CHAPTER XVII. THE END OF THE WAR
"I think you need not trouble yourself about England. At this
moment opinion seems to have undergone a complete change, and
our people and indeed our Government is more moderately
disposed than I have ever before known it to be. I hear from
a member of the Government that it is believed that the
feeling between our Cabinet and the Washington Government has
been steadily improving."
Thus wrote Bright to Sumner in the last week of January, 1865. Three weeks later he again wrote in reassurance against American rumours that Europe was still planning some form of intervention to save the South: "All parties and classes here are resolved on a strict neutrality...." This was a correct estimate. In spite of a temporary pause in the operations of Northern armies and of renewed assertions from the South that she "would never submit," British opinion was now very nearly unanimous that the end was near. This verdict was soon justified by events. In January, 1865, Wilmington, North Carolina, was at last captured by a combined sea and land attack. Grant, though since midsummer, 1864, held in check by Lee before Petersburg, was yet known to be constantly increasing the strength of his army, while his ability to strike when the time came was made evident by the freedom with which his cavalry scoured the country about the Confederate capital, Richmond - in one raid even completely encircling that city. Steadily Lee's army lost strength by the attrition of the siege, by illness and, what was worse, by desertion since no forces could be spared from the fighting front to recover and punish the deserters. Grant waited for the approach of spring, when, with the advance northwards of the army at Savannah, the pincers could be applied to Lee, to end, it was hoped, in writing finis to the war.
From December 20, 1864, to February 1, 1865, Sherman remained in Savannah, renewing by sea the strength of his army. On the latter date he moved north along the coast, meeting at first no resistance and easily overrunning the country. Columbia, capital of South Carolina, was burned. Charleston was evacuated, and it was not until March, in North Carolina, that any real opposition to the northward progress was encountered. Here on the sixteenth and the nineteenth, Johnston, in command of the weak Southern forces in North Carolina, made a desperate effort to stop Sherman, but without avail, and on March 23, Sherman was at Goldsboro, one hundred and sixty miles south of Richmond, prepared to cut off the retreat of Lee when Grant should at last take up an energetic offensive.
In the last week of March, Grant began cutting off supplies to Richmond, thus forcing Lee, if he wished still to protect the Southern capital, to come out of his lines at Petersburg and present an unfortified front. The result was the evacuation of Petersburg and the abandonment of Richmond, Jefferson Davis and his Government fleeing from the city on the night of April 2. Attempting to retreat southwards with the plan of joining Johnston's army, Lee, on April 9, found his forces surrounded at Appomattox and surrendered. Nine days later, on April 18, Johnston surrendered to Sherman at Durham, North Carolina. It was the end of the war and of the Confederacy.
The rapidity with which Southern resistance in arms crumbled in 1865 when once Sherman and Grant were under way no doubt startled foreign observers, but in British opinion, at least, the end had been foreseen from the moment Sherman reached the sea at Savannah. The desperate courage of the South was admired, but regarded as futile. Equally desperate and futile was the last diplomatic effort of the Confederate agents in Europe, taking the form of an offer to abolish slavery in return for recognition. The plan originated with Benjamin, Southern Secretary of State, was hesitatingly approved by Davis, and was committed to Mason for negotiation with Great Britain. Mason, after his withdrawal from London, had been given duplicate powers in blank for any point to which emergencies might send him, thus becoming a sort of Confederate Commissioner at Large to Europe. Less than any other representative abroad inclined to admit that slavery was other than a beneficent and humane institution, it was felt advisable at Richmond not only to instruct Mason by written despatch, but by personal messenger also of the urgency of presenting the offer of abolition promptly and with full assurance of carrying it into effect. The instruction was therefore entrusted to Duncan F. Kenner, of Louisiana, and he arrived in Paris early in March, 1865, overcame Mason's unwillingness to carry such an offer to England, and accompanied the latter to London.