Page images
PDF
EPUB

328

LIFE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

vere.

that had a voice, rejoiced in rebel siccesses and federal defeats, and garbled and qualified all the news which favored the prospects of national success. Whatever may be the professions of England now, no true American can forget that all the influence she dared to give in favor of the rebellion was given, beginning promptly at the start; and that her position rendered the task of subduing the rebellion doubly se

Whatever may be the professions of her people now, no true American will forget the insults that were heaped upon his countrymen abroad whenever an allusion was made to the national difficulties, and heaped upon the country by the issues of a press that represented the British people, and persistently misrepresented our own. It was not, of course, to be expected that monarchies would be friendly to the great prosperity of democracies, or that they would give them their open sympathy and co-operation in difficulty; but the latter should be spared receiving the hypocrisies of the former as courtesies; and, after having been compelled to drink of gall for four years, should be permitted to remember that it was gall, and to make the best of it, without being persistently assured that it was honey.

The opening of the war found Colonel John C. Fremont in Europe; and he, with a large number of loyal Americans, hastened home to give their services to their country. Colonel Fremont, defeated as the republican candidate for the presidency four years before the election of Mr. Lincoln, had had military experience, and was recognized as a popular man, who would rally to his command, at the West, large numbers of soldiers, especially among the German population of the region. He received the appointment of Major-General, and on the same day (July 25th,) that General McClellan arrived in Washington to take command of the Army of the Potomac, he arrived at St. Louis, and entered upon the command of the Department of the West, to which he had been assigned.

Before General Fremont arrived at St. Louis, a battle was

fought on Wilson's Creek by General Lyon and General Sigel, with a large force under the command of Ben McCulloch. It was the second considerable battle of the war, and resulted in the death of General Lyon himself, and the final orderly retreat of the federal forces under Sigel. General Lyon had inflicted, with his little force of six thousand men, such injury upon McCulloch's twenty-two thousand, that the latter could not pursue; and, on the whole, there was no special discouragement as the result of the defeat.

General Fremont's name had a great charm for the western masses, and especially for the Germans; and volunteers in large numbers sought service under him. His campaign, upon the organization of which he entered with great energy, contemplated not only the restoration of order in Missouri, but the reclaiming the control of the Mississippi River. For this latter object, he organized a gun-boat service, which was destined to play a very important part in the operations associated with the western inland waters.

Missouri was in a condition of most unhappy disorder. It was a border slave state, containing many disunionists of its own, and abounding with secession, emissaries from other states, determined to carry it over to the confederacy. Brother was arrayed against brother. Neighborhoods were distressed with deadly feuds. Murders were of every-day occurrence

on every hand, and outrages of every kind were rife. The civil administration of the state was altogether unreliable ; and on the thirty-first of August, General Fremont issued a proclamation declaring martial law, defining the lines of the army of uccupation, and threatening with death by the bullet all who should be found within those lines with arms in their hands. Furthermore, the real and personal property of all persons in the state who should take up arms against the United States was declared confiscated to the public use, and their slaves, if they had any, were declared

free men.

This proclamation produced a strong effect upon the public mind. The proclaiming of freedom to the slaves of rebels struck the popular chord, particularly among thoroughly loyal men in the free states. . Of course, it maddened all the sympathizers with the rebellion, infuriated the rebels themselves, and perplexed those loyal men who had upon their hands the task of so conducting affairs as to hold to their allegiance the border slave states which had not seceded.

