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Chapter 11:

  • The fickle public of the North.
  • -- Gen. Scott. -- the clamour for McClellan. -- his exaltation in the newspapers. -- the theatrical and sensational mind of the North. -- advance of the Confederates towards the Potomac. -- McClellan's designs. -- the Confederates fall back to Centreville. -- the battle of Leesburg. -- McClellan's movement on the Confederate left. -- Evans' brigade. -- fortunate capture of a Federal courier. -- the Federals cross the Potomac and occupy Ball's Bluff. -- splendid charge of the Confederates. -- death of Col. Baker. -- the enemy driven into the River. -- an appalling spectacle of death. -- misrepresentations in Washington. -- Morale of McClellan's army. -- the affair at Dranesville. -- defeat of Stuart, -- “StonewallJackson's new command. -- his expedition from Winchester.Terrible sufferings of his command. -- his demonstration at Bath. -- his movement to Romney, and return to Winchester. -- close of the first year's campaign in Virginia. -- naval operations in 1861. -- the enemy's immense advantage in his navy. -- statistics of the Federal navy. -- improvidence of the Confederates in coast and River defences. -- Secretary Mallory. -- the Confederacy to lose all her sea-ports. -- two naval expeditions down the Carolina coast. -- engagement at Hatteras Inlet. -- an unequal combat. -- the Port Royal expedition. -- capture of Port Royal. -- value of this Federal success. -- the “Trent” affair. -- capture of commissioners Mason and Slidell. -- an English commander's protest. -- great indignation in England. -- preparations there for war. -- conceit and exultation of the North. -- tributes and attentions to Capt. Wilkes. -- concern among the Confederates. -- what Richmond orators said. -- Seward's correspondence with the British Government. -- his collapse. -- the last resort of demagogueism. -- disappointment of the Confederates in the termination of the “Trent” affair. -- Earl Russell's declaration in Parliament. -- Mr. Gregory's reply. -- the treaty of Paris and the Federal blockade

In the beginning of the war, General Winfield Scott had been entitled in Northern newspapers “the Greatest Captain of the Age.” After the disaster of Manassas the same newspapers derided him as an imbecile; and in the meanest humiliation General Scott publicly announced himself an “old coward” for having yielded to popular clamour in fighting the battle, and thus sought by the most infamous confession the mercy of men prompt to insult his fallen fortunes.

The fickle course of popular applause in the North was to exalt a new [186] idol, and to designate a new victim. The clamour was for young commanders. Gen. George B. McClellan had been lifted into a sudden popularity by the indifferent affair of Rich Mountain. He was a graduate of West Point; had been one of the Military Commission sent to the Crimea; and just before the war had been employing his genius as superintendent of a railroad. He was now to take command of the Federal forces on the line of the Potomac, and to find himself suddenly exalted in the newspapers to comparisons with Alexander, Caesar, Hannibal and Napoleon the Great.

The volatile, superficial and theatrically-inclined mind of the North is, perhaps, in nothing more strikingly displayed than in its demonstrations towards its public men. Yankee fame has come to be one of the curiosities of the world. Scott was “the Greatest Captain of the Age.” But McClellan was “the Young Napoleon.” The name of the new hero appeared on placards, on banners, and in newspaper headings. Reporters stretched their ears to catch the least word he uttered; artists of illustrated journals dogged his steps; his eyes, hair, mouth, teeth, voice, manner and apparel were carefully described in newspaper articles. Every store of flattery and praise was exhausted upon a man who found himself famous by nothing more than the caprice of the multitude.1

For months after the battle of Manassas an almost unbroken quiet extended along the line of the Potomac. McClellan had tolerated the advance of the Confederate lines to Munson's Hill, within a few miles of Alexandria; and every attempt to draw him out into a general engagement proved unavailing. Northern politicians complained of his inactivity; [187] the Confederates were immensely reassured by it; but there is reason to suppose that McClellan's splendid army, that was constantly entertaining attention with parades and reviews, was performing a well-designed part, and that the gorgeous pageant on the Potomac was intended as a veil to immense military preparations going on in other directions.

The Confederate advance having failed to bring on a general battle, although it was almost daily invited by heavy skirmishing, and it being impossible without a chain of strong fortifications to hold the advanced line of Mason's and Munson's hills, or even the interiour one of Fairfax Court-house and its flanks, it was decided by Gens. Johnston and Beauregard, on the 15th of October, to withdraw the army to Centreville. At the dead of night it was put in motion, and in perfect silence, without the beat of a drum or the note of a bugle, the men marched out of their forsaken entrenchments. and took the road to Centreville.

The battle of Leesburg.

The apparent retreat of the Confederates to Centreville encouraged McClellan to make an advance on the extreme left wing of their force. This enterprise brought on a conflict among the most sanguinary of the war, in view of the numbers engaged. The design of the Federal commander was to occupy the country covering the northern belt of Fairfax and Loudon counties; and while a column moved towards Dranesville, he ordered Gen. Stone, commanding on the line of the Potomac, nearly opposite to Leesburg, to throw across the river a sufficient force to co-operate with the lower movement.

The Confederate force in and around Leesburg was about two thousand men. It was a brigade composed of three Mississippi regiments and the 8th Virginia, commanded by Gen. Evans, whose name had been conspicuous on the field of Manassas. Before day broke on the 20th of October, the men were drawn up in line of battle, and Evans addressed them thus: “Gentlemen, the enemy are approaching by the Dranesville road, sixteen thousand strong, with twenty pieces of artillery. They want to cut off our retreat. Reinforcements can't arrive in time if they were sent. We must .fight.” The little army was at once put in motion across Goose Creek and along the Dranesville road, anticipating a desperate engagement with the Federal column reported to be moving in that direction under the command of Gen. McCall. A few hours after sunrise a Federal courier was captured proceeding on his way with despatches from McCall to Stone. His papers betrayed sufficient to reveal that it was designed to draw the Confederates from Leesburg along the Dranesville road, while Stone crossed the river and occupied the town. [188]

Gen. Stone commenced the passage of the river on the 20th of October. A force of five companies of Massachusetts troops, commanded by Col. Devins, effected a crossing at Edwards' Ferry, and, a few hours thereafter, Col. Baker, who took command of all the Federal forces on the Virginia side, having been ordered by Stone to push the Confederates from Leesburg and hold the place, crossed the river at Conrad's Ferry, a little south of Harrison's Island, and on the direct road to Leesburg. Gen. Stone had ordered seven thousand five hundred men to co-operate in the movement. Baker's brigade, including the advanced companies under Devins, was two thousand three hundred strong, and he was rapidly reinforced until nearly the entire number designated by Stone had been thrown across the river.

Meanwhile Gen. Evans, who had taken a position at Goose Creek, awaited the approach of the enemy. The Federals had crossed the Potomac at different points, at Edwards' Ferry which was just above the mouth of Goose Creek, and at Conrad's Ferry, where a steep bank (Ball's Bluff) hung over the water. Finding that no advance from Edwards' Ferry was attempted, Gen. Evans ordered the 17th and 18th Mississippi regiments to move rapidly to the support of the 8th Virginia and some Mississippi companies, which held the approaches to Leesburg, and had already become hotly engaged with the main body of the enemy advancing from Ball's Bluff.

“ If the enemy won't come to us we must go to them,” exclaimed Evans, as he put the two Mississippi regiments in motion, which began a race of two miles to turn the tide of battle. The Federals who had occupied Ball's Bluff had advanced towards the wooded plain between the river and Leesburg, and held a semicircular line of battle, supported by four howitzers. Evans' order was, “to make the business short.” As the fire of musketry became hot and general — for the Confederates had no opportunity to use their artillery — the Federals gave way, and fell back towards the bluff. Col. Baker urged his men to rally, and brought his disordered lines to a momentary stand. Gen. Evans, seizing the critical moment, ordered a charge. Virginians and Mississippians together rushed forward, making a resistless onset upon the Federal lines. A private sprang to the front, and advancing within eight feet of Col. Baker, fired five chambers of his revolver at him, piercing his head at the first shot, and striking him with nearly every ball. He fell dead. His terrified command gave way in utter rout, and fled towards the river. A portion, numbering several hundred men, attempted to make good their retreat by a flank movement to Edwards' Ferry, and were taken prisoners. But the bulk of the fugitives madly ran to the very verge of Ball's Bluff; and now ensued a scene of unutterable horrour, as these men were driven over the bluff on to the bayonets of their friends, thirty feet below. [189]

Such slaughter, such havoc, such mangling of living men was scarcely ever seen before. A whole army was retreating, tumbling, rolling, leaping down the steep heights. Hundreds plunged into the rapid current; many were shot in the act of swimming; and others were drowned in the water, choked with the wounded and dead. Large flats had been used to bring over reinforcements. They now attempted to return with the wounded; but such was the consternation among the troops that large numbers rushed on board, trampling upon the bleeding men until they all sank together, amid frightful screams. There were men in that agonized mass of fugitives who had never seen the field of battle. They had been sent over while the contest was in progress; they had climbed the mud of the bluff, expecting to find before them a scene of victory. But before them glared a victorious and vengeful foe; and behind them rolled the deep river. All was consternation and dismay. A thousand men ran up and down the banks. Two Massachusetts companies had the presence of mind to display a white flag and surrender. Others rushed wildly into the stream; and the shrieks of the wounded and drowning mingled with the shouts of the victors and the rattle of musketry.

The results of the terrible disaster of Leesburg were studiously suppressed by the Washington authorities. Indeed, they had the hardihood to claim an advantage; representing that the movement towards Leesburg was merely a “reconnoissance,” and was, in the main, “gallant” and “successful.” But the Federal Congress happened to be in session at the time; and the opposition party brought out the stark and horrible truth of the affair. It was ascertained that the Federal loss was not less than 500 killed and drowned, 800 wounded, and about the same number of prisoners, making a total exceeding two thousand. The loss of the Confederates was only one hundred and fifty-three in killed and wounded. Evans' little command had defeated an army, probably three times its strength, and had inflicted upon it a loss greater in number than the whole Confederate force engaged.

After the lesson administered at Leesburg, McClellan for some months attempted nothing but some foraging expeditions; but he was constantly busy with the organization and morale of his army; and the material which was raw at Manassas was rapidly improving in discipline, stanchness and soldierly qualities. On the 20th of December occurred an affair, which was more creditable to the Federals than any that had yet taken place in the region of the Potomac, and constituted McClellan's first success since the engagement of Rich Mountain.

On the day named Gen. J. E. B. Stuart with a large foraging force, consisting of about twenty-five hundred men, fell in with the enemy near Dranesville. The Federals were in superiour force; Gen. Ord's brigade, which was also marching to the same neighbourhood for forage, being [190] thirty-five hundred strong, while two other brigades were in supporting distance. A rocket, shot up by the enemy, gave to the Confederates the first intimation of their presence. To give his wagon-train time to retreat in safety, Gen. Stuart prepared for battle. He was exposed to a very severe cannonade from the enemy; and finding his men contending at serious disadvantage with an enemy greatly outnumbering them, and almost concealed in ambush, he, after a desultory engagement, drew off his forces, and fell back two miles. The enemy did not pursue. The Confederate loss in killed and wounded was about two hundred.

The affair of Dranesville was the last conflict of arms of any note that occurred near the Potomac in the first winter of the war. But within this period, we must remark an expedition, conducted by “StonewallJackson, which was a most extraordinary enterprise, and was attended by such hardships and sufferings as made it a story of terrible interest and fearful romance.

In September, Jackson had been made a Major-General, and in the early part of October he was assigned to the command of the Confederate forces in and around Winchester. About this time the famous Col. Turner Ashby, with his own regiment and other cavalry detachments, making a total of some twelve hundred horse, was watching the river-front from Harper's Ferry to Romney. In December the enemy were strongly posted at Romney and Bath southwards; and Banks, with his whole army being north of the Potomac, it was evident that some great movement was in contemplation, which prudence demanded should be watched by a strong force.

A large part of Gen. Loring's command, after a march of two hundred and sixty miles, joined Gen. Jackson at Winchester. He was now at the head of about nine thousand men; and on the first day of January, 1862, with a portion of his force he marched from Winchester.

It was the object of Jackson to surprise the Federals stationed at Bath, otherwise known as Berkeley Springs. Amid the snow, sleet, rain and ice of the most severe days of the winter he commenced his march. He had to travel over fifty miles of the roughest country in the world, and he was obliged to take unfrequented roads to keep his movement secret. Penetrating the mountains on roads winding along their sides, and through their rugged defiles, exposed to sleet and hail in mid-winter, and enduring the bitterest cold, the march was one of almost indescribable suffering and horrour. The men were without tents. The roads were covered with ice two inches thick, and glazed over by the sleet, so that neither man nor horse could keep his feet except by great care. Horses had their knees and muzzles terribly injured and streaming with blood. Occasionally, horsemen, infantry and wagons would slip over an embankment; and men crippled, or filled with bruises and pains, laid down by the wayside [191] to die, or staggered on in the terrible march. Many were bootless, hatless, and ragged. They were not allowed to kindle fires, being within a few miles of the enemy's posts; and their most comfortable sleep was under stick arbours packed with snow.

