« PreviousContinue »
ARMING NEGROES AS SOLDIERS.
It was the inauguration of the policy of arming the colored men, and was a most memorable event in the progress of that history, which placed nearly two hundred thousand colored men in the service of the United States. The sensitiveness of the public mind appears by the peculiar terms of the order, and especially by the words interlined by President Lincoln, qualifying the order, and disclaiming the idea that this was to “mean a general arming of them for military service.” It undoubtedly was the meaning and intention of the Secretary of War, except for such qualification, that there should le a general arming for military service, as private orders were given by General Cameron to General Sherman, to take with him to South Carolina ten thousand extra muskets. The execution of this order necessarily involved emancipation. It was submitted to the President, and received his careful consideration and deliberate sanction, and it was peculiarly appropriate that as the rebellion had its origin in South Carolina, the policy of emancipation should be inaugurated there.
In the meantime, what had been the progress of the Union arms? The disastrous battle of Bull Run occurred on the 21st of July. The administration, as has been stated, manifested the utmost vigor in reorganizing and enlarging the armies.
It now adopted the policy of placing at the head of the armies, young, ambitious and active men, and those who fully possessed the confidence of the people.
On the 25th of July, General Fremont had assumed com. mand of the Department of the West. General N. P. Banks reached Harpers’ Ferry, relieving General Patterson, by whose tardy movements, General Johnson was enabled to reinforce Beauregard on the battle-field of Bull Run, and snatch victory from McDowell; and on that day, General George B. McClellan assumed command of the Army of the Potomac.
The command in West Virginia was given to General Rosecrans, who had gained distinguished reputation at Rieb Mountain.
For the next ensuing three months, the greatest activity prevailed, in organizing the Army of the Potomac. In the Autumn, it had reached fully 200,000 men. Previous to the arrival of General Fremont in Missouri, the Union force had, under the gallant leadership of Generals Lyon and Sigel, greatly aided by the boldness, activity and prompt decision of Colonel Frank P. Blair, Jr., maintained the ascendency of the Union cause, and driven the rebels far towards the Southwest. The heroic Lyon fell at the battle of Wilson's Creek, while bravely leading a charge, and his loss to the Union cause was irreparable. More than any other, at that early day, he seems to have appreciated the magnitude of the rebellion. His action in Missouri was, from the first, prompt and bold. Modest, brave, rapid and decided, he left few equals. He ought to have been better supported. General Franz Sigel, a gallant German soldier, rallied the Germans of St. Louis, organized them into regiments, and rendered efficient service in maintaining in Missouri the Union supremacy.
It will be remembered that citizens of Illinois, scarcely waiting the action of the Government, had, on the opening of hostilities, promptly seized and held the very important strategic point of Cairo. This is the termination of the Illinois Central Railroad, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and is the key to the navigation of both. Such occupation was not too soon. Here began to be concentrated a very considerable force, and here came, very soon, the regiments of Colonels U. S. Grant, John A. McClernand, Palmer, B. M. Prentiss, Richard J. Oglesby, Paine, Wallace and others, whose names emblazon the records of Illinois. Commodore A. H. Foot, in August, assumed command of the naval forces being organized on the Western waters. The insurgent General Sterling Price, Governor Jackson, and Ben. McCullough, of Texas, were very actively engaged in movements to overrun and hold Missouri. On the 12th of September, Price attacked, with overwhelming numbers, the heroic Colonel Mulligan at Lexington, and notwithstanding a most gallant defense, compelled his surrender. As Fremont, in command in Missouri, was pursuing Price with a confident belief of overtaking and crushing him, he was, on the 2d day of November, relieved
of his command. General Fremont was the victim of indiscreet friends, of military jealousy, and political opposition. General Hunter, who temporarily relieved him, withdrew from the further pursuit of Price, in accordance with suggestions or orders from Washington.
On the 29th of August, General Butler, acting in conjunction with a naval force under Commodore Stringham, captured and took possession of the forts at Cape Hatteras, taking near seven hundred prisoners, guns, and a large amount of material of war.
General McClellan had organized, armed and drilled the immense army which had gathered around Washington; but as time passed on, and this great force remained inactive, shut up in the defenses of the Capital, the Potomac closed, and the rebel flag in view from the National Capitol, great impatience was felt at the inactivity of this army. Sensible men early perceived, that while in men, material of war and resources, we were greatly superior to the rebels, this inactivity was exhausting our resources, and that under it the Union cause was losing prestige; and the National spirit chafed and fretted against the humiliating spectacle of an army, 200,000 strong, permitting itself to be shut up, and almost in a state of siege.
