George Eggleston.

The History of the Confederate War, Its Causes and Its Conduct. Volume 2 of 2

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Grant was eminently a man of common sense rather than of imagination. The picturesque and the romantic appealed to him scarcely at all. War was to him a problem in physics. It was his habit of mind when any undertaking was set for him to do, carefully to weigh the means at his command and the means at the command of his enemy, and judiciously to employ whatever superiority of means he possessed for the accomplishment of the purposed end. There had been much strategy of another sort than this employed in the conduct of the war on the Federal side. There had been much of sentiment brought to bear ineffectually, and often with disastrous results. With the coming of Grant the turn of common sense had come, and Grant pre?minently represented common sense, backed by daring, determination and tireless energy.

After Vicksburg the days of the dominance of Halleck and his kind were numbered. The time was approaching when capacity was to take command in lieu of regularity; when sense was to replace shoulder straps; when the man under the uniform was to count for more than the uniform. The Galena clerk, Ulysses S. Grant, was a few months hence to succeed to the command of all the armies of the United States, replacing the pet of an antiquated system.

Two thirds of a year were yet to elapse before this change in the administration of Federal military affairs should completely take place, but its coming was sure and with it the beginning of an end to a struggle which had already cost the country much of its best blood and untold millions of its treasure.

To the nation the best result of the Vicksburg campaign was its discovery of Grant.

The State of Things After Gettysburg

The summer of 1863 presented the most interesting epoch of the war. The baffling of Lee's second attempt to invade the North left the struggle in Virginia about as it had been before, except that Lee's veteran army continued to grow steadily stronger in morale and weaker in numbers. The operations at the West, however, had been very disastrous to the Confederates. Their chief city had been taken and was firmly held. Their armies had been driven out of Missouri, Kentucky and the greater part of Tennessee. The Mississippi river had been completely wrested from their possession and the Confederacy had been cut in two.

Some critics, writing at a later time, have held that these conditions demanded the abandonment of the Confederate cause, and called for a suit for peace on the part of the Southerners, upon whatever terms the Federal Government might be willing to grant. Those who take this view do so, it would seem, upon inadequate conceptions of the conditions and the facts. Had the South been a European country, with all its problems of military geography wrought out, with its strategic positions marked upon myriads of maps, with all lines of communication definitely settled and fixed, the situation at midsummer in 1863 might well have justified an opinion of this kind.

But none of these conditions existed. The South was still possessed of a vast area unplatted for military purposes, abounding in obstacles that might be made effective against any adversary's advance. Still more important, there remained the spirit of the army and an unconquerable determination on the part of the people to exhaust every conceivable resource before surrendering a cause which they believed to be absolutely and eternally right.

They had been fed in childhood and youth upon the memories and traditions of American history; they had learned well the lesson that the battle is not always to the strong; they did not forget those dark hours of the American Revolution when Washington, with a small, ragged and mutinous army, lay at Valley Forge while the British occupied New York and Philadelphia and were threatening to overrun Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas. It was their fixed belief that their own cause in this Confederate war was identical with that of their Revolutionary forefathers, and they would have held themselves in contempt had they shown a readier spirit of surrender than that of the earlier Americans. They remembered how even after the British had conquered Charleston and Savannah, and with superior forces had overrun Georgia and the Carolinas, some mere handfuls of determined men under Marion, Sumter, Pickens, Horry and their kind, had kept war alive in those regions until such time as Greene should come and by masterful strategy make his own defeats more effective than victories, and ultimately reconquer their country from its conquerors, thus making American independence possible. The Confederate people, in their manhood, believed in and acted upon that American history which they had learned in their youth. Reverses only stimulated them to new endeavors, and a more heroic endurance.

