« PreviousContinue »
General McClellan was promptly summoned to Washington from West Virginia, and placed at the head of the Army of the Potomac, as it was thereafter called. He was credited with a “celerity of movement” in his late operations quite in contrast with the motions thus far exemplified in this army - save in its retreat from Bull Run. He had sent inspiriting bulletins announcing victories, which now more than ever seemed a commendable thing to do. He was everywhere hailed by the press and the people as a rescuing chief, and to excited imaginations was radiant with reflected glories of the future.
To Major-General John C. Fremont, who had been given this rank in the regular army in May, had already been assigned the Department of the West, with headquarters at St. Louis. His department, created on the 6th of July, included the States of Illinois, as well as the States and Territories west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains. Fremont and Banks assumed their respective commands on the 25th of July. General McClellan, given his new command on the same day, arrived in Washington on the 26th.
Confederate success in the first real battle, fought almost within hearing of the Federal capital, gave the victors abundant prestige abroad. This was the more effective from the fact that Mr. Seward, in his diplomatic communications — not without regard to influence upon Conservatives and Southern Unionists at home — had eliminated the slavery question altogether from the issues of the war. Before setting out on his mission Mr. Adams was instructed (April 10th):
You will make no admission of weakness in our Constitution, or of apprehension on the part of the Government.
You will in no case listen to any suggestions of compromise by this Government with its discontented citizens. If, as the President does not at all apprehend, you shall unhappily find Her Majesty's government tolerating the application of the so-called seceding States, or wavering about it, you will not leave them to suppose for a moment that they can grant that application and remain the friends of the United States. You may even assure them promptly in that case that if they determine to recognize, they may at the same time prepare to enter into alliance with, the enemies of this Republic. You alone will represent the whole of it there. When you are asked to divide that duty with others, diplomatic relations between the Government of Great Britain and this Government will be suspended, and will remain so until it shall be seen which of the two is most strongly intrenched in the confidence of their respective nations and of mankind.
In his letter of April 22d to Minister Dayton in disregard of those who, like Mr. Sumner, had been urgent that the Administration, from the first, should be "pronounced on the side of freedom"- Mr. Seward said of the relations of slavery to the war:
Moral and physical causes have determined inflexibly the character of each one of the Territories over which the dispute has arisen ;* and both parties after the election harmoniously agreed on all the Federal laws required for their organization. The Territories will remain in all respects the same, whether the revolution shall succeed or shall fail. The condition of slavery in the several States will remain just the same, whether it succeed or fail.
* This recalls the words of Daniel Webster, in his conservative speech of March 7, 1850. California and New Mexico, he said, were “ destined to be free ... free by the arrangement of things ordained by the Power above us "-adding: “I would not take pains uselessly to reaffirm an ordinance of nature, nor to re-enact | the will of God.”
These words, written while the city of Washington was isolated by the insurgents in April, were substantially indorsed by Congress in July, after a battle gained by disunionists "in arms around the capital.” It is easy to see how such assurances from Mr. Seward might tend to build up a Union party to which Mr. Crittenden and other Southern leaders might belong; but for combating the influence of the Confederates in Europe, where the odium of slavery was their chief hindrance, the skill of such diplomacy is not obvious.
The Secretary had early undertaken to remedy the refusal of a previous Administration to concur in the declarations of the Paris Congress in 1856, which included the abolition of privateering; but all his attempts to have the case reopened were unavailing. He also labored hard, and quite uselessly, to secure a reversal of what was deemed the premature action of the British Government in conceding belligerent rights to the Confederates. England and France, it was known, had agreed to act in concert as to affairs pertaining to the Southern Confederacy; and Mr. Seward wrote to Minister Adams on the 3d of June that “the principal danger” apprehended by the President was that of " foreign intervention, aid, or sympathy on the part of Great Britain." What, then, might be the prospect abroad in the last days of July?
Congress — War-making and Slavery — Affairs in the West
- Army and Navy Operations on the Coast.
Congress remained in session until the 6th of August. The act providing for the levy of half a million men was uninfluenced by McDowell's defeat, having passed both houses before that event, though signed by the President the day after. The only legislation directly affecting the relations of master and slave in the fourth section of the Confiscation act — was no more radical in principle than the President's instructions previously given to commanders in the field.
The war, winding its long line across the country over slave soil, was perpetually colliding with slavery itself. Our wars with Great Britain gave the South memorable lessons on this point. Tens of thousands of slaves came within the British lines, voluntarily or otherwise, during the Revolutionary War, never to be recovered. Thousands carried away by the same power in the War of 1812, first into the British provinces on the north, and afterwards colonized in Africa, were long a subject of negotiation between the two countries, but the slaves never returned. Thomas Jefferson, who himself had severe losses of this kind, came in his later days to have a dread of servile insurrection in case of war with a foreign power and invasion of Southern territory; and Andrew Jackson in 1843, arguing for the annexation of Texas, presented this peril in strong colors. The uprising of slaves in Southeastern Virginia in 1831, and a similar trouble in Louisiana, combining with the horrors of the San Domingo insurrection, excited apprehensions which fervid imaginations dwelt upon, picturing the possibilities of a servile outbreak in this country on such a scale, and with such opportunities, as could nowhere else be paralleled.
The military proclamations of McClellan, Patterson, and Butler, on taking the field, reveal a consciousness of this dread, and a wish to allay it. Were not men who eschewed all race and caste distinctions, like Lloyd Garrison, consistent in denouncing these Northern Generals for offering under any circumstances to turn against their fellow-men seeking to be free? On military principles, it was argued that a servile insurrection ought to be viewed as a welcome reinforcement. On the other hand, men at the South, no longer affecting to deny the danger, used these military proclamations to increase exasperation against the North as inciting servile insurrection, and to intimidate their slaves with the pretense that they were to be massacred. *
One thing was certain — the inextricable complication of slavery with war-making on Southern soil.
* A respectable newspaper, the Mobile Register, said (May 25th): Servile insurrection is a part of their program, and the slaves are to be indiscriminately slaughtered; and when the last one is butchered, then it is thought the institution will cease to exist. . . . The Syrian massacres of the Christians and all the crimes of its bloody participants pale before the proposed atrocities of the Black Republicans.”