THE HISTORY
OF THE
UNITED STATES

FROM 1492 TO 1920

BY JULIAN HAWTHORNE

P F COLLIER & SONS COMPANY, NEW YORK 1920

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CHAPTER  XXXIII
Bull Run

 

 IN RESPECT of numbers engaged and losses suffered, the war which was now about to begin was the greatest ever fought until, then. It also seemed to be the most deplorable; for it was a war of like against like: of brothers against one another. After nearly two and a half centuries, the sons of the pioneers who had settled Virginia and Massachusetts, and of those who followed them, were marshaled against each other, with deadly enmity in their hearts. From a few score a few hundreds-they had increased to full thirty million of as enlightened and enterprising a people as were in the world; and they were about to plunge into the hideous work of mutual destruction. Together they had resisted Europe, and their blood had mingled on a hundred battlefields where freedom was the stake; they had together built up a great civilization, and had presented to the world the spectacle of a vast democracy living in freedom, with no ruler bait themselves; they had upset the predictions of failure which the wisest of the old nations had made; and the populace of the old monarchies and despotisms had heard of their liberty, and millions of them had crossed the ocean to share it. Already America was the hope of mankind. And yet, at the height of their seeming success, they had quarreled with themselves-these sons of the new day-and were gathering their mighty energies to annihilate the work which their great fathers had made. It was a grievous sight to see, and an ominous failure to confess; for, if America failed, there was no rational hope that the cause of civil and religious freedom could ever succeed. Never again could the experiment be tried under conditions so favorable; and even could another continent be found, and another people with the spirit of the Puritans and Pilgrims to colonize it, the precedent of the American collapse would discourage and handicap them. We had believed that God led us to the Wilderness, and had protected us there. But if, after all, we were to go down in ruin, undermined by our own hands, would it not be a sign that God had no part in our attempt? Except the Lord build the city, they labor in vain who build it. It had all been a vast mistake and delusion from the beginning. Let us call back our kings and czars, and surrender our liberty and equality. Man is not able to govern himself. Jet Moses lead the Israelites back to Pharaoh, and cast the tablets of the Divine Law into the depths of the Reel Sea. The Pillar of Cloud by day, of Fire by night, was but a mirage and a mockery; and a few selfish tyrants shall have dominion over many helpless slaves.

But the conflict was irrepressible. During forty years every means of composing it had been tried, and had miscarried. The Frankenstein monster of. slavery, which had been forced by alien and then by geographical. agency upon the South, was a growing monster, and must be fed and given room to stretch his shackled ,but formidable limbs. Above all must he be left undisturbed where he was, or his sinister force, which now was given to giving his masters wealth, would be turned against their throats. The Southern slave holder could never feel fully safe. Those black figures bending and toiling in his fields were obedient only to force, and. the force was absurdly inadequate-it was the mere intellectual domination of a superior race. But should a Toussaint arise to tell them of their strength, and lead them to put it forth, what would become of the planter? What had become of the French in San Domingo? Or, failing a leader of then own color, should another John Brown, or an army of them, appear-as from indications at the North might well happen-the days of the South would be numbered. Their only security, then, lay either in spreading the slave system over the entire Union, so that all alike should be concerned to maintain it: or in retiring from the Union, so that the peril of the Abolitionists might be removed. "Peaceably if we may-forcibly if we must!" said the South, taking the words from the mouth of Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts sixty years before. New England had no right to protest; she herself had knotted the lash which was now laid across her shoulders. The Boston Federalists had sown the wind, and the whirlwind was now to be reaped. The pretext was different, but the argument was the same.

But the North could not yield, in spite of the to quoque taunt, and in spite of pusillanimous mutterings from a fainthearted minority, of whom Buchanan was the type-the Copperheads, as they came to be called. They were willing to let the slaves stay where they were, and promise never to meddle with them; but they could not corrupt free labor by suffering slave labor to compete with it on its own soil; nor could they allow the Southern minority to preempt the untrodden regions which yet lay to the north and west. Well, the South would agree, so .far; but what objection had the North to letting her peaceably secede? Let the land of staple producers separate from the land of traders and manufacturers. There was no real union of interests between them; why should a forced political union be maintained? Let each go its own road, parting with mutual good wishes, and be happy and prosperous in its own way. There was space and to spare on the American continent for two mighty empires at least.

To this proposition, what should the North reply? It seemed far more reasonable than the other. The Constitution seemed to admit it, .for though the doctrine of State rights was denied by the North, it was supported by powerful reasoners, and might at least be considered open to argument. And was it not more politic to be separated from a friendly community than to tie an. unwilling one to one's self? Moreover, so long as South and North made one country, there would always be danger of. contamination from Slavery either covert or overt; but if they were politically foreign to each other, no such contingency would exist. Why, then, not let the South go? Independent of us she could do us as much good as before, and- would do us much less harm.

There was a good deal of talk of this kind at the North. during the first months of 1861, and it sounded plausible and prudent. Yet the weight of feeling in ',the North was against it. Against policy, against profit and utility, the decision was that the South must be compelled to remain in the Union. Was this the result of a determination to back one interpretation of the Constitution against another? Was it sullen pride, or obstinacy, or stupidity? Was it fear that a severance of the bonds of Union would weaken us to the attacks of Europe? Was it apprehension that if the principle of secession were once recognized the practice would spread, until the great American Republic became a cluster of helpless and snarling principalities, such as already vexed the tropical regions of the continent?

Considerations such as these may have entered into the thoughts of the North upon the subject, but they were not the controlling ones. The answer given was usually in the words, "The Union must be preserved." Literally, this would imply only a reluctance to relinquish a material bond, but there is no doubt that it was the expression of a spiritual conviction of a remarkable kind, a recognition of the truth that God had placed us here to make one nation, and that we were bound to fulfill His purpose. There were generations of historical consciousness in that resolve; an unseen influence transmitted from father to son, becoming incorporate with our growth, an organic part of us, not to be rooted out. The United States was one, and one it should forever remain. Our ancestors had not suffered from hunger and Indians, from royal oppression, from insolent war, to have the work of their blood and brains and hearts destroyed by the shallow and infidel impatience of a hot-headed and arrogant minority. These planters were not the nation, for they were willing to destroy the nation; their attitude was- not buttressed b by the august and deep: laid foundations of history, for they cast history aside, and acted from the selfish and immediate impulse of personal comfort and prosperity. What was the true motive that actuated them?-the maintenance of slavery! For the sake of this sin-for sin it was, no matter what expediency might say-they would destroy the edifice of ages, in which were involved the purest hopes of mankind. It should not be permitted. The higher law forbade it. We had a trust to guard, and we would guard it. War was a terrible evil, and we had put it aside as long as we could until concession could no further go-until honor and submission were no longer compatible. Now, therefore, let war come, if it must; and let us rather die to uphold a truth than live to profit by a sin. Such were the inner sentiments contained in the words, "The Union must be preserved!" and they constituted an irresistible power. The North, indeed, had physical resources not possessed by the South, but these could not have been called forth, nor kept in action, had not a profound spiritual conviction of right and duty animated them as soul animates body. By no lesser force could the local patriotism and fiery ardor of the South have been overcome. The South fought for their homes, and for slavery; the North fought for the America of the future, and it was a cause worth all the blood and treasure it cost. But the North, too, had sins of commission and omission to answer for; she too, in the past, had been selfish and impatient for ends of her own; and the punishment which the war inflicted upon her was not undeserved. She came out of it purified and strengthened, and having learned a lesson of the fruit of tampering with evil which could never be quite forgotten; but a full generation must pass away, and deep wounds be healed, before South and North could forgive each other, and enter with sincerity into new bonds of brotherhood.

Though the ultimate strength of the South was less than her opponent's, her immediate resources were greater, so far as material and preparation went. Floyd, while drawing his salary as a sworn officer of the Government, had been busily engaged in crippling in all ways the national power; he had dispersed the army in places where the Union could least avail itself of its services; he had sent .arms and ammunition where the .South could get hold of them, and had left the forts which guarded the coast below Norfolk with but garrisons or supplies; and he had done this with Buchanan's connivance, and in defiance of the repeated protests and advice of Scott. Washington, Baltimore, and places yet further north, were full of disloyalty; and movements made toward suppressing the rebellion were immediately telegraphed to southern points. So long as Buchanan remained in office, the South would not be interfered with; and she used the opportunity to hasten her arrangements, while the North was obliged to look on without being able to lift her hand.

Yet the North was not wholly idle; the people were deeply interested in the progress of affairs, and every Northern town had its company drilling every evening on the common; old guns and old uniforms were routed out of the local armories, or from private hoards, and one beheld queer and motley assemblages marching and countermarching at the word of command, before the winter snows had left the ground clear. The younger folk entered into this work with a certain pleasurable excitement, the instinctive pleasure which the idea of the battle supplies; the old people looked on gravely, and often shook their heads as they turned away. After Lincoln had taken his oath as President, and his early orders had proved that he was not going to accept the Southern acts supinely, the excitement rose, and the clash of opinions became sharper between those who still wished to temporize, and those who desired to go right ahead and fight, leaving talk till after the fighting was done. Then were repeated the painful scenes which had been enacted more than fourscore years before, when American torries and patriots had taken sides against one another; men hitherto of weight and repute in the local community suddenly found themselves looked at askance, or ostracized, because they expressed opinions which were out of accord with the general feeling. There was a great deal of intolerance, and hard names were bandied about; as for argument, there was little, but only plentiful contradicting one of another. Feeling had taken the place of argument, and all breath expended in arguing was breath wasted. North and South were going to fight; and nothing was now worth talking about except how to get to fighting as quickly and as effectively as possible.

At ten minutes before five o'clock on the morning of April 13, 1861, a mortar in Charleston Harbor discharged a shell, which burst in the air above Fort Sumter, arousing Major Robert Anderson and his threescore men to realization of the fact that war between North and South had actually begun, and that the South had fired the first shot. It hurt nobody„ nor did any of the many hundreds which were discharged on both sides during the remainder of the day and night, and on the following morning; Major Anderson keeping his garrison behind the bombproofs, and letting the guns on the parapet, which were the biggest in the fort, be knocked off their places rather than risk lives for the sake of firing them off. The reluctance to kill people was observable in the early days of the war, more on the Northern than on the Southern side. The enemies were polite and "chivalrous" to one another, and seemed desirous to convey the idea that though they were fighting, their mutual regard for one another was in no way impaired. But this sort of flummery presently wore thin and disappeared; and we came to think no more of sacrificing a thousand men to capture a battery than we did of the solitary unfortunate who was killed in Sumter, not in the battle, but by the accidental discharge of a gun fired in salute after the surrender. It is not that armies become more bloodthirsty as their experience ripens; but they learn to regard killing as a mere business to be pursued, like any other, on business principles.

When Sumter had been pounded from the shore batteries in the harbor for a day and a half, its fire slackened, and a certain hasty General Wigfall unexpectedly appeared upon the esplanade outside its gates, demanding to see Anderson at once to arrange terms of surrender. After some parley he was admitted, for indeed he was in acute peril of being killed by the bombardment of his own side if he were not; and he offered Anderson the honors of war and permission to go home if he would give up. Anderson was a brave and faithful officer enough, and lived to raise again over Sumter the flag he now pulled down; but he was a Kentuckian and a slaveholder, and he had not yet got accustomed to the idea of fighting his kindred; and he knew, be sides, that the fort could not hold out much longer, and could not inflict any loss upon the enemy if it did. So he accepted Wigfall's terms, and hoisted the white flag; and only discovered afterward that Wigfall had been acting entirely on his private responsibility, and that the terms he had accepted were liable to be disallowed. However, at that stage of the war, such technicalities were not insisted on; and Anderson was allowed to depart without further molestation. That night it was known. all over the Union that the war had begun indeed; and every one North and South stiffened himself for the fight. The Southerners needed no further stimulus or signal; the North waited for the word from Washington. What would that long-legged, humorous, peaceable-looking Illinois President say or do? The waiting was not long. The proclamation calling for seventy-five thousand volunteers appeared on Monday morning, April 15. The response was almost as quick as the call. Massachusetts was in the lead; her Sixth Regiment passed through Baltimore on the 19th of April a day remembered in Massachusetts, and now to be signalized again. For Baltimore was full of secession, which was only kept from declaring itself as in the other Southern cities by the fact that Baltimore lay, geographically, between two fires, Philadelphia being loyal, and Washington at least partially so. But when the mob in Baltimore saw Northern troops passing through their city on the avowed errand of killing their fellows in the field, their wrath overcame all considerations of prudence, and they first cursed and then attacked them. One of the cars in which they were crossing the town broke down, and the soldiers began to suffer from the missiles and revolver practice which made them their target. One does not like to hear of troops firing upon citizens in the streets of their own city, and Massachusetts men had not forgotten the Boston Massacre. But these Northern soldiers were certainly not looking for trouble in Baltimore; they had expected no such reception, and were merely doing what had to be done-pass through that fiery city on their way to Washington. Accordingly, not they but the citizens are to be blamed for the fusillade with which they finally replied to the attack upon them. Several of the soldiers were killed, and their bodies left upon the streets; more were wounded; it cannot be known what casualties happened to the Baltimore men. But the first blood of the war, on both sides, may be said to have been spilled here; and the increase of mutual animosity which it caused was extraordinary. The best campaign song of the war was drawn out by this episode; a local journalist in his early twenties, of scholarly proclivities and enthusiastic temperament, being moved to call upon "Maryland, My Maryland," to avenge the patriotic gore which had flecked the streets of Baltimore on this occasion. Maryland did not respond to the poet's summons; and, on the other hand, the North, failing to produce as good a song for her side, unblushingly purloined Mr. James Ryder Randall's production, which, with the change of a few words, was found to serve just as well to fire the Northern as the Southern heart. And yet, after all, the "John Brown's body" hymn, as thundered forth by the marching myriads of the North, was a better campaign document than its graceful and spirited rival.

During the ensuing weeks there were many tender partings of sons from parents and sweethearts; though the terms of enlistment were commonly short, and it was still believed on both sides that the war would be a matter of not more than "a hundred days" or so. If either party had foreseen four or five years of continuous and terrific fighting, between armies aggregating two million men, and with losses altogether of near seven hundred thousand, the emotions of those partings would have been more poignant still. But in these first weeks there was displayed a kind of sentiment which could only belong to the early stages of the war. There had as yet been no gaps made in the family circles of the nation; there were no wrongs to avenge, no sufferings to requite; the harsher aspect of the struggle had not yet come. There was only the exaltation of fighting for one's. country, the pathos of saying good-by, the hope of glory; the glow of facing untried dangers. The boys left their classes in Harvard and Yale, the farmers, mechanics and artisans left their work, the clerks laid down their bargains on the counter, the merchant raised a company or a regiment and put himself at its head. Gentlemen of elegant leisure found at last the opportunity for action which they had missed all their lives, without knowing what ailed them; neer-do-wells and black sheep started for the front with a. determination to prove that there was stuff in them after all. They all went into camp green, ignorant, loose, awkward; the men were independent and free and easy; the officers, men of education and refinement, unused to the exigencies of military discipline, asked their rank and file (with many of whom perhaps they had been acquainted in the walks of peace) to "please step this way"; "kindly present arms," and so on. But such softness wore off before long; and when the first three-months-men came back to their native villages, they were hardly recognizable for the gawky citizens who had gone forth so lately; their figures were wiry and erect, their lean faces were tanned by the summer suns of Virginia, they walked in pairs or threes with the long, springy, measured step of war; they were now disciplined soldiers, who had shot and been shot at, had faced death, had obeyed orders, had made a part of battles. The difference was wonderful, and it never wore away. The familiar village was not the same village any more. Many who marched forth returned no more forever; those who came back were changed ; there were empty places in almost every household as the years went by; and the family group round the hearth, if it were still full, never looked the same as before; there was another spirit, another feeling in it. And everywhere you saw the badge of mourning; women, old and young, in black gowns, with crape veils; it was a sight so common that one ceased to notice it. And the talk was all of campaigns, battles, generals, captains, regiments, charges, retreats, victories, defeats. The war correspondents of that day were few, but the newspapers were absorbing reading nevertheless; and they had news to tell. There were the black headlines; the columns of terse Darrative; the list of dead and wounded-but these soon had to be given up, save for the names of leading officers; what should a newspaper do with the losses of forty and fifty thousand which some of the great battles brought? Short or long, those lists of dead, wounded and missing were as trying to the women's hearts at home as was the charge that caused them to the soldiers who faced the guns. Yes, far more trying;- for the charge was made in hot blood and fierce excitement, with glory to win and only one's own death to face; but the lists were read at home; cold and trembling fingers held the paper; the eyes were painfully strained, the lips were parted, the cheeks pale;, and the heart stood. still or leaped by turns. There was no excitement to sustain the wife or mother; no glory to gain; and the death, if it came, came not to her, but to him she loved best. No adequate history could ever be written of the women of the Civil War; but it is strange indeed that no great sculptor or architect has been commissioned to erect some mighty monument, to commemorate forever in enduring marble and bronze her heroism, her sacrifices, and her achievements.

The Union army must concentrate at Washington, and thence proceed to the defense of the line along the Potomac and the Ohio which marked the -boundary between South and North. For the capture of Sumter had added to the Southern array the States of Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee. The western, mountainous part of Virginia was finally saved to the North, after several sharp battles had been fought there; Kentucky also remained loyal, Missouri too, and the new free State of Kansas. The Confederacy, therefore, was bounded on the north by the old Compromise line of 1820, and included Texas as its western frontier. The North held all the rest; but practically the States involved in active war on the Northern side were less in area than those on the South. On the other hand, the North surpassed the South in wealth and population, and in means of sustaining a long conflict. The city of Washington, lying as it did on the borders of Virginia, was in danger of Southern attack, and its defense was the first problem of the war; coupled with that, was the attack on Richmond. The true theory of tactics for the North, however, was not to capture Richmond, for although that was the capital of the Confederacy, its possession was not vital to their cause, as that of Washington might have been to the North. And since it would. be impossible within our limits to follow. this war in detail, it seems advisable here at the outset to give an outline of the entire contest. The story of the strategy of modern battles, however edifying to the expert, goes in at one ear and out of the other of the unmilitary reader; the latter can appreciate the description of a charge, the heroism of a siege, the sublimity of a forlorn hope; but the details of maneuvers in the field are more than he can digest. To comprehend the general plan of a whole war is less difficult, and to the student of history far more important.

The South hoped for victory on two grounds: First, because the North had no practice in war-for the trifling operations by land of the war of 1812 were hardly worth considering, besides that all who took part in them were already gone to their reward; the only considerable battle had been at New Orleans, and in that the South had borne the chief share. The Mexican War, again, had been fought mainly by Southern troops; and the South had ever since been engaged, unofficially, in border raids and filibustering expeditions, which had kept her familiar with the idea of war, and ready to take part in any fighting that came her way. She felt, therefore, the same sense of superiority over the North that a boxer does over a man, bigger perhaps than he, but uninstructed in the art of self-defense.

In the second place, the South trusted that no long time would pass after the outbreak of hostilities before Europe would intervene in her favor. For she supplied Europe with cotton and tobacco, and the old world would not long submit to be deprived of these necessities, as must happen were the war prolonged. The rest of the earth, in short, could get along without the aid of the Northern States of the Union, but not without the Confederacy; and when England or France, or both, put their weight into the scale, the North must yield, even were she not beaten already. All this was counting chickens before they were hatched, and, as it turned out, had the usual fate of such optimism; but it gave the South a hardihood which she might else have lacked, which plunged her into the war so deep that there was no getting out except by the surrender which was inevitable upon her complete exhaustion.

As for the North, she believed that she would. conquer by dint of her superior strength, wealth, and lasting powers; she was far from estimating at its true value the resistance and vigor of the South, or the depth of feeling which attached her to her cause. She thought her fickle and easily discouraged, and she doubted not that when a few months had proved to her the futility of struggling against a resolute and stern adversary, she would be glad to come back, a repentant prodigal. So large a miscalculation on the part of both South and North goes to show how little the two sections knew of each other; lack of common interests had bred ignorance. They were far better strangers now than they were when the struggles with England came to an end. But they were in a fair way to remedy this deficiency.

The area of the Confederacy, geographically regarded, divides into three parts, like Caesar's Gaul; the dividing lines being the Mississippi River and the Allegheny Mountains. Of these three, that west of the Mississippi, comprising Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas, may, be left out of consideration, for it was not the object of Northern strategy and its population was relatively small. This we may call the "right region," looking at it from the north. The "left region" is that between the Alleghenies or Appalachian range and the Atlantic, comprising Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia -all seacoast States, and able from their position to menace Washington. Along the whole coast line as far south as Pensacola (where the North, thanks to Captain Slemmer, still held Fort Pickens), the South, at the outbreak of the war, was mistress of every fortification. This gave her an advantage which it cost the North much fighting and many lives to counteract. The "middle region" is the great sloping plain between the Appalachian range and the Mississippi, containing Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and the western extremities of some of the Eastern States. This was where most of the grand maneuvering of the war took place; it was the heart of the Confederacy, and was attacked and defended as such.

The town of Memphis on the Mississippi, and Charleston on the coast of South Carolina, were united by a line of railway; and at Chattanooga, at the east of Tennessee among the mountains, another road branched off in a northeast direction, and terminated in Richmond. Chattanooga, therefore, was a point of vital strategic importance; for this Memphis-Charleston-Richmond Railroad was the only one connecting the west with the east of the Confederacy. If the North could seize and hold Chattanooga, the Confederacy would be cut in twain, to its serious detriment. Recognizing this, the North made the town the object of attack, and the South bent her energies to protecting it. This she did by defending a military line between one and two hundred miles to the north of the railway. One end of this line was at Columbus on the Mississippi, a little below the junction with it of the Ohio; the other or eastern end was at Bowling Green in Warren County, Kentucky, some two hundred miles east of Columbus. This military line passed through Forts Henry and Donelson, midway on its route. A large river, the Tennessee, flows southward from the Ohio, until it reaches the Memphis Charleston Railway; it then turns to the east, following the railway line.

Now, Kentucky being a Northern State, the Union army, to attack the Columbus-Bowling Green line to the best advantage, would descend upon it by way of the Ohio, Mississippi, and Tennessee Rivers, capturing Forts Henry and Donelson; and after breaking the line, would march southeast through Tennessee to Chattanooga. Thereby not only would the Confederacy be divided, but the Mississippi would be opened. The Confederate armies in Virginia would be between two Union armies, one threatening them from Chattanooga, the other by Way of the north via Richmond. This strategy should be the key of the whole war, to which everything else would be subsidiary. The Confederate forces in the East could be attacked in detail, and Richmond would fall of itself. As the South had no navy, the Atlantic coast and the Gulf could be blockaded, and with the Mississippi in Northern hands, she would inevitably lie squeezed to death. But it was some time before this general view of the situation was taken.

Continue to Chapter 33 Part 2

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