Closing the Potomac


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, November 2, 1861

This site features readable versions of the original issues of Harper's Weekly newspapers from 1861-1865. You can browse these newspapers by topic, or search on a specific topic using the search box on the bottom of this page. We hope you enjoy reading these old newspapers, and gaining perspective on the important people and places of the Civil War.

(Scroll Down to see entire page, or Newspaper Thumbnails will take you to the page of interest.)


The Merrimac

The Merrimac

Closing the Potomac

Rebels Close Potomac


Battle of Bolivar


Geary's Artillery

Army of the Potomac

Army of the Potomac


Civil War Food


Tipton Missouri

The Merrimac

Description of the Merrimac


Craney Island

Civil War Funeral

Naval Expedition

The Great Naval Expedition


Civil War Submarine

Prison Richmond

The Richmond Prison

Rebel Cartoon

Rebel Cartoon











[NOVEMBER 2, 1861.





BY the time these lines are read by the public the GREAT NAVAL EXPEDITION will have reached its destination, and we therefore violate no duty to the Government in illustrating its departure on pages 696 and 697. What precise point it is intended to attack no one knows but its leaders and the members of the Administration ; but we may rest assured that it will deal a blow where it will be felt, and that the rebel army on the Potomac will not hear of its landing without emotions of very lively concern.

Annapolis and Fortress Monroe to convey the troops, supplies, and munitions of war. It is believed that these vessels have departed with an army of not less than 30,000 men, with due proportions of cavalry and artillery, the whole commanded by Major-General Sherman, late of Sherman's Battery. The Great Republic alone, which was towed by the Vanderbilt, took over 900 horses, besides a large quantity of stores and forage. Two other vessels also carried horses for the cavalry and artillery. We illustrate their embarkation and their quarters on board ship on pages 696 and 697. Other vessels in the fleet were laden with timber, bricks, houses all ready built, and tools of all kinds for the erection of fortifications ; so that it may safely be assumed that the expeditionary force is likely to remain some time where it lands.

The landing will be effected under cover of the fire of a powerful fleet of men-of-war. No one knows what vessels will constitute this fleet. It is whispered, however, that not less than 300 guns of heavy y calibre will be brought to bear on the landing-place—enough to overpower any resistance that can fairly be anticipated.


CONSIDERABLE alarm was created last week by the publication of a letter from the Secretary of State to the Governor of the State of New York, urging the State Legislature to strengthen the coast and frontier defenses of the State, so as to be prepared for foreign wars. People wondered for a day or two whether we were on the brink of actual trouble with Europe. .

Mr. Lincoln, though newspapers published in London have abused and maligned us in a very remarkable manner. Finally, no cause for war exists. The real trouble with both England and France at present is not the Southern blockade or the stoppage of the cotton supply, but the Morrill tariff, which shuts out their manufactured goods from the markets of the North. This is a very grievous injury to them, undoubtedly. But it is not an injury which justifies an appeal to arms, nor is it one which a war could cure. England can not bombard us into buying British woolens, nor can France bayonet us into wearing French silks. They can do nothing but wait and watch. By-and-by, when the war is over, we shall gladly revert to our old policy of raising money by revenue tariffs, and then Europe will recover the market she has temporarily lost—unless, meanwhile, she should have exasperated our people beyond bearing.

It is asked why the letter was published if it was merely a measure of prudent precaution ?

Mr. Seward's object in giving to the press a letter which, in the ordinary course of affairs, should have been kept secret, was probably to "head off" Messrs. Mason and Slidell, who are by this time arriving in Europe as the accredited Commissioners of the Rebel States to France and England. Whether the publication of a letter which, under the circumstances, implied a threat was the best way of achieving this object, is a question which may possibly involve some doubt. But Mr. Seward's fondness for coups-d'etat and startling manifestoes is well known.

In connection with this subject, we may observe that much misapprehension exists in the papers on the subject of the combined French,

British, and Spanish expedition against Mexico. This expedition will do immense good, and has, we doubt not, received the hearty assent of our Government. Its object is to put down the robbers and bandits who for many years have rendered all government impossible in Mexico; to enable the Mexican people freely and fairly to choose their own rulers ; and to give to those rulers, after they have been chosen, armed support for a sufficient length of time to enable them to gain a solid footing in the country. The accomplishment of these objects will be as beneficial to the United States and the world at large as to Mexico herself. They would have been accomplished some years ago, but for the ambitious schemes of certain British politicians in Mexico on the one hand, and on the other the pro-slavery dreams of the Southern Junta at Washington. The time has now arrived when the right thing can be safely done, and it is going to be at least attempted.


IT is known that the rebels have some fifteen miles of batteries on the south shore of the Potomac, and that every vessel which tries to pass is fired upon. Hence general alarm is felt throughout the North at the " closing of the Potomac," and loyal citizens are asking each other what General McClellan will do for fodder.

If General McClellan has been taken by surprise by the erection of hostile batteries on the Potomac, he is not the man the people take him for. At least six weeks ago, it was apparent that the rebels had the power to plant cannon on the Virginia bank of the river, in such positions as to seriously menace passing craft. If General McClellan be the far-sighted general people believe him to be, he was prepared for what has happened, and is provided with a remedy.

But there is no reason why the erection of batteries on the Potomac should be regarded as closing that river. Balls and shells are unpleasant things to come into contact with, no doubt. It is, however, the business of vessels of war to encounter them, and their captains can no more complain of being under fire than private soldiers. With one or two exceptions, the rebel batteries are a mile from the channel. At this distance the most experienced gunners will not sink one craft in twenty. It will be time enough to consider the Potomac closed when every other craft which tries to pass the batteries is sure of being sunk or destroyed.



MR. JAMES M. MASON and MR. JOHN SLIDELL have slipped off to England and France as Commissioners to implore the recognition of a Government of which the second in command declares the corner-stone to be Slavery.

It is to be hoped that every gentleman in this country who has correspondents in either England or France will carefully inform them that these persons have each been Senators of the United States, and that each of them has one distinction, and one only. They are both old men ; they have been all their lives professional politicians ; and there is but a single act identified with the name of each.

Mr. John Slidell is known to the nation solely in connection with the Plaquemine election frauds in Louisiana, in 1844.

Mr. James M. Mason is the author of the Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850. He is fitly chosen by the rebellion to represent their essential principle and purpose at the Court of Victoria.

" That the institution of Slavery is abominable  in the eyes of Englishmen ..... is not for a moment to be doubted," says a late London Times. And how will Earl Russell, the Foreign Secretary, the descendant of Lord William Russell, who died for striking for liberty against a despotic English Government, look upon this man who strikes for slavery against the free and beneficent Government of the United States ?

These gentlemen are not likely to be overtaken by the steamers which our Government has sent after them. But in sending them the Administration shows its disposition to take every step. To maintain an absolute blockade is simply impossible; and when an important vessel escapes, the only possible measure is to dispatch another after it.


LAST spring, after Sumter, the more dismal a story was, the more readily we believed it. So after Bull Run there were those who really thought this Government was gone. But since our peaceful encampment along the Potomac our spirits have been gradually rising, taking stocks with them, until at last we turn such a smiling face and so buoyant a heart to the war that a man might believe that all his neighbors had in his pocket conclusive news of the overthrow of the rebellion.

Four bad reports came together last week. Wilson's Zouaves had been cut up upon Santa Rosa Island. Pooh ! pooh ! Hollins had sunk the Preble and peppered the fleet at the mouth of the Mississippi. Stuff! Hollins is a bragster. The Nashville had gone to sea with Mason and Slidell. Don't believe any such story. The Saranac went ashore in a storm. Canard!

It was truly refreshing to observe the airy way in which these stories were set aside, and the lie cheerfully given to Madame Rumor. " Dear Madame," said the public incredulity, "if you wish

to be believed to our disadvantage, you will please speak through some other mouth-piece than a rebel newspaper."

Fas est et ab hoste doceri, as the Latin Grammar justly remarks. There is no harm in being taught by the enemy in any way. There is especially no harm in believing the worst he says. Above all things, it is of the utmost use to remember that the chances of war must often go against us. The rebels will sometimes run the blockade ; they will sometimes surprise and overpower unwary and inferior numbers of our men ; they will suddenly unmask batteries; they will occasionally sink and pepper our ships; they will unquestionably poison wells and food which are likely to fall into our hands, whenever they, can. We are very resolved, very united, and of overwhelming numbers and means. But the rebels will for a long time seem to live without food and buy without money. They will make forays and ambuscades. They will stop a train in Missouri; run the blockade at Charleston ; make a dash at Hatteras, or fire from a battery on the Potomac.

These things we must expect, and we must anticipate a various fortune in them. But the central point to observe is that they make no very threatening general movement, nor do their motions indicate any grand design. Thus far it is fierce guerrilla skirmishing upon their part, except at Bull Run, where we were both beaten. Civil wars do not end in a few months, nor are the victories all on one side. Let us keep an even mind, not supposing that a report is " a lie" because it is disagreeable ; nor that Hollins can not drive a vessel ashore because he is a braggart ; nor that Mason and Slidell can not escape to Europe because we do not wish them to.


WHILE we are engaged in a great civil war occasioned by a few conspirators who saw that the political power of Slavery was rapidly passing away—a war made by them originally to found a new government, and now waged of necessity to destroy this one-it is interesting to mark the movements of the rest of the world in relation to the original cause of this war. That cause is simply the old quarrel between Despotism and Liberty. It reappears in the history of every nation. In European nations it has often come to open war because the rights of all the people were assailed—as in England, and France, and Italy. But more agreeable is the spectacle of a Government yielding to the deepening sentiment of justice, upon which alone permanent peace is founded.

It is in this light that the recent abolition of serfdom in Russia is seen to be an act of profound political sagacity. In the same light the expressed intention of the Southern leaders of our rebellion is sheer fatuity. A republic resting upon slavery is as absurd as a Papacy resting upon private judgment. And while the rebellion solicits the sympathy of the world, Mr. Stephens frankly confesses that Jefferson and the fathers of the Constitution held slavery to be an evil, but that they were mistaken, and he now asks aid and countenance for a Government superior to theirs because slavery is its " corner-stone." No loyal citizen should forget these facts for a moment. Mr. Stephens openly says slavery, is " the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution." That a single unconstitutional act had been done, neither he nor any of the leaders assert. On the contrary, when he said this in March, his lips were yet warm with the words he had spoken in November, after Mr. Lincoln's election, that this Government was the best in the world. Four months afterward he had discovered that a better Government would be one based upon slavery.

It is humiliating that such things should have been said by an American to-day. Does it not sorely touch our honor that while Russia is emancipating, we are waging a terrible war to prevent the destruction of the Government by a far worse slavery than the serfdom of Russia ? The most barbarous of civilized powers entreats that which called itself the most enlightened not to fall a prey to despotism : and while the Russian Government makes the direct appeal, Spain, with expressive silence toward us, announces, by the letter of Marshal O'Donnell, Minister of War and the Colonies, to the Governor of Porto Rico, " that her Majesty has been graciously pleased to declare that slaves coming from that island and from Cuba into Spain with their masters must consider themselves emancipated without the consent of their owners being indispensable ; that the freedom granted to said slaves, in virtue of the decision of the 25th March, 1836, is not revocable; and that they acquire by their arrival in the Mother Country, without any other act being necessary to confirm it, the quality of freemen, even should they return to a country where slavery is authorized by the laws."

So says Spain, the blue blood of national honor mantling once more in her withered cheeks. Hear now Alexander H. Stephens : "'This, our new Government, is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth [of slavery]. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science."

Very slow, Mr. Stephens, but never quite so slow as at this present moment.


ALL efforts to make partisan political capital during the war are open aid and comfort to the enemy. No service is so grateful to a foe as sowing division in the hostile camp. If he can divide or dispirit his enemy, he can conquer them. That is precisely what Jeff Davis would like to see among the friends of the Government at the North. It would cheer his melancholy soul, if he could see us so intent upon deciding what party is chiefly responsible for the war, that we forget to fight; or fighting, secretly wish him to conquer, that the party opponent may be made to suffer.

Simple justice requires any observer of the times

to admit that the Republican party and papers have not been forward in this kind of treason. They have accepted the war, and have forborne to explore its proximate causes in our own neighborhood. They have frankly taken the ground that the Union was to be defended at all costs, and if emancipation should become a military necessity, then men and women held as property should not be allowed to help the rebellion any more than horses, grain, or any other property.

While this is true of their papers, Mr. Sumner is the only leading Republican statesman who advocates universal emancipation as the truest policy of the Government. And he takes care only to state his view, and to add that he defers to the Administration as to the method in which, and the time when, the object he seeks shall be accomplished.

Still further, the party at large have been first to repudiate party divisions, and their offer of union being refused in this State by the Committee of the other great party, the people of both parties repudiated the Committee, held a Convention, and named candidates of all parties which, with one exception, and that exception based mainly upon personal grounds, the Republican Convention immediately approved, although it had undoubtedly a clear majority of fifty thousand in the State. The patriotic policy of Syracuse has been followed in the county and local nominations; and if party-spirit rages any where, it is certainly not due to the action of the Republicans.


THAT others are aware of the approach of the Lecture Season is evident enough from the following letter, which the Lounger commends to the careful deliberations of Committees and Lecture-agents :

" KISKATOM, October, 1861.

"DEAR MR. LOUNGER,-I wish to say a few words to you in the fullest confidence. I do not write this because I have doubts of my own ability, but for the reason that I desire an opportunity to make my powers widely known. A friend of yours, I understand, has had some experience in public lecturing. Will you have the kindness to ask him to send me a list of the 'Associations' paying the best prices?

"During the summer I have prepared a lecture upon the ' Internal Convulsions of Nature, and their Relations to the Progress of Mankind.' I think I am in a state of intellectual rarefaction to produce a profound sensation upon a refined audience. I do not wish to lecture in small towns or before shilling audiences. I do not desire to be invited out to ' tea,' and shown around the town like a caged animal. I do not wish to write my name and a few sentiments' in the album of every young lady and gentleman in the town. I do not wish to be coughed down when I say 'oppression' and do not mean 'slavery.' I do not wish to be called an 'infidel' when my religion does not chime with the bell of every church. I have delivered the lecture before a select circle of friends, and they pronounced it sublime. Our newspaper has a flattering article on my lecture (written by myself), and says that Beecher, Chapin, and Gough are small candles compared to me. Yours,   T. HARRISON BUGHUM."


THE Lyceum, or our system of popular lectures, will doubtless feel the pressure of the times. But it is understood that in most of the cities the usual course will be given. The lecturers ought to remember that the times are earnest, and that they should speak to the times. There was probably never a sincerer interest in topics which are necessarily important to every American citizen, and never a greater willingness to listen to considerate discussion.

The Lyceum is, on the one hand, not merely a theatre, or opera, or circus; and, on the other, it is not exactly a pulpit. Its range is as wide as human interest and thought. Its influence is as deep as its sincerity. The experience of ten years should show the newer lecturers that those speakers are permanently preferred who do something more than tickle the audience, and who are not afraid to treat them as if they had minds and consciences. It is not the difference of opinion which exasperates a hearer; it is the fierce manner in which the difference is expressed. An orator is a man who not only states the truth, but states it persuasively. There are many speakers who harm their cause much more than they help it, because they malign motives and unfairly generalize until the listener is not only out of conceit with the speaker, but becomes averse to hearing the subject mentioned.  (Next Page)



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