A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part VII, Chapter 86." 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 86
LINCOLN–THE SLAVES ARE MADE FREE

THE Federals rejoiced greatly at the successes of Grant and the navy, and indeed they had need of success somewhere to keep up their spirits, for on the whole things did not go well. George McClellan was commander-in-chief, and although he drilled his army splendidly he never did anything with it. He was a wonderful organiser, but he was cautious to a fault, and always believed the enemy to be far stronger than he really was.

George McClellan, 1826-85

He was at last dismissed, and was succeeded by one commander-in-chief after another. Not none proved truly satisfactory. Indeed it was not until the last year of the war, when Ulysses Grant took command, that a really great commander-in-chief was found.

 

At the beginning of the war no matter who was leader the long campaigns in Virginia ended in failure for the Federals. On the Confederate side these campaigns were led first by Joseph E. Johnston, and then by the great soldier, Robert E. Lee.

 

Lee came of a soldier stock, being the youngest son of "Light Horse Harry Lee," who had won fame during the War of the Revolution. He was a noble, Christian gentleman, and when he made his choice, and determined to fight for the South, he believed he was fighting for the right.

Robert E. Lee, 1807-70

With Lee was Stonewall Jackson, his great "right hand," and perhaps a finer soldier than Lee himself. His men adored him as they adored no other leader. Like Cromwell he taught them to pray as well as to fight. He never went into battle without commending his way to God, and when he knelt long in prayer his men might feel certain that a great fight was coming. He was secret and swift in his movements, so swift that his troops were nicknamed "Jackson's foot cavalry." Yet he never wore his men out. He thought for them always, and however urgent haste might be he called frequent halts on his flying marches, and made the men lie down even if it were only for a few minutes.

"Stonewall" Jackson, 1824-63

To conquer such leaders, and the men devoted to them, was no easy matter, and it was not wonderful that the campaigns in Virginia marked few successes for the Federals. At length the long series of failures ended with a second, and for the Federals, disastrous, battle of Bull Run. This was followed two days later by the battle of Chantilly, after which the whole Federal army fell back to Washington.

Second battle of Bull Run, 19th Aug.; Chantilly, 1st Sept.;

Lee, rejoicing at his successes in Virginia, made up his mind then to invade Maryland, which state he believed would readily join the Confederacy. But he was disappointed. For if the Marylanders had not much enthusiasm for the Union cause they had still less for the Confederate, and the invaders were greeted with exceeding coldness. Their unfailing good fortune, too, seemed to forsake the Confederates, and the battle of Antietam, one of the fiercest of the war, although hardly a victory for the Federals, was equal to a defeat for the Confederates. For fourteen hours the carnage lasted, and when at length night put an end to the slaughter thousands lay dead on either side. Next day, having in a fortnight lost half his army, Lee withdrew once more into Virginia.

Antietam, 17th Sept.

Lincoln's chief object in carrying on the war was not to free slaves, but to save the Union.

Lincoln's chief object

"My first object is to save the Union," he wrote, "and not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves I would do it. If I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it. And if I could save it by freeing some, and leaving others alone I would also do that." Gradually, however, Lincoln began to believe that the only way to save the Union was to free the slaves.

 

Many people were impetuously urging him to do it. But Lincoln would do nothing rash. It was a tremendous step to take, and the question as to when would be the right moment to take it was, for him, one of tremendous importance. So he prepared his Proclamation of Emancipation and bided his time. Following his own good judgement and the advice of one of his Cabinet he resolved not to announce it so long as things were going badly with the North lest it should be looked upon as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help. It was not to be sent forth into the world as "a last shriek in the retreat," but as a companion to victory.

 

But victory was slow in coming. At length the great battle was fought at Antietam. It was scarce a victory, for the Federals had lost more men than had the Confederates. Yet it had to pass for one. And a few days after it Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Emancipation. In this he declared that in every state which should be in arms against the Government on the 1st of January, 1863, the slaves should be free forever more. This gave the rebel states more than three months in which to lay down their arms and return to their allegiance.

