A History of the Civil War, 1861-1865/Chapter XI

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LIFE at the North during the war resembled that of most civilized communities which had full communication with the outside world. Business went on as usual, schools and colleges were full, churches were attended and men and women had their recreations. Progress was made in the mechanical sciences and arts. Men strove for wealth or learning; and the pursuit of fame was by no means confined to military and political circles. Nevertheless, that supreme business, the war, left its stamp on all private concerns and on every mode of thought. This was especially remarkable during the first eighteen months when the patriotic volunteers were individually encouraged by the sympathy and enthusiasm of those at home. “What of the war! Isn’t it grand!” exclaimed Phillips Brooks in May, 1861. As late as the summer of 1862 the excellent character of the soldiers was noted. “Our army,” wrote Asa Gray on July 2, “is largely composed of materials such as nothing but a high sense of duty could keep for a year in military life.” “Our best young men,” said Agassiz in a private letter of August 15, “are the first to enlist; if anything can be objected to these large numbers of soldiers, it is that it takes away the best material that the land possesses.” “In all the country districts the strong young men were gone.”[1]

Times were hard at the commencement of the war and continued so until the autumn of 1862. “People are getting dreadfully poor here,” wrote Phillips Brooks from Philadelphia.[2] The New York Tribune referred to “our paralyzed industry, obstructed commerce, our overloaded finances and our mangled railroads.”[3] All sorts of economies were practised. Coffee and sugar rose enormously in price. Many families mixed roasted dandelion root with pure coffee while others made their morning beverage from parched corn or rye; some substituted brown for white sugar. One by one luxuries disappeared from the table and few were ashamed of their frugal repasts. The wearing of plain clothes became a fashion as well as a virtue. The North was for the most part a community of simple living. Opera was only occasional, theatres were few and the amusements took on a character adapted to the life. A popular lecture, a concert, a church sociable with a charade turning on some striking event of the war, a gathering of young men and women to scrape lint for the wounded, a visit perhaps to a neighboring camp to witness a dress parade of volunteers—these were the diversions from the overpowering anxiety weighing upon the people. Personal grief was added to the national anxiety. “In many of our dwellings,” wrote Harriet Beecher Stowe, “the very light of our lives has gone out.”

With great trials were mingled petty inconveniences arising from derangement of the country’s finances. Gold began to sell at a premium in January, 1862, and disappeared from circulation; but this was no hardship to the mass of the people for gold had not been used largely as currency and there was a ready substitute for it in State bank-notes and the United States legal tenders. But the advance in gold was followed by a similar advance in silver. Silver change became an article of speculation and was bought at a premium by brokers; much of it was sent to Canada and by July 1, 1862, it seems to have practically disappeared from circulation. Its sudden disappearance brought forth diverse remedies. Individuals, prompter in action than municipalities or the general government, flooded the country with shinplasters—small notes in denominations of from 5 to 50 cents, promises to pay of hotels, restaurants, business houses and country dealers. For a short while copper and nickel cents commanded a premium and various metal tokens were issued by tradesmen to take their place as well as that of the small silver coins. Secretary Chase, in a letter of July 14, 1862, to the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, said that “the most serious inconveniences and evils are apprehended” unless the issues of shinplasters and metal tokens “can be checked and the small coins of the government kept in circulation or a substitute provided.” He proposed either to debase the silver coinage of the fractional parts of a dollar or to legalize in effect the use of postage and other stamps as currency. Congress, by Act of July 17, 1862, prohibited the issue of shinplasters by private corporations or individuals, provided for the issuance to the public of postage and other stamps and declared that, under certain limitations, these were receivable in payment of dues to the United States and were redeemable in greenbacks. People naturally preferred the stamps to the promises to pay of private individuals and hastened to the post offices to be supplied therewith, but what they here gained in soundness they lost in convenience. The gummy back, flimsy texture, small surface and light weight of the stamps rendered them the most imperfect circulating medium ever known in the United States. For one thing, the making of change in the course of small transactions proved a laborious business because of the intrusion of a common denomination of 3 cents (the stamp most frequently employed and the one of which there was the greatest supply) into the convenient decimal system. The counting out of 2, 3, 5 and 10 cent stamps became intolerable when large quantities of change were required, so that in places where various sorts of tickets were sold, the stamps were put up in small envelopes marked in large figures, 10, 25 and 50 cents, as the case might be. This mitigated the nuisance only in part as cautious persons would insist on opening the envelopes and counting the stamps in order to see whether the contents tallied with the figure outside. The stamps became dirty and mutilated; losing their adhesive power they were unfit for postage. They had proved a poor substitute for shinplasters. But relief from both evils was afforded almost simultaneously by the Treasury Department and by various municipalities.

