Home  »  History of the Civil War, 1861–1865  »  Chapter VIII

James Ford Rhodes (1848–1927). History of the Civil War, 1861–1865. 1917.

Chapter VIII

  WITH superior resources, larger armies as well disciplined as those of the South and better equipped and supplied, with generals equal on the whole in ability, as may be asserted after Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the North was certain to win in the end provided it would with persistency and patience make the sacrifice of men and money necessary to subjugate the brave and high-spirited people of the Southern Confederacy, who were still determined on resistance. But volunteering had practically ceased, and only a pretty rigorous conscription could furnish the soldiers needed. Such a measure was contrary to the genius and habits of the people and could not be enforced unless the government were backed by public sentiment. Whether the President would receive this necessary support might have been momentarily doubted from what took place in New York City shortly after the victories of Gettysburg and Vicksburg.  1   During the enrolment under the Conscription Act of March 3, 1863, disturbances had occurred, but these had been speedily quelled, and though giving rise to local excitement, were not of a nature to indicate any extended and violent opposition to the policy of filling the armies of the North by compulsion. On July 7 the draft under the Conscription Act began in Rhode Island, next day in Massachusetts and proceeded quietly in various districts until Saturday, July 11, which had been the day appointed for the drawings to commence in New York City. Although the popular dissatisfaction with the draft was known and there were rumors of trouble and a large crowd had assembled at the provost-marshal’s office, the drawing took place on this Saturday without any disturbance whatever; a spirit of positive good humor prevailed. But on the Sunday, publication in the newspapers of the names of the conscripts, who were seen to be nearly all mechanics and laborers, revealed the practical effect of the draft at the same time that it emphasized the provisions of the Act for compulsory military service during three years. Those who had already been drawn or were liable to be drawn on the following days became excited, then angry. Crowds gathered to discuss the provisions of the law and the opinion of prominent Democrats that it was unconstitutional. The provision which allowed a man to buy himself off for three hundred dollars was the main grievance. This had been introduced into the act at a time when the sum specified seemed sufficient as a bounty wherewith to procure a substitute. But now owing to the continued decline in the purchasing power of the paper currency, the demand for labor, the rise in wages, and the increased cost of living, a soldier could not be had for that amount. Hence the provision was denounced as an unworthy device to enable the rich to escape cheaply whilst the poor must take up their burden. At the end of this day of busy rumor and seething agitation the populace was convinced that the draft was unjust and ought to be resisted.  2   Monday dawned. 1 Aware of the commotion in the city, the authorities had taken some measures for protection. Shortly after seven the provost-marshal opened the head-quarters of the Ninth District, on the corner of Third avenue and Forty-sixth street, and made ready to continue the draft. The wheel was placed on the table. Slips of paper bearing the names of the men liable, rolled tightly and bound with a ring of india-rubber, were put into the wheel. One-fifth of the names were to be drawn, and each person so designated, unless physically or mentally unfit for service or exempt for other reasons under the law, if failing to furnish a substitute or pay three hundred dollars, must serve in the army for three years or until the end of the war. At ten o’clock the wheel began to turn, and at each revolution a man blindfolded drew out a name which the provost-marshal read to the comparatively orderly crowd of mechanics and laborers who filled the room. For half an hour the business proceeded. A hundred names had been drawn when a pistol was fired in the street, and a mass of brickbats and paving-stones came crashing through the windows and doors of the house, hurled by a mob of some thousands, which had been gathering since early in the day. The workmen of the Second and Sixth avenue street railroads and of many of the manufactories in the upper part of the city had stopped work and, parading the streets, had persuaded and compelled others to join their ranks. When their force had become a little army, they moved with one accord to the place where the drafting was going on and attacked and took possession of the house, driving the provost-marshal and his deputies away. The furniture was broken up, turpentine poured on the floor and the building set fire to; soon this and the adjoining houses in the block were ablaze. The superintendent of police came near on a tour of inspection, and, though not in uniform, was recognized, set upon and badly mauled; it was only by an exhibition of remarkable pluck that he escaped with his life. The provost-marshal’s guard from the Invalid corps, hurrying to the scene, were stopped and pelted with stones by the dense crowd of rioters which now filled the streets for two squares from the burning buildings. The soldiers fired into the mob but with little effect; they were overpowered and deprived of their muskets and many of them were cruelly beaten. A strong squad of police appeared and received a volley of stones; they drew their clubs and revolvers and charged the mob, but after a fight lasting a few minutes were forced by vastly overpowering numbers to retreat.  3   Emboldened by these victories, the mob roamed about the city at will, showing especial wrath toward abolitionists and negroes on the ground that men were being drafted for an abolition war. On the Tuesday the riot was worse, as thieves and ruffians swelling the crowd went about bent on plunder under cover of the rioters’ grievance; but effective defensive measures had now been undertaken by the authorities. On Wednesday a notice that the draft had been suspended influenced many to retire to their homes; and, at the same time militia regiments that had been sent to Pennsylvania to resist Lee began to arrive and use harsh measures to suppress the mob. By Wednesday evening order was in the main restored and on Thursday what remained of the mob was suppressed by the Seventh and other militia regiments coming from Pennsylvania and by a force of United States infantry and cavalry. 2  4   The draft was only temporarily interrupted. Strenuous precautions were taken to insure order during its continuance. Ten thousand infantry and three batteries of artillery—“picked troops including the regulars”—were sent to New York city from the Army of the Potomac; the First Division of the New York State National Guard was ordered upon duty; and the governor by proclamation counselled and admonished the citizens to submit to the execution of the law of Congress. On August 19 the draft was resumed and continued with entire peacefulness. It was operated generally throughout the country, and, although it did not actually furnish many soldiers to the army, owing to the numerous exemptions under the statute and the large number of those drafted who paid the commutation money, it stimulated enlistments by inducing States, counties, cities and towns to add to the government bounty other bounties sufficient to prevail upon men to volunteer and fill the respective quotas. 3  5     Ten days after the battle of Gettysburg, as we have already seen, Lee with his army crossed the Potomac into Virginia. Meade followed leisurely. A campaign of manœuvres ensued with skirmishes and combats but no general battle. Lincoln had lost confidence in Meade’s power of aggression. “I have no faith that Meade will attack Lee,” he said; “nothing looks like it to me. I believe he can never have another as good opportunity as that which he trifled away. Everything since has dragged with him.” 4 On September 21, Lincoln unbosomed himself to Welles. “It is the same old story of the Army of the Potomac,” he said. “Imbecility, inefficiency—don’t want to do—is defending the Capital.… Oh it is terrible, terrible, this weakness, this indifference of our Potomac generals, with such armies of good and brave men.” 5 On October 16, Lincoln gave Meade a warrant for action. “If General Meade,” he wrote in a letter to Halleck, “can now attack Lee on a field no more than equal for us and will do so with all the skill and courage which he, his officers and men possess, the honor will be his if he succeeds and the blame may be mine if he fails.” 6  6   Meade’s private correspondence shows a timidity and hesitancy hardly to be looked for in one who had been known as a “fighting general.” He manœuvred constantly with the aim not to fight Lee unless he obtained the better position. The source of this excessive caution as contrasted with his former attitude when as division and corps commander he criticised the general of the army for the same defect may have lain in the difference between the responsibility of the chief and the freedom of the subordinate, or it may be that Meade was no longer the man he had been before and during the Gettysburg campaign; that the stress of those days had impaired his nerve and diminished his aggressiveness. If we dwell on his remark that in ten days he had lived thirty years, 7 we may incline to this belief. At all events, during this campaign, nothing was done after Gettysburg toward bringing the war to an end.  7     After the battle of Stone’s river, Rosecrans remained inactive for nearly six months, recuperating and resupplying his army and fortifying Murfreesborough. The Government urged him forward and insisted that he should drive the Confederates out of Tennessee and take Chattanooga. The McClellan drama was played over again. The General complained of the lack of supplies, of forage, of revolving rifles for his mounted troops, of his great deficiency in cavalry as compared with his adversary; in the course of his correspondence with Stanton and Halleck, he displayed the art of a dexterous controversialist. At last, on June 24, he began to move and inaugurated a campaign of brilliant strategy which accomplished a momentous gain for Northern arms. Helped by the moral effect of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, he manœuvred the Confederates under Bragg out of middle Tennessee, continued his advance through a very difficult country, and, without having been obliged to fight a battle, marched on the 9th of September into Chattanooga, which, with Richmond and Vicksburg, constituted the three most important strategic points of the Southern Confederacy.  8   Rosecrans was elated at the success of his strategy and thought that Bragg was retreating southward. Eager to strike at the Confederate army he ordered his troops in pursuit, and being under the necessity of crossing the mountains at gaps far apart he separated widely his different corps and divisions. But Bragg had not the slightest intention to retreat; on the contrary, he turned on his enemy. This movement placed Rosecrans in peril, and it became, as he himself related, “a matter of life and death to effect the concentration of the army.” For nearly a week he wrought with desperate energy, and by September 18 had accomplished the concentration, although not without some mischance; but the loss of sleep, the fear that Bragg might crush, one after another, his different detachments, as some now think he had it in his power to do, the intense anxiety on two successive nights for the safety of one of his corps,—all these combined to unnerve the Union commander, who in the opinion of his army was “whipped” before he went into the battle which the Confederate general was determined to bring on. Reënforced by troops from Johnston’s army, which became available after the fall of Vicksburg, by Buckner’s corps from Knoxville and by Longstreet’s corps from the Army of Northern Virginia, Bragg outnumbered his opponent and made on September 19 an indecisive attack.  9   Next day took place the fierce and bloody battle of Chickamauga, “the great battle of the West.” It would have been an undecided contest or a Union victory, since the defensive position and the intrenchments fully compensated for the disparity in numbers, had not Rosecrans lacked nerve for the contest. His force was the Army of the Cumberland, seasoned and intrepid soldiers, who, as their history shows, were able, under proper command, to accomplish wonders, but in this case were affected by the spirit, as indeed they were sacrificed by the orders, which emanated from headquarters. The battle was proceeding with variant fortune, when the execution of an ill-considered and unlucky order from the commanding general opened a gap in the line of battle, through which the Confederates poured and, throwing two divisions into confusion and routing two others, drove a mass of soldiers panic-stricken from the field. Rosecrans was carried away in the crowd of fugitives and, fearing that the whole army was vanquished, rode on into Chattanooga, twelve to fifteen miles away, for the purpose of taking measures for the defence of the city. He sent thence at five o’clock in the afternoon a despatch to Halleck saying: “We have met with a serious disaster.… Enemy overwhelmed us, drove our right, pierced our centre and scattered troops there.” General George H. Thomas commanded the left wing of the army and with 25,000 men repulsed during the whole afternoon the assaults of a force double his number, holding his position with such steadiness that he earned the title of the “Rock of Chickamauga.” Later, under orders from Rosecrans, Thomas withdrew to Chattanooga, where was assembled the remainder of the army; the city was then fortified so that it could be taken only by a regular siege; this was forthwith commenced by Bragg.  10   Before the battle of Chickamauga, Grant had been ordered to send reënforcements to Rosecrans from Vicksburg, but it had taken a week for the despatch to reach him and although two divisions were now on the way and two others were getting ready to move, all of them, under Sherman’s command, word to this effect had not reached Washington. Telegrams from Rosecrans to the President and from Dana to Stanton, urging the necessity of immediate reënforcements to hold Chattanooga and the Tennessee line, were received late in the evening of September 23; and Stanton, impressed with the need of prompt action, summoned a midnight conference. Lincoln, to whom John Hay brought the request at his summer abode, the Soldiers’ Home, bestrode his horse and took his way this moonlight night to the War Department, where in addition to the Secretary and three of his subordinates, he met Halleck, Seward and Chase. Stanton proposed sending troops to Chattanooga from the Army of the Potomac; and while the President and Halleck were at first averse to this project, he was so earnest in advocating it that, with the support of Seward and Chase, he overbore their opposition; in the end, the council agreed that if Meade did not purpose an advance at once, the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps under Hooker should be sent to Rosecrans. After conferring with Meade, these 16,000 men were brought from Culpeper Court House, Virginia, to Washington by rail, there transferred to the Baltimore and Ohio railroad and carried via Bellaire, Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville and Nashville, to the Tennessee river. The time of transport, six days for the largest part of the force, showed for that period excellent work.  11   Yet something was necessary besides additional soldiers: another general must command. Rosecrans, who through his defeat at Chickamauga had lost all his buoyancy and prestige, became more irresolute than ever and showed himself unable to cope with the difficulties of the situation. The danger lay in lack of supplies; this might compel the evacuation of Chattanooga. The Confederates commanded the Tennessee river and the direct and good wagon roads on the south side of it; and though the Union Army held the country north of it, their supplies had to be wagoned over long, circuitous and rough mountain roads from Stevenson and Bridgeport, which had rail connections with Nashville. At best the line of communication was difficult, but with the autumn rains, it became exceedingly precarious. The army was verging on starvation. “The roads,” wrote Dana, “are in such a state that wagons are eight days making the journey from Stevenson to Chattanooga.… Though subsistence stores are so nearly exhausted here, the wagons are compelled to throw overboard portions of their precious cargo to get through at all.… It does not seem possible to hold out here another week without a new avenue of supplies.… Amid all this the practical incapacity of the general commanding is astonishing.… His imbecility appears to be contagious and it is difficult for anyone to get anything done.”  12   Two days before this telegram was received, the impression made by the despatches of Rosecrans himself and the information contained in Dana’s frequent and circumstantial accounts had decided the Government to place Grant in supreme command of all the military operations in the West except those under Banks. Grant at once relieved Rosecrans and placed Thomas in command of the Army of the Cumberland telegraphing to Thomas from Louisville to hold Chattanooga at all hazards. Thomas replied promptly, “We will hold the town till we starve.” The force of this despatch, implying the straits in which the garrison lay, is illustrated by Wilson’s and Dana’s experience who, after a ride of fifty-five miles, reached Chattanooga shortly before midnight. They obtained at the headquarters of Captain Horace Porter a supper of his best—one square of fried hard-tack with a small piece of salt pork and a cup of army coffee without milk or sugar. As it was, they fared better than their horses, who were each given two ears of corn but no hay. 8  13   Rosecrans undoubtedly had in mind some plan for securing a better line of supply, but he lacked the energy and resolution to carry it into effect. Grant’s wisdom in placing Thomas in command was immediately manifest. “The change at headquarters here is already strikingly perceptible,” wrote Dana from Chattanooga, October 23. “Order prevails instead of universal chaos.” William F. Smith, the Chief Engineer of the Army, had matured a plan for opening a short route of supplies from Bridgeport, which he now submitted to Thomas, who approved it and gave the necessary instructions for its execution.  14   Grant now repaired in person to the scene of action. Having proceeded as rapidly as possible by rail from Louisville to Bridgeport, he must thence ride fifty-five miles over the road which served as the main line of supply for the army. A number of weeks before, on a visit to New Orleans, he had had a fall from a runaway horse, receiving severe injuries which still kept him on crutches. Through a chilling rain-storm, he now rode with difficulty over the rough way where, owing to the heavy rains and the washouts from the mountains, the mud was often knee-deep; he was carried over places unsafe for him to cross on horseback. He related that “the roads were strewn with the débris of broken wagons and the carcasses of thousands of starved mules and horses.” On the night of October 23, he arrived at Chattanooga, “wet, dirty, and well.” “His clear eye and clear face” showed to his comrades-in-arms that he was mentally at his best; his energy and enterprise extending to the officers and diffused through the rank and file, the impetus communicated to the operations, the marvellous change from the régime of Rosecrans at once gave evidence that a compeller of men, like Cæsar and Napoleon, like Robert E. Lee, was at the head of affairs.  15   On the morning after his arrival Grant made a reconnaissance in company with Thomas and Smith, approved their project and urged its prompt execution. It “proved eminently successful” in securing supplies for the army. The seizure by the Union troops of this advantageous line of supply was a bitter disappointment to Bragg and he endeavored, without success, to recover it by a night attack.  16   On November 15, Sherman rode into Chattanooga; his soldiers, the Army of the Tennessee, were close behind him. Grant had already matured his plan of attack and, at the earliest possible moment put it in execution. Thomas, Sherman, William F. Smith and Hooker were efficient aids. The action of the three days, November 23, 24, 25, is called the battle of Chattanooga; its culminating and most dramatic episode was the battle of Missionary Ridge. About the middle of the afternoon (November 25) the word was given to Thomas’s soldiers, who held the centre, to advance. They carried the first line of rifle-pits, and should have halted for further commands; but here they were exposed to a murderous fire, and would not fall back. Without orders, indeed in spite of orders, those twenty thousand Western soldiers, conspicuous among whom was Sheridan, rushed up Missionary Ridge and carried it, driving the Confederates in panic before them.  17   At 4:30 P.M. Dana telegraphed to Stanton: “Glory to God. The day is decisively ours”; and a few hours later, “Our men are frantic with joy and enthusiasm, and received Grant as he rode along the lines after the victory with tumultuous shouts.” “Bragg was in full retreat, burning his depots and bridges,” telegraphed Dana next day.  18   The outcome of this campaign pointed significantly to the waning fortune of the Southern cause. The news of Missionary Ridge reached the people of the North on the last Thursday of November, and made possible the first genuine Thanksgiving since the outbreak of the Civil War. 9  19     The autumn elections of 1863 were favorable to the administration. Four days after the October States had voted (October 17), the President issued a proclamation calling for 300,000 volunteers “for three years or the war, not however exceeding three years”; if the number was not filled by volunteers, recourse should be had to the draft. Congress met at the usual time and took effective action toward filling the armies for the campaigns of 1864. By the Act of February 24, 10 the President was authorized “to call for such number of men for the military service as the public exigencies may require”; if a sufficient number of volunteers were not obtained he might order a draft. 11  20   Congress furnished the President money by increasing the imposts, by a comprehensive act of internal taxation and by the authorization of loans. 12  21   The growing dislike of military service and the greater rewards at home for labor and business ability were constantly making it more difficult to get a sufficient number of the proper kind of men. Congress, the President and the War Department did fairly well, on the whole—as well perhaps as could be expected in a democracy where every man had an opinion and a vote and at a time when the coming presidential election in the autumn might not be lost sight of; but the results fell far short of what would have been obtained had the Prussian system been possible. Nevertheless the conscription went on with “few, if any, disturbances of the peace,” “the people having learned to look upon the draft as a military necessity.” The government, the States, the counties and other political divisions were munificent in their offers of bounties, of which a salient example is seen in the advertisement of the New York County Volunteer committee: “30,000 volunteers