Finally, there remained the Army of Northern Virginia, under command of Robert E. Lee. For them to have abandoned their cause while such an army under such a commander was still in the field would have been a confession of weakness and cowardice wholly beyond conception by such men. The war was not yet over. The men who were fighting it on the side of the South were still so potent in arms that in that very month of July, 1863, the Government of the United States found it necessary to resort to an enforced draft in order to raise the 300,000 men called for three months before, to reinforce armies that already outnumbered those of the South by two to one and more.

So far was the Confederacy at that time from defeat and the necessity of surrender that for a space it was exceedingly uncertain whether or not the North would furnish the quotas now called for. So small was the confidence of the North in the administration, and in the success of its methods, that in some parts of the country volunteering had practically come to an end.

As has been pointed out in a former chapter, there was a party at the North, only slightly inferior in strength to that of the administration, which determinedly opposed the further prosecution of the war. This opposition was in part political and in part economic. On its economic side it enlisted all those men who had business interests or business hopes connected with the Southern trade. On its political side it included all men at the North who were opposed to the policies and the principles of the Republican party. It included also a vast multitude of men who had from their youth up hated Abolitionism, and detested the thought of negro equality in this land.

Still another force, and not a small one, had its influence. There were men of earnest minds, throughout the North, who seriously apprehended the undermining of the Constitution and the destruction of liberty in our country by the exercise of what are called war powers. These men were genuinely and patriotically alarmed when they saw the power of the National Government used to suspend the habeas corpus – that traditional bulwark of personal liberty the existence of which has been for many centuries regarded by all English-speaking men as their most priceless possession. When these men saw in addition a declaration of martial law, and the establishment of a system of passports as rigid as that of any military despotism, and when at last they saw the administration openly assuming and exercising the power of overturning the institutions of states by mere executive proclamation, they grew gravely alarmed for liberty itself. To them it seemed – rightly or wrongly – that in the struggle to free the negro slaves of the South there was very serious danger of incurring the loss of liberty to all men in this Republic. Being unwilling to exchange all that is fundamental in the Republic for the freeing of some negro slaves these earnest thinkers, – whether mistakenly or not, – opposed with all their might the further progress of the war and sought in every legal and constitutional way to make an end of it.

This then was the situation. The North had armies in the field vastly outnumbering those of its adversary and immeasurably better equipped and supplied. But public sentiment at the South was a unit, while the North in its political views was a house divided against itself. For the South to have abandoned its cause at such a time and under such circumstances merely by reason of military reverses, when it still had in the field some hundreds of thousands of veteran troops, would have been an act of cowardice inconceivable to American men.

In New York City there was a complete failure to make adequate response to Mr. Lincoln's demand for further troops. Either the government must go without the important quota from the principal city in the nation, or else a draft must be ordered to make good the deficiencies in the volunteering. This Republic of ours had always thitherto depended upon the patriotism of its people for such strength as it might need in a fighting way. It had several times happened that during wars against foreign powers some parts of the country had manifested an unpatriotic lack of enthusiasm, and had failed to furnish their quotas of volunteers for the common defense. But there had been then no thought of dragging men unwillingly into the military service, although there had been great public indignation throughout the rest of the country over the unpatriotic attitude of a part of the Union. The quotas that some of the states refused to furnish were made good by a larger volunteering in other parts of the country.

But in 1863 the conditions were radically different. The war for which the new levies were wanted was a war against Americans, and not for the defense of the nation against foreign powers. In the view of very many men it was, rightly or wrongly, regarded as a war instigated by a sectional, political party in the name of the nation for the destruction of all that was fundamental in the nation. The time has long gone by when it was worth while to argue the soundness or unsoundness of these opinions. It is necessary now only to record the fact of their existence in aid of an understanding of what happened.

