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Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
MY sojourn in New England enabled me to appreciate the truth of an observation I have heard made by many intelligent Americans, that the effect of this civil war will be to consolidate the country. If it were not for the common interest in the war, it would have been hard to realize that Boston formed part of the same country as Chicago, and St. Louis, and Nashville. There, as elsewhere, the war seemed to me the chief bond of union and identity between the different States of the North. Nowhere indeed, in my own observation, was the ardour for the war greater than in Massachusetts. It had come home, perhaps, to those New England States more closely than to any other which were not actually the scene of the war. Wherever I went, I stumbled on traces of the great war, in which the nation was pouring out the life-blood of its children without stint or measure. Day after day, whilst sitting on the lawn of a friend's house on the Mount Auburn Road, I used to see the funerals of soldiers, who had
died in the campaign, passing by on their way to the cemetery. Nobody, I noticed, paid any heed to the occurrence. A servant-girl or so went to the gate to look at the procession, but no excitement was created by the sight. How, indeed, could it be otherwise? The spectacle, melancholy to me, had grown such every-day work in Boston it was only one death the more out of so very many. In one house, I recollect, I found the family in distress, because a report had just been received that the regiment in which the eldest son of the house was serving had been under fire, and had suffered heavily. In another, the parents were uneasy, because their only son, a mere boy, wanted to be off to the war. In a third, a photograph lay upon the table of a gallant manly lad, proud of his new uniform. I asked who he was, and was told, as if it were an every-day matter, that it was the likeness of a near and dear relative who had fallen in the war and so on. I could mention scores of such incidents. I have only picked out these, because they occurred to me at the houses of men whose names are well known in England. I went by hazard into a village church, and there I heard thanks offered up for an exchanged prisoner, who had that day been restored to his home after months of captivity. I suppose there is scarce a household in Massachusetts, which the war has not associated with some hope, or fear, or sorrow of its own.
There is much, too, left in Massachusetts of the Puritan, or rather of the race to which the Puritan gave birth. Life itself is a hard and laborious matter in that stony, barren country. There is about the New Englander a strong marked individuality, a religious zeal bordering on intolerance, a steady attachment to his own State, a passion for land, and a love of labour qualities which have been handed down, with little change, from the Pilgrim Fathers. Amongst a people, with such characteristics, it is not strange that there should be an earnestness, possibly a ferocity, about the war one hardly comes across in the more modern States. In the West, it is probable that if you could suade the inhabitants that Secession was advantageous to their interest, the Union feeling would die away in great measure. In New England, the sense of personal interest has little, if anything, to do with the passion for the war. These causes operate to create a very different kind of public sentiment in the East from that which prevails in the West. The name of compromise is hateful to the New Englander; and, to the Puritan mind, there is but one issue to this conflict, possible or permissible, and that is, the victory of the Union. I have spoken already of the status of the Abolitionist party in New England. As I have there shown, the popular mind was not prepared for a raid on the property and the institutions of other States. The reverence for the Constitution, the respect for law, and
the strong attachment to local independence, which are marked features in the New England character, all tended to paralyze the active power of the anti-slavery sentiment. Notwithstanding this, the moral power of the Abolitionists must have been very great indeed. In the hymn-books you found at this period anti-slavery psalms; in the free schools, the teaching was anti-slavery in tone; and the public feeling towards the free negro had avowedly grown a kindlier one than it had been hitherto.
That even in New England the war for the Union was in any sense a national crusade for the suppression of slavery I do not believe, but I do believe that, next to the desire for the preservation of the Union, the national antipathy to slavery is the strongest feeling of the New England heart. In a certain measure, the love for the Union and the hatred of slavery were conflicting forces, which counteracted each other; but, as the belief gained ground that the way to preserve the Union was to destroy slavery, the power of these forces, when combined, became over-whelming.
At the period of my sojourn in New England, the conviction that the Union could not be preserved consistently with slavery, was beginning to make way rapidly; a great impulse had been given to it by the incident of General Banks' defeat in the Shenandoah valley, which formed the first warning of the approaching
disasters in the Peninsula. The North had become so accustomed, at this time, to the idea of victory, so wedded to the conviction that the downfal of the rebellion was close at hand, that the intelligence of a Federal army having been disastrously defeated fell like a thunderbolt on the Northern States. I would add, however, that the manner in which this intelligence was received gave me a stronger impression of the resolution and power of the North than anything I had yet witnessed. From no party, or paper, or person I came across, did I hear anything but the one expression of opinion, that the war must be pushed on with redoubled energy. Within a week, a hundred thousand volunteers had enlisted, and the services of probably as many more had been declined. To judge of the importance of this fact, you must remember who these new volunteers were. The scum and riffraff of the towns had been long ago worked off into the army; every man who had no particular work to do, or no special ties to keep him at home, had been already drafted off. The hundred thousand who volunteered on this occasion were all men, who, as a class, had counted the cost of war, and found that, on the whole, their cares or duties or ties had been too important hitherto to allow them to join the campaign. Yet the moment the cry was raised that the cause of the Union was in peril every other consideration was thrown aside. So it had been all along, and so, I believe, it would have been
to the end, if miserable mismanagement, worse generalship, and a half-hearted policy, had not paralysed for a time the force of popular enthusiasm. The brag and bluster and rhodomontade of a portion, and that the noisest portion of the American press and public, were, in Italian phrase, as "anti-pathetic" to me, while I lived within sound of it, as they could be to any Englishman. But still, I could not have avoided seeing the deep, passionate, resolution which underlay it all. If Englishmen would once make up their minds that the Anglo-Saxon race is much the same on both sides of the Atlantic, and that the resolution of the North to suppress the insurrection at all cost and all hazards, and, must I add, at the price of all severities, was much the counterpart of our own feeling with regard to the Indian Mutiny, the conviction would be a valuable one for both England and America.
The words which I have just written, "At the price of all severities," represent my impression of a change of feeling which I had observed, with more regret than wonder, to be coming over the Northern mind. When I reached America at the commencement of last year, my prevailing impression was one of astonishment at the extraordinary absence of personal animosity towards the South, displayed by the North. Since that period, I noted a marked, though gradual, change. The belief that there existed an influential, or at any rate a numerous Union party in the South, was dispelled by the
stern evidence of fact. The old fond delusion, that, when once the Confederate army was defeated the Union as it was would be restored, was fast vanishing, and had given place to a conviction that, even if the war was over, the Union would still have to deal with a bitter and an inveterate enemy. Then, too, the stories of the barbarities and cruelties inflicted by the Confederates on Federal prisoners, had inevitably soured the Northern mind. For a long time I believed that these stories of brutality were as unfounded as the similar accusations, which in all wars, and especially in civil wars, are bandied about between the contending parties. I had heard, during the Garibaldian campaign, scores of such anecdotes related both of the Revolutionary and of the Royal troops. I had had occasion, however, to investigate a good number of these narratives, and had found them invariably to be grossly exaggerated. Very reluctantly, however, I came to the conclusion that there was, at any rate, a considerable amount of truth in these stories of Southern horrors. I suspect, indeed, that there is something in the whole system of slavery, in the practice of treating men as brute beasts, which deadens the feelings of a slave-holding population and renders them singularly callous to the sight of human suffering. Be this explanation right or wrong, I cannot now doubt the fact. I may mention two small incidents which came to my own knowledge on reliable evidence. One is, that on the scarf of a Confederate
prisoner captured at Williamsburg, there was found a ring formed from a human bone; another, that in a letter, picked up at Roanoake Island, and written by a Southern gentleman well known in New England, to his brother in New Orleans, the writer stated that he had got the skull of a Yankee, and wished to know if their mother would like it as an ornament for her side-board. In these stories there is little in themselves, but they tend to render more credible, to my mind, the thousand tales of horror which were circulated at this period in the Northern papers. At any rate, the belief in the truth of these narratives was universal in the North, and produced painful and personal bitterness towards the South.
The least creditable incident of the war to the Federal cause was the proclamation of General Butler about the women of New Orleans, which appeared at this period. When the news of it first reached the North, it was scouted as a Confederate invention. When it became certain the story was true, even those who had condemned it most bitterly began to find excuses for it. There was, I admit, much force in the explanation which my Northern friends sought to give of it. It is possible, and I believe true, that General Butler may have only meant that the women of New Orleans, who insulted the Federal soldiers, should be imprisoned for the night in the lock-up house alloted to the disorderly women of the town. Whatever the
intention may have been, there is no question that the strictest care was taken lest the order should be abused; and it is certain that the Southern ladies were grossly insulting in their behaviour to the Union soldiers, using as they did language and gestures which, in a city occupied by troops of any other nation, would have subjected them, without orders, to the coarsest retaliation. What is more to the point also as I can state from my own observation the rank and file of the American army is the most orderly I have ever seen, a circumstance which is due, probably, to the fact of the privates being mostly married, and all men of some kind of education. There is less brutality about the Federal troops, and more respect for women, than amongst any soldiery we are acquainted with in the Old World. It once happened to me, I may mention here, to have to escort a party of ladies, after dark, across the long chain-bridge of Washington. For about two-thirds of that weary mile's walk, the whole bridge was crowded with a confused mass of Federal soldiers, who were halting there on their march southwards. The men were excited at the prospect of the approaching campaign, and it was obvious many of them had drunk freely on breaking up their camp at Washington. It was so dark, that no discipline could be maintained, and the men were sitting, sleeping, or singing, as they liked best. We had almost to grope our way through the groups of soldiers scattered along the bridge. The number of gentlemen in our
party was so small, we could have afforded but little protection to the ladies under our charge, in case any insult had been offered to them. Having some knowledge of what common soldiers are in other countries under similar circumstances, I own that I felt considerable trepidation as to how far we should be able to extricate ourselves from the melée without annoyance. I can only say that, during the whole, of that long passage, no remark whatever was addressed to us. The moment it was seen that there were ladies in our party, the soldiers got up from the planks, on which they were lying, to make way for us; and the songs (many of them loose enough), which the men were singing, were hushed immediately at our approach. Whether a like journey could have been performed through an European army with like results I leave it to any one acquainted with the subject to say. In truth, the almost morbid sentiment of Americans with regard to women, while it renders them ridiculously susceptible to female influence, protects women in that country from the natural consequences of their own misconduct. Still, allowing all this fully, I can only say, God help the women of New Orleans, if this notorious order had been allowed to be carried out in its literal meaning, as I cannot help believing that Butler originally intended it should be. The order itself was bad enough, but what was more painful to me to witness was, that, even in New England, the most refined portion of the States, it
called forth no indignant protest from the manhood or for that matter from the womanhood of the North. Six months before, it would have been scouted throughout the country. Now, the blood of the North was getting up, and the war was doing, as ever, its devil's work.
While I am speaking of General Butler, let me say one word with regard to him. The popularity which this officer has enjoyed throughout the North is constantly brought as an accusation against the supporters of the Union. I have no wish to say anything in defence of this Yankee Danton, who I believe to have been in New Orleans just what he had been known to be in New England a low-minded, unscrupulous bully, notorious for his pro-Slavery sympathies, not so much from any personal interest in the Slave-system as from an innate brutality of mind. Still he had the merit of understanding that the one thing wanted in a revolutionary war was Danton's cry of "L'audace! l'audace! toujours l'audace!" and knowing this, he rallied to himself the popular enthusiasm, wearied to death of the McClellans and Sewards, of half-hearted measures and "masterly inaction." Moreover, whether by chance, or by his own merits, he was certainly the most successful commander whom the North had produced. He was associated with the grandest triumph of the Federal arms, and by some means or other he preserved New Orleans to the Union with but little cost of either men or money. It was a
fact also, that he gained immensely by the attacks made upon him abroad. The utterly exaggerated abuse with which his conduct was assailed in Europe (as if in our own wars there had never been such a thing heard of as brutality before!) endeared him to the American mind. The national pride of the country felt itself identified with the maintenance of a general whom foreigners had attacked with unmerited obloquy. A feeling grew up that the dismissal or censure of Butler would be an unworthy concession to foreign dictation. I do not say that these considerations entirely justify the popularity of this vulgar satrap, but they render it much less discreditable than it might seem at first.
At this period a certain Parson Brownlow was delivering a series of lectures throughout the Northern States, which in themselves formed a strange indication of the coming change. This gentleman combined the characters of minister of the Gospel, newspaper editor, and bar-room politician, in the little town of Knoxville, East Tennessee. He was a strange illustration of American muscular Christianity. Stories were told of how he used to speak with a loaded revolver in his hand, and how, on one occasion, he had converted a blaspheming boatman by holding his head under water till he consented to repeat the Lord's Prayer. An ultra-Calvinist in theological principles, he was also a slave-holder, and had been throughout his life an ardent
defender of the peculiar institution. To give a specimen of what the preacher and his paper were like, let me quote an article which this gentleman wrote, or allowed to be written in his own newspaper, a few years ago on the occasion of a negro being dragged by a mob, from the gaol of Knoxville, where he lay awaiting trial, and burnt alive. "We have to say, in defence of the act, that it was not perpetrated by an excited multitude, but by one thousand citizens good citizens at that who were cool, calm, and deliberate; we unhesitatingly affirm that the punishment was unequal to the crime. Had we been there, we should have taken a part, and even suggested the pinching of pieces out of him with red-hot pincers, or cutting off of a limb at a time, and then burning them all in a heap. The possibility of his escaping from gaol forbids the idea of awaiting the tardy movements of the law." I must say that I believe, from the aspect of the writer, that he would have been as good, or as bad, as his word. In the days before Secession, the slaveholding parson was held up to obloquy by anti-slavery partisans. Misfortune, however, makes strange bed-fellows. When Secession broke out, Parson Brownlow espoused warmly the cause of the Union in East Tennessee, and travelled throughout the State as a stump-orator denouncing Secession. He was imprisoned by the Confederate authorities, and after his release he made a tour through the
Northern States, describing the sufferings and wrongs of the Union party in Tennessee.
The avowed object of his lectures was to raise money to aid the Federal cause, and to re-establish his own paper, whose press and offices had been burnt down by a Secession mob. At the time I heard him, he was starring it through the New England States, and vast audiences crowded to listen to his screaming denunciations of the Confederacy. As a Southern Unionist from a Slave State, his support was acceptable to the Federal party; and, I regret to say, many persons of position and character in New England volunteered to endorse his raving addresses. To me I own he was simply and inexpressibly disgusting. His narrative of the cruelties he underwent and witnessed in the prisons of the South may have been true though for my own part, I cannot believe that, even if I were describing the horrors of Cawnpore, I could always cry at my own description of a child's brains being dashed out, when I had delivered the same lecture a score of times. In outward appearance, he is a cross between our national caricature of the typical Yankee and the stage portraits of Aminidab Sleek. In plain words, he looked the most unmitigated blackguard that I have ever come across. That such a fellow should have been a man of note and a popular preacher in the South, gave one a low impression of slaveholding civilization. In language he varied from the cant of a Methodist ranter, to the
ribald profanity of Jonathan Wild. On the occasion when I heard him, the mildest form of adjuration that he employed was, "May the curse of God rest upon me!" A minister of the Gospel, he boasted to his hearers that, sooner than sign a declaration of allegiance to the Confederacy, he would have seen the whole Confederate Cabinet in hell, and himself on the top of them. A professed follower of Christ, he wound up by declaring it to be the one object of his life to join the Federal army, when it marched on East Tennessee, to point out the traitors that should be hung, and then, if no one else could be found to do it, to tie the cord himself round their necks, and act as hangman!
To do the audience justice, his blasphemies for I can call them nothing else were coldly received. All the passages, in which he called for stern justice and unsparing action, were cheered loudly. He was followed by a General Carey, a brother exile from Tennessee, who was free from the profanity of Brownlow, but who raised even more sternly, and with more apparent sincerity, the cry for vengeance. When he asked the audience how it was that fifteen months had passed since Fort Sumter was attacked, and yet no single traitor had been hung, or shot by law, he was answered by a storm of applause; and, again, when he passed an enthusiastic eulogy on General Butler, as the first Federal commander who had understood the position,
he was interrupted by shouts and cheers. I heard but one faint hiss from the back benches.
All this, according to my judgment, was bad enough, and will prove the parent of worse things yet. It was a strange indication of the change that was passing over men's minds when a Boston audience cheered the sentiment "That there never would be peace in the Union till the North awoke to a sense of its duty, and made South Carolina what Sodom and Gomorrah were of old." Heaven knows I do not believe that this feeling of vengeance was then, or is now, in any sense the true sentiment of the North, or even that the men and women, who cheered Brownlow on, really pictured to themselves what his teaching meant. Still the desire for revenge was, undoubtedly, developing itself in the New England States. Out of evil there comes good; and one good of all this was, that the anti-slavery sentiment was daily growing stronger. Governor Andrew, about this time, expressed, though perhaps prematurely, the popular instinct of Massachusetts when he stated, in reply to the Government demand for fresh troops, that the East would fight more readily if men knew that they were fighting against slavery. It is the pressure of this growing earnestness, of this resolution to sacrifice everything to one end, which at last forced the Government at Washington to make the war for the restoration of the Union a war also for the abolition of slavery.
Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=dicey2.html