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The new edition of Leaves of Grass pleased the critics as little as its predecessors, but had a wider circulation. Some four or five thousand copies had been sold before the house of Thayer and Eldridge went down in the financial crash which followed on the outbreak of the war.[323] Emerson came in again for some share of the critical assault, though his name was in no way connected with the new issue. Of Whitman himself a London journalist declared[324] that he was the most silly, the most blasphemous, and the most disgusting writer that he had ever perused.

But if it found fresh enemies, the new edition found also new friends; and notably in England, whither a few adventurous copies of the earlier versions had already penetrated. Both Emerson and Thoreau had sent them to their English friends—among whom was Carlyle—but apparently with scant acknowledgment. Ruskin’s correspondent, Mr. Thomas Dixon of Sunderland, had purchased a few examples of the first edition at Dutch auction; and some of these he forwarded to Mr. William Bell Scott, who again handed on one of them to Mr. W. M. Rossetti; an act which, as the story will show, proved to be of great importance to Walt Whitman.[325] It was the book of 1860, however, which first aroused the younger generation of English[Pg 172]men, among whom was the late Mr. Addington Symonds. “Within the space of a few years,” says he, “we were all reading and discussing Walt.”

The book appeared under the shadow of impending war. With the Presidential election of 1860, America came to the edge of the abyss; and the return of Abraham Lincoln was promptly followed by the organisation of secession. Whitman was still in Boston when, early in the spring, Lincoln first made his appearance in New York, W. C. Bryant introducing him to a great meeting at the Cooper Institute.

The famous speech which he then delivered lived long in its hearers’ memory; but even the personal impression which he made, remarkable as it was, hardly prepared New York to learn in the following May that it was Abraham Lincoln, and not W. H. Seward, the nominal leader of the Republican party, who had received the Presidential nomination at the great Chicago Convention.

Had the Democratic party been able to hold together, Lincoln could not have carried the election; but it was now split, and further weakened by the appearance of a Constitutional union Party.[326] The most dangerous of the opposing candidates seemed to be Lincoln’s old antagonist and subsequent loyal supporter, Judge Douglas, who represented his well-worn policy of local option, or “squatter sovereignty”. Breckinridge of Kentucky openly advocated the extension of slave territory; while Bell, the unionist, kept his own counsel.

Early in the summer of that great struggle, Whitman returned to New York. In June[327] he was among the immense crowd of interested spectators who filled Broadway from side to side, on the arrival of the first Japanese embassy to America; and he was of the thousands who welcomed the succession of distinguished visitors who came, that ominous summer, to the capital[Pg 173] of the West. There was the Great Eastern, that leviathan of the modern world, whose advent was so long and so eagerly anticipated; there was Garibaldi, fresh from the fields whereon Italy had become a kingdom—not indeed the sister republic of Mazzini’s ardent dream, who should have given the new law of Liberty to Europe, but at least something more than a memory and a geographical term.

Another, in whom Whitman felt an even warmer interest, was “Baron Renfrew,” otherwise the Prince of Wales. The fair royal stripling of those days attracted the stalwart Democrat, who like old George Fox, could recognise a man under a crown as readily as a man in rags. Whitman’s eyes were keen to read personality; perhaps we should rather say that the sense by which personality is distinguished was highly developed in him. And he to whom the attributes of rank were non-existent, fell in love with this young man[328] whose warm heart was to make him perhaps the best beloved of monarchs, as he afterwards fell in love with many a private soldier carried in wounded from the field. Albert Edward was one of those strangers in whom Whitman recognised a born comrade; and this fact at once raises his democratic sentiment out of the region of class feeling.

He was a witness, too, of the advent of other visitors even more brilliant, and burdened even more to the popular fancy, and perhaps to his own, with significance. He saw the extraordinary display of the heavens—the huge meteor, luminous almost as the moon, which fell in Long Island Sound, and the unannounced comet flaring in the north.

The autumn was loud with the electoral struggle. The presence of three opposing candidates was not enough to assure Lincoln’s success. The general expectation seems to have leaned towards an electoral tie, none of the candidates polling a majority of the votes; and this would have resulted, as on the similar occasion[Pg 174] of 1824, in the choice between them being left to the House of Representatives. Upon the result of such choice the slave party was willing to stake its hopes of success; anticipating that even though he were the popular candidate, Congress would not select Lincoln, but would put him aside, as it had passed by Jackson in its previous opportunity.

But to the consternation of the South, the “black Republican” rail-splitter polled a clear majority over all three antagonists combined. A majority, that is to say, of electoral votes, for the American President is not chosen directly by the people, but by the people’s delegates.[329] Each State elects its quota of Presidential electors, chosen not in proportion to the strength of parties in the State, but all of them representing the dominant party.[330] Thus it may happen that a candidate, like Judge Douglas, who polls a large minority of the total popular vote, will receive a mere handful of electoral suffrages, having failed to carry more than one or two States. Lincoln was chosen by 180 votes to 123; and though Douglas’s popular poll was two-thirds of Lincoln’s, and nearly as large as that of the two other candidates combined, his electoral support was only one-tenth of the voices against Lincoln. The Republican vote in the country fell short of the combined opposition poll by a million out of a total of less than five million votes. From the popular point of view, Lincoln was, therefore, in the difficult position of a minority President.

The result of the November elections was scarcely made public before a committee of Southern Congressmen issued a manifesto,[331] proclaiming the immediate need for a separate Confederacy of slave-holding States, if the institution upon which their prosperity depended was to be saved from the machinations of Northern politicians. They audaciously identified both Lincoln and the Republican party with the policy of Abolition; whereas the choice of Lincoln instead of Seward, the[Pg 175] Abolitionist, might in itself have been accepted as sufficient evidence that the North, while determined to preserve the union, was resolute against interference with the internal policy of the South.

The Manifesto was followed, on the 20th of December, by the secession of South Carolina, ever since Calhoun’s day the leader of revolt against Federal power. Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana promptly joined her.

Although Lincoln’s election was assured in November, the executive power remained till the beginning of March in the feeble hands of Buchanan, who was the creature of advisers themselves divided in counsel, to the signal advantage of that section which supported the revolt. When, at last, the outgoing President made up his mind to dismiss his secessionist secretary of war, the Cotton-State Caucus called a Convention at Montgomery, the picturesque and sleepy old capital of Alabama; and this finally formulated a permanent constitution for the Confederacy precisely a week after the inauguration of the new President.[332]

In the meantime Lincoln could only stand a spectator of the wholly ineffective measures which were being taken to frustrate the active aggression of the slave power. But towards the end of February he set out for Washington. Passing on his way through Indiana and Ohio, he was received by an enormous crowd in New York; and here Whitman first saw him, not from his favourite seat upon a stage-coach, for the streets were too densely packed for traffic, but as one of the thirty or forty thousand silent pedestrian onlookers collected in the city’s heart, where now the post-office stands.

Whitman well knew what the ominous silence, which greeted that loosely-made gaunt figure, concealed;[333] and how different was the mood of New York that day from the holiday-making good-humour with which it was wont to greet the arrival of other illustrious guests. Under the speechlessness lurked a black moody wrath ready to break forth.

[Pg 176]

It was a pleasant afternoon, just twelve months after that other February day when Whitman and Emerson had paced up and down the slope of Boston Common in earnest colloquy. Lincoln went silently into the Astor House without any demonstration either of welcome or of open hostility; thereafter proceeding to his inauguration. He was compelled to pass secretly through Baltimore, where violence was only too ready to manifest itself on the slightest encouragement. The fact that the President-elect, in order to reach the capital, had thus to travel through a State which was only with difficulty retained for the union cause, shows how close that cause was to disaster. And though, as Lincoln stated in his inaugural address, the bulk of the American people opposed secession, and the party which favoured it was but a comparatively small minority; yet it could only be either an ignorant optimism, or on the contrary a firmly founded and earnest faith in the devotion of the great mass of the citizens to the ideals of their fathers, which could face such a situation without dismay.