The draft was begun in New York on the eleventh of July, 1863. That date fell upon a Saturday. The draft had been opposed in some of the newspapers and in public speeches as unconstitutional, and as an invasion of those private rights which free government is instituted among men to secure. There was murmuring and muttering throughout the Saturday's operations and by the time that Monday came there was throughout the city an aroused spirit of protest which threatened violence. That violence came with a vengeance when the draft was resumed on Monday. Angry crowds surrounded the offices in which the drawings were to be made. The street cars were stopped and their horses unhitched. Then the draft offices were invaded and sacked, and in some cases the buildings were set on fire. At one point an entire block was burned by the mob; at another point there were battles fought between the populace and the police which rivaled in violence and in slaughter skirmishes on the lines in Virginia. Mobs filled the streets in every direction, and for a time had their own way. The office of the New York "Tribune" was assailed and it was defended only by running out chutes from which hand grenades could be dropped into the throngs below, and by arming the printers and other employees with muskets and abundant cartridges. The office of the "Evening Post" was defended against the mob by steam jets shot from hose attached to the boilers that worked the machinery and the presses.

In the meanwhile every negro who made his appearance in the street was assaulted and eleven of them fell victims to the anger of the populace. A negro orphan asylum in Fifth avenue at 44th street was sacked and burned by the infuriated rioters and its helpless little wards narrowly escaped by the way of back doors.

In Second avenue the police and soldiers were attacked from the windows and the roofs of houses. They quickly wreaked a terrible vengeance. They pushed their way into every house and every room of every house, assailed everybody they could find there, whether guilty or innocent of offense, thrust many of them through with bayonets without inquiring as to their degree of culpability, brained many others in like unquestioned manner with locust clubs, threw some of them over balusters upon the stones below, hurled some out of fourth and fifth story windows to be crushed upon the pavement, followed the fleeing ones to the roofs, and shot them there as the most northern of northern historians has recorded – we quote his exact language – "refusing all mercy, and threw the quivering corpses into the street as a warning to the mob."

All this occurred more than forty-five years ago. The war which gave birth to such fury is a matter of history now, not of controversy. It is not worth while nearly half a century later to inquire too curiously into the rights and wrongs, or into the responsibilities involved in such things. But it is perhaps of human advantage, or at the least of curious historic interest, to note that all these things were done in professed service to that personal liberty which free government among men is instituted to secure.

From the point of view of the angels and other superior intelligences there could be nothing more gruesomely ludicrous than the attitude and condition of the American people on both sides of the war-drawn lines at that period. On both sides men professed and honestly believed that their supreme concern was for the maintenance – in Mr. Lincoln's phrase – of a "government of the people, by the people and for the people." Yet on each side there existed, and men consented to it, a military despotism as arbitrary, as unreasoning, and as tyrannical as that of Russia itself. On either side no man could travel without permission of some provost authority which there was nowhere any power to question or any court to curb. On either side that military power which our Constitution requires to be always subordinate to the civil arm, had laid its iron hand without even the disguise of a velvet glove upon the fate and fortune and life of every citizen of a land supposed to be the freest on earth. In New York men could be butchered in their homes and thrown out of high windows without so much as the order of a sheriff in justification. In Richmond Winder's men made practical prisoners of all soldiers and citizens who undertook to traverse the streets upon however laudable an occasion.

It is always thus in war. No sooner is the military power invoked in aid of civil authority than it demands and enforces the abdication of all civil authority in so far as that authority may interfere in the slightest degree with its arbitrary execution of its own irresponsible will. So during this Confederate war of ours we see a great people, free by inheritance, free by tradition, and clamorously free by every conceivable act of self assertion throughout generations of history, suddenly and willingly surrendering to military despotism all that they had ever dreamed of, or clamored for, or fought for of personal right and immunity, and doing all this in the name and in behalf of liberty.

The despotism thus established at the South was more perfect and more arbitrary than that which fell upon the North because at the South there was practically no party in existence that antagonized the powers that were, while at the North there was such a party that must in some ways be reckoned with. Moreover, at the North the citizen who felt that he could not endure the despotism had at any rate the option to flee from it, and take up his residence in some foreign country in which he might enjoy an actually greater personal liberty; while the Southerner who felt himself equally oppressed and wronged was completely shut in and compelled to submit.

