XIII. THE CIVIL WAR.
[The Civil War.]
The great American Rebellion of 1861-65 is still, perhaps, too near to be judged with the calm and judicial spirit which gives its chief value to history. Thousands of those who took part in it on either side are yet living; millions who witnessed its progress, and watched its course with varying emotions of grief and joy, who mourned its dead, exulted in its victories, and hailed its termination, yet hold it in vivid memory. Moreover, all that could be said of it, from bald narrative to infinite discussion of this and that general, this and that campaign or stratagem, of causes and effects, has already been repeated till the tale has been, not twice, but many times told.
The results of that awful yet necessary conflict are still being felt, in one way or another, by all of us. Many a household still mourns the loss of those who died on southern battle-fields. We feel the war in our business, in our pockets. We feel it in the financial enigmas which even yet await solution. And although we have come to a period of reconciliation, when we can with free hearts garland with roses the graves alike of the blue and the gray, we feel still the indirect influences of the war in our political contests.
[Origin of the War.]
The war may be said to have had its origin in two not necessarily connected circumstances. It was the fruit, on the one hand, of a certain political doctrine; on the other, of a threatened and to-be-defended social condition. The political doctrine was that called "State's rights," from which two corollaries were deduced by Calhoun and his disciples: "nullification," or the right of a State to disobey a United States law; and "secession," or the right of a State to withdraw from the Union at will. The social condition was that of slavery, threatened, as the South thought, by the election of Abraham Lincoln, and to be defended under cover of the political doctrine which Calhoun had taught the South to credit and to cherish. Thus, while the cause of the rebellion was slavery, its justification was an asserted constitutional right. The North did not believe in slavery, or at least in the extension of slavery. But what the North at first undertook to subdue was not slavery in the States, but the altogether destructive doctrine of secession.
[South Carolina's "Ordinance."]
[Fort Sumter Taken.]
The threat loudly uttered during the election of 1860, that the South would secede if Lincoln were chosen, was duly followed up by action in a few weeks after that event. Before Christmas South Carolina had passed her famous "ordinance," and by early February, 1861, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas had followed in her footsteps. The senators and representatives of these States in Congress retired front its halls, breathing defiance as they went. South Carolina took the lead in military, as she had done in political action. Claiming the national property within her limits, she attached and took Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The way had been prepared for this by Secretaries Floyd and Toucey of the Buchanan Cabinet, who had sent South materials of war, and so disposed the navy as to render it for the time powerless for aid in the Union cause.
[Call for Troops.]
Lincoln was now President. The guns fired at Sumter roused the North, and gave the signal of war, proving that a conflict could no longer be avoided. Meanwhile, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas were hurried out of the Union by the political leaders. On the day following the fall of Sumter, the President issued his call for seventy-five thousand volunteers, and the governors were urged to send such forces as they could at once to Washington, which was threatened with an attack. Then came the assault upon the gallant Sixth Massachusetts in the streets of Baltimore, the isolation of Washington, and its relief. A blockade of the southern ports was proclaimed.
After a few minor engagements, such as those in Western Virginia, in which McClellan was successful, and at Big Bethel, the first great battle was fought on July 21, 1861, at Bull Run. This was in consequence of an attempt by General Scott to advance upon Richmond. The result was the total defeat of the Union army, which recoiled in confusion upon Washington. Later in the first year of the war, General Lyon gained some advantages over the rebels in Missouri, and naval expeditions were sent to Hatteras and Port Royal; General Scott yielded the command-in-chief to General McClellan, and rebel privateers appeared upon the ocean, and began their destructive depredations upon our commerce. Great Britain had too hastily recognized the belligerent rights of the rebels, and in November the capture of Mason and Slidell was followed by their delivery again to the protection of the British flag.
[Second Year of the War.]
The second year of the war found no less than half a million of soldiers enlisted in the army of the Union. It seemed as if we were now ready to cope with rebellion in all its extent and strength. The hope of an approaching and decisive triumph animated the hearts of the loyal. McClellan now led the Army of the Potomac against Richmond, approaching it from the east. Then followed the battle of Fair Oaks, and the Seven Days' battles, of which that at Malvern Hill was the most hotly contested. The Confederates were beaten, with terrible loss on both sides. Cedar Mountain and the second Bull Run followed, the latter proving a disaster as serious as the former struggle on the same field had been.