The weight of numbers, however, favoured the North. A review of the census returns show that at their first compilation in 1790 the population of the Southern and the Northern divisions of the country was almost absolutely equal; but that from the beginning of the century the increase in the latter was the more rapid; so that in 1860 the free population of the North was more than double that of the South.

But in spite of this great numerical preponderance, the North itself was not united on the question at issue, as is clearly shown by the returns of the Presidential election, when Douglas polled a million Free-state votes. For though Douglas opposed secession, he did not oppose the extension of slavery. It is shown clearly, too, in the attitude of New York; of which more, later.

And beyond this the Southerner was in some respects better fitted, as well by his virtues as by his faults, for a military life. The qualities of leadership and of obedience are cultivated under an aristocratic ideal, as they are not under a democratic. And the South, which had[Pg 177] practically controlled the executive under Buchanan, and especially the department of war, was better prepared to take the field than was the North. On the other hand, the strength of the union lay in its cause, and in the latent idealism of the American people, which woke into activity at the first menace to the Stars and Stripes.

Whether the war really settled anything, whether it might possibly have been avoided, whether secession left to itself would not literally have cut its own throat, these are interesting philosophic speculations into which we need not enter. For already the spectre of war had long been abroad, stalking through the unharvested fields of Kansas and Nebraska, and gesticulating with horrid signs and mocking whispers in every corner of America. When the slave party had first raised its fatal cry of “our institution in danger,” it had raised the cry of war. And when at last men like Lincoln retorted with the declaration that the union was irrefragable—that secession could only be justified after some criminal use of the Federal power to override the rights of the minority—the battle was manifestly joined.

It is but fair to add that although the party of Lincoln had now truly become the party of the union, the first line of cleavage between North and South was marked out by a schismatic spirit in the North itself, by its support of its own sectional interests, when enforcing a policy of protection upon the whole country.[334] There can be little doubt that the mistrust felt in the South, while largely due to anterior causes, was born under this evil star. So true does it seem that when a nation’s policy is being shaped according to merely material interests, the seeds are being sown of future revolution.

The fatal movement of American destiny towards its crisis must have dominated much of Whitman’s thought at this time. Secession was in the very air he breathed;[Pg 178] for at its first proclamation an echoing voice was heard in New York itself.

Here Mayor Wood, after a short period of deserved seclusion, had returned to power. Unsatisfied with his patronage he dreamed of wider fields. Was it not the splendid vision of a Presidency which encouraged this fatuous person to declare for a second secession, the creation of a new island republic of New York? “Tri-Insula” was to have been its title,[335] and its territories would have comprised Mannahatta, Staten, and Long Islands. The proposal was enthusiastically received by the absurd creatures of Tammany, who then sat upon the City Council. But their complacent folly was of brief duration. It was dispersed by the first rebel gun-shot.

Whitman had been at the opera on Fourteenth Street,[336] and was strolling homeward down Broadway about midnight, on the 13th of April, when he was met by the newspaper boys crying the last extras with more than ordinary vehemence. Buying a copy and stopping to read it under the lamps of the Metropolitan Hotel, he was startled by the news that war had actually broken out. The day before, Confederate troops had fired upon the flag at Charleston Harbour and Fort Sumter. South Carolina had flung her challenge down.

The President immediately called for troops, and the response of the North was instantaneous. New York herself did not hesitate, but voted at once a million dollars and sent forward her quota of men.[337] Mayor Wood was among the many thousands of Democrats who became patriots that day—in so far as one can suddenly become patriotic.

Whitman was not among the volunteers, but his brother George, who was ten years his junior, was one of the first to offer.[338] He had been following the family trade as a Brooklyn carpenter, and henceforward[Pg 179] proved himself a brave and able soldier. He was neither braver nor abler than Walt, but the latter stayed at home, and there are those who have blamed him for it.
Picture of Walt at forty-four.


Putting on one side, as they have done, his subsequent service to the army, such blame springs from a misunderstanding of the man’s nature. There are some men wholly above the reproach of cowardice or indifference, whom it is impossible for us to conceive as shouldering a gun. And for those who knew him most intimately, Whitman was such a man. Many men who loved peace heard the call to arms and obeyed. Abraham Lincoln[339] himself—to whom America was entrusting the conduct of the war—had but now proclaimed its futility, while his whole nature revolted from its cruel folly. And had his destiny bidden him to join the colours one cannot doubt that Walt Whitman would have done so.[340] But that inner voice, which he obeyed, rather forbade than encouraged him.

And even in years of war there is service one can do for one’s country out of the ranks. No war can wholly absorb the energies of a civilised people, for the daily life of the nation must be continued. There are, besides, tasks that have a prior claim upon the loyalty of the individual, even to the defence of the flag. And Whitman had such a task, for he bore, as it were, within his soul the infant of an ideal America, like a young mother whose life is the consecrated guardian of her unborn babe. His book was now, in a sense, complete; but none could feel more strongly than he that even his book was only an inadequate expression of his purpose; while life lasted his days were to be devoted to the creation of an immortal comradeship, and a spiritual atmosphere in which the seeds concealed in his writings might germinate.

It must also be noted that, though in his open letter to Emerson[341] he had written of war almost as a soldier whose blood kindles at the sound of the trumpets, and though the spirit of his book is one which “blows battles[Pg 180] into men,” yet the last edition had been marked by a curious and significant approximation to Quakerism. It was in 1860, when war was so near at hand, that he substituted the Friendly numeral equivalents for the usual names of the months and days of the week; not, assuredly, because he objected to the recognition of heathen deities, like the early Friends, but in order to avow some relationship between himself and Quakerism. The increase of mystical consciousness may have made him more aware at this time of his real identity with this society of mystics to which he never nominally belonged.

We have had repeated occasion to note the Quaker traits in Whitman’s character, and here, at the opening of the war, it is well to emphasise them anew.[342] His love of silence, his spiritual caution, his veracity and simplicity of speech, his soul-sight, and the practical balance of his mysticism—that temperance of character upon which his inspirational faculties were founded—and, finally, the equal democratic goodwill he showed to all men; these qualities speak the original Quaker type. And the world may well extend to Whitman the respect it acknowledges for the Quaker’s refusal to bear arms.

It was, indeed, because he loved America so well that he did not fight with the common weapons. We have seen that he associated himself intimately with the American genius, a genius which necessarily includes the qualities of the South at least equally with those of the North; he himself[343] inclining to lay the emphasis upon the Southern attributes, as though their wealth in the emotional and passionate elements were more essential than any other. America robbed of the South would, indeed, have been America divided against herself. Hence he shared to the full in the desire and struggle for unity against the sordid party which instigated secession. But he knew that a victory of arms was not necessarily a victory of principles, and it was for the principle that he strove.

[Pg 181]

May we not assert the possibility of a highly developed and powerful personality exerting itself upon the side of Justice and Liberty in moments of national crisis, in some manner more potent than that of merely physical service? Would not Whitman have been wasting his forces if he had surrendered himself to the spirit of the hour, and gone forth with the volunteers to stop or to forward a bullet or a bayonet? These are questions we well may ponder, and without attempting to give reasons for so doing, we may answer in the affirmative.

Certain it is that two or three days after he first read the news of South Carolina’s challenge, and the day following the President’s appeal, he recorded this singular vow in one of his notebooks as though it were the seal upon a struggle of his spirit: “April 16th, 1861. I have this day, this hour, resolved to inaugurate for myself a pure, perfect, sweet, clean-blooded, robust body, by ignoring all drinks but water and pure milk, and all fat meats, late suppers—a great body, a purged, cleansed, spiritualised, invigorated body.”[344]

Read with its context of the events which were occupying his mind, may we not surmise that this was a new girding of the loins for some service of the great cause, more strenuous than ever, though perhaps yet undefined; that this vow of abstinence for the establishment of a spiritualised body, made thus at the opening of the war, and at the time of George’s enrolment, when Lincoln’s call for volunteers was ringing in the heart of every loyal citizen[345]—that this vow was that of an athlete going into training for a supreme effort; and an athlete whose labours are upon that unseen field, whereon it may be the battles of the visible world are really won. It was thus that Whitman obeyed the calls of duty both within him and without.

Lincoln’s first tasks were to create an army and to confine the area of insurrection. He proclaimed the blockade of the Southern ports; called out more regu[Pg 182]lars and volunteers, and succeeded in preventing West Virginia and Missouri from joining the Confederacy. Had he been able to retain for the service of the union a certain brilliant young officer, the war might have opened and closed upon a very different story; but Robert Lee had already joined the Southern army, though not without an inward conflict.

No leader of equal genius appeared upon the other side until Grant came out of the West. The weakness of Northern generalship was only too clearly evidenced in the defeat at Bull Run, midway between the two capitals, which were now little more than a hundred miles apart, the Confederate Government having removed to Richmond. As a result of the defeat Washington itself lay in imminent peril; and if General Johnston had followed up his advantage, it would have fallen into his hands. But he missed his hour, and the consternation of the North was followed by a mood of stubborn resolution.

Slowly but surely Lincoln built up his military organisation. In the whirlpool of currents he remained steadfast to his single policy of maintaining the union. He succeeded in evading the occasions of war which threatened abroad; he conciliated all in the South which was at that time amenable to conciliation; and, eager as he was for emancipation, he refused to be driven before the storm of Abolitionist sentiment which had risen in the North.

During 1862, while Grant and Farragut were gradually clearing the Mississippi, the great natural thoroughfare of America, Lee was more than holding his own among the hills and rivers of Virginia. The opposing army of the Potomac remained ineffective under the brilliant but dilatory McClellan, and his more active successors, Burnside and Hooker. Lee assumed the aggressive, and invaded Maryland; but was turned back from a projected raid into Pennsylvania by the drawn battle of Antietam; in which, as in many of the previous engagements of this army, George Whitman fought.

[Pg 183]

Antietam was immediately followed by the preliminary proclamation of emancipation, to take effect in all States which should still continue in rebellion at the commencement of the new year. Lincoln’s mind had long been exercised upon the best means of compassing the liberation of the slaves; and until the close of the war, he himself looked for the ultimate solution of the problem to the method of compensation adopted by Great Britain in the West Indies. This was successfully applied to the district of Columbia, but the offer of it received no response either from the other States to which it was magnanimously made, or from Lincoln’s own Cabinet. The present proclamation was intended as a blow at the industrial resources of the rebellion.

In mid-December General Burnside lost nearly 13,000 men at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and reading the long lists of wounded, the Whitmans came upon George’s name among the more serious casualties.[346] Great was the distress in the home on Portland Avenue, and Walt set off at once to seek him at the front. His pocket was picked in a crush at Philadelphia Station, and he arrived penniless in Washington.[347] There, searching the hospitals for three days and nights, he could get no news of his brother’s whereabouts, but managed somehow to make his way to the army’s headquarters at Falmouth. It had been a long, melancholy journey; but arrived at the camp, he found his brother already well again, his wound having healed rapidly.

This sudden journey had momentous consequences for Whitman. His stay in New York was, perhaps naturally, drawing to a close. There are indications in the last poems that he was contemplating a westward journey, and possibly a settlement beyond the Rockies.[348] Although he paid it frequent visits, he never lived again in Brooklyn.

At Falmouth he found among the wounded a number[Pg 184] of young fellows whom he had known in New York.[349] He took a natural interest in their welfare, and even though he felt he could do little for them, lingered till a party going up to Washington offered him an opportunity for usefulness in their escort. Arriving at the capital, he found innumerable similar occasions in the many hospitals which had been established in and about the city. These he began to visit daily, supporting himself by writing letters to the New York and Brooklyn press—to the New York Times in particular—and by copying work in the paymaster’s office.[350] It was not till two years later that he obtained regular employment in the Civil Service; but during the whole of that time he was paying almost daily visits to the wards, in his honorary and voluntary capacity, as friend of the wounded.

The number of these was periodically swollen by great battles. On the 4th of May, 1863, General Hooker lost the day at Chancellorsville, and was replaced by Meade. Early in July, Lee made a second alarming dash into the North, but was turned back by General Meade from the bloody field of Gettysburg, where the total losses reached the appalling figure of 60,000.

By this time, more than two years after the fall of Fort Sumter, the first easy boasting of a short campaign and an overwhelming triumph, indulged by both sides, had long died; and the solemn sense of the great tragedy being enacted before its eyes possessed the nation. This sentiment could not have been more nobly expressed than in the words used by the President, when, speaking at the dedication of a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield as a national cemetery,[351] he said: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom: and that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth”.

[Pg 185]

Meade’s victory, and the news following fast upon it of Grant’s capture of Vicksburg, with the consequent reopening of the Mississippi, reassured the wavering faith of many patriots. But the situation was still full of peril. In this same month—July, 1863—there were serious riots in New York,[352] instigated by the “Copperheads,” as the Northern sympathisers with the Confederacy were dubbed, in opposition to the first draft for the army under the general conscription law of March. In these, more than a thousand persons were killed or wounded.

The riots were the more difficult to quell because all available troops and volunteers had been sent to the front; and these of course included a great proportion of the stabler citizens. At the same time the disaffected elements remained in their full strength. The political character of the disturbance was plain enough; for the rioters set upon any negroes they met, slinging them to the lamp-posts, and would have burned down the hospital, full of wounded union soldiers, had they not been prevented.

It is some satisfaction to know that we cannot couple the name of Fernando Wood with these outrages. There was something genuine in his patriotism. He was now in Congress, and had recently been vainly attempting, in his usual futile fashion, to negotiate a peace.

Both the draft and the riots caused the Whitman family no little anxiety. George, who had entered the army as a private and was promoted stage by stage till he became a lieutenant-colonel, was of course already at the front;[353] and Jeff, who had married four years earlier, was keeping the home together for the old mother and helpless youngest son, as well as for his own wife and their young children. Anything that happened to him would involve the happiness of the whole family. They feared especially that he might be drawn for service;[Pg 186] and Walt wrote from Washington that in that event, he would do all in his power to raise the necessary money to provide a substitute.[354]

Walt himself never closed his ears against the call to serve in the ranks, if it should come to him. Had he himself been drawn, he might have regarded the circumstance as the intimation of duty; but he was not. Instead he took the risks of small-pox in the infectious wards, as well as that which is incurred by the frequent dressing of gangrened wounds; and he bore the spiritual burden of all the pathetic war-wreckage which drifted into Washington month after weary month.

The tension of those days was terrible to him. Devoted to the “Mother of All,” the American nation, he loved her sons both North and South with an equal affection, their suffering and destruction wringing his heart. For, mystic as he was, he had all the strong passions of humanity, and felt to the full the agonies of the flesh. On the one side also, his own brother was in the hottest of the fighting throughout these years; while on the other, it is just possible that some young son of his own, known or unknown to him, may have served among the boys in the opposite ranks before the war was over. His Abolitionist friends would sigh, and say the struggle must go on till every slave should be free; but he who valued freedom not less than they, and understood perhaps better what it really means, dissented from them.

The first sight of a battlefield made him cry out for peace; and if in the following months he felt the exhilaration which breathed from the simple heroism displayed by the soldiers, he still saw that war is not all heroic, but in time must darken the fairest cause. The terrible burden of its inconceivable extravagance began to weigh upon him like a nightmare. Each new season, with its prospective train of ambulances, its legion of tragedies, bewildered him with its horror; till he angrily denied that the whole population of negroes could be worth so[Pg 187] terrific a purchase.[355] It may have been the exaggerated retort to an extremist argument; but indeed it was not for the negroes that the war was being fought; it was not for the powerful but highly coloured manifesto of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but for the “Declaration of Independence,” and for the Constitution of America. And this both Whitman and Lincoln realised: they knew the negro of the South as the New Englander never knew him, and were firm in demanding for him the rights of a human being; but they knew also that mere abolition would not give him these, nor could it render him capable of the right exercise of American citizenship.

Though Lee had been thrown back from Gettysburg, his army had never recognised a defeat; and the chief danger to the cause of American unity lay in the conviction of the South that its general and his men were really invincible. For two more years they kept the field, with a heroic determination that appears at the same time little short of criminal when we consider the conditions involved upon all the parties to resistance. And when we add to these the story of the Southern military prisons, even the chivalrous fame of Lee becomes stained with an ineffaceable shame. Better a thousand times to have acknowledged defeat than to have been guilty of enforcing such things. But the pride of the South had become rigid, and would only admit defeat after it was broken. Its political leaders had staked everything upon victory; and it would seem that they preferred to sacrifice a whole generation of their supporters and victims rather than bear the penalty of their failure.

When Grant, or rather the reckless courage of his American volunteers,[356] had crushed General Bragg at Chattanooga, and his friend Sherman had completed the work of clearing Tennessee, Lee’s army remained the sole hope of the desperately impoverished South. But still in itself and in its leader it was absolutely confident.

[Pg 188]

A similar confidence inspired the hearts of the union soldiers, when in March, 1864, the downright laconic general from the West was given supreme command, and went into Virginia to crush his antagonist by mere force of numbers and determination.

In Grant at last both Lincoln and the army had found the man they were waiting for. But still a year went by before the task was accomplished—a year whose memory is the most terrible of the war—upon whose page are inscribed such names as, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Bloody Angle, North Anna, Cold Harbour, recalling those awful fields whereon more than a hundred thousand soldiers fell. While Grant was stubbornly pushing Lee back upon Richmond, and finally holding him there, Sherman was cutting him off from further support by that extraordinary march south-eastwards from Chattanooga through Atlanta to the sea. He captured Savannah just before Christmas; and afterwards turning north, and wading through all the morasses and crossing all the innumerable streams and rivers of the Carolinas, he completed his errand a few days before his chief entered the Southern capital.

Several futile attempts had been made to bring about a reconciliation between North and South before the bitter end;[357] but Lincoln, eager as he was for peace, stood out irrevocably for the acknowledgment of the union, and now added to it the emancipation of the slaves. It was clear that nothing short of Lee’s capitulation could satisfy the country or end the war. On the 3rd April, Richmond surrendered to Grant; and on the day after, the President, who was then with the army, entered the city which the evacuating forces had fired. Five more days and Lee gave himself up: by the end of the month the surrender of the Confederate troops had been effected, while Jefferson Davis was captured in Georgia on the 10th of May. A fortnight later the combined hosts of Grant and Sherman passed before the President in a last grand review along Pennsylvania Avenue and before the White House, to be thereafter disbanded.

[Pg 189]

But the President was no longer Abraham Lincoln. Re-elected in the preceding autumn, in spite of Republican intrigues and the dangerous opposition of General McClellan, who was put forward by the Democrats, Lincoln had been assassinated during a performance at Ford’s Theatre, on the evening of the 14th of April, the fourth anniversary of the fall of Fort Sumter.

The loss to his country was irreparable. More than any other of its Presidents, either before or since, Abraham Lincoln embodied the real genius of the American nation, and in the hour of their agony he was the father of his people. Slowly they had learnt his strength and his wisdom; but they had hardly begun to understand the greatness of a heart which was able to love the South with a mother’s tenderness even while it was in arms against him.

The Vice-President, who stepped into his place, was a union Democrat; he also loved the South, but less wisely than well. His rash haste in the reconstruction of the governments of the defeated States threw the nation into the hands of the group of narrowly partisan Republicans which continued to rule America with unscrupulous ability and ill-concealed self-interest[358] for sixteen years, threatening by its attitude towards the Southern people to alienate their sympathies forever from the union.


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