In the contemplation of history these facts and conditions are curious and curiously interesting.

These were the conditions of the war at midsummer, 1863, after Lee's retirement from Gettysburg, and after the loss of Vicksburg, Port Hudson and the Mississippi river by the Confederates. They were certainly not conditions suggesting an abandonment of the struggle by either of the contestants, or at all clearly foreshadowing its end in victory for either. Anything in the way of results still remained possible. To hopeful minds on either side everything of good seemed likely to happen.

So the war went on.

The Struggle for Charleston

The Confederate war necessarily involved military operations at very widely separated points at one and the same time. The telling of its story, therefore, of necessity involves a good deal of harking back, as the huntsmen say.

While Lee's tremendous campaigns in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania had been going on, and while Grant was engaged in conquering Vicksburg and reopening the Mississippi river, there was important fighting done at other points and particularly at Charleston in South Carolina.

The earliest efforts of the Federal Government to shut the Confederates in had been directed toward the closing of the port of Charleston. There first a blockading fleet had been established, and when it proved ineffective an effort had been made very early in the war to close the port by sinking hulks, loaded with stone in the main channels, leading into that harbor. Fortunately for all concerned, this effort permanently to close a commercial port failed completely and conspicuously. So far from obstructing the entrance to the harbor, the sinking of the hulks there had the effect of extensive dredging. The tide flows in and out of the port with a tremendous current which brooks no resistance. When the stone laden hulks were sunk this current quickly swept away the sand and mud from beneath them, so that presently the harbor entrance was found to have been actually deepened by the effort to close it.

From that time forward two objects engaged Federal attention so far as Charleston was concerned; one of these was to maintain in front of the harbor a blockading squadron strong enough to prevent the entrance and exit of ships. The other was to force the harbor itself, capture its defenses and recover the city to Federal possession. In both of these efforts the Federal operations failed, but in their progress they involved some of the severest and most picturesque battling of the war.

The profits of blockade running were so great that English capitalists invested lavish sums in the business as a promising speculation. They built ships of light draft, great power, and a speed greater than that of any vessel in the American navy for the express purpose of carrying on this forbidden traffic. These ships had but little free-board exposed above the water. They were painted a dull sage green, as nearly as possible the color of the sea itself, when looked at from a distance. They were commanded by daring navigators and manned by equally daring crews who stood ready to take any and every risk that might aid in the achievement of ends so profitable as those aimed at in this commerce.

And those profits were tempting in an extraordinary degree. With cotton purchasable in the South for a few cents per pound, payable in the enormously depreciated Confederate currency, and salable in England at almost incredibly high prices in gold, and with all forms of English-made goods bearing fabulous prices in the South, it was easily calculable that if a ship could complete one round trip from Nassau to Charleston and back again and then should be lost with all its cargo on a second attempt, there would still remain to the owners a profit of not less than a hundred per cent upon the money invested.

As a matter of fact the steamer Minho, and several others of the blockade runners continued until late in the war to make their trips successfully, almost with the regularity of packet boats. They carried into Charleston stores of quinine, opium and other drugs which the Confederate Government stood ready to buy at fabulous prices. They carried clothing also, and shoes and harness, all of which were eagerly purchased at any price that the importers might choose to charge. They carried out of Charleston the cotton to which the markets of the world were otherwise closed, and which could be purchased, therefore, at a price so low as to make its cost an inconsiderable fraction unworthy of consideration. So the blockade running went on.

So far as the reduction of the city and its defenses was concerned the failure of Federal efforts was still more pronounced. Great sums were expended, vast quantities of ammunition were wasted, and many lives were sacrificed in an effort – futile from beginning to end – to reduce this stronghold. Charleston, the birthplace of Secession and of the Confederate war remained in Confederate possession until the very end. The city did not fall under Federal control until those closing days of the war when Sherman, after his march to the sea, began his final movement northward in rear of the Carolina port.

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