Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

August Belmont – Speech at Meeting In Newport, R. I.

September 15, 2012

A Few Letters and Speeches of the Late Civil War by August Belmont (DNC Chairman)


Fellow-citizens,—It is with extreme diffidence and hesitation that I comply with the flattering invitation of your worthy Mayor to address you this evening. I feel, however, that it is the duty of every good citizen, at this moment, to exert what influence he may be able to command, and so I will also raise my feeble and inexperienced voice in the good cause of the Union and the Constitution. We meet here to-night in the midst of the most fearful crisis of our nation’s history. A century has not passed away, and the magnificent edifice raised by the fathers of the Republic to last for all time, and which already spreads its protecting dome from ocean to ocean, is tottering to its very foundations. A deep-laid conspiracy, fanned by sectional passion and reckless leaders into open rebellion, has at last assumed the proportions of a gigantic revolution, against which the immense resources placed by our people at the disposal of the government, have thus far proved powerless.

When the rebellion first broke out, the North, conscious of its strength and the righteousness of its cause, thought that it could, with a slight effort and in a short time, crush it and vindicate the superiority of the law. Our army, hastily collected, full of bravery and patriotism, but badly armed, drilled, and commanded, was, by the insane clamor of meddling politicians, hurled against the fortified stronghold of the rebels, selected and defended by skilful and experienced generals. We suffered a most disastrous defeat—our army was decimated and demoralized, and hardly could claim any longer the name of an army.

The battle of Bull Run was a sad and terrible blow to the Union cause, but we derived one great benefit from it. The government and people awoke to the conviction that political partisans and editors, however meritorious and talented they may be in their sphere, were not the men to lead our brave soldiers to victory. They had to stand aside to make room for the young chieftain called by the President to save the Republic, threatened at the very seat of the Federal government.

George B. McClellan came. Out of chaos and utter confusion he created one of the finest armies of modern days, and that in a space of time not longer than it took military France, with a standing army of five hundred thousand men. to prepare for her last Italian campaign. Then we saw Burnside in the South, and Halleck in the West, drive the rebels like chaff before them; then, under the well-matured plans of our young commander-in-chief, success followed for months our arms, wherever our brave army and gallant navy carried the stars and stripes.

But here again political meddlers and ambitious demagogues step in and arrest our victorious progress. They stop recruiting when men were more than ever wanted to finish up the good work so well begun; they deprive McClellan of the chief command; they interfere with his plans; they reduce his forces, and thus doom our brave Army of the Potomac to defeat and disaster, when months ago Richmond would have been ours had McClellan been left untrammelled. Congress, instead of contenting itself with voting supplies for the vigorous prosecution of the war, and declaring, by an unequivocal attitude, that this war is carried on solely and purely for the Union, the Constitution, and the maintenance of the laws, again throws the apple of discord among us by ill-timed and ill-advised legislation on slavery. Military commanders in Missouri, South Carolina, and Louisiana follow the pernicious example, and instead of attending to their duties as soldiers, issue unauthorized and unconstitutional proclamations calculated to irritate and embitter the South, and estrange it still more from the Union. It is true Mr. Lincoln, whose good and conservative intentions nobody can doubt, disavows these proclamations, but Fremont, Hunter, and Phelps were kept in command by the influence of their Abolition friends, and soon we see the unhappy results of all this.

The South, where, only a few months back, more than one-third of the population was utterly opposed to secession, becomes united as one man; they follow blindly those very leaders against whom so many had battled to the last, but whose predictions that this war was waged by us for abolition and destruction of Southern property, they see now on the eve of being verified.

On the other hand, the North, which, with unexampled unanimity and total oblivion of all party distinctions, had rushed to the defence of our flag, becomes, now, distracted and divided. It was, and is still, ready to fight for the Union and the Constitution, but it is not ready to initiate a war of extermination, and to plunge the South into all the horrors of a servile insurrection. You have seen the fearful consequences of these dissensions and the intermeddling of ignorant politicians and demagogues; our brave soldiers given up to the command of inefficient generals, the flower of our army sacrificed to their ignorance and incapacity, Washington in danger, Maryland invaded, and Pennsylvania threatened.

And now again, as a year ago, the government has to call upon McClellan to save the sinking fortunes of the Republic. For months past he had been traduced and vilified in the halls of Congress and on the floor of the Senate ; his capacity and courage—nay, even his loyalty—questioned by a large portion of the Abolition press; the brave troops, who almost worship him, had been, regiment after regiment, withdrawn from his command, until the man who had created the Army of the Potomac was left with barely a corporal’s guard, while his veteran soldiers were slaughtered by the reckless ignorance of spurious heroes pushed forward by clamorous politicians. He bore all with the fortitude and resignation of a true patriot; he did not issue vaunting proclamations, and he treated the attacks of his enemies with the silent contempt which they merited. Upon the call of his government he quietly and modestly assumed again the high and fearfully responsible position assigned to him. His advent was hailed by the army, and every true lover of the Union, with hopeful joy. Victory, which seemed to have forsaken us forever, perches again upon our glorious banner, and in less than a fortnight from the day on which he assumed command over a beaten and disorganized army, he drives the hungry hordes of Jefferson Davis from the soil of loyal Maryland, upon which they had fallen like a swarm of devastating locusts.

We have now, at the head of our army, Halleck and McClellan, the two men whom the veteran Scott, the hero of a hundred battles, had designated as his worthy successors. Under their leadership our brave army will march on to victory, but if we mean to bring this terrible war to a speedy end, we must furnish more men to fill up our ranks.

My own conviction is, that in order to crush the rebellion we must have one million of men in the field—one-half to be employed in Virginia to beat and disperse the rebel army, the other half to sweep down the Mississippi with an overwhelming force which would make all further resistance hopeless. The rebel Congress has just called out every able-bodied man in the Confederate States between thirty-five and forty-five years old. They expect, thus, to raise three hundred thousand more men, in addition to the three or four hundred thousand whom they have already under arms. This is their last throw in the fearful game in which they are engaged, and you may depend on it they will play it to the bitter end with the recklessness of despair.

The crisis is at hand which is to decide whether we are ever again to be a free and powerful nation, or whether this most wicked and causeless rebellion shall succeed in destroying our liberties and lowering our country to the level of Mexico and Central America. Shall history record that twenty millions, defending the most sacred cause for which nation ever drew the sword, were overcome by one-third their number who had raised their fratricidal hands against the best of governments ? No, it cannot, it must not be!

Men of Rhode Island, the Republic is in danger! Our free institutions, the memory of the past, the hopes of the future, all call upon you to march forth in your country’s cause. Leave your wives and children trustingly behind— a grateful people will protect and care for them. Do not allow demagogues and fanatics to distract you from the legitimate and holy purpose for which alone this war is to be carried on. Inscribe on your banner that you fight for the “Union as it was, and the Constitution as it is,” and God will bless your arms and give you the victory.

And to you who, like me, are deprived by age or physical incapacity of the privilege of drawing your swords in the defence of our liberties, to you I appeal to contribute your money liberally to the good cause which we have all so much at heart. Many a brave and loyal man is only deterred from joining our army by the fear that in his absence his family might suffer want. I have already, on a former occasion, suggested the raising of funds by subscriptions for the purpose of providing for the families of soldiers in this city. I now again renew my suggestions and my offer to subscribe for such a fund. If carried into effect in a judicious and energetic manner, it will do much toward swelling the ranks of the Union defenders.

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