The War of Revenge
Charlottesville Review, April 19, 1861
When War—and Civil War—has come, it is neither politic nor in good taste to recur to the past. Political foes will soon stand side by side in the shock of battle. We accept War as a fact. From wickedness, or from some strange hallucination, the President has summoned the country to arms—to fight among themselves. Whoever is to blame about Fort Sumter, why the affair was not dropped there, or confined to fort Pickens, we are at a loss to conjecture. What object but revenge, can have stimulated the immense military preparations in progress, or a purpose to "re-capture" other forts, we cannot discover. We have desired to weigh fairly both sides of this question. We know there is one sentiment at the North, and one sentiment at the South. The Northern journals rest the coercive measures which are being initiated on the necessity of maintaining the Union, and vindicating the Government. We admit very freely that in any ordinary case of resistance to the constituted authorities, force, even war, ought to be resorted to. In 1832 the Government would in our opinion have been fully justified in putting into execution the Force bill. The object of Government is to perpetuate itself, and to uphold its authority.
In the present case a section of country comprising some eight hundred thousand square miles, and eleven millions of people is about to be arrayed in hostility to the government. A sectional line has been drawn, the people on one side of which under the name of "the Government," are marshalling to compel to their ways of thinking the people on the other side. In 1861, it is proposed to carry conviction to fourteen American States by the sword. The Government so far from establishing and perpetuating its authority, is driving from itself new States, and laying the foundation of permanent separation and undying enmity. It is not a case of insubordination. It is the protest of one half of a confederation against the other half.
After ten years—or a generation—have passed—and every green field has been stained with blood—and many a gallant soldier has bit the dust—and bereavement or impoverishment has entered every home in the South, will the South be prepared to go back to the old ways? Shall the free spontaneous outgoings of the American spirit draw its impulses from the instructive promptings of improved artillery and rifled muskets? Will Virginia and Alabama be chastised into the peaceable election of members to the Federal Congress? Will blows with the edge or the flat-side of cavalry sabres teach them to cast electoral votes for a Northern president?
In case of success, the most that the "United States Government" can hope for, is the permanent military occupation of the Southern States. We through this journal have battled for the cause of the American Union, until we exposed ourselves at the hands of some of the best men in the community to the charge of being wanting in patriotism and sectional pride. We have reprobated the dismemberment of this Union in terms of the bitterest and most unmeasured condemnation. Upon an humble theatre, and with humble abilities, we have contended for the Union as a man contends for his life. We have encountered pecuniary injury, and the estrangement of valued friends, in the path of what we believed to be a duty to the welfare of the State, the interests of the American nation, and the cause of human liberty. And now while President Lincoln holds in suspense the uplifted gauge of battle, we warn him in the name of the former Union party in Virginia, that there are no divisions here now that the curtain has begun to rise. If he sends war upon the people of the South, he will meet a united and continued resistance until he will retreat as Pyrrhus did from Italy, or the legions of France retired from Moscow. Peradventure he will retrace his steps as the Persians fled from Marathon, or the English from Bannockburn. The history of Scotland may afford him an instructive lesson. After centuries of war—after the fields of Falkirk and Flodden—Scotland was still unconquered. After four hundred years that Union was effected peaceably which could never be established by force.
We find it difficult to believe that Abraham Lincoln, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, belonging to the same advanced race—born even upon Southern soil—really contemplates serious war. We can hardly realise that any man of fair ability and fair morality in the United States would in earnest inaugurate civil war between Americans. If he were to let loose the devils in hell, he could not get up such a tragedy. We still hope in conformity with his reply to the Virginia Commissioners that his design is at present limited to "the border of the country." That would be trifling in its results to a collision of large armies in the interior. It is the policy of both parties to settle this contest at sea, and at the frontier forts. Mr. Lincoln may try the experiment of coercion to this extent. It will probably only drive all the border States to secession, and succeed in establishing the permanent division of the Union by the slave line. When he should be weary, he would have the satisfaction of having added six or eight States to those already seceded.
This method of conducting the war, may be his policy. The danger is that, even if he has the inclination, he may not be able to restrain the storm which he has roused. The conflict will, we fear, gradually extend, and a long and bloody continental war be the result.
Judging by the temper of the people of this community, this last result will be rather invited than avoided. The public heart is stirred to its lowest depths. The War feeling is swelling and surging like the waves of the sea. Who can resist a whole people, thoroughly aroused, brave to rashness, fighting for their existence?