command of the Northern army after it had suffered a serious defeat in the

Command of the northern army after it had suffered a

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command of the Northern army, after it had suffered a serious defeat in the summer (the Battle of Bull Run), to a Democrat and supporter 349 THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
of Southern slavery, McClellan. He rescinded an order by the com- mander on the western front, Fremont, for the emancipation of all slaves in Missouri. He even indicated that slaves who ran away to the Unionist armies (known as ‘contrabands’) should be returned to their Confederate masters providing they had not been involved in military labour. It soon became clear that a moderate policy was not going to win the war. McClellan followed an ultra-cautious policy, centred on build- ing up a large army in the Washington area and then trying to break through to the nearby Confederate capital of Richmond. It fitted the politics of those who merely wanted to force the secessionist states back into the Union without changing their social system. But as a mil- itary policy it was completely unsuccessful. Eighteen months into the war the battle lines were essentially the same as at the beginning, except for Northern victories along the Mississippi, and the South was still in control of a territory the size of France. There was grow- ing demoralisation in the North, with a feeling that victory was im- possible even among some of its most fervent supporters. 112 But the sense that the war was going nowhere also created a new audience for the abolitionists. They pointed out that the South had four million slaves to do its manual work and so could mobilise much of the free male population for the war. By contrast, the North was having increasing difficulties in filling the ranks of its army. They argued Lincoln should undercut the economy of the South by a de- claration of freedom for the slaves, and strengthen the North’s forces by enrolling black soldiers. The abolitionist Wendell Phillips railed against Lincoln’s policy in a famous speech: I do not say that McClellan is a traitor; but I say that if he were a trai- tor he would have to behave exactly as he had done. Have no fear for Richmond; McClellan will not take it. If the war is continued in this fashion, without a rational aim, then it is a useless squandering of blood and gold… Lincoln…is a first rate second rate man. 113 The reluctant revolutionaries The speech caused a furore and led to bitter attacks on Phillips. But it crystallised a growing feeling that only revolutionary methods would 350 A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE WORLD
work. Despite McClellan’s conservatism, radical army commanders were already beginning to resort to some of these methods—welcoming escaped slaves to their camps and taking away the property, including the slaves, of ‘rebels’ in areas occupied by the Northern armies. Then, at a decisive moment, Lincoln himself made a series of radical moves— raising the first black regiment, declaring freedom for slaves in all states still in revolt, and dismissing McClellan.

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