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HOW AMERICA BECAME A NATION IN ARMS: 1
SOME LESSONS FOR PEACEFUL DEMOCRACIES AND THEIR
On December 10, 1914, Professor C. K. Webster stated in his inaugural lecture delivered before the University of Liverpool :
You will look in vain for the books which can teach Englishmen the connection of their own country with the political life of the Continent during the nineteenth century. Such books cannot be improvised on the spur of the moment in the midst of a national crisis. . . . Few will dispute that the study of our diplomatic history in the past century is of real and immediate importance to-day. Yet the work has scarcely been begun. There is, for example, as yet no adequate record of the part England played in the great reconstruction of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. ... Neither Canning nor Palmerston is known to us, except by loose and inadequate records.
This statement is exceedingly humiliating. It seems incredible, but unfortunately it is only too true. While the art of vote-catching, called politics, has been assiduously studied in all its branches, the science of statesmanship in the broadest sense of the word, has been completely neglected. The most important of all human sciences is
1 The Nineteenth Century and After, September, 1915.
The recommendations contained in the following pages have since been adopted.
apparently thought unworthy of study. It is not taught at any of the British Universities, and it is disregarded by those who strive to obtain place and power by way of the ballot-box. Fifty years ago the United States fought a gigantic war, in the course of which they became a nation in arms.
Yet there is in the English language no adequate documentary account of that struggle, from which the Anglo-Saxon democracies may derive the most necessary and the most salutary lessons for their guidance, lessons which should be invaluable to them at the present moment. The fact that the United States introduced conscription during the Civil War is scarcely known in England. In a lengthy article on conscription in the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica,' an historical and philosophical account of compulsory service in France and Germany is given, but the fact that America introduced conscription is not even mentioned ! Ninety-nine out of every hundred well-educated Englishmen ignore the means whereby the United States raised millions of soldiers at a time when their population was very much smaller than that of the United Kingdom is at present.
The main facts and the principal documents relating to the American Civil War are buried deeply in the contemporary journals and in bulky official publications such as the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies' published by the American Government between 1880 and 1900, a work which is about five times as large as the
Encyclopaedia Britannica,' but which is practically unusable because it is merely an inchoate, incoherent, and confusing collection of documents which lacks an index. In the following pages an attempt will be made to rescue the most important facts and documents from oblivion and to deduce from them the principal lessons which they supply to the Anglo-Saxon peoples of both hemispheres for their encouragement and their guidance in the present crisis.
The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, at
4.30 A.M., when the Southern Army commenced the bombardment of Fort Sumter, which dominates the mouth of Charleston Harbour, and which was garrisoned by Union troops. In the Southern States secession and rebellion had been preparing, both secretly and openly, for a long time. Yet the United States Government had neglected making any preparations for the inevitable struggle. President Buchanan, who was in office from 1857 to 1861, was well-meaning, scrupulously honest, kindly, but weak. He was deeply religious and philanthropical, and he loved peace and his ease. He disliked trouble and wished to leave the settlement of the gravest problem of his country to the next President. Fearing to precipitate the struggle, he made no preparation to meet the crisis, and allowed the Southern forts and arsenals to be seized by the secessionists. Abraham Lincoln had been elected as his successor. He was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, at a moment of the Beverest tension between North and South, only five weeks before the cannon began to speak. He was a minority President, for the voting at the Presidential contest had been as follows :
Party For Douglas
(Constitutional Union Party)
As at the Presidential Election of 1912, the largest American party had split in two and had failed to return the President. Only 40 per cent. of the people had voted for Lincoln. His position was one of unexampled difficulty. He was a novice at his office, he had entered it at a moment of the gravest danger, he was quite inexperienced in dealing with national, as distinguished from local affairs, he represented only a minority of the people, and he was surrounded by treason and intrigue. On January 1, 1861, the United States Army was only 16,402 men strong, and of these 1745 were absent. These few troops were distributed in small parcels all over the gigantic territory of the Union to hold the marauding Indians in check. The Navy had been scattered over distant seas. The arsenals of the North were ill-supplied with arms. Washington, the Federal capital, lay on the border between North and South, within easy reach of the army which the South had collected threateningly close to that city before opening the attack on Fort Sumter. Washington lies on the left bank of the Potomac. It is dominated by the heights on the right bank of that river, and these were in the hands of the insurgents. On April 12, the day when the bombardment of Fort Sumter began, the following telegram was sent from Montgomery, Alabama, the temporary capital of the Southern States, to all parts of the Union :
An immense crowd serenaded President Davis and Secretary [of War] Walker at the Exchange Hotel to-night.
The former is not well, and did not appear. Secretary Walker appeared and declined to make a speech, but in a few words of electrical eloquence told the news from Fort Sumter, declaring in conclusion that before many hours the flag of the Confederacy would float over that fortress.
No man, he said, could tell where the War this day commenced would end, but he would prophesy that the flag which now flaunts the breeze here would float over the dome of the old Capitol at Washington before the first of May. Let them try Southern Chivalry and test the extent of Southern resources, and it might float eventually over Faneuil Hall [in Boston] itself.
Immediately on the outbreak of war the railways and telegraphs around Washington were cut. The city was completely isolated from the outer world. The State of Maryland, to the north of the Federal capital, prevented a few rapidly mobilised Militia troops from New York and Boston reaching the seat of the national Government. Washington was denuded of troops and was hastily barricaded to protect it and the President against a coup de main. The gallant South had furnished to the State a disproportionately large number of able officers and of high officials. Local patriotism was exceedingly strong in the Southern States. Hence many of the best military and naval officers and many of the ablest Civil Servants resigned immediately after the outbreak of the Civil War and joined the Southern forces, crippling simultaneously the Army, the Navy, and the national administration in all its branches. On April 20, eight days after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, General Robert E. Lee, who was considered to be the ablest officer in the United States Service, and who had been offered the active command of the Union Army, resigned his commission to the general consternation of the North, and crossed the border. Altogether 313 commissioned officers resigned and joined the rebellion. According to Moore's Rebellion Record,' the Southern States received from the Regular Army the following generals, most of whom resigned their commissions between December 20, 1860, the date when the State of South Carolina seceded, and January 1, 1862 :
8 15 48 111
The Secretary of War, in his Report of July 1, 1861, stated that 'but for this startling defection the rebellion never could have assumed its formidable proportions.'
The guns bombarding Fort Sumter had given the signal for the collapse of the Government. The position which was created by the outbreak of the rebellion was graphically described by President Lincoln in his message to Congress of May 26, 1862, as follows:
The insurrection which is yet existing in the United States and aims at the overthrow of the Federal Constitution and the Union was clandestinely prepared during the winter of 1860 and 1861, and assumed an open organisation in the form of a treasonable provisional Government at Montgomery, in Alabama, on the 18th day of February, 1861.