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The Life and Public Services of Henry Wilson
Chapter XV.


THE inaugural of Mr. Lincoln was conciliatory, but decided. It echoed the sentiment of the Republican party, declaring that the Constitution should be faithfully regarded, and the rights of Southern men respected. It served, however, but to inflame the animosity of the secessionists; and, on the afternoon of April 12, the fearful drama opened by the cannonade upon Fort Sumter. "Those guns proclaim the doom of slavery," said Mr Wilson; "but a tremendous conflict is before us." He and Mr. Wabridge of New York advised the president (May 1) to call for three hundred thousand instead of seventy-five thousand men; and, persuading the secretary of war to double the number of men apportioned to the State he represented, he telegraphed immediately to Gov. Andrew, requesting that one brigade be sent at once to Washington. Returning home, he received intelligence that the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment, under Col. Edward F. Jones, had been fired upon while passing through the streets of Baltimore. Spending a sleepless night, he started on the following day for Washington. Learning that communication with that city had been closed, he left New York on April 21, and went by water with the troops to Annapolis. On finding Gen. Butler here in want of cannon to defend the place, he returned immediately to New York, obtained some heavy pieces of artillery, and then, as soon as possible, went to Washington, where he continued laboring day and night in making preparations for the coming conflict. In the hospital, the camp, the cabinet, his cheerful voice was heard encouraging and counselling; and, by his earnest exhortations, many persons in those dark days of doubt and indecision were induced to ignore minor differences, and to stand fast by the Union. As the rebellion strengthened, Mr. Lincoln saw that more efficient measures must be taken to subdue it; and he therefore called an extra session of Congress, which assembled on the fourth day of July, and at once proceeded to important business.

As chairman of the Military Committee of the Senate, Mr. Wilson entered on a course of' ceaseless toil and vigilance. It was a post of vast responsibility, demanding clear conception, solid judgment, great executive ability, and a practical knowledge of military affairs. An army was to be raised, equipped, and officered; supplies and hospitals were to be provided, and funds for carrying on the war obtained. It was fortunate that the government found in Mr. Wilson one who, by long experience in legislative and military life, by comprehensive views, by good sound common sense, and by celerity of execution, was qualified to meet the occasion.

With an energy unparalleled in the annals of legislation, he engaged in making preparations for the coming conflict.

On the 6th of July he introduced into the Senate the important bill authorizing the president to call for five hundred thousand volunteers, which on the 21st of that month became a law; also the bill to "increase the military establishment of the United States," which was approved by the president on the 29th of July; and the bill providing for the "better organization of the military establishment." It contained twenty-five sections, and received the signature of the president on the third day of August.

Of the last bill Mr. Wilson said, "I have labored night and day for many days and nights to fit and prepare this bill to meet the actual wants of the country; and, in doing so, I confess that in every step of it I have had to meet the interests, the jealousies, or the prejudices of men connected with the army of the United States: but, in framing it, I have endeavored to be governed wholly by the public interest."

On the 2d of July he introduced the bill authorizing the president "to accept of the services of volunteers, either as cavalry, infantry, or artillery, in such numbers as the exigencies of the public service might in his opinion demand." This bill became a law on the 26th of the same month. On the 29th be brought forward a bill to provide for the purchase of arms, ordnance, and ordnance-stores, which was approved by the president on the third day of August; and on the last day of July he presented the bill for the appointment of additional aides-de-camp, which was enacted on the 5th of August. By a provision of this act, the barbarous custom of flogging was abolished in the army. On the first day of August he introduced the bill for making an appropriation of a hundred thousand dollars for contingencies for fortifications, and on the next day the "bill to authorize an increase in the corps of engineers and topographical engineers."

On the 5th of the same month he introduced an important bill to increase the pay of privates in the army from eleven to thirteen dollars per month; also to extend the provisions of the act "for the relief of the Ohio volunteers and other volunteers" to all volunteers, no matter for what term of service they might have been accepted. He also added an amendment to the bill, that all the acts, proclamations, and orders of the president after the 4th of March, 1861, respecting the army and navy, be legalized and made valid. This received the approval of Mr. Lincoln on the 6th of August.

To frame, explain, and defend these various bills, which called into being, organized, and provisioned a vast army, demanded an extent of information, a constructive ability, and a rapidity of execution, such as but few law-makers possess. In view of these herculean labors, Gen. Scott remarked that "Senator Wilson had done more work in that short session than all the chairmen of the military committees had done for the last twenty years." He afterwards addressed to him the following note of thanks:-

WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 1861.

DEAR SIR, - In taking leave of you some days ago, I fear that I did not so emphatically express my thanks to you, as our late chairman of the Senate Committee, as my feelings and those of my brother-officers of the army (with whom I have conversed) warranted, for your able and zealous efforts to give to the service the fullest war development and efficiency. It is pleasing to remember the pains you took to obtain accurate information, wherever it could be found, as a basis for wise legislation; and we hope it may be long before the army loses your valuable services in the same capacity.

With great esteem,
Yours very truly,


Chairman Senate Military Committee.

Such strenuous action for the soldier in the Senate-chamber, camp, and hospital, such cordial sympathy with him in his toils and suffirings, gained for Mr. Wilson the enviable name of "THE SOLDIER'S FRIEND."

Mr. Wilson was personally present at the disastrous battle of Bull Run, July 21, aiding and encouraging officers and privates as he had opportunity. Attempts were made by the confederates to secure his person; but he returned to Washington in safety. Undismayed by the repulse, he said to one of his friends on Monday following, "This is our chastisement for fighting on the sabbath. But we are right in principle: God is on the side of right; and we shall win if we obey him. We want more men; we must go to work for them; and, just as soon as possible, I intend to raise a regiment in Massachusetts."

On the adjournment of Congress, the president was desirous that Mr. Wilson should be appointed brigadier-general of volunteers; but, as this would compel the resignation of his seat as senator, he preferred to carry out his original design of raising a regiment of men at home. Obtaining authority for this, he returned to Massachusetts, issued an address, held an enthusiastic meeting in Faneuil Hall, and commenced recruiting. Such was his popularity, that, in the space of forty days, he raised nearly two thousand three hundred men. They were strong, intelligent farmers, mechanics, and tradesmen, from the good families of the Commonwealth. Out of them were formed the Twenty-second Regiment, a part of the Twenty-third Regiment, one company of sharpshooters, and two batteries of artillery. The first company went into camp at Lynnfield on the second day of September; and on that day Mr. Wilson received his commission from the governor as colonel, with the distinct understanding, however, that his senatorial duties would permit him to remain with the regiment only for a brief period; and that he would, on leaving it, endeavor to find some able commander to assume his place. On the eighth day of October, the regiment, with full ranks, and armed with Enfield rifles, together with the company of sharpshooters and the third battery of light artillery, left for Washington. Previous to his departure, Mr. Wilson received as a present from some friends a fine Morgan horse, with saddle and housings, as a testimonial of their confidence and regard; and a splendid flag was presented by Robert C. Winthrop to the regiment on Boston Common. On their way to Washington, these troops were most enthusiastically greeted by the people. In New York a banquet was prepared for them, attended by eminent men of every party. A beautiful flag was presented to the regiment by the late distinguished lawyer, James T. Brady. They arrived at Washington on the eleventh day of October; and two days later, crossing the Potomac, went into camp with Gen. Martindale's brigade in Fitz-John Porter's division at Halls Hill in Virginia. His duties in connection with the Senate rendered it necessary for Mr. Wilson to leave his fine regiment: and he therefore gave up his commission on the 28th of October; and the accomplished Jesse D. Gore (killed June 27, 1862, at Gaines's Mills, Va.) was appointed to fill the vacancy.

When the regiment, after the unfortunate battle of Ball's Bluff, Oct. 29, was expected to advance to an engagement with the enemy, Mr. Wilson offered to share the danger; but, as circumstances changed, his personal presence was not demanded.

This regiment, and especially the third battery under the command of the able and heroic Augustus P. Martin, performed effective service in many warm engagements during the Rebellion. "The valuable and efficient service you have rendered your country," said Gen. Charles Griffin in a letter to the commander of the regiment at the expiration of Its term of service in October, 1864, "during the past three years of its eventful history, is deserving of its gratitude and - Mr. Wilson always took the liveliest interest in the regiment, and provided for the intellectual and moral advancement, as well as for the personal comforts, of the men; for he believed that "bayonets which think fight best." The manner in which its officers and men regarded him may be seen from the following letter, dated—

HALL'S HILL, VA., Oct. 21, 1861.

MY DEAR SIR, - I know not what I am going to write: but I know what is in my heart; and that is, a deep respect and affection for yourself.

My father died more than four years since; and I have not met, until I knew you, one whom I could look up to with that mingled respect and affection which is due to a father. You have chidden only when it was for our good, and have exhibited a kindness and benevolence of heart which no man shall ever dare to deny to you before me.

Be assured, sir, that I fully appreciate your acts of kindness to me; and they have been many, - so many, indeed, that I have come slowly to the conclusion that a man may, even in these days, occupy a high position without abandoning his good qualities. May God prosper you in your labors for our beloved country! I tremble when I think what power is in your hands to do our country good or evil, and only pray that you may never be swerved from that bright pathway along which you are now journeying.


