A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part VII, Chapter 83." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 83
LINCOLN–FROM BULL RUN TO FORT DONELSON

IN the midst of all this confusion the new President took his seat. The Southerners were so angry that it was feared that Lincoln would never be allowed to become President at all, but would be killed on his way to Washington. Yet he himself felt no fear, and he journeyed slowly from his home to Washington, stopping at many places, and making many speeches on the way. Day by day, however, his friends grew more and more anxious. Again and again they begged him to change his plans and go to Washington by some other way. But Lincoln would not listen to their entreaties. At length, however, they became so insistent that he yielded to them.

Fears for the President

So instead of proceeding as he had intended, he left his party secretly, and with one friend turned back, and went to Washington by a different route. The telegraph wires were cut, so that had any traitor noticed this change of plan he could not tell his fellow conspirators. Thus, all unknown, Lincoln stole silently into the capital during the night. And great was the astonishment both of friend and foe when it was discovered that he was there.

 

Almost the first thing Lincoln had to do was to send relief to Major Anderson at Fort Sumter. So vessels were laden with food and sent off to the gallant little band.

Relief for Fort Sumter

But as soon as the Southerners heard the news they determined to take the fort before help could arrive. Soon a terrible bombardment began. Half a hundred cannon roared against the fort, shells screamed and fell, and the walls were quickly shattered. The barracks took fire, and after two days it became utterly impossible to resist longer.

The fort falls April 14th

So Major Anderson yielded, and with his brave company marched out with all the honours of war.

 

War was now begun in real earnest, although strange to say, in spite of the terrific firing, not a life had been lost on either side.

 

Both North and South now began to arm. But when the President called for troops four states scornfully refused to obey. These were Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, and instead of gathering troops to help the Government they joined the Confederates. Richmond, Virginia, was chosen as the capital and Jefferson Davis was made President of the Confederacy, which included eleven states.

 

In the west of Virginia, however, the people were loyal to the Union and it was here that the first great battles of the war were fought.

 

Life in this part of Virginia which lay beyond the Alleghanies was very different from life in Eastern Virginia. Western Virginia was not a land suitable for slaves, and for a long time the people had desired to part from Eastern Virginia. Now during the war they had their wish, and West Virginia became a separate state. In June, 1863, it was admitted to the Union as the thirty-fifth state.

West Virginia admitted to the Union, 1863

The war which had now begun was the most terrible ever fought on American soil. For far more even than the War of Independence, it was a war of kindred. It made enemies of comrades and brothers. Men who had been dear friends suddenly found themselves changed into ruthless enemies, families even were divided against each other.

 

For four years this bitter war lasted, and counting all battles great and small there were at least two thousand, so we cannot attempt to follow the whole course of the great struggle.

 

The first blood was shed, strangely enough, on the anniversary of the battle of Lexington. On that day some Massachusetts soldiers were passing through Baltimore, when they were attacked by the mob. Pistols were fired from the houses, paving stones and bricks flew about. Several of the soldiers were killed, many more were wounded; and to protect themselves they fired on the mob, several of whom were killed also.

19th April, 1861

The greatest leader on the Federal side was General Ulysses S. Grant, and next to him came William T. Sherman and Philip H. Sheridan. But it was not until the war had been going on for some time that these soldiers came to the front, and at first all the fortune was on the side of the South.

Grant, Sherman, Sheridan

General Albert S. Johnston was commander-in-chief of the Southern army but the two most famous Southern leaders were Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson. Jackson is best known by the nickname of Stonewall, which he received at Bull Run in West Virginia, the first great battle of the war.

Lee, Jackson

It seemed as if the Federals were winning the battle, and some of the Confederates were driven backward. But Jackson and his men stood solid.

Bull Run, July 21st, 1861

"See!" cried a general, "there is Jackson standing like a stone wall!" Thus Jackson got a new name, and the Confederates won the day.

 

"It was one of the best planned battles of the war," said Sherman afterwards, "but one of the worst fought. Both armies were fairly defeated, and whichever stood fast the other would have run."

 

Less than three weeks after Bull Run, the Federals met with another disaster at Wilson's Creek in Missouri. Here, after a desperate and gallant fight, they were defeated, and General Nathaniel Lyon, their brave leader, was killed.

Battle of Wilson's Creek, 9th Aug.

These defeats were a great shock to the Federals. For they had thought that the war would be a short affair of three months or so, and that the Southern revolt would be easily put down. Now they knew themselves mistaken, and pulling themselves together, prepared for a long and bitter struggle.

 

For some months, however, after Bull Run and Wilson's Creek no battle of importance was fought. Then in the beginning of 1862 the war was carried into Kentucky where a stern fight for the great navigable rivers which flow through the state began. For just as in the War of Independence the holding of the Hudson Valley had been of importance so now the holding of the Mississippi Valley was of importance. If the Mississippi from Cairo to New Orleans could be strongly held by the Federals, the Confederacy would be cut in two, and thus greatly weakened. "The Mississippi," said Lincoln, "is the backbone of the rebellion; it is the key of the whole situation.

Importance of Mississippi Valley

But to get possession of this key was no easy matter. Early in February two forts on the river Tennessee were taken by the Federals under General Grant. Then they marched upon Fort Donelson, a large and very strong fort on the Cumberland river. At the same time Commander Andrew H. Foote sailed up the river with a little fleet of seven gunboats to assist the army.

Andrew H. Foote, 1806-63

The weather was bitterly cold, and as the soldiers lay round the fort tentless and fireless, a pitiless wind blew, chilling them to the bone, and making sleep impossible. Foote with his gunboats had not yet arrived, but in the morning the attack on land was begun. Up the hill to the fort the Federals swept, only to be driven back by the fierce Confederate fire. Again and again they charged. Again and again they were driven back, leaving the hillside strewn with dead and dying. At length the dry leaves which covered the hillside took fire. Choked by the smoke, scorched by the flames the men could advance no more, and they sullenly retreated for the last time. The attack had failed.

Fort Donelson attacked, 13th Feb.

That night the gunboats arrived, and soon the bombardment from the river began. But the firing from the fort was so fierce and well placed that before long two of the boats were disabled, and floated helplessly down the stream, and the others too withdrew till they were out of range of the Confederate guns.

 

There was joy that night in Fort Donelson. By land and water the Federals had been repulsed. The Confederates felt certain of victory.

 

But the Federals were by no means beaten, and next morning they renewed the fight as fiercely as ever. Yet again the Confederates swept all before them, and the right wing of the Federal army was driven from its position and scattered in flight. Victory for the Confederates seemed certain.

 

During this fight Grant had not been with the troops, for he had gone down the river to consult with Foote, who had been wounded the day before. About noon he returned, and when he heard of the disaster his face flushed hotly. But he was a man who rarely lost his temper, or betrayed his feelings. For a minute he was silent, crushing some papers he held in his hand. Then in his usual calm voice he said, "Gentlemen, the position on the right must be retaken."

 

And retaken it was.

 

General Charles F. Smith led the assault. He was an old soldier who had fought under Zachary Taylor in Texas where "Smith's light battalion" had become famous. White haired now, but still handsome and erect, he rode this day in front of his troops, once and again turning his head to cheer them onward. Bullets whizzed and screamed about him, but he heeded them not.

Charles F. Smith, 1807-62

"I was nearly scared to death," said one of his men afterwards, "but I saw the old man's white moustache over his shoulder, and went on."

 

Hotter and hotter grew the fire, and the men hesitated and wavered. But the old general knew no fear. Placing his cap on the end of his sword, he waved it aloft.

 

"No flinching now, my lads," he cried. "This is the way. Come on!"

 

And on they came, inspired by the fearless valour of the old soldier. And when at length they had triumphantly planted their colours on the lost position, no efforts of the enemy could dislodge them.

 

Meanwhile another division under General Lew Wallace dashed up another hill with splendid élan, and when night fell, although the fort was still untaken, it was at the mercy of the attackers.

Lew Wallace, 1827-1905

Supperless and fireless, the Federals cheerfully bivouacked upon the field, for they well knew that the morrow would bring them victory. But within the fort there was gloom. Nothing was left but surrender. It would be impossible to hold out even for half an hour, said General Buckner, the best soldier, although the youngest of the three generals in command. The other two generals agreed, but declared that they would not stay to be made prisoner. So in the night they silently crept away with their men.

 

Early next morning General Buckner, left alone in command, wrote to Grant proposing a truce in order to arrange terms of surrender.

 

Grant's answer was short and sharp. "No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted," he said.

 

Bitter indeed were the feelings of the Confederate leader when he received this reply. But there was nothing left to him but to accept the terms. He was hopelessly outnumbered, and to fight longer would only mean the throwing away of brave lives uselessly. So he accepted what seemed to him the "ungenerous and unchivalrous terms" which Grant proposed, and surrendered the fort with all its guns and great stores of ammunition, and fourteen thousand men.

Fort Donelson surrendered, 16th Feb.

Up to this time Grant had hardly been heard of. He was a soldier indeed, and had fought in the Mexican War. But eight years before the outbreak of the rebellion he had left the army. During these years he had tried in many ways to make a living, but had succeeded in none, and at the beginning of the war he was almost a ruined man. Now he became famous, and his short and sharp "unconditional surrender" was soon a watchword in the Northern army. His initials too being U. S. he became henceforth known as Unconditional Surrender Grant.

 

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom