George Barton Ide.

Battle echoes : or, Lessons from the war online

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history of the world is marked by sudden
changes and startling evolutions. It is not
a dead uniformity an unvarying expanse.
We cannot compare it to a vast prairie,
where scarcely an undulation, and never a
hill, breaks the view ; where the streams all flow
with a sluggish and leaden current ; and where the
same succession of low banks and monotonous plains
forever repeats itself. Much more does it resemble
portions of our own Atlantic scenery, where the
traveller sees rugged mountains, jagged rocks, and
tumbling cascades, interspersed with glimpses of
fair and smiling valleys, and is surprised at every
step by some new feature in the landscape.

Such is the aspect which the progress of our
race presents. To a careless observer, survey-
ing it through the dim haze of the ages, it may
appear almost an unbroken level, with only here



and there a salieut point to arrest the eye. So
when you look forth from some Alpine summit
on a wide stretch of country over which the morn-
ing shadows are yet sleeping, its inequalities and
roughnesses may be so toned down by distance and
obscurity, as to render the prospect apparently
tame ; but, on a nearer inspection, the bold lines
come out, and you discover lofty ranges, precipitous
gorges, and rushing waterfalls, where before all
seemed so smooth and placid.

In following back along the centuries the way
of Divine Providence in the government of our
world, we are often perplexed by its intricacy,
often bewildered by its sinuosities, often con-
founded by its deviations from the course which
we ignorantly judge to be the true one. We
find that the ongoing of terrestrial events is not
equable and regular, like the flow of a broad
river rolling on in calm majesty, without a rut
in its current or a bend in its shores. Instead
of this straight and even movement, we perceive
in it all the diversified windings and alternations
of the mountain brook ; now leaping wild and
free from its rocky birth-place ; now pent up
and stagnant in its confined bed; now creeping
about among the hills, and losing itself in deep,
shadowy glens; now hurrying through volcanic
chasms ; now spreading out into a clear, still lake ;


now roaring over rapids ; now plunging down cata-
racts ; yet ever pressing forward, swift or slow,
through turmoil or repose, to its goal in the sea.

So it is with human history. It is full of abrupt
turnings and unexpected vicissitudes. In fact, it
would seem to be the design of God that the cause
of man should go forward, not with a quiet and
continuous progression, but by leaps and bounds
by forces brought to it at long intervals from
great epochs transition periods when civiliza-
tion and philanthropy enter upon new careers, and
put forth their energies in new directions. Such
an epoch was the Introduction of Christianity. It
closed up the old channels of thought, and opened a
new path of progress for the world. Similar epochs
were ushered in by the Invention of the Art of
Printing, the Reformation from Popery, and the
Discovery of America. Each of these events
changed the course of human opinion, and inaugu-
rated a new scene in the drama of the world's

Now, as these grand crises powerfully affect
the destiny of our race, so they modify in an
equal degree the duties and responsibilities of all
who would shape that destiny for good and
happiness. And hence the highest wisdom, in
times of social disturbance and upheaval, is to


know the lesson of the hour, and to do the
work of the hour.

We stand to-day at one of those momentous
turning-points in human affairs, which change
the face of history, and send down their influence
to the latest generations. Consciously or uncon-
sciously, we are actors in a struggle out of which
the Future is to be born. Without our knowl-
edge, and contrary to our desire, Jehovah has made
us His instruments in a strange and terrible con-
vulsion, through which it is clearly His purpose to
prepare the way of righteousness and peace.

Long have the prayers of the pious and the hu-
mane been going up to the Eternal Throne, that this
land might be purified from the guilt of Oppression ;
that it might be lifted out of the slough of wicked-
ness into which Slavery had plunged it, to the high
ground of fidelity to its own principles, and of jus-
tice to all ; and that Freedom might grow and tri-
umph, till not a chain should clank, nor a bondman
cower, under the symbol of our nationality. We
hoped, we believed, that hour would come. But we
deemed the period of its coming to be far distant.
And we looked for its dawning, not in thunder, and
storm, and earthquake, but amid scenes of tranquil-
lity its golden beams flushing an azure heaven, and
welcomed with the melody of songs, and voices of
love and blessing. That day has come sooner than


we thought, and not in the way we thought. Its
sun is above the horizon ; but it rises on a sky red
with blood, and lurid with the smoke and flame of
battle. The nation is in the throes of its second
birth. In the hot furnace of civil war its purifica-
tion is being accomplished. And out of the con-
suming fire, out of the strife and the agony, out of
the carnage and the woe, up from the gory fields
where our sons and brothers have fought and fallen,
up from their graves, springs the glorious form of
our new National Life, waving aloft the banner of
Emancipation, and "proclaiming Liberty through-
out the land, to all the inhabitants thereof."

In the pride of our vain wisdom, we marked out
for ourselves the way to political greatness. Across
the shaking morasses of Expediency, over the bot-
tomless bog of Compromise, we formed the track,
and laid the rails, and put on the train, and got up
the steam, and with rush and roar were sweeping
onward in our self-confidence, heedless of the abyss
which Slavery had dug in our path, and whose
yawning depths lay just before us. But God put
his hand to the brakes, and switched us off on a new
track, which He laid, and not man. There was
surprise, terror, outcry, at first. There are doubts,
apprehensions, tremblings still. But the road is
firm and straight, the engine sound, the cars stanch,
the Conductor all-wise and all-powerful, and the end


of our journey a vindicated Government, a re-
stored Union, a Free Nation already in sight.

A period so eventful must be full of grave prob-
lems ; and of these one of the gravest relates to the
measures which should be adopted in behalf of those
lately bound in chains, whom God, through the in-
strumentality of the war, is bringing out of bondage.

At the beginning of the fierce struggle that now
convulses the land, the people of the North had but
a dim perception of the stupendous issues which it
involved, and no clear foresight of the consequences
to which it would lead. They were animated by
the single purpose of suppressing treason, upholding
the Government, and maintaining the integrity of
the Bepublic. The overthrow of Slavery was not
their direct object ; for with whatever feelings of
abhorrence they may have regarded the system, and
however unquestioned may have been their right to
prohibit it in the Territories, they were precluded,
by the compromises of the Constitution, from any
forcible attempt to abolish it in the States where it
had been established by law. But as the war went
on and assumed unexpected proportions, as the
conflict grew thicker and more deadly, as the Re-
bellion developed its real strength and its atrocious
ami, it became more and more evident that we could
conquer it only by destroying the institution in
whose interest it had been commenced, and from


which it drew its vitality and its chief support.
Slowly and reluctantly we accepted this alternative.
It required the protracted frown of an angry Provi-
dence, months of disaster and defeat, the sacrifice
of countless millions of treasure, and of almost
countless lives, to bring us to it. But we reached
it at length. In obedience to the voice of the
people, the President, recognizing military necessity
as superior to all constitutional provisions, issued
his proclamation, declaring forever free the slaves
of the conspirators who were seeking to overturn
the Government.

This fact, the grandest in our history, infused a
new element of power into the conduct of the war.
It revived confidence. It gained for us the suffrage
of the world. It allied us with Heaven. It enlist-
ed in our cause the invincible might of Eternal
Right and Justice. It arrested the almost unbroken
tide of reverses that had carried mourning into
myriad homes, and ushered in those subsequent
successes and victories which have filled all loyal
hearts with rejoicing, and cast over the Rebellion
the shadow of its approaching doom.

Since this potent word of deliverance was spoken,
more than a million of slaves have obtained the
blessed boon of freedom, partly by escaping within
our lines from districts yet held by the rebels, and
partly by the progress of our arms in restoring the


authority of the Government over large portions of
the revolted States. And these are but the ad-
vance-guard, the forerunners of millions more who
will follow them out of the prison-house of bondage,
as the victorious forces of the Union open the way,
till Slavery and Secession foul mother and foul
child shall be driven forever from our shores.

