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The United States of America page 2


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It was a task the enormous difficulty of which was at first imperfectly appreciated by the North. The Southern rising seemed to her nothing more than a gigantic riot, which she proposed to suppress in a few weeks. Inspired by this ill-founded confidence, her imperfectly disciplined troops were ordered to attack the Southern army, which lay at Manassas Junction in Virginia. The battle was bravely fought, and was approaching a victorious close, when it was turned into defeat and shameful rout by the arrival upon the field of Southern reinforcements.

This success confirmed the Southern confidence in the superiority of their own military prowess, and raised to the highest pitch their hopes of final triumph. It also revealed to the people of the North the true character of the enterprise which they had undertaken. But it did not weaken their settled purpose that the work, gigantic as it now appeared, must be accomplished. Government called for volunteers, and the youth of the country, rich and poor alike, crowded into the ranks. Congress resolved that the suppression of the rebellion was a sacred duty, from the performance of which no disaster should discourage; to which they pledged the employment of every resource, national and individual.

The South was able to supply her people with food from her own resources. But her progress in manufacturing enterprise had been inconsiderable, and her supplies of arms and ammunition, of clothing, of medicines for her sick, had to come from abroad. Before she could pay for these necessary articles, her cotton and tobacco must find their way to foreign markets. To shut her in, so that no commercial intercourse with the world was possible, was to inflict a blow which must prove scarcely less than fatal. Four days after the first shot was fired, Mr. Lincoin announced the blockade of all the rebel ports. The blockade was quickly made effective, and to the end of the war it wag rigorously maintained. New Orleans was brought with little difficulty back into the Union, and the rebels barred from intercourse with the world by the Gulf of Mexico. The possession of the Mississippi was an object of the highest importance to the North. Three of the revolted states - Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas - lay to the westward of the great river. If the river-line were regained, these states would be entirely severed from the other members of the Confederacy, and no help could pass from the one to the other. The work was difficult, for the South had done her utmost to hold a communication so vital. Gradually the Federals -possessed the Lower Mississippi, and extended their dominion northwards, till nothing remained to their enemies but the strong fortress of Vicksburg. General Grant, whose high military capacity had already signalized itself by many successful enterprises, besieged this last hope of the Confederacy in the west. It fell to his arma on the 4th July 1863. Henceforth the Mississippi was firmly held by the Federal power, and the rebel territory was cut in two. Meanwhile the war had been raging with divided success on the northern frontier of the Confederacy. The Southerners had chosen for their capital Richmond, the chief city of Vir-oinia, situated on the James River, one hundred and thirty miles from Washington. To force a way to Richmond, and drive the rebel government from the home which it had audaciously set up, was an object dear to the Northern heart. Two hundred thousand men destined for that enterprise lay on the Potomac, under General M'Clellan, by whom their equipment and discipline were carefully perfected. Between the Southern capitand that splendid army there interposed a greatly inferior Southern force commanded by General Lee. M'Cleilan advanced till he was within a few miles of Richmond, and then failed him, and without striking a blow he commenced to retreat. The rebels, with their weaker forces, pursued and attacked him. On each of the seven days of the retreat there was a battle, resulting for the most part in Federal success. But although often repulsed, Lee continued his pursuit till the Federals gained inglorious security beside their gunboats on the James River.

The exulting rebels, not fearing an army thus conducted, passed northward, and threatened Washington itself. M'Clellan was summoned in haste for the defence of the capital. A bloody but indecisive battle was fought in Maryland. Lee, not finding himself sufficiently strong to prosecute his invasion, withdrew southwards, and M'Clellan resumed his accustomed inactivity. But a more energetic leadership was now urgently desired, and the president relieved M'Clellan of his command.

During the earlier period of the war the slave question was a cause of some embarrassment to the Northern government. This cruel war had been caused by slavery, and it was not unreasonable that the North, in self-defence, should suppress the system out of which evils so measureless had flowed. Escaped slaves sought in crowds the shelter of the Northern armies. These were loyal subjects, while their masters were in arms against the Union. Could the government recognize the right of the rebel to own the loyal man? But, on the other hand, some of the slave states had remained loyal. Great care was needful that no step should be taken fitted to alienate or offend these states, and thus to hinder the restoration of the Union.

But American opinion, under the stern teaching of war, ripened quickly into the determination that as the slave system had taken the sword, it must perish by the sword. The president issued a proclamation, giving freedom to all slaves in those states which should still be in rebellion on New Year's day 1863. This proclamation gave freedom to over three million slaves. It did not touch slavery in the loyal states, for there the president had no right to interfere, But all men well understood that it rendered slavery henceforth impossible on any portion of American territory. And so it quickly proved. Before the war closed, the states which had remained loyal, or which had been brought forcibly back to the Union, freed themselves by their own choice of the taint of this unhappy system. Slavery was now abolished, but there was no legal security against its restoration. To render this for ever impossible, a clause was added to the Constitution, prohibiting slavery on American soil. Now indeed this evil system was finally extinct. This was the result which Providence had mercifully brought out of a rebellion whose avowed object it was to establish slavery more firmly and extend it more widely.

During the later years of the war the North exerted her giant strength to the utmost, in order to crush the stubborn defence of the revolted states. She had a million men under arms. She had six hundred ships-of-war. Her people supplied freely, although on terms whose severity patriotism did not appear to modify, the means of an enormous expenditure. Her own factories worked night and day to provide military stores; and their efforts were freely supplemented by the dockyards and foundries of Europe. Peaceful America was for the time the greatest military power of the world. Her soldiers had gained the skill of veterans. Among her generals men had been found worthy to direct the vast forces of the republic. Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, in especial, had given evidence of their possession of high military capacity.

While these enormous powers were called into action for attack, it became obvious that the resources of the South for defence were rapidly approaching exhaustion. Her isolation was almost complete. Prom time to time an adventurous ship stole into her harbours, and sold at excessive prices a welcome supply of arms and clothing. But these precarious supplies were wholly inadequate to the need. The South was in destitution of every article required for the prosecution of a great war. Her government was in utter poverty, having no better representative of money than a worthless paper currency, which was forced upon the reluctant acceptance of creditors. Her flag was unseen on the ocean, excepting where it was carried by two or three piratical vessels which preyed upon the commerce of the North. Her soldiers, forced into the ranks, freed themselves by desertion from a service which they knew to be hopeless.

And yet the skill with which these failing resources were directed by General Lee sufficed to gain important advantages, and shed lustre over a doomed cause. In the third year of the war Lee repulsed with heavy loss every effort which was made in the direction of Richmond. So completely, for the time, had he established a supremacy over his assailants, that he crossed the Potomac and followed them into Pennsylvania. At the little town of Gettysburg the armies met and fought for three days. On the third day Lee gathered all his force for a decisive attack on the Federal position. He was repulsed with terrible slaughter. It was the most disastrous battle which he had ever fought, for in killed, wounded, and prisoners he lost one-half of the troops engaged. He retreated at once, and the war was never again carried into Northern territory.

General Grant was now raised to the chief command of the Union forces, and was summoned eastward to direct a campaign which all men expected to be final. Lee, unable now to gather more than sixty thousand men around his standards, held a position in the Wilderness, a desolate region of northern Virginia, where he awaited the attack of his powerful antagonist. Grant, with a magnificent army of one hundred and twenty thousand veterans, crossed the Rapidan. Eight days of continuous fighting ensued. It was Lee's practice to throw up earthworks, which served to equalize the otherwise unequal strength of the combatants. When Grant found himself unable to force these defences, he passed southward by the flank of his enemy, compelling Lee constantly to retire to a new position. Frightful losses were sustained. In one week Grant lost thirty thousand men. The Southern losses were proportionately heavy. But Grant had ample resources from which to recruit his ranks, while Lee was irreparably weakened.

Grant fought his way southwards until both armies stood twenty miles beyond Richmond, before the little town of Petersburg. This was the position chosen for the final conflict. It was the purpose of General Grant to straiten the supplies of his enemy by cutting the railroads which maintained his connection with the interior, and, to wear down his strength by the continual attack of superior forces. The result was no longer doubtful. The Northern troops pressed on in full confidence of victory. General Lee had for some time looked upon the position of the Confederacy as desperate, and his soldiers, although they fought bravely, fought without hope.

The contest stretched over ten weary months. Earthworks were thrown up on either side so industriously, that in the end there were intrenchments forty miles in length. The outposts of the armies were within talking distance of each other. The Federals had boundless supplies brought by their ships to City Point, eleven miles away, and sent thence by a railroad to the camp; reinforcements came at the call of their general. The poor Confederates were habitually ill supplied with food. Every available man was already in the ranks; if men could have been found, there were no arms to give them. The strength of the Confederacy waned so steadily that Grant became anxious lest General Lee should take to flight and renew the war on other fields. He prepared an attack with overwhelming numbers upon the enfeebled Southern lines. He stormed a fort in the centre of Lee's position, cutting his army in two, and making an immediate retreat inevitable. The rebel government fled from Richmond, and General Lee, a few days afterwards, laid down his arms. The North had triumphed. After four years of war the rebellion was quelled, and the authority of the Federal government was undisputed from Atlantic to Pacific, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

The South had fought out the war to its bitter end, not ceasing from her resistance till the extremity of exhaustion compelled. She could make no terms; she lay wholly at the mercy of her conqueror. The great purposes for which she had striven so bravely had been rendered for ever unattainable. Slavery was extinguished. It was written in the blood of thousands of slaughtered men, so that the whole world could read that America was a nation, and not merely a temporary association whose existence was terminable at the pleasure of any of its members. The South accepted in good faith the decision of the sword (In 1868 General Lee said he could " promise for the Southern people that they will faithfully obey the constitution and laws of the United States, treat the negro with kindness and humanity, and fulfil every duty incumbent on peaceful citizens, loyal to the constitution of their country."). The North, singularly merciful in her use of victory, inflicted no penalty on those whom she had defeated. It was her sole concern now "to bind up the nation's wounds, to cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." But a great disaster was to interrupt and mutilate the performance of this blessed work.

Mr. Lincoln had been re-elected president, and entered upon Ms second term of office a few weeks before the close of the war. He was with the army when its final triumphs were gained, and he visited Richmond on the day of surrender, walking through the streets with his little boy in his hand. No heart in all the rejoicing land was more thankful and more glad than his. He occupied himself with measures for healing the nation's wounds. No thought of vengeance for the past was entertained. Security for the future was necessary, but it was to be sought for with all leniency and gentleness. Possessing as no man but Washington had ever done the confidence of the American people, Lincoln was pre-eminently fitted to soothe the humiliated South, and reunite the severed sisterhood of states. But the nation was to lose him when its need was at the greatest. A few days after the fall of Richmond, Mr. Lincoln visited one of the Washington theatres. He went with some reluctance, moved by the consideration that the people expected him to go, and would be disappointed by his absence. As the play went on, a fanatical adherent of the fallen Confederacy, an actor called Booth, made his way stealthily into the president's box. He crept close up to Mr. Lincoln, and holding a pistol within a few inches, lodged a bullet deep in the brain. The president sat motionless, save that his head sank down upon his breast. He never regained consciousness, but lingered till morning, and then passed away.

The restoration of order in the utterly disorganized South was a slow and difficult work. Eleven states were left without a legal state government, and their affairs were necessarily administered by the Federal executive. Unworthy persons obtained undue control, and in their eager and unscrupulous pursuit of personal advantage inflicted grievous wrongs upon the prostrated states. The finances of the South were in hopeless disorder. The debt contracted during the war was not burdensome; for the North ordained that it should not be recognized as a lawful obligation. But the temporary rulers of the South incurred fresh obligations, applying in large measure to their own purposes the loans which they were able to obtain. In some states the new debt thus incurred was repudiated; in others, no provision could be made for interest on the undisputed obligations of the state. The South was utterly wasted, and her recovery was unexpectedly slow.

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