The Whirlwind of War: Voices of the Storm, 1861-1865by Stephen B. Oates
The Whirlwind of War builds on the great themes and follows many of the important figures who were introduced in The Approaching Fury. Stephen B. Oates’s riveting narrative brings to life the complex and destructive war that is the central event in American history. He writes in the first person, assuming the viewpoints of several of the/i>/i>
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The Whirlwind of War builds on the great themes and follows many of the important figures who were introduced in The Approaching Fury. Stephen B. Oates’s riveting narrative brings to life the complex and destructive war that is the central event in American history. He writes in the first person, assuming the viewpoints of several of the principal figures: the rival presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis; the rival generals, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman; the great black abolitionist, editor, and orator, Frederick Douglass; the young Union battlefield nurse, Cornelia Hancock; the brilliant head of the Chicago Sanitary Commission and cocreator of the northern Sanitary Fair, Mary Livermore; the Confederate socialite and political insider, Mary Boykin Chesnut; the assassin, John Wilkes Booth; and the greatest poet of the era, Walt Whitman, who speaks in the coda about the meaning of war and Lincoln's death.
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The Winds of 'Sixty-One
The Union forever, hurrah! boys, hurrah!
Down with the traitor, up with the star,
While we rally round the flag, boys,
Rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.
We are a band of brothers, and native to the soil,
Fighting for the property we gained by honest toil;
And when our rights were threatened, the cry rose near and far,
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star!
The Sunday morning headlines screamed with the latest news from Charleston harbor: Fort Sumter had fallen after a two-day bombardment by rebel shore batteries. The only good news was that the defenders hadn't suffered any casualties and the rebels had allowed our navy to evacuate the garrison. I guess they expected us to thank 'em for their charity. The fall of Sumter was the climax of almost six weeks of maneuvering in which I'd elected to send down a provisioning flotilla and leave it up to Jeff Davis and his pretended government, the Confederate States of America, so-called, whether to open fire on the fort and start a civil war. The blast of their guns at our flag gave me my answer.
Tossing the papers aside, I called the Cabinet together in my second-floor office and told them that the insurgents, by firing the first shot, had forced on us the decision of immediate dissolution or blood. We all realized that it would be a gigantic contest and that the small regular army-about sixteen thousand men all told-was wholly inadequate for the job; it was scattered across the country, mostly on the frontier, and southern resignationshad badly depleted it. To maintain the government, we would have to rely on state militia. How many would we need? Some of the secretaries thought at least fifty thousand; but Secretary of State Seward croaked that it ought to be a hundred thousand. We settled on seventy-five thousand.
The next day, April fifteenth, I issued a proclamation calling up seventy-five thousand militia from the several states to suppress the rebellion, and I summoned Congress to convene in special session on independence Day. "I appeal," I said, "to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government. "
Just two days later-two days'-the Virginia convention, which had been in continual session, waiting to see what I would do, adopted a secession ordinance, which Virginia voters would later ratify in a special election. Virginia Unionists went over to the rebellion, they claimed, because they could not tolerate the specter of Federal troops marching across their soil to suppress the insurrection in the seven cotton states, which had formed the so-called Confederacy in Montgomery before I'd even been inaugurated.
"Those traitors," I said bitterly in the privacy of my office. "How many times have I heard Virginia Unionists, right here in this room, proclaim their loyalty to the flag? I was sure on that basis that Virginia would remain loyal. But when I choose to defend the flag against treason, these professed Union men almost instantly embrace the rebellion and become traitors themselves. The sons-of-bitches! With Virginia on its way out, we may lose the entire upper South. Damn, damn, damn. Well, Virginia will be exceedingly sorry for this. I have no choice but to deal with the rebellion where I find it."
I tell you, it was chaos in Washington that day. We had no plan of operations and no idea how we were going to equip and supply seventy-five thousand men for the ninety days I'd called them to serve. It would be the largest force ever assembled in the countrymore than seven times the size of the expeditionary force old Winfield Scott had led into Mexico in 'forty-seven. Our most pressing problem was the want of a capable officer to command the troops in the field. I greatly admired Scott, the general-in-chief of the army. He was a hero of two wars and though a Virginian was an unqualified patriot and a friend of the Administration. But it was plain to everybody that at seventy-five he was too old and sickly to command in the field. He was exceedingly stout and suffered from gout, vertigo, dropsy, and I don't know what else. It hurt him so much to walk that he had to pause every few steps to gather his strength. He couldn't ride a horse or climb the steps of the Capitol without help.
In the afternoon, Seward and I paid a visit to the old general, setting out on a tree-shaded brick walkway that led to the War Department and army headquarters on Seventeenth Street. It was a warm spring day and the lilacs were blooming along the way. Seward chewed on a cigar and talked nonstop about the crisis, using "damn" and "hell" liberally. A jocular little New Yorker with white hair, a beaked nose, and a scraggly neck, he tipped his hat at everybody we passed and said "How-de-do?" He seemed to think they all knew him. Some fellows, I noticed, openly sported secessionist buttons. The damn traitors probably worked for the government, too. I tell you, it gave me the hypo.
We passed the little War Department building and crossed the street to the five-story Winder Building, where army headquarters were located. Going upstairs to Scott's office, I noticed how many of his staff officers were old codgers who sat in little rooms off the hallway, writing memos or staring out the window. We found General Scott seated at his desk, which was cluttered with maps and papers.
An enormous fellow with bushy gray brows and side whiskers, he was dressed in full uniform with a yellow sash and expansive epaulettes.
Seward got down to business. "We're gathering a large army," he said around his cigar. "What we don't foresee is how it's to be led. What will we do for generals?"The Whirlwind of War. Copyright © by Stephen B. Oates. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
Stephen B. Oates is Kendall Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst and has published eighteen books, including With Malice Toward None: A Biography of Abraham Lincoln and The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm, 1820–1861 (Nebraska 2012). He is a recipient of the Nevins-Freeman Award of the Chicago Civil War Round Table for lifetime achievement in the field of Civil War studies.
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