Mr. Lincoln did not approve some features of General Fremont's proclamation. As soon as he read it, he wrote, under date of September second, to the General, that there were two points in it which gave him anxiety. The first was, that, if he should shoot a man according to his proclamation, "the confederates would certainly shoot our best men in their hands in retaliation, and so, man for man, indefinitely.” Ile therefore ordered him to allow no man to be shot under the proclamation without first having his (the President's) approbation or consent. The second cause of anxiety was that the paragraph relating to the confiscation of property and the liberation of slaves of traitorous owners would alarm Unionists at the South, and perhaps ruin the fair prospect of saving Kentucky to the Union. He, therefore, wished General Fremont, as of his own motion, so to modify his proclamation as to make it conformable to the confiscation act just passed by the extra session of Congress, which only freed such slaves as were engaged in the rebel service. Mr. Lincoln did not wish to interfere with General Fremont, or unreasonably to curtail his authority, although he had assumed an unwarrantable responsibility in taking so important a step without consultation or notice. Congress had had that very matter in hand, and had embodied its opinion in an act. To this act he wished to have the General conform his proclamation, and that was all he desired. The wisdom of his criticism of the first point was proved by a document issued by the rebel Jeff Thompson on the same day he wrote it. “Jeff Thompson, Brigadier General of the first military district of Missouri," acting under the state government, did “most solemnly promise" that for every soldier of the state guard, or soldier of our allies, the armies of the confederate States," who should be

6

put to death under the proclamation, he would hang, draw and quarter a minion of Abraham Lincoln."

General Fremont received the President's letter respectfully, and replied to it September eighth, stating the difficulties under which he labored, with communication with the government so difficult, and the development of perplexing events so rapid in the department under his command. As to the part of his proclamation concerning the slaves, he wished the President openly to order the change desired, as, if he should do it of his own motion, it would imply that he thought himself wrong, and that he had acted without the reflection which the gravity of the point demanded. This the President did, in a dispatch under date of September eleventh, in the words: "It is therefore ordered that the said clause of said proclamation be so modified, held, and construed, as to conform to, and not to transcend, the provisions on the same subject contained in the act of Congress entitled, “ An act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes,' approved August 6, 1861; and that such act be published at length with this order.” Before this order had been received, or on the day following its date, General Fremont, though acquainted with the President's wishes, manumitted two slaves of Thomas L. Snead of St. Louis, in accordance with the terms of his proclamation.

Although Mr. Lincoln desired General Fremont so to modify his proclamation as to make it accordant with the act of Congress approved August sixth, it is hardly to be supposed that he did it solely out of respect to that act. Congressional acts that were passed under certain circumstances, could not be regarded as binding the hands of the executive under all circumstances; and when, in a state of war, circumstances were widely changing with the passage of every day, they would be a poor rule of military action. If he had believed that the tiine had come for the measure of liberating the slaves of rebels by proclamation, the act of Congress would not have stood in his way. This act was an embodiment of his policy at that time, and he used it for his immediate purpose. The day after he gave his modifying order, he received a letter from Hon. Joseph Holt of Kentucky, in which that gentleman spoke of the alarm and condemnation with which the Union-loving citizens of that state had read the proclamation, and begged him to modify it by an order such as he had already issued. Judge Holt concluded his letter by saying: “The magnitude of the interest at stake, and my extreme desire that by no misapprehension of your sentiments or purposes shall the power and fervor of the loyalty of Kentucky be at this moment abated or chilled, must be my apology for the frankness with which I have addressed you."

Complications in the personal relations of General Fremont and Colonel F. P. Blair, under whose personal and family influence General Fremont had received his position, occurred at an early day. Colonel Blair doubtless thought that he had not sufficient weight in the General's counsels, and the General, doubtless, exercised his right, in choosing his own counselors. Whether he followed the advice of others, or was guided by his own judgment and impulses, he conducted himself quite as much after the manner of an eastern satrap as a republican commander. The public found it difficult to get at him, he kept around him a large retinue, and dispensed patronage and contracts with a right royal hand. The most there is to be said of the matter, is, that it was his way. Power was in his hands, a great work was before him, great personal popularity attended him, and the sudden elevation was not without its effect upon him. Colonel Blair, who was the gallant commander of the First Missouri Volunteers, stood in a peculiar relation to him, and was not, by virtue of that relation, and by reason of a high and worthily won political and social position, to be lightly put aside. He came down upon his superior with a series of charges which covered a long catalogue of sins:-neglect of duty, unofficerlike conduct, disobedience of orders, conduct unbecoming a gentleman, extravagance and the waste of the public moneys, and despotic and tyrannical conduct. Among the specifications were Fremont's alleged failure to repair at once to St. Louis to enter upon his

« PreviousContinue »