William Richards Castle William Roscoe Thayer.

The Harvard graduates' magazine online

. (page 2 of 103)
Online LibraryWilliam Richards Castle William Roscoe ThayerThe Harvard graduates' magazine → online text (page 2 of 103)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

interest in him. He is one of the few men occupying high place
during a momentous period of whom everything pay be told.
Therefore I shall speak of some of his mistakes with the utmost
freedom, knowing that the balance between his hits and his misses
will be on the right side.

When the Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter, it was appar-
ent that the North must wage a war of aggression in the effort to
compel the seceding States to remain within the Union, and that
1 Phi Beta Eapfpa Addreas delivered in Sandsn Thaafare on Monday, Jime 21, 1915.

Digitized by


2 Lincoln in Some Phases of the Civil War. [September,

soldiers, generals, and mnnitions of war were Iier most important
needs. Next was money, which has come to be called the sinews
of war. Then wise diplomacy was needed to prevent any inter-
ference of European nations which, from the nature of the case,
would be directed against the North. Great Britain was our chief
concern. With her our ties of commerce were close and our chief
staple, cotton, was the basis of her most important manufacture.
Her public sentiment was opposed to slavery and slavery was the
cause of the conflict. Her attitude during 1861, the first year of the
war, was stated with cynical frankness by her Prime Minister,
" "We do not like slavery, but we want cotton and we dislike very
much " your high tariff. The tendency of the nobility and higher
middle class was for various reasons toward sympathy with the
South, and their influence on the Government was, from the re*
stricted suffrage that then obtained, more powerful than it is at
present. Desirous as the North was for English sentiment in her
favor on account of the issue of slavery, the President and his
Secretary of State had to consider things as they were and not as
they wished them to be, and they must use every effort consistent
with honor to induce Great Britain to observe the neutrality
which she had declared. Seward, the Secretary of State, was by
his profession, experience of public life and association with men,
well fitted for his position, but at first he seemed to think that de-
fiant language was best suited to his diplomacy. Before Sumter
was fired upon, but when seven Southern States had seceded and
united in a Confederacy, Seward proposed a policy, which would
have resulted in a war with four European nations, based on the
idea that if a foreign war were brought about, the alienated sec-
tions would unite in amity and like brothers fight the common foe
under the old flag. After Sumter, his language to Great Britain
was that of menace and he deemed war with her possible. Here
Lincoln appeared at his best. He ignored Seward's preposterous
foreign policy, recommended before Sumter, in a manner to show
that it could not possibly be entertained, but he kept secret the
proposal, and, after hostilities began, he modified Seward's menac^
ing dispatch so that when it reached our Minister to Great Britain,
Charles Francis Adams, it had lost much of its sting.

After Seward had learned his lesson from his gentle master, he,
with the President and Adams, wrought together to induce Great

Digitized by


1915.] Lincoln in Some Phases of the CiiyU War. 3

Britain to maintain a strict neutrality. It was a never-ending
work, attended at times with difficulty. Our defeat at Bull Bun
was a powerful argument in favor of the South, for, as Adams
wrote, the English believe with Voltaire that God is always on
the side of the big guns.

Then there was a duel of journalists which was a cause of irri-
tation in both England and America. Nevertheless, the two
Grovemments were approaching diplomatically a good understand-
ing when a rash, *^ ambitious, self-conceited, and self-willed"
naval captain not only undid in an hour all the advantage Adams,
Seward, and Lincoln had gained in six months, but brought the
two countries to the brink of war.

James M. Mason and John Slidell, Commissioners from the
Confederate States to Great Britain and France, left Charleston
on a little Confederate steamer, and, evading the blockade, reached
a Cuban port, whence they proceeded to Havana and took the
British mail packet Trent for St. Thomas, where direct communi-
cation could be made with a British steamer for Southampton.
On November 8, 1861, next day after having left Havana, the Trent
was sighted in the Bahama Channel by the American man-of-war
San Jacinto^ under the command of Captain Wilkes. Wilkes
fired a shot across her bow without result, and then a shell ; this
brought her to. He ordered a lieutenant, accompanied by other
officers and a number of marines, to board and search the Trent^
and, if Mason and Slidell were found, to make them prisoners.
This was done against the protests of the English captain and of
a commander of the Royal Navy in charge of the mails.

On November 16, Wilkes arrived at Fort Monroe ; next day
the country had the news. Rejoicing over the seizure, as if a great
battle had been won, the Northern people completely lost their
heads. Having yearned for a victory, they now held in their
hands the two Southerners, whom, next to Davis and Floyd, they
hated the worst, and they had struck a blow at Great Britain for
her supposed sympathy with the South. All the members of 'the
Cabinet except Montgomery Blair were elated at the seizure. He
denounced it as '^ unauthorized, irregular, and illegal," and rec-
ommended that Wilkes be ordered to take Mason and Slidell on
an American war ship to England and deliver them to the Brit-
ish Government. Senator Sumner, then in Boston, said, "We

Digitized by


4 Lincoln in Some Phases of the Civil War. [September,

shall have to give them np,'' and he thought it better to act on
the case at once and make the surrender in accordance with the
doctrine we had held regarding the right of search. The Presi-
dent's impulse was in the same direction. On the day that the
news came to Washington he said, ^^ We fought Great Britain for
insisting by theory and practice on the right to do precisely what
Captain Wilkes has done." Lincoln rarely, if ever, acted on im-
pulse, but this w^s a case when the sudden first thought would
have led him in the right direction. For the surrender of Mason
and Slidell would have been a graceful, astute, honorable, and
politic act, and needed no more courage in breasting popular senti-
ment than Lincoln, in a domestic matter, had previously shown.

But a leader cannot always run counter to public opinion, and
at this time he feared to do it, although he must have realized
that the voices of Mason and Slidell were more eloquent from
Fort Warren than they would have been in London and Paris.
Indeed, as a mere matter of policy, the United States ought to
have made it easy for the author of the Fugitive Slave Law to
reach London and the champion of filibustering in the interest of
slavery to reach Paris, since their pleading could hardly injure
the Northern cause, so well was it understood, at any rate in Eng-
land, that they represented slavery. Slow to act and distrustful
of his impulses, Lincoln let the great opportunity slip when with
a word he might have won the equivalent of a successful campaign
in the field. Alike a leader and representative of public sentiment,
he in this instance suffered his representative character to overtop
the other. And the sympathy he felt with the popular opinion
toward the South and Great Britain prevented him from making
a brilliant stroke.

The result is well known. England made a formal demand for
the surrender of Mason- and Slidell and they were given up. But
it is not pleasant for a nation to act under compulsion. How much
better it would have been to make the surrender of our own free

The affair left a rankling wound. Lowell and Asa Gray, re-
garding the demand inconsiderate and peremptory, felt sore.
Darwin in June, 1861, had expressed his warm sympathy with
the North ; but now confessed that he felt the " Torifying influ-
ence " of " the present American row."

Digitized by


1915.] Lincoln in Same Phases of the Civil War. 5

After the li^ent affair oar foreign relations were conduoted with
marked discretion, due to the excellent work of Adams in Eng-
land, Sumner's wise, counsel, and Seward's efficient direction.
Back of them was Lincoln, patient and enduring. Whether or
not he made the remark often attributed to him, ^^ One war at a
time," he often thought it, and he was willing to support any one
who could tide over the difficulties constantly arising. He suffered
the violation of England's neutrality in the escape of the Florida
and Alabama without making it a cause of war. Welles, the Sec-
retary of the Navy, complained frequently in his diary that Lin-
coln and Seward were so afraid of a foreign war that they yielded
too much to England. Many patriots at the time shared his opin-
ion, but, as we review now the story of our intercourse with Great
Britain during our Civil War, it is a marvel that with so many
considerations involved, with so many causes of just irritation, our
pilots steered the ship of state safely through all the shoals and

But the North needed military success. When Charles Eliot
Norton wrote to his friend Curtis, ^^ Nothing will do for the coun-
try but victories," he expressed the thought in everybody's mind.
Adams in London yearned for them to brace his heart for his un-
comfortable task ; our Secretary of the Treasury needed them to
make the greenbacks go and to float his loans ; our Secretary of
State, to point his diplomatic arguments; and Lincoln desired
victories as the hart panteth after the water brooks. Before the
debates with Douglas in 1858, if Lincoln was known at all in
Boston or New York, he was looked upon as a fair country at-
torney of Illinois. Now this country attorney was the commander-
in-chief of the Army and Navy of the United States and had to
conduct what then seemed a gigantic war. Lacking technical skill,
he had to find it and, in seeking military ability, he was handi-
capped by the lack of positive opinions and good judgment of his
immediate advisers. Carpers and critics abounded and these often
thrust themselves forward without helping him out of his difficul-
ties. Nothing illustrates this better than his reply to Wade, a
radical Senator from Ohio, who pressed him to remove McClellan.
^ Put yourself in my place for a moment," said Lincoln. ^^ If I
relieve McClellan, who of all the men is to supersede him?"
"Why, anybody," replied Wade. "Wade," said Lincoln, ^^'any*
body will do for you, but not for me. I must have somebody.*^

Digitized by


6 Lincoln in Some Phases of the Civil War. [September,

While Lincoln committed many faults in military affairs, he
rarely if ever stumbled in the broad field of politics. He had
come to the fore on the slavery question and as. President he had
now to deal with it, belieTing as he did that slavery was the cause
of the war. As early as March, 1862, he proposed compensation
for the slaves, provided the States would, by their own action,
abolish slavery. Congress adopted a joint resolution, making an
offer to the States in the line of his recommendations. This offer
was made during military successes of the North, chief of which
was Grant's capture of Fort Donelson, and while, as a practical
measure, there was no expectation that any but the Union border
slave States would avail themselves of it, it was open to all and,
if the people of any and all the Confederate States had at this
time laid down their arms and respected the authority of the Na-
tional Government, they would have received, in a plan of gradual
emancipation, about four hundred dollars for each slave set free.

Lincoln measured the steps forward with discretion and kept
the determination of the slavery question entirely within his own
hands. He turned a deaf ear to overzealous counselors and he
rescinded orders for local emancipations of slaves issued by offi-
cious generals. The Union victories did not give cause for long
rejoicing ; they were followed by the disastrous result of McClel-
lan's campaign in Virginia, during the spring and summer of 1862.
This disaster impressed Lincoln with the conviction that slavery
must be struck at and he became eager to develop his policy of
gradual emancipation of the slaves, compensation of their owners
by the Federal Government, and colonization of the freed negroes
in Hayti, South America, and Liberia, for he believed that the
abolition of slavery by the slave States in the Union would make
it difficult for the Southern Confederacy to maintain much longer
the contest. Before Congress adjourned, he invited the Senators
and Representatives of the Union border slave States to the
White House and asked them earnestly to influence their States
to adopt his policy. But he was unable to secure the assent of the
border States to it. Bound up, as was slavery, with their social and
political life, they could not understand that its doom was certain.

The lack of military success hampered the President in this as
in all other action. It was part of the plan that payment for the
slaves should be made in United States six per cent bonds, and.

Digitized by


1915.] Lincoln in Some Phases of the Civil War. 7

while negro property had become admittedly precarious, the ques-
tion most have suggested itself, in yiew of the enormous expendi-
ture of the Groyemment, the recent military reverses, and the
present strength of the Confederacy, whether the nation's promises
to pay were any more valuable. Gold, becoming a measure of the
Union fortune, which on June 8, 1862, sold at three and one half
per cent premium, fetched, on July 12, owing to McClellan's de-
feat and a further authorized issue of paper money, fourteen per
cent. But it is certain that, if the border slave States had acted
promptly, believing with Lincoln that bonds wotdd soon '^ be a
more valuable possession than bondsmen," they would have re-
ceived for their slaves a fair compensation in United States bonds
instead of having subsequently to sustain a flat monetary loss
through the gift of freedom to the negroes.

During a drive to a funeral, a day after his interview with the
border State Sepresentatives, Lincoln opened to Seward and to
Welles the subject which was uppermost in his mind. The re-
verses before Hichmond, the formidable power of the Confederacy,
convinced him of the necessity of a new policy. Since the slaves
were growing the food for the Confederate soldiers, and served as
teamsters and laborers in intrenchments in the army service, he
had " about come to the conclusion that it was a military necessity,
absolutely essential for the salvation of the nation, that we must
free the slaves or be ourselves subdued."

