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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Won at a heavy cost to the Confederacy


neither Antietam nor the Proclamation appeared to bring any luck to the Union armies in the field. McClellan showed his customary over-caution in allowing Lee to escape unhammered; once more he was superseded, and once more his supersession only replaced inaction by disaster. Hooker, attempting an invasion of Virginia, got caught in the tangled forest area called "the Wilderness." Jackson rode round him, cutting his communications and so forcing him to fight, and Lee beat him soundly at Chancellorsville. The battle was, however, won at a heavy cost to the Confederacy, for towards the end of the day the mistake of a picket caused the death by a Southern bullet of the most brilliant, if not the greatest, of Southern captains. As to what that loss meant we have the testimony of his chief and comrade-in-arms. "If I had had Jackson with me," said Lee after Gettysburg, "I should have won a complete victory." This, however, belongs to a later period. Burnside, succeeding Hooker, met at Lee's hands with an even more crushing defeat at Fredericksburg.

And now, as a result of these Southern successes, began to become dangerous that factor on which the South had counted from the first--the increasing weariness and division of the North. I have tried in these pages to put fairly the case for the defeated side in the Civil War. But one can have a reasonable understanding of and even sympathy with the South without having any sympathy to waste on those who

in the North were called "Copperheads." A Northerner might, indeed, honestly think the Southern cause just and coercion of the seceding States immoral. But if so he should have been opposed to such coercion from the first. The Confederate case was in no way morally stronger in 1863 than it had been in 1861. If, therefore, a man had been in favour of coercion in 1861--as practically all Northerners were--his weakening two years later could not point to an unwillingness to do injustice, but only to the operation of fear or fatigue as deterrents from action believed to be just. Moreover, the ordinary "Copperhead" position was so plainly in contradiction of known facts that it must be pronounced either imbecile or dishonest. If these men had urged the acceptance of disunion as an accomplished fact, a case might be made out for them. But they generally professed the strongest desire to restore the Union, accompanied by vehement professions of the belief that this could in some fashion be achieved by "negotiation." The folly of such a supposition was patent. The Confederacy was in arms for the one specific purpose of separating itself from the Union, and so far its appeal to arms had been on the whole successful. That it would give up the single object for which it was fighting for any other reason than military defeat was, on the face of it, quite insanely unlikely; and, as might have been expected, the explicit declarations of Davis and all the other Confederate leaders were at this time uniformly to the effect that peace could be had by the recognition of Southern independence and in no other fashion. The "Copperheads," however, seem to have suffered from that amazing illusion which we have learnt in recent times to associate with the Russian Bolsheviks and their admirers in other countries--the illusion that if one side leaves off fighting the other side will immediately do the same, though all the objects for which it ever wanted to fight are unachieved. They persisted in maintaining that in some mysterious fashion the President's "ambition" was standing between the country and a peace based on reunion. The same folly was put forward by Greeley, perhaps the most consistently wrong-headed of American public men: in him it was the more absurd since on the one issue, other than that of union or separation, which offered any possible material for a compromise, that of Slavery, he was professedly against all compromise, and blamed the President for attempting any.

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