Proclamation of Emancipation, 23rd Sept., 1862

Meanwhile the war went on. In November General Ambrose E. Burnside was appointed commander of the army of the Potomac. He accepted the post unwillingly, for he did not think himself great enough to fill it. It was soon proved that he was right.

Ambrose E. Burnside, 1824-81

On December 13th a great battle was fought at Fredericksburg in Virginia. The weather had been very cold and the ground was covered with frost and snow. But on the morning of the 13th, although a white mist shrouded the land, the sun shone so warmly that it seemed like a September day. Yet though the earth and sky alike seemed calling men to mildness and peace the deadly game of war went on.

Battle of Fredericksburg, Dec. 13th, 1862

The centre of the Confederate army occupied some high ground known as the Maryes Heights, and Burnside resolved to dislodge them. It was a foolhardy attempt, for the hill was strongly held, the summit of it bristled with cannon. Yet the order was given, and with unquestioning valour the men rushed to the attack. As they dashed onward the Confederate guns swept their ranks, and they were mowed down like hay before the reaper. Still they pressed onward, and after paying a fearful toll in dead and wounded they at length reached the foot of the hill. Here they were confronted by a stone wall so thick and strong that their fire had not the slightest effect on it, and from behind which the Confederates poured a deadly hail of bullets upon them.

 

Here the carnage was awful, yet still the men came on in wave after wave, only to melt away as it seemed before the terrible fire of the Confederates. "It was like snow coming down and melting on warm ground," said one of their leaders afterwards.

 

Never did men fling away their lives so bravely and so uselessly. A battery was ordered forward.

 

"General," said an officer, "a battery cannot live there."

 

"Then it must die there," was the answer.

 

And the battery was led out as dashingly as if on parade, although the men well knew that they were going to certain death.

 

At length the short winter's day drew to a close, and darkness mercifully put an end to the slaughter.

 

Then followed a night of pain and horror. The frost was intense, and out on that terrible hillside the wounded lay beside the dead, untended and uncared for, many dying from cold ere help could reach them. Still and white they lay beneath the starry sky while the general who had sent them to a needless death wrung his hands in cruel remorse. "Oh, those men, Oh, those men," he moaned, "those men over there. I am thinking of them all the time."

Burnside's remorse

Burnside knew that he had failed as a general, and in his grief and despair he determined to wipe out his failure by another attempt next day. But his officers well knew that this would only mean more useless sacrifice of life. With difficulty they persuaded him to give up the idea, and two days later the Federal army crossed the Rappahannock, and returned to their camp near Falmouth.

 

With this victory of Fredericksburg the hopes of the Confederates rose high. They believed that the war would soon end triumphantly for them, and that the South would henceforth be a separate republic. There was no need for them, they thought, to listen to the commands of the President of the North, and not one state paid any heed to Lincoln's demand that the slaves should be set free.

 

Nevertheless on New Year's Day, 1863, Lincoln signed the great Proclamation of Freedom.

Lincoln signs the Proclamation of Emancipation, Jan. 1st, 1863

He had first held a great reception, and had shaken hands with so many people that his right hand was trembling. "If they find my hand trembling," he said to the Secretary of State, as he took up his pen, "they will say, 'He hesitated,' but anyway it is going to be done."

 

Then very carefully and steadily he wrote his name. It was the greatest deed of his life. "If my name is ever remembered," he said, "it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it."

 

And thus slavery came to an end. From the beginning of the war there had been a danger that France and Britain might help the South. Lincoln had now made that impossible by making the war one against slavery as well as one for Union. For both France and Britain were against slavery, and could not well help those who now fought to protect it.

 

Now that they were free, many negroes entered the army. At this the Southerners were very angry, and declared that any negroes taken prisoners would not be regarded as soldiers, but simply as rebellious negroes, and would be punished accordingly. But in spite of their anger many black regiments were formed, and proved themselves good soldiers. And before the end of the war the Confederates, too, were making use of Negro Soldiery. But this was cutting the ground from under their own feet, and showing the injustice of slavery. For as a Southerner said, "If a negro is fit to be a soldier he is not fit to be a slave."

Negro troops

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom