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No one can realize more vividly than I do, that the History through whose pages our great-grand-children will contemplate the momentous struggle whereof this country has recently been and still is the arena, will not and cannot now be written; and that its author must give to the patient, careful, critical study of innumerable documents and letters, an amount of time and thought whieh I could not have commanded, unless I had been able to devote years, instead of months only, to the preparation of this volume. I know, at least, what History is, and how it must be made; I know how very far this work must fall short of the lofty ideal. If any of my numerous fellow-laborers in this field is deluded with the notion that he has written the history of our gigantic civil war, I, certainly, am free from like hallucination.
What I have aimed to do, is so to arrange the material facts, and so to embody the more essential documents, or parts of documents, illustrating those facts, that the attentive, intelligent reader may learn from this work not only what were the leading incidents of our civil war, but its causes, incitements, and the inevitable sequence whereby ideas proved the germ of events. I believe the thoughtful reader of this volume can hardly fail to see that the great struggle in which we are engaged was the unavoidable result of antagonisms imbedded in the very nature of our heterogeneous institutions; that ours was indeed 'an irrepressible conflict,' which might have been precipitated or postponed, but could by no means have been prevented; that the successive 'compromises,' whereby it was so long put off, were-however intended-deplorable mistakes, detrimental to our National character;-that we ought-so early, at least, as 1819-to have definitively and conclusively established the right of the constitutional majority to shape our National policy according to their settled convictions, subject only to the Constitution as legally expounded and applied. Had the majority then stood firm, they would have precluded the waste of thousands of millions of treasure and rivers of generous blood.
I presume this work goes further back, and devotes more attention to the remoter, more recondite causes of our civil strife, than any rival. At all events, I have aimed to give a full and fair, though necessarily condensed, view of all that impelled to our desperate struggle. I have so often heard or read this demurrer-"You Abolitionists begin with Secession, or the bombardment of Sumter, slurring over all that you had done, through a series of years, to provoke the South to hostilities," that I have endeavored to meet that objection fairly and fully. If I have failed to dig down to the foundations, the defect flows from lack of capacity or deficiency of perception in the author; for he has intently purposed and aimed to begin at the beginning.
I have made frequent and copious citations from letters, speeches, messages, and other documents, many of which have not the merit of rarity; mainly because I could only thus present the views of political antagonists in terms which they must recognize and respect as authentic. In an age of passionate controversy, few are capable even of stating an opponent's position in language that he will admit to be accurate and fair. And there are thousands who cannot to-day realize that they ever held opinions and accepted dogmas to which they unhesitatingly subscribed less than ten years ago. There is, then, but one safe
and just way to deal with the tenets and positions from time to time held by contending parties-this, namely: to cite fully and fairly from the 'platforms' and other formal declarations of sentiment put forth by each; or (in the absence of these) from the speeches, messages, and other authentic utterances, of their accepted, recognized chiefs. This I have constantly and very freely done throughout this volume. Regarding the progress of Opinion toward absolute, universal justice, as the one great end which hallows effort and recompenses sacrifice, I have endeavored to set forth clearly, not only what my countrymen, at different times, have done, but what the great parties into which they are or have been divided have believed and affirmed, with regard more especially to Human Slavery, and its rights and privileges in our Union. And, however imperfectly my task may have been performed, I believe that no preexisting work has so fully and consistently exhibited the influences of Slavery in molding the opinions of our people, as well as in shaping the destinies of our country.
To the future historian, much will be very easy that now is difficult; as much will in his day be lucid which is now obscure; and he may take for granted, and dispatch in a sentence, truths that have now to be established by pains-taking research and elaborate citation. But it is by the faithful fulfillment of the duties incumbent on us, his predecessors, that his labors will be lightened and his averments rendered concise, positive, and correct. Our work, well done, will render his task easy, while increasing the value of its fruits.
Some ancient historians favor their readers with speeches of generals and chiefs to their soldiers on the eve of battle, and on other memorable occasions; which, however characteristic and fitting, are often of questionable authenticity. Modern history draws on ampler resources, and knows that its materials are seldom apocryphal. What Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Laurens, the Pinckneys, Marshall, Jackson, Clay, Calhoun, Webster, etc., etc., have from time to time propounded as to the nature and elements of our Federal pact, the right or wrong of Secession, the extension or restriction of Slavery under our National flag, etc., etc., is on record; and we know, beyond the possibility of mistake, its precise terms as well as its general purport. We stand, as it were, in the immediate presence of the patriot sages and heroes who made us a nation, and listen to their wellweighed utterances as if they moved in life among us to-day. Not to have cited them in exposure and condemnation of the novelties that have so fearfully disturbed our peace, would have been to slight and ignore some of the noblest lessons ever given by wisdom and virtue for the instruction and guidance of mankind.
It has been my aim to recognize more fully than has been usual the legitimate position and necessary influence of the Newspaper Press of our day in the discussion and decision of the great and grave questions from time to time arising among us. To-day, the history of our country is found recorded in the columns of her journals more fully, promptly, vividly, than elsewhere. More and more is this becoming the case with other countries throughout the civilized world. A history which takes no account of what was said by the Press in memorable emergencies befits an earlier age than ours.
As my plan does not contemplate the invention of any facts, I must, of course, in narrating the events of the war, draw largely from sources common to all writers on this theme, but especially from The Rebellion Record of Mr. Frank Moore, wherein the documents eluci
dating our great struggle are, in good part, preserved. Perhaps the events of no former war were ever so fully and promptly embodied in a single work as are those of our great contest in The Record, which must prove the generous fountain whence all fature historians of our country may draw at will. But I am also considerably indebted to Mr. Orville J. Victor's History of the Southern Rebellion, wherein is embodied much valuable, important, and interesting material not contained in The Record. I shall doubtless appear to have made more use of Mr. Edward A. Pollard's Southern History of the War; which I have often cited, and shall continue to cite, for peculiar reasons. Its author is so hot-headed a devotee of Slavery and the Rebellion, that nothing which seems to favor that side is too marvelous for his deglutition; so that, if he were told that a single Confederate had constrained a Union regiment to lay down their arms and surrender, he would swallow it, without scrutiny or doubt. His work, therefore, is utterly untrustworthy as a whole; yet, in certain aspects, it has great value. He is so headlong and unquestioning a believer in the Confederacy, that he never dreams of concealing or disavowing the fundamental ideas whereon it is based; it is precisely because it stands and strikes for Slavery that he loves and glories in the Confederate cause. Then his statements of the numbers engaged or of the losses on either side are valuable in one aspect: You know that he never overstates the strength nor the losses of the Confederates; while he seems, in some instances, to have had access to official reports and other documents which have not been seen this side of the Potomac. Hence the use I have made, and shall doubtless continue to make, of his work. But I trust that it has been further serviceable to me, in putting me on my guard against those monstrous exaggerations of the numbers opposed to them with which weak, incompetent, and worsted commanders habitually excuse, or seek to cover up, their failures, defeats, and losses.
I have not found, and do not expect to find, room for biographic accounts of the generals and other commanders who figure in our great struggle, whether those who have honored and blessed or those who have betrayed and shamed their country. To have admitted these would have been to expand my work inevitably beyond the prescribed limits. By nature little inclined to man-worship, and valuing individuals only as the promoters of measures, the exponents of ideas, I have dealt with personal careers only when they clearly exhibited some phase of our National character, elucidated the state of contemporary opinion, or palpably and powerfully modified our National destinies. Thomas Jefferson, Eli Whitney, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Benjamin Lundy, Elijah P. Lovejoy, John Brown-men differing most widely in intellectual caliber as well as in aspirations, instincts, convictions, and purposes-may fairly be regarded as, in their several spheres, representative Americans, each of whom in some sense contributed to lay the train which we have seen fired by the Secessionists of our day with so magnificent a pyrotechnic display, so majestic a resulting conflagration; and of these, accordingly, some notion may be acquired from the following pages; while, of our generals and commodores, the miniature Portraits contained in these volumes, and the record of their respective achievements, are all that I can give. So many battles, sieges, marches, campaigns, etc., remain to be narrated, that—ample as this work would seem to be, and capacious as are its pages-a naked record of the remaining events of the war, especially should it be protracted
for a full year more, will test to the utmost my power of condensation to conclude the work in another volume of the generous amplitude of this.
My subject naturally divides itself into two parts: I. How we got into the War for the Union; and II. How we get out of it. I have respected this division in my cast of the present work, and submit this volume as a clear elucidation of the former of these problems, hoping to be at least equally satisfactory in my treatment of the latter.
It is the task of the historian to eliminate from the million facts that seemed important in their day and sphere respectively, the two or three thousand that have an abiding and general interest, presenting these in their due proportions, and with their proper relative emphasis. Any success in this task must, of course, be comparative and approximate; and no historical work ever was or will be written whereof a well-informed and competent critic might not forcibly say, 'Why was this fact stated and that omitted? Why give a page to this occurrence, and ignore that, which was of at least equal consequence? Why praise the achievement of A, yet pass over that of B, which was equally meritorious and important?' But, especially in dealing with events so fresh and recent as those of our great convulsion, must the historian expose himself to such strictures. Time, with its unerring perspective, reduces every incident to its true proportions; so that we are no longer liable to misconceptions and apprehensions which were once natural and all but universal. We know, beyond question, that Braddock's defeat and death before Fort Du Quesne had not the importance which they seemed to wear in the eyes of those who heard of them within the month after their occurrence; that Bunker Hill, though tactically a defeat, was practically a triumph to the arms of our Revolutionary fathers; that the return of Bonaparte from Elba exerted but little influence over the destinies of Europe, and that little of questionable beneficence; and that 'fillibusterism,' so called, since its first brilliant achievement in wresting Texas from Mexico and annexing her to this country, though attempting much, has accomplished very little, toward the diffusion either of Freedom or Slavery. And so, much that now seems of momentous consequence will doubtless have shrunk, a century hence, to very moderate dimensions, or perhaps been forgotten altogether.
The volume which is to conclude this work cannot, of course, appear till some time after the close of the contest; and I hope to be able to bestow upon it at least double the time that I was at liberty to devote to this. I shall labor constantly to guard against Mr. Pollard's chief error-that of supposing that all the heroism, devotedness, humanity, chivalry, evinced in the contest, were displayed on one side; all the cowardice, ferocity, cruelty, rapacity, and general depravity, on the other. I believe it to be the truth, and as such I shall endeavor to show, that, while this war has been signalized by some deeds disgraceful to human nature, the general behavior of the combatants on either side has been calculated to do honor even to the men who, though fearfully misguided, are still our countrymen, and to exalt the prestige of the American name.
That the issue of this terrible contest may be such as God, in His inscrutable wisdom, shall deem most directly conducive to the progress of our race in knowledge, virtue, liberty, and consequent happiness, is not more the fervent aspiration, than it is the consoling and steadfast faith, of
NEW YORK, April 10, 1864.
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