The Decision Made

Newburyport Daily Herald, April 15, 1861

"THE IMPENDING CRISIS—THE IRREPRESSIBLE CONFLICT" has now begun in earnest. The war is upon us—the war of sister States, the war of brother countrymen, the war of associated republicans, whose fathers in toils and blood and sufferings, such as won the admiration of all mankind, laid the foundation of the purest and the grandest nation the world ever saw, that we, their degenerate children—forgetful of the past and inflated and intoxicated by the overflowing cup of too great prosperity—should disgrace ourselves in its destruction. With all the facts before us, it is even now hardly to be credited that we have committed so great a folly. But the first shot, they tell us, has been fired; Sumpter has been bombarded; the batteries have received the answering shells, and civil war has been inaugurated. If so, God only knows what is to be the end, and what the consequences. We feel thankful that we can wash our hands in innocency, having from the commencement, from day to day and from hour to hour, till all our readers tired of it, pointed out the evils of war, and the certainty of war with those evils to follow in crushing succession, unless in the spirit that founded the government we could conciliate and compromise, and once more embrace in friendship and love. We would to heaven now, that the consequences might be upon the heads of those who have rushed us to this fearful crisis, the mad disunionists of the South, and the mad fanatics of the North, who on both sides have been lost to all reason and common sense. For ourselves, we feel very much as did David when his child by Uriah's wife, sickened and died. At first he went into mourning, but after it died, he arose and did eat bread, saying: "While the child was yet alive I fasted and wept; for I said who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me."

So felt we in the past to mourn over the madness that had seized us. We saw people in the extreme North, from Maine along the Lake region to Wisconsin, demanding war, knowing that that war could never reach their homes and blast by its immediate action their firesides; and on the other side, men of the extreme South bellowing like mad dogs for war; while the people of the central States united with the conservative people all over the country, in praying for peace, since upon the centre of the Union—upon the border States, must rush the foaming current, and there was to be the battle field of the contending factions; but neither the border States, nor the conservative men of other States, have been able to stay the tide. The smoke of the contest goes up to heaven; the whistling shells, lurid messengers of death, shoot through the air; and from the first dawn of morning till the darkness of night settles over Charleston and its waters and islands, fifty thousand people are gathered, witnesses of the fight. Peace dies, and when it dies we have no longer a word to utter; we accept this event as the curse of man or the visitation of God, whichever they may call it, and abide its results.

It would have pleased us more, if we could have seen moderation and an attempt at conciliation on either or both sides; if, since Sumter and Pickens are not essential to our safety, and the States in which they are situated deem them essential to their safety, they could have been given up, for we should have been no weaker and they no stronger thereby. It would have pleased us further, if measures had been taken to call a national convention fresh from the people to consult and act, for as yet the people have not spoken, and the sense of the nation is not known. After all means of peace were exhausted, we should not oppose war; nay, if the unity of the country demanded it, we would hail its red face and thundering voice with gladness. But so it could not be, and they have chosen to fight first. Very well, fight let it be then, and let the guns of Sumter unite us all. Lay on! let the cannon roar! let swords and bayonets gleam wherever the sun shall shine; and the strongest party shall win. Our motto is—"our country, right or wrong!" and if it can't be our whole country, then for that section do we go in which we live, and since they determine to show us that there is a government in these States, and the battle must be fought to its bitter end, let it be fought with spirit and determination. When we enter upon a war honor and humanity demand that we should make it as short as possible. There can be no doubt that the free States, numbering two to one of all the South in population and having abundant wealth and credit, must conquer; and the more forcibly and the more expeditiously we move, the better. Let Mr. Lincoln call for a hundred thousand men as soon as the railroads can carry them to the nearest point of action: to be followed by another hundred thousand, as soon as they can be mustered; and a third hundred thousand to stand in reserve. If we are to fight to the subjugation of our opponents, they will all be needed; and if we are to negotiate hereafter, it must be done on the drum head.

It is too late now to ask whether we provoked this fight by sending ships to Sumpter, or they by resisting them; it is too late to talk about the past, or dally in action, to hesitate or grow pale at the thought of blood. All those things were in their place months ago. We have chosen war or been forced into it; and it makes no difference which. Now we must follow it up without the shrinking of a nerve or the quivering of a lip. If Virginia and other border States secede, the work is only the more difficult, but it must be done. Nor should we hesitate if legal and constitutional objections are raised; the necessities of war—especially civil war—are above all technical forms, and we presume that every man who was ready to fire the first gun, was ready for any change of government;—if not, we are. It is barely possible to[o] if the war becomes general that our present forms may survive, and quite as possible that the man on the white horse may come. Let it be as it will, those who inaugurate war must have considered all those contingencies—they have taken the responsibilities, and now the worst evil that can happen is delay and want of efficiency.