E have reached the most critical period of the war, and a collective glance at the situation of the two sections of the American
people armed against each other is necessary to an understanding of the importance of the military events we are about to narrate in this book.
The war has been progressing for the last two years, and its continuation has destroyed those illusions with which both parties had begun the struggle.
The South, encouraged by its early successes, had arrived at the conclusion that the North
, unable to undergo heavy sacrifices for any length of time, would consent to the dismemberment of the federation of States or to the formation of a new government guaranteeing the maintenance and expansion of slavery.
had imagined that it had only a simple insurrection to deal with, and was in hope that a single victory would suffice to restore the Union
without effecting any change in the Federal
status, and without touching the social question which had just shaken this status to its very foundation.
We have shown how the battle-ground had been gradually widened, how the deepseated causes of the antagonism between the North
and the South
had been developed with irresistible force, in spite of the constitutional euphemisms which had hitherto concealed them.
In issuing his proclamation emancipating the slaves, Mr. Lincoln
had been influenced much more by the provocations of slaveholders than by the pressure of abolitionists.
At the beginning of the year 1863 the question was therefore clearly drawn between the two hostile governments of Washington
It was a struggle between two social conditions thenceforth incompatible under the same laws.
The original quarrel regarding
State Sovereignty was forgotten.
After having cleverly turned it to account, the iron hand of Jefferson Davis
had crushed out this pretended sovereignty in the network of a centralized despotism a thousand times more powerful than the authority exercised by his opponent.
All the advantages of the military and political position were in favor of the Confederates
During the last two years they had been inured to the hardships of war and the voids made in their ranks had been promptly filled.
Notwithstanding the extraordinary efforts of the free States, they had held their numerous soldiers in check everywhere.
The year 1862 was brought to a close in the West
's disaster before Vicksburg
's retreat; in the centre, by the indecisive battle of Murfreesborough
; and in the East
, by Burnside
's disaster in front of Fredericksburg
The Confederates, forming one compact state notwithstanding the extent of their territory, remained masters of Richmond
and the Mississippi
; they had not, therefore, been seriously damaged.
They had only to maintain this position to accomplish the object they had in view— the recognition of their independence.
Time was on their side, whether the war should be prolonged without any decisive success for either party, until the North
should herself acknowledge her weakness, or whether some unforeseen incident should occur to alter the course of events and make a diversion in their favor, as had nearly happened in regard to the Trent
It was for this reason that they clamored so persistently for recognition by Europe
This diplomatic act in itself would have made no change in their military condition, in the blockade which fettered their movements, or in the privileges enjoyed by their ships of war as belligerents; but it would have caused much irritation in the North
, and perhaps finally involved it in a war with some of the powers of the Old World.
The political situation of the free States at this period seemed to encourage the hopes of those who thought that the South
was indebted for success to the weariness of the war felt by the North
The restoration of the Union
pure and simple, without touching the question of slavery, had been the common programme which united men of the most opposite views in a patriotic effort to sustain Mr. Lincoln
It having been demonstrated that this programme was impracticable,
each party had resumed its own view of affairs, taking advantage of the proclamation abolishing slavery to put it in circulation.
All Republicans had joined the abolitionists in support of the President
The latter had seen arrayed in opposition to him, with the same differences as were exhibited two years before, the two parties which we have already mentioned as having in 1861 taken the names of War Democrats and Peace Democrats
The former party, still pretending to fight for the restoration of the Union
, was resorting to all sorts of expedients to conciliate the South
while waging war against her, and debating the question of slavery without attempting a radical solution of it, ready to accept the most opposite propositions in order to encompass this end—from gradual emancipation extending to some remote, undefined period to the adoption of all the compromise measures which had vainly been proposed two years previously.
The latter party, which had been silent during these two years, was no longer afraid to speak.
The War Democrats taunted Mr. Lincoln
with having been beaten, and the Peace Democrats
taunted him for making war. The latter, to whom their adversaries had given the name of ‘Copperheads,’ were suspected, very naturally, to be the accomplices of the South
A large number of them, in fact, as the sequel will show, were included in that category.
