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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard
» PART V. SECTIONAL CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION
» CHAPTER XV

«·The Southern Confederacy · The Results of the Civil War·»


The War Measures of the Federal Government

Raising the Armies.—The crisis at Fort Sumter, on April 12-14, 1861, forced the President and Congress to turn from negotiations to problems of warfare. Little did they realize the magnitude of the task before them. Lincoln’s first call for volunteers, issued on April 15, 1861, limited the number to 75,000, put their term of service at three months, and prescribed their duty as the enforcement of the law against combinations too powerful to be overcome by ordinary judicial process. Disillusionment swiftly followed. The terrible defeat of the Federals at Bull Run on July 21 revealed the serious character of the task before them; and by a series of measures Congress put the entire man power of the country at the President’s command. Under these acts, he issued new calls for volunteers. Early in August, 1862, he ordered a draft of militiamen numbering 300,000 for nine months’ service. The results were disappointing—ominous—for only about 87,000 soldiers were added to the army. Something more drastic was clearly necessary.

In March, 1863, Lincoln signed the inevitable draft law; it enrolled in the national forces liable to military duty all able-bodied male citizens and persons of foreign birth who had declared their intention to become citizens, between the ages of twenty and forty-five years—with exemptions on grounds of physical weakness and dependency. From the men enrolled were drawn by lot those destined to active service. Unhappily the measure struck a mortal blow at the principle of universal liability by excusing any person who found a substitute for himself or paid into the war office a sum, not exceeding three hundred dollars, to be fixed by general order. This provision, so crass and so obviously favoring the well-to-do, sowed seeds of bitterness which sprang up a hundredfold in the North.

The Draft Riots in New York City

The beginning of the drawings under the draft act in New York City, on Monday, July 13, 1863, was the signal for four days of rioting. In the course of this uprising, draft headquarters were destroyed; the office of the Tribune was gutted; negroes were seized, hanged, and shot; the homes of obnoxious Unionists were burned down; the residence of the mayor of the city was attacked; and regular battles were fought in the streets between the rioters and the police. Business stopped and a large part of the city passed absolutely into the control of the mob. Not until late the following Wednesday did enough troops arrive to restore order and enable the residents of the city to resume their daily activities. At least a thousand people had been killed or wounded and more than a million dollars’ worth of damage done to property. The draft temporarily interrupted by this outbreak was then resumed and carried out without further trouble.

The results of the draft were in the end distinctly disappointing to the government. The exemptions were numerous and the number who preferred and were able to pay $300 rather than serve exceeded all expectations. Volunteering, it is true, was stimulated, but even that resource could hardly keep the thinning ranks of the army filled. With reluctance Congress struck out the $300 exemption clause, but still favored the well-to-do by allowing them to hire substitutes if they could find them. With all this power in its hands the administration was able by January, 1865, to construct a union army that outnumbered the Confederates two to one.

War Finance.—In the financial sphere the North faced immense difficulties. The surplus in the treasury had been dissipated by 1861 and the tariff of 1857 had failed to produce an income sufficient to meet the ordinary expenses of the government. Confronted by military and naval expenditures of appalling magnitude, rising from $35,000,000 in the first year of the war to $1,153,000,000 in the last year, the administration had to tap every available source of income. The duties on imports were increased, not once but many times, producing huge revenues and also meeting the most extravagant demands of the manufacturers for protection. Direct taxes were imposed on the states according to their respective populations, but the returns were meager—all out of proportion to the irritation involved. Stamp taxes and taxes on luxuries, occupations, and the earnings of corporations were laid with a weight that, in ordinary times, would have drawn forth opposition of ominous strength. The whole gamut of taxation was run. Even a tax on incomes and gains by the year, the first in the history of the federal government, was included in the long list.

Revenues were supplemented by bond issues, mounting in size and interest rate, until in October, at the end of the war, the debt stood at $2,208,000,000. The total cost of the war was many times the money value of all the slaves in the Southern states. To the debt must be added nearly half a billion dollars in “greenbacks”—paper money issued by Congress in desperation as bond sales and revenues from taxes failed to meet the rising expenditures. This currency issued at par on questionable warrant from the Constitution, like all such paper, quickly began to decline until in the worst fortunes of 1864 one dollar in gold was worth nearly three in greenbacks.

