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The Civil War a Narrative Part 21

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What sets the roaring rabble's heel

On the old star-spangled pennon?

What breaks the oath

Of the men o' the South?

What whets the knife



For the Union's life?

Hark to the answer: Slavery!

Or there was the Boston lecturer Wendell Phillips, who a.s.sured a New York audience of its moral superiority over a foe whose only role in life was to block the march of progress. He pictured the young man of the South, "melted in sensuality, whose face was never lighted up by a purpose since his mother looked into his cradle," and declared that for such men "War is gain. They go out of it, and they sink down." Whipped, they would return "to barrooms, to corner groceries, to chopping straw and calling it politics. [Laughter.] You might think they would go back to their professions. They never had any. You might think they would go back to the mechanic arts. They don't know how to open a jackknife. [Great merriment.] There is nowhere for them to go, unless we send them half a million of emanc.i.p.ated blacks to teach them how to plant cotton." His solution to the problem of how to keep the beaten South from relapsing "into a state of society more cruel than war-whose characteristics are private a.s.sa.s.sination, burning, stabbing, shooting, poisoning"-lifted the North's grim efforts to the height of a crusade: "We have not only an army to conquer. We have a state of mind to annihilate."

Phillips could always fill a hall, but the star attraction this season, all agreed, was the girl orator Anna E. d.i.c.kinson, who had begun her career on the eve of her twentieth birthday, when she lost her job at the mint in her native Philadelphia for accusing McClellan of treason at Ball's Bluff. Since then, she had come far, until now she was hailed alternately as the Joan of Arc and the Portia of the Union. Whether she spoke at the Academy of Music in her home city, at New York's Cooper Union, or at the Music Hall in Boston, the house was certain to be packed with those who came to marvel at the contrast between her virginal appearance-"her features well chiseled, her forehead and upper lip of the Greek proportion, her nostrils thin"-and the "torrent of burning, scathing, lightning eloquence," which she released in what the same reviewer called "wonderfully lengthened sentences uttered without break or pause." Hearing Anna was a dramatic experience not easily forgotten, though what you brought away with you was not so much a remembrance of what she had said as it was of the manner in which she had said it: which was how she affected Henry James, apparently, when he came to portray her, more than twenty years later, as Verena Tarrant. Her hatred of Southerners, especially Jefferson Davis, whom she compared to a hyena, was not so all-consuming that none was left for northern Democrats, who were without exception traitors to the cause of human freedom-as, indeed, were all who were not of the most radical persuasion, including such Republicans as Seward, "the Fox of the White House." She loved applause; it thrilled her, and her style became more forward as her listeners responded; so that her addresses were in a sense a form of intercourse, an exchange of emotions, back and forth across the footlights.

Quite different, but curious too in her effect on those who came to hear and see her, was another platform artist, the former slave Sojourner Truth. Tall and gaunt, utterly black, and close to eighty years of age, she made her appearances in a voluminous, floor-length, long-sleeved dress, a crocheted shawl, and the calico turban or headrag that was practically a badge of office for house servants in the South, particularly children's nurses; which was what she had been, before she won her freedom and came North. Battle Creek was now her home, and she journeyed not only through Michigan, but also through Illinois and Indiana and Ohio, including the Copperhead regions of those states, to plead for the extension of freedom to all her race, north as well as south of the Proclamation line. She spoke in a deep, musical voice, with natural grace and simple dignity, and vended as a side line, to help cover her travel expenses, photographs of herself in her speaking costume; "selling the shadow to sustain the substance," she explained. Her most valued possession, despite her illiteracy, was an autograph book containing the signatures of famous men and women she encountered along her way, one of whom would presently be the Great Emanc.i.p.ator himself. "For Aunty Sojourner Truth, A. Lincoln," he wrote, and she gave him one of her photographs, remarking that she sold them for her livelihood, "but this one is for you, without money and without price." She was much admired, though for the most part as an exotic, and was generally welcome wherever she went, although not always. Once in an Indiana town, for instance, when she was introduced to deliver an antislavery address to a large audience, a local Copperhead rose to repeat the rumor that she was a man, disguised in women's clothes, and to suggest that she permit a committee of ladies to examine her in private. She answered the challenge, then and there, by unfastening her dress and showing the crowd her shrunken, hound's-ear b.r.e.a.s.t.s. These had fed many black children, she said, but still more white children had nursed at them. By now the Copperheads-who had come to watch her, or his, exposure as a fraud-were filing out of the auditorium, a look of disgust on their faces, and Sojourner Truth shook her b.r.e.a.s.t.s at one of them, inquiring after him in her low contralto: "You want to suck?"

Wendell Phillips, Anna d.i.c.kinson, Sojourner Truth were only three among the many who were riding the wave of confidence that the worst was over, that the war could have but one ending now, and that it would come as soon as the South could be made to see what already was apparent in the North. Moreover, there had come with this belief a lessening of discord, not only among the people, but also in the conduct of affairs in Was.h.i.+ngton. "Never since I have been in public life has there been so little excitement in Congress," Sumner wrote on New Year's Day to a friend in England. "The way seems, at last, open. n.o.body doubts the result. The a.s.surance of the future gives calmness." This did not mean that the legislators were willing to take chances. Knowing as they did that the public's blame for any failure would be in ratio to the height of its expectations, they were in fact less willing to take chances than they had been at any time before. And it was for this reason that the bill to revive the grade of lieutenant general had itself been revived: to reduce the likelihood of military blunders at the top. "Give us, Sir, a live general!" a Michigan senator exclaimed in the course of the debate. He meant by this a man who would follow a straight path to victory, "and not let us be dragging along under influences such as have presided over the Army of the Potomac for these last many tedious and weary months; an army oscillating alternately between the Rappahannock and the Potomac, defeated today and hardly successful tomorrow, with its commanders changed almost as frequently as the moon changes its face. Sir, for one I am tired of this, and I tell [the] senators here that the country is getting weary of it."

Some proponents were in favor of naming Grant specifically in the bill, while others believed that this would be setting a dangerous precedent. Besides, Fessenden of Maine rose to ask, to whom could the promotion go if not to Grant? and then went on to point out that the honor would be greater if no name was mentioned, since to do so would be to imply that there had been a choice: "When the President says to us, as he will say unquestionably, 'I consider that General Ulysses S. Grant is the man of all others, from his great services, to be placed in this exalted position,' and when we, as we shall unquestionably, unanimously say 'Ay' to that and confirm him, have we not given him a position such as any man living or who ever lived might well be proud of, without putting his name in our bill originally and thus saying to the President, 'Sir, we cannot trust you to act on this matter unless we hint to you that we want such a man appointed'?" Lengthy and thorough the debate was, but there was never much doubt as to the outcome. Introduced on the first day of February, the measure was pa.s.sed on the last, and the procedure Fessenden had outlined followed swiftly. Receiving the bill on March 1, Lincoln promptly signed it and named Grant for the honor next day. The Senate confirmed the appointment without delay, and on March 3 the general was ordered by telegraph to report at once to Was.h.i.+ngton, where he would receive his commission directly from the President.

Lincoln had been disappointed too often, over the course of the past three years, for him to allow his hopes to soar too high. He remembered McDowell and McClellan. He remembered Burnside and Hooker. Above all, he remembered Pope, who had also come East with western laurels on his brow. And there at hand, in case memory failed, was Halleck; Old Brains, too, had arrived from that direction, supposedly with a victory formula in his knapsack, and had wound up "a first-rate clerk." Still, after making all proper discounts, it seemed likely to Lincoln that now at last, in this general who had captured two rebel armies and routed a third, he had found the killer-arithmetician he had been seeking from the start.

5.

Returning to Vicksburg on the last day of February, Sherman took no time out to recuperate from the rigors of the Meridian campaign, for he found there a week-old dispatch from Grant instructing him to cooperate with Banks in order to a.s.sure the success of the expedition up the Teche and the Red, which the Ma.s.sachusetts general and Halleck had designed to accomplish the return of West Louisiana and East Texas to the Union, along with an estimated half million bales of h.o.a.rded cotton. Sherman himself was to rejoin Grant at Chattanooga in time to open the spring drive on Atlanta; he would therefore not partic.i.p.ate in the Louisiana-Texas venture, save for making a short-term loan of some 10,000 troops to strengthen it; but he decided to confer in person with Banks, before he himself went back to Tennessee, on the logistical details of getting the reinforcements to him somewhere up the Red. Accordingly, he left Vicksburg that same day aboard the fast packet Diana, and arrived in New Orleans two days later, on March 2.

He found Banks in high spirits: not only because of the military outlook, which was considered excellent-Franklin had recovered from his early November repulse at Grand Coteau and had three divisions ma.s.sed at Opelousas, ready to advance-but also because of political developments in accordance with Lincoln's reconstruction policy, whereby a Union-loyal candidate, one Michael Hahn, a native of Bavaria, had been elected governor of Louisiana by the necessary ten percent of the voters on February 22 and was to be inaugurated at New Orleans on March 5. Sherman's logistical problems were settled within two days, the arrangement being that the Vicksburg reinforcements would join Franklin at Alexandria on March 17 for the farther ascent of the Red, but Banks urged his visitor to stay over another two days for Hahn's inauguration, which he a.s.sured him would be well worth the delay. A chorus of one thousand voices, accompanied by all the bands of the army, would perform the "Anvil Chorus" in Lafayette Square, while church bells rang and cannon were fired in unison by electrical devices. Sherman declined the invitation. He had already gone on record as opposing such political procedures, and what was more, he said later, "I regarded all such ceremonies as out of place at a time when it seemed to me every hour and every minute were due to the war." His mind on destruction, not reconstruction, he reboarded the Diana, and three days later, on March 6, was back in Vicksburg, to which by now the destroyers of Meridian had returned, well rested from their week-long stay in Canton and the additional spoliation they had accomplished at that place.

Remaining in Vicksburg only long enough to pa.s.s on to McPherson the details of the arrangement he had made for reinforcing Banks at Alexandria on St Patrick's Day, Sherman set off upriver again the following morning, impatient to rejoin the troops he had left poised near Chattanooga, waiting alongside those under Thomas and Hooker for Grant to give the nod that would start them slogging southward, over or around Joe Johnston, into and through the heart of Georgia. "Prepare them for my coming," he had told his adjutant, in reference to the hapless civilians in his path, and now at last he was on his way. On the second day out, however, the Diana was hailed by a southbound packet which, to the Ohioan's surprise, turned out to have one of Grant's staff captains aboard, charged with the delivery of a highly personal letter his chief had written four days ago, on March 4, at Nashville. "Dear Sherman," it read: "The bill reviving the grade of lieutenant general in the army has become a law, and my name has been sent to the Senate for the place. I now receive orders to report to Was.h.i.+ngton immediately, in person, which indicates either a confirmation or a likelihood of confirmation. I start in the morning to comply with the order, but I shall say very distinctly on my arrival there that I shall accept no appointment which will require me to make that city my headquarters. This, however, is not what I started out to write about.... What I want is to express my thanks to you and McPherson as the men to whom, above all others, I feel indebted for whatever I have had of success. How far your advice and suggestions have been of a.s.sistance, you know. How far your execution of whatever has been given you to do ent.i.tles you to the reward I am receiving, you cannot know as well as I do. I feel all the grat.i.tude this letter would express, giving it the most flattering construction. The word you I use in the plural, intending it for McPherson also," the letter concluded. "I should write to him, and will some day, but starting in the morning I do not know that I will find time just now. Your friend, U. S. Grant."

Shertnan vibrated with three conflicting reactions as he read the first three sentences Grant had written: first, delight that his friend was about to be so honored: second, alarm that he had been summoned to the fleshpots of the capital: third, relief that he did not intend to stay there. However, as the boat continued to push its way slowly upriver against the booming current, the third emotion gave way in turn to the second, which came back even stronger than at first. The fact was, though he idolized his friend and superior, he had never really trusted his judgment in matters concerning his career, and though he admired his simplicity of character, seeing it in the quality that perhaps had contributed most to his success, he was forever supposing that it would get him in trouble, especially if he fell into the hands of wily men who would know how to use him for their sordid ends. "Your reputation as a general is now far above that of any man living, and partisans will maneuver for your influence," he had warned him in a letter written during the Christmas visit to Ohio, at a time when the Grant-for-President drums were beginning to rumble. He counseled him earnestly to "Preserve a plain military character and let others maneuver as they will. You will beat them not only in fame, but in doing good in the closing scenes of this war, when somebody must heal and mend up the breaches." Nowhere were the wily more in evidence than in Was.h.i.+ngton, and the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that "Grant would not stand the intrigues of the politicians a week," even though he went there with no intention of remaining any longer than it took to get a third star tacked on each shoulder of his weathered blouse. What was more, Sherman had a mystical feeling about the Mississippi River, which he called "the great artery" of America. "I want to live out here and die here also," he wrote to another friend this week, as the Diana chugged upstream, "and I don't care if my grave be like De Soto's in its muddy waters." He seemed to fear that if Grant wandered far from the banks of the big river, his reaction would be like that of Antaeus when he lost contact with the earth.

Accordingly, after two days of fretting and fuming, as the boat drew near Memphis on March 10 he dashed off an answer to Grant's "more than kind and characteristic letter," thanking him in McPherson's name and his own, but protesting: "You do yourself injustice and us too much honor in a.s.signing us so large a share of the merits which have led to your high advancement.... At Belmont you manifested your traits, neither of us being near. At Donelson also you ill.u.s.trated your character; I was not near, and General McPherson [was] in too subordinate a capacity to influence you. Until you had won Donelson, I confess I was almost cowed by the terrible array of anarchical elements that presented themselves at every point; but that victory admitted the ray of light which I have followed ever since.... The chief characteristic in your nature is the simple faith in success you have always manifested, which I can liken to nothing else than the faith a Christian has in his Saviour. This faith gave you victory at s.h.i.+loh and Vicksburg. Also, when you have completed your best preparations, you go into battle without hesitation, as at Chattanooga; no doubts, no reserve; and I tell you that it was this that made us act with confidence. I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come-if alive. My only points of doubt were as to your knowledge of grand strategy and of books of science and history, but I confess your common-sense seems to have supplied all this."

Having disposed thus of the disclaimers and the amenities, the volatile redhead pa.s.sed at once to the main burden of his letter. If Grant stayed East, Sherman almost certainly would be given full charge of the West, and yet, although personally he wanted this above all possible a.s.signments, he was unwilling to secure it at the cost of his friend's ruin, which was what he believed would result from any such arrangement. "Do not stay in Was.h.i.+ngton," he urged him. "Halleck is better qualified than you are to stand the buffets of intrigue and policy. Come out West; take to yourself the whole Mississippi Valley. Let us make it dead sure, and I tell you the Atlantic slope and Pacific sh.o.r.es will follow its destiny as sure as the limbs of a tree live or die with the main trunk. We have done much; still much remains.... For G.o.d's sake and your country's sake, come out of Was.h.i.+ngton! I foretold to General Halleck, before he left Corinth, the inevitable result to him, and I now exhort you to come out West. Here lies the seat of the coming empire, and from the West, when our task is done, we will make short work of Charleston and Richmond and the impoverished coast of the Atlantic."

Within a week he found his warning had been too late. Arriving in Memphis next day he received on March 14 a message from Grant arranging a meeting in Nashville three days later. If Sherman took this as evidence that his chief did not intend to make his headquarters in the East, he soon learned better. In Nashville on the appointed date, invested with the rank of lieutenant general and command of all the armies of the Union, Grant informed him that the Virginia situation required personal attention; he would be returning there to stay, and Sherman would have full charge of the West. However, what with the press of visiting dignitaries, all anxious for a look at a man with three stars on each shoulder, there was so little time for a strategy conference that it was decided the two generals would travel together as far as Cincinnati on Grant's return trip east. That way, it was thought, they could talk on the cars; but the wheels made such a clatter, they finally gave up trying to shout above the racket and fell silent. In Cincinnati they checked into the Burnet House, and there at last, in a private room with a sentry at the door, they spread their maps and got to work.

"Yonder began the campaign," Sherman was to say a quarter century later, standing before the hotel on the occasion of a visit to the Ohio city. "He was to go for Lee and I was to go for Joe Johnston. That was his plan."

ALSO AVAILABLE BY SHELBY FOOTE.

FOLLOW ME DOWN.

In Jordan County, Mississippi, a murder trial is drawing to a close. The victim is a young woman who has been found strangled and weighed down with concrete blocks at the bottom of a lake. The defendant is a G.o.d-haunted farmer old enough to be her father. The trial is a formality, because Luther Eustis has already confessed. But as Shelby Foote re-creates the murder of Beulah Ross-and the annihilating pa.s.sion that drew her to her murderer-he generates a suspense full of tension and foreboding. Drawing on themes as old as the Bible and investing them with the chilling dignity of a mountain folk song, Follow Me Down immerses us in lives obsessed with sin and redemption, desire and vengeful retribution. It transports us to a territory of the imagination that is touching, sometimes terrible, but always deeply recognizable: a place that only the best fiction ever penetrates.

Fiction/978-0-307-77928-1 JORDAN COUNTY.

The seven stories in Jordan County move backward in time, from 1950 to 1797, and through the lives of characters as diverse as a black horn player doomed by tuberculosis and convulsive jealousy, a tormented and ineffectual fin-de-siecle aristocrat, and a half-wild frontiersman who builds a plantation in Choctaw territory only to watch it burn at the close of the Civil War. In prose of almost Biblical gravity, and with a deep knowledge of the ways in which history shapes human lives-and sometimes warps them beyond repair- Foote gives us an ambitious, troubling work of fiction that builds on the traditions of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor but that is resolutely unique.

Fiction/Literature/978-0-307-77927-4 LOVE IN A DRY SEASON.

Love in a Dry Season describes an erotic and economic triangle, in which two wealthy and fantastically unhappy Mississippi families- the Barcrofts and the Carrutherses-are joined by an open-faced fortune hunter from the North, a man whose ruthlessness is matched only by his inability to understand the people he tries to exploit and his fatal incomprehension of the pa.s.sions he so casually ignites. Combining a flawless sense of place with a Faulknerian command fo the grotesque, Foote's novel turns a small cotton town into a s.e.xual battleground as fatal as Vicksburg or s.h.i.+loh-and one where strategy is no match for instinct and tradition.

Fiction/Literature/978-0-307-77925-0 s.h.i.+LOH.

Shelby Foote's monumental three-part chronicle of the Civil War was hailed by Walker Percy as "an American Iliad, a unique work uniting the scholars.h.i.+p of the historian and the high-readability of the first-cla.s.s novelist." s.h.i.+loh warrants similar praise, for while it is a powerful novel-a spare, unrelenting account of two days of battle in April 1862-it is also a stunning work of imaginative history, conveying not only the b.l.o.o.d.y ch.o.r.eography of Union and Confederate troops through the woods near Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, but the inner movements of the combatants' hearts and minds. Through the eyes of officers and illiterate foot soldiers, heroes and cowards, s.h.i.+loh creates a dramatic mosaic of a critical moment in the making of America, complete to the haze of gunsmoke and the stunned expression in the eyes of dying men.

Fiction/978-0-307-77926-7

VINTAGE CIVIL WAR LIBRARY.

Available at your local bookstore, or visit

www.randomhouse.com

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