The Ordeal by Battle

VIRGINIA, which began by volunteering as peacemaker in our civil troubles, seems likely to end by being their battleground ; as Mr. Pickwick, interfering between the belligerent rival editors, only brought upon his own head the united concussion of their carpet-bags. And as Dickens declares that the warriors engaged far more eagerly in that mimic strife, on discovering that all blows were to he received by deputy, so there is evidently an increased willingness to deal hard knocks on both sides, in the present case, so long as it is clear that only Virginia will take them. Maryland, under protection of our army, adroitly contrives to shift the scene of action farther South. The Gulf States, with profuse courtesies for the Old Dominion, consent to shift it farther North. The Southern Confederacy has talked about paying Richmond the “compliment” of selecting it for the seat of government; — as if a bully, about to be lynched in his own house by the crowd, should compliment his next-door neighbor by climbing in at his window. It is very pleasant to have a hospitable friend; but it is counting on his hospitality rather top strongly, when you make choice of his apartments to he tarred and feathered in.

Thus fades the fancy of an “ independent neutrality” for the Old Dominion. It ought to fade;—for neutrality is a crime, where one’s mother’s lite is at stake; and the Border theory of independence only reminds one of Pitt’s definition of an independent statesman, “ a statesman not to be depended on.” IIow sad has been the decline of Virginia ! IIow strange, that in 1790, of the ten American post-offices yielding more than a thousand dollars annually, that stately old commonwealth held five! Now “ a poverty-stricken State,” by confession of her own newspapers,— beleaguered, blockaded. — with no imports but hungry and moneyless soldiers, and no exports save fugitives of all colors, — what has she to hope from the present warfare V Elsewhere riches have wings; in Virginia they are yet more transitory, having legs. Two hundred million dollars’ worth of her property has become unsalable, if not worthless, within two months. She has but two great staples: tobacco to send North, and slaves to send South. The slaves at present go only to the wrong point of the compass, at rates remunerative to themselves alone; and the tobacco-trade, for this season, will not even end in smoke.

But that which is now the condition of Virginia must ultimately be the condition of the other seceding States. The tide of Secession has already turned, and such tides never turn twice. The conspirators in Maryland and Missouri had but one opportunity, and it was lost; with it also went the whole cause of the Secessionists. For one week the North shuddered, knowing the defenceless condition of Washington. Now no Northern man shudders, except those whose Southern female cousins have not yet found a refuge with the household gods of the eminent Senator from Texas.

The man who ever doubted that the first gun fired by the insurgents would instantly unite the nation against them knew as little of the American people as if he were editor of the London “ Times.” There is no chemical solvent like gunpowder. Even the Mexican War, utterly opposed to the moral convictions of the majority of Northern men, swept them away in such a current that the very party which opposed it could find no path to the Presidency but for its chief hero. Had the present outbreak occurred far less favorably than it has, had the discretion of President Lincoln been much less, or that of Mr. Davis much greater, still the unanimity would have been merely a question of time, and the danger of Washington would have reconciled all minor feuds. The Democratic party would inevitably have embraced the war, when once declared; Douglas would have made speeches for it, Buchanan subscribed money for it, and Butler joined in it; Bennett would still have floated triumphant on the tide of zeal, and Caleb Cushing still have offered to the Government his cavalry company of one. It is a grace not given to any American party, to stand out long against the enthusiasm of a war.

No doubt the Secession leaders have treated us very handsomely, as to amount of provocation. It is rare that any great contest begins by a blow so unequivocal as the bombardment of Fort Sumter; and rare in recent days for any set of belligerents to risk the ignominy of privateering. But, after all, it is the startling social theories announced by the new “ government ” which form the chief strength of its enemies. Either slavery is essential to a community, or it must be fatal to it,—there is no middle ground; and the Secessionists have taken one horn of the dilemma with so delightful a frankness as to leave us no possible escape from taking the other. Never, in modern days, has there been a conflict in which the contending principles were so clearly antagonistic. The most bigoted royal house in Europe never dreamed of throwing down the gauntlet for the actual ownership of man by man. Even Russia never fought for serfdom, and Austria has only enslaved nations, not individuals. In civil wars, especially, all historic divergences have been trivial compared to ours, so far as concerned the avowed principles of strife. In the French wars of the Fronde, the only available motto for anybody was the Tout arrive en France, “ Anything may happen in France,” which gayly recognized the absurd chaos of the conflict. In the English civil wars, the contending factions first disagreed upon a shade more or less of royal prerogative, and it took years to stereotype the hostility into the solid forms with which we now associate it. Even at the end of that contest, no one had ventured to claim such a freedom as our Declaration of Independence asserts, on the one side, —nor to recognize the possibility of such a barbarism as Jefferson Davis glorifies, on the other. The more strongly the Secessionists state their cause, the more glaringly it is seen to differ from any cause for which any sane person has taken up arms since the Roman servile wars. Their leaders may be exhibiting very sublime qualities; all we can say is, as Richardson said of Fielding’s heroes, that their virtues are the vices of a decent man.

We are now going through not merely the severest, but the only danger which has ever seriously clouded our horizon. The perils which harass other nations are mostly traditional for us. Apart from slavery, democratic government is long since un fait accompli, a fixed fact, and the Anglo-American race can no more revert in the direction of monarchy than of the Saurian epoch. Our geographical position frees us from foreign disturbance, and there is no really formidable internal trouble, slavery alone excepted. Let us come out of this conflict victorious in the field, escaping also the more serious danger of conquering ourselves by compromise, and the case of free government is settled past cavil. History may put up her spy-glass, like Wellington at Waterloo, saying, “ The field is won. Let the whole line advance.”

There has been a foolish suspicion that the North was strong in diplomacy and weak in war. The contrary is the case. We are proving ourselves formidable enough in war to cover our shortcomings in diplomacy. How narrowly we escaped demoralizing ourselves, at the last moment before Congress adjourned, by some concession which would have destroyed our consistency without strengthening our position ! If we could even now bind our generals to imitate our Cabinet in its admirable and novel policy of silence, — to eschew pen and ink as carefully as if they were in training for the Presidency ! The country is safe so long as they shut their mouths and open their batteries.

The ordeal by battle is a stern test of the solid power of a nation. There must always be some great quality to produce great military superiority, — skill, or daring, or endurance, or numbers, or wealth, or all together. Except the first two, neither of these special qualifications lias been even claimed by the Secessionists; and these two have been taken for granted with such superfluous boastfulness as to yield strong internal evidence against the claim. Certainly their general strategy, up to this moment, has yielded not a single evidence of far-sighted judgment or conscious power, while it lias shown decided glimpses of weakness and indecision. Indeed, how can an army like theirs be strong ? Its members mostly unaccustomed to steady exertion or precise organization; without mechanic skill or invention ; without cash or credit; fettered in their movements by the limited rolling stock of their scanty railways; tethered to their own homes by the fear of insurrection —what element of solid strength have they, to set against these things ? In the present state of the world, strong in peace is strong in war. In modern times an army of heroes is useless without facilities for arming, transporting, and feeding it, to say nothing of the more ignoble circumstance of pay. Considerations of simple political economy render it almost impossible for a slaveholding army to be strong collectively, nor do the habits of Southern life usually fit its members to be strong singly.

In remembering the Battle of New Orleans, we forget that the Southwest was then a region of hardy pioneers, such as are now rather to be sought for in Kansas and California. The famous Tennessee riflemen of that day were not necessarily slaveholders, and their legitimate descendants are yet to be found among the brave men who rally round the nearest approach to Andrew Jackson whom the State now boasts, — a tolerable fac-simile both as to character and etymology,—Andrew Johnson. There is no need of disparaging the personal courage of any man, and the Southern army has some good officers, — too good, probably, in spite of themselves, to bring to bear their clearest judgment and their best energies in striking down the flag they have all sworn to die for. They have eminent foreign advisers also, or one at least ; for Mr. W. H. Russell, selfappointed plenipotentiary near the Court of St. Jefferson, is said to have lent the aid of his valuable military experience to that commanding officer so appropriately named Captain Bragg. But, Bragg or no brag, it is almost a moral impossibility that a slaveholding army should be strong.

The Secessionists have suggested to us a fatal argument. “ The superior race must control the inferior.” Very well; if they insist on invoking the ordeal by battle to decide which is the superior, let it be so. It will be found that they have made the common mistake of confounding barbarism with strength. Because the Southern masses are as ignorant of letters and of arts as the Scottish Highlanders, they infer themselves to be as warlike. But even the brave and hardy Highlanders proved powerless against the imperfect military resources of England, a century ago, and it is not easy to see why those who now parody them should fare better. The absence of the alphabet does not necessarily prove the presence of strength, nor is the ignorance of all useful arts the best preparation for the elaborate warfare of modern times. The nation is grown well weary of this sham “chivalry,” that would sell Bayard or Du Guesclin at auction, if it could be shown that the mother of either had a drop of marketable blood in her veins. It had always been charitably fancied that in South Carolina at least there was some remnant of more knightly honor, until a kind Providence sent Preston S. Brooks to dispel the illusion. It may be possible that even a brave man, in some moment of insane inconsistency, may commit some act which is the consummation of all cowardice ; but it is utterly and absolutely impossible that any brave community should approve it. Time has long since carried the perpetrator of that dastardly outrage to a higher tribunal, but nothing can ever redeem the State ot his birth from the crowning shame of its indorsement.

It is not recorded whether the proverbial English army in Flanders lied as terribly as they swore ; the genius of the nation did not take that direction. But if they did, they have now met their match in audacity of falsehood. Captain Bobadil in the play, who submitted a plan of killing off an army of forty thousand men by the prowess of twenty, each man to do his twenty per diem in successive single combats, might have raised his proposed score of heroes among any handful of Secessionists. There seems to be no one to stop these prodigious fellows as a party of Buford’s men were once checked by their commander, in the writer's hearing, on their way down the Missouri River, in 1856. “ Boys,” quoth the contemptuous official, “you had better shut up. Whenever we came in sight of the enemy, you always took a vote whether to fight or run, and you always voted to run.” Then the astounding tales they have told respecting our people, down to the last infamous fabrication of “Booty and Beauty,” as the supposed war-cry for the placid Pennsylvanians ! Booty, forsooth ! In the words of the “Richmond Whig,” “ there is more rich spoil within a square mile of New York and Philadelphia than can be found in the whole of the poverty-stricken State of Virginia”; and the imaginary war-cry suggests Wilkes’s joke about the immense plunder carried off by some freebooter from the complete pillage of seven Scotch isles: he reëmbarked with three-and-sixpence.

It might not be wise to claim that the probable lease of life for our soldiers is any longer than for the Secessionists, but it certainly looks as if ours would have the credit of dying more modestly. Indeed, the men of the Free States, as was the wont of their ancestors, have made up their minds to this fight with a slow reluctance which would have been almost provoking but for the astonishing promptness which marked their action when once begun. It is interesting to notice how clearly the future is sometimes foreseen by foreigners, while still veiled from the persons most concerned. Thus, twelve years before the Battle of Bunker's Hill, the Due de Choiseul predicted and prepared for the separation of the American colonies from England. One month after that, the Continental Congress still clung to the belief that they should escape a division. And so, some seven years ago, the veteran French advocate Guepln, in a most able essay suggested by the “ Burns affair” in Boston, prophesied civil war in America within ten years, “ Une qrande lutte s’apprête done,” he wrote; “ A great contest is at hand.”

Thus things looked to foreigners, both in 1775 and in 1854, while in both cases our people were yielding only step by step to the inevitable current which swept events along. It is the penalty of caution, that it sometimes appears, even to itself, like irresolution or timidity. Not a foolish charge has been brought against Northern energy in this contest, that was not urged equally in the time of the Revolution. The royal troops thought Massachusetts as easy to subdue as the South Carolinians affect to think, and expressed it in almost the same language: — “ Whenever it comes to blows, he that can run the fastest will think himself best off.” The revolutionists admitted that “the people abroad have too generally got the idea that the Americans are all cowards and poltroons.” A single regiment, it was generally asserted, could march triumphant through New England. The people took no pains to deny it. The guard in Boston captured thirteen thousand cartridges at a stroke. The people did not prevent it. A citizen was tarred and feathered in the streets by the royal soldiery,while the band played “Yankee Doodle.” The people did not interfere. “ John Adams writes, there is a great spirit in the Congress, and that we must furnish ourselves with artillery and arms and ammunition, but avoid war, if possible,— if possible.” At last, one day, these deliberate people finally made up their minds that it was time to rise, — and when they rose, everything else fell. In less than a year afterwards, Boston being finally evacuated, one of General Howe’s mortified officers wrote home to England, in words which might form a Complete Letter-Writer for every army-officer who has turned traitor, from Beauregard downward, — “ Bad times, my dear friend. The displeasure I feel in the small share I have in our present insignificancy is so great, that I do not know the thing so desperate I would not undertake, in order to change our situation.”

It is fortunate that the impending general contest has also been recently preceded by a local one, which, though waged under circumstances far less favorable to the North, yet afforded important hints by its results. It was worth all the cost of Kansas to have the lesson she taught, in passing through her ordeaL It was not the Emigrant Aid Society which gave peace at last to her borders, nor was it her shifting panorama of evanescent governors; it was the sheer physical superiority of her Free-State emigrants, after they took up arms. Kansas afforded the important discovery, as some Southern officers once naively owned at Lecomptou, that “ Yankees would fight.” Patient to the verge of humiliation, the settlers rose at last only to achieve a victory so absurdly rapid that it was almost a new disappointment ; the contest was not so much a series of battles as a succession of steeplechases, of efforts to get within shot, — Missouri, Virginia, and South Carolina invariably disappearing over one prairieswell, precisely as the Sharp’s rifles of the emigrants appeared on the verge of the next. The slaveholders had immense advantages: many of the settlers were in league with them to drive out the remainder; they had the General Government always aiding them, more or less openly, with money, arms, provisions, horses, men, and leaders; they had always the Missouri border to retreat upon, and the Missouri River to blockade. Yet they failed so miserably, that every Kansas boy at last had his story to tell of the company of ruffians whom he had set scampering by the casual hint that Brown or Lane was lurking in the bushes. The terror became such a superstition, that the largest army which ever entered Kansas — three thousand men, by the admission of both sides — turned back before a redoubt at Lawrence garrisoned by only two hundred, and retreated over the border without risking an engagement.

It is idle to say that these were not fair specimens of Southern companies. They were composed of precisely the same material as the flower of the Secession army, — if flower it have. They were members of the first families, planters’ sons and embryo Wigfalls. South Carolina sent them forth, like the present troops, with toasts and boasts and everything but money. They had officers of some repute ; and they had enthusiasm with no limit except the supply of whiskey. Slavery was divine, and Colonel Buford was its prophet. The city of Atchison was before the close of 1857 to be made the capital of a Southern republic. Kansas "was to be conquered : “ We will make her a Slave State, or form a chain of locked arms and hearts together, and die in the attempt.” Yet in the end there were no chains, either of flesh or iron, — no chains, and little dying, but very liberal running away. Thus ended the war in Kansas. It seems impossible that Slavery should not make in this case a rather better fight, where all is at stake. But it is well to remember that no Border Ruffian of Secession can now threaten more loudly, swear more fiercely, or retreat more rapidly, than his predecessors did then.

One does not hear much lately of that pleasant fiction, so abundant a year or two ago, that North and South really only needed to visit each other and become better acquainted. How cordially these endearing words sounded, to be sure, from the lips of Southern gentlemen, as they sat at Northern banquets and partook unreluctantly of Northern wine ! Can those be the gay cavaliers who are now uplifting their wtir-wlioops with such a modest grace at Richmond and Montgomery ? Can the privations of the camp so instantaneously dethrone Bacchus and set up Mars ? It is to he regretted; they appeared more creditably in their cups, and one would gladly appeal from Philip sober to Philip drunk. Intimate intercourse has lost its charm. New York merchants more than ever desire an increased acquaintance with the coffers of their repudiating debtors; but so far as the knowledge of their peculiar moral traits is concerned, enough is as good as a feast. No Abolitionist has ever dared to pillory the slave-propagandists so conspicuously as they are doing it for themselves every day. Sumner’s "Barbarism of Slavery ” seemed tolerably graphic in its time, but how tamely it reads beside the “ New Orleans Delta ”!

A Scotchman once asked Dr. Johnson what opinion he would form of Scotland from what strangers had said of it.

“Sir,” said the Doctor, “I should think it a region of the earth to be avoided, so far as convenient.”

“ But bow,” persisted the patriot, “ if you listened to what its natives say of it? ”

“ Then, Sir,” roared Old Obstinacy, “ I should avoid it altogether.”

Take the seceded States upon their own showing, and it is absurd to suppose that they can ever resume their former standing in the nation. Are there any stronger oaths than their generals have broken, any closer ties to honesty than their financiers have spurned, any deeds more damning than their legislatures have voted thanks for ? No one supposes that the individual traitors can be restored to confidence, that Twiggs can re-dye his reputation, or any deep-seasoundings fish up Maury’s drowned honor. But the influence of the States is gone with that of their representatives. They may worship the graven image of President Lincoln in Mobile; they may do homage to the ample stuffed regimentals of General Butler in Charleston ; but it will not make the nation forget. Could their whole delegation resume its seat in Congress to-morrow, with the three-fifths representation intact, it would not help them. Can we ever trust them to build a ship or construct a rifle again ? No time, no formal act can restore the past relations, so long as slavery shall live. It is easy for the Executive to pardon some convict from the penitentiary; but who can pardon him out of that sterner prison of public distrust which closes its disembodied walls around him, moves with his motions, and never suffers him to walk unconscious of it again ? Henceforth he dwells as under the shadow of swords, and holds intercourse with men only by courtesy, not confidence. And so will they.

Not that the United States Government is yet prepared to avow itself antislavery, in the sense in which the South is pro-slavery. We conscientiously strain at gnats of Constitutional clauses, while they gulp down whole camels of treason. We still look after their legal safeguards long after they have hoisted them with their own petards. But both sides have trusted themselves to the logic of events, and there is no mistaking the direction in which that tends. In times like these, men care more for facts than for phrases, and reason quite as rapidly as they act. It is impossible to blink the fact that Slavery is the root of the rebellion ; and so War is proving itself an Abolitionist, whoever else is. Practically speaking, the verdict is already entered, and the doom of the destructive institution pronounced, in the popular mind. Either the Secessionists will show fight handsomely, or they will fail to do so. If they fail to do it, they are the derision of the world forever, — since no one ever spares a beaten bully,— and thenceforward their social system must go down of itself. If, on the other hand, they make a resistance which proves formidable and costly, then the adoption of the John-QuincyAdams poliy of military emancipation is an ultimate necessity, and there is nobody more likely to put it in effective operation than a certain gentleman who lately wrote an eloquent letter to his Governor on the horrors of slave-insurrection. No doubt insurrection is a terrible thing, but so is all war, and every man of humanity approaches either with a shudder. But if the truth were told, it would be that the Anglo-Saxon habitually despises the negro because he is not an insurgent, for the Anglo-Saxon would certainly be one in his place. Our race does not take naturally to non-resistance, and has far more spontaneous sympathy with Nat Turner than with Uncle Tom. But be it as it may with our desires, the rising of the slaves, in case of continued war, is a mere destiny. We must take facts as they are.

Insurrection is one of the risks voluntarily assumed by Slavery, — and the greatest of them. The slaves know it, and so do the masters. When they seriously assert that they feel safe on this point, there is really no answer to he made but that by which Traddles in “David Copperfield ” puts down Uriah Heep’s wild hypothesis of believing himself an innocent man. “But you don’t, you know,” quoth the straightforward Traddles ; “ therefore, if you please, we won’t suppose any such thing.” They cannot deceive us, for they do not deceive themselves. Every traveller who has seen the faces of a household suddenly grow pale, in a Southern city, when some street tumult struck to their hearts the fear of insurrection, — every one who has seen the heavy negro face brighten unguardedly at the name of John Brown, though a thousand miles away from Harper’s Ferry,— has penetrated the final secret of the military weakness which saved Washington for us and lost the war for them.

It is time to expose this mad inconsistency which paralyzes common sense on all Southern tongues, so soon as Slavery becomes the topic. These same negroes, whom we hear claimed, at one moment, as petted darlings whom no allurements can seduce, are denounced, next instant, as fiends whom a whisper can madden. Northern sympathizers are first ridiculed as imbecile, then lynched as destructive. Either position is in itself intelligible, but the combination is an absurdity. We can understand why the proprietor of a powderhouse trembles at the sight of flint and steel; and we can also understand why some new journeyman, being inexperienced, may regard the peril without due concern. But we should decide either to be a lunatic, if he in one breath proclaimed his gunpowder to be incombustible, and at the next moment assassinated a visitor for lighting a cigar on the premises. A slave population is either contented and safe, or discontented and unsafe ; it cannot at the same time be friendly and hostile, blissful and desperate.

The result described is inevitable, should the Secessionists dare to tempt the ordeal by battle long enough. If it stop short of this, it will be because the prestige of Southern military power is so easily broken down that there is no temptation to declare the Adams policy. But even this consummation must have the most momentous results, and entirely modify the whole anti-slavery movement of the nation. Should the war cease tomorrow, it has inaugurated a new era in our nation’s history. The folly of the Gulf States, in throwing away a political condition where the conservative sentiment stood by them only too well, must inevitably recoil on their own heads, whether the strife last a day or a generation. No man can estimate the new measures and combinations to which it is destined to give rise. There stands the Constitution, with all its severe conditions, — severe or weak, however, according to its interpretations; — which interpretations, again, will always prove plastic before the popular will. The popular will is plainly destined to a change; and who dare predict the results of its changing ? The scrupulous may still hold by the letter of the bond; but since the South has confessedly prized all legal guaranties only for the sake of Slavery, the North, once tree to act, will long to construe them, up to the very verge of faith, in the interest of Liberty. Was the original compromise a Shylock bond ? — the war has been our Portia. Slavery long ruled the nation politically. The nation rose and conquered it with votes. With desperate disloyalty, Slavery struck down all political safeguards, and appealed to arms. The nation has risen again, ready to meet it with any weapons, sure to conquer with any. Twice conquered, what further claim will this defeated desperado have ? If it was a disturbing element before, and so put under restriction, shall it be spared when it has openly proclaimed itself a destroying element also? Is this to be the last of American civil wars, or only the first one? These are the questions which will haunt men’s minds, when the cannon are all hushed, and the bells are pealing peace, and the sons of our hearthstones come home. The watchword “ Irrepressible Conflict” only gave the key, but War has flung the door wide open, and four million slaves stand ready to file through. It is merely a question of time, circumstance, and method. There is not a statesman so wise but this war has given him new light, nor an Abolitionist so self-confident but must own its promise better than his foresight. Henceforth, the first duty of an American legislator must be, by the use of all legitimate means, to weaken Slavery. Delenda est Servitudo. What the peace which the South has broken was not doing, the war which she has instituted must secure.