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Chapter 10:

  • The Congress in Washington.
  • -- New development of Northern policy. -- Lincoln's political discovery. -- his remarkable measures of war. -- an era of despotism. -- violent acts of Congress. -- the seed of Abolition. -- suspension of the habeas corpus. -- curious apology for it. -- military arrests. -- a “Confidential” document from McClellan. -- curious disposition of the Northern people to surrender their liberties. -- Conservatism of the Confederate cause. -- Lincoln's view of State “neutrality” in the war. -- application of it to Kentucky. -- the elections in Kentucky. -- the Confederates anticipate the Federal occupation of Kentucky. -- Zollicoffer's command. -- Polk's command. -- justification of the Confederate occupation. -- claims and designs of the Federals in Kentucky. -- Polk's occupation of Columbus. -- his proffer of withdrawal. -- arrests in Kentucky. -- despotic and brutal legislation. -- distinguished refugees. -- Breckinridge's address. -- Early military movements in Kentucky. -- Zollicoffer's operations. -- Buckner's occupation of Bowling Green. -- the battle of Belmont. -- movement of U. S. Grant. -- Gen. Pillow's command engaged at disadvantage. -- the Confederates driven back. -- timely reinforcements. -- sudden conversion of a defeat into a victory. -- retreat of Grant. -- his official misrepresentation of the day. -- prospect of the war in the West

The new Federal Congress, pursuant to the summons of President Lincoln, met in Washington on the 4th of July. The event was the occasion of a new development of the Northern policy, and a remarkable enlargement of the operations of the war.

In his message, Mr. Lincoln announced a great political discovery. It was that all former statesmen of America had lived, and written, and labored under a great delusion that the States, instead of having created the Union, were its creatures; that they obtained their sovereignty and independence from it, and never possessed either until the Convention of 1787. This singular doctrine of consolidation was the natural preface to a series of measures to strengthen the Government, to enlarge the Executive power, and to conduct the war with new decision, and on a most unexpected scale of magnitude.

President Lincoln had already instituted certain remarkable measures of war. He had published his proclamation declaring the ports of the [176] Southern Confederacy in a state of blockade, and denouncing any molestation of Federal vessels on the high seas as piracy, having reference to letters of marque issued by the Confederate authority. He had prohibited all commercial intercourse with the States composing the new confederation. And although he insisted on referring to the belligerent powers in the flippant and unimportant words of “persons engaged in disorderly proceedings,” he had found it advisable, as early as the 3d of May, in addition to his first requisition for seventy-five thousand men to operate against these disorderly persons, to call for forty-odd thousand additional volunteers to enlist for the war, and eighteen thousand seamen, besides increasing the regular army by the addition of ten regiments. He now wrote to Congress: “It is recommended that you give the legal means for making this contest a short and a decisive one; that you place at the control of the Government, for the work, at least four hundred thousand men, and four hundred millions of dollars.” The recommendation was a singular commentary on the prospect that had been held out of subduing the Confederate power by three months levies, before the Congress should meet in the month of July to determine the disposition of the conquered States and the fate of the leaders. But Congress was generous; and, in excess of Mr. Lincoln's demand, voted him five hundred thousand men, to serve for a period not exceeding three years.

But the interest of the first Congress, under Mr. Lincoln's administration, is not confined to its military legislation. It is a period from which we may trace a spirit that essentially tended to revolutionize the political system and ideas of the North itself, and to erect on the ruins of the Constitution a despotic authority, whose consequences ran all through the war.

The first sessions of this Congress were signalized by a resolution refusing to consider any propositions but those looking to a continued and vigorous prosecution of the war, and confining all business to the military and naval operations of the Government; by a general approval of the acts done by the President without constitutional authority, including his suspension of the habeas corpus; and by the initiation of a barbarous policy of confiscation in a bill declaring free whatever slaves were employed in the service of “the rebellion,” thus evidently containing the seed of that thick crop of Abolition legislation which was to ensue.

