command of the Northern army, after it had suffered a serious defeatin the summer (the Battle of Bull Run), to a Democrat and supporter349THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
of Southern slavery, McClellan. He rescinded an order by the com-mander on the western front, Fremont, for the emancipation of allslaves in Missouri. He even indicated that slaves who ran away to theUnionist armies (known as ‘contrabands’) should be returned to theirConfederate masters providing they had not been involved in militarylabour.It soon became clear that a moderate policy was not going to winthe war. McClellan followed an ultra-cautious policy, centred on build-ing up a large army in the Washington area and then trying to breakthrough to the nearby Confederate capital of Richmond. It fitted thepolitics of those who merely wanted to force the secessionist statesback into the Union without changing their social system. But as a mil-itary policy it was completely unsuccessful. Eighteen months into thewar the battle lines were essentially the same as at the beginning,except for Northern victories along the Mississippi, and the Southwas 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.112But the sense that the war was going nowhere also created a newaudience for the abolitionists. They pointed out that the South hadfour million slaves to do its manual work and so could mobilise muchof the free male population for the war. By contrast, the North washaving increasing difficulties in filling the ranks of its army. Theyargued Lincoln should undercut the economy of the South by a de-claration of freedom for the slaves, and strengthen the North’s forcesby enrolling black soldiers. The abolitionist Wendell Phillips railed against Lincoln’s policy ina 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 forRichmond; McClellan will not take it. If the war is continued in thisfashion, without a rational aim, then it is a useless squandering ofblood and gold… Lincoln…is a first rate second rate man.113The reluctant revolutionariesThe speech caused a furore and led to bitter attacks on Phillips. Butit crystallised a growing feeling that only revolutionary methods would350A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE WORLD
work. Despite McClellan’s conservatism, radical army commanderswere already beginning to resort to some of these methods—welcomingescaped slaves to their camps and taking away the property, includingthe 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 allstates still in revolt, and dismissing McClellan.