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Chapter LXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 4


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If we try to put ourselves in the place of the Northern Americans, we shall feel that these and similar considerations naturally had great weight with them: but Englishmen could not but view the subject from their own point of view: and, so regarded, the line of conduct proper to be followed was by no means so clear. In the first place, the conduct of the Southern States in seceding bore at first sight a considerable resemblance to the conduct of the colonies in the War of Independence; on American principles, at any rate, it was not easy to see how they could be condemned. If the latter were right in breaking up the British Empire, why were the former so grievously wrong in breaking up the Federal Union? The answer of course is, that there was a just or sufficient cause in the one case, and not in the other; but it was not so easy for Englishmen at that time, the rupture having occurred so suddenly, yet seeming so entire, to decide this question at once and absolutely against the South. Nor could this be compared to any ordinary outbreak of subjects against their government - to an insurrection in Cuba for instance, or a mutiny in India. The Southerners had not seceded as individuals, or as factions; entire States - "sovereign" States, as the Americans loved to call them - organised for, and long accustomed to, the performance of all the functions of government, except as to certain matters reserved to the Federal administration, had withdrawn, from the Union, with an observance at least of the outward forms of law, and had coalesced again in a new confederacy. Whether this confederacy ought to be recognised as an independent nation, whether it would ultimately succeed in achieving its independence, these were questions on which. Englishmen could not as yet make up their minds; nor were they called to do so. But in presence of the facts, of an organised government, an extensive territory, a considerable mass of population, and formidable power of offence and defence, all appertaining to the new confederacy, the English Government naturally considered that, without prejudging any important question, they would be helping to define more clearly the exact position of affairs, if they recognised the Confederates as a belligerent power, declared the neutrality of England as between the two belligerents, and warned all British subjects to observe i strictly and impartially the duties of neutrals.

The proclamation of neutrality appeared in the London Gazette of the 14th of May. It began by taking notice that " hostilities had unhappily commenced between the Government of the United States of America, and certain States styling themselves the Confederate States of America; " announced the Queen's determination " to maintain a strict and impartial neutrality in the contest between the said contending parties," and commanded her subjects to observe a like neutrality. It recited at length various prohibitions of British criminal law contained in the Foreign Enlistment Act; enjoined obedience to these prohibitions; and concluded by a warning, addressed to all Her Majesty's subjects, that, should they infringe the law of nations by any violation of neutral duties, they would incur under that law penal consequences against which they would receive no protection from the Crown. The substantial part of it was the public declaration that, in the judgment of the Executive, a state of war existed, with all those incidents which are attached to a state of war by the law of nations. The " incident " most interesting to British subjects was the now recognised liability to capture and condemnation of any British vessel going to Charleston for cotton, or taking hardware to New Orleans.

A few days afterwards (June 1st) an Order in Council was adopted, interdicting the vessels of war or privateers of either belligerent from carrying prizes into any British port, at home or in the colonies. The operation of this order, the adoption or non-adoption of which was entirely optional with the British Government, was exclusively favourable to the Federals, since any prizes, taken by their cruisers could be carried into their own ports; whereas a Confederate captain after taking a prize, his own ports being blockaded, and British ports not open to him, had no alternative between taking a bond from her master, the future liquidation of which was highly problematical, and destroying his prize at sea. France and the other maritime powers quickly followed the example of Great Britain, both as regarded neutrality and the disposal of prizes (except that France allowed a captor to bring his prize into a French port, but not to sell it there); so that the Confederates soon found out that privateering was unprofitable, and abandoned it.

The captures and destructions of which we heard so much during the remainder of the war were all made by commissioned cruisers of the Confederate navy.

For the sake of continuity, a brief survey of the course of events in America, down to the close of the campaign of 1861, will here be attempted.

For some time after Mr. Lincoln's April proclamation, calling out 75,000 of the militia, Washington was in considerable peril. The district of Columbia, in which it stands, is hemmed in on all sides by the territory of "Virginia or of Maryland, both Slave States, opposed to; all attempts at coercion, and full of ardent sympathisers and co-plotters with the South. The Free States, especially Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, did indeed dispatch troops to Washington with all speed; but in passing through Baltimore a Massachusetts regiment was attacked by a furious mob, and several lives were lost; the telegraph lines communicating with Washington were cut, and the railways broken up; and Maryland was on the very brink of secession. The energy and decision of General Butler, commanding the Massachusetts contingent, soon changed the face of affairs. He first seized Annapolis, the political capital of Maryland, and, reconstructing the railway as he went on, brought his men safely to Washington, and relieved the anxious suspense of the Government; a few days after he marched upon Baltimore, and took military possession of the city on the 13th of May. The advocates of secession were silenced, and full communication between Washington and the north was restored.

Gradually a large army was concentrated round Washington, under the supreme direction of General Scott, commander-in-chief. On the 24th of May an advanced force of 10,000 Federals was thrown across the Potomac into Virginia. The army of invasion was placed under the command of General M'Dowell; the Confederate force that had been hastily drawn together to oppose him was led by General Beauregard. For several weeks M'Dowell remained inactive; his preparations being at length completed, he commenced his advance on the 16th of July. The Confederates in his front fell back till they had reached a strong position to the south of a small river called Bull Run, running down to the Potomac. On the eve of battle, at least one Federal regiment - the term (three months) for which they had enlisted under Mr. Lincoln's proclamation having just expired - faced about and marched homewards. This was not ominous of victory. On the 21st the Federals attacked in force the Confederates posted behind Bull Run. In the early part of the day, forced back by superior numbers, the Confederate troops slowly retired; it was believed that the victory was won, and tidings to that effect were flashed along the telegraph wires to all the cities of the North. But at the critical moment, 4,000 Confederates, under General Kirby Smith, detached to the assistance of Beauregard from General Johnston's army, posted at Winchester in the Shenandoah valley, were brought up in cars on the Manassas Gap Junction Railway, to a point near the scene of action; this fresh force turned the scale against the exhausted Federals, who at first retired in good order, but soon were seized by a panic, and fled in the greatest confusion. Arms, ammunition, and military supplies of all kinds fell into the hands of the victorious Confederates. Had General Beauregard pursued vigorously, the consequences might have been disastrous; but his own troops had suffered severely, the weather was not favourable, nor did he know how complete was the disorganisation of the beaten army. The loss on the Federal side in killed and wounded was about 1,500; that on the Confederate side was probably not much less. But they had driven their enemies in ignominious rout from the soil of Virginia, and that with inferior numbers; the omen of the first battle was favourable to them; and an exaggerated opinion of their own valour, and an undue contempt for their enemy, were thus engendered, which became at a later period most injurious to their cause.

No further attempt to invade Virginia was made during the remainder of the year. Most of the " three months' men," the 75,000 first called out by Mr. Lincoln, were mustered out of the ranks, or else quitted them voluntarily, and the new levies that were continually arriving at Washington had to be properly drilled and organised. General M'Clellan was summoned from Western Virginia to take the command of the principal army of the Union, practically superseding General Scott, who resigned, in November, his office of commander-in-chief. By the middle of October M'Clellan had 150,000 men under his command. It was, therefore, no difficult matter to re-occupy so much of the country beyond the Potomac as had been held by the Federals before the disastrous advance on Bull Run. On one occasion, in August, an incautious advance exposed a. body of Union troops to a bloody defeat at Ball's Bluff, a steep ridge bordering the Potomac near Leesburg; but, on the other hand, a slight advantage gained a few days afterwards at Dranesville over the Confederate horse revived in an extraordinary degree the drooping spirits of the Federals; it broke the spell of victory, and taught them to expect, under abler leaders, far different issues of battle from those which they had hitherto experienced.