A Blockade Runner
A Blockade Runner

The Blockade of Southern Ports.—Four days after his call for volunteers, April 19, 1861, President Lincoln issued a proclamation blockading the ports of the Southern Confederacy. Later the blockade was extended to Virginia and North Carolina, as they withdrew from the union. Vessels attempting to enter or leave these ports, if they disregarded the warnings of a blockading ship, were to be captured and brought as prizes to the nearest convenient port. To make the order effective, immediate steps were taken to increase the naval forces, depleted by neglect, until the entire coast line was patrolled with such a number of ships that it was a rare captain who ventured to run the gantlet. The collision between the Merrimac and the Monitor in March, 1862, sealed the fate of the Confederacy. The exploits of the union navy are recorded in the falling export of cotton: $202,000,000 in 1860; $42,000,000 in 1861; and $4,000,000 in 1862.

The deadly effect of this paralysis of trade upon Southern war power may be readily imagined. Foreign loans, payable in cotton, could be negotiated but not paid off. Supplies could be purchased on credit but not brought through the drag net. With extreme difficulty could the Confederate government secure even paper for the issue of money and bonds. Publishers, in despair at the loss of supplies, were finally driven to the use of brown wrapping paper and wall paper. As the railways and rolling stock wore out, it became impossible to renew them from England or France. Unable to export their cotton, planters on the seaboard burned it in what were called “fires of patriotism.” In their lurid light the fatal weakness of Southern economy stood revealed.

Diplomacy.—The war had not advanced far before the federal government became involved in many perplexing problems of diplomacy in Europe. The Confederacy early turned to England and France for financial aid and for recognition as an independent power. Davis believed that the industrial crisis created by the cotton blockade would in time literally compel Europe to intervene in order to get this essential staple. The crisis came as he expected but not the result. Thousands of English textile workers were thrown out of employment; and yet, while on the point of starvation, they adopted resolutions favoring the North instead of petitioning their government to aid the South by breaking the blockade.

With the ruling classes it was far otherwise. Napoleon III, the Emperor of the French, was eager to help in disrupting the American republic; if he could have won England’s support, he would have carried out his designs. As it turned out he found plenty of sympathy across the Channel but not open and official coöperation. According to the eminent historian, Rhodes, “four-fifths of the British House of Lords and most members of the House of Commons were favorable to the Confederacy and anxious for its triumph.” Late in 1862 the British ministers, thus sustained, were on the point of recognizing the independence of the Confederacy. Had it not been for their extreme caution, for the constant and harassing criticism by English friends of the United States—like John Bright—and for the victories of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, both England and France would have doubtless declared the Confederacy to be one of the independent powers of the earth.

John Bright
John Bright

While stopping short of recognizing its independence, England and France took several steps that were in favor of the South. In proclaiming neutrality, they early accepted the Confederates as “belligerents” and accorded them the rights of people at war—a measure which aroused anger in the North at first but was later admitted to be sound. Otherwise Confederates taken in battle would have been regarded as “rebels” or “traitors” to be hanged or shot. Napoleon III proposed to Russia in 1861 a coalition of powers against the North, only to meet a firm refusal. The next year he suggested intervention to Great Britain, encountering this time a conditional rejection of his plans. In 1863, not daunted by rebuffs, he offered his services to Lincoln as a mediator, receiving in reply a polite letter declining his proposal and a sharp resolution from Congress suggesting that he attend to his own affairs.

In both England and France the governments pursued a policy of friendliness to the Confederate agents. The British ministry, with indifference if not connivance, permitted rams and ships to be built in British docks and allowed them to escape to play havoc under the Confederate flag with American commerce. One of them, the Alabama, built in Liverpool by a British firm and paid for by bonds sold in England, ran an extraordinary career and threatened to break the blockade. The course followed by the British government, against the protests of the American minister in London, was later regretted. By an award of a tribunal of arbitration at Geneva in 1872, Great Britain was required to pay the huge sum of $15,500,000 to cover the damages wrought by Confederate cruisers fitted out in England.

