Beacon Lights of History, Volume XII
Part 4 out of 4
becoming indispensable to the preservation of the Constitution through
the preservation of the nation."
Thus when in 1861 Fremont in Missouri proclaimed emancipation to the
slaves of persistent rebels, although this was hailed with delight by
vast numbers at the North, the President countermanded it as not yet an
indispensable necessity. In March, 1862, he approved Acts of Congress
legalizing General B.F. Butler's shrewd device of declaring all slaves
of rebels in arms as "contraband of war," and thus, when they came
within the army lines, to be freed and used by the Northern armies. In
March, May, and July, 1862, he made earnest appeals to the Border States
to favor compensated emancipation, because he foresaw that military
emancipation would become necessary before long. When Lee was in
Maryland and Pennsylvania, he felt that the time had arrived, and
awaited only some marked military success, so that the measure should
seem a mightier blow to the rebels and not a cry for help. And this was
a necessary condition, for, while hundreds of thousands of Democrats had
joined the armies and had become Republicans for the war,--in fact, all
the best generals and a large proportion of the soldiers of the North
had been Democrats before the flag was fired on,--yet the Democratic
politicians of the proslavery type were still alive and active
throughout the North, doing all they could to discredit the national
cause, and hinder the government; and Lincoln intuitively knew that this
act must commend itself to the great mass of the Northern people, or it
would be a colossal blunder.
Therefore, when Lee had been driven back, on September 22, 1862, the
President issued a preliminary proclamation, stating that he should
again recommend Congress to favor an Act tendering pecuniary aid to
slaveholders in States not in rebellion, who would adopt immediate or
gradual abolishment of slavery within their limits; but that on the
first day of January, 1863, "all persons held as slaves within any
State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall be in
rebellion against the United States, shall be thenceforward and forever
free." And accordingly,--in spite of Burnside's dreadful disaster before
Fredericksburg on December 13, unfavorable results in the fall elections
throughout the North, much criticism of his course in the
newly-assembled Congress, and the unpopular necessity of more men and
more money to be drawn from the loyal States,--on January 1, 1863, the
courageous leader sent forth his final and peremptory Decree of
Emancipation. He issued it, "by virtue of the power in me vested as
commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States in time of
actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the
United States, and as a fit and necessary war-measure for suppressing
Of course such an edict would have no immediate force in the remoter
States controlled by the Confederate government, nor at the time did it
produce any remarkable sensation except to arouse bitter animadversion
at the North and renewed desperation of effort at the South; but it
immediately began to reduce the workers on intrenchments and
fortifications along the Confederate front and to increase those of the
Federal forces, while soon also providing actual troops for the Union
armies; and, since it was subsequently indorsed by all the States,
through an amendment to the Constitution by which slavery was forever
prohibited in the States and Territories of the United States, and in
view of its immense consequences, the Emancipation Proclamation of
Lincoln must be regarded as perhaps the culminating event in the war. It
was his own act; and he accepted all the responsibilities. The abolition
of slavery is therefore forever identified with the administration
In the early part of 1863 Lincoln relieved Burnside of his command, and
appointed General Joseph Hooker to succeed him. This officer had
distinguished himself as a brilliant tactician; he was known as
"fighting Joe;" but he was rash. He made a bold and successful march,
crossed the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers and advanced upon the enemy,
but early in May, 1863, was defeated at Chancellorsville, in one of the
bloodiest battles of the war. The Confederates were now exceedingly
elated; and Lee, with a largely increased army of ninety thousand
splendid fighting men, resolved on invading Pennsylvania in force.
Evading Hooker, he passed through the Shenandoah Valley, and about the
middle of June was in Pennsylvania before the Union forces could be
gathered to oppose him. He took York and Carlisle and threatened
Harrisburg. The invasion filled the North with dismay. Hooker, feeling
his incompetency, and on bad terms with Halleck, the general-in-chief,
asked to be relieved, and his request was at once granted.
General George C. Meade was appointed his successor on June 28. Striking
due north with all speed, ably supported by a remarkable group of
corps-commanders and the veteran Army of the Potomac handsomely
reinforced and keenly eager to fight, Meade brought Lee to bay near the
village of Gettysburg, and after three days of terrific fighting, in
which the losses of the two armies aggregated over forty-five thousand
men, on the 3d of July he defeated Lee's army and turned it rapidly
southward. This was the most decisive battle of the war, and the most
bloody, finally lost by Lee through his making the same mistake that
Burnside did at Fredericksburg, in attacking equal forces intrenched on
a hill. Nothing was left to Lee but retreat across the Potomac, and
Meade--an able but not a great captain--made the mistake that McClellan
had made at Antietam in not following up his advantage, but allowing Lee
to escape into Virginia.
To cap the climax of Union success, on the 4th of July General Ulysses
S. Grant, who had been operating against Vicksburg on the Mississippi
during four months, captured that city, with thirty-two thousand
prisoners, and a few days later Port Hudson with its garrison fell into
his hands. The signal combination of victories filled the North with
enthusiasm and the President with profoundest gratitude. It is true,
Meade's failure to follow and capture Lee was a bitter disappointment to
Lincoln. The Confederate commander might have been compelled to
surrender to a flushed and conquering army a third larger than his own,
had Meade pursued and attacked him, and the war might perhaps virtually
have ended. Yet Lee's army was by no means routed, and was in dangerous
mood, while Meade's losses had been really larger than his; so that the
Federal general's caution does not lack military defenders.
Nevertheless, he evidently was not the man that had been sought for.
More than two years had now elapsed since the Army of the Potomac had
been organized by McClellan, and yet it was no nearer the end which the
President, the war minister, the cabinet, and the generals had in
view,--the capture of Richmond. Thus far, more than one hundred thousand
men had been lost in the contest which the politicians had supposed was
to be so brief. Not a single general had arisen at the East equal to the
occasion. Only a few of the generals had seen important military service
before the war, and not one had evinced remarkable abilities, although
many had distinguished themselves for bravery and capacity to manage
well an army corps. Each army commander had failed when great
responsibilities had been imposed upon him. Not one came up to popular
expectation. The great soldier must be "born" as well as "made."
It must be observed that up to this time, in the autumn of 1863, the
President had not only superintended the Army of the Potomac, but had
borne the chief burden of the government and the war at large. Cabinet
meetings, reports of generals, quarrels of generals, dissensions of
political leaders, impertinence of editors, the premature pressure to
emancipate slaves, Western campaigns, the affairs of the navy, and a
thousand other things pressed upon his attention. It was his custom to
follow the movements of every army with the map before him, and to be
perfectly familiar with all the general, and many of the detailed,
problems in every part of the vast field of the war. No man was ever
more overworked. It may be a question how far he was wise in himself
attending to so many details, and in giving directions to generals in
high command, and sometimes against the advice of men more experienced
in military matters. That is not for me to settle. He seemed to bear the
government and all the armies on head and heart, as if the
responsibility for everything was imposed upon him. What had been the
history? In the East, two years clouded by disasters, mistakes, and
national disappointments, with at last a breaking of the day,--and that,
in the West.
Was ever a man more severely tried! And yet, in view of fatal errors on
the part of generals, the disobedience of orders, and the unfriendly
detractions of Chase,--his able, but self-important Secretary of the
Treasury,--not a word of reproach had fallen from him; he was still
gentle, conciliatory, patient, forgiving on all occasions, and
marvellously reticent and self-sustained. His transcendent moral
qualities stood out before the world unquestioned, whatever criticisms
may be made as to the wisdom of all his acts.
But a brighter day was at hand. The disasters of the East--for
Gettysburg was but the retrieving of a desperate situation--were
compensated by great success in the West. Fort Donelson and Columbus in
1862, Vicksburg and Port Hudson in 1863, had been great achievements.
The Mississippi was cleared of hostile forts upon its banks, and was
opened to its mouth. New Orleans was occupied by Union troops. The
finances were in good condition, for Chase had managed that great
problem with brilliant effect. The national credit was restored. The
navy had done wonders, and the southern coast was effectually blockaded.
A war with England had been averted by the tact of Lincoln rather than
the diplomacy of Seward.
Lincoln cordially sustained in his messages to Congress the financial
schemes of the Secretary of the Treasury, and while he carefully
watched, he did not interfere with, the orders of the Secretary of the
Navy. To Farragut, Foote, and Porter was great glory due for opening the
Mississippi, as much as to Grant and Sherman for cutting the Confederate
States in twain. Too much praise cannot be given to Chase for the
restoration of the national credit, and Lincoln bore patiently his
adverse criticism in view of his transcendent services.
At this stage of public affairs, in the latter part of 1863, General
Grant was called from the West to take command of the Army of the
Potomac. His great military abilities were known to the whole nation.
Although a graduate of West Point, who had, when young, done good
service under General Scott, his mature life had been a failure; and
when the war broke out he was engaged in the tanning business at Galena,
Illinois, at a salary of $800. He offered his services to the governor
of Illinois, and was made a colonel of volunteers. Shortly after
entering active service he was made brigadier-general, and his ability
as a commander was soon apparent. He gradually rose to the command of
the military district of Southeast Missouri; then to the command of the
great military rendezvous and depot at Cairo. Then followed his
expedition, assisted by Commodore Foote, against Fort Henry on the
Tennessee River, in the early part of 1862, with no encouragement from
Halleck, the commanding-general at St. Louis. The capture of Fort
Donelson on the Cumberland River came next, to the amazement and chagrin
of the Confederate generals; for which he was made a major-general of
volunteers. This was a great service, which resulted in the surrender of
Generals Buckner and Johnston with 15,000 Confederate soldiers, 20,000
stands of arms, 48 pieces of artillery, and 3,000 horses. But this great
success was nothing to the siege and capture of Vicksburg, July 4, 1863,
which opened the Mississippi and divided the Confederacy, to say nothing
of the surrender of nearly 30,000 men, 172 cannon, and 60,000 muskets.
Then followed the great battle of Chattanooga, which shed glory on
Thomas, Sherman, Burnside, and Hooker, and raised still higher the
military fame of Grant, who had planned and directed it. No general in
the war had approached him in success and ability. The eyes of the
nation were now upon him. Congress revived for him the grade of
lieutenant-general, and the conqueror of Vicksburg and Chattanooga
received the honor on March 3, 1864, the first on whom the full rank had
been conferred since Washington. The lieutenant-generalcy conferred on
Winfield Scott after the Mexican War was a special brevet title of
honor, that rank not existing in our army.
On the 8th of March the President met the successful and fortunate
general for the first time, and was delighted with his quiet modesty; on
the next day he gave him command of all the armies of the United States.
Grant was given to understand that the work assigned to him personally
was the capture of Richmond. But he was left to follow out his own
plans, and march to the Confederate capital by any route he saw fit.
Henceforth the President, feeling full confidence, ceased to concern
himself with the plans of the general commanding the Army of the
Potomac. He did not even ask to know them. All he and the Secretary of
War could do was to forward the plans of the Lieutenant-General, and
provide all the troops he wanted. Lincoln's anxieties of course
remained, and he watched eagerly for news, and was seen often at the war
department till late at night, waiting to learn what Grant was doing;
but Grant was left with the whole military responsibility, because he
was evidently competent for it; the relief to Lincoln must have been
immense. The history of the war, from this time, belongs to the life of
Grant rather than of Lincoln. Suggestions to that successful soldier
from civilians now were like those of the Dutch Deputies when they
undertook to lecture the great Marlborough on the art of war. To bring
the war to a speedy close required the brain and the will and the energy
of a military genius, and the rapid and concentrated efforts of veteran
soldiers, disciplined by experience, and inured to the toils and
dangers of war.
The only great obstacle was the difficulty of enlisting men in what was
now more than ever to be dangerous work. When Grant began his march to
Richmond probably half-a-million of soldiers had perished on each side,
and a national debt had been contracted of over two thousand millions of
dollars. In spite of patriotic calls, in spite of bounties, it became
necessary to draft men into the service,--a compulsory act of power to
be justified only by the exigencies of the country. In no other way
could the requisite number of troops be secured. Multitudes of the
survivors have been subsequently rewarded, at least partially, by
pensions. The pension list, at the close of Harrison's administration in
1892, amounted to a sum greater than Germany annually expends on its
gigantic army. So far as the pensioners are genuinely disabled veterans,
the people make no complaint, appreciating the sacrifices which the
soldiers were compelled to make in the dreadful contest. But so vast a
fund for distribution attracted the inevitable horde of small lawyers
and pension agents, who swelled the lists with multitudes of sham
veterans and able-bodied "cripples," until many eminent ex-soldiers
cried out for a purgation of that which should be a list of honor.
Nor is it disloyal or unpatriotic to shed a tear for the brave but
misguided men whom the Southern leaders led to destruction without any
such recompense for their wounds and hardships,--for the loss of their
property, loss of military prestige, loss of political power, loss of
everything but honor. At first we called them Rebels, and no penalties
were deemed too severe for them to suffer; but later we called them
Confederates, waging war for a cause which they honestly deemed sacred,
and for which they cheerfully offered up their lives,--a monstrous
delusion, indeed, but one for which we ceased to curse them, and soon
learned to forgive, after their cause was lost. Resentment gave place to
pity, and they became like erring brothers, whom it was our duty to
forgive, and in many respects our impulse to admire,--not for their
cause, but for their devotion to it. All this was foreseen and foretold
by Edward Everett during the war, yet there were but few who agreed
I can devote but little space to the military movements of General Grant
in Virginia until Richmond surrendered and the rebellion collapsed.
There was among the Southerners no contempt of this leader, fresh from
the laurels of Fort Donelson, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga; and the
Confederates put forth almost superhuman efforts to defend their capital
against the scientific strategy of the most successful general of the
war, supported as he was by almost unlimited forces, and the unreserved
confidence of his government.
The new general-in-chief established his headquarters at Culpeper Court
House near the end of March, 1864. His plan of operations was
simple,--to advance against Lee, before proceeding to Richmond, and
defeat his army if possible. Richmond, even if taken, would be
comparatively valueless unless Lee were previously defeated. Grant's
forces were about one hundred and fifty thousand men, and Lee's little
more than half that number, but the latter were intrenched in strong
positions on the interior line. It was Grant's plan to fight whenever an
opportunity was presented,--since he could afford to lose two men to one
of the enemy, and was thus sure to beat in the long run; as a
chess-player, having a superiority of pieces, freely exchanges as he
gets opportunity. There was nothing particularly brilliant in this
policy adopted by Grant, except the great fact that he chose the course
most likely to succeed, whatever might be his losses. Lee at first was
also ready to fight, but after the dreadful slaughter on both sides in
the battles of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and Cold Harbor, he
apparently changed his plans. One-third of his forces had melted away;
he saw that he could not afford to take risks, and retreated behind his
defences. Grant, too, had changed his operations, at first directed
against Richmond on the northwest; and, since he found every hill and
wood and morass strongly fortified, he concluded to march on Lee's flank
to the James River, and attack Richmond from the south, after reducing
Petersburg, and destroying the southern railroads by which the
Confederates received most of their supplies.
The Federal commander had all the men he wanted. A large force was under
Butler near Petersburg, and Sheridan had driven out the enemy from the
Valley of the Shenandoah with his magnificent cavalry. Lee was now
cooped up between Fredericksburg and Richmond. He was too great a
general to lead his army into either of these strongholds, where they
might be taken as Pemberton's army was at Vicksburg. He wisely kept the
field, although he would not fight except behind his intrenchments, when
he was absolutely forced by the aggressive foe.
Henceforth, from June, 1864, to the close of the war the operations of
Grant resembled a siege rather than a series of battles. He had lost
over fifty thousand men thus far in his march, and he, too, now became
economical of his soldiers' blood. He complained not, but doggedly
carried out his plans without consulting the government at Washington,
or his own generals. His work was hard and discouraging. He had to fight
his way, step by step, against strong intrenchments,--the only thing to
do, but he had the will and patience to do it. He had ordered an attack
on Petersburg, which must be reduced before he could advance to
Richmond; but the attack had failed, and he now sat down to a regular
siege of that strong and important position. The siege lasted ten
months, when Lee was driven within his inner line of defences, and,
seeing that all was lost, on April 2, 1865, evacuated his position, and
began his retreat to the west, hoping to reach Lynchburg, and after that
effect a junction with Johnston coming up from the south. But his
retreat was cut off near Appomattox, and being entirely surrounded he
had nothing to do but surrender to Grant with his entire army, April 9.
With his surrender, Richmond, of course, fell, and the war was
Out of the 2,200,000 men who had enlisted on the Union side, 110,000
were killed or mortally wounded, and 250,000 died from other causes. The
expense of the war was $3,250,000,000. The losses of the Confederates
were about three-quarters as much. Of the millions who had enlisted on
both sides, nearly a million of men perished, and over five thousand
millions of dollars were expended, probably a quarter of the whole
capital of the country at that time. So great were the sacrifices made
to preserve the Union,--at the cost of more blood and treasure than have
been spent in any other war in modern times.
I am compelled to omit notices of military movements in other parts of
the Union, especially in the West, where some of the most gallant
actions of the war took place,--the brilliant strategy of Rosecrans, the
signal achievements of Thomas, Sherman's march to the sea, Sheridan's
raids, the naval exploits of Farragut, Porter, and Foote, and other acts
of heroism, as not bearing directly on the life of Lincoln. Of course,
he felt the intensest interest in all the military operations, and bore
an unceasing burden of study and of anxiety, which of itself was a great
strain on all his powers. If anything had gone wrong which he could
remedy, his voice and his hand would have been heard and seen. But
toward the last other things demanded his personal attention, and these
were of great importance. There never had been a time since his
inauguration when he was free from embarrassments, and when his burdens
had not been oppressive.
Among other things, the misunderstanding between him and Secretary
Chase was anything but pleasant, Chase had proved himself the ablest
finance minister that this country had produced after Alexander
Hamilton. He was a man of remarkable dignity, integrity, and patriotism.
He was not vain, but he was conscious both of his services and his
abilities. And he was always inclined to underrate Lincoln, whom he
misunderstood. He also had presidential aspirations. After three years'
successful service he did not like to have his suggestions disregarded,
and was impatient under any interference with his appointments. To say
the least, his relations with the President were strained. Annoyed and
vexed with some appointments of importance, he sent in his resignation,
accompanied with a petulant letter. Lincoln, on its receipt, drove to
the Secretary's house, handed back to him his letter, and persuaded him
to reconsider his resignation. But it is difficult to mend a broken jar.
The same trouble soon again occurred in reference to the appointment in
New York of an assistant-treasurer by Mr. Chase, which the President,
having no confidence in the appointee, could not accept; on which the
Secretary again resigned, and Lincoln at once accepted his resignation,
with these words: "Of all I have said in commendation of your ability
and fidelity, I have nothing to unsay; and yet you and I have reached a
point of mutual embarrassment in our official relations, which it seems
cannot be overcome or longer sustained consistently with the
Mr. Chase, however, did not long remain unemployed. On the death of
Chief Justice Taney, in October, 1864, Mr. Lincoln appointed him to the
head of the Supreme Court,--showing how little he cherished resentment,
and how desirous he was to select the best men for all responsible
positions, whether he personally liked them or not. Even when an able
man had failed in one place, Lincoln generally found use for his
services in another,--witness the gallant exploits of Burnside, Hooker,
and Meade, after they had retired from the head of the Army of the
Potomac. As a successor to Mr. Chase in the Treasury, the President, to
the amazement of the country, selected Governor Tod of Ohio, who wisely
declined the office. The next choice fell on Senator Wm. Pitt Fessenden,
who reluctantly assumed an office which entailed such heavy
responsibilities and hard work, but who made in it a fine record for
efficiency. It was no slight thing to be obliged to raise one hundred
millions of dollars every month for the expense of the war.
While General Grant lay apparently idle in his trenches before
Petersburg, the presidential election of 1864 took place, and in spite
of the unpopular draft of five hundred thousand men in July, and a
summer and Autumn of severe fighting both East and West, Mr. Lincoln
was elected. There had been active and even acrimonious opposition, but
who could compete with him? At this time his extraordinary fitness for
the highest office in the gift of the nation was generally acknowledged,
and the early prejudices against him had mostly passed away. He neither
sought nor declined the re-election.
His second inaugural address has become historical for its lofty
sentiments and political wisdom. It was universally admired, and his
memorable words sunk into every true American heart. Said he:--
"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of
war may soon pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the
wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited
toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash
shall be paid with another drawn by the sword,--as was said three
thousand years ago, so still it must be said, 'The judgments of the Lord
are true and righteous altogether.'" And, as showing his earnest
conscientiousness, these familiar words: "With malice toward none, with
charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the
right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the
nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and
for his widow and orphans; to do all which may achieve and cherish a
just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." The
eloquence of this is surpassed only by his own short speech at the
dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, November 19, 1863,
which threw into the shade the rhetoric of the greatest orator of his
time, and stands--unstudied as it was--probably the most complete and
effective utterance known in this century.
That immortal inaugural address, in March, 1865;--so simple and yet so
eloquent, expresses two things in Mr. Lincoln's character to be
especially noted: first, the tenderness and compassion, blended with
stern energy and iron firmness of will, which shrank from bloodshed and
violence, yet counted any sacrifice of blood and treasure as of little
account in comparison with the transcendent blessing of national union
and liberty; and, secondly, the change which it would appear gradually
took place in his mind in reference to Divine supervision in the affairs
of men and nations.
I need not dwell on the first, since nothing is more unquestionable than
his abhorrence of all unnecessary bloodshed, or of anything like
vengeance, or punishment of enemies, whether personal or political. His
leniency and forgiveness were so great as to be denounced by some of his
best friends, and by all political fanatics. And this leniency and
forgiveness were the more remarkable, since he was not demonstrative in
his affections and friendships. From his judicial temper, and the
ascendency of his intellectual faculties over passion and interest, he
was apparently cold in his nature, and impassive in view of all passing
events, to such a degree that his humanity seemed to be based on a
philosophy very much akin to that of Marcus Aurelius. His sympathies
were keen, however, and many a distressed woman had cause for gratitude
to him for interference with the stern processes of army discipline in
time of war, much to the indignation of the civil or military martinets.
In regard to the change in his religious views, this fact is more
questionable, but attested by all who knew him, and by most of his
biographers. As a lawyer in Springfield his religious views, according
to his partner and biographer Herndon, were extremely liberal, verging
upon those advanced theories which Volney and Thomas Paine advocated,
even upon atheism itself. As he grew older he became more discreet as to
the expression of his religious opinions. Judge Davis, who knew him
well, affirms that he had no faith, in the Christian sense, but only in
laws, principles, cause and effect,--that is, he had no belief in a
personal God. No religion seemed to find favor with him except that of a
practical and rationalistic order. He never joined a church, and was
sceptical of the divine origin of the Bible, still more of what is
called providential agency in this world. But when the tremendous
responsibilities of his office began to press upon his mind, and the
terrible calamities he deplored, but could not avert, stirred up his
soul in anguish and sadness, then the recognition of the need of
assistance higher than that of man, for the guidance of this great
nation in its unparalleled trials, became apparent in all his
utterances. When he said, "as God gives us to see the right," he meant,
if he meant anything, that wisdom to act in trying circumstances is a
gift, distinct from what is ordinarily learned from experience or study.
This gift, we believe, he earnestly sought.
It must have been a profound satisfaction to Mr. Lincoln that he lived
to see the total collapse of the rebellion,--the fall of Richmond, the
surrender of Lee, and the flight of Jefferson Davis,--the complete
triumph of the cause which it was intrusted to him to guard. How happy
he must have been to see that the choice he made of a general-in-chief
in the person of Ulysses Grant had brought the war to a successful
close, whatever the sacrifices which this great general found it
necessary to make to win ultimate success! What a wonder it is that Mr.
Lincoln, surrounded with so many dangers and so many enemies, should
have lived to see the completion of the work for which he was raised up!
No life of ease or luxury or exultation did he lead after he was
inaugurated,--having not even time to visit the places where his earlier
life was passed; for him there were no triumphal visits to New York and
Boston,--no great ovations anywhere; his great office brought him only
hard and unceasing toil, which taxed all his energies.
It was while seeking a momentary relaxation from his cares and duties,
but a few weeks after his second inauguration, that he met his fate at
the hands of the assassin, from peril of whose murderous designs no
great actor on the scene of mortal strife and labor can be said to be
free. All that a grateful and sorrowing nation could do was done in
honor of his services and character. His remains were carried across the
land to their last resting-place in Illinois, through our largest
cities, with a funeral pageantry unexampled in the history of nations;
and ever since, orators have exhausted language in their encomiums of
his greatness and glory.
Some think that Lincoln died fortunately for his fame,--that had he
lived he might have made mistakes, especially in the work of
reconstruction, which would have seriously affected his claim as a great
On the other hand, had he lived, he might have put the work of
reconstruction on a basis which would have added to his great services
to the country. The South had no better friend than he, and he was
incapable of animosity or revenge. Certain it is that this work of
reconstruction requires even yet the greatest patriotism and a
marvellous political wisdom. The terrible fact that five millions of
free negroes are yet doomed to ignorance, while even the more
intelligent and industrious have failed to realize the ideals of
citizenship, makes the negro question still one of paramount importance
in the South. The great question whether they shall enjoy the right of
suffrage seems to be disposed of for the present; but the greater
problem of their education must be solved. The subject is receiving most
serious consideration, and encouraging progress is already making in the
direction of their general and industrial training: but they are fast
increasing; their labor is a necessity; and they must be educated to
citizenship, both in mind and in morals, or the fairest portion of our
country will find their presence a continuous menace to peace and
These questions it was not given to Mr. Lincoln to consider. He died
prematurely as a martyr. Nothing consecrates a human memory like
martyrdom. Nothing so effectually ends all jealousies, animosities, and
prejudices as the assassin's dagger. If Caesar had not been assassinated
it is doubtful if even he, the greatest man of all antiquity, could have
bequeathed universal empire to his heirs. Lincoln's death unnerved the
strongest mind, and touched the heart of the nation with undissembled
sadness and pity. From that time no one has dared to write anything
derogatory to his greatness. That he was a very great man no one now
It is impossible, however, for any one yet to set him in the historical
place, which, as an immortal benefactor, he is destined to occupy. All
speculation as to his comparative rank is worse than useless. Time
effects wonderful changes in human opinions. There are some people in
these days who affect to regard Washington as commonplace, as the
lawyers of Edinburgh at one time regarded Sir Walter Scott, because he
made no effort to be brilliant in after-dinner speeches. There are
others who, in the warmth of their innocent enthusiasm, think that
Lincoln's fame will go on increasing until, in the whole Eastern world,
among the mountains of Thibet, on the shores of China and Japan, among
the jungles of India, in the wilds of darkest Africa, in the furthermost
islands of the sea, his praises will be sung as second to no political
benefactor that the world has seen. As all exaggerations provoke
antagonism, it is wisest not to compare him with any national idols, but
leave him to the undisputed verdict of the best judges, that lie was one
of the few immortals who will live in a nation's heart and the world's
esteem from age to age. Is this not fame enough for a modest man, who
felt his inferiority, in many respects, to those to whom he himself
Lincoln's character is difficult to read, from its many-sided aspects.
He rarely revealed to the same person more than a single side. His
individuality was marvellous. "Let us take him," in the words of his
latest good biographer, "as simply Abraham Lincoln, singular and
solitary as we all see that he was. Let us be thankful if we can make a
niche big enough for him among the world's heroes without worrying
ourselves about the proportion it may bear to other niches; and there
let him remain forever, lonely, as in his strong lifetime, impressive,
mysterious, unmeasured, and unsolved."
One thing may be confidently affirmed of this man,--that he stands as a
notable exemplar, in the highest grade, of the American of this
century,--the natural development of the self-reliant English stock upon
our continent. Lowell, in his "Commemoration Ode," has set forth
Lincoln's greatness and this fine representative quality of his, in
words that may well conclude our study of the man and of the first full
epoch of American life:--
"Here was a type of the true elder race,
And one of Plutarch's men talked with us face to face.
I praise him not; it were too late;
And some innative weakness there must be
In him who condescends to victory
Such as the Present gives, and cannot wait,
Safe in himself as in a fate.
So always firmly he:
He knew to bide his time,
And can his fame abide,
Still patient in his simple faith sublime,
Till the wise years decide.
Great captains, with their guns and drums,
Disturb our judgment for the hour,
But at last silence comes;
These all are gone, and, standing like a tower,
Our children shall behold his fame,
The kindly earnest, brave, foreseeing man,
Sagacious, patient, dreading praise, not blame,
New birth of our new soil, the first American."
The most voluminous of the Lives of Abraham Lincoln is that of Nicolay
and Hay, which seems to be fair and candid without great exaggerations;
but it is more a political and military history of the United States
than a Life of Lincoln himself. Herndon's Life is probably the most
satisfactory of the period before Lincoln's inauguration. Holland,
Lamar, Stoddard, Arnold, and Morse have all written interesting
biographies. See also Ford's History of Illinois, Greeley's American
Conflict, Lincoln and Douglas Debates, Lincoln's Speeches, published by
the Century Co., Secretary Chase's Diary, Swinton's Army of the Potomac,
Lives of Seward, McClellan, Garrison, and Grant, Grant's Autobiography,
McClure's Lincoln and Men of War Times, Wilson's History of the Rise and
Fall of the Slave Power.
ROBERT EDWARD LEE.
THE SOUTHERN CONFEDERACY.
BY E. BENJAMIN ANDREWS, LL.D.
Robert Edward Lee had perhaps a more illustrious traceable lineage than
any American not of his family. His ancestor, Lionel Lee, crossed the
English Channel with William the Conqueror. Another scion of the clan
fought beside Richard the Lion-hearted at Acre in the Third Crusade. To
Richard Lee, the great landowner on Northern Neck, the Virginia Colony
was much indebted for royal recognition. His grandson, Henry Lee, was
the grandfather of "Light-horse Harry" Lee, of Revolutionary fame, who
was the father of Robert Edward Lee.
Robert E. Lee was born on Jan. 19,1807, in Westmoreland County, Va., the
same county that gave to the world George Washington and James Monroe.
Though he was fatherless at eleven, the father's blood in him inclined
him to the profession of arms, and when eighteen,--in 1825,--on an
appointment obtained for him by General Andrew Jackson, he entered the
Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in 1829, being second in
rank in a class of forty-six. Among his classmates were two men whom one
delights to name with him,--Ormsby M. Mitchell, later a general in the
Federal army, and Joseph E. Johnston, the famous Confederate. Lee was at
once made Lieutenant of Engineers, but, till the Mexican War, attained
only a captaincy. This was conferred on him in 1838.
In 1831, Lee had been married to Miss Mary Randolph Custis, the
grand-daughter of Mrs. George Washington. By this marriage he became
possessor of the beautiful estate at Arlington, opposite Washington, his
home till the Civil War. The union, blessed by seven children, was in
all respects most happy.
In his prime, Lee was spoken of as the handsomest man in the army. He
was about six feet tall, perfectly built, healthy, fond of outdoor life,
enthusiastic in his profession, gentle, dignified, studious,
broad-minded, and positively, though unobtrusively, religious. If he had
faults, which those nearest him doubted, they were excess of modesty and
excess of tenderness.
During the Mexican War, Captain Lee directed all the most important
engineering operations of the American army,--a work vital to its
wonderful success. Already, at the siege of Vera Cruz, General Scott
mentioned him as having "greatly distinguished himself." He was
prominent in all the operations thence to Cerro Gordo, where, in April,
1847, he was brevetted Major. Both at Contreras and at Churubusco he was
credited with gallant and meritorious services. At the charge up
Chapultepec, in which Joseph E. Johnston, George B. McClellan, George E.
Pickett, and Thomas J. Jackson participated, Lee bore Scott's orders to
all points until from loss of blood by a wound, and from the loss of two
nights' sleep at the batteries, he actually fainted away in the
discharge of his duty. Such ability and devotion brought him home from
Mexico bearing the brevet rank of Colonel. General Scott had learned to
think of him as "the greatest military genius in America."
In 1852 Lee was made Superintendent of the West Point Military Academy.
In 1855 he was commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel of Col. Albert Sidney
Johnston's new cavalry regiment, just raised to serve in Texas. March,
1861, saw him Colonel of the First United States Cavalry. With the
possible exception of the two Johnstons, he was now the most promising
candidate for General Scott's position whenever that venerable hero
vacated it, as he was sure to do soon.
On the initiative of Mississippi, a provisional Congress had met at
Montgomery on Feb. 4, 1861, and created a provisional constitution for
the Confederate States of America. By March 11 a permanent constitution
was drafted, reproducing that of the United States, with certain
modifications. Slavery and State-sovereignty received elaborate
guarantees. Bounties and protective tariffs were absolutely forbidden.
Cabinet members had seats in Congress. Parts of appropriation bills
could be vetoed. The presidential term was six years, and a president
could not be re-elected. This constitution, having been ratified by five
or more legislatures, was set in play by the provisional Congress.
Virginia on seceding was taken into the Confederacy, and the Confederate
capital changed from Montgomery to Richmond.
Lee was a Virginian, and Virginia, about to secede and at length
seceding, in most earnest tones besought her distinguished son to join
her. It seemed to him the call of duty, and that call, as he understood
it, was one which it was not in him to disobey. President Lincoln knew
the value of the man, and sent Frank Blair to him to say that if he
would abide by the Union he should soon command the whole active army.
That would probably have meant his election, in due time, to the
presidency of his country. "For God's sake, don't resign, Lee!" General
Scott--himself a Virginian--is said to have pleaded. He replied: "I am
compelled to; I cannot consult my own feelings in the matter."
