Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

WAR FOR THE UNION.

Ox the 4th of March, 1801, when Abraham Lincoln took the inaugural oath in front of the National Capitol, his footprints upon the marble marked the great and terrible epoch in the history of our government. The scene was imbued with a grandeur undiscovered and without acknowledgment from the thousands and thousands of freemen ,who crowded and surged like an ocean at his feet.

An old man, bowed both by responsibility and years, stood by his side, then and there to render up his august position over a great country, at the very moment struggling with the first throes of civil war. How weary he had become, and how gladly he laid down the burden of his power, no heart save his own can tell. But the darkness and (he thunders of coming strife followed alike James Buchanan in his retirement and Abraham Lincoln into the thorny splendors of the White House. Solemn and very sad were these two men as they stood for a brief space before the people. The splendor of power brought no happiness either in the giving or receiving. No two men upon the face of the earth ever stood before a people in an attitude so imposing, so fraaght with terrible events. When they shook hands peace veiled her face, and, shuddering, shrunk away into the shadows which have darkened around her closer and thicker, till she is now buried so deep benea h the gathered death-palls that no one can tell where she is hidden. For months and even years she had been threatened by factions, disturbed by reckless speech and still more reckless pens, but now, behind all these, war2 (17)

cries swelled, and bayonets glistened in the distance, bloodless as yet, but threatening storms of crimson rain.

There, upon the verge of this coming tempest, the two Presidents parted, one for the solitude of a peaceful home, the other outward bound into the wild turmoil of contesting thoughts and heroic deeds. As I have said, no one fully realized the coming terror, or thought how easy a thing it is for a war of passions to verge into a war of blood. Still the signs of the last three months had been painfully ominous. The strife of opinions and clash of factions, which had been waxmg deeper and stronger between the North and the South, concentrated after Lincoln's election, and the heart of the nation was almost rent in twain before he took the inaugural oath. When he stood up, the central figure of the imposing picture presented to the nation on the fourth of March, a southern government had already been organized at Montgomery, and Jefferson Davis had been sworn in as its president, while the men who had abandoned theu* seats in the United States Senate now held place in the Confederate Cabinet.

Between the time of President Lincoln's election and his inauguration, five States had followed the lead of South Carolina and declared themselves out of the Union. One by one the represenlttives of these States had left Congress, some in sullen silence, others eloquent with passion and sophistry.

The nation saw all this, but would not comprehend the imminence of its danger. At a New England dinner, given in New York, December 22d, 1860, one of the most astute statesmen of the country had prophesied, in words that amounted to a promise, that sixty days would be sufficient time in which to tranquilize all this turbulent discontent, and the people believed him; but the sixty days had long since passed, and instead of peace a Confederate government had planted itself on the Alabama river; secession flags floated over more than one of our forts, and another fort in Charleston harbor had only been preserved by the forethought and bravery of Major Anderson, who was then engirdled by hostile batteries, and half-starving from lack of supplies. In the North also the spirit of sedition was abroad. Southern travellers still lingered in our great cities, and conspiracies grew up like nightshade in the dark—conspiracies that threatened not only the government, but the very life of its elected President.

Even on his way to the Capitol Lincoln had been called from his-bed at Harrisburg and hurried forward to Washington in the night, thus, without a shadow of doubt, escaping the assassination that awaited him in Baltimore. Still so blind were the people, and so resolute to believe that nothing serious could result from a rebellion that had been preceded by so much bravado, that even the President's preservation from the death prepared for him was taken up by the press and echoed by the people as a clever joke, calculated to bring out a Scotch cap and long cloak in strong relief, but of doubtful origin. Yet the absolute danger in this case might have been demonstrated to a certainty had any one possessing authority cared to investigate the facts. But the nation had not yet recovered from the excitement of a popular election, and everything was submerged in the wild rush of politicians that always follows close on an inauguration.

In this whirlpool of political turmoil rebellion had time to grow and thrive in its southern strongholds, for its imminence could not be forced upon the cool consideration of a people whose traditions had so long been those of prosperous peace. The idea of a civil war, in which thousands on thousands of brave Americans would redden the soil but just denuded of its primeval timber, was an idea so horrible that th6 most iron-hearted man failed to recognize it as a possibility. That the revolt of these Southern States would in less than a year fill the whole length and breadth of the land with widows and orphans—that American brothers could ever be brought to stand face to face in mortal strife as they have done—that women, so lately looked on with love and reverence, should grow coarse and fiendish from a scent of kindred blood, mocking at the dead and sending victims into a death-snare by their smiles, alas! alas! who could have foreseen it? The very angels of Heaven must have turned away from the suggestion in unbelief.