William H. Seward
William H. Seward

In all fairness it should be said that the conduct of the North contributed to the irritation between the two countries. Seward, the Secretary of State, was vindictive in dealing with Great Britain; had it not been for the moderation of Lincoln, he would have pursued a course verging in the direction of open war. The New York and Boston papers were severe in their attacks on England. Words were, on one occasion at least, accompanied by an act savoring of open hostility. In November, 1861, Captain Wilkes, commanding a union vessel, overhauled the British steamer Trent, and carried off by force two Confederate agents, Mason and Slidell, sent by President Davis to represent the Confederacy at London and Paris respectively. This was a clear violation of the right of merchant vessels to be immune from search and impressment; and, in answer to the demand of Great Britain for the release of the two men, the United States conceded that it was in the wrong. It surrendered the two Confederate agents to a British vessel for safe conduct abroad, and made appropriate apologies.

Emancipation.—Among the extreme war measures adopted by the Northern government must be counted the emancipation of the slaves in the states in arms against the union. This step was early and repeatedly suggested to Lincoln by the abolitionists; but was steadily put aside. He knew that the abolitionists were a mere handful, that emancipation might drive the border states into secession, and that the Northern soldiers had enlisted to save the union. Moreover, he had before him a solemn resolution passed by Congress on July 22, 1861, declaring the sole purpose of the war to be the salvation of the union and disavowing any intention of interfering with slavery.

The federal government, though pledged to the preservation of slavery, soon found itself beaten back upon its course and out upon a new tack. Before a year had elapsed, namely on April 10, 1862, Congress resolved that financial aid should be given to any state that might adopt gradual emancipation. Six days later it abolished slavery in the District of Columbia. Two short months elapsed. On June 19, 1862, it swept slavery forever from the territories of the United States. Chief Justice Taney still lived, the Dred Scott decision stood as written in the book, but the Constitution had been re-read in the light of the Civil War. The drift of public sentiment in the North was being revealed.

While these measures were pending in Congress, Lincoln was slowly making up his mind. By July of that year he had come to his great decision. Near the end of that month he read to his cabinet the draft of a proclamation of emancipation; but he laid it aside until a military achievement would make it something more than an idle gesture. In September, the severe check administered to Lee at Antietam seemed to offer the golden opportunity. On the 22d, the immortal document was given to the world announcing that, unless the states in arms returned to the union by January 1, 1863, the fatal blow at their “peculiar institution” would be delivered. Southern leaders treated it with slight regard, and so on the date set the promise was fulfilled. The proclamation was issued as a war measure, adopted by the President as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, on grounds of military necessity. It did not abolish slavery. It simply emancipated slaves in places then in arms against federal authority. Everywhere else slavery, as far as the Proclamation was concerned, remained lawful.

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln

To seal forever the proclamation of emancipation, and to extend freedom to the whole country, Congress, in January, 1865, on the urgent recommendation of Lincoln, transmitted to the states the thirteenth amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the United States. By the end of 1865 the amendment was ratified. The house was not divided against itself; it did not fall; it was all free.

The Restraint of Civil Liberty.—As in all great wars, particularly those in the nature of a civil strife, it was found necessary to use strong measures to sustain opinion favorable to the administration’s military policies and to frustrate the designs of those who sought to hamper its action. Within two weeks of his first call for volunteers, Lincoln empowered General Scott to suspend the writ of habeas corpus along the line of march between Philadelphia and Washington and thus to arrest and hold without interference from civil courts any one whom he deemed a menace to the union. At a later date the area thus ruled by military officers was extended by executive proclamation. By an act of March 3, 1863, Congress, desiring to lay all doubts about the President’s power, authorized him to suspend the writ throughout the United States or in any part thereof. It also freed military officers from the necessity of surrendering to civil courts persons arrested under their orders, or even making answers to writs issued from such courts. In the autumn of that year the President, acting under the terms of this law, declared this ancient and honorable instrument for the protection of civil liberties, the habeas corpus, suspended throughout the length and breadth of the land. The power of the government was also strengthened by an act defining and punishing certain conspiracies, passed on July 31, 1861—a measure which imposed heavy penalties on those who by force, intimidation, or threat interfered with the execution of the law.

Thus doubly armed, the military authorities spared no one suspected of active sympathy with the Southern cause. Editors were arrested and imprisoned, their papers suspended, and their newsboys locked up. Those who organized “peace meetings” soon found themselves in the toils of the law. Members of the Maryland legislature, the mayor of Baltimore, and local editors suspected of entertaining secessionist opinions, were imprisoned on military orders although charged with no offense, and were denied the privilege of examination before a civil magistrate. A Vermont farmer, too outspoken in his criticism of the government, found himself behind the bars until the government, in its good pleasure, saw fit to release him. These measures were not confined to the theater of war nor to the border states where the spirit of secession was strong enough to endanger the cause of union. They were applied all through the Northern states up to the very boundaries of Canada. Zeal for the national cause, too often supplemented by a zeal for persecution, spread terror among those who wavered in the singleness of their devotion to the union.

These drastic operations on the part of military authorities, so foreign to the normal course of civilized life, naturally aroused intense and bitter hostility. Meetings of protest were held throughout the country. Thirty-six members of the House of Representatives sought to put on record their condemnation of the suspension of the habeas corpus act, only to meet a firm denial by the supporters of the act. Chief Justice Taney, before whom the case of a man arrested under the President’s military authority was brought, emphatically declared, in a long and learned opinion bristling with historical examples, that the President had no power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. In Congress and out, Democrats, abolitionists, and champions of civil liberty denounced Lincoln and his Cabinet in unsparing terms. Vallandigham, a Democratic leader of Ohio, afterward banished to the South for his opposition to the war, constantly applied to Lincoln the epithet of “Cæsar.” Wendell Phillips saw in him “a more unlimited despot than the world knows this side of China.”

Sensitive to such stinging thrusts and no friend of wanton persecution, Lincoln attempted to mitigate the rigors of the law by paroling many political prisoners. The general policy, however, he defended in homely language, very different in tone and meaning from the involved reasoning of the lawyers. “Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of the wily agitator who induces him to desert?” he asked in a quiet way of some spokesmen for those who protested against arresting people for “talking against the war.” This summed up his philosophy. He was engaged in a war to save the union, and all measures necessary and proper to accomplish that purpose were warranted by the Constitution which he had sworn to uphold.

Military Strategy—North and South.—The broad outlines of military strategy followed by the commanders of the opposing forces are clear even to the layman who cannot be expected to master the details of a campaign or, for that matter, the maneuvers of a single great battle. The problem for the South was one of defense mainly, though even for defense swift and paralyzing strokes at the North were later deemed imperative measures. The problem of the North was, to put it baldly, one of invasion and conquest. Southern territory had to be invaded and Southern armies beaten on their own ground or worn down to exhaustion there.

In the execution of this undertaking, geography, as usual, played a significant part in the disposition of forces. The Appalachian ranges, stretching through the Confederacy to Northern Alabama, divided the campaigns into Eastern and Western enterprises. Both were of signal importance. Victory in the East promised the capture of the Confederate capital of Richmond, a stroke of moral worth, hardly to be overestimated. Victory in the West meant severing the Confederacy and opening the Mississippi Valley down to the Gulf.

As it turned out, the Western forces accomplished their task first, vindicating the military powers of union soldiers and shaking the confidence of opposing commanders. In February, 1862, Grant captured Fort Donelson on the Tennessee River, rallied wavering unionists in Kentucky, forced the evacuation of Nashville, and opened the way for two hundred miles into the Confederacy. At Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, desperate fighting followed and, in spite of varying fortunes, it resulted in the discomfiture and retirement of Confederate forces to the Southeast into Georgia. By the middle of 1863, the Mississippi Valley was open to the Gulf, the initiative taken out of the hands of Southern commanders in the West, and the way prepared for Sherman’s final stroke—the march from Atlanta to the sea—a maneuver executed with needless severity in the autumn of 1864.

For the almost unbroken succession of achievements in the West by Generals Grant, Sherman, Thomas, and Hooker against Albert Sidney Johnston, Bragg, Pemberton, and Hood, the union forces in the East offered at first an almost equally unbroken series of misfortunes and disasters. Far from capturing Richmond, they had been thrown on the defensive. General after general—McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade—was tried and found wanting. None of them could administer a crushing defeat to the Confederate troops and more than once the union soldiers were beaten in a fair battle. They did succeed, however, in delivering a severe check to advancing Confederates under General Robert E. Lee, first at Antietam in September, 1862, and then at Gettysburg in July, 1863—checks reckoned as victories though in each instance the Confederates escaped without demoralization. Not until the beginning of the next year, when General Grant, supplied with almost unlimited men and munitions, began his irresistible hammering at Lee’s army, did the final phase of the war commence. The pitiless drive told at last. General Lee, on April 9, 1865, seeing the futility of further conflict, surrendered an army still capable of hard fighting, at Appomattox, not far from the capital of the Confederacy.

Copyright by Underwood and Underwood, N.Y.
The Federal Military Hospital at Gettysburg

Abraham Lincoln.—The services of Lincoln to the cause of union defy description. A judicial scrutiny of the war reveals his thought and planning in every part of the varied activity that finally crowned Northern arms with victory. Is it in the field of diplomacy? Does Seward, the Secretary of State, propose harsh and caustic measures likely to draw England’s sword into the scale? Lincoln counsels moderation. He takes the irritating message and with his own hand strikes out, erases, tones down, and interlines, exchanging for words that sting and burn the language of prudence and caution. Is it a matter of compromise with the South, so often proposed by men on both sides sick of carnage? Lincoln is always ready to listen and turns away only when he is invited to surrender principles essential to the safety of the union. Is it high strategy of war, a question of the general best fitted to win Gettysburg—Hooker, Sedgwick, or Meade? Lincoln goes in person to the War Department in the dead of night to take counsel with his Secretary and to make the fateful choice.

Is it a complaint from a citizen, deprived, as he believes, of his civil liberties unjustly or in violation of the Constitution? Lincoln is ready to hear it and anxious to afford relief, if warrant can be found for it. Is a mother begging for the life of a son sentenced to be shot as a deserter? Lincoln hears her petition, and grants it even against the protests made by his generals in the name of military discipline. Do politicians sow dissensions in the army and among civilians? Lincoln grandly waves aside their petty personalities and invites them to think of the greater cause. Is it a question of securing votes to ratify the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery? Lincoln thinks it not beneath his dignity to traffic and huckster with politicians over the trifling jobs asked in return by the members who hold out against him. Does a New York newspaper call him an ignorant Western boor? Lincoln’s reply is a letter to a mother who has given her all—her sons on the field of battle—and an address at Gettysburg, both of which will live as long as the tongue in which they were written. These are tributes not only to his mastery of the English language but also to his mastery of all those sentiments of sweetness and strength which are the finest flowers of culture.

Throughout the entire span of service, however, Lincoln was beset by merciless critics. The fiery apostles of abolition accused him of cowardice when he delayed the bold stroke at slavery. Anti-war Democrats lashed out at every step he took. Even in his own party he found no peace. Charles Sumner complained: “Our President is now dictator, imperatorwhichever you like; but how vain to have the power of a god and not to use it godlike.” Leaders among the Republicans sought to put him aside in 1864 and place Chase in his chair. “I hope we may never have a worse man,” was Lincoln’s quiet answer.

Wide were the dissensions in the North during that year and the Republicans, while selecting Lincoln as their candidate again, cast off their old name and chose the simple title of the “Union party.” Moreover, they selected a Southern man, Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee, to be associated with him as candidate for Vice President. This combination the Northern Democrats boldly confronted with a platform declaring that “after four years of failure to restore the union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretence of military necessity or war power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part and public liberty and private right alike trodden down … justice, humanity, liberty, and public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, to the end that peace may be restored on the basis of the federal union of the states.” It is true that the Democratic candidate, General McClellan, sought to break the yoke imposed upon him by the platform, saying that he could not look his old comrades in the face and pronounce their efforts vain; but the party call to the nation to repudiate Lincoln and his works had gone forth. The response came, giving Lincoln 2,200,000 votes against 1,800,000 for his opponent. The bitter things said about him during the campaign, he forgot and forgave. When in April, 1865, he was struck down by the assassin’s hand, he above all others in Washington was planning measures of moderation and healing.


«·The Southern Confederacy · The Results of the Civil War·»