On the 21st of October, occurred the sad butchery of Ball's Bluff; evidently a blunder and a sacrifice, for which McClellan was responsible. At this battle fell the eloquent and brave Senator from Oregon, Colonel Baker. In the light of subsequent events, it is most clear that this blunder should have caused the removal of McClellan. Had the President then relieved him, and could he have found a Grant, a Sheridan or a Sherman, to have placed in command, what myriads of lives might have been saved ! But McClellan had enjoyed the confidence of Scott, and Mr. Lincoln having given him his confidence, was very slow to withdraw it.
If he had remembered that McClellan had been a favorite of Jefferson Davis, while the latter was Secretary of Warthat he had been sent by him to the Crimea, to learn, from the Armies of France, Great Britain and Russia, how to fight, and that his early political associations had been with
the leaders of the rebellion and their sympathizers in the North—he would, perhaps, have been more slow in yielding his confidence, and more prompt in relieving him from command.
On the 16th of November, a force under Generals Grant and McClernand, advanced from Cairo to Belmont, attacked the rebel camp under General Cheatham, captured twelve guns, burned the camp, and took many prisoners. The gunboats Tyler and Lexington accompanied the expedition, and rendered efficient aid.
A few months after this battle, there came to Washington a fine, intelligent, young man, of pleasing address and manly bearing, who had lost his right arm at Belmont. He came highly recommended to ask the position of assistant commissary of subsistence, with the rank of captain. The Secretary of War, owing to some misapprehension, treated him with some rudeness, whereupon the Member of Congress by whom he was presented took him to the President. Upon his being introduced, Mír. Lincoln, glancing at the eloquent, empty sleeve, said: “My friend, can you write.” “O yes," said the young soldier, “here is some of my writing.” Look
“ ing at it, Mr. Lincoln instantly directed his appointment. “It is little I can do for you, to repay you for the loss of that arm,' said he, “but I gladly do this.” No wounded soldier ever approached Mr. Lincoln but he was received with the greatest kindness and friendship.
On the 10th of November, General Halleck assumed command of the Department of the West.
On the 8th of November, Commodore Wilkes, in the San Jacinto, intercepted the Trent, a British mail steamer from Hlavana, with Messrs. Mason and Slidell, late Senators, and then rebel agents on their way to represent the Confederacy at the Courts of St. James and St. Cloud. He took them prisoners, and bringing them to the United States, they were confined at Fort Warren, in Boston harbor.
The impulse of the people, already indignant at the conduct of Great Britain, exasperated by her early recognition of the rebels as belligerents, was to adopt, and take the consequences of an act which gratified popular passion and pride.
Congress was in session, and the House of Representatives, on motion of Lovejoy, immediately adopted a resolution of thanks to Captain Wilkes. Fortunately, the President and Secretary of State were cool and reticent, and did not yield to the passion of the day. Great Britain demanded their release. The President and Secretary carefully examined the precedents.
Were Mason and Slidell “contraband of war?" If so, was the method of their capture justifiable ? Resistance to the right of search had been one chief cause of the war with Great Britain in 1812. “One war at a time,” said Mr. Lincoln.
Mr. Seward concluded the argument of one of the ablest and most remarkable State papers of modern times in these words: “If I decide this case in favor of my own Government, I must disavow its most cherished principles, and reverse and forever abandon its essential policy. The country cannot afford the sacrifice. If I maintain those principles, and adhere to that policy, I must surrender the case itself.” The rebel emissaries were cheerfully surrendered to Great Britain.
Had President Lincoln, yielding to popular clamor, accepted the challenge of Great Britain and gone to war, he would have done exactly what the rebels desired, and thus made Messrs. Mason and Slidell incomparably more useful to the insurgents than they were able to be by hanging around the courts to which they were accredited. The sober second thought of the public cheerfully acquiesced in the course which their judgments approved.
The Confederate Government had relied with great confidence on its early recognition by the great powers of Europe, and the immediate concession to them of belligerent rights, encouraged them in this expectation. The leaders of the rebellion had been, to a great extent, the governing power at Washington, and there is no doubt, had received before the war opened, the encouragement of the representatives of European Kingdoms. The Confederates, therefore, rather rejoiced in the seizure of Slidell and Mason, believing it would bring on a war with Great Britain, and their own