In a war between two nations, citizens may counsel peace while serving their government loyally, and without their fidelity being called into question; in a civil war, when one of the two contending parties finds in the ranks of its opponents men ready to approve and to support verbally the demands the enemy is resolved to make at the point of the sword, the position of such men is, to say the least, a very false and dangerous one so far as their honor is concerned.
At the beginning of 1863 we find, then, a ‘peace party,’ to which every new check, every new tax, and every new levy, imparts more strength and assurance—to which the stringent measures adopted by the government at Washington
against some of its political adversaries, the burden of military rule in certain sections, financial disturbance, and disappointed ambition, bring each day some new recruits.
The orators of this party are those who in 1861 defended the right of holding public meetings, the men of action whom physical force alone had prevented at that period from making
common cause with the insurgents.
But, whilst opposition to the Republican party and the President
's policy is gaining strength with the public, it has as yet exercised no direct influence upon Congress, where it is only represented by a weal minority.
The composition of this body, in fact, cannot be modified until the electors shall be called upon to choose the Thirty-eighth Congress.
The Thirty-seventh, whose labors we have followed since the extra session of July, 1861, began, as we have seen, its third and last session on December 1, 1862; it came to a close, together with its powers, on the 4th of March, 1863.
The principal measures which characterized this session, inspired by the policy which had guided its action since the day of its first meeting, must be briefly enumerated here, for they exercised a powerful influence over the situation we have to describe.
In our first volume we explained the state of legislation in regard to questions relating to slaves, the army, the finances, and individual liberty at the opening of the session.
The President's message was almost exclusively devoted to the first of these questions.
It was natural for Mr. Lincoln
to desire to connect the legislative power with the abolition policy which he had adopted.
Up to this period the acts of Congress had no object in view except the treatment of slaves coming from the States at war with the Union
The Presidential proclamation of September 22d also aimed at this class of slaves exclusively: these various acts and proclamations were simply war-measures justified by the insurrectionary condition of certain States, but utterly inapplicable to the Union
We have mentioned elsewhere the fruitless efforts made by Mr. Lincoln
to induce those of the slave States that had remained loyal to the Federal
cause to enact some laws guaranteeing gradual emancipation.
Fully convinced of the importance of such legislation, he asked Congress to make it the subject of a constitutional amendment.
But this sage advice was not listened to. The fate of war must be the arbiter: it was imperative that the victorious Union troops should destroy slavery, together with the armies enlisted under its banner, before its defenders in the North
could be prevailed upon to abandon the institution.
the measures proposed by the President
were thus rendered useless.
Besides, if in proposing these measures he was inspired by a wise foresight, it may be said that the representatives of the American
people reasoned logically in postponing their consideration of the subject: the occasion was not favorable for carrying out a constitutional reform.
War was the only thing that absorbed the thoughts of the nation, and the abolition of slavery in the rebel States could only be urged as a military measure until the restoration of peace should permit of its being constitutionally sanctioned.
All the attention of Congress, therefore, was concentrated on devising laws to confer upon the executive power the means for carrying on the war.
The most important among these was undoubtedly the conscription law, to which we made some allusion in the first volume.
The moment had arrived when the principle of obligatory service had to be reduced to practice.
The soldiers who had enlisted for three years in 1861 still constituted the principal nucleus and the most solid element of the Federal
armies, but their number, which at the outset ranged as high as six hundred and forty thousand men, had been greatly reduced by sickness, desertion, and the bullets of the enemy.
The regiments that had been raised in response to the call of 1862 were only enlisted for a period of nine or twelve months: their term of service expired in May, 1863.1
These two calls for volunteers had nearly exhausted that portion of the population disposed to rally spontaneously under the Federal
flag, nor would the second call have proved successful but for the fact that the duration of service had been shortened.
The results of this measure were injurious to the army.
The scarcity of labor had brought about an increase in the rate of wages, which proved a new obstacle against enlistments.
To neutralize this, the government, the States, and the cities resorted
to the system of bounties, which, as we have stated, had only the effect of encouraging desertion through the advantages which re-enlistment offered.
The sufferings and privations of a soldier's life had cooled the enthusiasm of the most zealous.
The volunteers were waiting patiently for the day of their discharge, fully determined to leave the service unless their able-bodied fellow-citizens were compelled to share their labors and their dangers.
Those who had not responded to the first call of their country when in danger were less anxious than ever to don the uniform.
It was easy, therefore, to foresee the hour when the Federal
armies would be broken up if voluntary enlistments were alone relied upon for maintaining them.
The obligatory service which for more than one year had been imposed upon the Southern States
by the government at Richmond
had therefore become a necessity in the North
This principle once established and applied, a considerable renewal of enlistments might be expected, because those who were unwilling to continue in the service as long as their neighbors remained at home were all disposed to anticipate a forced levy in order to secure the advantages of the volunteer system.
At the end of January, when this proposed law was under consideration, everybody understood that the continuation or cessation of hostilities depended upon the vote of Congress.
To reject the law was to give up the struggle; to vote for it was to assert openly before the South
and to Europe
a determination to carry on the conflict to the bitter end at the cost of the most cruel sacrifices.
It was this consideration which caused it to be accepted by the majority, in spite of the serious revolution it would effect in the manners and customs of the American
It was stubbornly opposed by the Democrats, who, although numerically weak on the floor of Congress, felt themselves sustained by a powerful party in the country.
Some abolitionists were desirous of substituting an amendment providing for the enlistment of all negroes, free or slave, until a black army of one hundred and fifty thousand men should thus have been organized.
It required the impending dissolution of Congress to harmonize the two houses on the text of this law. Having been voted for
on the 28th of February, three days before the closing of the session, and promulgated on the 3d of March, it had the effect of a political bequest from the Thirty-seventh Congress.
In imposing this law upon the American
people it subjected their patriotism to a severe test.
If the annual conscription of a class of young men seems a very heavy burden in a country accustomed to obligatory service like that of France
, one may imagine the effect upon a population used to the greatest amount of immunity in regard to such matters, by a law placing at a single stroke all the able-bodied men composing it at the disposal of the military power.
It effectually established the principle that, with certain exceptions, all men from the age of twenty to forty-five were liable to be forced into the military service.
According to a statistical calculation not very reliable, the twentyfour districts thus formed in the States loyal to the Union
comprised a little more than three million one hundred thousand men capable of bearing arms, without counting those already in the field.
The exemptions were limited to the high officers of the Federal
government, to the governors of States, and the supports of families.
The functionaries of the different States, judges, clergymen, and even members of Congress, were not exempted.
The law made no distinction as to color.
It called for all citizens of the United States
, and very properly considered as such all foreigners who, although without regular naturalization-papers, had exercised electoral rights.
It excluded, as a matter of course, all persons who had been branded with infamy, and it provided for a new census to be taken of the entire population of ablebodied men, and its subsequent division into two classes.
The first embraced all persons between the ages of twenty and thirty-five, and all unmarried men above the age of thirty-five and under forty-five; the second, all married persons between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five.
All men thus included in the new census were liable to be drafted from the 1st of July, 1863, to the 1st of July, 1865, and to continue in the service during three years, while the mere fact of having been included in the new census placed them under military rule in regard to all infringements of this law. This severe enactment was the one most repugnant to American habits, and had called forth the bitterest opposition
in both houses of Congress, because it deprived a considerable portion of the nation of the privileges of the habeas corpus
act. But the majority had properly retained it in the body of the law, of which it was the only effective feature and without which it would have been a dead letter.
The privilege of procuring substitutes, so indispensable in a system which admitted of so few exemptions, had naturally been adopted.
But, by a strange anomaly, there was added to it the system of exemption, which was so different in its scope and purposes: any individual who had been drafted could procure his freedom by the payment of the sum of three hundred dollars into the Federal
A considerable number of enrolling-officers were required to take the new census and place the system of drafting—which we will explain presently—in force.
The Congressional districts were taken as the basis of this organization: a provost-marshal was appointed in each district to direct, with the aid of a board, the operations of the new census and the drawing by lot. It constituted, with the co-operation of a physician and a commissioner, a revising board.