General Lee’s business was now to save his army. “This has been a sad day for us,” he said to a friend, “a sad day; but we can’t expect always to gain victories.” He rallied his broken troops, expecting to be attacked by the victorious Federals; but Meade did not follow up his success. Next day Lee began his retreat. In perfect order he moved towards the Potomac, and safely crossed the swollen river back into Virginia.
The losses sustained in this battle were terrible. Forty-eight thousand men lay dead or wounded on the field. Lee’s army was weakened by over forty thousand men killed, wounded, and prisoners. Meade lost twenty-three thousand. For miles around, every barn, every cottage contained wounded men. The streets of the little town were all dabbled with blood. Men were for many days engaged in burying the dead, of whom there were nearly eight thousand. The wounded of both armies, who were able to be removed, were at once carried into hospitals and tenderly cared for. There were many so mangled that their removal was impossible. These were ministered to on the field till death relieved them from their pain.
The tidings of the victory at Gettysburg came to the Northern people on the 4th of July, side by side with the tidings of the fall of Vicksburg. The proud old anniversary had perhaps never before been celebrated by the American people with hearts so thankful and so glad. Mr. Lincoln, who had become grave and humble and reverential under the influence of those awful circumstances amid which he lived, proclaimed a solemn day of thanksgiving for the deliverance granted to the nation, and of prayer that God would lead them all, “through the paths of repentance and submission to the divine will, to unity and fraternal peace.”
The deep enthusiasm which, in those anxious days, thrilled the American heart, sought in song that fulness of expression which speech could not afford. Foremost among the favourite poetic utterances of the people was this: —
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His Truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I have read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His Day is marching on.
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel —
“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal;”
Let the Hero born of woman crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;
Oh! be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet, —
Our God is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
These strangely musical verses were sung at all public meetings in the North, the audience ordinarily starting to their feet and joining in the strain, often interrupted by emotion too deeply stirred to be concealed.
The victory at Gettysburg lifted a great load from the hearts of the Northern people. There was yet a work – vast and grim – to be accomplished before a solid peace could be attained, but there was now a sure hope of final success. It was remarked by President Lincoln’s friends that his appearance underwent a noticeable change after Gettysburg. His eye grew brighter; his bowed-down form was once more erect. In the winter after the battle part of the battle-ground was consecrated as a cemetery, into which were gathered the remains of the brave men who fell. Lincoln took part in the ceremony, and spoke these memorable words: “It is for us the living to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people – by the people and for the people – shall not perish from the earth.”
Even before the disasters of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and while General Lee was still pursuing a course of dazzling success, it had become evident to many that the cause of the South was hopeless. A strict blockade shut her out from the markets of Europe. Her supplies of arms were running so low, that even if she could have found men in sufficient numbers to resist the North, she could not have equipped them. Food was becoming scarce. Already the pangs of hunger had been experienced in Lee’s army. Elsewhere there was much suffering, even among those who had lately been rich. The soldiers were insufficiently provided with clothing. As winter came on, they deserted and went home in crowds so great that punishment was impossible.
The North had a million men in the field. She had nearly six hundred ships of war, seventy-five of which were iron-clads. She had boundless command of everything which could contribute to the efficiency and comfort of her soldiers. The rolls of the Southern armies showed only four hundred thousand men under arms, and of these it was said that from desertion and other causes seldom more than one-half were in the ranks.
Money was becoming very scarce. The Confederate Government borrowed all the money it could at home, but the supply received was wholly out of proportion to the expenditure. A loan was attempted in England; and there proved to be there a sufficient number of rich but unwise persons to furnish three million sterling – most of which will remain for ever unpaid to the lenders. No other measure remained but to print, as fast as machinery could do it, Government promises to pay at some future time, and to force these upon people to whom the Government owed money. These promises gradually fell in value. In 1862, when the rebellion was young and hopes were high, one dollar and twenty cents in Government money would purchase a dollar in gold. In January 1863 it required three dollars to do that. After Gettysburg it required twenty dollars. Somewhat later it required sixty paper dollars to obtain the one precious golden coin.
It became every day more apparent that the resources of the South were being exhausted. Even if the genius of her generals should continue to gain victories, the South must perish from want of money and want of food. There was a touching weakness in many of her business arrangements. Government appealed to the people for gifts of jewellery and silver plate, and published in the Richmond newspapers lists of the gold rings and silver spoons and teapots which amiable enthusiasts bestowed upon them! When iron-clad ships of war were needed and iron was scarce, an association of ladies was formed to collect old pots and pans for the purpose! The daring of these people and the skill of their leaders might indeed gain them victories; but it was a wild improbability that they should come successfully out of a war in which the powerful and sagacious North was resolute to win.
1864 A.D. The Northern Government, well advised of the failing resources of the South, hoped that one campaign more would close the war. Bitter experience had corrected their early mistakes, and they had at length found a general worthy of his high place. Grant was summoned eastward to direct the last march on Richmond. The spirit of the country was resolute as ever. The soldiers had now the skill of veterans; enormous supplies were provided; everything that boundless resources, wisely administered, could do, was now done to bring the awful contest to a close.
