London, Saturday, November 30, 1861The Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1119, p. 540-541.
November 30, 1861
It has been for some time rumoured that a vessel of war bearing the flag of the Federal States of America was lying in the track of our West India mail-steamers with the intention of searching them for certain commissioners sent by the Confederate States to Europe. The statement was received with a good deal of incredulity, and the surprise and indignant feeling have been proportionably strong at the intelligence of the course pursued by the Commander of the San Jacinto towards the mail-packet Trent. Apart from the violation of right and the insult to the British flag which are necessarily involved in this transaction, there would appear to have been a savageness in the mode in which the proceedings were conducted, from which we are inclined to augur that the American officers were actuated by that feeling which generally induces persons who are doubtful whether they are in the right to overdo their parts. It is quite clear that it needed not the additional circumstances of ferocity implied in firing, first round shot and then shell, at an unarmed steamer, merely for the purpose of bringing her to; or the personal violence which is reported to have been used in the arrest of Mr. Slidell in particular, to elicit in a manner not to be mistaken the spirit of this country in regard to this proceeding. The most decided indications of public opinion have been afforded that England will not tamely submit to have her vessels boarded and passengers forcibly torn from beneath the protection of her flag. If, as has been asserted, it has been the object and design of the Federal Government to force Great Britain into an attitude of hostility, without question full reason and justification has been now afforded. Such an act, if done under the direct sanction and authority of the Executive at Washington, speaks for itself. Neither of the parties can desire a more complete "casus belli." It remains to be seen whether the proceedings of the commander of the San Jacinto will be adopted or disavowed by his Government. It is well known that American naval officers have been always somewhat hasty in asserting what they conceive to be the rights of their country; and in many cases it has been necessary on the part of those representatives of other countries with whom they have come into collision to exercise great forbearance. When the matter is looked at, considered with that coolness and calmness which its importance requires, it seems almost impossible to suppose that so flagrant a trespass on the rights which by international law are covered by a flag can have been deliberately planned by the American Government, or that when temperate but firm demands made for the disavowal of conduct on the face of it so unjustifiable on all grounds but one—that of seeking occasion for a quarrel—that disavowal will not be given. Notwithstanding the indignant feeling which has been evinced in this country on the receipt of this intelligence, there is no doubt that the gravity of the consequences which may ensue will be acknowledged by every Englishman. It is to be hoped that in the Northern States of America a corresponding feeling will prevail.
By the capture of Beaufort, the summer resort of Carolinian planters, the United States' Government have fully avenged the insult of Fort Sumter. In April the sole remaining star-spangled banner on South Carolinian Soil was ignominiously lowered. In November the United States' flag has again been hoisted there, while that of the Confederates trails in the dust. But the war, in its ever-expanding magnitude, has long since outgrown the puerile issue on which it was commenced. The passionate resolve to redress an outrage inflicted on the Federal flag has long since deepened into a purpose of conquest. It would be as chimerical to hope that this success would tend to placate the North as that the forcible opening of a Southern port will lead to a renewal of the Southern trade with Europe.
This time, at least, the blow has fallen in the right place. Hitherto the border States—Maryland, Virginia (East and West), Kentucky, and Missouri—have alone felt the ravages which attend the shock of invading armies. Yet all these regions, except Eastern Virginia, are still in the Union. It has been the fate of the border Slave States to act as a sort of breakwater to the fury of the Northern storm behind which the revolutionary Gulf States dwelt in safety and comparative repose. On the Northern frontier of Secessia was the "shell" with which the far South incased its softer and more vital parts. All attempts to break through that shell by a front attack have hitherto failed. But the fleet has accomplished what the unaided army could not. South Carolina is the very heart and focus of the revolution, and the Isle of Anglesea of old was not more given up to Druidical worship than are the sea islands, on one of which the Federals are encamped, consecrated to slave-grown products. Negroes, rice, and the finest sorts of cotton—these are the pride and glory of Beaufort county, situated midway between Charleston and Savannah, the two principal southern ports on the Atlantic coast. Full five-sixths of the population of Beaufort county are slaves.
The angry North has at last condescended to carry the war into "Africa." In the border Slave States, where slavery is not of vigorous growth, the Administration and every General, except the deposed Fremont, have been sedulous to deprive the war of an anti-slavery character. But in this thickly-settled region, where slavery flourishes rankly, the Northern army of occupation must, in the very nature of things, and in spite even of the ingrained prejudices of the men composing it, become an instrument of emancipation. Already the telegraph tells us " Large numbers of negroes came into the Federal camp." These late chattels will not be restored to their owners. The Federal Government, which, in the border States, restores fugitives to "loyal" owners, rightly conjectures there are no loyal proprietors in South Carolina, and at length allows its camp to be a gladsome City of Refuge to all who may flock thither. The slaves of this region, removed by a whole heaven from Canada, had no hope of escape from thraldom but death. A host of men from the North, contending for empire and a flag, but stung by the repulses at Bull Run and Ball's Bluff, suddenly appear in the midst of the negroes, consent to abandon their practice of slave-catching, and fastidiously resign themselves to the inevitable consequence that a chance of freedom will thereby be opened to a more or less numerous band of a downtrodden race. Had the midsummer cry of "Forward to Richmond!" availed we should never have heard of this autumnal invasion of the South Carolina coast. Adversity has taught the North to conquer one poor iota of her prejudices. It is this aspect of the camp at Beaufort which will give it an interest in the eyes of the onlooking world superior to that attaching to to[sic] Fortress Monroe, Hatteras Inlet, and Fort Pickens.
The second success of the fleet will be highly welcome to the Administration and the Commander-in-Chief, for two reasons—one political and one military. The Northern people had again grown impatient at the inaction or disasters of the two armies on the Lower and Upper Potomac. They demanded a victory, and demanded it in vain. General M'Clellan obstinately inculcated "patience," that virtue so difficult for an excited Democracy to observe. The universal feeling was, "Something must be done; we want some equivalent for our money and other sacrifices." Popular enthusiasm threatened to flag, the subscriptions to the national loan fell off, and murmurs against the Administration began to make themselves heard. The achievements of the fleet will calm this dangerous mood of the public mind and give the Commander-in-Chief a few more weeks to mature his plans. In a military point of view, the 15,000 men at Beaufort will operate as an invaluable diversion of the enemy's forces. The invaders are within sixteen miles' distance of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, whose wooden bridges and trestle-work are easily destructible, and whose iron tires if once thrown into the river cannot now be replaced. The Confederates have to make head against a force of, say, 350,000 Federals pressing upon them on a line of 1500 miles, stretching from the Atlantic to the Missouri. Up to the present time they have done so with a fair amount of success. But can the Confederate Generals create new armies to watch every body of men whom the Federal fleet may throw upon their almost undefended coast? Or can they detach a sufficient number of men from the frontier without leaving the road to Richmond, Nashville, and Memphis open to their foes? It is evident that General Scott, for one, does not so believe, for his last words to the New Yorkers were, that by April or May next the "rebellion" would be surely crushed.
If the South still preserves the advantage of greater earnestness and singleness of purpose, the superior financial strength of the North begins to tell. The appeal of the planters to the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury and the reply thereto are signs that the South is "shortwinded" in this respect. Doubtless this difficulty would vanish if the South could make sale of her cotton, rice, and tobacco; but here the Federal fleet sails in and pitilessly relegates the South to her native resources. The Federal Government is well supported by the banks of the three chief cities of the North, and the people relieve the banks of the seven-and-three-tenths per cent Treasury notes nearly, but not quite, so fast as they are issued. Northern patriotism, as expressed in
Page 541the readiness to take the Government loan, has by no means equalled the superabundant enthusiasm we are accustomed to witness in France on similar occasions, but seems to have exceeded the lagging offerings of the Italians for their late loan. American national sentiment, valued in dollars, stands midway between that of France and Italy. The immense quantities of grain and flour which the North has all this year been selling to British and French purchasers keep the exchange in favour of the Americans, and enable their banks, in spite of the stoppage of the usual export from the South, to retain the specie in their vaults. Thus confidence is maintained; the banks have not suspended specie payments; and, notwithstanding Mr. Seward's uncalled-for and reckless circulars, Government and railroad stocks of loyal States are higher now than they have been since the Presidential election.
In the mean time, among the mountains of Western Virginia a revolutionary movement has been progressing which is independent, to some extent, of both North and South. The people of thirty-nine contiguous counties of the trans- Allegheny section of Virginia, occupying an area about twice the size of Wales, and numbering 282,000, of whom only 9000 are slaves, have declared their independence of the State of Virginia, and, organised themselves, with great unanimity, into a new state, called Kanawha, from the river of that name, which traverses it. Although the Kanawhans occupy a territory of great value to the United States, and although the region has been liberated from Confederate armies by M'Clellan and Rosencranz, yet this demonstration meets with no favour from the Federal Government, which cannot now afford to countenance the right of revolution, even when it is made in behalf of the Union and the old flag. Separated as these people are from Eastern Virginia by physical barriers similar to those which divide Savoy from Italy, and united to the adjacent free-labour States by similar pursuits and moral and political sympathies, it is very improbable, come what may, that the old territorial arrangements will ever be restored. But the incident furnishes another proof that the air of America was charged with revolution, and that the time was ripe for a recombination of the heterogeneous elements of which the United States for the last forty years have been composed.