wanted. The following are the pecuniary inducements offered: County bounty, cash down $300; State bounty, $75; United States bounty to new recruits $302; additional to veteran soldiers $100,” making totals respectively of $677 and $777 for service which would not exceed three years, was likely to be less, and turned out to be an active duty of little more than one year; in addition there was the private soldier’s pay of $16 per month with clothing and rations. The bounty in New York County was more than that generally paid throughout the country, although in some districts it was even higher. The system was bad, for it fostered a class of substitute brokers whose business was to get recruits, and whose aim was to earn their brokerage without any regard to the physical or moral quality of the men they supplied. It brought into existence the crime of bounty jumping. Thieves, pickpockets and vagabonds would enlist, take whatever bounty was paid in cash, desert when opportunity offered, change their names, go to another district or State, reënlist, collect another bounty, desert again and go on playing the same trick until they were caught, or until such chances of gain were no longer available. The Provost-Marshal-General stated in his final report that, “A man now in the Albany penitentiary, undergoing an imprisonment of four years, confessed to having ‘jumped the bounty’ thirty-two times.” It was stated “that out of a detachment of 625 recruits sent to reënforce a New Hampshire regiment in the Army of the Potomac, 137 deserted on the passage, 82 to the enemy’s picket line and 36 to the rear, leaving but 370 men.”  22   The vast area of the country, the feverish anxiety in each town and municipal ward to fill its quota, together with a certain lack of administrative system, made it difficult to detect the bounty-jumpers. The mischief promoted by substitute brokers and bounty jumping was seen at its worst in the large cities of the East where it brought into the ranks a number of criminals, bullies and vagrants; and as these came to be guarded as prisoners, many of them reached the front. Yet not a large proportion of the 1864 recruits were social outcasts. In the country districts, villages and smaller cities, the efforts of able business men, who engaged voluntarily in the work of filling the respective quotas, were brought to bear, with the result that attention was paid to the character of the men offering to serve; yet the recruits were on the whole inferior physically, morally and intellectually to those who had enlisted in 1861 and 1862 and were very largely mercenaries, although a considerable part of them were sturdy Canadians and brawny immigrants from Europe, tempted by the high wage offered for military service. Moreover though the rank and file were deteriorating, the process of weeding out political generals and those appointed to the lower commands by influence rather than by merit, left their places open to the better officers who had further improved by the lessons of experience. “I will see,” wrote General Sherman to his brother on April 5, “that by May 1st I have on the Tennessee one of the best armies in the world.” The result of his campaign fully justified his promise. Best of all, the North had developed four great generals, Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, and in this respect was now superior to the South. In the death-grapple, as we shall see, Grant was to be matched against Lee, Sherman against Joseph E. Johnston, who had succeeded Bragg; and, with the exception of Lee and Johnston, no one in the Confederacy showed the same ability in the command of an independent army as Thomas, nor did any prove the equal of Sheridan, whose singular prowess must have made Lee regret bitterly the loss of his Stonewall Jackson. 13  23
Note 1. July 13. [back]
Note 2. IV: Welles’s Diary, I; J. M. Forbes, II. [back]
Note 3. IV, 330. [back]
Note 4. July 26. Welles’s Diary, I, 383. Taking everything into account this is hardly inconsistent with Lincoln’s letter to Halleck, O. R., XXVII, Pt. I, 105; see Pennypacker, 223. [back]
Note 5. Welles’s Diary, I, 439; see O. R., XXIX, Pt. II, 207. [back]
Note 6. G. Bradford, Am. Hist. Rev., 318; O. R., XXIX, Pt. II, 332. [back]
Note 7. Ante. [back]
Note 8. Wilson’s Dana, 279; Under the Old Flag, I, 270. [back]
Note 9. Authorities: O. R., XXX, XXXI; C. W. supplement, Pt. I; IV; B. & L., III; Welles’s Diary; Wilson’s Dana; do., Under the Old Flag; do., W. F. Smith; Board of Army Officers’ report; Dana’s Recollections; Grant; W. Sherman; N. & H., VIII. [back]
Note 10. 1864. [back]
Note 11. The following were the calls, one of which was made before the Act of February 24: [back]
Note 12. IV, 428. [back]
Note 13. IV, 430 et seq. O. R., III, V, 673–675. [back]