi River as high as Vicksburg and Memphis. The Confederate Congress was convened in special session; and on April 29th Jefferson Davis sent them his message, announcing that he had “in the field, at Charleston, Pensacola, Forts Morgan, Jackson, St Philip, [80] and Pulaski, nineteen thousand men, and sixteen thousand are now en route for Virginia.” Also, that he further proposed “to organize and hold in readiness for instant action,” an army of one hundred thousand men.

Between the fall of Sumter, however, and the date of this message, the whole revolution had undergone a remarkably rapid development, which essentially changed the scope and character of the contest. Hitherto the Border Slave States, as they were called-Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Missouri-though from the beginning also deeply agitated, had taken no decisive action. Their people were divided in sympathy and interest; they favored slavery, but they also loved the Union. Every expression through a popular vote indicated strongly preponderant loyalty; but with one exception their State officials were already secretly leagued with the secession conspirators. Upon them, too, the bombardment of Sumter fell like a sudden touchstone. The proclamation of President Lincoln, and the requisition of the Secretary of War for their quota of Union volunteers, left them no further chance of concealment. Compelled to take sides, their various governors replied to the call in an insulting and contumacious refusal. From that time forward Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas were practically part and parcel of the rebellion, though some of these did not immediately make a pretence of formal adhesion by ordinances or military leagues. It would be both tedious and needless to detail the various steps and phases of their seeming revolt; it is a record of bold conspiracy, shameless usurpation, and despotic military domination, made possible by the sudden rush of popular excitement and passion consequent upon the fall of Sumter. The three others, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, and also the western half of Virginia, were [81] eventually saved to the Union, partly by the inherent loyalty of their people, partly by the quick and sustaining presence of the Union forces.

By these adhesions the revolution at a single bound augmented its area almost one-half, and nearly doubled its supporting population, its material resources, its claim to the serious attention of foreign nations. Its chiefs and leaders were, of course, correspondingly elated and hopeful. With a territory nearly four times as large as France; with five and a half millions of whites, and three and a half millions of blacks; producing by her agriculture a single staple, cotton, valued at two hundred million dollars annually; with a greatly diversified climate; with a long sea-coast, with several important harbors and many navigable rivers; with mountains, with mines, with forests containing the most valuable ship-timber in the world; with a greater variety of field and garden products than usually falls to the lot of a single people — they believed that they possessed the substantial elements of a homogeneous, prosperous, and powerful nation

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
United States (United States) (9)
Charleston (South Carolina, United States) (7)
Sumterville (South Carolina, United States) (6)
Europe (4)
South Carolina (South Carolina, United States) (3)
Washington (United States) (2)
Texas (Texas, United States) (2)
Tennessee (Tennessee, United States) (2)
Pensacola (Florida, United States) (2)
North Carolina (North Carolina, United States) (2)
Missouri (Missouri, United States) (2)
Mississippi (United States) (2)
Maryland (Maryland, United States) (2)
Kentucky (Kentucky, United States) (2)
England (United Kingdom) (2)
Arkansas (Arkansas, United States) (2)
Vicksburg (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Pulaski, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Oregon (Oregon, United States) (1)
Montgomery (Alabama, United States) (1)
Mississippi (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Maine (Maine, United States) (1)
Louisiana (Louisiana, United States) (1)
Liverpool (United Kingdom) (1)
Illinois (Illinois, United States) (1)
Georgia (Georgia, United States) (1)
France (France) (1)
Fort Pickens (Florida, United States) (1)
Fort Morgan (Alabama, United States) (1)
Fort Jackson (Louisiana, United States) (1)
Florida (Florida, United States) (1)
Dixon, Ill. (Illinois, United States) (1)
Charleston Harbor (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Chambersburg (New Jersey, United States) (1)
Canada (Canada) (1)
Buras (Louisiana, United States) (1)
Brooklyn (New York, United States) (1)
Alabama (Alabama, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
April 15th (2)
1861 AD (1)
January 6th, 1860 AD (1)
1856 AD (1)
1795 AD (1)
July 4th (1)
April 29th (1)
April 17th (1)
April 16th (1)
April 14th (1)
April 13th (1)
April 8th (1)
January (1)
14th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: