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Chapter 5:

  • General Scott's ‘views,’ and the encouragement they afforded to the cotton States to secede
  • -- their publication by him in the National Intelligencer -- his recommendation in favor of four distinct Confederacies -- his recommendation to reenforce nine of the Southern forts, and the inadequacy of the troops -- the reason of this inadequacy -- the whole army required on the frontiers -- the refusal of Congress to increase it -- our fortifications necessarily left without sufficient garrisons for want of troops -- the President's duty to refrain from any hostile act against the cotton States, and smooth the way to a compromise -- the rights of those States in no danger from Mr. Lincoln's election -- their true policy was to cling to the Union.

Such, since the period of Mr. Lincoln's election, having been the condition of the Southern States, the ‘Views’ of General Scott, addressed before that event to the Secretary of War, on the 29th and 30th October, 1860, were calculated to do much injury in misleading the South. From the strange inconsistencies they involve, it would be difficult to estimate whether they did most harm in encouraging or in provoking secession. So far as they recommended a military movement, this, in order to secure success, should have been kept secret until the hour had arrived for carrying it into execution. The substance of them, however, soon reached the Southern people. Neither the headquarters of the army at New York, nor afterwards in Washington, were a very secure depository for the ‘Views,’ even had it been the author's intention to regard them as confidential That such was not the case may be well inferred from their very nature. Not confined to the recommendation of a military movement, by far the larger portion of them consists of a political disquisition on the existing dangers to the Union; on the horrors of civil war and the best means of averting so great a calamity; and also on the course which their author had [100] resolved to pursue, as a citizen, in the approaching Presidential election. These were themes entirely foreign to a military report, and equally foreign from the official duties of the Commanding General. Furthermore, the ‘Views’ were published to the world by the General himself, on the 18th January, 1861, in the ‘National Intelligencer,’ and this without the consent or even previous knowledge of the President.This was done at a critical moment in our history, when the cotton States were seceding one after the other. The reason assigned by him for this strange violation of official confidence toward the President, was the necessity for the correction of misapprehensions which had got abroad, ‘both in the public prints and in public speeches,’ in relation to the ‘Views.’

The General commenced his ‘Views’ by stating that, ‘To save time the right of secession may be conceded, and instantly balanced by the correlative right on the part of the Federal Government against an interior State or States to reestablish by force, if necessary, its former continuity of territory.’ He subsequently explains and qualifies the meaning of this phrase by saying: ‘It will be seen that the ‘Views’ only apply to a case of secession that makes a gapin the present Union. The falling off (say) of Texas, or of all the Atlantic States, from the Potomac South [the very case which has since occurred], was not within the scope of General Scott's provisional remedies.’ As if apprehending that by possibility it might be inferred he intended to employ force for any other purpose than to open the way through this gap to a State beyond, still in the Union, he disclaims any such construction, and says: ‘The foregoing views eschew the idea of invading a seceded State.’ This disclaimer is as strong as any language he could employ for the purpose.

To sustain the limited right to open the way through the gap, he cites, not the Constitution of the United States, but the last chapter of Paley's ‘Moral and Political Philosophy,’ which, however, contains no allusion to the subject.

The General paints the horrors of civil war in the most gloomy colors, and then proposes his alternative for avoiding them. He exclaims:

But break this glorious Union by whatever [101] line or lines that political madness may contrive, and there would be no hope of reuniting the fragments except by the laceration and despotism of the sword. To effect such result the intestine wars of our Mexican neighbors would, in comparison with ours, sink into mere child's play.

A smaller evil (in the General's opinion) would be to allow the fragments of the great Republic to form themselves into new Confederacies, probably four.

Not satisfied with this general proposition, he proceeds not only to discuss and to delineate the proper boundaries for these new Confederacies, but even to designate capitals for the three on this side of the Rocky-Mountains. We quote his own language as follows:—

All the lines of. demarcation between the new unions cannot be accurately drawn in advance, but many of them approximately may. Thus, looking to natural boundaries and commercial affinities, some of the following frontiers, after many waverings and conflicts, might perhaps become acknowledged and fixed:

1. The Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay to the Atlantic. 2. From Maryland along the crest of the Alleghany (perhaps the Blue Ridge) range of mountains to. some point on the coast of Florida. 3. The line from, say the head of the Potomac to the West or Northwest, which it will be most difficult to settle. 4. The crest of the Rocky Mountains.

