Table of Contents
The Outburst of Patriotism
The fall of Sumter caused an outburst of patriotism through the entire North such as is not witnessed many times in a century. On Sunday morning, April 14th, it was known that terms of surrender had been arranged. On that day and on many succeeding Sundays the voices from a thousand pulpits sounded with the certainty of the bugle, the call to the defense of the flag. Editors echoed the call. Such newspapers as were suspected of secession tendencies were compelled to hoist the American flag. For the time at least, enthusiasm and patriotism ran very high. Those who were decidedly in sympathy with the South remained quiet, and those who were of a doubtful mind were swept along with the tide of popular feeling. The flag had been fired on. That one fact unified the North.
On that same evening Senator Douglas arranged for a private interview with President Lincoln. For two hours these men, rivals and antagonists of many years, were in confidential conversation. What passed between them no man knows, but the result of the conference was quickly made public. Douglas came out of the room as determined a “war democrat” as could be found between the oceans. He himself prepared a telegram which was everywhere published, declaring that he would sustain the President in defending the constitution.
Lincoln had prepared his call for 75,000 volunteer troops. Douglas thought the number should have been 200,000. So it should, and so doubtless it would, had it not been for certain iniquities of Buchanan’s mal-administration. There were no arms, accouterments, clothing. Floyd had well-nigh stripped the northern arsenals. Lincoln could not begin warlike preparations on any great scale because that was certain to precipitate the war which he so earnestly strove to avoid.
Further, the 75,000 was about five times the number of soldiers then in the army of the United States. Though the number of volunteers was small, their proportion to the regular army was large.
That night Lincoln’s call and Douglas’s endorsement were sent over the wires. Next morning the two documents were published in every daily paper north of Mason and Dixon’s line.
The call for volunteer soldiers was in the South greeted with a howl of derision. They knew how the arsenals had been stripped. They had also for years been quietly buying up arms not only from the North, but also from various European nations. They had for many years been preparing for just this event, and now that it came they were fully equipped. During the first months of the war the administration could not wisely make public how very poorly the soldiers were armed, for this would only discourage the defenders of the Union and cheer the enemy.
This call for troops met with prompt response. The various governors of the northern states offered many times their quota. The first in the field was Massachusetts. This was due to the foresight of ex-Governor Banks. He had for years kept the state militia up to a high degree of efficiency. When rallied upon this he explained that it was to defend the country against a rebellion of the slaveholders which was sure to come.
The call for volunteers was published on the morning of April 15th. By ten o’clock the 6th Massachusetts began to rendezvous. In less than thirty-six hours the regiment was ready and off for Washington. They were everywhere cheered with much enthusiasm. In New York they were guests of the Astor House, whose patriotic proprietor would receive no compensation from the defenders of the flag.
The reception in Baltimore was of a very different sort. Some ruffians of that city had planned to assassinate Lincoln in February, and now they in large numbers prepared to attack the soldiers who were hastening to the defense of the national capital. Here was the first bloodshed of the war. The casualties were four killed and thirty-six wounded. When the regiment reached Washington City, the march from the railway station was very solemn. Behind the marching soldiers followed the stretchers bearing the wounded. The dead had been left behind. Governor Andrew’s despatch to Mayor Brown,–"Send them home tenderly,"–elicited the sympathy of millions of hearts.
The mayor of Baltimore and the governor of Maryland sent a deputation to Lincoln to ask that no more troops be brought through that city. The President made no promise, but he said he was anxious to avoid all friction and he would do the best he could. He added playfully that if he granted that, they would be back next day to ask that no troops be sent around Baltimore.
That was exactly what occurred. The committee were back the next day protesting against permitting any troops to cross the state of Maryland. Lincoln replied that, as they couldn’t march around the state, nor tunnel under it, nor fly over it, he guessed they would have to march across it.
It was arranged that for the time being the troops should be brought to Annapolis and transported thence to Washington by water. This was one of the many remarkable instances of forbearance on the part of the government. There was a great clamor on the part of the North for vengeance upon Baltimore for its crime, and a demand for sterner measures in future. But the President was determined to show all the conciliation it was possible to show, both in this case and in a hundred others.
These actions bore good fruit. It secured to him the confidence of the people to a degree that could not have been foreseen. On the 22d of July, 1861, Mr. Crittenden, of Kentucky, offered the following resolution:
“Resolved by the House of Representatives of the United States, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon the country by the disunionists of the Southern States, now in arms against the Constitutional Government and in arms around the capital:
“That in this national emergency, congress, banishing all feelings of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country;
“That this war is not waged on their part in any spirit of oppression, or for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, or purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those states, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several states unimpaired; and that, as soon as these objects are accomplished, the war ought to cease.”
This resolution was passed with only two dissenting votes. Lincoln’s patience, forbearance, conciliation had accomplished this marvel.
Very early in the war the question of slavery confronted the generals. In the month of May, only about two months after the inauguration, Generals Butler and McClellan confronted the subject, and their methods of dealing with it were as widely different as well could be. When Butler was in charge of Fortress Monroe three negroes fled to that place for refuge. They said that Colonel Mallory had set them to work upon the rebel fortifications. A flag of truce was sent in from the rebel lines demanding the return of the negroes. Butler replied: “I shall retain the negroes as contraband of war. You were using them upon your batteries; it is merely a question whether they shall be used for or against us.” From that time the word contraband was used in common speech to indicate an escaped slave.
It was on the 26th day of the same month that McClellan issued to the slaveholders a proclamation in which are found these words: “Not only will we abstain from all interference with your slaves, but we will, on the contrary, with an iron hand crush any attempt at insurrection on their part.” It is plain that McClellan’s “we” did not include his brother-general at Fortress Monroe. Further comment on his attitude is reserved to a later chapter.
The early victims of the war caused deep and profound sympathy. The country was not yet used to carnage. The expectancy of a people not experienced in war was at high tension, and these deaths, which would at any time have produced a profound impression, were emphatically impressive at that time.
One of the very first martyrs of the war was Elmer E. Ellsworth. He was young, handsome, impetuous. At Chicago he had organized among the firemen a company of Zouaves with their spectacular dress and drill. These Zouaves had been giving exhibition drills in many northern cities and aroused no little interest. One result was the formation of similar companies at various places. The fascinating Zouave drill became quite popular.
In 1861 Ellsworth was employed in the office of Lincoln and Herndon in Springfield. When the President-elect journeyed to Washington Ellsworth, to whom Lincoln was deeply attached, made one of the party. At the outbreak of hostilities he was commissioned as colonel to raise a regiment in New York. On the south bank of the Potomac, directly opposite Washington, was Alexandria. The keeper of the Mansion House, in that place, had run up a secession flag on the mast at the top of the hotel. This flag floated day after day in full sight of Lincoln and Ellsworth and the others.
Ellsworth led an advance upon Alexandria on the evening of May 23d. The rebels escaped. The next morning as usual, the secession flag floated tauntingly from the Mansion House. Ellsworth’s blood was up and he resolved to take down that flag and hoist the stars and stripes with his own hand. Taking with him two soldiers he accomplished his purpose.
Returning by a spiral stairway, he carried the rebel flag in his hand. The proprietor of the hotel came out from a place of concealment, placed his double-barreled shot-gun nearly against Ellsworth’s body and fired. The assassin was instantly shot down by private Brownell, but Ellsworth was dead. The rebel flag was dyed in the blood of his heart. Underneath his uniform was found a gold medal with the inscription, non solum nobus, sed pro patria,–"not for ourselves only but for our country.”
The body was removed to Washington City, where it lay in state in the East room until burial. The President, amid all the cares of that busy period, found time to sit many hours beside the body of his friend, and at the burial he appeared as chief mourner.
This murder fired the northern imagination to a degree. The picture of Ellsworth’s handsome face was everywhere familiar. It is an easy guess that hundreds, not to say thousands, of babies were named for him within the next few months, and to this day the name Elmer, starting from him, has not ceased to be a favorite.
A little more than two weeks later, on the 10th of June, the first real battle of the war was fought. This was at Big Bethel, Va., near Fortress Monroe. The loss was not great as compared with later battles, being only eighteen killed and fifty-three wounded. But among the killed was Major Theodore Winthrop, a young man barely thirty-three years of age. He was the author of several successful books, and gave promise of a brilliant literary career. He was a true patriot and a gallant soldier. His death was the source of sorrow and anger to many thousands of readers of “Cecil Dreeme.”
It was two months later that General Lyon fell at Wilson’s Creek, Mo. He had been conspicuous for his services to the country before this time. The battle was bitterly contested, and Lyon showed himself a veritable hero in personal courage and gallantry. After three wounds he was still fighting on, leading personally a bayonet charge when he was shot for the fourth time, fell from his horse, and died immediately. It was the gallant death of a brave soldier, that touches the heart and fires the imagination.
These deaths, and such as these, occurring at the beginning of the war, taught the country the painful truth that the cost of war is deeper than can possibly be reckoned. The dollars of money expended, and the lists of the numbers killed, wounded, and missing, do not fully express the profound sorrow, the irreparable loss.