Page images
PDF
EPUB

Daily experience illustrated this. Fugitive slaves were continually coming into the Union camps. Masters would come through the lines to reclaim their property. If all such claimants did not actually render the service of spies to the Confederates, if masters did not even send in their slaves and follow after for this express purpose, no thanks were due to the amiable Union commanders who gave the opportunity.

Butler, a Breckinridge Democrat in the Presidential canvass, found grave embarrassments as to the treatment of slavery thrust upon him soon after taking command at Fortress Monroe. Slaves escaping from actual service in Confederate batteries, and from other compulsory labor in aid of the rebellion, sought refuge within his lines. As a military officer, he saw clearly that such persons, at least, ought not to be sent back to help the enemy. He had the distinction of being the first commander to act upon the theory that such property was “contraband of war.” This was thought a bright idea, and found great popular favor as well as approval by the Government. “Contrabands” were set at work on the side they preferred.

But the matter speedily assumed a wider bearing. Butler wrote to General Scott on the 27th of May:

The inhabitants of Virginia are using their negroes in the batteries, and are preparing to send their women and children south. The escapes from them are very numerous, and a squad has come in this morning, and my pickets are bringing their women and children. Of course, these can not be dealt with upon the theory on which I designed to treat the services of able-bodied men and women who might come within my lines, and of which I gave you a detailed account in my last dispatch. ... I have, therefore, determined to employ, as I can do very profitably, the able-bodied

S, I am informail's Point, whichas a means ofen ablethe batteries passed by out hands, these the cut them the dekes.

persons in the party, issuing proper food for the support of all, and charging against their services the expense of care and sustenance of the non-laborers. ... Twelve of these negroes, I am informed, have escaped from the erection of the batteries on Sewall's Point, which fired upon my expedition as it passed by out of range. As a means of offense, therefore, in the enemy's hands, these negroes, when ablebodied, are of great importance. Without them the batteries could not have been erected, at least for many weeks. As a military question it would seem to be a measure of necessity, and deprives their masters of their services.

Secretary Cameron replied (May 30th), approving the General's action, and instructing him, while permitting no “interference” by persons under his command “ with the relations of persons held to service under the laws of any State," to refrain from surrendering to alleged masters any persons coming within his lines. “The question of their final disposition" was “reserved for future determination.”

Similar instructions were given to other department commanders. There was nothing more comprehensive or thorough in the action of Congress down to the close of the extra session — over two weeks after the unfortunate battle. In neither house was there a more zealous Abolitionist than Owen Lovejoy, who proposed nothing stronger than the following — an expression of opinion merely:

Resolved, That in the judgment of this House it is no part of the duty of the soldiers of the United States to capture and return fugitive slaves."

This was adopted, yeas ninety-two, nays fifty-five six Republicans voting against the resolution and no Democrat in its favor.

The fourth section of the “act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes," approved August 6th, simply provides — when relieved of luxuriant legal verbiage — that the owner of an escaping slave who had, with such owner's consent, been put to hostile service of any sort against the Government, should forfeit all right to reclaim such slave by judicial remedy. The act does not guarantee freedom to the fugitive; it promises him nothing. Whatever its practical purpose or effect, anything bearing the color of emancipation in terms would seem to have been studiously avoided. It does not go so far, in fact, as General Butler had gone, with the President's distinct approval, in making provision for the family of an able-bodied “contraband ” employed within the Union lines, and also in refusing to surrender to a disloyal master any escaped slave, whether known to have been previously doing service in direct aid of the rebellion or not.

The Congressional high-water mark of abolitionism at the extra session had only this very moderate altitude.

In Missouri, after General Lyon's occupation of Booneville (June 18th), Jackson and Price retired to the southwest corner of the State, crossing the Osage River, and concentrating all available forces in Cedar County, early in July. With hardly four thousand men in all, Jackson set forward to meet Ben McCulloch, who was coming with reinforcements across the Arkansas boundary. On his way Jackson had a brush with General Franz Sigel, who hurried on to Springfield, where General Lyon joined him on the roth with the main part of his command from Booneville. Lyon, greatly

was a

sas

outnumbered by the approaching enemy, asked for reinforcements, meanwhile strengthening his position at Springfield in expectation of an attack. The situation was substantially unchanged when Fremont arrived at St. Louis (July 25th) and took command of the department. Some days earlier, General John Pope had been assigned to the district of North Missouri, with the duty of protecting the railway from Hannibal across the State, and of safeguarding Union citizens and repressing guerrilla bands.

General Leonidas Polk - a West Point graduate, who left the army for the church, becoming in due time Bishop of Louisiana, and now turning back from altar to camp — had assumed the chief Confederate command in the West, with special concern for the salvation of Missouri and Kentucky. By his order, Price and McCulloch, three weeks after the Manassas battle, advanced against Springfield.

Five days after arriving at St. Louis, Fremont privately wrote to the President that nearly every county in Missouri was in an insurrectionary condition; that the enemy was advancing in force on the southern frontier; that “ within a circle of fifty miles around General Prentiss ” (at Cairo) there were above twelve thousand Confederate soldiers; and that five thousand Tennessee and Arkansas riflemen were advancing upon Ironton. He (Fremont) was “sorely pressed for arms”; the soldiers had not been paid; and some regiments were “in a state of mutiny.” He was in great want of money, and helped himself, as thus reported: "The Treasurer of the United States has here $300,000 entirely unappropriated. I applied to him yesterday for $100,000 for my paymaster, General Andrews, but was refused. We have not an hour for delay. ... This morning I will order the Treasurer to deliver the money in his possession to General Andrews, and will send a force to the treasury to take the money, and will direct such payments as the exigency requires.”

It was eleven days yet to the encounter between Lyon and the enemy in the southwest. Fremont was not indifferent to the expected event, but only ordered two additional regiments to be sent to Springfield. Unhappily, Lyon was neither adequately supported nor withdrawn from his perilous situation. A man of bold courage, alert and aggressive as from the first, on learning that the enemy, about twenty thousand strong, was encamped at Wilson's Creek, nine miles away, he would neither retreat nor await the onset. On the afternoon of August 9th preparation was made for attacking Price and McCulloch at daybreak the next morning, one column under Sigel making a detour by the Fayetteville road to the Confederate rear, while Lyon, with the remainder of his forces, was to strike the adversary's advance camp. The movement began at 5 o'clock that evening. Lyon drove in the enemy's pickets very early on the morning of the ioth. The enemy was soon astir, and the fight went on with alternating onset and repulse until, before a terrific charge of the enemy, about 9 o'clock, the slender Union force seemed to waver. Lyon, whose horse had been shot under him, and who had himself been three times wounded during the morning, again mounted, put himself at the head of an Iowa regiment whose Colonel had been killed, and ordered a bayonet charge. Almost at the moment his breast was

« PreviousContinue »