Part VII


       It is not within the scope of this article to detail incidents of the war; it is fitting, however, to animadvert upon an oft-repeated accusation and to furnish such proof of its falsity as to leave hereafter no loop to hang a doubt upon. It is a common excuse for early defeat and inability "to crush the rebellion in ninety days," that the Confederacy was better supplied than the government of the United States with the means and appliances of war. This explanation on its face is absurd, for how could an infant, suddenly improvised government, without a dollar, without a sailor, without a ship, without a manufactory of guns or powder, be better equipped than a strong, well established government, constantly engaged in Indian wars and having a regularly equipped .army and navy and no inconsiderable plants for their maintenance? Mr. Goldwin Smith, of Canada, in his work on the United States, says that at the beginning of the war the South was able to draw upon the supplies stored in the arsenals, which had been "well stocked by the provident treason of Buchanan's minister of war." Senator Sherman, in his "Recollections," repeats the absurd story and says that in the early days of the war the Confederates, because of this surreptitious aid, had superior means of warfare. General Scott endorsed the accusation against Secretary Floyd in regard to what has been called "the stolen arms," and thus contributed to the belief of respectable people that the Confederate States fought with cannon, rifles and muskets treacherously placed in their hands. Mr. Buchanan says, and there can be no better authority, in the book on his administration, page 220: "This delusion presents a striking illustration of the extent to which public prejudice may credit a falsehood not only without foundation but against the clearest official evidence." Eighteen months before General Scott's endorsement of the charge it had been condemned as unfounded by the report of the committee on military affairs of the house of representatives. The disproved slander that arms had been fraudulently or otherwise sent to the South to aid the "approaching rebellion," is in accord with the concerted purpose of writers and politicians to falsify the record and make apology for Northern reverses. General Scott made specific charge that Secretary Floyd removed "115,000 extra muskets and rifles, with all their implements and ammunition, from Northern repositories to Southern arsenals, so that, on the breaking out of the maturing rebellion, they might be found without cost, except to the United States, in the most convenient positions for distribution among the insurgents." He also charged that 130 or 140 pieces of heavy artillery were ordered from Pittsburg to Ship Island and Galveston, forts not yet erected. The charge, vouched for by public rumor, underwent a searching official investigation by a committee authorized to send for persons and papers and to report at any time. It was most easy to establish the charge, if true, for these arms could not have been removed without the knowledge and active participation of the officers of the ordnance bureau, whose loyalty had never been impugned nor suspected. The accusation may be reduced to three indictments:

First. That arms were improperly distributed to the Southern States prior to and preparatory for premeditated rebellion. Tables furnished from the ordnance bureau show that these States received much less, in the aggregate, instead of more, than the quota of arms to which they were justly entitled under the law for arming the militia. It is a significant fact, utterly disproving the charge and the belligerent intent, that Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas did not receive any portion of army muskets of the very best quality to which they were entitled, and which would have been delivered to each on a simple application to the ordnance bureau. Of the muskets distributed the South received 2,091, and of long-range rifles of the army caliber, 758! Not enough to arm two full regiments!

Second. That Secretary Floyd sent cannon to the Southern States. If he did the fact could not have been concealed, for their size and ponderous weight would have made it impossible to escape detection. The committee reported that there was no evidence that any cannon had been transported to the South. Secretary Floyd may have made an order for the transfer of guns, but it was never executed, and the officer in charge, Colonel Maynadier, said: "It never entered his mind that there could be any improper motive or object in the order."

Third. The committee extended their inquiry into the circumstances under which Secretary Floyd ordered the removal of the old percussion and flint-lock muskets from the Springfield armory, where they had accumulated in inconvenient numbers. These arms were to be removed from time to time as may be most suitable for economy and transportation, and were to be distributed among the arsenals in proportion to their respective means of proper storage. These arms had been condemned by inspectors and were recommended to be sold, and they were advertised for sale, but the bids did not average $1.50 each and were not accepted. The committee did not, in the slightest degree, implicate Governor Floyd. Alas! what becomes of Senator Sherman's conjured up superior preparation for war and of General Scott's "good arms stolen?" It is of a piece with the rifle pitfalls with which Northern papers, after the Bull Run escapade, in which some Republican congressmen shared, said the whole country was honeycombed. (See Reports of House Committee on Military Affairs, 9th January, 1861, and 18th February, 1861--Report No. 85.)

       Secretary Floyd, by inheritance and conviction, was a thorough believer in State rights, but was opposed to secession and in favor of employing every right and proper expedient for averting or postponing it. His diary of the secret meetings and discussions of Mr. Buchanan's cabinet, during November, 1860, shows how averse he was to what he regarded the unwise and precipitate action of South Carolina. He addressed himself with great assiduity to the task of repressing the disposition manifested by the Southern States to take forcible possession of the forts and arsenals within their limits, and just prior to the time alleged for his distribution of public arms for aiding the secession movement he had published, in a Richmond paper, a letter which gained him high credit at the North for his boldness in rebuking the pernicious views of many in his own state. (Pollard's Lee and His Lieutenants, pp. 790-796, and Administration of Buchanan, p. 220.)
       It may not be impossible that this persistent perversion of history is intended to shield the North from any reproach that might attach to her because of inability, with her immense superiority of military resources, to make an early conquest of the South. Besides the enormous means at her command in aid of commissary, quartermaster and ordnance departments, the North recruited her largely preponderant armies by purchased "Hessians" from Europe, by enlistment of negroes, and by pecuniary stimulants for substitutes or volunteers offered by individuals and towns and states and the general government. The frauds practiced on the poor negroes in enlistments, in withholding bounties, in misapplication of what had been accumulated under orders of Butler and other generals, constitute a dark chapter in the mysterious history of the freedmen's bureau and in other unrecorded occurrences of the war. In 1870 was published the report of the commissioners on equalization of the municipal war debts by the general assembly of Maine. It contains curious and disgraceful matters of history in regard to the method of furnishing men for the army and navy. It transpires in that official comment that "substitute brokers" did a business so important and profitable as to call for the formation of partnerships, which plied their "iniquitous transactions" so adroitly and actively and fraudulently, as to obtain large sums, "hundreds of thousands of dollars," for men who were never reported for duty. This "wrong" to the municipalities, "double and cruel wrong to the brave men lying in the trenches of the Appomattox and the James," occurred, says this merciless exposure, "when the army lay panting and exhausted in front of Petersburg," "when the government was calling loudly for recruits and new regiments," "when the gallant men were calling for help and succor," "when the conviction had been at last forced home upon the government that the people and the rebellion could only be subdued by being thoroughly whipped in its entrenched strongholds, and that to do this the army of freedom must be kept full and strong by constant reinforcements." (See Portland Advertiser, January 31, 1870.)

This Page last updated 02/10/02