Mr. Lincoln had suspended the writ of habeas corpus without the constitutional concurrence of Congress, and under a claim of authority to arrest without process of law all persons “dangerous to the public safety.” This remarkable usurpation was tolerated by the country. Indeed, it obtained many ingenious defences in Northern newspapers. It was declared that the privilege of habeas corpus was really in the interest of no one but quasi criminals; and that what had been esteemed for centuries as the [177] bulwark of personal liberty, was really a matter of no great concern to the general public. An apologist for Mr. Lincoln wrote: “In such times the people generally are willing, and are often compelled, to give up for a season a portion of their freedom to preserve the rest; and fortunately, again, it is that portion of the people, for the most part, who like to live on the margin of disobedience to the laws, whose freedom is most in danger. The rest are rarely in want of a habeas corpus.”

This astounding and atrocious doctrine had already been put in violent practice in certain parts of the North. We have already referred to the military arrest of the municipal officers of Baltimore. It was but the beginning of a reign of terrour. There is place here for the following remarkable document, under the authority of which were arrested many leading members of the Legislature of Maryland:


Headquarters Army of the Potomac, Washington, Sept. 12, 1861.
General: After full consultation with the President, Secretaries of State, War, &c., it has been decided to effect the operation proposed for the 17th. Arrangements have been made to have a Government steamer at Annapolis to receive the prisoners and carry them to their destination.

Some four or five of the chief men in the affair are to be arrested to-day. When they meet on the 17th, you will please have everything prepared to arrest the whole party, and be sure that none escape.

It is understood that you arrange with General Dix and Governor Seward the modus operandi. It has been intimated to me that the meeting might take place on the 14th; please be prepared. I would be glad to have you advise me frequently of your arrangements in regard to this very important matter.

If it is successfully carried out, it will go far toward breaking the backbone of the rebellion. It would probably be well to have a special train quietly prepared to take prisoners to Annapolis.

I leave this exceedingly important affair to your tact and discretion-and have but one thing to impress upon you — the absolute necessity of secrecy and success. With the highest regard, I am, my dear General, your sincere friend,

But the policy of arrests did not end with this singular violation of the freedom of a legislative body. Other citizens were taken. Military arrests were made in the dead hour of night. The most honourable and virtuous citizens were dragged from their beds, and confined in forts. Searches and seizures, the most rigorous and unwarrantable, were made without pretext of justification. Hopeless imprisonment was inflicted without accusation, without inquiry or investigation, and without the prospect of a trial. When, in the House of Representatives, at Washington, Mr. Vallandigham of Ohio moved a series of resolutions condemning these acts of despotic authority and intolerable espionage, including the seizure [178] of despatches in the telegraph offices, they were unceremoniously laid on the table.

There was an evident disposition of the Northern people to surrender their constitutional liberties to any government that would gratify their political passions. A true account of the despotism of these times indicates, indeed, what little love of liberty there was in the North, and its low stage of sentimentalism on this subject; for wherever it has been observed in history that a nation has been willing to surrender liberty in an attempt at territorial ascendancy, it has always been the evidence of a coarse and materialistic character that serves well the ambitious designs of Despotism, and prefers a false greatness to the humbler realities of honour and happiness. In remarkable contrast to this tendency of the Northern people to submit to a subtraction of their liberties, and even to applaud it, while they imagined that their greed of resentment and lust of territory were to be satisfied, were the declarations and spirit of the new government erected in the South. There the body of civil liberties was undiminished and untouched. The muniments of constitutional law were not disturbed. In the midst of a war “waged not to destroy, but to preserve existing institutions,” the South was recurring to the past rather than running into new and rash experiments, and exhibiting a spirit of Conservatism that the world had seldom observed in so vast a commotion.

In his message of July, 1861, Mr. Lincoln had referred to an attempt meditated by States at a position of “neutrality” in the war. On this subject he wrote, with more than usual acuteness:

“1 In the Border States, so called — in fact, the Middle States--there are those who favor a policy which they call ‘ armed neutrality ;’ that is, an arming of these States to prevent the Union forces passing one way, or the Disunion the other, over their soil. This would be disunion completed. Figuratively speaking, it would be building an impassable wall along the line of separation-and yet, not quite an impassable one; for, under the guise of neutrality, it would tie the hands of the Union men, and freely pass supplies from among them to the insurrectionists, which it could not do as an open enemy. At a stroke, it would take all the trouble off the hands of Secession, except only what proceeds from the external blockade. It would do for the Disunionists that which, of all things, they most desire-feed them well, and give them disunion without a struggle of their own. It recognizes no fidelity to the Constitution, no obligation to maintain the Union; and, while very many who favored it are, doubtless, loyal citizens, it is, nevertheless, very injurious in effect.”

This passage of Mr. Lincoln's message naturally introduces us to the remarkable part taken by the State of Kentucky at the period of hostilities and in the opening scenes of the war. Her Legislature had passed a resolution, to the effect that the State should remain neutral in the contest pending, and would not permit the troops of either party to pass over or occupy her soil for belligerent purposes. [179]

In assuming the part of a neutral, the attitude of Kentucky fell far below the hopes of the Confederate States; but even that plea was to be used to disguise designs which meditated nothing short of an eventual and open declaration of common cause with the Northern States. An election ensued for members of her Legislature in the month of August. In this canvass the intriguers of the Federal Government were at work; the war had fully opened; paper money in abundance was beginning to circulate; rich contracts for mules, hemp, and lumber, were scattered with lavish but discriminating hand, among the Union men of Kentucky; and when the election came, a large majority of men were returned who had professed before the people their fidelity to the neutral faith, but who, in reality, were prepared to throw the whole power of the State, as far as they could wield it, in favor of Lincoln and his war against the South.

After the returns of this election were made, it soon became evident that the Federals intended to occupy Kentucky, and to use her roads and mountains for marching invading columns upon the Confederate States. It became necessary to anticipate them. Brigadier-General Zollicoffer, of Tennessee, on the 14th of September, occupied the mountain passes at Cumberland, and the three long mountains in Harlan and Knox Counties, Kentucky, through which an invading column of Federals had been threatening for weeks to march from Hoskins' Cross-roads. And on the 3d of September Gen. Leonidas Polk advanced with part of his forces, and took possession of Hickman, Chalk Banks, and the town of Columbus, ill Kentucky.

The position of the Legislature of Kentucky, and Gov. Magoffin, that Gen. Polk's occupation of Columbus was an act of invasion of their State, and violated its neutrality, was absurd. The enemy had chosen to make his battle-ground there, and to erect there the signs of armed contest; and the Confederates had, of course, the right to confront him on any line of operations he indicated. The Federal Government had disregarded the neutrality of Kentucky, and Mr. Lincoln had hooted at it; her representatives in the Congress of the United States had voted supplies of men and money to carry on the war against the Confederate States; Federal camps and depots of armies had been established in Kentucky; military companies had been organized within her territory; and at a rendezvous in Garrard County, known as Camp Dick Robinson, several thousand troops, among whom men from Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, were mustered with Kentuckians into the service of the United States, were prepared not only to put down revolt at home, but to carry out the designs of the Washington Government for the subjugation of the South.

Nor was this all. The Federal forces were preparing to take possession of Columbus and Paducah, regarding them as important positions; and when Gen. Polk anticipated them in occupying the former place, it was [180] only when the enemy had constructed a military work on the Missouri shore, immediately opposite, and commanding Columbus, and evidently intended to cover the landing of troops for the seizure of the town. Federal cannon had already been turned upon Columbus, and many of the inhabitants had fled in terrour from the indications of approaching hostilities.

In no sense did the Confederates intend to conquer or coerce Kentucky. But it was well understood that the people of that State had been deceived into a mistaken security, were unarmed, and in danger of being subjugated by the Federal forces, while a majority of them, if perfectly free to indicate their choice, would, it was thought, have espoused the cause of the Confederacy. Proclamation was made, on the part of the Confederates, of the desire to respect the neutrality of Kentucky, and the intention to abide by the wishes of her people, as soon as they were free to express them.

But Gen. Polk went even further than this. He offered to accede to the demand of Gov. Magoffin for the withdrawal of the Confederate troops from Kentucky, on condition that the State would agree that the troops of the Federal Government be withdrawn simultaneously, with a guaranty (which he would give reciprocally for the Confederate Government) that the Federal troops should not be allowed to enter or occupy any part of Kentucky in the future. This proposition was derided by the Federal partisans in Kentucky, and — as every proposition of equivalents in the war --was ridiculed in the Northern newspapers as a piece of “rebel” impertinence.

It was not long before the period of “policy” was past in Kentucky, and Federal agents were making daily arrests of all persons suspected of entertaining designs or sentiments hostile to the government at Washington. Many members of the State Legislature, true to the South, had vacated their offices and left their homes. What remained of this body enacted a law of pains and penalties, denouncing death, imprisonment, forfeitures and fines, against all who should oppose the Federal Government.

Among those Kentuckians who, fortunately for themselves and for the cause which they afterwards served, escaped arrest, and came within the Confederate lines, were John C. Breckinridge, late Vice-President of the United States, Col. G. W. Johnson, a prominent citizen, Thomas B. Monroe, Sr., for about thirty years District Judge of the United States, Humphrey Marshall, ex-member of Congress, and a distinguished officer in the Mexican war, and Capt. John Morgan, afterwards the “Marion” of Kentucky, and one of the most famous cavalry commanders in the West. Messrs. Breckinridge and Marshall proceeded to Richmond, and were appointed Brigadier-Generals in the Confederate service.

On assuming his new position, Gen. Breckinridge published an address [181] to the people of Kentucky, some passages of which are of historical interest, as a description of the times, from a pen which, for many years, had been able and conspicuous in every cause of truth. He wrote:

The Federal Government — the creature — has set itself above the creator. The atrocious doctrine is announced by the President, and acted upon, that the States derive their power from the Federal Government, and may be suppressed on any pretence of military necessity. Everywhere the civil has given way to the military power. The fortresses of the country are filled with victims seized without warrant of law, and ignorant of the cause of their imprisonment. The legislators of States and other public officers are seized while in the discharge of their official duties, taken beyond the limits of their respective States, and imprisoned in the forts of the Federal Government. A subservient Congress ratifies the usurpations of the President, and proceeds to complete the destruction of the Constitution. History will declare that the annals of legislation do not contain laws so infamous as those enacted at the last session. They sweep away every vestige of public and personal liberty, while they confiscate the property of a nation containing ten millions of people. The great mass of the Northern people seem anxious to sunder every safeguard of freedom; they eagerly offer to the Government what no European monarch would dare to demand. The President and his Generals are unable to pick up the liberties of the people as rapidly as they are thrown at their feet. Genera] Anderson, the military dictator of Kentucky, announces, in one of his proclamations, that he will arrest no one who does not act, write, or speak in opposition to Mr. Lincoln's Government. It would have completed the idea if he had added, or think in opposition to it. Look at the condition of our State under the rule of our new protectors. They have suppressed the freedom of speech and of the press. They seize people by military force on mere suspicion, and impose on them oaths unknown to the laws. Other citizens they imprison without warrant, and carry them out of the State, so that the writ of habeas corpus cannot reach them. Every day foreign armed bands are making seizures among the people. Hundreds of citizens, old and young, venerable magistrates, whose lives have been distinguished by the love of the people, have been compelled to fly from their homes and families, to escape imprisonment and exile at the hands of Northern and German soldiers under the orders of Mr. Lincoln and his military subordinates.

The early military movements in Kentucky are to be considered as taking place along a line running through the interiour of the State, extending from Columbus in the West to Prestonburg and Pikeville in the mountains on the Virginia frontier.

From his strong position at Cumberland Mountain, Gen. Zollicoffer prepared for cautious advances upon the enemy. On the 19th of September, a portion of his command advanced to Barboursville, and dispersed a camp of fifteen hundred Federals. Gen. Zollicoffer continued to advance, and early in October reached the town of London in Laurel County, breaking up the enemy's camps in that region.

Meanwhile, Brigadier-General Buckner, with a force of Kentucky volunteers, advanced from the borders, and on the 18th of September entered the town of Bowling Green, in Warren County, eleven miles south of Green River, and immediately on the line of approach to Louisville. He issued a proclamation to the people of Kentucky, stating that their Legislature [182] had been faithless to their will; that instead of enforcing neutrality, they had sought to make the State a fortress in which the armed forces of the United States might securely prepare to subjugate alike the people of Kentucky and of the Southern States. He declared that the Confederate troops occupied Bowling Green as a defensive position, and that he renewed the pledge previously given by their commanders, to retire as soon as the Federal forces would in like manner withdraw.

But the first serious collision of arms in Kentucky was to occur in the neighbourhood of the waters of the Ohio and the Tennessee; and to that end of the line of operations we must now take the attention of the reader.

The battle of Belmont.

Gen. Polk had for some time been strengthening his position at Columbus, and had also occupied Belmont, a small village on the Missouri shore, so as to command both banks of the stream.

With a view of surprising the small Confederate force on the west bank, Gen. U. S. Grant collected a fleet of large river steamboats, and embarking at night, steamed down the river unobserved. Within a few miles of Columbus and Belmont the river makes a sudden bend, and behind this bend Grant disembarked his forces, and began to advance towards Belmont, through the woods. When the morning of the 7th of November broke, the action commenced; the first intimation of the enemy's presence being a succession of rapid volleys. The troops were soon under arms, but the sudden surprise precluded all idea of a regular line or plan of battle.

It appears that when the enemy was reported landing troops a few miles above, the garrison in Belmont consisted of only two regiments. Gen. Pillow, with four regiments, immediately crossed, and assumed command. He had scarcely done so, when Grant's advance opened fire, and the fight soon became fierce and obstinate. The enemy made a desperate attempt to turn the left wing of the Confederates, but was defeated by the destructive fire of Beltzhoover's battery. This wing was severely taxed, as was also the right. Finding that they stood firm and unbroken, and, anxious for decisive action before reinforcements could reach Pillow, Grant repeatedly hurled his strongest force at the Confederate centre, which was in the open field.

The centre evidently faltered under these heavy and repeated attacks. Pillow ordered a charge, and the first line of the enemy was driven upon their reserves. But ammunition now began to fail, and word came that the wings could not maintain their position if the centre gave in, as there was every reason to fear it would do. Again a charge was ordered, which [183] proved no less successful than the first. It was now found that the only battery of the Confederates had not a cartridge remaining, and most of the troops were similarly circumstanced; there was no alternative but to fall back until reinforcements should arrive from Columbus.

In moving back to the river bank, the Confederate line was more or less broken and disorganized; and the enemy appeared to be master of the field. He was already in full possession of the Confederate camps, and was burning them. But at the critical moment three regiments, which had crossed the river from Columbus, were ordered to move up the river bank, through the woods, and get in the enemy's rear. The enemy had seen the boats crossing with reinforcements, and played on them with a heavy battery; but the guns at Columbus replied, and in a few moments the enemy's pieces were silenced. Finding that Polk himself was crossing, and landing troops far up the river on his line of retreat, Grant immediately began to fall back, but had not proceeded far when he encountered Louisianians, Mississippians, Tennesseans, and others, formed on his flanks, subjecting him to loss every moment, while the guns at Columbus continued rapidly firing across the river, and from the high position of the works, telling with deadly effect. Under these circumstances resistance was hopeless, and Grant reluctantly ordered a retreat; but while conducting it, he was subjected to a terrific cross-fire from the Confederates, while Polk in person was pushing the rear vigorously, capturing prisoners and arms every yard of the road. The confusion, noise, and excitement were terrible, the Federals rapidly retreating to their boats, and the advance columns of their pursuers pouring deadly volleys into them. A defeat was suddenly and almost miraculously converted into a glorious triumph of Confederate arms.

In this obstinate conflict, in which the Confederates fought by detachments, and always against superiour numbers, it was officially stated that their loss in killed, wounded, and missing, was 632, while that of the enemy was claimed to have been treble in extent. He had been driven under a devouring fire, and even after he had reached the river, his crowded transports were assailed with the fire of thousands of deadly rifles. In Northern newspapers, Belmont was put down as “another Union victory.” The style and effrontery of the falsehood was characteristic. The first part of the day, when Grant pushed the Confederates to the river, was glowingly described; but the subsequent flank movement which converted his early success into a defeat and a rout, and was, indeed, the event of the day, was dismissed in the briefest and most indifferent terms. Grant wrote: “The rebels followed in the rear to our place of debarkation.” Such was the method of Northern misrepresentation. It is remarkable that, by ingenious suppression, or by the rouged falsehood of official reports, tile North claimed, after Manassas, every event of the war as a Federal [184] victory, unless where some political animosity brought out the details, or some personal rivalry extorted the truth.

With the Confederate victory of Belmont, we leave for the present the story of military operations in the West. We shall soon recur to that theatre, to find there some of the largest and most important events of the war. We shall discover that the enemy, in fact, conceived a new plan of invasion of the South, through Kentucky and Tennessee, by means of amphibious expeditions, composed of gunboats and land forces; and that a war which the Southern people supposed lingered on the Potomac, was suddenly transferred and opened with imposing scenes on the western waters.

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