From the language of Chase’s recommendation for the use of postage and other stamps as currency and from the provisions of the statute, it would be impossible to divine the relief which was eventually forthcoming. The Secretary, in accordance with the Act of July 17, 1862, had made an arrangement with the Postmaster-General for a supply of postage stamps, but it being “soon discovered that stamps prepared for postage uses were not adapted to the purposes of currency,” he proceeded to construe the law liberally and issue a postage currency. This was in the form of small notes of which the 25 and 50 cent denominations were about a quarter the size of a dollar bill, the 5 and 10 cent somewhat smaller. On the 5 cent note was a facsimile of the 5 cent postage stamp, the vignette being Jefferson’s head; for the 25 cent note this vignette appeared five times. Of similar design were the 10 and 50 cent notes, the vignette on the 10 cent stamp being Washington’s head. The color of the 5 and 25 cent notes was brown; that of the 10 and 50 cent, green; when new they were not ill-looking. To men and women who had been using shinplasters and soiled and worn postage and revenue stamps, they seemed a positive deliverance. The issue of this postage currency began August 21, 1862, and crowds of people waited patiently in long lines at the office of the Assistant-Treasurer in New York and other cities for their turn to secure some of these new and attractive notes.

By the act of March 3, 1863 Congress provided for the issue of fractional currency, in lieu of the postage currency, and limited the amount of both kinds to a circulation of fifty millions. The Secretary of the Treasury in issuing the new notes gave up the facsimile of the postage stamps, although the size of the notes remained substantially the same and their backs, at first brown, green, purple and red, were afterwards green for all the 3, 5, 10, 15, 25 and 50 cent notes. They were receivable for all dues to the United States less than $5, except customs, and were exchangeable for United States notes; they gradually supplanted the postage currency; in popular usage both were termed “scrip.” Although desirable at first as a relief for greater evils, the notes became so worn and filthy with constant passing from hand to hand as to be objectionable on the score of cleanliness and health. Most of the people were rejoiced when finally in 1876 they began to be replaced by subsidiary silver coin and gradually to disappear from circulation, although a few regretted the paper fractional currency because of its easy transmission by mail and its service in making up the fractional amounts of pay-rolls of mining and manufacturing concerns when the money for the men was put into envelopes as the best manner of its distribution.For a year, from July, 1862 to July, 1863, the people of the North suffered the bitterness of defeat. McClellan’s failure on the Peninsula, Pope’s defeat at the second battle of Bull Run, Burnside’s disaster of Fredericksburg, Hooker’s overthrow at Chancellorsville, only slightly relieved by the partial victories of Antietam and Stone’s river, were a succession of calamities, the cumulative force of which would have broken the spirit of any except a resolute people who believed that their cause was just. “Sumner comes to dinner,” wrote Longfellow in his journal.[4] “He is very gloomy and desponding; and sighs out every now and then, ‘Poor country! poor, poor country!’” During the dark days, when after some bloody reverse of our armies, Phillips Brooks met a friend on a street corner, he could only wring his hand and say, “Isn’t it horrible?” and gloomily pass on. People who took counsel of their meaner fears cried for peace at any price. During that year social clubs ceased to meet. Men when they heard of a disaster would give up some festive entertainment, would forego even a quiet evening at cards. They had no disposition for mirth. Their hearts were with their dead and wounded fellow citizens on the Southern battle-field; they sat in quiet and brooded over their country’s reverses. “No thoughtful American opened his morning paper without dreading to find that he had no longer a country to love and honor.”[5]

It is a striking fact that during this period of gloom, in the autumn of 1862, a revival of business began. From that time until the end of the war trade was active, factories busy, labor constantly employed and failures remarkably few. Railroad stocks had a sharp advance and the prices of the leading articles in the New York market rose steadily as measured in paper currency. Pig iron is often called the barometer of industrial activity: the production of it increased with regularity during the years 1862, 1863 and 1864 and its price rose in a still greater ratio. The average yearly price per ton of No. 1 anthracite foundry pig iron in Philadelphia was respectively $23.87, $35.25, $59.25. It was a period of money-making and accumulation of wealth. August Belmont wrote [May 7, 1863] of “the eagerness with which, for the last two months, the people of all classes have invested their money in the securities of the government;” for “The North is united and prosperous.” Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “Old Hartford seems fat, rich and cosey—stocks higher than ever, business plenty—everything as tranquil as possible.” John Sherman spoke of “the wonderful prosperity of all classes, especially of laborers.”[6]

The basis of prosperity in the United States was agriculture, and its steady growth at the North is one of the characteristics of the war. Despite the number of men who went into the army, good crops were made; the wheat crop was excellent during the years of the war and so was Indian corn, except for the partial failure in 1863. “Three things saved the harvests,” wrote Fite, “the increased use of labor-saving machinery, the work of women in the fields and the continued influx of new population.”[7] The wide use of mowing, reaping and threshing machines and the horse rake increased six-fold the efficiency of the farm laborer.

The women turned out to help. A missionary wrote from Iowa: “I met more women driving teams on the road and saw more at work in the fields than men. They seem to have said to their husbands in the language of a favorite song,       ‘Just take your gun and go; For Ruth can drive the oxen, John, And I can use the hoe.’”[8]Many of the immigrants went west. They were tempted by the ease and cheapness with which land could be acquired: the wise Homestead Act fostered the development of the West and the growing of food so important for the army and the people who were sustaining it. There was always a surplus of grain which was shipped largely to Great Britain where it was badly needed because of deficient harvests from 1860–62. This movement was beneficial to the exchanges between America and Europe.[9]

The story of the North during the war would not be complete without reference to certain infractions of the Constitution. Arbitrary arrests were made in the Northern States where the courts were open and where the regular administration of justice had not been interrupted by any overt acts of rebellion. Most of these arrests were made by order of the Secretary of State, the others by order of the Secretary of War. Sometimes the authority of the officer was a simple telegram; in no case was the warrant such as the Constitution required. The men arrested were charged with no offence, were examined by no magistrate and were confined in Fort Lafayette or Fort Warren as prisoners of state. The justification pleaded in the Senate for these stretches of authority was that the persons apprehended were, by treasonable speaking and writing, giving aid and comfort to the enemy and that their imprisonment was necessary for the safety of the republic. Yet the matter did not go unquestioned. Senator Trumbull introduced a resolution asking information from the Secretary of State in regard to these arrests and in his remarks supporting it pointed out the injustice and needlessness of such procedure. “What are we coming to,” he asked, “if arrests may be made at the whim or caprice of a cabinet minister?” and when Senator Hale demanded, “Have not arrests been made in violation of the great principles of our Constitution?” no one could deny that this was the fact.

Public sentiment, however, sustained the administration and it was only from a minority in the Senate and in the country that murmurs were heard. Nevertheless, the protests were emphatic and couched in irrefutable logic. They were directed against Seward, who was deemed responsible for the apprehension of men in Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and northern New York on suspicion that they were traitors, instead of leaving them to be dealt with by the public sentiment of their thoroughly loyal communities; and it was felt that his action savored rather of the capriciousness of an absolute monarch than of a desire to govern in a constitutional manner. The mischief of this policy was immediately evident in that it gave a handle to the Democratic opposition, probably increasing its strength, and in that it furnished our critics over the sea an additional opportunity for detraction. The remote consequences which were feared—that our people would lose some of their liberties, that we were beginning in very sooth to tread the well-worn path from democracy to despotism—have not been realized.

It is true that the acts of a cabinet minister, unless disavowed by the President, become the President’s own acts; in so far must Lincoln be held responsible for these arbitrary arrests. Nevertheless, it is improbable that Lincoln, of his own motion, would have ordered them; for, although at times he acted without warrant of the Constitution, he had at the same time a profound reverence for it, showing in all his procedure that he much preferred to keep within the strict limits of the letter and spirit of the organic law of the land and that whenever he exercised or permitted others to exercise arbitrary power he did so with keen regret. It was undoubtedly disagreeable to him to be called the Cæsar of the American Republic and “a more unlimited despot than the world knows this side of China,” and to be aware that Senator Grimes described a call at the White House for the purpose of seeing the President, as an attempt “to approach the footstool of the power enthroned at the other end of the avenue.” An order of the Secretary of War on February 14, 1862, directed the release of the political prisoners on parole that they would give no aid or comfort to the enemies of the United States and laid down the rule that henceforward arrests would be made under the direction of the military authorities alone.

The term “Copperhead,” which originated in the autumn of 1862, was used freely during the next year. It was an opprobrious epithet applied by Union men to those who adhered rigidly to the Democratic organization, strenuously opposed all the distinctive and vigorous war measures of the President and of Congress and, deeming it impossible to conquer the South, were therefore earnest advocates of peace. It might not be hardly exact to say that all who voted the Democratic ticket in 1863 were, in the parlance of the day, “Copperheads,” but this sweeping statement would be nearer the truth than one limiting the term to those who really wished for the military success of the South and organized or joined the secret order of Knights of the Golden Circle. In the Western States, at all events, the words “Democrat” and “Copperhead” became, after the middle of January [1863], practically synonymous, and the cognomen, applied as a reproach, was assumed with pride. “The War Democrats,” in contradistinction from those who favored peace, acted at elections in the main with the Republicans, voting the Union ticket, as it was called in most of the States. It may be safely said that practically all the men who adhered with fidelity and enthusiasm to the Democratic organization and name found a spokesman in either Horatio Seymour of New York or Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio, both of whom had the peculiar ability required for political leadership. The tendency of the Eastern Democrats was to range themselves with Seymour whilst the Western Democrats were attracted by the more extreme views of Vallandigham.

Under any constitutional government, where speech and the press are free, the necessity should be readily admitted of an opposition in time of war, even when the Ship of State is in distress. It is not difficult to define a correct policy for the Democrats during the civil conflict, when, as was conceded by everyone, the republic was in great danger. In Congress they should have coöperated to the full extent of their power with the dominant party in its effort to raise men and money to carry on the war; and in any opposition they ought to have taken the tone, not of party objection, but of friendly criticism, with the end in view of perfecting rather than defeating the necessary bills. While in the session of Congress that ended March 4, 1863, they failed to rise to this height, they did not, on the other hand, pursue a policy of obstruction that would be troublesome if not pernicious. For that matter it is doubtful if obstructive tactics could have prevailed against the able and despotic parliamentary leadership of the majority in the House by Thaddeus Stevens and prevented the passage at this session of the two bills which gave the President control of the sword and purse of the nation; but a serious attempt in that direction, with all that it involved, would have reduced the country to a state of panic. There must therefore be set down to the credit of the Democrats in Congress a measure of patriotism that almost always exists in an Anglo-Saxon minority, proving sufficient to preserve the commonwealth from destruction.

More severe criticism than is due for any positive action in the House or the Senate must be meted out to the leaders of the Democratic party for their speeches in and out of the legislative halls and to the influential Democratic newspapers in their effort to form and guide a public sentiment which should dictate the policy of the Government. One fact they ignored, that peace was impossible unless the Southern Confederacy were acknowledged and a boundary line agreed upon between what would then be two distinct nations. They pretended to a belief, for which there was absolutely no foundation, that if fighting ceased and a convention of the States were called, the Union might be restored. Hence proceeded their opposition to the President’s emancipation policy as being an obstacle to the two sections becoming re-united. But men who loved their country better than their party ought to have perceived, for it was palpable at the time, that the Southern States had not the slightest intention of consenting on even the most favorable conditions to the Union as it was, and that the President had been brought to his decree against slavery by the logic of events. Apologists for slavery as the Democrats had been for so many years on the ground that it was a necessary evil, they could not give hearty support to emancipation; but, if they had allowed themselves to be influenced in a reasonable degree by their own conviction that slavery was morally wrong, they could, with patriotism and consistency, have adopted the position that the proclamation was a military order, and having been made, should be executed. If they had abandoned the pursuit of an impossible attainment and the policy of hindering the President and Congress in the exercise of their prerogatives, there would still have remained scope for a healthy opposition which would not have left the name Copperhead-Democrat a reproach for so many years; in truth, the Democrats might have deserved well of the muse of history. In point of fact they performed a real service to the country in advocating economy and integrity in the disposition of the public money, and they might have gone further and applauded Chase in his efforts to secure the one and Stanton in his determination to have the other. Their criticisms of the Executive for suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, for the arbitrary arrests and for the abridgment of the freedom of speech and of writing were justly taken, and undoubtedly had an influence for the good on legislation. Had they concentrated their opposition on these points their arguments would have carried greater force and would have attracted men who were disturbed by these infractions of personal liberty but who were repelled by the remainder of the Democratic program.

In consideration of our own practice, the decision of our courts, the opinions of our statesmen and jurists, and English precedents for two centuries, it may be affirmed that the right of suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus was vested by the Constitution in Congress and not in the Executive. The President, in assuming that authority and applying the suspension to States beyond the sphere of hostile operations, arrogated power which became necessary to support the policy of arbitrary arrests, so diligently pursued by Seward at first and afterwards by Stanton. The defence made was necessity, and our own precedents were set aside because the State now stood in its greatest peril since the adoption of the Constitution.

By the Act of March 3, 1863, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of War were required to furnish lists of “State or political prisoners” to the judges of the United States Courts, but no lists, so far as I have been able to ascertain, were ever furnished; and in truth the aptitude for autocratic government had grown at such a pace that in September [1863] Chase discovered, to his surprise, that the provisions of this act were unfamiliar to the President and to all the members of the Cabinet except himself.

For my own part, after careful consideration, I do not hesitate to condemn the arbitrary arrests and the arbitrary interference with the freedom of the press[10] in States which were not included in the theatre of the war and in which the courts remained open. In arriving at this judgment I have not left out of account an unpatriotic speech of Vallandigham’s in the House nor the still more dastardly writing in the Democratic newspapers, nor the “Copperhead” talk in the street, in public conveyances and in hotels, where prudence and restraint were cast to the winds; nor am I unmindful of the fact that the criticisms generally were increasing in virulence and that complaints of “the utterance of treasonable sentiments” were constantly being made to the authorities by patriotic men. Nevertheless, I am convinced that all this extrajudicial procedure was inexpedient, unnecessary and wrong and that the offenders thus summarily dealt with should have been prosecuted according to law or, if their offences were not indictable, permitted to go free. “Abraham Lincoln,” wrote James Bryce, “wielded more authority than any single Englishman has done since Oliver Cromwell.” My reading of English history and comparative study of our own have led me to the same conclusion, although it should be added that Cromwell’s exercise of arbitrary power greatly exceeded Lincoln’s and involved more important infractions of the Constitution of his country. Moreover, there was in Lincoln’s nature so much of kindness and mercy as to mitigate the harshness of Seward’s and Stanton’s procedure. The pervasive and lingering influence of his personality, the respect for the Constitution and the law which history and tradition have ascribed to him, the greatness of his character and work, have prevented the generation that has grown up since the civil conflict from realizing the enormity of the acts done under his authority by direction of his Secretaries of State and War. I have not lighted on a single instance in which the President himself directed an arrest, yet he permitted them all; he stands responsible for the casting into prison of citizens of the United States on orders as arbitrary as the lettres-de-cachet of Louis XIV.[11]The technical experts of the War Department and of the Army may be justly criticised for not arming our infantry with breech-loading rifles. They were behindhand and not up to their opportunities. The Secretary of War in his report of December 1, 1859, had stated the result of the experiments in breech-loading arms: these arms were “nearly if not entirely perfected,” and he added: “With the best breech-loading arm, one skilful man would be equal to two, probably three, armed with the ordinary muzzle-loading gun. True policy requires that steps should be taken to introduce these arms gradually into our service.” But on October 22, 1864, the chief of ordnance reported to Stanton, “The use of breech-loading arms in our service has, with few exceptions, been confined to mounted troops,” and on December 5, 1864, he returned to the subject thus: “The experience of the war has shown that breech-loading arms are greatly superior to muzzle-loaders for infantry as well as for cavalry, and that measures should immediately be taken to substitute a suitable breech-loading musket in place of the rifle musket which is now manufactured at the National Armory and by private concerns for this department.” Some one ought to have known this at least three years earlier and to have made it his business to press the importance of it upon the President, the Secretary of War and Congress. The Prussians had used a breech-loading rifle in the Revolution of 1848 and again in the Schleswig-Holstein war of 1864 and the infantry of the Northern army ought to have been armed with a similar gun for their campaigns twelve months before Lee’s surrender. Our few regiments which had repeating and breech-loading rifles did such effective execution that the dramatic scene of Königgratz—a great battle between an army with breech-loaders and one with muzzle-loaders—ought to have been anticipated by two years and played upon the field of Virginia or in the mountains of Georgia. In the art of war we showed ourselves inferior to the Prussians but the fault was not with American inventive talent. Excellent arms were offered to the Government and it is safe to say that, had its administration of technical affairs equalled that of the Pennsylvania Railroad or some of our large manufacturing establishments, the army would have had the improved weapons.The war gave a powerful impetus to the humanitarian spirit. Americans were essentially religious and Christ’s teaching had sunk deep in their hearts. Non-combatants individually and through well-devised organizations were diligent in ministering to the wants and sufferings of the soldiers who were upholding the Northern cause in the field. This work of aid was well adapted to women whose energy, self-sacrifice and well-directed efforts proved them worthy of Lincoln’s words spoken at one of the Sanitary fairs.[12] “This extraordinary war,” he said, “in which we are engaged, falls heavily upon all classes of people, but the most heavily upon the soldier. For it has been said, all that a man hath will he give for his life; and while all contribute of their substance, the soldier puts his life at stake and often yields it up in his country’s cause. The highest merit then is due to the soldier. In this extraordinary war, extraordinary developments have manifested themselves such as have not been seen in former wars; and amongst these manifestations nothing has been more remarkable than these fairs for the relief of suffering soldiers and their families. And the chief agents in these fairs are the women of America. I am not accustomed to the use of the language of eulogy; I have never studied the art of paying compliments to women; but I must say, that if all that has been said by orators and poets since the creation of the world in praise of women were applied to the women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct during this war. I will close by saying, God bless the women of America.”Despite the opinion of our Supreme Court that “It follows from the very nature of war that trading between the belligerents should cease,” there was a large overland trade between the South and the North; the South exchanged her cotton for money or needed supplies and this trade was encouraged by the Washington Government. The intention was good, and if the history of these transactions were to be written from the acts of Congress, the proclamations of the President, the instructions of the Secretary of the Treasury and the orders of the Secretaries of War and Navy, it might be affirmed that a difficult problem had been frankly met and solved. Special agents were appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury to collect captured and abandoned property in parts of the Confederacy occupied by our forces which should be sold for the benefit of the United States subject to the rights of ownership of loyal persons. Permits to trade in districts which had been recovered from the Confederacy were issued to “proper and loyal persons” by these agents and other officers of the Treasury Department, but all commercial intercourse beyond the lines of the National Army was strictly forbidden. The special agents were further ordered to confer with the generals commanding the respective departments and they and the authorized traders were in a measure responsible to the military authority but were under the immediate control and management of the Secretary of the Treasury, who supervised this “limited commercial intercourse licensed by the President.” No other trade was legal and all property coming into the United States through other means was ordered to be confiscated.

But the feverish business conditions of 1864 and a certain relaxation in morality were felt in the commercial intercourse between the South and the North. The price of cotton in Boston at the beginning of the year was eighty-one cents per pound; it advanced steadily until the close of August when it fetched $1.90 in United States currency. It could be bought in the Confederacy for from twelve to twenty cents per pound in gold. The enormous difference between the two values represented a profit so enticing that many men in responsible positions were led into trading beyond the restrictions imposed by the Government. If accurate statistics could be obtained, it would surprise no student of the subject to find that the North received more cotton from the internal commerce than did Great Britain from the blockade-runners;[13] the greater portion of this staple came from a region under the control of the Southern Confederacy, and in exchange for it the Southern Army and people obtained needed supplies. This trade was a greater advantage to the South than to the North. New England and the Middle States obtained cotton and probably ran their mills nearer to full time than if they had been entirely dependent on the foreign article, but any further curtailment of this manufacture would have caused no distress to the operatives. So extended was the demand for labor that work was readily to be found in other industries. In Lowell where, in 1862, the stoppage of spindles was proportionately the greatest, deposits in the savings-banks largely increased during that year. For the indispensable articles Indian cotton could have been used, as in Great Britain, and for other cotton fabrics woollen might have been substituted. On the other hand the South obtained salt, quinine, powder and arms, absolute necessaries for carrying on the war.The summer of 1864 brought almost crushing burdens. The failure of Grant’s Virginia campaign and the doubts in regard to Lincoln’s reëlection intensified every other trouble and led many thoughtful persons to fear that the game was up. Governor Brough of Ohio wrote to Stanton on March 14, 1864 that he regarded our financial position as critical; every man whom we put into the army was costing us over $300 and we were incurring a debt which we could not pay without scaling it down; such a measure would be our ruin. About the same time Chase was asked, “What is the debt now in round numbers?” “About $2,500,000,000” was the reply. “How much more can the country stand?” “If we do not suppress the rebellion,” answered Chase, “when it reaches $3,000,000,000 we shall have to give it up.” Soon after Fessenden entered upon the duties of the Treasury Department,[14] he wrote to his friend Senator Grimes, “Things must be taken as I find them and they are quite bad enough to appall any but a man as desperate as I am.” Weed placed the situation plainly before an English friend. “We are beset by dangers,” he wrote, “foremost of which is the presidential canvass.… Regiments are returning home, worn, weary, maimed and depleted. Our cities and villages swarm with skulking, demoralized soldiers.” “You, my dear old friend,” the Englishman replied, “ought to settle your affairs before the crash comes. It may be that your government will be reunited for a time; but it cannot last after this era of tremendous passion.… I should really like to go to the United States if only to see your Lincoln. But will he soon be in Fort Lafayette or here in exile?” “If this country gets ultimately through,” wrote Francis Lieber in a private letter, “safe and hale, no matter with how many scars, a great civil war with a presidential election in the very midst of it (while the enemy has to stand no such calamity) I shall set it down as the most wonderful miracle in the whole history of events.” The memory of the New York draft riot of 1863 which had lasted four days was in every mind and there were now apprehensions of forcible resistance to the draft in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin; the different authorities in these States called upon the general government for troops to enforce the laws. But Grant sorely needed reënforcements to fill his shattered ranks: to comply with the military exigencies and at the same time content the governors of the States was indeed a difficult problem.

The President and Secretary of War were obliged to work through the Federal system, the disadvantages of which for carrying on a war were largely overcome by the sympathetic coöperation of most of the governors, who, with few exceptions, belonged to the same party as the President. Many of them were men of ability and knew the local wants and capabilities. Conspicuous as one gathers from the Official Records were Morton of Indiana, Andrew of Massachusetts, Curtin of Pennsylvania, Tod and Brough successively of Ohio. At the same time patience and discretion were needed in handling affairs so that the dignity of these and of the other Northern governors should not be offended. They were all patriotic, desiring to assist the general government to the extent of their power, but each had his local pride and was zealous in looking after the interests of his own State. They were diligent in their communications to the War Department, reckoning closely the number of men they ought to furnish, and frequently claiming that their quotas were filled or that troops in excess had been contributed on one call which should be allowed on another. The State arithmeticians in their eagerness to have credit for every possible man were so adroit at computation that at one time, as Lincoln stated it, “the aggregate of the credits due to all the States exceeded very considerably the number of men called for.” This vexation was of a most trying nature since a vital condition of the President’s success in the war was that he should have the active and zealous support of these governors. When he told the committee of the Rhode Island legislature that “men and not an adjustment of balances was the object of the call” for troops, he answered with his clear logic the reclamations that poured in upon Stanton and the provost-marshal general; nevertheless, he did not urge it to triumph in the argument but to persuade the committee and the country that he must have men. However, be the necessity never so dire, he purposed proceeding with the utmost fairness. The governors were forward in making suggestions and most of them felt that some things should be done differently. Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois were in constant danger of invasion; threatened raids from Canada and other British provinces kept the authorities of New York, Vermont and Maine in a state of alarm; all these and similar troubles were brought to the War Department with requests for succor and protection. The patience of Stanton when he replied to the claims and grievances of the governors exhibits another side of this man who was often irascible to an extraordinary degree. But it was the patience of a determined man who gave the cue to his department with the result that during the last two years of the war the commissary and quarter-master’s departments were admirably managed and the transportation of troops and supplies well carried out. After Lincoln it was Stanton more than any other who smoothed the way for the governors to carry out their predilection for energetically upholding the national administration by helping the Secretary of War in various matters of detail which came within their sphere.

The Stanton of tradition is a stern man, standing at a high desk, busy and careworn, grumbling, fuming and swearing, approached by every subordinate with fear, by every officer except the highest with anxiety, by the delinquent with trepidation. The Stanton of the Official Records is a patient, tactful, unobtrusive man, who, bearing a heavy responsibility, disposes of business promptly, who takes a firm grasp of many and various facts and conditions and adapts himself to circumstances, keeping always in view the great result to be achieved. No one accustomed to affairs can go through the correspondence of the summer of 1864 without arriving at a high opinion of Stanton’s executive ability. He was patient and consideration with those to whom Patience and consideration were due but, when he believed himself in the right, he was unyielding and resolute. He was wise in his conduct of affairs, but it is a wonder that on top of the trials of three years he and Lincoln were not crushed by the disappointments and cares which fell to their lot from May to September, 1864.

The burden of the war told perceptibly on Lincoln. His “boisterous laughter,” wrote John Hay, “became less frequent year by year; the eye grew veiled by constant meditation on momentous subjects; the air of reserve and detachment from his surroundings increased. He aged with great rapidity.” The change in Lincoln is shown in two life masks, one made in 1860, the other in the spring of 1865. The face of 1860 belongs to a strong healthy man, is “full of life, of energy, of vivid aspiration. The other,” continued Hay, “is so sad and peaceful in its infinite repose that St. Gaudens insisted when he first saw it that it was a death mask. The lines are set as if the living face like the copy had been in bronze; the nose is thin and lengthened by the emaciation of the cheeks; the mouth is fixed like that of an archaic statue; a look as of one on whom sorrow and care had done their worst without victory, is on all the features; the whole expression is of unspeakable sadness and all-sufficing strength.”

We of the North maintain that, after Sumter was fired upon, the war was unavoidable and just, but the summer of 1864 carries this lesson: given our system of government with its division of powers between the nation and the States and its partition of authority at Washington; given our frequent elections; given the independence and individuality of our people,—it is clear that we are but poorly equipped for making war. The genius of the American Commonwealth lies in peace.[15]


Notes[edit]

  1. V, 189. Fite, Social and Industrial Conditions during the Civil War, 5.
  2. June 29, 1861.
  3. Aug. 5, 1862.
  4. Sept. 14, 1862.
  5. Lowell.
  6. November, 1863.
  7. Fite, 6.
  8. Fite, 8.
  9. Ibid., 17 et seq.
  10. See IV, 253.
  11. For the most celebrated case of arbitrary arrests during the war, that of Vallandigham, see IV, 245.
  12. For the Sanitary fairs see V, 257.
  13. post.
  14. Fessenden succeeded Chase on July 5, 1864. This is date of taking office. He was nominated, confirmed and commissioned on July 1.
  15. This chapter is based on III, p. 555 et seq.; Chapters XIX, IV, XXVII, V; and on Fite, Social and Industrial Conditions during the Civil War.