On July 22, 1862, Lincoln read to his Cabinet, to the surprise
of all probably, except Seward and Welles, a proclamation of
emancipation which he proposed to issue. Reiterating that the
object of the war was the restoration of the Union, he proposed
emancipation *^ as a fit and necessary military measure for effect-
ing this object." Seward pleaded for delay, fearing that on
account of tJie depression of the public mind, the proclamation
might '' be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted Govern-
ment, a cry for help, the Government stretching forth its hands to
Ethiopia in a last shriek on the retreat." Better defer its issue, he
said, until we have some military successes. The President had
not seen the matter in this light ; struck with the wisdom of Sew-
ard's objection, he '* put the draft of the proclamation aside wait-
ing for a victory."

After McClellan's failure, John Pope was tried with a worse

Digitized by


8 Lincoln in Some Phases of the Civil War. [September,

result July and August, 1862, was one of the periods of gloom
when the Northern people would probably have abandoned the
contest if they had not had at their head an unfaltering leader like
Abraham Lincoln. Lowell expressed the thought of many despair-
ing people in his word, ^' I don't see how we are to be saved but
by a miracle."

Lee invaded Maryland. McClellan, restored to command, fol-
lowed him. They fought at Antietam ; McClellan won and forced
Lee to retreat. The historical significance of the battle of Antie-
tam is that it furnished Lincoln the victory for which he was
waiting to issue his proclamation of emancipation. Calling his
Cabinet together on September 22, 1862, he said to them, ^^The
rebel army is now driven out of Maryland," and ^^ I am going to
fulfil the promise I made to myself and to my God. I have got
you together to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your
advice about the main matter, for that I have determined for my-
self." He then read his proclamation of freedom: —

On the first day of January, 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State
. . . the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States,
shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.

On the morrow, September 28, this edict was given to the country.
Lincoln's policy regarding slavery was firm and consistent. Jn
his annual message to Congress of December 1, 1862, he took as
his text the sound and now familiar proposition, ^'Without slav-
ery the Civil War could never have existed ; without slavery it
could not continue " ; and showed in his argument a grasp of his
subject which, in the light of our subsequent experience, has
proved him a consummate statesman. He pleaded for gradual
emancipation, appointing January 1, 1900, as the time when it
should be completed to spare '^ both races from the evils of sudden
derangement." It is to be regretted that this prophetic appeal was
not reinforced by victories such as were wont to point the utter-
ances of Caesar and Napoleon. As matters stood, distrust of Lin-
coln pervaded both the Senate and the House, and for the moment
his personal prestige amongst the people had paled because his
armies had made no headway ; so it was hardly surprising that his
policy of gradual and compensated emancipation failed to receive
the approval of either Congress or the country. Nevertheless, he
had shown insight in seizing the moment of triumph to issue his

Digitized by


1916.] Lincoln i?i Some Phases of the Civil War. 9

Proclamation of Emancipation, as from Antietam in September,
1862, to Gettysburg in July, 1868, the North gained no real vic-
tory and her Army of the Potomac suffered two crushing defeats.

During the hundred days that intervened between September 22
and January 1, 1863, the day of the necessary complement to the
first proclamation, Lincoln's party had suffered defeat in the fall
congressional elections and Bumside had gone down before Lee,
yet the President did not falter. Regarding the proclamation ^^ as
a fit and necessary war measure," he wrote, on January 1, 1863,
^ I do order and declare that all pei*sons held as slaves " in the
States resisting the United States Government ^^ are and hence*
forward shall be free. • . • Upon this act, sincerely believed to
be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military
necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the
gracious favor of Almighty God."