With what glowing interest and sympathy must
we contemplate this multitude, thus led forth, by
the hand of God himself, from life-long vassal-
age to liberty and the possession of those person-
al rights which Heaven ordains as the inalienable
heritage of all ! And as we behold them strug-
gling up into the light of a better day, stamped
with the brand of chattelhood ; scarred with the
lash of the task-master; all covered with the
traces of the degradation and misery to which
they have been subjected, how impressively
must these questions present themselves to every
thoughtful and benevolent mind ! What is their
condition? What are their most pressing needs?
What must be done to prepare them for the
new circumstances in which they are placed? In
what way can their welfare be most effectually
secured ? And what are the reasons which render
this the great work of our time, and summon us
to give to it our utmost zeal and energy ?

Of the million already freed, about two hun-


dred and thirty thousand are in the military
service of the United States ; one hundred and
eighty thousand as soldiers, organized into regi-
ments and brigades, and so armed and drilled
as to be highly efficient ; and fifty thousand as
army laborers, workmen on fortifications, wagon-
ers, and hospital servants thus releasing an
equal number of white troops for active duty
in the field. The remaining seven hundred and
seventy thousand, though more or less dispersed
over the whole territory recovered from the
rebels, are chiefly to be found at Port Royal in
the Department of the South; at Newbern in
North Carolina; at Norfolk in Virginia; in the
District of Columbia ; on the Mississippi from
Helena to Vicksburg ; and in New Orleans. The
peculiar circumstances attending the early days of
their exodus exposed them to much suffering from
the want of food, clothing, and shelter. But
through the care of the Government, their own
industry, and the prompt aid of societies and
individuals, these necessities have been so far
supplied, that the freedmen are now, for the
most part, in a state of comparative physical
comfort. This statement, however, is not to be
received as absolutely and universally true.

Among the liberated bondmen, as among all
other classes of our population, examples of


indolence and unthrift may be found. Many,
too, have recently escaped from slavery, and
have not had time to redeem themselves from
the rags and beggary which they brought with
them. Such cases of distress, we are happy to
say, are now chiefly confined to the region of the
Mississippi. Owing to the unsettled and insecure
state of that Department, and the consequent
greater difficulty in organizing labor on the plan-
tations, large numbers there are still in great
destitution. But, leaving out of view these sad
instances of suffering, instances exceptional in their
character and rapidly passing away, we recognize
everywhere the broad and cheering fact, that the
condition of the freed slaves as to employment and
subsistence is far more satisfactory than even the
most sanguine could have ventured to predict.
So well provided are they in these respects, that,
as a general thing, they may be said no longer to
require our aid, or call for our solicitude. It is
in reference to their intellectual and spiritual wants,
that the most urgent appeal now comes to us.

In studying their needs under this aspect, it is
important to bear in mind the fact, that hitherto
they have been debarred from all means of educa-
tion, and from all correct religious teaching. Des-
potism always endeavors to keep its victims in ig-
norance, in order that they may be more patient and


submissive under its control. This has been its aim
in all lands and ages. In whatever form it exists,
whatever name it bears, whether that of hierarchy,
monarchy, aristocracy, or oligarchy, it seeks ever
to perpetuate its power by holding in darkness the
minds it would subject to its will. The motive
which induces the ruling classes of Great Britain to
withhold free schools from her crushed and imbruted
masses, is precisely the same as that which led the
oligarchy of the South to prohibit the instruction of
the slaves. The English aristocrat dreads the diffu-
sion of knowledge among the common people, lest
it should diminish their subserviency to the privi-
leged orders. His brother, the Southern oligarch,
feared to permit his slave to be educated, knowing
well that an educated slave would soon be a slave
no longer. Plence in all the slave-holding States the
most severe laws were enacted against teaching the
slaves to read. Little better were the opportunities
allowed them for religious instruction. They were,
indeed, permitted to hear what their oppressors
called the Gospel, dispensed by such lips as their
oppressors chose. But it was the Gospel of the
trafficker in human flesh the Gospel of the child-
seller and the woman-whipper a Gospel which
nullified marriage, denied their manhood, trampled
on their God-given rights, and held forth obedience


to their masters as the essence of all grace and

Coming out from such a condition, with the im-
press of generations of servitude and darkness upon
them, is it surprising that they should be ignorant,
superstitious, degraded ; or that the most energetic
endeavors should be demanded to fit them for the
new position into which they have been so suddenly
brought ? What else could we expect ? To suppose
that men, born and reared under the debasing influ-
ences of slavery, will become, by the mere act of
emancipation, intelligent, self-reliant, and compe-
tent to their own welfare, is to hope for that of
which the annals of civilization afford not a soli-
tary example. There is needed for them as once
there was needed for every race that has emerged
from barbarism the guiding hand of a wise phi-
lanthropy, to lead them on to knowledge, independ-
ence, and happiness. This necessity the Govern-
ment has felt strongly from the first, and has done
all to meet it which the overwhelming burdens of
the war have left it the ability to do. Numerous
voluntary associations are also co-operating in the
work with a liberality and an earnestness that are
full of promise. The noble enterprise is begun;
and it is only requisite that the Christian sentiment
of the North should be deeply imbued with the feel-
ing of its importance, and thoroughly roused to its


prosecution, iii order to put in action an array of
agencies that shall pour the light of education and
of a pure Gospel upon those millions of immortal
minds, which long years of chattelhood have be-
nighted and brutalized.

A single glance at what is being done, even in
this incipient stage of the movement, is enough to
inspire us with confidence and joy. For the freed-
men in the District of Columbia a village of neat,
comfortable homes has been built on Arlington
Heights, formerly the residence of the rebel Gen-
eral Lee. Who sees not the righteous retribution
of Providence in the fact, that the princely estate
of the man who has been the ablest champion of a
rebellion undertaken for the perpetuation of slavery,
should have been converted into an asylum for ne-
groes whom the crushing of that rebellion has set
free ? What a striking instance of that poetic jus-
tice which, though often portrayed in fiction, is so
seldom witnessed in real life ! Into this village the
freedmen have been gathered from the various camps
around Washington ; and there the problem of their
social amelioration is in process of successful solu-
tion. The men are employed on work for the Gov-
ernment, and in cultivating the adjoining farms.
They labor regularly and earnestly. And although
the season was far advanced before operations were
begun, the experiment has already more than repaid


the expense incurred. The charge of their mental
and religious training has been assumed by the
Tract Society at New York, under whose auspices
a commodious building has been erected, intended
for the double purpose of a chapel and a school-
house ; and at its opening, a few months since, cab-
inet ministers, members of Congress, and high offi-
cers of the army, made congratulatory addresses.
And well they might, for never did statesman or
warrior utter words on a nobler theme or at a
grander hour. In this house a day-school for chil-
dren has been commenced, with hundreds of pupils ;
and also an evening school for adults, which is nu-
merously attended. The capacity of the learners,
their desire for improvement, and their proficiency,
are eminently encouraging. In the formation of
provident habits, in domestic economy, in moral
culture, they manifest an equal progress. Indeed,
the whole population is represented as evincing, in
its industry, its thrift, its sobriety, strong indica-
tions of soon becoming an intelligent, self-support-
ing, well-ordered community.

Similar accounts come to us from almost every
point where any attempt has been made to succor
and benefit the freedmen. In the neighborhood of
Norfolk, large numbers of them have been placed
on the plantation of Henry A. Wise, where they
are now sustaining themselves by their own labor,


and are being rapidly educated by the churches and
schools which have been established among them.
A short tune ago in New Orleans, a lady, a native
of the city, perhaps one of those whom General
Butler converted, felt herself moved in spirit to
open a school for colored children. The first day
she had three pupils, and the third, three hundred.
A movement was then begun to increase the number
of schools, which has since been carried forward,
partly by governmental and partly by individual
patronage, until now there are ten schools, thirty
teachers, and two thousand pupils under instruc-
tion. A prominent citizen of West Virginia in-
forms us, that when that portion of the Old Domin-
ion became an independent State, there were in the
city of his residence several thousand slaves who
were then emancipated ; and that since that period,
they have built, chiefly with the avails of their
own labor, comfortable dwellings for their families,
erected two chapels and four school-houses, and are
now supporting their own pastors and teachers. In
North Carolina there are twenty-three schools, for-
ty-six teachers, and three thousand pupils.