Accordingly, on April 20, 1861, three days after Virginia passed its
ordinance of secession, Lee sent to Simon Cameron, Secretary of War,
his resignation as an officer in the United States army.
Few at the North were able to understand the Secession movement, most
denying that a man at once thoughtful and honorable could join in it. So
centralized had the North by 1861 become in all social and economic
particulars, that centrality in government was taken as a matter of
course. Representing this, the Nation was deemed paramount to any State.
Governmental sovereignty, like travel and trade, had come to ignore
State lines. The whole idea and feeling of State-sovereignty, once as
potent North as South, had vanished and been forgotten.
Far otherwise at the South, where, owing to the great size of States and
to the paucity of railways and telegraphs, interstate association was
not yet a force. Each State, being in square miles ample enough for an
empire, retained to a great extent the consciousness of an independent
nation. The State was near and palpable; the central government seemed a
vague and distant thing. Loyalty was conceived as binding one primarily
to one's own State.
It is a misconception to explain this feeling--for in most cases it was
feeling rather than reasoned conviction--by Calhoun's teaching. It
resulted from geography and history, and, these factors working as they
did, would have been what it was had Calhoun never lived.
With reflecting Southerners Calhoun's message no doubt had some
confirmatory effect, because, historically and also in a certain legal
aspect, Calhoun's view was very impressive. That the overwhelming
majority of the early Americans who voted to ratify the national
Constitution supposed it to be simply a compact between the States
cannot be questioned, nor could ratification ever have been effected had
any considerable number believed otherwise. The view that a State
wishing to withdraw from the Union might for good cause do so was the
prevalent one till long after the War of 1812, yielding, thereafter, at
the North, less to Webster's logic than to the social and economic
development just mentioned.
At the South it did not thus give way. There the propriety of secession
was never aught but a question of sufficient grievance, to be settled by
each State for itself, speaking through a majority of its voters. When
the Secession ordinances actually passed, many individual voters in each
State opposed on the ground that the occasion was insufficient; but such
opponents, of whom Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia was one, nearly to a
man felt bound, as good citizens, to acquiesce in the decision of their
States and even to uphold this in arms.
Whether voting secession or accepting it on State mandate, Southern men
naturally resented being called traitors or rebels. By the Websterian
conception of the nature of our government they were so, but by
Calhoun's they were simply acting out the Constitution in the best of
faith. No recognized arbiter or criterion existed to determine between
the two views. Massachusetts denounced seceding South Carolina as a
traitor: South Carolina berated Massachusetts, seeking to impose the
Union on the South against its will, as a criminal aggressor. An
intelligent referee with no bias for either must have pronounced the
judgments equally just.
These considerations explain how Colonel Lee, certainly one of the most
conscientious men who ever lived, felt bound in duty and honor to side
with seceding Virginia, though he doubted the wisdom of her course.
Lee was from the first Virginia's military hero and hope, but he did not
at once become such to the Confederacy at large. He did not immediately
take the field. Till after Bull Run he remained in Richmond, President
Jefferson Davis's adviser and right hand man in organizing the forces
incessantly arriving and pushing to the front.
In his brief West Virginia campaign, where he first came in contact with
McClellan, being looked upon as an invader rather than a friend, Lee had
scant success. Some therefore called him a "mere historic name,"
"Letcher's pet," a "West Pointer," no fighting general. He went to South
Carolina to supervise the repair and building of coast fortifications
there, and it was no doubt in large part owing to his engineering skill
then applied that Charleston, whose sea-door the Federals incessantly
pounded from the beginning, probably wasting there more powder and iron
than at all other points together, was captured only at the end of the
war and then from the land side. In March, 1862, General Lee again
became President Davis's military adviser.
But though thus in relative obscurity, Lee was not forgotten. President
Davis knew his man and knew that his hour would come. When, in May,
1862, the vast Federal army stood almost at Richmond's gates, Albert
Sidney Johnston being dead and Joseph E. Johnston lying wounded, the
Confederacy lifted up its voice and called Robert E. Lee to assume
command upon the Chickahominy front. This he did on June 1, 1862.
The Confederates' ill-success on the second day of the Fair Oaks battle
was to them a blessing in disguise. It put McClellan at his ease, giving
Lee time to accomplish three extremely important ends. He could rest and
recruit his army, fortify the south of Richmond with stout works, a
detail which had not been attended to before, and send Stonewall Jackson
down the valley of Virginia, so frightening the authorities in
Washington that they dared not re-enforce McClellan.
Brilliant victory resulted. Leaving only 25,000 men between his capital
and his foe, Lee, on June 26, threw the rest across the upper
Chickahominy and attacked the Federal right. Fighting terribly at
Mechanicsville and Gaines's Mill, A.P. Hill and Jackson, the latter
having made forced marches from the Shenandoah to join in the movement,
pushed back Fitz-John Porter's corps across the Chickahominy, sundering
McClellan entirely from his York River base. The Union army was now
nearer Richmond than the bulk of Lee's, which was beyond the
Chickahominy, at that time none too easily crossed. Had McClellan been
Lee or Grant or Sherman he would have made a dash for Richmond. But he
was McClellan, and Lee knew perfectly well that he would attempt nothing
so bold. Retreat was the Northerner's thought, and he did retreat--in
good order, and hitting back venomously from White Oak Swamp and Malvern
Hill--till he had reached Harrison's Landing upon the James, where
gunboats sheltered and supply-ships fed his men.
Lee felt disappointed with the seven days' fighting in that he had not
crushed McClellan. He had, however, forced him to raise the siege of
Richmond and to retreat thirty or forty miles. The Confederacy breathed
freely again, and its gallant chieftain began to be famous.
The new leader had thus far given only hints of his fertile strategy.
McClellan's army was still but two days' march from Richmond. Its front
was perfectly fortified,--McClellan was an engineer; gunboats protected
its flanks. Lee--an engineer, too--knew that to attack McClellan there
would be too costly; yet McClellan must be removed, and this before he
could be re-enforced for an advance. His removal was accomplished.
General Pope was threatening Richmond from the North. The government
expected great things of him. In a pompous manifesto he had given out
that retreating days were over, that his headquarters were to be in the
saddle, and, that, as he swept on to Richmond, where he evidently
expected to arrive in the course of a few days, his difficulty was going
to be not to whip his enemy but to get at him in order to do so.
When Pope wrote that manifesto he knew many men, but there was one man
whom he did not yet know. It was Stonewall Jackson, the most unique and
interesting character rolled into notice by those tempestuous years,
unless Nathan Bedford Forrest is the exception. Like the great
"Terrible he rode, alone,
With his Yemen sword for aid;
Ornament it carried none
Save the notches on its blade."
Jackson was an intensely religious man. Unlike many good soldiers he
wore his piety into camp and on to the battlefield, and would not have
hesitated to offer prayer to the God of battles where every one of his
thirty thousand men could see and hear. And all those soldiers believed
in the efficacy of their commander's prayers. Jackson was also a stern
disciplinarian. If men in any way sought to evade duty, provost-marshals
were ordered to bring them into line, if necessary at the pistol's
point. In consequence, when the day of battle came, there was not a man
in the corps who did not feel sure that if he shirked duty Stonewall
Jackson would shoot him and God Almighty would damn him. This helped to
render Jackson's thirty thousand perhaps the most efficient
fighting-machine which had appeared upon the battlefield since the
Ironsides of Oliver Cromwell.
Pope was destined to make Jackson's acquaintance speedily--and rather
unceremoniously, for Jackson was ill-mannered enough, instead of passing
in his card at Pope's front door, as etiquette required, to present it
at the kitchen-gate. Before Pope was aware, his enterprising opponent,
whose war motto was that one man behind your enemy is worth ten in his
front, had gone around through Thoroughfare Gap to Manassas Junction and
planted himself (August 26, 1862) square across the only railroad that
ran between Pope's army and Washington. Pope should have volted and
struck Jackson like lightning before the rest of Lee's army could come
up; but two considerations made him slow. One was that Longstreet's wing
of Lee's army was now rather close in his front, and the other,
mortification at turning back after having started southward with such a
blare of trumpets.
Brave Confederate soldiers who were at Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run,
and Chantilly, bear witness that the blood Pope's men shed in those
battles ran red. But dazed, tired, lacking confidence, and at last on
short rations, and faced or flanked by Lee's whole army, while but part
of McClellan's was at hand, they fought either to fall or to
No one witnessing it can ever forget the consternation which prevailed
in the fortifications about Washington the night after the battle of
Chantilly. The writer's own troop, manning Fort Ward, a few miles out
from Alexandria, stood to its heavy guns every moment of that dismal
night, gazing frontwards for a foe. The name "Stonewall Jackson" was on
each lip. At the break of dawn, when to weary soldiers trees and fences
easily look "pokerish," brave artillerists swore that they could see the
dreaded warrior charging down yonder hill heading a division, and in
almost agonizing tones begged leave to "load for action."
Lee probably made a mistake in entering Maryland after the battle of
Chantilly, and his report implies that he would not at this time have
done so for merely military reasons. But, having crossed the Potomac, he
did well to fight at Sharpsburg (Antietam, Sept. 17, 1862) before
recrossing. This was well, because it was bold. Moreover, by bruising
the Federals there he delayed them, getting ample time for ensconcing
his army on the Rappahannock front for the winter.
Also for the battle of Fredericksburg (Dec. 13, 1862) Lee deserves no
special praise. Doubtless his unerring engineer eye picked the
fighting-line, and his already great prestige inspired his brave army.
But that was all. The pluck of his officers and men and Burnside's
incapacity did the rest.
Never did a general carry to battle a better plan of battle than
Fighting Joe Hooker's at Chancellorsville (May 2-3, 1863), and rarely
has one marched from a battle that had proved for his own side a more
lamentable fiasco. Taking the offensive with vast advantage in numbers,
he proposed to hold Lee in place with one of his wings while he thrust
the other behind Lee's left, between the Confederate army and Richmond.
But he had started a game at which two could play and had challenged a
more deft and daring gamester than himself. Early divining his purpose,
Lee, leaving a small part of his force to engage Hooker's left, with the
rest vigorously assumed the counter-offensive, sending Jackson, as
usual, around Hooker's extreme right. Both movements completely
Now appeared the folly of promoting a general to the headship of a great
army simply because of his fighting-quality and his success with a
division or a corps. Attacked in front and routed on his flank, Hooker
did exactly what all who knew him would have taken oath that he would
never do. Instead of going straight ahead with vengeance and bidding his
far left do the same, he ordered and executed a retreat to his old
position north of the Rappahannock.
There were those who laid this disaster to Hooker's intemperance.
President Lincoln probably had such a suspicion, when, sending General
Hooker west to join General Sherman, he admonished him in passing
through Kentucky "to steer clear of Bourbon County." Though Hooker was
not a total-abstainer, Chancellorsville is not to be explained by that
fact any more than Jubal A. Early's defeat by Sheridan in the Shenandoah
Valley is referrible to his use of apple-brandy.
Hooker did not create his own defeat, as Burnside may, with little
exaggeration, be said to have done at Fredericksburg. Lee defeated him,
and deserved the immense fame which the victory brought. No wonder he
began to plan for the offensive again. Soon the ever-memorable
Gettysburg campaign was begun.
The details of this campaign, even those of the battle itself (July
1-3, 1863), we cannot give here. Nor need we. The world knows them:--the
first day, with Hill's and Ewell's success, costing the Union the life
of its gallant General Reynolds, commanding the First Corps; the second
day, when, back and forth by the Devil's Den, Hood on one side and Dan
Sickles on the other, fought their men as soldiers had never fought on
the American continent before; and the third day, when for an hour a
hundred cannon on Seminary Ridge belched hell-fire at a hundred cannon
on Cemetery Ridge, prelude, in the natural key, to Pickett's
"A thousand fell where Kemper led,
A thousand died where Garnett bled.
In blinding flame and strangling smoke
The remnant through the batteries broke
And crossed the works with Armistead."
The Union army was for the first time fighting a great battle on Union
soil. The homes of many who were engaged stood within sound of the
Gettysburg cannon. As the Confederates did in many other engagements,
the Federals here felt that they were repelling an invader, and they
fought accordingly, with a grim iron resisting power which they had
never displayed before.
Great praise was due to General Hancock, and perhaps still more to
General Howard, for early perceiving the strength of Cemetery Hill as a
defensible position. On the first day, after General Reynolds had
fallen at his post of duty with the First Corps, General Doubleday, next
in command, was on the point of ordering a retreat, the attack seeming
too fearful to be withstood. But Howard, coming up with the Eleventh
Corps and assuming command of the field, overruled Doubleday, and, by
enforcing a most stubborn resistance against Hill's and Ewell's
desperate onsets, probably saved Cemetery Hill from capture
So far as has ever yet been made apparent, every plan which Lee formed
for the battle of Gettysburg, every order which he gave, was wise and
right. We do not except even his management on the third day. It is easy
to find fault with dispositions when they have failed of happy results.
Men have said that instead of attacking in front on that day Lee should
have drawn Ewell from the left and thrown him to Longstreet's right,
manoeuvring Meade out of his position. But in this matter, too, Lee's
judgment was probably good. Changing his plan of attack would have been
a partial confession of defeat, to some extent disheartening his men.
The Union Sixth Corps, fresh and free, General John Sedgwick at its
head, was sure to have pounced on any troops seeking to trouble Meade's
left, and, had Meade been successfully flanked and forced back, he would
have retired to Pipe Creek and been stronger than ever.
Of course, Pickett should never have been sent forward alone. You could
wade the Atlantic as easily as he, unsupported, could go beyond that
stone wall. But, from all one can learn, Lee was in fact not responsible
for Pickett's lack of support, although in almost guilty nobleness of
spirit he assumed the responsibility, and silently rested under the
imputation of it till his death.
Had Lee's great subordinates, Ewell at nightfall on the first day, and
Longstreet on the other two days, seconded him with the alacrity and
devotion usually displayed by them, or had Stonewall Jackson been still
alive and in the place of either of these generals, the issue of the
battle would almost to a certainty have been very different from what it
was. A soldier who had often followed to victory the enterprising Graham
of Claverhouse, but, under a weaker leader, saw a battle wavering, cried
out, "O for one hour of Dundee!" So must Lee often have sighed for
Stonewall, the loss of whom at Chancellorsville made that, for the
Confederacy, a sort of Pyrrhic victory.
Lee's skill at Gettysburg has been questioned in that he fought his army
upon the longer line, the big fishhook described by his position lying
outside the little one formed by the Federal army. But Lee fought on the
outer line also at Second Bull Run, winning one of the neatest victories
in modern warfare.
John Codman Ropes, the well-known military critic, says of this battle:
"It would be hard to find a better instance of that masterly
comprehension of the actual condition of things which marks a great
general than was exhibited in General Lee's allowing our formidable
attack, in which more than half the Federal army was taking part, to be
fully developed and to burst upon the exhausted troops of Stonewall
Jackson, while Lee, relying upon the ability of that able soldier to
maintain his position, was maturing and arranging for the great attack
on our left flank by the powerful corps of Longstreet."
In Prussia's war with Austria in 1866, Von Moltke's plan at the battle
of Sadowa, where he splendidly triumphed, was in the same respect a
close imitation of Lee's at Gettysburg. The Prussians occupied the outer
fish-hook line, the Austrians the inner. When the pickets closed in the
morning Von Moltke saluted King William and said: "Your Majesty will
to-day win not only the battle but the campaign." At noon this did not
appear possible. Prince Frederick Charles's corps were withering under
the hottest artillery fire of the century, save that at Gettysburg, just
three years earlier to the hour. It seemed as if in fifteen minutes they
must give way. But, hark! What means that cheering on the left? New
cannons boom and the Austrian fire slackens! Von Moltke knows perfectly
well what it means. The Crown-Prince has arrived with his fresh corps.
He has stormed the Heights of Chlum--the Culp's Hill of that
battlefield. He enfilades the whole Austrian line. Benedek is beaten; on
to Vienna; the war is ended!
It was with a heavy heart that General Lee ordered his brave men
southward again--a heart made heavier by many a stinging criticism
against him in the Southern press. The resolution that bore him up at
this crisis was morally sublime. He could not hope to strengthen his
army more. For a time he had to weaken it by sending Longstreet west to
assist Bragg in fighting the battle of Chickamauga. Clothing, rations,
animals, and forage, as well as men, were increasingly scarce. The South
was exhausted much sooner than any expected, having greatly
overestimated its wealth by taking exports and imports for gauge.
Doubtful if ever before was so large and populous a region so far from
self-sustaining. The force against Lee, on the other hand, was daily
Till Gettysburg, Lee had toyed with the Army of the Potomac--not because
the rank and file of that army was at fault, and not mainly because of
its generals' inability, but mostly because of political interference
with its operations. The great and revered President Lincoln, with all
his powers, was not a military man. No more was Secretary Stanton. They
secured the best military aid they could. From an early period General
Halleck--"Old Brains," men called him because of his immense military
information--was their constant adviser; and though he was a scholar
rather than a genius, he could doubtless have saved them many an error
had they heeded his counsel instead of civilian clamor.
