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While this final controversy was being fought out in Congress, the enthusiasm for the Administration had again ebbed. Its recovery of prestige had run a brief course and was gone, and now in the midst of the discussion over the negro soldiers' bills, the opposition once more attacked the Cabinet, with its old enemy, Benjamin, as the target. Resolutions were introduced into the Senate declaring that "the retirement of the Honorable Judah P. Benjamin from the State Department will be subservient of the public interests"; in the House resolutions were offered describing his public utterances as "derogatory to his position as a high public functionary of the Confederate Government, a reflection on the motives of Congress as a deliberative body, and an insult to public opinion."
So Congress wrangled and delayed while the wave of fire that was Sherman's advance moved northward through the Carolinas. Columbia had gone up in smoke while the Senate debated day after day-fifteen in all-what to do with the compromise bill sent up to it from the House. It was during this period that a new complication appears to have been added to a situation which was already so hopelessly entangled, for this was the time when Governor Magrath made a proposal to Governor Vance for a league within the Confederacy, giving as his chief reason that Virginia's interests were parting company with those of the lower South. The same doubt of the upper South appears at various times in the Mercury. And through all the tactics of the opposition runs the constant effort to discredit Davis. The Mercury scoffed at the agitation for negro soldiers as a mad attempt on the part of the Administration to remedy its "myriad previous blunders."
In these terrible days, the mind of Davis hardened. He became possessed by a lofty and intolerant confidence, an absolute conviction that, in spite of all appearances, he was on the threshold of success. We may safely ascribe to him in these days that illusory state of mind which has characterized some of the greatest of men in their over-strained, concluding periods. His extraordinary promises in his later messages, a series of vain prophecies beginning with his speech at the African Church, remind one of Napoleon after Leipzig refusing the Rhine as a boundary. His nerves, too, were all but at the breaking point. He sent the Senate a scolding message because of its delay in pa.s.sing the Negro Soldiers' Bill. The Senate answered in a report that was sharply critical of his own course. Shortly afterward Congress adjourned refusing his request for another suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
Davis had hinted at important matters he hoped soon to be able to submit to Congress. What he had in mind was the last, the boldest, stroke of this period of desperation. The policy of emanc.i.p.ation he and Benjamin had accepted without reserve. They had at last perceived, too late, the power of the anti-slavery movement in Europe. Though they had already failed to coerce England through cotton and had been played with and abandoned by Napoleon, they persisted in thinking that there was still a chance for a third chapter in their foreign affairs.
The agitation to arm the slaves, with the promise of freedom, had another motive besides the reinforcement of Lee's army: it was intended to serve as a basis for negotiations with England and France. To that end D. J. Kenner was dispatched to Europe early in 1865. Pa.s.sing through New York in disguise, he carried word of this revolutionary program to the Confederate commissioners abroad. A conference at Paris was held by Kenner, Mason, and Slidell. Mason, who had gone over to England to sound Palmerston with regard to this last Confederate hope, was received on the 14th of March. On the previous day, Davis had accepted temporary defeat, by signing the compromise bill which omitted emanc.i.p.ation. But as there was no cable operating at the time, Mason was not aware of this rebuff. In his own words, he "urged upon Lord P. that if the President was right in his impression that there was some latent, undisclosed obstacle on the part of Great Britain to recognition, it should be frankly stated, and we might, if in our power to do so, consent to remove it." Palmerston, though his manner was "conciliatory and kind," insisted that there was nothing "underlying" his previous statements, and that he could not, in view of the facts then existing, regard the Confederacy in the light of an independent power. Mason parted from him convinced that "the most ample concessions on our part in the matter referred to would have produced no change in the course determined on by the British Government with regard to recognition." In a subsequent interview with Lord Donoughmore, he was frankly told that the offer of emanc.i.p.ation had come too late.
The dispatch in which Mason reported the att.i.tude of the British Government never reached the Confederate authorities. It was dated the 31st of March. Two days later Richmond was evacuated by the Confederate Government.
Chapter XII. The Last Word
The evacuation of Richmond broke the back of the Confederate defense. Congress had adjourned. The legislative history of the Confederacy was at an end. The executive history still had a few days to run. After destroying great quant.i.ties of records, the government officials had packed the remainder on a long train that conveyed the President and what was left of the civil service to Danville. During a few days, Danville was the Confederate capital. There, Davis, still unable to conceive defeat, issued his pathetic last Address to the People of the Confederate States. His mind was crystallized. He was no longer capable of judging facts. In as confident tones as ever he promised his people that they should yet prevail; he a.s.sured Virginians that even if the Confederate army should withdraw further south the withdrawal would be but temporary, and that "again and again will we return until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free."
The surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, compelled another migration of the dwindling executive company. General Johnston had not yet surrendered. A conference which he had with the President and the Cabinet at Greensboro ended in giving him permission to negotiate with Sherman. Even then Davis was still bent on keeping up the fight; yet, though he believed that Sherman would reject Johnston's overtures, he was overtaken at Charlotte on his way South by the crushing news of Johnston's surrender. There the executive history of the Confederacy came to an end in a final Cabinet meeting. Davis, still blindly resolute to continue the struggle, was deeply distressed by the determination of his advisers to abandon it. In imminent danger of capture, the President's party made its way to Abbeville, where it broke up, and each member sought safety as best he could. Davis with a few faithful men rode to Irwinsville, Georgia, where, in the early morning of the 10th of May, he was surprised and captured. But the history of the Confederacy was not quite at an end. The last gunshots were still to be fired far away in Texas on the 13th of May. The surrender of the forces of the Trans-Mississippi on May 26, 1865, brought the war to a definite conclusion.
There remains one incident of these closing days, the significance of which was not perceived until long afterward, when it immediately took its rightful place among the determining events of American history. The unconquerable spirit of the Army of Northern Virginia found its last expression in a proposal which was made to Lee by his officers. If he would give the word, they would make the war a duel to the death; it should drag out in relentless guerrilla struggles; and there should be no pacification of the South until the fighting cla.s.ses had been exterminated. Considering what those cla.s.ses were, considering the qualities that could be handed on to their posterity, one realizes that this suicide of a whole people, of a n.o.ble fighting people, would have maimed incalculably the America of the future. But though the heroism of this proposal of his men to die on their shields had its stern charm for so brave a man as Lee, he refused to consider it. He would not admit that he and his people had a right thus to extinguish their power to help mold the future, no matter whether it be the future they desired or not. The result of battle must be accepted. The Southern spirit must not perish, luxuriating blindly in despair, but must find a new form of expression, must become part of the new world that was to be, must look to a new birth under new conditions. In this spirit he issued to his army his last address: "After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpa.s.sed courage and fort.i.tude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them; but feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.... I bid you an affectionate farewell."
How inevitably one calls to mind, in view of the indomitable valor of Lee's final decision, those great lines from Tennyson: "Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will."
There is no adequate history of the Confederacy. It is rumored that a distinguished scholar has a great work approaching completion. It is also rumored that another scholar, well equipped to do so, will soon bring out a monumental life of Davis. But the fact remains that as yet we lack a comprehensive review of the Confederate episode set in proper perspective. Standard works such as the "History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850", by J. F. Rhodes (7 vols., 1893-1908), even when otherwise as near a cla.s.sic as is the work of Mr. Rhodes, treat the Confederacy so externally as to have in this respect little value. The one searching study of the subject, "The Confederate States of America," by J. C. Schwab (1901), though admirable in its way, is wholly overshadowed by the point of view of the economist. The same is to be said of the article by Professor Schwab in the 11th edition of "The Encyclopaedia Britannica."
Two famous discussions of the episode by partic.i.p.ants are: "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government," by the President of the Confederacy (2 vols., 1881), and "A Const.i.tutional View of the Late War Between the States," by Alexander H. Stephens (2 vols., 1870). Both works, though invaluable to the student, are tinged with controversy, each of the eminent authors aiming to refute the arguments of political antagonists.
The military history of the time has so overshadowed the civil, in the minds of most students, that we are still sadly in need of careful, disinterested studies of the great figures of Confederate civil affairs. "Jefferson Davis," by William E. Dodd ("American Crisis Biographies," 1907), is the standard life of the President, superseding older ones. Not so satisfactory in the same series is "Judah P. Benjamin," by Pierce Butler (1907), and "Alexander H. Stephens," by Louis Pendleton (1907). Older works which are valuable for the material they contain are: "Memoir of Jefferson Davis," by his Wife (1890); "The Life and Times of Alexander H. Stephens," by R. M. Johnston and W. M. Browne (1878); "The Life and Times of William Lowndes Yancey," by J. W. Du Bose (1891); "The Life, Times, and Speeches of Joseph E. Brown," by Herbert Fielder (1883); "Public Life and Diplomatic Correspondence of James M. Mason," by his Daughter (1903); "The Life and Time of C. G. Memminger," by H. D. Capers (1893). The writings of E. A. Pollard cannot be disregarded, but must be taken as the violent expression of an extreme partisan. They include a "Life of Jefferson Davis" (1869) and "The Lost Cause" (1867). A charming series of essays is "Confederate Portraits," by Gamaliel Bradford (1914). Among books on special topics that are to be recommended are: "The Diplomatic History of the Southern Confederacy" by J. M. Callahan (1901); "France and the Confederate Navy," by John Bigelow (1888); and "The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe," by J. D. Bulloch (2 vols., 1884). There is a large number of contemporary accounts of life in the Confederacy. Historians have generally given excessive attention to "A Rebel War Clerk's Diary at the Confederate States Capital," by J. B. Jones (2 vols., 1866) which has really neither more nor less value than a Richmond newspaper. Conspicuous among writings of this type is the delightful "Diary from Dixie," by Mrs. Mary B. Chestnut (1905) and "My Diary, North and South," by W. H. Russell (1861).
The doc.u.ments of the civil history, so far as they are accessible to the general reader, are to be found in the three volumes forming the fourth series of the "Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies" (128 vols., 1880-1901); the "Journals of the Congress of the Confederate States" (8 vols., 1904) and "Messages and Papers of the Confederacy," edited by J. D. Richardson (2 vols., 1905). Four newspapers are of first importance: the famous opposition organs, the Richmond Examiner and the Charleston Mercury, which should be offset by the two leading organs of the Government, the Courier of Charleston and the Enquirer of Richmond. The Statutes of the Confederacy have been collected and published; most of them are also to be found in the fourth series of the Official Records.
Additional bibliographical references will be found appended to the articles on the "Confederate States of America," "Secession," and "Jefferson Davis," in "The Encyclopaedia Britannica," 11th edition.