When the campaign opened, Grant with one hundred and twenty thousand men faced Lee, whose force was certainly less by one-half. The little river Rapidan flowed between. The Wilderness – a desolate region of stunted trees and dense undergrowth – stretched for many miles around. At midnight on the 3rd of May, Grant began to cross the river, and before next evening his army stood on the southern side. Lee at once attacked him. During the next eight days there was continuous fighting. The men toiled all day at the work of slaughter, lay down to sleep at night, and rose to resume their bloody labour in the morning, as men do in the ordinary peaceful business of life. Lee directed his scanty force with wondrous skill. It was his habit to throw up intrenchments, within which he maintained himself against the Federal assault. Grant did not allow himself to be hindered in his progress to Richmond. When he failed to force the Confederate position he marched southward round its flank, continually obliging Lee to move forward and take up a new position. His losses were terrible. From the 5th to the 12th of May he had lost thirty thousand men in killed, wounded, and missing. The wounded were sent to Washington, and trains of ambulances miles in length, laden with suffering men, passed continually through the capital, filling all hearts with sadness and gloomy apprehension. The cost was awful, but General Grant knew that the end was being gained. He knew that Lee was weakened irrecoverably by the slaughter of these battles, and he wrote that he would “fight it out on this line, if it should take all summer.”
Grant found that a direct attack on Richmond was as yet hopeless, and he marched southwards past the rebel capital to the little town of Petersburg, twenty-two miles off. His plan was to wear down the rebel army by the continual attack of superior forces, and also to cut the railways by which provisions were brought into Richmond. By the middle of June he was before Petersburg, which he hoped to possess before Lee had time to fortify the place against him. It might have been taken by a vigorous assault; but the attacking force was feebly led, and the opportunity was missed.
And now there began the tedious bloody siege of Petersburg. The armies had chosen their positions for the final conflict. The result was not doubtful. General Lee was of opinion, some time before, that the fortunes of the Confederacy were desperate. The Northern Government and military leaders knew that success was certain. Indeed General Grant stated afterwards that he had been at the front from the very beginning of the war, and that he had never entertained any doubt whatever as to the final success of the North.
All around Petersburg, at such distance that the firing did not very seriously affect the little city, stretched the earthworks of the combatants. Before the end there were forty miles of earthworks. The Confederates established a line of defence. The Federals established a line of attack, and gradually, by superior strength, drove their antagonists back. Lee retired to a new series of defences, where the fight was continued. The Federals had a railway running to City Point, eleven miles away, where their ships brought for them the amplest supplies. Lee depended upon the railways which communicated with distant portions of Confederate territory. These it was the aim of Grant to cut, so that his adversary might be driven by want of food from his position. The outposts of the armies were within talking distance of each other. The men lay in rifle-pits or shallow ditches, watching opportunity to kill. Any foe who incautiously came within range died by their unerring fire. For ten long months the daily occupation of the combatants had been to attack each the positions of the other. The Confederates, by constant sallies, attempted to hinder the advance of their powerful assailant. Grant never relaxed his hold. He “had the rebellion by the throat,” and he steadily tightened his grasp. By City Point he was in easy communication with the boundless resources of the North. Men and stores were supplied as he needed them by an enthusiastic country. On the rebel side the last available man was now in the field. Half the time the army wanted food. Desertions abounded. It was not that the men shunned danger or hardship, but they knew the cause was hopeless. Many of them knew also that their families were starving. They went home to help those who were dearer to them than that desperate enterprise whose ruin was now so manifest. The genius of Lee was the sole remaining buttress of the Confederate cause.
Once the Federals ran an enormous mine under a portion of the enemy’s works. In this mine they piled up twelve thousand pounds of gunpowder. They had a strong column ready to march into the opening which the explosion would cleave. Early one summer morning the mine was fired. A vast mass of earth, mingled with bodies of men, was thrown high into air. The Confederate defence at that point was effaced, and the attacking force moved forward. But from some unexplained reason they paused and sheltered themselves in the huge pit formed by the explosion. The Confederates promptly brought up artillery and rained shells into the pit, where soon fifteen hundred men lay dead. The discomfited Federals retired to their lines.
When Grant began his march to Richmond, he took care that the enemy should be pressed in other quarters of his territory. General Sherman marched from Tennessee down into Georgia. Before him was a strong Confederate army, and a country peculiarly favourable for an army contented to remain on the defensive; but Sherman overcame every obstacle. He defeated his enemy in many battles and bloody skirmishes. His object was to reach Atlanta, the capital of Georgia. Atlanta was of extreme value to the rebels. It commanded railroads which conveyed supplies to their armies; it had great factories where they manufactured cannon and locomotives; great foundries where they laboured incessantly to produce shot and shell. Sherman, by brilliant generalship and hard fighting, overcame all resistance, and entered Atlanta, September 2. It was a great prize, but it was not had cheaply. During those four months he had lost thirty thousand men.