How impressively did not the Civil War teach that fine military
scholarship alone, while it may greatly add to a general's efficiency,
cannot make a true military leader! Compare Halleck with Grant or
Sherman! The Creoles of Louisiana considered their Beauregard the _ne
plus ultra_ military genius of the South. One of them was once asked his
opinion of General Lee. He replied in his broken English: "O, Gen Lee a
ve'y good gen'l, ve'y good gen'l indeed; Gen Beaugar speak ve'y fav'ble
of Gen Lee." So, at last, did Halleck speak "ve'y fav'ble" of Grant.
But Gettysburg convinced Lee that he could toy with the Potomac army no
longer, and this was more than ever impossible after Grant took command.
Then Greek met Greek, and the death grapple began. At the Wilderness, at
Spottsylvania, and most mercilessly of all at Cold Harbor, Grant drove
his colossal battering-ram against Lee's gray wall, only to find it
solid as Gibraltar.
This struggle tested both commanders' mettle to the utmost. At the end
of the hammering campaign, after losing men enough to form an army as
large as Lee's, Grant's van was full twice as far from Richmond as
McClellan's had been two years before. Not once was Lee flanked, duped,
or surprised. As always hitherto, so now, his darling mode of defence
was offence,--to fight,--Grant's every blow being met with another
before it hit. Only once were Lee's lines forced straight back to stay.
Even then, at the Spottsylvania "bloody angle," the ground he lost
hardly sufficed to graveyard the Union men killed in getting it. In
swinging round to Petersburg, and again at the springing of the
Petersburg Mine, Grant thought himself sure to make enormous gains; but
Lee's insight into his purposes, and lightning celerity in checkmating
these, foiled both movements, giving the mine operation, moreover, the
effect of a deadly boomerang.
Spite of all this, the end of the Confederacy was in sight from the
moment of Grant's arrival at Petersburg. During the three years that Lee
and his indomitable aides and soldiers had been holding at bay brave and
perfectly appointed armies vastly outnumbering them, and twice boldly
assuming the offensive, with disaster indeed, yet with glory, two other
grand campaigns had been going on wherein the Confederacy had fared much
worse. The capture of New Orleans, of Island No. Ten, and of Vicksburg,
had let the Father of Waters again run "unvexed to the sea." A second
line of operations _via_ Murfreesborough, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and
Savannah, had divided the Confederacy afresh. Sherman's army, which had
achieved this, began on Feb. 1, 1865, to march northward from Savannah.
Bravery in camp and field and deathless endurance at home could not take
the place of bread. The blockade was, to be sure, for some time
extensively evaded, admitting English wares of all sorts in great
quantities. But in no long time the blockade tightened. Moreover,
comparatively little cotton was raised which could in any event have
been exported. Credit failing, imports, if any, had to be paid for in
money. This, of course, was soon spent, and then importation ceased.
Privateers destroyed but could bring nothing home.
As the war progressed, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Louisiana, and
with the fall of Vicksburg the whole immense Trans-Mississippi tract,
were lost to the Confederacy. Sherman's march isolated also Mississippi,
Alabama, and Georgia.
The dearth of necessaries, save corn and bacon, became desperate. Salt
and wheat bread were rare luxuries. In 1864 a suit of jean cost $600, a
spool of cotton $30, a pound of bacon $15. It should, of course, be
borne in mind that these high prices in part represented the
depreciation of Confederate paper money. Drastic drafting and the arming
of negroes could avail little for lack of accoutrements and food. Thus
Lee's capitulation at Appomattox (April 9, 1865) represents less a
defeat of his army than the breakdown of the Confederacy at large. So
true and impressive is this that reflection upon it makes the last year
of Lee's commandership seem peculiarly glorious. Only by rarest genius,
surely, were those dazzling tactics, that lynx-eyed, sleepless
watchfulness, that superhuman patience and superhuman valor, protracted,
incessant for a whole year, keeping intact, victorious, and full of
inspiration that gray line, ever longer, ever thinner, of men
outnumbered two, then three, and at last five to one, whose food and
clothing grew scantier with the days, while the bounties of a continent
replenished their opponents,--keeping that tenuous line unbroken till
very starvation unfitted soldiers to handle muskets which must be used
empty if at all, because ammunition was spent! And when we recall that
all this was accomplished not because the Union army was cowardly,
ill-led, or asleep, but in spite of Grant's relentless push and an ably
led army as brave, wary, and determined as ever marched: let us ask
critics versed in the history of war, if books tell of generalship more
complete than this!
Lee's military conduct revealed, it must be admitted, one weakness, that
of undue leniency toward slack, dilatory, and opinionated subordinates.
This was, however, only in part Lee's personal fault. Mainly it was the
military counterpart of the rope-of-sand infirmity inherent in a
Confederacy which in every possible way deified the individual State and
snubbed the central power. Without jeopardizing the Confederacy, Lee
could not at Gettysburg deal with Longstreet as Grant did with Warren at
Five Forks, or as Sherman did with Palmer in North Carolina. It seems
that Lee's orders to his main subordinates were habitually of the nature
of requests. Yet what obedience was not accorded him in spite of this!
Most striking among the characteristics of General Lee which made him so
successful was his exalted and unmatched excellence as a man, his
unselfishness, sweetness, gentleness, patience, love of justice, and
general elevation of soul. Lee much loved to quote Sir William
Hamilton's words: "On earth nothing great but man: in man nothing great
but mind." He always added, however: "In mind nothing great save
devotion to truth and duty." Though a soldier, and at last very eminent
as a soldier, he retained from the beginning to the end of his career
the entire temper and character of an ideal civilian. He did not sink
the man in the military man. He had all a soldier's virtues, the
"chevalier without fear and without reproach," but he was glorified by a
whole galaxy of excellences which soldiers too often lack. He was pure
of speech and of habit, never intemperate, never obscene, never profane,
never irreverent. In domestic life he was an absolute model. Lofty
command did not make him vain.
The Southern army had one prominent officer with a high ecclesiastical
title, the Rt. Rev. Lieutenant-General Leonidas Polk, D.D., LL.D.,
Bishop of Louisiana, commanding a corps in Bragg's army. He was killed
in battle at Pine Mountain, Ga., during Sherman's advance on Atlanta.
Stonewall Jackson was so famed for his rather obtrusive though awfully
real piety that men named him the Havelock of the army. But none who
knew the three will call Lee less a Christian than either of the others.
He prayed daily for his enemies in arms, and no word of hate toward the
North ever escaped his tongue or his pen. He had the faith and devotion
of a true crusader. His letters breathe the spirit of a better earth
than this. Collected into a volume, they would make an invaluable book
of devotional literature. No wonder officers and men passionately loved
such a commander, glad, at his bidding, to crowd where the fight was
thickest and death the surest.
Sir Thomas Malory's words are not inaptly applied to Lee: "Ah, Sir
Lancelot, thou wert head of all Christian knights; thou wert never
matched of earthly knight's hand; and thou wert the courtliest knight
that ever bare shield; and thou wert the kindest man that ever strake
with sword; and thou wert the goodliest person that ever came among
press of knights; and thou wert the meekest man and the gentliest that
ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou wert the sternest knight to thy
mortal foe that ever put spear in rest."
Exquisitely appropriate is also Professor Trent's comparison of Lee
"with Belisarius and Turenne and Marlborough and Moltke, on the one
hand, and on the other with Callicratidas, and Saint Louis, with the
Chevalier Bayard and Sir Philip Sidney."
A remarkable trait of General Lee's military character was his tireless
and irresistible energy. While one whom he deemed a foe of his State
remained on her soil, he could not rest. From the moment he took command
of the Army of Northern Virginia, all was action in that army. During
the nine weeks after A.P. Hill struck Mechanicsville that earthquake
shock, how did not the war-map change! Richmond was set free; Washington
was threatened. Lee whipped McClellan before Pope could help, then Pope
before McClellan could help. The first evening at Gettysburg, Longstreet
having impressively pointed out the strength of Meade's position on
Cemetery Hill, Lee instantly replied, "If he is there in the morning, I
shall attack him." The second morning of the Wilderness battle, Grant,
obviously expecting to anticipate all movement upon the other side,
ordered charge at five o'clock. Lee charged at half-past four. Grant was
determined to reach Spottsylvania first, but there, too, Lee awaited
him, having had some hours to rest. Prostrate and half-delirious in his
tent one day during Grant's effort to flank him, he kept murmuring: "We
must strike them; we must not let them pass without striking them."
Longstreet was too slow for him, and so was even the ever-ready A.P.
Hill. Years later, Lee's dying words were: "Tell Hill he _must_
To appreciate his cat-like agility, one must remember that Lee was the
oldest general made famous by the war. It is thought that years
accounted for Napoleon's refusal to fight the Old Guard at Borodino, as
his ablest generals urged. Napoleon was then forty-three, eleven years
younger than Lee was when our war began. It is to young Napoleon we must
turn to find parallels for Lee's celerity. Second Bull Run and
Chancellorsville may fitly be compared to Arcola and Rivoli. It has been
observed that, like Napoleon, Lee avoided passive defence, seeming the
assailant even when on the defensive. Like him, he was swift and
terrible in availing himself of an enemy's mistakes. It can hardly be
doubted that Lee's campaigns furnished more or less inspiration and
direction for Von Moltke's immortal movements in 1866 and in 1870-71.
That Lee was brave need not be said. He was not as rash as Hood and
Cleburne sometimes were. He knew the value of his life to the great
cause, and, usually at least, did not expose himself needlessly.
Prudence he had, but no fear. His resolution to lead the charge at the
Bloody Angle--rashness for once--shows fearlessness. Tender-hearted as
he was, Lee felt battle frenzy as hardly another great commander ever
did. From him it spread like magnetism to his officers and men,
thrilling all as if the chief himself were close by in the fray,
shouting, "Now fight, my good fellows, fight!" Yet such was Lee's
self-command that this dreadful ardor never carried him too far. Once,
namely, at Fredericksburg, recovery from the fighting mood perhaps
occurred too promptly. Some have thought this, suggesting that had the
leash not been applied to the dogs of war so early, Burnside's retreat
might have been made a rout.
But Lee possessed another order of courage infinitely higher and rarer
than this,--the sort so often lacking even in generals who have served
with utmost distinction in high subordinate places, when they are called
to the sole and decisive direction of armies: he had that royal mettle,
that preternatural decision of character, ever tempered with caution and
wisdom, which leads a great commander, when true occasion arises,
resolutely to give general battle, or to swing out away from his base
upon a precarious but promising campaign. Here you have moral heroism;
ordinary valor is more impulsive. A weaker man, albeit total stranger to
fear, ready to lead his division or his corps into the very mouth of
hell, if commanded, being set himself to direct an army, will be either
rash or else too timid, or fidget from one extreme to the other,
Hooker began bravely at Chancellorsville, but soon grew faint and
afraid. Hood says that Hardee's timidity lost him a great victory at
Decatur, Ga., the day the Union General McPherson fell; and that
Cheatham's, at Spring Hill, during his northward pursuit of Thomas, lost
him another. Yet Hooker, Hardee, and Cheatham were men to whom personal
fear was a meaningless phrase. Stonewall Jackson was personally no
braver than they; it was his bravery of the higher sort that set him as
a general so incomparably above them. The same high quality belonged to
Grant and Sherman, and to Washington and Greene in the Revolutionary War.
It was in this supreme kind of boldness that Robert Lee pre-eminently
excelled. Cautious always, he still took risks and responsibilities
which common generals would not have dared to take; and when he had
assumed these, his mighty will forbade him to sink under the load. The
braying of bitter critics, the obloquy of men who should have supported
him, the shots from behind, dismayed him no more than did Burnside's
cannon at Fredericksburg. On he pressed, stout as a Titan, relentless as
fate. What time bravest hearts failed at victory's delay, this
Dreadnaught rose to his best, and furnished courage for the whole
Lee's campaigns and battles "exhibit the triumph of profound
intelligence, of calculation, and of well-employed force over numbers
and disunited counsels."
Lee always manoeuvred; he never merely "pitched in." As he right-flanked
McClellan, so both at Manassas and at Chantilly he right-flanked
Pope,--all three times using for the work Jackson, the tireless and the
terrible. At Second Bull Run, to show that he was no slave to one form
of strategy, he muffled up Pope's left instead of his right, here using
Longstreet. His tactics were as masterful as his strategy. At Second
Bull Run, fearfully hammered by the noble Fifth Corps, that had fought
like so many tigers at Gaines's Mill and Malvern Hill, even Stonewall
Jackson cried to Lee for aid. Aid came, but not in men. Longstreet's
cannon, cunningly planted to enfilade the Fifth Corps' front, shattered
the Federals' attacking column and placed Stonewall at his ease.
Considering everything, his paucity of men and means, the necessity
always upon him of reckoning with political as well as with military
situations, and his success in holding even Grant at bay so long, Lee's
masterful campaigns of 1862, 1863, 1864, and 1865 not only constitute
him the foremost military virtuoso of his own land, but write his name
high on the scroll of the greatest captains of history, beside those of
Gustavus Adolphus, William of Orange, Tilly, Frederic the Great, Prince
Eugene, Napoleon, Wellington, and Von Moltke.
In a sense, of course, the cause for which Lee fought was "lost;" yet a
very great part of what he and his _confreres_ sought, the war actually
secured and assured. His cause was not "lost" as Hannibal's was, whose
country, with its institutions, spite of his genius and devotion,
utterly perished from the earth. Yet Hannibal is remembered more widely
than Scipio. Were Lee in the same case with Hannibal, men would magnify
his name as long as history is read. "Of illustrious men," says
Thucydides, "the whole earth is the sepulchre. They are immortalized not
alone by columns and inscriptions in their own lands; memorials to them
rise in foreign countries as well,--not of stone, it may be, but
unwritten, in the thoughts of posterity."
Lee's case resembles Cromwell's much more than Hannibal's. The _regime_
against which Cromwell warred returned in spite of him; but it returned
modified, involving all the reforms for which the chieftain had bled. So
the best of what Lee drew sword for is here in our actual America, and,
please God, shall remain here forever.
Decisions of the United States Supreme Court since Secession give a
sweep and a certainty to the rights of States and limit the central
power in this Republic as had never been done before. The wild doctrines
of Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens on these points are not our law. If the
Union is perpetual, equally so is each State. The Republic is "an
indestructible Union of indestructible States." If this part of our law
had in 1861 received its present definition and emphasis, and if the
Southern States had then been sure, come what might, of the freedom they
actually now enjoy each to govern itself in its own way, even South
Carolina might never have voted secession. And inasmuch as the war,
better than aught else could have done, forced this phase of the
Constitution out into clear expression, General Lee did not fight in
vain. The essential good he wished has come, while the Republic, with
its priceless benedictions to us all, remains intact. All Americans thus
have part in Robert Lee, not only as a peerless man and soldier, but as
the sturdy miner, sledge-hammering the rock of our liberties till it
gave forth its gold. None are prouder of his record than those who
fought against him, who, while recognizing the purity of his motive,
thought him in error in going from under the Stars and Stripes. It is
likely that more American hearts day by day think lovingly of Lee than
of any other Civil War celebrity, save Lincoln alone. And his praise
It was thoroughly characteristic of Lee that he would not after the war
leave the country, as a few eminent Confederates did, and also that he
refused all mere titular positions with high salaries, several of which
were urged on him out of consideration for his character and fame. He
was, however, persuaded to accept in 1865 the presidency of Washington
College, at Lexington, Va., an institution founded on gifts made by
Washington, and at present known as Washington and Lee University. In
this position the great man spent his remaining years, joining
refinement and dignity to usefulness, and revered by all who came within
the charmed circle of his influence. Since 1863 he had suffered more or
less with rheumatism of the heart, and from the middle of 1869 was never
quite strong. Spite of this, with the exception of brief holidays, he
performed all his duties till Sept. 28, 1870, when, at his family
tea-table as he stood to say grace;--it was his wont to say grace before
meat and to stand in doing so,--he was stricken, had to sit, then be
helped to his bed. He never rose, though languishing a number of days.
He died at nine in the morning, Oct. 12, 1870. _Ave, pia anima!_
E. Lee Child, "Life and Campaigns of Robert Edward Lee." London, 1875.
Edward A. Pollard, "Life and Times of Robert Edward Lee." New York,
John William Jones, "Personal Reminiscences of Robert E. Lee."
New York, 1874.
Walter II. Taylor, "Four Years with General Lee." New York, 1878.
A.L. Long, "Memoirs of Robert E. Lee." New York, 1887.
Charles Marshall, "Life of Lee."
W.P. Trent, "Robert E. Lee." Boston, 1899.
William Allan, "The Army of Northern Virginia in 1862." Boston, 1892.
"Battles and Leaders of the Civil War." New York, 1887.
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