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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Mason and Slidell were returned


The

act was certainly a breach of international law; but that was almost the smallest part of its irritant effect. In every detail it was calculated to outrage British sentiment. It was an affront offered to us on our own traditional element--the sea. It was also a blow offered to our traditional pride as impartial protectors of political exiles of all kind. The _Times_--in those days a responsible and influential organ of opinion--said quite truly that the indignation felt here had nothing to do with approval of the rebellion; that it would have been just as strong if, instead of Mason and Slidell, the victims had been two of their own Negro slaves. Indeed, for us there were no longer Northern and Southern sympathizers: there were only Englishmen indignant at an insult openly offered to the Union Jack. Northerners might have understood us better, and been less angry at our attitude, if they had remembered how they themselves had felt when the guns opened on Sumter.

The evil was aggravated by the triumphant rejoicings with which the North celebrated the capture and by the complicity of responsible and even official persons in the honours showered on Captain Wilkes. Seward, who had a wild idea that a foreign quarrel would help to heal domestic dissensions, was somewhat disposed to defend the capture. But the eminently just mind of Lincoln quickly saw that it could not be defended, while his prudence perceived the folly of playing the Southern game

by forcing England to recognize the Confederacy. Mason and Slidell were returned, and the incident as a diplomatic incident was closed. But it had its part in breeding in these islands a certain antagonism to the Government at Washington, and thus encouraging the growing tendency to sympathize with the South.

With the opening of the new year the North was cheered by a signal and very important success. In the course of February Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, essential strategic points on the front which the Confederate invaders had stretched across Southern Kentucky, were captured by General Ulysses Grant, in command of a Western army. The Confederate forces were compelled to a general retirement, sacrificing the defensive line for the sake of which they had turned the "neutral" border State into an enemy, uncovering the whole of Western Tennessee, including the capital of Nashville, and also yielding the Upper Mississippi. The importance of the latter gain--for the Mississippi, once mastered, would cut the Confederacy in two--was clearly apparent to Beauregard, who at once marched northward and attacked Grant at Shiloh. The battle was indecisive, but in its military effect it was a success for the North. Grant was compelled to abandon the ground upon which his army stood, but he kept all the fruits of his recent campaign.

Another incident, not only picturesque in itself but of great importance in the history of naval war, marks the opening months of 1862. After the failure of the first attempt to take Richmond by a _coup de main_ the war became


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