Amid the sharp distresses of this march the command struggled on with patient courage, and almost superhuman spirit. On arriving at Bath, they found the Federals had retreated to the Potomac, and had waded the river on one of the coldest days of winter.

Having rested two or three days in Bath, Jackson made daily demonstrations at the river to induce the belief that his command was the advance of a large force about to cross into Maryland. The demonstration succeeded even beyond his expectations. The Federal troops in and around Romney amounted to eleven thousand men, under command of Gen. Shields. This officer felt so certain that Jackson was bent on crossing the Potomac, that, though forty miles above, he transferred his whole command to the north bank to dispute the supposed passage. As soon as Jackson was informed of this, he marched up the south bank to Romney, surprised and captured many of the enemy, and destroyed what he could not carry away of Shields' immense stores, amounting to some half a million of dollars. Leaving a small force in Romney, Jackson returned with his army to Winchester. The success of his expedition was complete; but it had been terribly purchased, for hundreds of his brave men had sunk under the exposure of the march, or were long on the sick-list from its effects.

With this movement closed the campaign of the winter in Virginia. The armies of Johnston and Beauregard, at Centreville and Manassas, of Huger, at Norfolk, of Magruder on the Peninsula, of Jackson at Winchester, and the bodies of troops from Evansport to Acquia on the Potomac, in the Alleghany Mountains and around Richmond, rested for a season in their winter quarters; and fields of Virginia soon to run red with blood, were now covered with mantles of snow and ice.

Naval operations in 1861.

The Federals had one immense and peculiar advantage in the war; and they were prompt to use it. The superiourity which a large navy gave them may be estimated when we reflect that the sea-coast of the Confederacy stretched in a continuous line of eighteen hundred miles; that along this were scattered sea-ports, many of them without the protection of the feeblest battery; and that the Mississippi, with its tributaries was an inland sea, which gave access to the enemy almost as freely as the Gulf of Mexico. [192]

At the opening of the war, President Lincoln found under his command a navy of ninety ships of war, carrying eighteen hundred and nine guns. In little more than a year from that time the Federal navy embraced three hundred and eighty-six ships and steamers, carrying three thousand and twenty-seven guns. Keels were laid not only in the Eastern ship-yards, but on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers; iron armour was prepared; mortar ketches were built; the founderies and shops worked day and night upon engines, plates, and guns.

While this wonderful energy was being displayed by the North in preparations to operate against our sea-coast, and by fleets of gunboats on the Upper Mississippi and its tributaries, to drive our armies out of Kentucky and Tennessee, the Confederate Government showed a singular apathy with respect to any work of defence. The Confederate Congress had made large appropriations for the construction of gunboats on the Mississippi waters; there was the best navy-yard on the continent opposite Norfolk; there were valuable armouries with their machinery at Richmond; and although the Confederate Government was very far from competing with the naval resources of the enemy, yet there is no doubt, with the. means and appliances at hand, it might have created a considerable fleet. In no respect was the improvidence of this Government more forcibly illustrated than in the administration of its naval affairs; or its unfortunate choice of ministers more signally displayed than in the selection as Secretary of the Navy of Mr. Mallory of Florida, a notoriously weak man, who was slow and blundering in his office, and a butt in Congress for his ignorance of the river geography of the country.

The consequences of the defenceless and exposed condition of the Confederate sea-coast were soon to be realized; and many intelligent men already took it as a foregone conclusion, that in the progress of the war the Confederacy would lose not only all her sea-ports, but every fort and battery to which the floating guns of the enemy could get access.

In the year 1861, two naval expeditions were sent down the Carolina coast; and their results gave serious indications of what was to be expected from this arm of the enemy's service on the slight fortifications of our ocean frontier. The first of these expeditions was designed against Hatteras Inlet. To reduce two extemporized works there, mounting altogether fifteen guns, the enemy, with his usual prodigality of preparation and care to ensure victory, sent an enormous sea armament, carrying one hundred heavy guns, and a naval and military force numbering not less than three thousand men. The fleet was under the command of Commodore Stringham, while Maj.-Gen. Butler, of Massachusetts, commanded the force intended to operate on land. On the 26th of August the expedition sailed from Fortress Monroe, arriving off Hatteras on the 28th. Three hundred and fifteen men, with a twelve-pound rifled gun, and twelve. [193] pound howitzer, were landed safely, but in attempting to land more, two gunboats were swamped in the surf. In the mean time the fleet opened a tremendous bombardment upon one of the Confederate works, Fort Clark. The ships, secure in their distance, and formidable by their long range guns, kept up a terrific fire, which rained nine and eleven inch shells upon the fort, at the rate of seven in a minute, shattering to pieces the wooden structures exposed, killing and wounding a few of the men, and cutting down the flag-staff from which floated the Confederate ensign. Finding the work untenable, it was decided by Commodore Barron, the Confederate officer in command, to retire to Fort Hatteras.

At half-past 8 o'clock the next morning, the Federal fleet steamed in from the ocean, and approaching within a mile and a quarter of Fort Hatteras, renewed the bombardment. The unequal combat continued for some hours. Assaulted by nearly a hundred heavy cannon, the fort was unable to reach effectively with its feeble thirty-two pounders, the ships which lay at a safe distance, pouring from their ten-inch rifle pivot guns a storm of shells upon the bomb-proofs and batteries. About noon, the fort surrendered. The loss of the Confederates was ten killed, thirteen wounded, and six hundred and sixty-five prisoners. The Federals had live men wounded.

But the Federals were to obtain a much more important success at a point on the coast further south. In the latter part of October a great fleet of war-ships and transports began to arrive at Old Point, and in a few days they were ready for their departure. So formidable an armament had never before assembled in the waters of America. The naval force was under the command of Capt. Dupont, flag-officer of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron; it consisted of fifteen war-steamers; the land force was embarked in thirty steam vessels and six sailing ships, and was under the command of Gen. T. W. Sherman. The whole force fell very little below twenty-five thousand men.

On the 3d of November the fleet was descried approaching the southern coast of South Carolina; and then for the first time it became apparent that the point they sought was Port Royal harbour. To defend the harbour and approaches to Beaufort, the Confederates had erected two sand forts-one at Hilton Head, called Fort Walker, and the other at Bay Point, called Fort Beauregard. The first had sixteen guns mounted, most of them thirty-two pounders. Fort Beauregard mounted eight guns, none of the heaviest calibre. The garrisons and forces in the vicinity, numbering about three thousand men, were under the command of Gen. Drayton.

Having carefully reconnoitred the position and strength of the forts, a bombardment was opened on Fort Walker in the morning of the 7th of November. The fleet steamed forward, delivering its broadsides with ceaseless violence, then turning in a sharp elliptic, it steamed back in the [194] same order, so as to fire the other broadside at Fort Walker, and load in time to open on Fort Beauregard on getting within range. This manoeuvre doubtless disturbed the aim of the artillerists in the forts; they fired wildly and with but little effect. The dense masses of smoke which the wind drove clear of the ships, and packed against the land batteries, obstructed their aim, and afforded only occasional views of the enemy through the lifting cloud. After sustaining a bombardment of about four hours, the forts surrendered. The condition of Fort Walker, at this time, according to the official report of Gen. Drayton, was “all but three of the guns on the water front disabled, and only five hundred pounds of powder in the magazine.” The garrisons and the men outside the forts retreated across the plain separating them from the woods. The Federal loss in the engagement was eight killed and twenty-three wounded. The Confederates lost about one hundred in killed and wounded, all their cannon, a number of small arms, and all the stores collected in and around the forts.

The capture of Port Royal was an important Federal success. It gave to the enemy a point for his squadrons to find shelter, and a convenient naval depot. It gave him also a foothold in the region of the Sea-Islands cotton, and afforded him a remarkable theatre for his anti-slavery experiments. The Beaufort district, commanded now by the enemy's position, was one of the richest and most thickly settled of the State. It contained about fifteen hundred square miles, and produced, annually, fifty millions of pounds of rice, and fourteen thousand bales of cotton, and held a population of nearly forty thousand, of whom more than thirty thousand were slaves.

In the month of November, 1861, there was to occur a naval exploit of the enemy, of little prowess, but of such importance that it was to draw off public attention from the largest operations of the war, and fix it unanimously upon the issues of a single incident.

The “Trent” affair.

On the 8th of November, Capt. Wilkes, of the United States steam sloop-of-war San Jacinto, overhauled the English mail steamer Trent in the Bahama Channel, and demanded the surrender of the Confederate emissaries, Messrs. Mason and Slidell, who were passengers on board that vessel, and were proceeding with their secretaries on a mission representing the interests of the Confederacy at the courts of England and France. The San Jacinto had fired a shot across the bows of the mail steamer to bring her to, and as she did not stop for that, had fired a shell which burst close by her. The unarmed vessel was boarded by a party of marines under command of Lieut. Fairfax, who demanded the persons of the commissioners [195] and their secretaries; and on their claiming the protection of the British flag, and refusing to leave it unless by actual physical force, hands were laid o i Mr. Mason, Lieut. Fairfax and another officer taking him by the collar of the coat on each side, and, the three other gentlemen following, the whole party was thus transferred from the decks of the Trent. As this scene was taking place, Commander Williams, of the British Navy, who was in charge of the English mails on board the Trent, said: “In this ship I am the representative of Her Majesty's Government, and I call upon the officers of the ship and passengers generally, to mark my words, when in the name of the British Government, and in distinct language, I denounce this as an illegal act, an act in violation of international law; an act indeed of wanton piracy, which, had we the means of defence, you would not dare to attempt.”

The news of this remarkable outrage was received in England with a storm of popular indignation. The very day it reached Liverpool, a public meeting was held, earnestly calling upon the Government to assert the dignity of the British flag, and demand prompt reparation for the outrage. This appeal went up from all classes and parties of the people. The British Government exhibited a determined sentiment and a serious concern in the matter. The Earl of Derby, who had been consulted by the Government, approved the resentful demand which it proposed to make upon the United States, and suggested that ship-owners should instruct the captains of outward-bound vessels to signalize any English vessels, that war with America was probable. The Liverpool underwriters approved the suggestion. The British Government made actual preparations for war. Reinforcements were sent to Canada, together with munitions of war for the few fortifications England possessed in that colony.

Meanwhile the North was revelling in what it supposed the cheap glory of the Trent affair, and making an exhibition of vanity and insolence concerning it, curious even among the usual exaggerations of that people. The act of Capt. Wilkes was not only approved by the Federal Secretary of the Navy; it was extravagantly applauded by him. lie accumulated words of praise, and declared that it had been marked by “intelligence, ability, decision, and firmness.” The man who had made himself a hero in a proceeding in which he encountered no peril, received the public and .official thanks of the Congress sitting at Washington. The Northern press and people appeared to be almost insane over the wonderful exploit. The city of New York offered Capt. Wilkes the hospitality of the city. Boston gave him a festival. Gov. Andrew of Massachusetts declared that the act of taking four unarmed men from an unarmed vessel was “one of the most illustrious services that had rendered the war memorable,” and exulted in the idea that Capt. Wilkes had “fired his shot across the bows of the ship that bore the English lion at its head,” forgetting that the ship bore no [196] guns to reply to a courage so adventurous. The New York Times wrote in this strain: “There is no drawback to our jubilation. The universal Yankee nation is getting decidedly awake. As for Capt. Wilkes and his command, let the handsome thing be done. Consecrate another Fourth of July to him; load him down with services of plate, and swords of the cunningest and costliest art. Let us encourage the happy inspiration that achieved such a victory.”

But while the “universal Yankee nation” was thus astir, and in a rage of vanity, the South watched the progress of the Trent question with a keen and eager anxiety. It was naturally supposed, looking at the determination of England on the one side and the unbounded enthusiasm in the Northern States in maintaining their side of the question, that war would ensue between the parties. It was already imagined in the South that such a war would break the naval power of the North, distract her means, and easily confer independence on the Southern Confederacy. There were orators in Richmond who already declared that the key of the blockade had been lost in the trough of the Atlantic. If the North stood to the issue, the prospect was clear. Gov. Letcher of Virginia addressed a public meeting in Virginia, and, in characteristic language, declared that he prayed nightly that in this matter, “Lincoln's backbone might not give way.” The one condition of war between England and the North, was that the latter would keep its position, and sustain the high tone with which it had avowed the act of Capt. Wilkes.

But this condition was to fail suddenly, signally; and the whole world was to be amused by a diplomatic collapse, such as is scarcely to be found in the records of modern times. When the arrest of Messrs. Mason and Slidell was first made known at Washington, Secretary Seward had written to the Federal minister in London, advising him to decline any explanations, and suggesting that the grounds taken by the British Government should first be made known, and the argument commence with it.

But the British Government entered into no discussion; it disdained the argument of any law question in the matter; and with singular dignity made the naked and imperative demand for the surrender of the commissioners and their secretaries. Mr. Seward wrote back a letter, which must ever remain a curiosity in diplomacy. He volunteered the argument for the surrender of the parties; he promised that they should be “cheerfully” liberated; he declared that he did it in accordance with “the most cherished principles” of American statesmanship; but in the close of this remarkable letter he could not resist the last resort of demagogueism in mentioning the captured commissioners, who had for weeks been paraded as equal to the fruits of a victory in the field, as persons of no importance, and saying: “If the safety of this Union required the detention of the captured persons, it would be the right and duty of this Government to [197] detain them.” If there was anything wanting to complete the shame of this collapse, it was the shallow show of alacrity at concession, and the attempt to substitute a sense of justice for what all men of common discernment knew was the alarm of cowardice.

The concession of Mr. Seward was a blow to the hopes of the Southern people. The contemplation of the spectacle of their enemy's humiliation in it was but little compensation for their disappointment of a European complication in the war.2 Indeed, the conclusion of the Trent affair gave a sharp cheek to the long cherished imagination of the interference of England in the war, at least to the extent of her disputing the blockade, which had begun to tell on the war-power and general condition of the Confederacy. The Trent correspondence was followed by declarations, on the Government side in the British Parliament, too plain to be mistaken. In the early part of February, 1862, Earl Russell had declared that the blockade of the American ports had been effective from the 15th of August, in the face of the facts that the despatches of Mr. Bunch, the English consul at Charleston, said that it was not so; and that authentic accounts and letters of merchants showed that any ships, leaving for the South, could be insured by a premium of seven and a half to fifteen per cent. But in the House of Commons, Mr. Gregory disputed the minister's statement, mentioned the evidence we have referred to, and asserted that England's non-observation of the Treaty of Paris was a deception for the Confederate States, and an ambuscade for the interests of commerce throughout the world.

1 There has been a curious Yankee affectation in the war. It is to discover in the infancy or early childhood of all their heroes something indicative of their future greatness, or of the designs of Providence towards them. Thus their famous cavalry commanders rode wild horses as soon as they could sit astraddle; and their greatest commander in the latter periods of the war-Ulysses S. Grant-when an infant in arms desired a pistol to be fired by his ear, and exclaimed, rick again I-thus giving a very early indication of his warlike disposition. The following, told of McClellan in a Washington newspaper, during the days of his popularity, is characteristic:--

The infant Napoleon.

An incident which occurred in the city of Philadelphia in the winter of 1826-7, is particularly worthy of record in our present crisis, inasmuch as it relates to the early history of one who fills a position commanding the attention and admiration of the world, and particularly of our own country. I will premise by saying I was in Philadelphia in the winter spoken of, attending medical lectures under a distinguished surgeon, then a professor in one of the institutions of the city. A son was born to our professor, and the event scarcely transpired before the father announced it to his delighted pupils. Scales were instantly brought from a neighboring grocer. Into one dish he placed the babe, into the other all the weights. The beam was raised, but the child moved not I The father, emptying his pockets, threw in his watch, coin, keys, knives and lancets, but to no purpose — the little hero could not be moved. He conquered every thing I And at last, while adding more and more weight, the cord supporting the beam gave way, and broke rather than the giant infant would yield I The father was Dr. McClellan, and the son-General McClellan I! our young commander on the Potomac. The country will see a prophetic charm in this incident.

2 The Richmond Examiner had the following to say of the attitude of the enemy in the matter:

Never, since the humiliation of the Doge and Senate of Genoa before the footstool of Louis XIV., has any nation consented to a degradation so deep. If Lincoln and Seward intended to give them up at a menace, why, their people will ask, did they ever capture the ambassadours? Why the exultant hurrah over the event, that went up from nineteen millions of throats? Why the glorification of Wilkes? Why the cowardly insults to two unarmed gentlemen, their close imprisonment, and the bloodthirsty movements of Congress in their regard? But, most of all, why did the Government of Lincoln indulge a full Cabinet with an unanimous resolution that, under no circumstances, should the United States surrender Messrs. Slidell and Mason? Why did they encourage the popular sentiment to a similar position? The United States Government and people swore the great oath to stand on the ground they had taken; the American eagle was brought out; he screeched his loudest screech of defiance-then

Dropt like a craven cock his conquered wing

It the first growl of the lion. This is the attitude of the enemy.

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