The Southeast Confederacy would, in all human probability, in less than five years after the rupture, find itself bounded by the first and second lines indicated above, the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, with its capital at say Columbia, South Carolina. The country between the second, third, and fourth of those lines would, beyond a doubt, in about the same time constitute another Confederacy, with its capital at probably Alton or Quincy, Illinois. The boundaries of the Pacific Union are the most definite of all, and the remaining States would constitute the Northeast Confederacy, with its capital at Albany. It, at the first thought, will be considered strange that seven slaveholding States and part of Virginia and Florida should be placed (above) in a new Confederacy with Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, etc. But when the overwhelming weight of the great Northwest is [102] taken in connection with the laws of trade, contiguity of territory, and the comparative indifference to free soil doctrines on the part of Western Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, it is evident that but little if any coercion, beyond moral force, would be needed to embrace them; and I have omitted the temptation of the unwasted public lands which would fall entire to this Confederacy—an appanage (well husbanded) sufficient for many generations. As to Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi, they would not stand out a month. Louisiana would coalesce without much solicitation, and Alabama with West Florida would be conquered the first winter from the absolute need of Pensacola for a naval depot.

According to this arrangement of General Scott, all that would be left for ‘the Northeast Confederacy’ would be the New England and Middle States; and our present proud Capitol at Washington, hallowed by so many patriotic associations, would be removed to Albany.1

It is easy to imagine with what power these ‘Views,’ presented so early as October, 1860, may have been employed by the disunion leaders of the cotton States to convince the people that they might depart in peace. Proceeding from the Commanding General of the army, a citizen and a soldier so eminent, and eschewing as they did the idea of invading a seceded State, as well as favoring the substitution of new Confederacies for the old Union, what danger could they apprehend in the formation of a Southern Confederacy?

This portion of the ‘Views,’ being purely political and prospective, and having no connection with military operations, was out of time and out of place in a report from the Commanding General of the Army to the Secretary of War. So, also, the expression of his personal preferences among the candidates then before the people for the office of President. ‘From a sense of propriety as a soldier,’ says the General, ‘I have taken no part in the pending canvass, and, as always heretofore, mean to [103] stay away from the polls. My sympathies, however, are with the Bell and Everett ticket.’

After all these preliminaries, we now proceed to a different side of the picture presented by the General.

In the same ‘Views’ (the 29th October, 1860), he says that, ‘From a knowledge of our Southern population it is my solemn conviction that there is some danger of an early act of rashness preliminary to secession, viz., the seizure of some or all of the following posts:—Forts Jackson and St. Philip, in the Mississippi, below New Orleans, both without garrisons; Fort Morgan, below Mobile, without a garrison; Forts Pickens and McRea, Pensacola harbor, with an insufficient garrison for one; Fort Pulaski, below Savannah, without a garrison; Forts Moultrie and Sumter, Charleston harbor, the former with an insufficient garrison, and the latter without any; and Fort Monroe, Hampton Roads, without a sufficient garrison. In my opinion all these works should be immediately so garrisoned as to make any attempt to take any one of them by surprise or coup de main ridiculous.’

It was his duty, as commanding general, to accompany this recommendation with a practicable plan for garrisoning these forts, stating the number of troops necessary for the purpose; the points from which they could be drawn, and the manner in which he proposed to conduct the enterprise. Finding this to be impossible, from the total inadequacy of the force within the President's power to accomplish a military operation so extensive, instead of furnishing such a plan he absolves himself from the task by simply stating in his supplemental views of the next day (30th October) that ‘There is one (regular) company at Boston, one here (at the Narrows), one at Pittsburg, one at Augusta, Ga., and one at Baton Rouge—in all five companies, only, within reach, to garrison or reenforce the forts mentioned in the “Views.” ’

Five companies only, four hundred men, to garrison nine fortifications scattered over six highly excited Southern States. This was all the force ‘within reach’ so as to make any attempt to take any one of them by surprise or coup de main ridiculous. [104]

He even disparages the strength of this small force by applying to it the diminutive adverb ‘only,’ or, in other words, merely, barely. It will not be pretended that the President had any power, under the laws, to add to this force by calling forth the militia, or accepting the services of volunteers to garrison these fortifications. And the small regular army were beyond reach on our remote frontiers. Indeed, the whole American army, numbering at that time not more than sixteen thousand effective men, would have been scarcely sufficient. To have attempted to distribute these five companies among the eight forts in the cotton States, and Fortress Monroe, in Virginia, would have been a confession of weakness, instead of an exhibition of imposing and overpowering strength. It could have had no effect in preventing secession, but must have done much to provoke it. It will be recollected that these views, the substance of which soon reached the Southern States, were written before Mr. Lincoln's election, and at a time when none of the cotton States had made the first movement toward secession. Even South Carolina was then performing all her relative duties, though most reluctantly, to the Government, whilst the border States, with Virginia in the first rank, were still faithful and true to the Union.

Under these circumstances, surely General Scott ought not to have informed them in advance that the reason why he had recommended this expedition was because, from his knowledge of them, he apprehended they might be guilty of an early act of rashness in seizing these forts before secession. This would necessarily provoke the passions of the Southern people. Virginia was deeply wounded at the imputation against her loyalty from a native though long estranged son.

Whilst one portion of the ‘Views,’ as we have already seen, might be employed by disunion demagogues in convincing the people of the cotton States that they might secede without serious opposition from the North, another portion of them was calculated to excite their indignation and drive them to extremeities. From the impracticable nature of the ‘Views,’ and their strange and inconsistent character, the President dismissed them from his mind without further consideration. [105]

It is proper to inform the reader why General Scott had five companies only within reach for the proposed service. This was because nearly the whole of our small army was on the remote frontiers, where it had been continually employed for years in protecting the inhabitants and the emigrants on their way to the far west, against the attacks of hostile Indians. At no former period had its services been more necessary than throughout the year 1860, from the great number of these Indians continually threatening or waging war on our distant settlements. To employ the language of Mr. Benjamin Stanton, of Ohio, in his report of the 18th February, 1861, from the military committee to the House of Representatives: ‘The regular army numbers only 18,000 men, when recruited to its maximum strength; and the whole of this force is required upon an extended frontier, for the protection of the border settlements against Indian depredations.’ Indeed, the whole of it had proved insufficient for this purpose. This is established by the reports of General Scott himself to the War Department. In these he urges the necessity of raising more troops, in a striking and convincing light. In that of 20th November, 1857,2 after portraying the intolerable hardships and sufferings of the army engaged in this service, he says: ‘To mitigate these evils, and to enable us to give a reasonable security to our people on Indian frontiers, measuring thousands of miles, I respectfully suggest an augmentation of at least one regiment of horse (dragoons, cavalry, or riflemen) and at least three regiments of foot (infantry or riflemen). This augmentation would not more than furnish the reenforcements now greatly needed in Florida, Texas, New Mexico, California, Oregon, Washington Territory, Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota, leaving not a company for Utah.’

Again, General Scott, in his report of November 13, 1858, says:3 ‘This want of troops to give reasonable security to our citizens in distant settlements, including emigrants on the plains, cap scarcely be too strongly stated; but I will only add, that as often as we have been obliged to withdraw troops from one frontier [106] in order to reeinforce another, the weakened points have been instantly attacked or threatened with formidable invasion.’

The President, feeling the force of such appeals, and urged by the earnest entreaties of the suffering people on the frontiers, recommended to Congress, through the War Department, to raise five additional regiments.4 This, like all other recommendations to place the country in a proper state of defence, was disregarded From what has been stated it is manifest that it was impossible to garrison the numerous forts of the United States with regular troops. This will account for the destitute condition of the nine forts enumerated by General Scott, as well as of all the rest.

When our system of fortifications was planned and carried into execution, it was never contemplated to provide garrisons for them in time of peace. This would have required a large standing army, against which the American people have ever evinced a wise and wholesome jealousy. Every great republic, from the days of Caesar to Cromwell, and from Cromwell to Bonaparte, has been destroyed by armies composed of free citizens, who had been converted by military discipline into veteran soldiers. Our fortifications, therefore, when completed, were generally left in the custody of a sergeant and a few soldiers. No fear was entertained that they would ever be seized by the States for whose defence against a foreign enemy they had been erected.

Under these circumstances it became the plain duty of the President, destitute as he was of military force, not only to refrain from any act which might provoke or encourage the cotton States into secession, but to smooth the way for such a Congressional compromise as had in times past happily averted danger from the Union. There was good reason to hope this might still be accomplished. The people of the slaveholding States must have known there could be no danger of an actual invasion of their constitutional rights over slave property from any hostile action of Mr. Lincoln's administration. For the protection of these, they could rely both on the judicial and the legislative branches of the Government. The Supreme Court [107] had already decided the Territorial question in their favor, and it was also ascertained that there would be a majority in both Houses of the first Congress of Mr. Lincoln's term, sufficient to prevent any legislation to their injury. Thus protected, it would be madness for them to rush into secession.

Besides, they were often warned and must have known that by their separation from the free States, these very rights over slave property, of which they were so jealous, would be in greater jeopardy than they had ever been under the Government of the Union. Theirs would then be the only Government in Christendom which had not abolished or was not in progress to abolish slavery. There would be a strong pressure from abroad against this institution. To resist this effectually would require the power and moral influence of the Government of the whole United States. They ought, also, to have foreseen that if their secession should end in civil war, whatever might be the event, slavery would receive a blow from which it could never recover. The true policy, even in regard to the safety of their domestic institution, was to cling to the Union.

1 It is worthy of special remark that General Scott in his autobiography recently published, vol. II., p. 609, entirely omits to copy this part of his views on which we have been commenting; so also his supplementary views of the next day, though together they constitute but one whole. He merely copies that which relates to garrisoning the Southern forts.

2 3 Senate Documents, 1857-58, p. 48.

3 Senate Executive Documents, 1858-59, vol. II., part 3, p. 761.

4 Senate Documents, 1857-68, vol. III, p. 4.

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