At Port Royal and the adjacent islands the ex-
periment has been longer in operation, and the re-
sults are correspondingly more decisive. When
this portion of South Carolina came under our con-
trol, the Secretary of War immediately instituted


measures for the protection and welfare of the ne-
groes who had been abandoned by their owners in
their hasty flight from our victorious army. The
population of the Sea Islands has always consisted
almost entirely of colored people ; and since their
occupancy by our forces, this population has been
largely increased by slaves who have fled thither
from all parts of the State, to find freedom and safe-
ty under the flag of the Union. Over these growing
numbers the Government has exercised a watchful
and paternal care. Superintendents have been as-
signed to the plantations, and the freedmen encour-
aged to work by the offer of suitable wages. And
so fully has the effort succeeded, that the plantations
are now in a good state of cultivation, and the la-
borers well supplied and contented. Many have
even been able, from their surplus earnings, to pur-
chase land of the Government, and are now working
it on their own account ; and instances have occurred
of individuals realizing for their crop the past sea-
son, two or three thousand dollars beyond what was
needed for the support of themselves and families.
Nearly the whole town of Beaufort has thus passed
into the hands of freedmen, who now hold as owners
the mansions in which they once crouched and trem-
bled as slaves. If we take into account the de-
rangements which a change from compulsory to vol-
untary labor must at first inevitably create, the in-


terruptions incident to military occupation, and the
shortness of the period during which the new order
of things has existed, we cannot but acknowledge
the cheering character of the results. One impor-
tant step has at least been gained. It has been
demonstrated that the negro will work, and work
well, under the stimulus of compensation. He has
got over the idea that freedom means immunity
from labor. He has tasted the luxury of wages,
and is eager to acquire property and a home which
he can call his own. And when once this desire has
been aAvakeued, the ground has been won for higher
influences, that will enter in and complete his

Accordingly we find that while this improvement
has been going on in the industrial character of the
freedmen, there has been a similar progress in their
intellectual and religious development. Various
philanthropic associations have sent out teachers
and organized schools, which are filling those
dark places with the light of intelligence and truth.
In the Department of Port Royal, there are now
about fifty schools, with fifty teachers, and nearly
four thousand regular attendants, besides a like
number who- are receiving occasional instruction.
Little more than a year has passed since the educa-
tional arrangements were in such forwardness that
these schools could begin their work. Then, not


one among their pupils knew a single letter. Now,
nearly all of them can read with ease almost any
chapter in the Bible, and such plain pieces as are
found in ordinary school books. They have ac-
quired some knowledge of writing and arithmetic ;
can answer simple questions in geography ; give the
names and boundaries of the different States ; and
point out on a map the oceans, continents, and prin-
cipal countries of the globe. Their memories are
quick and susceptible, and they learn as readily, and
give as much evidence of capacity for intellectual
attainment, as children of any race whatever. They
are docile and affectionate, fond of going to school,
and delighted at being free. And, as an expression
of these feelings, they take great pleasure in the
singing exercises of the schools, and love to roll out
with the full strength of their voices,

" My Country, 'tis of thee,

Sweet land of Liberty,

Of thee, I sing;"

or those beautiful lines of Whittier, written express-
ly for the school on the Island of St. Helena :

" The very oaks are greener clad,

The waters brighter smile,

Oh, never shone a day so glad

On sweet St. Helen's isle.

For none in all the world before

Were ever glad as we ;
We're free on Carolina's shore,

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Online LibraryGeorge Barton IdeBattle echoes : or, Lessons from the war → online text (page 9 of 19)