Never on the face of the earth has a war so terrible been waged on so little cause. The French Revolution—whose atrocities we have not yet emulated, thank God—was the frenzied outbreak of a nation trodden under foot and writhing in the grasp of tyranny such as no American ever dreamed of. If the people became fiends in their revenge, it was the outgrowth of fearful wrongs. But where is the man North or South in our land who had been subject to tyranny or aggression from its government when this war commenced?

No wonder the government looked upon the rebellion with forbearance. No wonder it waited for the sober second thought which it was hoped would bring its leaders back to the old flag, under which the contending parties might reason together. But no, the first step, which ever counts most fatally, was taken, and every footprint that followed it is now red with American blood.

A month passed. President Lincoln was in the "White House, besieged by office-seekers almost as closely as Major Anderson was surrounded in Fort Sumter. Ambassadors, consuls, postmasters, collectors, and all the host of placemen that belong to the machinery of a great nation, made their camping ground in Washington, and their point of attack the White House. But amid all this excitement, great national events would force themselves into consideration. News that Jefferson Davis was mustering troops, and that rebellion was making steady strides in the disaffected States, broke through the turmoil of political struggles.

But the state of the country gave painful apprehension to men who stood aloof from the struggles for place going on at Washington, and those who had time for thought saw that the rebellion was making steady progression. The Border States—Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri—with the non-slaveholding States verging upon them, had made a desperate effort to unite on some plan of pacification, but in vain. The border slave States, being in close neighborhood with the North, hesitated in joining the cotton States already in revolt. But disaffection was strong even there, and no great mind, either in Congress or out of it, had arisen strong enough to check the spirit of revolution. Before Lincoln's inauguration Governor Letcher had declared that any attempt of the United States government to march troops across the State of Virginia, for the purpose of enforcing the Federal authority anywhere, would be considered "an invasion, which must be repelled by force." Never was the government placed in a more humiliating position. President Buchanan was surrounded by advisers, many of whom were secretly implicated in the rebellion, and felt himself powerless to act in this emergency, while leading officers of the Federal government were daily making use of their high powers to consummate the designs of the conspirators.

Immediately after the act of secession of South Carolina, Governor Pickens had commenced the organization of an army. Commissioners had appeared in Washington to demand the surrender of the fortifications in Charleston harbor, and the recognition of the State as a distinct nationality. Castle Pinckney, Forts Moultrie and Sumter were the government fortifications in the harbor. Fort Moultrie was garrisoned by a small force, which had been reduced far below the ordinary peace complement, under the command of Major Anderson, a noble and brave man. On the night of December 26, in order to place his command in a more secure fortification, Major Anderson had removed his men and material to Fort Sumter, where, from its isolated position, he had nothing to fear, for a time at least, from the armed masses that were gathering about him. This movement, peaceable in itself, placed his little band in a position where it could inflict no injury on the inhabitants of Charleston. The city was thus placed beyond the range of his guns. But the movement was received with outbursts of indignation from the people of South Carolina.

The then Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, of Virginia, had promised the South Carolina seceders that everything in the harbor of Charleston should be left undisturbed. But of this promise both President Buchanan and Major Anderson were ignorant. In making s movement of signal importance, that resulted in a terrible inauguration of war, the Major had exercised an undoubted right, conferred by his position as an independent commander.

President Buchanan, when called upon to interfere, repudiated the pledge made by his Secretary, and peremptorily refused to sanction it in any way.

[graphic][merged small]

This threw the people of Charleston into a fever of indignation. The Charleston Courier denounced Major Anderson in the most cutting terms. "He has achieved," said that journal, "the unenviable distinction of opening civil war between American oitizens, by a gross breach of faith. He has, under counsel of a panic, deserted his post at Fort Moultrie, and by false pretexts has transferred his garrison and military stores to Fort Sumter." The Mercury, still more imperative, insisted, "that it was due to South Carolina and good faith, that Major Anderson's act should be repudiated by his government, and himself removed forthwith from Fort Sumter."

Meantime Castle Pinckney and Fort Moultrie were occupied and garrisoned by the troops of South Carolina. The small guard left in charge of these posts by Major Anderson were disarmed and kept by force from joining their commander.

That day the Palmetto flag was hoisted over the Custom House and Post Office of Charleston. That day, also, Captain L. N. Costa, commander of the revenue cutter William Aiken, betrayed his government

« PreviousContinue »