When Sherman had held Atlanta for a few weeks, he resolved to march eastward through Georgia to the sea. He had a magnificent army of sixty thousand men, for whom there was no sufficient occupation where they lay. On the sea-coast there were cities to be taken. And then his army could march northwards to join Grant before Petersburg.
Nov. 15, 1864 A.D. When all was ready Sherman put the torch to the public buildings of Atlanta, telegraphed northwards that all was well, and cut the telegraph wires. Then he started on his march of three hundred miles across a hostile country. For a month nothing was heard of him. When he re-appeared it was before Savannah, of which he quickly possessed himself. His march through Georgia had been unopposed. He severely wasted the country for thirty miles on either side of the line from Atlanta to Savannah. He carried off the supplies he needed; he destroyed what he could not use; he tore up the railroads; he proclaimed liberty to the slaves, many of whom accompanied him eastward. He proved to all the world how hollow a thing was now the Confederacy, and how rapidly its doom was approaching.
At the north, in the valley of the Shenandoah, a strong Confederate army, under the habitually unsuccessful General Early, confronted the Federals under Sheridan. Could Sheridan have been driven away, the war might again have been carried into Pennsylvania or Maryland, and the North humbled in her career of victory. But Sheridan was still triumphant. Oct. 19, 1864 A.D. At length General Early effected a surprise. He burst upon the Federals while they looked not for him. His sudden attack disordered the enemy, who began to retire. Sheridan was not with his army; he had gone to Winchester, twenty miles away. The morning breeze from the south bore to his startled ear the sounds of battle. Sheridan mounted his horse, and rode with the speed of a man who felt that upon his presence hung the destiny of the fight. His army was on the verge of defeat, and already stragglers were hurrying from the field; but when Sheridan galloped among them, the battle was restored. Under Sheridan the army was invincible. The rebels were defeated with heavy loss, and were never again able to renew the war in the valley of the Shenandoah.
The Slave question was not yet completely settled. The Proclamation had made free the slaves of all who were rebels, and nothing remained between them and liberty but those thin lines of gray-coated hungry soldiers, upon whose arms the genius of Lee bestowed an efficacy not naturally their own. But the Proclamation had no power to free the slaves of loyal citizens. In the States which had not revolted, slavery was the same as it had ever been. The feeling deepened rapidly throughout the North that this could not continue. Slavery had borne fruit in the hugest rebellion known to history. It had proclaimed irreconcilable hostility to the Government; it had brought mourning and woe into every house. The Union could not continue half-slave and half-free. The North wisely and nobly resolved that slavery should cease.
Most of the loyal Slave States freed themselves by their own choice of this evil institution. Louisiana, brought back to her allegiance not without some measure of force, led the way. Maryland followed, and Tennessee, and Missouri, and Arkansas. In Missouri, whence the influence issued which murdered Lovejoy because he was an abolitionist – which supplied the Border ruffians in the early days of Kansas – the abolition of slavery was welcomed with devout prayer and thanksgiving, with joyful illuminations and speeches and patriotic songs.
One thing was yet wanting to the complete and final extinction of slavery. The Constitution permitted the existence of the accursed thing. If the Constitution were so amended as to forbid slavery upon American soil, the cause of this huge discord which now convulsed the land would be removed. A Constitutional Amendment to that effect was submitted to the people. In the early months of 1865, while General Lee – worthy to fight in a better cause – was still bravely toiling to avert the coming doom of the Slave Empire, the Northern States joyfully adopted the Amendment. Slavery was now at length extinct. This was what Providence had mercifully brought out of a rebellion whose avowed object it was to establish slavery more firmly and extend it more widely.
But freedom was not enough. Many of the black men had faithfully served the Union. Nearly two hundred thousand of them were in the ranks – fighting manfully in a cause which was specially their own. There were many black men, as Lincoln said, who “could remember that with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they had helped mankind to save liberty in America.” But the coloured people were child-like and helpless. They had to be looked upon as “the wards of the nation.” 1864 A.D. A Freedmen’s Bureau was established, to be the defence of the defenceless blacks. General Howard – a man peculiarly fitted to give wise effect to the kind purposes of the nation – became the head of this department. It was his duty to provide food and shelter for the slaves who were set free by military operations in the revolted States. He settled them, as he could, on confiscated lands. After a time he had to see to the education of their children. In all needful ways he was to keep the negroes from wrong till they were able to keep themselves.
Four years had now passed since Lincoln’s election furnished the slave-owners with a pretext to rebel. Another election had to be made, and Lincoln was again proposed as the Republican candidate. The Democratic party nominated General M’Clellan. The war, said the Democrats, is a failure; let us have a cessation of hostilities, and endeavour to save the Union by peaceful negotiation. Let us put down slavery and rebellion by force, said the Republicans; there is no other way. These were the simple issues on which the election turned. Mr. Lincoln was re-elected by the largest majority ever known. “It is not in my nature,” he said, “to triumph over any one; but I give thanks to Almighty God for this evidence of the people’s resolution to stand by free government and the rights of humanity.”