In the border States, even in this, the first year of the war, the current of events was in the main favourable to the Federal cause. The Governor of Missouri, under the pretence of the confusion which reigned throughout the State, had the effrontery to declare that she had seceded, and applied on his own sole authority for permission (which was, of course, graciously conceded) that she might join the Confederacy. But the legislature, backed by the large free population of St. Louis and other towns in the eastern portion of the State, repudiated the acts of the governor, and civil war immediately broke out. General Lyon, a man of high character and great energy, took the command of the Union forces, and at first drove the opposite party to the western border of the State. In a rash attack, however, on the Confederate position at Wilson's Creek, near Springfield (August 10th), he was defeated and slain. General Fremont, appointed to command the western district, arrived at St. Louis at the end of July; to him belongs the merit of reinforcing, and thus securing for the Union, the important post of Cairo, the extreme southern point of Illinois, at the junction of the Ohio with the Mississippi. But Fremont was too much of an Abolitionist, and interfered too much with slavery, to suit the then policy of the Washington Cabinet; he was accordingly superseded in November by General Halleck. On the whole, the tide of Union sentiment rose steadily, and the Confederate General Price could do no more at the end of the year than hang on to the extreme south-western corner of the State of Missouri, ready to cross into Arkansas at a moment's notice.

Similarly in Kentucky, in spite of the most strenuous efforts of the friends of the South, the cause of secession retrograded. The military operations in this State bring before us two names destined before long to achieve a lasting celebrity. In October General Sherman took the command of the Federal forces in Kentucky, fixing his headquarters at Louisville; while in the course of the autumn, General Ulysses Grant, who now commanded at Cairo, seized and fortified the town of Paducah, near the junction of the Tennessee with the Ohio. The Southern sympathies of Governor Magoffin, like those of his brother governor in Missouri, proved powerless against the firm attitude of the Legislature. A Confederate army was assembled at Bowling Green, near the south-west corner of the State, and one or two of the south-eastern counties were overrun by the ill-disciplined troops of General Zollikoffer, who had crossed through Cumberland Gap out of Tennessee; but the bulk of Kentucky, at the end of 1861, stood firm for the Union. In Tennessee matters fell out differently. The population of the eastern or mountainous portion of the State was strongly Unionist; but the forward march of General Zollikoffer isolated them, and they were compelled for the time to cast in their lot with Secession.

In whichever direction one looked at the close of the year 1861 the tendency to disintegration had vanished, the distracting doubts and vacillations of its earlier portion were at an end. All had taken sides, and were ranged in opposing lines along a frontier of 1,500 miles, prepared to inflict or to suffer the worst. When, however, the immense preponderance of the North in population and wealth, the extreme vulnerability of the South on all sides - its border line inland being no deep and wide river or difficult mountain chain, but a mere conventional boundary marked out by surveyors, while by sea, through its want of a navy, its territory was assailable through every creek, inlet, and bay of its interminable coasts - when these things were taken into account, along with the evident exasperation of the North, the notorious tenacity of the race, and the manifest disposition of Europe to await the issue without interference, a calm and intelligent spectator might even then have predicted with tolerable confidence the ultimate ruin of the Confederacy and restoration of the Union.

Meantime, the prudence of the Federal Government averted a menacing peril, which, had it fallen upon them, might have been fatal to all their plans of conquest, gigantic as they were. The Confederate Government, being desirous of sending accredited representatives to the principal nations of Europe, appointed Messrs. Mason and Slidell on a special mission to the Governments of Great Britain and France. The real object of this mission, it was well understood, was to obtain recognition for the new State, or, at least, to pave the way for récognition. To the Northern Americans and their Government the thought of this was intolerably exasperating. There is a well-known maxim of Sir William Scott's that " You may stop your enemy's ambassador on his passage." Fortifying themselves with this, and forgetting in their haste to inquire into the exact nature of the circumstances to which the dictum applied, the American Government gave orders to its naval commanders to seize Messrs. Mason and Slidell wherever they could catch them. Hence arose the famous incident of the Trent.

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