On resigning his position as colonel of the Twenty-second Regiment, Mr. Wilson, by the pressing invitation of the secretary of war, took position for a brief period as an aide-de-camp on Gen. McClellan's staff; in order that he might, by practical observation of the condition of the army, increase its power and efficiency by his labors in the legislative hall. The organization of fresh forces on so vast a scale demanded practical knowledge of the art of war; and the best place to obtain it was at head-quarters on the field. But senatorial duties soon compelled him to return to Washington ; and, in the letter accepting his resignation as an aide-de-camp, Gen. Williams said, "The reasons assigned in your letter (Jan. 9) are such, that the general is not permitted any other course than that of directing the acceptance of your resignation. He wishes me to add that it is with regret that he sees the termination of the pleasant official relations which have existed between you and himself, and that he yields with reluctance to the necessity created by the pressure upon you of other and more important public duties."

He cheerfully bore his own expenses while raising his regiment, and received no pay whatever for his services as colonel or as Gen. McClellan's aide-de-camp.

To the infamous charge of W. H. Russell of "The London Times," that Senator Wilson was interested in large shoe contracts, and had taken better care of himself and his fortunes than of a suffering nation, he made the following distinct and unequivocal reply: -

"NATICK, Nov. 9, 1861.

To the Editor of 'THE BOSTON JOURNAL:

I ask you, and other conductors of public journals in Massachusetts willing to do me a personal favor, to publish this explicit denial of the truthfulness of the story some person or persons have invented and put in circulation, that I have a government contract for a million pairs of shoes, by when I am to realize the sum of a quarter of a million of dollars. This story, in all its parts and in every form, is utterly false; and the person or persons originating it knew it to be a false and wicked slander. I have no contract, I have had no contract, with the government, either directly or indirectly, for shoes, or for any thing else; nor have I now, nor have I had, any interest in any contract of any person whatever with the government. I not only have no contract with the government, nor interest in the contracts of others, but no man now has, nor has had, any contract with the government through any agency or influence of mine. The government, since the 4th of March, has made no contract with any man, for any purpose whatever, through any agency or influence of mine ; and it never will make contracts through any agency or influence of mine. As a senator of Massachusetts, mindful of her interests, I have sometimes reminded the department of the manufacturing and mechanical skill of her people; of their losses by this wicked Rebellion ; of their readiness to furnish men and money to sustain the national cause; of their capacity to furnish the army, at the lowest rates, needed articles: and I have expressed the hope that the agents of the government, in their purchases, would not forget the people of my State. This much I have said; this much I felt I had a right to say; and this much I felt it my duty to say. But to all men, who have asked me by word or letter to aid them in obtaining contracts of the government, I have said that my sense of propriety would not permit me to have any thing to do with contracts; that I could not, in any way, aid in procuring contracts; that no man ever had, or ever would have, contracts through my agency or influence. This has been, now is, and will ever be, my position,"

While many men in power most shamefully enriched themselves and families by "the spoils of war," the record of Henry Wilson is absolutely clean and clear. "I am not worth enough," said he in one of his addresses, "to buy a pine coffin for my burial." Immaculate as an old Roman patriot, he stands unscathed by any charge of bribery, venality, or corruption.

Eleven States were now in open rebellion against the government. A Southern confederacy had been formed, with Jefferson Davis at the head; many forts and arsenals had been seized, and a vast confederate army was in the field. Old landmarks had been broken down, and a new order of things had begun. Four million slaves were panting to be free. The capital of the nation had become a camping-ground, and open war was the order of the day.

It was forced upon the government: the South must take the consequences. The president had, on the sixteenth day of August, declared a state of insurrection; and the leading questions were, "How shall the Union be preserved?" "How increase and officer, and impart efficiency to; the army?" "What shall be done with slaves and rebel property?" "How, at the least expense of blood, crush the Rebellion?"

Rapid, efficient, and decisive legislation was demanded for the exigency; and it was fortunate for the country that strong men were in the halls of Congress. For the most part they were true reformers, educated in the school of freedom, and prepared for the tremendous issue. Among them Henry Wilson stood prominent. He had studied America, her spirit and her institutions; he saw distinctly where the merit of the question lay; and, though he shuddered at the sacrifice, he felt certain of the ultimate result.
Entering with indomitable industry upon business at the second session of the Thirty-seventh Congress, he introduced, and carried to enactment, many bills and resolutions which had an an immediate bearing on the efficiency of the army and the government. Among the more important measures was a bill providing for the appointment of persons to procure from volunteers their respective allotments of pay for their families, which was enacted Dec. 24, 1861; a bill regulating courts-martial in the army; "a bill to provide for the better organization of the signal department of the army," approved on the twenty-second day of February, 1862; a bill for the "appointment of sutlers in the volunteer service;" a bill "to increase the efficiency of the medical department of the army;" a bill to facilitate the discharge of enlisted men for physical disability; a joint resolution providing for the presentation of medals of honor to the enlisted men of the army and volunteer forces who may distinguish themselves in battle;" a bill, introduced on the eighth day of July, "to amend the act calling forth the militia to execute the laws, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions," which became a law on the 17th of July, 1862.

By this important act the president is authorized to receive persons of African descent for any military service for which they are competent; and all Africans rendering such service shall be free. This act authorized, for the first time, the drafting of negroes, and their regular introduction as soldiers into the service of the United States.

Mr. Wilson also, on the 23d of December, introduced the bill into the Senate, dismissing from the service officers guilty of surrendering fugitive slaves to their masters. After much discussion, it became a law March 13, 1862.

It was framed to protect those slaves, who, as our armies advanced into the rebel States, fled to them for refuge, and who offered, in the words of Mr. Wilson, "to work and fight for the flag whose stars for the first time gleamed upon their vision with the radiance of liberty."

On resigning his office as secretary of war during this session, Mr. Cameron addressed to him the following letter: -

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 1862.

MY DEAR SIR, - No man, in my opinion, in the whole country, has done more to aid the war department is preparing the mighty army now under arms than yourself; and, before leaving this city, I think it my duty to offer to you my sincere thanks as its late head.

As chairman of the Military Committee of the Senate, your services were invaluable. At the first call for troops, you came here; and up to the meeting of Congress, a period of more than six months, your labors were incessant. Sometimes in encouraging the administration by assurances of support from Congress, by encouraging volunteering in your own State, by raising a regiment yourself when other men began to fear that compulsory drafts might be necessary, and in the Senate by preparing the bills, and assisting to get the necessary appropriations, for organizing, clothing, arming, and supplying the army, you have been constantly and profitably employed in the great cause of putting down the unnatural Rebellion.

For the many personal favors you have done me since the beginning of this struggle I shall ever be grateful. Your friend truly,



On the 16th of December, 1861, he introduced a bill "for the release of certain persons held to service or labor [that is, for the abolition of slavery] in the District of Columbia." "If it shall become a law of the land," said Mr. Wilson, "it will blot out slavery forever from the national capital, transform three thousand personal chattels into freemen, obliterate oppressive, odious, and hateful laws and ordinances which press with merciless force upon persons, bond or free, of African descent, and relieve the nation from the responsibilities now pressing upon it. An act of beneficence like this will be hailed and applauded by the nations, sanctified by justice, humanity, and religion, by the approving voice of conscience, and by the blessing of Him who bids us "break every yoke, undo the heavy burden, and let the oppressed go free."

This bill met with bitter opposition from the secession element in Congress, but was finally passed; and the president gave it his approval on the sixteenth day of April, 1862. The freedmen then assembled in their churches, and offered thanks to God for their deliverance.

In the enactment of this law Mr. Wilson saw the realization of those hopes which he had expressed in his first public speech, made a full quarter of a century before, in Strafford (N. H.) Academy. He surely had been led in a way he knew not to the accomplishment of a part in rending the chain of the bondman, for which his name will ever be held by the friends of freedom in grateful remembrance.

The following letters from two eminent philanthropists the general sentiment of the North in respect to Mr. Wilson's course: -

NEW YORK, April 28, 1862.

Hon. HENRY WILSON, Senator in Congress from Massachusetts.

My dear Sir, - I have to day read your speech of March 27 "On the Bill to abolish Slavery in the District of Columbia," for the second time, and must drop you a line to say that it deserves to be written in letters of gold, and be put into the hands of every citizen of the United States. To you, especially, is the country indebted for the passage of this bill. May the country ever be grateful! and may the blessing of the God of the oppressed rest upon you! As a native of Massachusetts, and the son of a Massachusetts mechanic, I feel thankful that one of her senators has, under the divine blessing, accomplished such a humane deed.

Although it will at all times give me pleasure to hear from you, I do not expect, that, amidst your arduous labors, you can acknowledge the receipt of the many letters addressed to you. My object is not now, more than heretofore, to draw from you a response, but to assure you of the very grateful sense I have of your successful services in the case to which I have alluded, and of the eminent services rendered to your country throughout your whole senatorial career.

Respectfully and truly yours,


N.Y., April 17, 1862.

MY DEAR GEN. WILSON, - I must thank you, and congratulate you that our National Government sits, at last, in a free capital. Your part in the accomplishment of this great triumph of national justice and national dignity will be long remembered by a grateful people; and, if you had not done so much else for the country, you might safely rest your historic fame on that single act and your sturdy efforts to crown it with success.

For myself, I can hardly recall without emotion my boyish efforts to arouse attention to the atrocity of slavery in Washington, commenced nearly thirty years ago, and those of my father, which I find, from one of his petitions, commenced in 1826, as I read the record of the vote in the House, and the president's message, and thank God that the work of abolition has begun, and the first great step boldly taken towards the position of a free republic.

I trust the good work will be pushed speedily. Slavery is doomed; and it is worse than useless to prolong the agony of dissolution.

Always faithfully yours,


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