If it be true, as Howells wrote, that we judge men more by their
manners than their qualities, many contemporaneous judgments
of Lincoln will be accounted for. Senators and Representatives
and others who met him frequently distrusted his ability and force
of character on account of his lack of dignity, his grotesque manner
and expression, and his jocoseness when others were depressed,
all viewed in the damning light of military failure. Ungainly in
appearance and movement, he gave no thought to the graces of
life and lacked the accomplishments of a gentleman, as no one
knew better than himself. ^* You cannot refine Mr. Lincoln's taste,"
wrote Emerson in his journal, during 1863 ; ^' he will not walk
dignifiedly through the traditional part of the President of America.
. • • But this we must be ready for and let the clown appear, and
hug ourselves that we are well off, if we have got good nature,
honest meaning, and fidelity to public interest with bad manners,
— instead of an elegant roue and malignant self-seeker."

Lincoln was stronger with those who did not come in personal
contact with him and estimated him by his formal state papers and
acts. Posterity, that has seen his ultimate success, bases likewise its
judgment and looks with admiration on the patience and determi-
nation with which he bore his burden during this gloomy winter
of 1862-63. The hand that draws Lincoln's grotesque trait may
disappoint the hero-worshipper, but the truth of the story requires
this touch which helps to explain the words of disparagement so

Digitized by


10 Lincoln in Some Phases of the Civil War. [September,

freely applied to him, and serves as a justification for those who
oould not, in the winter of 1862-63, see with the eyes of today.
Had his other qualities been enhanced by Washington's dignity
of manner, not so many had been deceived; but as it was, we
cannot wonder that his contemporaries failed to appreciate his
greatness. Since his early environment, in fostering his essential
capabilities, had not bestowed upon him the external characteristics
usually attributed to transcendent leaders of men, it was not sus-
pected that, despite his lowly beginning, he had developed into a
man of extraordinary mental power.

The President was patient with McClellan and clung to him
after it was apparent that he was not the man to command a large
army in an offensive campaign. Nevertheless, he made a mistake
in removing him when he was unable to substitute a better general.
Burnside, on whom the command devolved, made a brutal offen-
sive attack, in which he suffered a grievous defeat, and then, in
January, 1868, the President committed one of his worst errors
in placing Hooker at the head of the Army of the Potomac. In
his discouragement and growing irritability, he permitted himself
to be guided by public sentiment which had been serviceable in
political affairs ; he felt that a vote of the rank and file of the Army
and of the Northern people would have plainly indicated ^* Fight-
ing Joe Hooker." Lincoln disregarded politics in his military
appointments and he showed regard for the West Point education,
although he did not rate it as high as we do at the present day.
But in forming our opinion we have the whole experience of the
Civil War and the record of both sides, which attests by severe
and thorough practice the inestimable value of our Military Acad-
emy's training. While Hooker was a West Point graduate and
had proved an excellent division and corps commander, he had
neither the character nor the ability sufficient for the head of a
large army, as might at the time have been known.

Nevertheless Hooker had merit. When he took command, the
Army of the Potomac was depressed to a point of losing its spirit
and desertions were of alarming frequency. The General went to
work energetically to alter this condition and made his eminent
talent for organization felt throughout the army. The sullen gloom
of the camps disappeared ; the morale reached a high point. Early
in April the President, looking ** careworn and exhausted," paid

Digitized by


1916.] Lincoln in Some Phases of the Civil War. 11

Hooker a visit, reviewed the whole army and said that he was
^^ highly delighted " with all that he had seen. Soon afterwards
Hooker considered his army in condition to take the offensive.
Encamped on the north bank of the Rappahannock Biver he had
180,000 troops to oppose Lee's 60,000, who were at Fredericks-
burg. Hooker made a suceessf ol crossing of the river, and on the
morning of May 1, 1863, had assembled five corps under his
immediate command at Chancellorsville with two other corps in
supporting distance. He attacked ; Lee made a counter-attack.
Hooker lost nerve and issued an order to his men to fall back. The
retreat demoralized the army; and his vacillation lost him the
confidence of his officers.

After his retreat. Hooker decided to remain on the defensive
and he expected that Lee would make a frontal attack on his
center, to repel which he had made adequate preparation. But Lee
was not accustomed to do what his enemy desired. He saw that
such an attack ^' would be attended with great difficulty and loss
in view of the strength of Hooker's position and superiority of

Online LibraryWilliam Richards Castle William Roscoe ThayerThe Harvard graduates' magazine → online text (page 2 of 103)